How Quickly it Goes: “One Treat” Blows Up

I can’t be the only one who’s been thinking about the Sarah Palin incident.  Nope, not the “Russia from my house” thing, and not the shooting moose from a helicopter to make chili thing, and not the quitting-governor-before-the-term-limit thing either…those are sooo last year.  I’m not even trying to be political, I swear.  I’m talking about S.P.’s recent publicity stunt: bringing sugar cookies to kids at a Pennsylvania school because she was worried that their Big Bad District was taking away their God-given right to eat junk.  I swear, she actually said that she equates Pennsylvania with Hershey’s, and therefore telling parents that they can’t bring in sugary treats for their kids’ birthdays anymore is tantamount to violating those kids’ birthright as citizens of the Hershey State.  *Puke.*

I’m not (believe it or not) going to go into an analysis of whether or not I think the sugary treat ban in Bucks County is good or bad, or anything like it, and I’m not going to talk about what I think of S.P.’s actions (though you can probably guess).  However, I will say this: whatever your opinion of banning treats in schools might be, it is a far faster, slipperier slope than any of us might want to admit.  Witness the following experience, which J. and I had this morning as we dropped our boys off at school.

As we brought P. to the toddler room, where he and other 18-30 month-olds will spend their day, he started (predictably) to fuss.  P. doesn’t fuss at drop-off because he’ll miss Mommy and Daddy, really — he fusses because he likes L.’s big Pre-K room better.  There’s more room to run in there, more toys that do cool stuff (like a computer!  Awesome!), and his brother is there, which adds to the cache for him.  He can’t fathom why we continually remove him from that fascinating scene and bring him upstairs to the age-appropriate area, where he’ll be relegated to a world without technology and where none of his peers are old enough to be suckered into doing his bidding.

When P. fusses at drop-off and tries to claw his way back to the gate that leads to the lobby (and, by logical extension, the stairway to Pre-K), the best tactic is obviously distraction.  This morning, as I wrestled his jacket off him, one of the teachers knelt down and said enthusiastically, “P.!  Guess what!  We’re going to make chocolate-chip cookies today!”

I didn’t blink, by the way — I expect that most of you think I would have.  But I know that they’re doing lots of kids and cooking activities this month; I understand that baking is a fun science/math extension activity for toddlers; and I can support the idea that, once in a while, making chocolate chip cookies as a class, rather than whole-wheat pancakes, veggie platters, or the like, is just plain fun.  Cookies are exciting.  I was fine with it.

Until, seeing how I exclaimed and oohed and aahed and tried to use the cookie project as a viable distraction for my squirming child (whose newest addition to his vocabulary is, in fact, “cookie” — spoken this week for banana-oatmeal cookies made with whole wheat flour), the teacher continued.  “Aaaaand,” she squealed enthusiastically, “we also have Munchkins, AND cupcakes today!  LOTS of treats!”

Sorry — that screeching sound you just heard was my brain coming to an abrupt halt as it tried to process that particular piece of information.  Um.  What?

Nervous laughter ensued.  There I stood, holding my red-faced child as he attempted to catapult himself (using my cleavage as a foothold, thank you very much) out of my arms and over the offending baby gate, staring at his teacher and the now-evident box of Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins on the shelf beside her.  And I had a million things to say, but I couldn’t let most of them out, and the rest were so busy jockeying for position that there was just a logjam of comments building up inside me and nothing at all actually came out of my mouth but “Heh heh…heh…”

J., by this point, had astutely left the room and was studying the lobby bulletin board with laser-like focus (the construction-paper leaves were apparently fascinating to him).  I finally burst out with “Ummm, could we maybe NOT have all of those today?”  I think I sounded a little more shrill and alarmist than I intended to, but honestly, I was trying to be restrained.

The teacher’s smile only faltered for a moment.  “Oh, um, yeah, sure,” she said.  “No problem.”

The next minute or two was a jumble of the two of us trying to defend our positions without being awkward (disastrously, I might add).  She started explaining sort of hastily how it was just an accident that this had happened because the activity was already planned, but then it was somebody’s birthday, so hence the cupcakes, and then the Munchkins came on the scene… (I still haven’t figured out quite how those wound up in the equation, unless they appeared by some Twilight Zone junk food portal.)  And I started tripping over myself to try not to appear like the Food Fuhrer, saying things like “I just can’t imagine how tired you guys will be this afternoon if all these little people get so sugared up!” and passing it all off like a big joke.  When the truth is, I’m really disturbed.

