By Leslie Levine, LiveWell Colorado Technical Assistance and Research Coordinator
On my way into work the other morning, I listened to the radio DJ talk about her young son selling cookies for a school fundraiser. I then remembered that my girls’ middle school was holding a fundraiser at a local pizza restaurant that night. “Should I even attempt to make dinner tonight?” I thought to myself, “Or will I get repeated requests to grab pizza instead?”
I’ve worked at LiveWell Colorado for eight years now and have been dedicated to healthy eating since my college years. Now with three kids, I put a lot of effort into preparing healthy meals they’ll want to eat—like appealing stir-fry or taco platters with all of the colors of the rainbow. We’ve found that mango tastes really yummy on ground turkey tacos and my kids like it when I add fresh pineapple to my stir-fry. I get excited when the grocery store has bell peppers on sale because I know I can add red, yellow and orange peppers to my meals. But is serving “pretty” meals enough to get my kids to forgo the pizza at the fundraiser?
My struggle to get my children to make healthy choices is compounded when unhealthy foods continue to show up in their schools’ environment—whether it’s a catered pizza party, or a doughnut or candy bar offered as a reward in the classroom.
Thankfully, schools across Colorado are fighting unhealthy food marketing, recognizing that this can be detrimental not only to children’s health, but also to their academic performance. In St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, the Nutrition Services Department is offering a “Smart Snack” approved catering menu that parents can order from instead of sending store-bought treats for birthday parties. Even better, they are promoting classroom celebrations and rewards that feature non-food items such as pencils and bookmarks. Many schools in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins are avoiding food fundraisers all together, finding financial success through walkathons instead. As a parent, I would feel so much better about my child asking friends and family to sponsor them for a physical activity event rather than selling candy bars and doughnuts.
Slowly but surely, schools are taking big steps to change the food environment to one that doesn’t bombard our children with unhealthy food marketing. You can aid this effort by signing up for Prevent Obesity’s alerts about unhealthy food marketing in schools and learn what you can do about it.