Readers and friends often ask me how to handle school parties: how to curb the junk, how to approach teachers and administrators, how to get other parents on board. (People rarely worry about kids protesting healthier fare. That’s because kids aren’t the problem — adults are.)
So here’s a little insight into what’s been happening on the food front our last week of school.
It’s long been a tradition for our 3rd and 4th graders to visit a local amusement park before summer break. But this year, the amusement park’s first school-group day isn’t until this Friday, June 6, which is our last day of school, and that’s already busy enough. The kids were bummed, but their fantastic teacher, Ms. B, turned it around by having the class brainstorm other fun ideas for this last week instead.
The idea of a pizza party came up. So did ice cream. Ms. B wisely nixed the ice cream by reminding the kids that the last day of school is also when we have our annual (evening) school picnic, which means plenty of desserts. It also happens that this week the class had two birthdays to celebrate. There would have been even one more if the birthday boy hadn’t been sick — and that’s in a class of only 13 kids. So, yeah, nobody needs ice cream on top of all that.
Before giving the pizza a thumbs-up, Ms. B e-mailed all the parents to make sure we were OK with it, and also to ask us to contribute fruits and veggies to go with the pizza. (It’s also worth noting: This is the first time in five years at this school that I can remember a class pizza party.)
Some takeaways here:
1. Parents have cultivated a relationship with Ms. B, so she knows where many of us stand on junk food in school, and she happens to share that view. We’re fortunate, too, that our school is small, that its policies and culture generally support junk-free celebrations, and that other teachers also get it. But it’s not like we’re immune to the garbage. It still sometimes gets through. So we parents really do need to step up and speak up in order to stay the course. But there are plenty of diplomatic ways to do that.
2. Our teacher was aware of how the ice cream would fit into the bigger picture of the week. And that is huge. Too often people default to “it’s just one ice cream cone (or whatever).” But the fact is we live in a 24/7 food culture where junk is offered to kids all the time. I wasn’t thrilled about the twofer on the birthdays this week, but at least they featured homemade brownies and dye-free popsicles, both far better options than the typical grocery-store cupcakes.
3. Ms. B asked parents about the pizza in advance. It didn’t hurt that she added the enticing “that means no lunch packing for you.” In a school without a cafeteria, that is never an option, so, yes, that’s kind of nice. Main point, though: This advance notice should be the rule, not the exception.
4. She asked parents to contribute fruits and vegetables to go with the pizza. I love this. Not only will the kids be getting some high-quality, nutritious food along with that (delivery) pizza. They’ll also be absorbing the message that balance and variety matter, and that just because pizza is on the menu, that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing on the menu.
5. The pizza party and these other indulgences are happening along with other fun stuff the kids have planned, including extra outside time and field games. So food is part of it, but it’s not the focus.
Works for me.