In the end, we agreed that she’d limit P. to one treat as far as she was able, which I appreciate, but I’m not totally confident in that arrangement — only because I know firsthand how hard it is to tell a child, especially a strong-willed toddler, that they can’t have the sweets their classmates are eating.  But I couldn’t in good conscience leave that school under the assumption that he’d just gorge on sugary snacks all day, either.  She suggested letting him have a cupcake when they do the birthday celebration for his friend, which I said was fine; but then, on the other hand, P. loves cookies — probably far more than cupcakes — and he might prefer that.  I don’t know.  It just feels like a big junk food mess gone completely out of control.

For the record, I am going to email the director of the school and ask about all of this, because it’s NOT just one instance, much as I would like to say it is.  This is the first time such a blatant sugarfest has come to my attention; but the Dunkin’ Donuts Munchkins?  I’ve seen them in the classroom — and on P.’s daily snack report — more often than I would care to admit.  There’s even a parent J. has dubbed “Munchkin Mom” after seeing her carrying the telltale paper cartons into the school more than once in a single week.

I’m not usually in favor of out-and-out restrictions on certain foods, unless it’s an allergy policy.  But this morning, I have to confess, I was tempted to switch sides.  If a school as generally pro-active as ours is, when it comes to healthy eating, can’t get control of the junk…then we, as parents, need to.  We shouldn’t be naive enough to think that we’ll control the sugar simply at home, because frankly, I’m planning to bake a whole big mess of cookies this weekend, and I’m planning to enjoy it, and I’m planning to let my kids enjoy it with me.  And now, knowing that the treatfest of the century has erupted for my TODDLER in his school environment, letting him enjoy those cookies in our own kitchen will be just a little bit less fun.

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15 Responses to How Quickly it Goes: “One Treat” Blows Up

  1. Pingback: A Sort-of Apology, or, Why It’s Hard to be Brave | Red, Round, or Green

  2. Liz in Vermont says:

    AND! Sarah Palin! Talk about crap. She is a media whore and will never run for President because she is making too much money being a “personality.” Thank God.

  3. Liz in Vermont says:

    One Munchkin Glazed Chocolate Cake type: 70 calories, 4 g of sugar Ingredients listed below via the Dunkin Donuts website.

    I can’t eat donuts because of the sugar content. As a diabetic, I test my blood glucose regularly after eating, so I do know this: if I eat too much sugar, no matter what form it’s delivered in, my blood sugar goes up. If I eat anything with white sugar and white flour, it goes up faster (no fiber to slow it down) and 30 minutes later I am either weeping or crabby or both. And I am an adult who weighs a heck of a lot more than a little kid! Bri, you are completely and totally justified on insisting that your children follow the healthy eating plan that you have set out for them.
    And, just to review:
    4 Grams of sugar in one munchkin, 8 grams of sugar or more in most cookies, 22 grams of sugar and 181 calories in one Hostess cupcake, around 30-50 grams of sugar in a “gourmet” cupcake and anywhere from 300 to 800 calories. And they were giving all three in one day? That totals anywhere from 34-62 grams of sugar without counting actual food. Just the facts, ma’am.

    Personally, I love the idea of the watermelon “cake” and I bet the kids love it also!

    INGREDIENTS: Munchkin: Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Enzyme, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Palm Oil, Water, Sugar, Skim Milk, Soybean Oil, Cocoa processed with alkali, Contains less than 2% of the following: Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Egg Whites, Whey (a milk derivative), Salt, Artificial Flavor, Sodium Caseinate (a milk derivative), Soy Flour, Modified Corn Starch, Defatted Soy Flour, Soy Protein Isolate, Wheat Starch, Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids, Guar Gum, Carbohydrate Gum, Soy Lecithin, Gelatinized Wheat Starch, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gum, L-Cysteine Hydrochloride; Glaze: Sugar, Water, Maltodextrin, Contains 2% or less of: Mono and Diglycerides, Agar, Cellulose Gum, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative), Artificial Flavor.

    It’s just crap. And what in hell is defatted soy flour and how do they do that?

    It’s crap. One munch

  4. Sarahliz says:

    I commend you for taking a stand, B. If you don’t bring these issues to the director now, it can snowball before you know it.

    After working on an preschool obesity prevention grant, I have heard every excuse. The #1 excuse was always along the lines of “I don’t have enough time to feed my kids healthy stuff.” The parent that keeps bringing in Munchkins probably arrives to class and says something like, “I was running late today and my kid didn’t get any breakfast, so I brought Munchkins for the whole class!” (a dietician we worked with continually received this excuse from parents when her patients showed up for an appointment, with a McD’s bag in hand!) However, that is inexcusable. Just because one parent can’t manage to feed their child properly doesn’t mean that the rest of the children’s health should suffer. As for the birthday cupcakes, it could be said that the parent who brought in the birthday cupcakes might have originally planned on a healthier treat, but changed their mind at the last minute. However, I agree that the teacher could have planned the cookie-baking activity for a day (or week) when there was NOT a birthday — they DO get this info at the beginning of the year, after all.

