Yes, I am the Sugar Nazi

As a follow-up to my post the other day about all the junk food my son’s teacher has requested, I’m now fully ensconced among others who have been saying for a while that we are all just eating way too much sugar. Honest to God, there are a million articles about unlocking the mysteries as to why so many of us are overweight and obese. Epidemic levels, and particularly sad as it relates to our country’s children, of course. But I’m really starting to believe it’s not a mystery. And while it’s certainly a confluence of many events – less time for recess, a convenience-based, more sedentary lifestyle, the prevalence of inexpensive fast food, I really wonder if the sugar factor were removed, or at least drastically minimized, how much of a positive impact that would have on the whole of the population. I don’t mean in some Big Brother way, just people starting to say no to it and creating change.

I’m not really a sweets person, as is widely known among my friends. I have a completely unscientific and unproven theory that the formation of you being a sweets person starts in infancy and early childhood, based on how much and how often you are exposed to sweets. If your Mom was “a baker” and your after school snack often consisted of things like cinnamon rolls or pumpkin muffins, if pop/soda was prevalent, if dessert was always served, a lot of folks (but not all) grow up with a sweet tooth. My Mom strongly disliked sweets. We had pop on Fridays when we would order pizza, and pie at the holidays, but that was about it. I have heard women for years obsess particularly about chocolate and ice cream. That they can’t have ice cream in the house or they eat the whole carton. Or that chocolate should be everywhere, all the time. I wonder why this is? I don’t know if there is a scientific answer, but wonder if the increasing prevalence of sugar everywhere has something to do with retraining your taste buds to prefer it, seek it out, and crave it? I mean, I occasionally have a small bit of chocolate – “that time” and all, but generally at birthday parties I decline the cake, when I take my kid out for ice cream I can’t even finish the child’s sized cone, etc.

My son’s teacher responded to my email, saying most of the things she requested were to assist with various lessons/learning. Pretzel rods for building log cabins. Teddy grahams for graphing. Fruit loops for measuring, counting and weighing. I am not a teacher, and it’s not my job to tell her what to do – as long as she is not giving these things as Pavlovian, behavior-based rewards, I’m not going to make a huge stink about it, but since when did chips ahoy and gummi bears become part of a teacher’s teaching aresenal? I sure don’t remember anything like that when I was a kid. I mean, sure, we made necklaces with dried macaroni once in a while. But using “food” (and I use that term loosely with regard to these items) as part of regular lessons is going to make it impossible for most kids not to eat at least some of what’s in front of them. I know if I had been in school and we had been given stacks of sliced pepperoni for counting, I would have eaten some of it. Why are these foods presented as impetus to get them to participate and comply? Because sugar is the magic motivator, apparently.

It’s everywhere. In addition to breakfast, lunch and snack I prepare and send for my son, there’s also the junk in the class they will be playing with, and at his after-care, they are given an additional snack. I’ve now asked my son to decline the snack, after trying to gauge from him for a few days what the snack is that’s given. So far I know of popcorn (ok I guess, though it is a choking hazard for kids under 7 and I’d prefer he only eat it when I’m around, but whatever), some type of cocoa cereal bar, and yesterday’s snack, which was a baggie full of at least a cup of unidentifiable cereal (to me, because I don’t buy that shit). It looked like a mix of chocolate cheerios, regular cheerios and fruit loops, and then a bunch of marshmallows in there as well. He’s been bringing the snack home so I can see it and then I throw it away (I did let him have the popcorn).

I know these ladies at extended care work very hard and that a lot of kids are picky. I know they are working with very tight budgets. But surely we can do better. When I told my son to just start saying “No thank you, I am saving room for dinner,” he said, “but Mom, what if I get hungry while I’m there?” “I would be THRILLED if you came home hungry for dinner,” I told him. “That’s actually the way it’s supposed to work. And then you actually eat the food I’ve prepared for you.” And yes, I plan to try to find a way to help out with what’s provided for snack at extendedcare. I’m not rich, there is only so much I can do on my own, but maybe I can propose it to the PTA and we can set aside some funding for it.

It’s not just kids. My Mom has been trying to get out and do more and different things, even though she’s not particularly social. She and some other ladies from her Silver Sneakers class have decided to take a bus trip to Amish Country. She told me the activities on the day trip include making candy, making “whoopie pies” and some other sweet thing they are going to make, and that she’s not very excited about it and hopes there will be some “real food” at least somewhere during the trip. What the actual fuck, America? Is anyone aware that diabetes and is actually a really bad disease?

Mom said to me this morning, “I’m just not sure you’re going to win this battle.” I know that, I told her, but unless I speak up, and unless an atmosphere is created where other parents are educated, concerned, and also speak up, nothing is going to change. It obviously CAN change, since when I was a kid it wasn’t like that. I’m old, but I’m not THAT old, it wasn’t that long ago. I have to at least try.


9 thoughts on “Yes, I am the Sugar Nazi

  1. You’ve got a friend in me! My grand daughter just started Kindergarten this week and last week my daughter got the list of approved snacks for the kids to bring in. Our list is bad, but I’ve heard not as bad as some. I’m the anti-sugar Gramma. I’ve been a Health Coach for the last 4 years and live and breathe food and nutrition. Her school does the Coke Rewards program and pushes the processed food products with the “school label” it infuriates me how big food has gotten into the schools. I want to do something, I just don’t know what or how to approach creating change. I hope to never see my grand daughter coming home with candy taped to her papers or hear of candy being given as rewards. The majority of adults i deal with have problems with sugar that stem back to childhood. Cancer is the #1 cause of death in this country for children under the age of 15 and sugar intake is at an all time high. I blame sugar, all processed foods, dairy and meat that are not organically grown. The growth hormones in dairy products are linked to cancer and yet the little pink labels get slapped all over yogurt. Ironically the maker of the rBST and rBGH also has a cancer drug. Coincidence, NOT! I would love to connect with you to find out what you are doing and get some advice. I know I’m heading into an uphill battle for sure! I’m going to be getting my blog back up and running. Watching the kids doesn’t leave me a lot of time to blog, when I go home to do my health coaching.

