Saturday, August 23, 2008

Schools ban baked goods

A parenting rite of passage has been stripped from me the same year my only child starts kindergarten.

We met my daughter's teacher at an open house and received some of the paperwork we need to fill out. Among the documents was the school handbook, in which I read this little gem:

Under "Unauthorized Articles"
"FOOD: New state [that'd be West Virginia] policy prohibits homemade or unpackaged food items to be brought to school. Snack or party treats must meet nutrition guidelines and come in unopened."

A literal reading of the first sentence would lead you to believe that you can't send chocolate-chip cookies in a lunchbag. I wouldn't be surprised since some schools have banned peanut butter because of allergies. But I think the second sentence gets at the meat of the message. Don't send homebaked goodies for your child to share with others.

So I can't send cupcakes decorated like groundhogs on Feb. 2 or snack mix in plastic food service gloves to look like witch hands for Halloween. No heart-shaped pink frosted cookies on Valentine's Day.

I can only guess at why -- it being Saturday I can't exactly call the school board for a definitive answer. If I do on Monday, I'll be sure to update. I suppose it's one or a maybe a little bit of each of several things.

1a. Nutrition. Public schools aren't the best examples of healthy eating but I gather that they are trying. They are fighting childhood obesity by banning sales of vending machine soda and other nutritionally suspect snacks.

1b. Allergies. Maybe they worry someone will accidentally put peanut butter into something or not follow other directions regarding food allergens.

2. Fairness. It's unlikely, but I've heard stranger things, that they are trying to prevent singling out haves from have-nots -- whether it's money to buy and make fancy snacks or the ability to craft impressive cupcakes. With more moms working outside the home, it's easier for many of them to buy something prepackaged and send it on the bus with their child than to bake and deliver it.

3. Cleanliness. It's scary 'cause it's true. Not everyone keeps a clean house or uses sanitary cooking practices. Back when I was a PartyLite consultant I watched a woman put the finishing touches on her party food on a filthy counter strewn with days-old dirty dishes, roamed by cats and speckled with flies. I politely refused refreshments.

I hold fond memories of school day snack time and holiday parties. My mom brought in strawberry gelatin Knox Blox (before there were Jell-O Jigglers) cut into heart shapes for Valentine's Day. She also fumed when she had to assemble two dozen pudding bags for us to mix ourselves but it was still a pretty cool treat. For my birthday (March 16) in first grade, she brought in a cake with 32 shamrocks on the frosting so when the cake was cut each classmate got her own. I was proud because my mom made something and it tasted really good and that made my classmates happy and in turn like me. A picky kindergartener, I didn't like pretzels and I needed my apples and oranges peeled for me so those snack times weren't as fun. Only now I can appreciate the homemade popcorn balls one mom made and I only picked at. And oh the heartbreak the day one of my teachers took the class gingerbread house -- made by a parent for us to demolish and eat at our Christmas party -- sprayed it with shellac and took it home to use in her own decorations!

Now I can only look longingly at the cool ideas for class parties and try not to be bitter when it's my turn to bring snack. I'll channel my creativity into a brown bag and make her lunches the envy of the cafeteria. Then they'll see what they're missing and they can blame the school board. My bragging rights as "cool mom" are on the line.


Caroline said...

I initially shared your frustration when my kid started school, but I got over it once I discovered it was much easier to let Safeway do my baking (I'm not crafty like you though). I believe the basis to this is to ensure the food does not contain allergens (it has the ingredients listed on the label) - at least that's what I get from the VA state people. Look on the bright side, at least they haven't banned cupcakes altogether. That's the new trend I've read about to fight childhood obesity. No more "goodies" at school whatsoever. You should send carrot sticks and celery in to celebrate your child's birthday. Frankly, we'll be leaving the school system the day that happens here.

Serafina said...

Oh No! Delia was always so proud when it was her snack day and I brought homemade soft pretzels or her favorite, baguettes and strawberries.
I have a food handler's card, darn it! If I want to send whole wheat carrott cupcakes for her birthday, why shouldn't I? How on earth can Little Debbies be better for the kids than what I would make with love? Maybe I'll wrap them individually and stamp them with the New Day Logo. Think that would pass muster?

Lori said...

Here in Northern MN we too have that ban on homemade baked goods. Even at our private, very small, Lutheran preschool. As a baker, and a stay at home mom, it breaks my heart! I do agree that everyone does not keep a clean kitchen, but have you seen the "baker" that works at the grocery store? Yikes! What this ban forces me to do is to seek out a local bakery and pay $2 a cupcake for something I could have created with love at home for much less. I think the ban is purely money driven, the schools don't want a lawsuit on their hands.
Like one other person commented, maybe I will order bakery boxes, complete with seals, and see if I can sneak them in!!!

HikingStick said...

I still haven't gotten over this change. One of the best parts of everyone bringing their own goodies to share on their day (whether homemade or storebought--some bought things back then, too) was that you got introduced to what other families had and enjoyed. My kids won't be able to share family treats like Russian tea cakes, pink peppermint cookies, apple tarts, or any number of specialty cakes I've developed over the years. It's rediculous and stupid. I plan on addressing this with our local school board, and through my state legislature, if necessary.

HikingStick said...

On the food safety issue, don't forget that baking items is likely to kill any harmful pathogens or germs. Also, there's nothing preventing someone with dirty hands from handling pre-packaged goodies--the stock clerks at the store, the half-dozen kids who picked up the package and begged mom or dad to buy it, the checker who handles the snack package right after handling raw meat packages... The list could go on and on. They are straw-man arguments. This likely has more to do with back-room deals that push business toward commercial food producers.

I, too, agree that the cost of making our own snacks is a fraction of what it costs to buy. Cookies for my daughter's classroom this morning cost $7.00. Home-baked cookies--enough to send and still leaving a bunch at home, would have cost around $4.00. Then, add to it the fact that my wife and I often have up to four kids needing snacks at the same time (around the holidays), and we can save a bundle by baking our own goodies. It really makes me mad, because it's like a secret tax. We've gotten to the point where we would rather not buy anything, but that would leave the entire class without snack and make our child look like a villain.

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