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Keeping Kids “Sugar-Free” at School

Up until the day my oldest started kindergarten, he had limited exposure to refined sugar. We were an organic, homemade kind of family that consciously avoided sugar, artificial colors, gluten, and pasteurized dairy.

Our friends ate the same way we did and if we went somewhere there wasn’t food we could eat/or wanted to eat, then I checked beforehand with the host to see what we could bring. No matter what kind of food we ate …. or didn’t eat …. it was important to feel included; especially for the children.

If the host was serving cupcakes with red frosting, I made gluten/sugar-free cupcakes with frosting dyed naturally with red beet powder. This is how we rolled. Maybe I was in the kitchen more than other parents, yet what my children eat matters greatly to me, to their health, to the world around them. I deeply believe this no matter how old they get (going on 12 and 18).

Bright Blue Tongue

This “norm” drastically changed on my son’s first day of kindergarten. I excitedly greeted my son as he jumped off the bus; right away noticing his bright blue tongue from a lollipop he’d been given at school. My concern grew with each passing day. First a blue tongue, then red lips (from an artificial colored cherry popsicle), then balls of aluminum in his jacket pocket from Hershey kisses that he’d gotten from his gym teacher for patiently standing in line. Then the day he came home with a wild look in his eyes and orange fingertips from a bag of Cheetos he got from a teacher who felt bad for the “healthy kid”.

For the first time in his life, my son was being exposed to sugar; whether as a reward or for fun. 

Hyper & Detached

Before my very eyes, my once wholesome, sugar-free kid turned into a hyper, detached kid with sugar cravings. For his first 5 years, I’d tried hard to keep him away from such a stimulating, artificial world and I felt angry that a school setting could be so careless with a child’s health and well-being. That such an educational learning environment could have such loose boundaries around refined sugar; which is essentially a strong stimulant, a drug.

Up until now, I’d thought keeping my kids off gluten and pasteurized dairy was tough. Well, that my friends is nothing compared to keeping them off (and away) from refined sugar and artificial dye (i.e. red #40, yellow #5) in a public school setting.

I sent my son with a wholesome lunchbox full of thermoses, containers, and a cloth napkin to boot. Yet, he’d often return with his food untouched and a belly full of junk food.

Rewarding Children

At first, I didn’t say anything. I just watched him come home with various colors on his tongue and lips and a newfound ‘hyperactivity’ that was not my son. One evening we attended a performance that his class put on at school and we noticed a teacher giving each child a Hershey kiss for standing in line so straight and quiet. I also knew that his classroom teacher kept her desk drawer filled with bite-sized m&m packets and kit-kat bars as rewards for the kids doing this ‘n that. Fridays was ‘movie day’ where they rolled in a t.v. and each child got a bowl of microwaved buttery popcorn and cup of kool-aid.

Learning to Communicate

I struggled with how to communicated to school staff about NOT giving sugar to my son and NOT making him feel different or excluded when it came to engaging in food-related activities with his peers. I formed a group of like-minded parents to explore ways to handle the amount of sugar being offered in a  school setting. I met with individual teachers, the cafeteria manager, and the principal. I learned to communicate about a matter that was not only important for my son, but also other kids who had dietary restrictions (imposed by family values or health reasons). I wanted all kids to feel included no matter what kind of food was being served.

I asked “why sugar is served in a learning environment?”; a food known to cause health issues (i.e. ADD, diabetes). Though we had many a conversation, the changes I hoped to see put in place were not made. Other parents I’d been meeting with ended up pulling their kids from the system to home-school or attend alternative education. 

Standing Strong

Most of the teachers I met with were conventional in their way of thinking (and eating). I am fairly certain they thought I was a new-age hippy or a controlling parent, denying her child the ‘good stuff’ in life. Throughout each conversation, I stood strong and moved with my instincts. I wasn’t okay with my child (or any child) being fed sugar at school. At the very least I wanted a system in place so that parents like myself could know when a sugary item was going to be handed out so that our child could be ready with a sugar-free alternative of our choice.

Meanwhile, my son kept coming home full of sugar from an endless stream of birthdays, holidays, and rewards. If I knew about an event ahead of time I’d send him in with a cupcake or a treat that mimicked what was being served. More often though, I continued to not know what was happening when.

Treat Boxes

I watched my son become more hyper by the day and turn up his nose at all the naturally sweetened desserts he had once loved. I knew something had to change for me to remain okay with him being at school. So, I came up with the idea of a Treat Box; basically a Tupperware container filled with non-perishable treats that can be offered to choose from at a school celebration. See here for more.

Thumbs Up: Keeping Kids Cavity-Free 😁

Treat Boxes for Sugar-Free Kids

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