When Cupcakes Are the Enemy of Schoolkids

In the name of nutrition, schools take aim at bake sales
Snack puppet by Jennifer Lew

Public school students in Maryland’s Montgomery County know they’d better not even think of holding a bake sale to raise money for the football team or math club. Selling sweets is outlawed during the school day, and officials make the rounds to ensure no illicit cupcakes are changing hands. “If a bake sale is going on, it’s reported to administration and it’s taken care of,” says Marla Caplon of the county’s food and nutrition services. “You can’t sell Girl Scout cookies, candy, cakes, any of that stuff.”

Snack puppet by Jennifer Lew

Montgomery is one of a growing number of school districts around the country that have in recent years declared the humble, beloved bake sale a threat to children. Schools in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Texas have regulations aimed at limiting bake sales to nutritious food. Massachusetts will soon join them. Beginning in August, it will prohibit fundraisers that sell non-nutritious foods in school, and take it one step further: Kids will no longer be allowed to hand out sugary cookies—or other treats deemed unhealthy—to classmates on their birthdays.

With so many overweight kids, it’s easy to see why schools want to discourage high-calorie snacks. Only, they sometimes have a funny idea of what “nutritious” means. New York City public schools prohibit students from selling unapproved home-baked goods, but allow some packaged, store-bought sweets that meet the schools’ restrictions on calories, sugar, salt, and fat. Under the rules, grandma’s fresh-from-the oven banana bread can be declared contraband, while some Kellogg Pop Tarts are deemed wholesome. “You know what’s allowed? Junk food,” says Elizabeth Puccini, a filmmaker in Manhattan whose son is in first grade. “It’s a ridiculous regulation and should be overturned.”

To end the confusion, the federal government is expected to weigh in this year with its own national school nutrition standards for food sold outside cafeterias. Yet that’s only led to more questions. The Agriculture Department says the new rules will allow, infrequent bake sales during school hours but hasn’t said what infrequent means.

Meanwhile, enterprising kids are finding ways to get around the bans, at least until they get caught. At Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo., students started holding napkin sales. “It just so happened that a cookie was in the napkin,” says Jenny McCarthy, assistant to the principal. And that was the end of that.

Snack puppet by Jennifer Lew

Norm Fay of Attleboro, Mass., worries that the state’s coming nutrition rules will put an end not just to bake sales but the varsity booster club’s tradition of selling hot dogs and hot chocolate on game nights. The concession sales raise about $24,000 a year, money that’s used for team jackets and student scholarships. Who’s going to line up to buy apples and granola, he says, “when you can go right down the street and get Dunkin’ Donuts?”


    The bottom line: New school nutrition rules in Massachusetts will restrict bake sales—and handing out cookies to classmates on birthdays.

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