I’ve not yet embarked on the journey into public school because my children have been too young. My son will start kindergarten in the fall however, something we’re all very excited about. As a rising kindergarten parent, I was intrigued yesterday when I saw an article about new snack food guidelines for schools. The USDA has come up with a new set of rules about how much sugar, salt and empty calories snack foods sold in school vending machines can have.
I was nodding along and approving of getting healthier foods to kids until I came to the words “vending machines.” Hold the phone! Why are there vending machines in schools? Especially in elementary schools?
When I was a kid, there were no vending machines in schools. In elementary school we brought snacks from home which we ate at an assigned time. Then we had lunch, either from home or from the lunch line, again at an assigned time. The choices in the lunch line were limited. You could buy a dixie cup of ice cream if your mom gave you extra money to do so but there were no candy, chips, or sodas to be had. Even chocolate milk was scarce, as I recall. I assume the reason for the limited options was to ensure that kids ate something resembling a balanced meal, though I don’t think anyone ever actually ate the canned green beans that frequently showed up on lunch trays. Yuck. By setting up the menu instead of offering a lot of a la carte choices, kids were forced to eat decent food. Which is reasonable because kids, without guidance, make some pretty bad choices.
If you set my son in front of a vending machine and told him he could pick from chips, crackers, candy, juice, and flavored milk, I can pretty much guarantee his lunch would be cholcoate milk, Starburst, and Doritos. Because he’s 5 and that’s what he likes. He lacks the judgement to make good nutritional choices. He needs an adult to help him along the way. Ideally, that will be me or my husband but a teacher (or USDA regulator) will do if we can’t be physically present while he’s picking out items for lunch at school. Get the kid some protein so he can concentrate, ya know?
But what is really baffling is how we’ve gotten to a point where little kids have access to vending machines at all. As I read more about this, I find the only reason vending machines are in schools at all is as a fundraiser for the school. Ditto junk food at snack bars. So, what’s really going on here with these new regulations is that we’re being forced to deal with yet another form of fallout from slashed public school budgets. We’ve been selling candy to kids to pay for school supplies. Seems to me that as bad as kids are at making food choices, adults are even worse if we think that a soda machines is a reasonable way of filling in the gaps in school budgets. I’d rather write a $100 check for supplies* at the beginning of the year than pay in in 75 cent increments and have my son OD on sugar in the meantime. Let’s skip the vending machines altogether and get our educational priorities back on track.
*I’d even pay extra to pick up the cost for a family that couldn’t afford $100. Just sayin’.
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