The Cupcake Dilemma

Is food allowed in the classroom? Should it be?


Jamie Jordan

Sugar at class parties is old news, but the debate surrounding it is gaining new momentum.

A Rice Crispie treat with whipped cream, candy corn, pretzels, chocolate chips, and a Halloween cookie–that’s what Rachel Silva-Henry says her five-year-old daughter was served at a local elementary’s class party.

When she complained to the child’s teacher, Silva-Henry says that someone pointed out that fruit was also served, but it was filled with corn syrup.

Silva-Henry says this incident isn’t isolated–food in the classroom is not limited to holidays, but is also called upon for birthdays and spur-of-the-moment occurrences. She also says that, as a mother who’s mindful about what her child eats, it’s frustrating when she picks-up her daughter, who says, “We got a cupcake today.”

“I don’t want to sound sour about it, but it’s frustrating … it’s not the school’s place to choose what my child is going to eat. It’s my choice. I pack her lunch and she helps me … but she’s five, you know,” Silva-Henry said. “If you put two things in front of her, one being a healthy option and one being an unhealthy option, what do you think most five-year-olds will go for? The unhealthy option … And then, on the flip side of that, what if you put no healthy options in front of them and only unhealthy options? What are they gonna eat? They’re just going to eat unhealthy food.”

In the age of Michelle Obama and healthy eating initiatives, many high school parents and students may wonder how this is happening. Aren’t the days of Valentine’s Day parties long over? But, then again, what even is the policy for treats and food in the classroom? Administration encouraged food at a recent advisory party, after all.

Dr. John Dixon says he believes that there is a board policy as well as legislation on the issue. At Vista, the school’s policy is that we don’t have class parties, with exceptions being for curriculum or designated advisory celebrations. This policy is in place for numerous reasons.

“Our school’s policy: we never use four days a year [the days allotted to challenge the cafeteria sales.] And for … more reasons than just the quality of what were giving to students. There are other implications when we start bringing, you know, cookies ‘I baked from home’ or brownies. We just lose control of what the environment was like in which those cookies were produced or brownies were produced, what was put into [them,] … all those things. So our … rule here is we don’t have class parties,” Dixon said. “Now, at times it [is] a difficult rule to enforce, you may have sat in a class and said ‘Hey,  we had a class party. Someone brought doughnuts or something.’ But the staff is made aware that … we can’t have home baked goods in our class sharing [them,]… we can’t have doughnuts and cookies regularly flowing about around class.”

But is that how Dixon stands personally? Actually, he says that his opinion is rooted in choice, as long as there are other options in contrast to just cookies.

“I don’t think it’s right to give really young kids a bunch of sugar … I just think it’s wrong. Now, that isn’t to say that I think you should never celebrate anything. It’d make for a pretty dull world,” Dixon said. “I just think there has to be a mechanism to provide people some choice. And … in the case of young ones, that would be the parents, they get to choose. When we get to the high school age, … I’ve never been one that thought that we shouldn’t have an option for kids to have soda pop or a cookie or whatever there is. Now, the law says we don’t, so we don’t, but personally I feel that high school kids should have some choice.”

Remembering the school’s official policy, how can some classes have “parties” anyway? For example, the French class has crepe and cheese events. Dixon and Madame Verna Verspieren say that this class is one of the exceptions because food is part of the curriculum as a part of the language’s culture.

“Food is a big part of the French culture, and because of that, I do encourage my students to study French cuisine, and to make a presentation in French 3, 4, and AP years of a French dish, and then, in addition, within school … guidelines, we will occasionally be allowed to taste crepes in the classroom, as well as breads and cheeses,” Verspieren said.

But what about the cafeteria’s profits? Don’t parties and other celebrations interfere with the food sales?

Folsom-Cordova Unified School District’s Director of Food Services, Joye McKetty, says that, at the secondary level, class parties don’t actually cause competition with the cafeteria; however, there is a different kind of struggle at the elementary level.

“It’s competition: you bring this and you didn’t bring that…” McKetty said. “I just feel like … a lot of times it’s who can bring the greater treat.”

McKetty says she believes that when kids go home and say that their peer had big cupcakes, parents, wanting to please their child, get bigger ones. If given the power, McKetty said she’d want a no-birthday or other class parties policy at school. In her current role, instead of the cafeteria celebrating every child’s birthday, they give out Happy Birthday juice cups at the end of each month. These are not yet at the high school level, but are now popping up in the middle schools.

With all of this said, is food in the classroom really that big of an issue at Vista? We have a wonderful Health class, after all. In fact, why even relate a seeming abundance of elementary school parties to “rare” occurrences at Vista?

Silva-Henry knows she doesn’t have teenaged children, and she even says that it’s less of an issue at the high school level. But still, as Silva-Henry says, the message starts early, so what could have changed for high students if they’d had a message of nutrition?