    I would also like to say that I like the cooking activities that Kim B. mentioned, as they would be much more appropriate for all!

  5. Kim B. says:

    Wow.

    Obviously, you eat well enough at home that you can probably afford to be a *little* slack when it comes to your kids eating outside the home, but I agree 100% that today’s junkfest was over the top. Way over the top.

    I guess I’ve taken it for granted, but our preschool is pretty healthy when it comes to snacks, etc. I’m just offering these as examples.

    1) November’s theme at our preschool is food/cooking too! On the calendar for “cooking” in the toddler classroom are the following: fruit salad, vegetable salad, and applesauce. Okay, to be fair, they are also going to “cook” milkshakes, but that’s nowhere near as bad as Munchkins. (Disclaimer: I have fed my child Munchkins and don’t have anything against them as an occasional treat. Weekly seems more than occasional to me.)

    2) There is a daily routine of “Friendship Fruit.” Every child brings in a piece of whole fruit and the kids all share as their morning snack. Not only do they enjoy delicious, healthy fruit, but the teachers use it as a lesson opportunity and talk about the color, texture, taste, and also show them how to wash it, eat it, etc.

    3) There is a “no cake” rule for birthdays. Parents who wish to bring in an edible item for birthdays are invited to bring in a watermelon. They will slice the watermelon in half and put candles in it for the kids to blow out. Genius, no? (Parents could also bring non-edible treats, like decorations, etc.)

    4) Other than the Friendship Fruit, I have never seen any food I have not sent with T written on his daily report. (Of course, I realize that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not feeding him Munchkins, but given their Friendship Fruit philosophy, I’m guessing they are not.)

    Anyway. Sorry you’re annoyed. Maybe those cookies will help. 😉

    • Wow, Kim, I love that Friendship Fruit thing. And I totally agree with you that it’s not about having anything against Munchkins, or milkshakes, or cookies, or anything like that. It’s a matter of degree.
      Our school does provide the snacks for the kids, so their daily reports are always going to include things we didn’t send. I’m willing to make the concession, since, as I’ve mentioned plenty of times, I do think they need to live in the “real” world and I’m not going to be the crazy mom who dives across the tables to rip Teddy Grahams out of their hands at every turn. Don’t love all the snacks, don’t hate all the snacks, and know that lots of the time, L., at least, doesn’t eat them (he tells me “it was cheese and crackers, Mommy, but I didn’t like their crackers or their cheese so I didn’t eat it”). Fine. I pack extra food in their lunches and 9/10 times the boxes come home empty, so I suspect they’re eating mainly what I send and dabbling in the rest.
      But I think we need to be very clear about what we call things. Munchkins, cupcakes, and chocolate cookies are not “snacks.” They are “desserts.” “Treats.” So telling me that the a.m. snack was munchkins, the p.m. snack was cupcakes, and the activity involved a tasting of cookies = You fed my kids three desserts today. I don’t know if the school would do that, if they actually called it what it is.
      And yes. The cookies will help! So will the fact that we just invited a friend over for Sunday brunch and I’m sure we’ll make something fabulous. 🙂

  6. Scatteredmom says:

    Wow. Just, WOW.

    It’s poor planning on the school’s part to know there is a child’s birthday and then plan an activity where they bake cookies, unless the plan is to send the cookies home with the kids to enjoy later. They can claim ignorance, but honestly-they likely knew there was a birthday and could’ve changed activities even days before. Doughnut holes? (I’m guessing that’s what Munchkins are). Weekly? For toddlers? All in the same day? Totally over the top. No kid needs THAT much junk in one day. I would speak to the director.

    Parents worry so much about being “on the list” that they don’t advocate for their kids. Here’s a tip-teachers respect people who advocate for their kids, even if they don’t agree with them. If you feel strongly about this and make it about your child, not a personal attack on the teacher, then it will go over better. Don’t allow fear of being “put on the list” to curb what you strongly believe is best for your child, though. You are the parent. You NEED to advocate for your child, list or no list. School is a business-you don’t have to be friends with them, they are in the business of educating your child, you are in the business of making sure your child gets what they need. Period.

    Nobody should be allowed to arrive at the door with Munchkins unless they’ve checked ahead and it’s a special occasion-and the teachers need to be able to gently curb the parent by suggesting that they should bring in fruit or veggies instead. (unless THEY are the ones enjoying the weekly gift of doughnut holes)

    I’m not even going to comment on Sara Palin, as I think she’s a complete nutcase. Totally different post.

    Good luck!

