Food fight: Bake sales stay but large sodas may go

Public outcry quashed new rules in Massachusetts that would have banned bake sales during the school day. (AJC file photo)

Public outcry quashed new rules in Massachusetts that would have banned bake sales during the school day. (AJC file photo)

In Massachusetts, the dispute prompted emergency action by the governor a few weeks ago.

In New York City, the battle is pitting a powerful mayor against well-funded corporate opponents.

So what’s at stake? Health care? Property rights? Environmental safety?

No, cupcakes and large Cokes.

With obesity, especially among children, skyrocketing in this country, an aggressive campaign is under way to limit the access of children and, in New York, even adults to empty calories.

The typical target in this campaign has been the vending machines in public school cafeterias, but the efforts are extending to school bake sales and candy sales.

Citing high obesity levels among the state’s 1.5 million students, the Massachusetts Departments of Public Health and Education announced a strict new ban on baked goods and candy sales in schools during school hours.

But the realization that students could no longer bring cupcakes to class for birthday and holiday parties or sell brownies to raise money for the cheerleading squad provoked widespread complaints. (Massachusetts parents could still fill their own child’s lunch boxes with Twinkies or Twizzlers; they just couldn’t send a tray for the entire class.)

So Gov. Deval Patrick rescinded the restriction after an outcry from what might be termed a “sweet tea party” — outraged parents, booster clubs and legislators angry over what they deemed an out-of-control nanny state.

“Nobody’s interested in banning bake sales,” Patrick told reporters at a press conference announcing that the new rules on sweets in school would exclude classroom parties and fund raisers.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is going beyond the classroom, seeking to eliminate the sale of large sodas, sweetened teas and energy drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts.

No one — adult or child — could buy sweet drinks in cups or bottles larger than 16 fluid ounces, the size of a Starbuck’s Grande.

(Oddly, sugary coffee drinks, even a 510-calorie Starbuck’s Java Chip Frappuccino Venti, and milkshakes — even an 870-calorie, 22-ounce Chocolate McCafé Shake at McDonald’s — are not on the proposed banned list.)

Bloomberg’s plan has riled the soft drink industry, which has countered with a public relations offensive that includes a slick radio ad chiding, “This is New York City; no one tells us what neighborhood to live in or what team to root for. So are we going to let our mayor tell us what size beverage to buy?”

While the umbrage is not as strident when the junk food bans are imposed on children, there is a growing uneasiness with schools acting as food police.

A national controversy erupted when a North Carolina 4-year-old’s lunch from home — a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips and apple juice — was judged nutritionally deficient by a teacher and replaced with a school lunch of chicken nuggets.

And there was disbelief in May when a Utah high school was fined $15,000 by the federal government for selling soda during lunch hour. Schools that receive federal funds through the National School Lunch Program must follow its rules, including limits on what can be sold in school vending machines during lunch, or incur fines.

The reason for the zealousness — and the occasional over zealousness — is clear when you visit a carnival, playground or public pool: Overweight children.

If childhood obesity and its associated diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and cancer aren’t curbed, today’s children may not live as long or as healthily as their parents.

Georgia ranks second in the country for childhood obesity. Today, one in five of Georgia children is classified as obese.

But can schools change behaviors that begin at home?

For example, students at the Utah high school slapped with the soda-selling fine sidestep the lunchtime ban on Cokes, Sprites and Mountain Dews by bringing soft drinks from home or by leaving campus to buy them.

So, school vending machines that once raised $30,000 a year for student activities now raise half that amount as a result of the strict limits on what can be sold and when.

In Massachusetts, parents and club sponsors overturned the school-day bake sale ban by describing fruitless efforts to sell apples and yogurts instead of brownies and donuts. The healthier snack sales didn’t sell.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

45 comments Add your comment

mountain man

July 6th, 2012
6:40 am

Do we really think that limiting sodas to 16oz and banning sodas from school vending machines is going to have any effect whatsoever on obesity? Come on, the problem is behavior, and the solution lies with the parents and the students themselves. Of course, we won’t look at ideas like recess in elementary school because it takes up valuable time and creates a liability for the school.


