Chancellor Promotes Unwholesome Foods & Hinders Children’s Development & Empowerment: NYC Ban of Homemade Goods at School Bake Sales– Annabelle Ho
Kellog’s frosted brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts are allowed to be sold at school bake sales while homemade banana bread and Greek spanakopitas are not? In New York City’s Public Schools, this is the case. This past February, New York City’s Department of Education (DOE) revised Regulation A-812, Competitive Foods, “to improve the quality and nutritional value of foods and beverages that are available for children” (1). According to this revision, students may only sell food items at school that are in the DOE’s approved list between the time school begins and 6:00 pm, with one exception for PA/PTA fundraising sales. This exception allows PTAs to hold a fundraiser once a month with non-approved foods during the school day after the last lunch period, as long as the sales occur outside the cafeteria. The DOE’s list of approved foods to sell during the school day currently includes all fresh fruits and vegetables and around forty or so packaged items, including low-fat Cool Ranch Doritos, brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tarts, and blackberry Nutri-Grain cereal bars (2). These packaged items all meet the DOE’s Food and Snack Guidelines, which, among other specifications, state that the products are each in single serve packages and meet a specific nutritional profile.
According to the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, an act which is to be renewed this year, school districts that participate in federally funded meal programs are required to develop and institute a wellness policy (3). According to this act, schools’ wellness policies need to incorporate goals for nutrition education and physical activity, and guidelines that promote student health and reduce childhood obesity (4). The DOE’s regulations regarding Competitive Foods will become a part of the DOE’s 2010 Wellness Policy, which is currently still under revision. The wellness policy addresses the obesity epidemic in the United States, which has become a growing problem, especially over the past few years. In 2003-2004, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) estimated that 17.1% of U.S. children who were between 2-19 years of age were overweight (5). This shows a significant increase in overweight children from previous years, as the percentage of overweight children of 2-19 years of age were 13.9%, 15.4%, and 17.1% in 1999-2000, 2001-2002, and 2003-2004, respectively.
Although the revision of A-812 was meant to promote student health and reduce obesity, there are many problems with this intervention. A-812 allows approved foods that meet “healthy food guidelines.” However, the food that is in the DOE’s approved list can be of much lower nutritional quality than fresh, homemade goods. In addition, preventing students and parents from selling homemade goods at bake sales during the school day inhibits children’s development as evidenced by the Ecological Systems Theory, and disempowers children according to the Empowerment Theory.
A-812 Does Not Promote Nutritious Foods
Although regulation A-812 was meant to promote student health and reduce obesity as part of New York City’s 2010 School Wellness Policy, the regulation and approved food list promote unwholesome foods. The Food and Snack Guidelines state that products must meet a specific nutritional profile. For example, each product must contain 200 calories or less, 200 mg of sodium or less, less than .5 g of trans fat per serving, and at least 2 g of fiber per serving if the snack is a grain-based product (2). However, even if a food meets the specified nutritional profile, this does not mean that the food is nutritious. For example, the main ingredients of Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips, which are in the DOE’s approved list, are enriched wheat flour, sunflower and/or canola oil, and sugar (6). Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips contains less than 2% of whole wheat flour, organic sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, sea salt, active yeast, oat fiber, compressed yeast, malted barley flour, and inactive yeast. While Stacy’s Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips do meet the nutritional guidelines set forth by the DOE, the main ingredients of these pita chips are not nutrient-rich. Regular consumption of whole grains and whole grain products, as opposed to refined grain products, has been associated with reduced risks of various types of cardiovascular diseases (7). Whole grains naturally contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that work synergistically to create health benefits, and these synergistic effects cannot be replicated or recreated by simply enriching refined grains with the vitamins that are known to be lost during the grain-refining process.
Many homemade baked goods can be very nutritious. While many of the approved snacks on the DOE’s list contain a combination of whole and refined grains, children cannot sell homemade 100% whole wheat bread or rolls under A-812, even if the whole wheat bread or whole wheat rolls did meet the DOE’s required nutritional profile. Homemade banana bread is also not permitted, even if whole wheat flour, healthy oils, such as olive oil, and bananas, a fruit that naturally contains protective antioxidants and phytochemicals, are used. Many health benefits have been attributed to olive oil. Olive oil is said to reduce risk factors of coronary heart disease, have protective effects against various cancers, modify immune and inflammatory responses, and contain many healthy phytochemicals including polyphenolic compounds (8). In addition, bananas and fresh fruits and vegetables naturally contain antioxidants and phytochemicals, and it has been found that the total antioxidant activity from these foods comes from the combination of phytochemicals (9). One antioxidant cannot replace the combination of phytochemicals naturally found in fruits and vegetables to produce health benefits, because it is the additive synergistic effects of phytochemical activity that are responsible for these antioxidant and anticancer activities. The collaborative effects of phytochemicals naturally found in foods cannot be replicated by simply enriching or fortifying snacks, because there are many compounds in food that remain to be identified. The health benefits found in foods naturally high in antioxidants and phytochemicals cannot be found in processed food products that do not contain these nutritious ingredients, even if the Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts are fortified with niacin, thiamin, iron, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin B6 (10). Although an individual may believe a packaged snack contains fruit, the actual amount of fruit in the product may be considerably less than he or she may have initially believed. For example, even though an individual might expect to have some fruit from a Nutri-Grains Blackberry Cereal Bar, a product which is approved by the NYC’s DOE, blackberries are actually the fourth ingredient in the cereal bar filling (11). The first three ingredients of the cereal bar filling in order are high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and glycerin. While any fresh fruits and vegetables are allowed to be sold during bake sales, teaching students and parents learning how to incorporate these healthy foods into baked goods, rather than letting the manufacturers do the work, is important and can be very educational.