    • Yes, Munchkins are donut holes (good guess! Didn’t realize that was a uniquely American phenomenon). 🙂 And you’re right; the school is fairly small, so theoretically, they know when kids are having birthdays. We always check, too, a few days ahead of time, to make sure that what we intend to bring will be appropriate and welcomed. I would imagine most parents do.
      I totally agree with you that advocating for our kids has to come before worries about being “popular” with the staff. I tried, in the email I sent to the director, to make it clear that it’s really not about anything other than the fact that I don’t think any kid needs to have that much junk at school. I really wonder if maybe the director is just not totally aware of what happened today — maybe it really was just a perfect storm — but it occurs to me that recently, we received an all-parent email telling us not to send hot dogs for little ones’ lunches because they are a choking hazard; we’ve received missives telling us not to send nuts or anything potentially containing nut products; we’ve seen signs up at the school asking that we not send candy or soda in our kids’ lunchboxes. We’ve been asked not to send treats that are homemade, as well. Why can’t we also be asked, gently and kindly, to refrain from sending treats without getting approval; or, as Erica suggests, not sending things unless it’s our child’s birthday? I personally struggle, anyway, with sending treats for the kids and their classmates because everything has to be pre-packaged and labeled, and most of those items don’t meet my standard for what I want to feed my children and their friends; I’m amazed that there is so much thought put into what can’t be sent, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of thought about what IS getting sent.

  7. James says:

    I’d have to agree that you shoul contact the director. If, for all intents and purposes, donuts are showing up unbiden on a frequent basis, there is a serious problem. There is no defensible position that they are healthy, and while whomever is bringing them in might think they are just the nicest and most generous parent, it’s really rather presumptuous of them. I wouldn’t deny my boys a donut once in a blue moon, but definitely not weekly.

    • Seriously! I did, actually, fire off an email to her just a little bit ago, pointing out the recurrent Munchkin issue etc. I do really like her and respect her, and I’m just not sure if she is aware of what’s going on or not. J. said “don’t get us put on the ‘list’!” jokingly — as in, the “list” of bad parents the school dreads talking to — but I couldn’t hold back anymore. I’ll be interested to see what she says when she gets back to me.

      • Erica says:

        Oh, I’m always fretting about being “on the list”. But you have to remember that everyone is “crazy”, and you’re not the only parent bringing things like this to their attention. I have to remind myself of that when I’m shooting off emails about things. I haven’t had to do that in a while, but there was a time…

        Anyway, I totally agree with you…no one, and I mean NO ONE should be bringing Munchkins in unless it is the chosen birthday person’s treat. And clearly in this case it was not. Maybe they can send a note home with everyone saying that unless it’s your kid’s birthday, don’t bring in treats for the class. End of story.

  8. Donna says:

    I’m with Jamie on the Palin issue. Lots of expletives running through my head.

    And I have gotten into several arguments at work this week, and have encountered so much frustration… They started a weight loss club for our department, but then I sit here and watch everyone eat terribly and replace half their meals with shakes and bars. Someone once told me that you should only eat things that your grandmother would recognize as food. I sincerely believe that is a good idea.

    I am also a dance teacher, and have constantly seen Saturday mornings where it is someone’s birthday and there are doughnuts (especially the dreaded Munchkins), cookie cakes, cupcakes, brownies… and this happens every other week. Does it not occur to these parents that maybe filling a growing body with empty calories and then having them dance around might not be the best option? These kids don’t even eat breakfast before coming to class!

    Ugh… I am starting to internalize more and more of my opinions about food and eating; no one I know is on the same page (except my wonderful husband). Thanks for being a voice out there I can identify with! (and sorry for the rant of a somewhat off-topic nature!)

    • Not off-topic! Welcomed! I swear. I absolutely agree with the eat-what-your-grandma-would-recognize philosophy — I’ve cited it more than once here on the blog — and I actually take it further, to my great-grandmother, because I realize that when my grandparents were raising their kids things like Hostess snack cakes were starting to appear on the supermarket shelves, and margarine was all the rage. And you’re right, it’s not just schools, it’s activities too — there’s just an influx of, pardon me, crap surrounding kids wherever they turn. People are so concerned with making things “fun” and being the “popular” parent/teacher/activity leader/etc. that they don’t think beyond that moment in time. All I can think is, if P. pukes today because of all that junk, I’m going to be really pissed about having to do that laundry.

  9. I was having a hard time not bursting into laughter while I read this at my desk during lunch. I agree with you. My daughter’s school has a no outside food for the class and no food sharing policy and I’m happy about that. My son’s preschool is really good about not having junk food for snack.

  10. Jamie says:

    Really? You need me to comment on Sarah???? Really?
    Cause, I think I might have another blog here.
    Fuck her. Fuck her stunt. I’m pissed today. Sorry.

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