July 6th, 2012
7:11 am

I hate government regulations, but there is no reason to have vending machines in schools. Nor is there any reason to serve the useless fat and carb lunches that they serve. When I was a kid at Dacula Elementary, we had a “school store” and once a day, we could spen our hard earned allowances on all kinds of garbage. I always bought the highest calorie, sweetest treats. Tom’s beanut butter bars–the best tasting candy in the world–have been an addiction my whole life. Nowadays one rarely sees them. They might not even exist any more. But if I do, I can’t resist. While my BMI is normal, I have always fought a bitter battle with my weight. Without the candy and Cokes when I was a kid, I think managing my weight would be much easier.


July 6th, 2012
7:41 am

Some of the kids bring candy to school to eat and sell. I’ve seen students bring family-sized bags of chips for lunch, and once I saw a child who brought an entire pie – not a quiche, a PIE – to eat for lunch.

However, do we really think that the waffles, cinnamon buns, or Fruit Loops they serve in the cafeteria for breakfast, or the ever-favorite pizza and fries lunch, are healthy fare for our children?

Howard Finkelstein

July 6th, 2012
7:42 am

Agee Deb. When I was in school we had lunch. That was it, lunch. No vending machines, etc. We did have the rare birthday party with cupcakes, and when I state rare we are talking maybe twice per year.

All these handwringing, pseudo parents are worried about their kids self-esteem yet do nothing about it.

But who cares anyway…Its all good!!

Howard Finkelstein

July 6th, 2012
7:43 am

“and once I saw a child who brought an entire pie – not a quiche, a PIE – to eat for lunch.”

LMAO…Demented and sad but hilarious. A Pie!!


July 6th, 2012
7:51 am

I can understand the lunch issue more than a bake sale. People develop health problems from what they do (not exercise) or eat (sweets & junk food) every day, not from one cookie at an occasional fundraiser.

My husband and I were talking about this recently. Neither of us was forbidden from soda as kids – it was a special treat and not something available every day. Neither of us came from households that kept soda or sweets in the house, so the occasional kiddie-sized cup of Coke and a piece of cake at a birthday party wasn’t any big deal.


July 6th, 2012
8:53 am

I’m for banning all the overpriced crap the schools get kids (parents) to sell to their friends and neighbours. You want money, cut grass, rake leaves, wash cars, clean houses — why split the money with any 3rd party marketer. Value for money, teach a lesson for life.


July 6th, 2012
8:54 am

Oh come on… who really believes this has anything to do with anyone’s health? Scratch a liberal (activist) and you’ll uncover a hysterical control freak. Liberals are the new Puritans… people who spend every wakikng moment in bowel-churning fear that somewhere, somehow, someone is making his or her own decisions about life that the liberal can’t control or dictate.

It’s about FREEDOM… and liberals absolutely hate the idea of us being free to live our lives as we see fit.

living in an outdated ed system

July 6th, 2012
9:08 am

Georgia is 2nd in the nation in child obesity! I see no problem with limiting a child’s food options to healthy ones in the school environment. This is a major problem, especially in Georgia. To solve it, parents, health professionals, educators and of course, the children, must all be on the same page. Maybe we should expand the health education curriculum in K-12? But we can’t do that you see, because all of you will then conclude that there is NO BUDGET for such things. And why? Because public education has failed to innovate its systems for decades, and now it is faced with a major financial crisis. So sad.


July 6th, 2012
9:30 am

Well, Chip, I don’t think the desire to tell people how to live their lives is a uniquely liberal thing. Just putting a toe into the abortion or gay marriage debate will show the other side of that coin.

More to the point, schools are a magnet for anyone with a fervently-held agenda they are just dying to push onto the most impressionable among us, and who have the political leverage to get in the door. It infects curriculum, pedagogy, dress, behavior, book selection and just about every other part of school operation. This, to me, is a far larger and more pressing problem.

The thing that is most difficult for the prosthelytizers among us is to allow people to make their own informed decisions. That means providing facts in as unbiased a way as possible and trusting others to make the best decisions based on those facts.