    • I buy locally grown, hormone-free meat grown by sustainable, pastured farming farmers and locally made no-hormone milk. We buy organic whenever possible and do the “clean 15/dirty dozen” when I can’t get to a store with a lot of organics. Probably my biggest move to try to effect change so far this year was in joining the PTA before my son even started school. I want to promote change from within.

    • You have a friend in a future teacher, sugar nazi! Two things: I’m not going to push any rewards (or punishments) once I get a classroom of my own. In my opinion, all rewards do is promote doing just enough to get the reward (and arguing about earning rewards). I hope that my lessons and activities are interesting enough on their own merits. Secondly, while I could never personally go sugar-free, there’s a lot of evidence that sugar is addictive. A google search brings up articles titled like Sweet poison: How sugar, not cocaine, is one of the most addictive and dangerous substances.

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  2. I’m that mom too! I don’t think we need to make excuses for that either. I was faced with similar issues last year in preschool with all of the “teaching” food. Thanks to preschool my daughter ate fruit loops and a marsh mellow igloo with white icing. So far she hasn’t been given any classroom junk that I know of but she did eat lunch in the cafeteria today. I decided to let her try it because she was BEGGING and I REALLY hope it was terrible. Otherwise I will have some serious negotiating on my hands. It’s so hard to feed your kids these days with so much outside influence/pressure. You don’t want to always be the mom to say no while everyone else is eating/drinking whatever crap was offered. It shouldn’t be this hard.

  3. My son is only in daycare/Pre-K and I am “that Mom” already. He is the only one in his class that is only allowed to have food from home and 99% of it is non-processed/packaged. He has only learned about candy and all these other foods from going to school. I too notice on the days where they have a class party or something like that with extra snacks that he doesn’t eat dinner properly. He is already a picky eater so when he sees all this crap that the other kids are getting it doesn’t help at all. I always wonder why at after-care or something like that the kids can’t eat bananas or apples for their snack? Both of these are not that expensive and are easy to keep. Sometimes I feel helpless and wonder why I even bother trying to educate, but then I’m like you, I have to try and it’s what I believe in and what I want for my child. I really don’t understand why food is even put into the classroom by teachers. To me it just sends the wrong message completely. Instead of froot loops, couldn’t they use something like buttons for counting and weighing? So far, it seems like none of the other parents in my son’s school are on board with this as they too are offering him food at every turn. He just turned 4 and has already learned that he needs to ask me before accepting food from anyone. I agree with Beth G, I don’t want to be the mom that is always refusing stuff, but it really shouldn’t be this hard. (ps. It’s not just at school. Recently I have been fighting family too who want to give my son soda when we visit – even after I politely refused about 5 times)

    • I *always* knew when it was someone’s birthday at my son’s preschool as that’s when he wouldn’t eat dinner. People need to face it – they are either taking up space in the child’s belly with this crap that makes them reject a healthy dinner later, or the kid eats the dinner on top of the crap food, and ingests too many calories, becomes obese, risks getting diabetes.

  4. You think you won’t “win this battle,” but I’m proof that you can because I did. I’m in Northeast Ohio, so a precedent has already been set in your area. Now our school district has almost no food in the classrooms, except snacks that parents send in for snack time. For birthdays, kids may bring in non-food goody bags (erasers, stickers, pencils) or something else like small bottles of bubbles. PTA room parties have extremely pared-down food offerings and PTA is not allowed to use food rewards. Teachers are not allowed to use foods as rewards or teaching tools.

    When I saw a need for change, I started by going to the teacher, who wasn’t willing to alter her teaching style, though she did cut one program that frankly endangered the two peanut-allergic kids in the class. Then I went to the PTA. This was basically a gigantic waste of time and emotional energy. Their entire plan for the year was raising money through junk food sales and then throwing parties with lots of junk food. The principal was willing to go along with them.

    Then I found the ideal person to help: the school district’s Nutrition Services Director. She’s the person in charge of all of the district’s cafeterias: what they serve, how they are maintained, training the staff, etc. She’s a nutritionist and it is literally her job to see that kids get proper nutrition while in school. After talking to my husband and me, she created a Wellness Committee to develop a district-wide Wellness Policy outlining all of the food policies I mentioned above. The process took most of one school year.

    If you’d like to contact me, I’d be glad to tell you everything that I went through and what worked and what didn’t. We even have a Wellness Committee meeting on the 18th and maybe you could get in on it? Anyway, not sure if you can access my email address from where I fill it in to make a comment. If you can, feel free to send me questions or whatever.

    You CAN do this. Lots of people would like to see less junk food in school, but most of them are afraid to speak up. I have significant fear of confrontation and (to quote my neighbor) because of me “kids from three cities can’t take in cupcakes on their birthdays.” But you know what? People don’t hate me. I joined the PTA board and worked on a lot of projects with a lot of people. We had fun. We got past the hard part and moved pretty smoothly into the new rules. Children didn’t die from lack of cupcakes. And now, going into year two of the new Wellness Policy, people are used to it and it’s a complete non-issue.

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