A-812 Hinders Proximal Processes and Child Development
A-812 hinders proximal processes and child development according to the Ecological Systems Theory. Two main propositions define the Ecological Systems Theory. Proposition I states that human development takes place throughout life through processes of increasingly more complex reciprocal interactions between active, evolving human organisms and the persons, objects, and symbols in its immediate environment (12). For interactions to be effective, they need to be mostly on a regular basis over long periods of time. These continual forms of interactions in the immediate environment are known as proximal processes. A corollary to Proposition I is that the developmental power of proximal processes is enhanced during circumstances in which the persons involved have developed strong emotional attachments to one other. Meanwhile, Proposition II states that the form, power, content, and direction of the proximal processes affecting development vary steadily as a combined function of the characteristics of the developing person, the immediate and remote environment, and the nature of the developmental outcomes under consideration.
In the ecological model, the developing individual is also influenced by five successive systems, with each system contained within the next (13). The microsystem includes the setting in which an individual lives, while the mesosystem involves connections between two or more settings which both involve the developing individual. The exosystem includes two or more contexts, at least one of which does not contain the developing individual but which influences the individual. Macrosystems involve the culture in which the developing individual lives, and the chronosystem involves change or consistency in the developing individual and their environment over time.
Child development can thus be hindered if only packaged snacks are typically allowed at school bake sales. As indicated by the Ecological Systems Model, children are most affected by proximal processes, close relationships, and factors in their immediate environment (13). This has implications in school bake sales, especially if children are baking homemade goods with their parents. Cooking is becoming a lost art in the United States, and children increase their development, cooking ability, and ability to interact with others if they have more complex interactions with other people, such as by cooking with their parents. Furthermore, as indicated in Proposition I, these interactions are enhanced when these interactions occur regularly. If PTA bake sales with non-approved goods can only occur once a month, the interaction and experience of the child cooking with his or her parent is rather infrequent, particularly if a parent is busy at one month and cannot cook with the child until the next month. This infrequency decreases the amount of interaction the child has with the parent and can thus hinder a child’s development.
Foods that children make with their parents are more meaningful than packaged food items. For instance, home-baking is important in relation to a child’s culture, a part of the macrosystem (13). A student may get more from a cooking experience with a parent if the food that they are making has a familial and cultural background. Helen Martineau-Kraus, a parent from New York City, used to make mini-spanakopitas, a pastry characteristic of Greece, with her two daughters for their school bake sales (17). Under A-812, homemade spanakopitas can only be sold at the exceptional PTA bake sale once a month. According to the Ecological Systems Theory, a child would learn much more from making and selling a homemade treat that is characteristic of their family and culture, which has much more meaning as compared to a retail packaged item. Meanwhile, the corollary to Proposition I notes the importance of strong emotional attachments in relation to proximal processes and individual development (12). While a child’s relationship to a General Mills Strawberry Team Cheerios Cereal Bar may involve a television commercial, the emotional attachment between a child and parent is much stronger and more meaningful. In effect, learning how to cook a healthful, homemade baked good with a parent increases a child’s development much more than reselling a packaged food item provided by a manufacturer. In addition to hindering proximal processes and child development, A-812 is disempowering.
A-812 Disempowers Children
Regulation A-812 disempowers children by preventing them to sell homemade goods at school bake sales during the school day. Empowerment is “the process of gaining influence over events and outcomes of importance to an individual or group” (14). At the individual level, empowerment refers to a process in which individuals gain control and mastery over their lives, and a critical understanding of their environment (15). The empowerment theory predicts that participating in decision making can enhance an individual’s feeling of empowerment, and that empowered individuals are more likely to participate in community organizations and activities (16).