When my kids were in elementary school, one of the mothers, an RN in public health, would come every year for Career Day and bring in a demonstration box with 2 sets of preserved human lungs, one from a smoker and one a non-smoker. She would explain the reasons for the difference in appearance and then let the kids use a foot pump to blow them up and compare capacity and “symptoms”. It was always the hit of Career Day, and the kids were fascinated. I have always wondered how many kids she kept from becoming smokers.

“Health” is often the regarded by kids as a boring class, but it doesn’t have to be. A revamped curriculum here, with emphasis on current health problems, causes, effects and treatments, could be more effective in making students aware of the consequences of what they put into their bodies than an overall ban that is unenforceable.

New York requires that all menus carry calorie counts of their offerings, which I wish we had here in Georgia and particularly in schools. That information will not make you uniformly choose the salad, but when you are deciding if you want an appetizer or choosing between two entrees, it can positively affect the decision process.

Old timer

July 6th, 2012
11:11 am

As with everything in schools… all goes back to the home environment. Children who are taught good nutrition and to eat a variety of foods will be fine. Those allowed to dine on pop a d potato chips will not. And those that never go outside to run and play will have a bunch of health issues. Schools are not in the business to do the parent’s job.


July 6th, 2012
11:27 am

@Old timer…..I agree ,we didn’t have vending and soda machine in any of the schools I attended, didn’t matter whether it was elementary, junior-high or high school. Cheerleader sold candy (blow-pops were my favorite). but only doing school break and after school. Bake sales ended when I was in elementary schools, of course like you said we were more active back then, I think they called it recess or P.E. get out there and run that cupcake off.(lol). Good nutritional values start at home, schools have enough to contend with and shouldn’t be in the business of counting calories of somebody’s else’s child or their body mass index……. save that responsibility for mommy and daddy!

Once Again

July 6th, 2012
11:35 am

When you get in bed with the government, you can expect to catch the disease it is carrying.

Get rid of the government schools and raise you children the way YOU see fit. How hard is that to understand?

You would think that decade after decade of abject failure might have changed some minds by now.


July 6th, 2012
11:44 am

Good post except for your mis-understanding of the abortion and gay marriage issues. (Not to get too off track here, but the pro-lifers firmly believe they are preventing murder-its not about control. Abortion opinions don’t follow liberal/conservative lines. The anti-gay marriage is about the state endorsing gay marriage and redefining marriage, not about controlling what people do in their private lives).

Maybe it is kind of ridiculous to have the vending machines in middle schools, but high schoolers need to make choices. And they will. They will run across to the convenience stores if you don’t offer in the schools. The real issue is that kids are less active. All this sweet stuff was around long ago, but the obesity issue has come up with video games and 200 TV channels instead of 3 or 4.

If you see the calories and fat in some of these things, people will think twice. Many will choose to do it in moderation instead of all the time.

old teach

July 6th, 2012
12:02 pm

Why should schools have vending machines for students during the school day? Well, I don’t think that they should. Yes, there should be machines for the staff, but not for the students. (And yes, I remember students getting the custodians to get them drinks and/or candy from the faculty planning room/lounge. But this was against the rules, too.)
Why DO schools have vending machines for students during the school day? Because–wait for it–there’s money there to be made from a captive audience with more disposable income than ever. And, to silence the critics, part of it can go to the Academic Club or a scholarship.
Now as to what schools serve… Doesn’t the school meal director have to follow the state guidelines in designing the meals? And then don’t the students have to actually line up to eat them in large numbers? There’s the rub, though: after our system included more nutritious foods in the lunches, I watched many students dump those parts of the meal into the trash. It was no accident that more students ate lunch when we had chicken fingers/mashed potatoes/green beans–or cake–or cinnamon rolls. The one nutritious thing that seemed to work was providing more fruit; the students seemed to go for it.


July 6th, 2012
1:18 pm

@bu2 & Chip – ok, then, how about the freedom to wager on horse racing or to gamble online? The money could even go towards education so they don’t rely on vending machines…Massachusetts has both. Georgia has neither.

Oh, My

July 6th, 2012
1:20 pm

Georgia students are nationally ranked… Fat and Dumb. Perfect. The system is working.


