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Merry Christmas from our mom columnist

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Let them eat cake.

This is my Antoinette-esque response whenever I receive yet another e-mail from a parent who has chosen school holiday parties as the place to wage war on student nutrition.

Look, there is a time and a place for everything — and holiday parties are a time for treats.

But you wouldn’t know it from some of the comments I hear at this time of year: “Sugar is poison,” one mom said. “We eat only organic,” offered another. Finally, one woman allowed that treats are OK — under one condition: “If it’s sweet, it at least has to be homemade.”

Can’t we all just get along? I understand that “The Food Issue” looms large in progressive neighborhoods, but a Double-Stuff Oreo or a donut hole treat at a school party isn’t going to kill anyone.

Yes, it is a challenge to teach small children not to overindulge when they are presented with delicious sugary treats of the type I defiantly continue to bring to school functions. But it is up to me to teach my progeny about the dangers of all that fat and sugar and preservatives.

But once I’ve issued my lesson, I go laissez-faire. Indeed, I don’t tell my kids what books they can take out of the library. I don’t helicopter over them to monitor their schoolyard conversations, and likewise, I don’t watch what they eat at the party table. I must trust that my teachings will be enough to serve them as they make their own personal choices.

Food as a focus has gotten way out of hand, and the food police has grown bolder and more insistent as the news screams about childhood obesity. But the biggest impact on my children’s dietary habits and on other children’s habits is what they see at home, not at the twice-a-year school parties.

Besides that, it is straight-up offensive — and not a good lesson for our children in being kind and non-judgmental — to denigrate the donations of other parents based on our own food choices. Anyone who scoffs at the generosity of others, even if it is box of Munchkins rather than an elaborate fruit statue in the shape of a Christmas tree, should be ashamed.

It is not enough that some parents bring the “good for you” snacks to school parties, it is now incumbent on all the rest of us to subscribe to their healthy-all-the-time ways (though be careful; the definition of “healthy” changes quite a lot).

As the parenting “expert,” my Inbox keeps getting filled with forwards from my fed-up friends, foodies most of them, who cook healthy meals all year long, but are, like me, permissive when they feel like it.

I know for many concerned parents, fear of creating fat and unhealthy kids looms large and scary. It is a conundrum, of course, how to stem the tide of too-big waistlines in our country. In a prior life, when I was a reporter covering packaged food brands, I wrote the words “obesity epidemic” more times than I care to think about. In other words, I get it: the American diet is laden with fats, sugars and the preservatives necessary to make packaged goods stay good in their packages long enough for their corporate owners to turn a profit.

It is not healthy eating that I am against. I simply oppose the incessant discussion of party menus and the accompanying barbs at those who find it enjoyable to eat junk when junk is called for.

I applaud the efforts of the parents on our school’s Wellness Committee, especially their willingness to sit through politically charged meetings in the hopes of getting healthier options into the lunch room. I love that my sons come home bragging about what they ate off the salad bar and that they know more about reading food labels than I did at their age.

Oscar will often nod when I refuse him a piece of candy or even a glass of orange juice and agree, “I’ve already had too many grams of sugar today.”

But the back-and-forth over whether Rice Krispies Treats should be replaced by tofu at a celebration won’t change the habits of families in the school who are weight-challenged and confused about how to do better, if that is even the intention. If anything should be banned, it is the tsk-tsking e-mails sent about the gracious donations of busy parents.

The truth is, we send our kids out into the world to face what we do not know, surely and hopefully a world that will never be devoid of cakes and cookies and treats. The sooner we trust that they will make smart choices for themselves and stop trying to control the world we send them into, the sooner they actually might have the confidence to make their own smart choices. And we can avoid shaming others who don’t do exactly as we do.

Updated 5:22 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

malamu from Park Slope says:
Ms. Thompson misses the point a bit...no one is saying that children can't eat sweets...especially during the holiday season. The point is...while it is up to parents to educate their "progeny" about what to eat, it is up to the school to maintain a healthy school atmosphere overall. And parents take an active role on that front.

A school has a responsibility to provide a holistic education...education being broad in scope and encompassing socio-academic development. Why can't parents as a group, when considering a holiday party...and the time of that party...just think about the place...the school...and then think appropriately about what the children might best eat?

Having a class party at 8:30 in the morning for the holidays should not be an invitation to an all sweets frenzy...unless, of course, Ms. Thompson feeds her children Munchkins for breakfast...then for her, nothing changes.

Also, as a parent at the school where Ms. Thompson's children also study, I recall that no one said parents could not bring in sweets, but encouraged sweets of a different sort. And, btw, the suggestions made were not something a busy parent cannot undertake, as Ms. T suggests. Purchasing yogurt-covered raisins in lieu of, let's say, a box of Entemann's donuts

I realize that Ms. Thompson's role here is to play the social agitator of sorts...more power to her. But when it comes to school food and how children eat, especially in elementary school, there is not much much to debate. Schools around the country are fighting desperately to make sure young people eat well...in the places where they spend a good part of the day and year...and spend a good part of that time eating.

I wish Ms. Thompson would stick to stories about her unenviable life...at least they are based on some sort of reality...but when it comes to the important purpose of making sure schools step up to the plate...she should not make the mistake of projecting her somewhat skewed life perspectives.
Dec. 26, 2010, 10:19 am
Tommy from BH says:
I agree with Malamu.

Furthermore, nothing wrong with pushing for organic food. To eat pesticides now and then, it's fine, yeah right... See you in 30 yrs.

We need a food police because our food producing system is now mostly based on profits not health implications.

Yes, because I live in this world not in dreamland, I eat non organic food, because sometimes I don't have a choice or it is way too expensive...
Dec. 26, 2010, 6:02 pm

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