Various studies explore the Empowerment Theory in more depth. In a study performed by Prestby and colleagues, it was found that organization empowerment may be linked to person-environment fit through their research of the connection between incentive management and organization activity (16). Organizations that have shared decision making, open leadership, and communal projects may be empowered by individuals motivated by factors including social ties, skill building, and helping others (16). In 1990, Chavis and Wandersman proposed that the sense of community is important in the development of personal control and participation, and found that a sense of community had a direct effect on an individual’s level of involvement in a neighborhood association (16). Chavis and Wandersman also suggested a reciprocal relationship between “a sense of community and participation and a sense of personal power and participation” (16).
The DOE’s restriction of only being able to sell foods from their approved list disempowers children from being able to decide what goes into the foods sold at school bake sales. Yes, students can submit a retail package with a nutritional label, ingredient list, and allergen list if they want the proposed, packaged food to be reviewed by a chef and nutritionist to be added onto the approved list (2). However, limiting children to only selling foods that they did not make themselves removes is disempowering, decreases their sense of control, and leads to decreased feelings of community and motivation.
Experiences from several parents emphasize the importance of community and empowering children through school bake sales. By contributing homemade goods to bake sales in the past, students and parents felt a sense of community. Helen Martineau-Kraus, a parent in East Village, New York, stated “Everybody contributes, everybody feels more like they are part of the school community. They try things that other people have baked. In such a big city it’s really nice to have that small community feeling” (17). In addition, these bake sales are often used as fundraisers. Geraldine Neary, a parent at the Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, said her school’s weekly bake sales, which made around $200-$300, made enough money to send eleven students to Mexico last year (17). School bake sales are important in bringing students, parents, and the school staff together. Again, allowing children to sell only foods that appear in an approved food list restricts their feeling of empowerment, feelings of organization responsibility, and likelihood to participate in community activities.
There are better ways to promote health and reduce obesity in school and school bake sales than by preventing children from selling homemade goods at school bake sales. Homemade goods should be allowed in school bake sales during the school day, because they can provide nutritious options that processed foods do not offer. Baking homemade goods fosters the development of the child. In addition, allowing children to sell homemade goods at school bake sales empowers the children and promotes the feeling of community.
The New York City 2010 Draft Wellness Policy does include goals for nutrition education and promotion (4). For example, SchoolFood is a program that will work with and partner with the New York City Public Schools and the community. Partnership meetings will include discussions of nutrition-related topics and the school food service program, and invited participants can include students, a school administrator, a parent coordinator, the school nurse, and the SchoolFood manager (4). Meanwhile, the Office of Fitness and Health Education will address “nutrition education in professional development trainings for the Department’s recommended comprehensive health curricula, HealthTeacher (for grades K-5) and HealthSmart (for grades 6-12)” (4). The DOE encourages schools to promote parents’ efforts to provide a healthy diet and regular physical activity for their children as well. According to the 2010 Draft Wellness Policy, schools can offer healthy-eating seminars for parents, send home nutrition information, post nutrition advice on school websites, and provide nutrition analyses of school menus (4).
Although the 2010 Draft Wellness Policy does address nutrition education and promotion by educating staff and promoting parental awareness of nutritional food choices, selling homemade goods at school bake sales during the school day should be viewed as an educational opportunity for the children, parents, and school staff in regards to nutrition. Instead of preventing children from selling homemade goods at bake sales, children and parents should be educated about ways to incorporate healthy ingredients into their cooking and homemade treats, such as by substituting shortening, which may contain trans fats, with healthier options, such as olive oil. Instead of using refined white flour, students and parents can be taught that whole wheat flour is more wholesome and contains more health benefits than white flour, and that whole wheat flour can be a complete or partial substitute for white flour in recipes. When educating parents and children about the importance of fruits and vegetables in the diet, recipes and creative ideas to incorporate fruits and vegetables in baked goods can be recommended, such as by incorporating raisins in baked cookies or breads.
Homemade goods can meet specified nutritional guidelines as much as manufactured food can. For a food to be accepted on the approved foods list, the food item must be available in single serve packages and meet a specific nutritional profile (2). Instead of disempowering students by preventing them from selling homemade goods, students and parents should instead be given the resources to not only learn how to make food that is more nutritionally sound, but also be given the resources that will help them to evaluate whether their foods meet recommended dietary guidelines. There are even free recipe analyzers online, such as CalorieCount.com’s Recipe Analyzer, where individuals can enter the ingredients in a recipe to create a nutrition label of the food. After generating a nutrition label, students can revise the recipe if necessary, or keep the recipe if it meets the nutrition standards set forth by the DOE. Subsequently, children can divide the homemade goods into individual portions, and provide ingredient lists and nutrition labels when selling homemade goods at bake sales.
The new nutritional standards set forth for products sold in New York City schools should can seen as a way to educate the students and parents about what they eat and make at home, and not as a way to disempower children and by restricting them to sell retail and processed products at school. Children and parents are able to make nutritionally sound food just as well as any manufacturer can. After all, what’s life without a little dessert?
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