July 6th, 2012
2:52 pm

you want nonfat kids??

get them off the playstations, the cell phones, the computers and get them outside cutting grass, yardwork, riding bikes, whatever…just quit letting them sit around all day doing nothing and staying up all night….that would help them cope with the heat too…you can’t sit in the ac all day and get used to the heat

Hillbilly D

July 6th, 2012
2:52 pm

Back when I was in school, all those decades ago, there were no vending machines in school. Lunch was served in the lunchroom and you either bought that or brought something from home. When I got to high school, it was expanded to 2 lunch lines, so you had two choices, if you bought your lunch. Seemed to work pretty well, to me.


July 6th, 2012
3:01 pm

There is no good reason for vending machines in schools.


July 6th, 2012
3:01 pm

I visited my school recently and noticed that they have now switched out all the normal drinks for “Coke Zero”, “Sprite Zero”, etc.

They have “Vault Zero” so I guess caffeine is okay but not high fructose corn syrup….


July 6th, 2012
3:46 pm

@bu2, we’ll have to agree to disagree on the abortion/gay marriage front, but I agree with you that having or taking out vending machines, at least for students of a (partially) rationale age, is not the issue. Getting them to make a better choice is, because you’re right – there is a convenience store within a spitball’s distance of wherever they tend to gather.

Mayor Bloomberg wants to take the big sugary drinks away, I suppose hoping that the inconvenience of having to make multiple purchases will somehow, er, quench their desire for more. Those soda cans do have the calorie information on them, but it’s ignored and I’m not convinced that students understand either what they mean (those 185 calories in a can of Coke equal 10% of all the calories recommended per day) or what happens when bad food or too many calories build up in a human system. This is where an engaging (and perhaps just terrifying) health class could help.

I also agree that indolence is widespread, but I think I’d give even more blame to food choices. With no parents around during the day in two earner or single parent households, kids tend to eat whatever they want. When parent(s) come home, they’re too tired to fix many meals from scratch or worry about including an array of foods to broaden the kids’ palates – they just want to get something on the table that is fast and relatively inexpensive. I can’t really blame them, but the effect is training kids to expect the sugar, salt and fat that lards up most convenience foods and discourage them from trying things that take a little while to prepare and pack nutritional value.


July 6th, 2012
4:30 pm

The child obesity problem in this country is simpley the problem of parents who do not KNOW how to COOK a meal. It is much easier to purchase a Happy Meal than to take the time and cook a healthy one at home. This is the outcome of rearing children on fast food and junk food. If more parents teach/encourage their child how to cook a decent meal this problem will be solved.


July 6th, 2012
4:32 pm

The quality of the foods served in our school cafeterias also contributes much to the obesity epidemic amongst our children, Let’s start there first.


July 6th, 2012
5:12 pm

The foods are much healthier now in the cafeterias than when I went to school. Salads in elementary schools? That was unheard of. You first want to make sure they actually eat. Maybe it could be improved more, but they have made strides.

As for parents, the older generation cooked fried chicken and put gravy on everything. There were a lot more fried foods. Were Swanson frozen dinners any better than Happy Meals? There wasn’t as much eating out, but healthy cooking didn’t exist much either. We had vending machines in high school in the 70s and diet drinks were rare back then. But there were very few obese kids.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 6th, 2012
5:35 pm

“The world is watching the US of A. And the US of A is watching television.”

And eating junk food.


July 6th, 2012
6:09 pm

@bu2, then it must be a cultural thing, because the older generation in my culture did not purchase or eat frozen meals, nor did they fry everything. Fresh meals were prepared daily—-no microwaves instant meals or gravy on everything. Salads, fresh fruit, grains, and fresh butcher meats were main components in our meals. There was no money in our budget for junk food and McDonald’s was a luxurious “treat” .

@ Dr. Spinks–I agree the tv watching has contributed greatly to obesity.


July 6th, 2012
6:15 pm

Don’t think any of this is the government’s business. The long arm is reaching too much of our lives. Take care to let us make our own family decisions.

Georgia teacher

July 6th, 2012
7:09 pm

Kids went out to play in the afternoons, so a lot more calories were burned in exercise. Now kids sit at home and tweet, text, and play videogames.

Good Mother

July 6th, 2012
8:22 pm

I’m all for banning crap masquerading as food in our children’s schools but here is the rub…
My childrens’ teachers told us we were not allowed to put candy in the Valentines because it was a “no-candy” school but guess what the TEACHERS gave all the students on V-Day?
A 600 calorie pastry to each kid.
It’s typical SOP at APS.

Once Again

July 6th, 2012
9:44 pm

KIM – Too late. You turned your children over to the government to raise them, let them take your money (and that of your neighbors) and allowed them to decide how they were going to be raised. The problems have been there since the first day you relinquished your responsibility and yet you have not changed the situation. Do not blame the government. Power is all they know. Theft is all they know. They do not produce. They do not have to meet a customer’s needs to receive payment for services rendered. They take what they want and have brainwashed the population so thoroughly that the same parents will continue with this cycle of abuse year after year until the daycare contract expires and these kids go out into the real world.

Sorry to be harsh, but that is what is going on. A private business would fold in a minute if it lost its customers, yet you all keep coming back for more from the government and defending them at every turn despite these abject failures.

This kind of dietary control is just the tip of the iceberg and you know it.


July 6th, 2012
9:45 pm

The most important fact in the whole article:

“Schools that receive federal funds through the National School Lunch Program must follow its rules, including limits on what can be sold in school vending machines during lunch, or incur fines.”

Folks, there is no “free government money”. It ALWAYS comes with strings attached. And they wield money like a pusher deals heroin. They get you hooked and then threaten to cut you off if you do not do what they say. NCLB is a prime example.

We had vending machines in high school in the 70s. Lunch was optional. I have had the opportunity to eat lunch with my children at school over the years and I think today’s lunchroom is better than I remember. Of course, after twelve years, most kids are sick of the school cafeteria. Just as I am tired of the two dozen or so restaurants around my office.

A couple of differences between now and then is the number of restaurants around – fast food and traditional sit down. But the biggest difference is in the size proportions – especially in the empty calories such as soft drinks.

Back in my day, a large coke was 10oz. Today, 20oz are commonplace and many fast food establishments have 32 and 44oz “supersized” drinks.

And let’s face it, we eat a lot more processed foods. Not many people cook from scratch anymore. We brown some ground beef, throw in a box of processed junk, and call it supper. Read the box sometimes, it is an eye opener.

Oh yeah, recess. We had a 15 minute morning, a 30 minute after lunch, and another 15 minute afternoon recess. We also had slides, swings, Jungle Gyms, and see saws. We also played tag, dodgeball, baseball, and any number of other games. What we didn’t have were doped up kids taking ADD / ADHD medicine.

Go figure…

Once Again

July 6th, 2012
9:46 pm

You are as addicted to grossly subsidized government education as your children are to sugary treats. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Once Again

July 6th, 2012
9:50 pm

The government’s food pyramid is just a reflection of farm policy, farm subsidies, and a direct intervention of special interests through the vehicle of government into the eating habits of the citizens. High Fructose Corn Syrup isn’t the cheap alternative to natural sugar by accident (look up the facts, I don’t feel like typing that much). Empty grain calories aren’t super cheap by accident either. The school lunch program isn’t designed around nutrition either, but around the approved farm subsidies that are being paid out each year. Lee is right. Once you take the money, you have to take the strings as well.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 7th, 2012
2:55 am

Evolution has not produced a sedentary homo sapiens who would flourish eating a diet of processed foods many of which contain empty, high-glycemic-indexed calories.


July 7th, 2012
7:21 am

The vending machines and the candy sales profit the school and the clubs. Best fundraiser ever.

As usual, follow the money.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

July 7th, 2012
8:26 am



bootney farnsworth

July 8th, 2012
6:05 am

for the love of God.

if they really want to do something, reinstitute manditory PE

personal responsibility people- ever heard of it?


July 8th, 2012
7:44 pm

School lunches calorie couns how that around 40% of the calories come from fat. In addition they are loaded with salt. Everyone wants health care costs to decrease but no one wants to take the actions that will prevent the diseases that are driving our health care costs so high.

Old Tech

July 8th, 2012
8:54 pm

We have also changed the definition of obese. When my son was ten years old, a trip to the pediatrician produced a laughing fit from the doctor. According to the charts, he was obese & borderline morbidly obese. With his shirt off you could count his ribs. At age 18 he had a body fat percentage of 4%, and now at age 21 he has “ballooned” up to 5.5% body fat. BMI is BS.
stic sports
That being said, PE and recess have been cut to the bone and interscholastic sports are limited to less than 10% of the students. In the past, at smaller schools, well over 50% of students participated in sports.

Concerned about Nutrition

July 9th, 2012
10:29 am

Limiting the sale of competitive foods in schools does decrease the number of calories students eat and schools can increase their food service program revenues.

In California, schools have already imposed nutrition standards for the foods sold outside of the school meal, including vending machine snacks and beverages. Since implementing these nutrition standards in school, California students have decreased the number of calories they consume by an average of 158 calories a day. This means if you take the unhealthy foods out of schools, on average the students do not bring in additional unhealthy foods from home. They actually decrease the amount of unhealthy foods they eat, reducing their risk of obesity.

Additionally, several studies have found that serving healthy foods in schools increases food service program revenues. Instead of buying unhealthy foods from vending machines and a la carte lines, students are more likely to purchase the school lunch. If the student comes to school with $2 to spend on food and chooses to purchase vending machine or a la carte foods, the school only earns $2. But, if the student comes to school and chooses to purchase the school lunch, the school now earns the around $2.40, the original $2 plus the federal reimbursement for school lunch.

There are other options

July 9th, 2012
10:45 am

There is no need to raise money at the expense of our children’s health. Many schools across the country have used healthy fundraisers to raise the same amount of money as others do with bake sales and other unhealthy food options. Schools can host walk-a-thons, which increase physical activity and raise money. They can sell bottled water, wrapping paper, plants, or have carwashes, present wrapping, etc. These alternative options allow schools to raise funds without increasing the sale of unhealthy foods in schools, which increase the risk of obesity for our children.


July 10th, 2012
11:34 am

If students want to bring junk food to school, well, shame on their parents. But there is no reason why schools should promote unhealthy eating by sponsoring unhealthy food.

@ Once Again–get in bed with the government, catch the disease…Failure. REALLY?

Virginia Teacher

July 10th, 2012
1:36 pm

I’m nearing 30 and we had soda machines at my schools. Yes, a lot of kids bought sodas. But we also had P.E. teachers who actually made us exercise. I do a lot of substitute teaching in P.E. classes, and what is the first thing I see? Kids today don’t even know how to do a jumping jack or a push-up properly. When the teachers made them stretch and warm-up, the kids laze their way through it and no one calls them on it. What are the normal gym activities? Walk laps around the gym at your own pace, or play basketball. If you don’t want to do those, you can sit on the sidelines for 50 minutes. When I was in school, we had different gym activities every day, and the only way you were excused from them was an injury with a doctor or school nurse’s note. And what did we do? Tennis, basketball, dodge-ball, archery, roller-skating, football, field hockey, racquetball, running the track…

Further more, schools have gotten stingy about lunch times. Most of the schools I sub at have 30 minute lunches, and it takes 20 minutes to go through the lunch line. So what are the kids going to eat first? The pizza and deserts. If they run out of time, what goes in the trash? The fruits and vegetables.


July 11th, 2012
11:50 am

I taught and had kids in the NYC public school System, I am glad they want to limit the Junk and well just overall food in the school building. My battle with food in the schools has been over food allergies ( not nuts) but other of the top 8, anyway we had parties for my little one every other day at some point. Cupcakes and other things like Doritos were always in schools. I did run a few of the bake sales that we were allowed to do before the rules took effect, but we tried to offer other items other then food!. Any holiday celebration, had food, Birthdays had food, bake sales, We need to get it out of the classroom and find other ways to celebrate. I moved to a new district out of the NYC schools system and they to are moving away from having food in the class room. Which I am very happy about.