by Marion Nestle
Mar 25 2010

The NYC school bake sale fiasco

I’ve had several requests to comment on the new New York City Board of Education restrictions on what foods parents can bring to school bake sales.  Home-baked goods are forbidden.  Instead, parents may bring fruits and vegetables (fine) or any of 27 commercial packaged snack foods (oops).

This ruling is an example of nutritionism in action – foods reduced to their content of a few selected nutrients.  The Board must think that if a food doesn’t have a Nutrition Facts label, it isn’t worth eating or its nutritional quality can’t be trusted.

This ruling is a perfect example of why we need standards for schools based on food, not nutrients.

Laura Shapiro explains the history of all this beautifully in an interview with the New York Times.

NPR also had plenty to say about parent protests.

If it were up to me, junk food would be out of schools altogether and bake sales and the like restricted to special occasions.  But if forced to choose between packaged snacks and home-baked cupcakes, I’d throw out the commercial snacks, and put some restrictions on the size and frequency of items at bake sales, but otherwise choose home-cooking every time.

  • Stacey

    Isn’t it illegal to re-sell foods made by a manufacturer? Most packages say”not for re-sale”?

  • maria

    I’m curious as to whether any other countries have similar restrictions?

  • joe p.

    think you may be wrong. i thought that it just restricted bake sale sugary foods to once a month.

  • Cathy Richards

    Hi Marion,
    It’s always great when you raise a topic that our Province has already addressed! Makes me proud to be a Community Nutritionist in BC. Here’s our Baked Better Bites guidelines for school bake sales — like you said: portion size is key.

  • Hi Marion. But who’s to say that “home baked” foods aren’t also more of the same. How many parents truly bake from scratch, as opposed to popping open a box of Duncan Hines cake mix and frosting? Don’t want to be cynical here, but I’m guessing the majority opt for Betty Crocker.

  • Erin B

    Thank you for addressing this Dr. Nestle (I’m one of those people who was curious about your take on this).

    I have to agree with Dr. Nestle and a couple of the posters above – bake sales should be limited in frequency and in size of what is sold. Sure many parents will crack open a box of Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker, but just as many won’t. Presence of some healthier options is certainly better than guaranteeing through packaged food that there won’t be any.

    The real issue I see here is how can parents creatively fundraise without having to resort to selling baked goods and other unhealthy snacks? As the NPR piece points out, fruits and veggies aren’t going to sell as well. The even deeper issue, I suppose, is actually how do we make sure the schools and school activities are funded well enough that parents do not have to fundraise. But of course that is a much bigger issue to tackle. In the meantime, I agree with Dr. Nestle that home-cooked goods should win-out over packaged snacks.

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  • Anthro

    There just HAS to be a better way to raise money. I can understand parents being upset as the bake sale is very traditional, but steps have to be taken to slow down the obesity problem. Personally, I would be happy to knit a hat or pair of mittens for a sale rather than bake. Not everyone does handwork, but many do, and the others could make a small monetary contribution perhaps, or buy a skein of yarn for someone who does? We must all think creatively and embrace new ideas so that they can become traditions that do no harm.

    The other idea I came up with is to offer baked goods, but those that are not sweetened. Homemade crackers, bread, pita bread, tortillas and other ethnic breads, and focaccia come to mind and I’m sure there are others. Everyone loves homemade bread and crackers in my experience. The crackers are dead easy as is the pita bread.

  • Amanda

    Now I see why kid events I’ve been to lately have had “bake sales” selling prepackaged candy and cookies. I’m not interested in buying crap, even if it’s for a good cause.

  • Subvert

    It’s OK to have a bake sale, just make sure you don’t sell anything you actually baked..!? Oh, and make sure your corporate overlords approve that your baking isn’t going to infringe on their opportunities to make piles of money off of your ‘bake’ sale.

  • SALTT801

    We addressed this issue at our district several years ago. I was shocked at how emotional this issue is for parents (well…moms) on both sides of the fence. Some moms feel very strongly that they should be able to send in whatever they want and others would like to focus on healthier choices. Our district decided it was too tough of an issue to tackle. That same year, we were able to completely overhaul the school lunch program to a much healthier, kid approved menu. This same group of moms complained and wrote letters that their kids would starve before they would ever eat a whole grain roll. Two years later…kids are happily eating our menu (at the same price point as the older menu) and parents are quiet. Turns out, kids will eat a whole grain roll. And they will likely buy whatever is being sold at a bake sale (healthy or otherwise).

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  • The beauty of illegal drugs and mother abusing their children.

    Seriously folks, it doesn’t make any since that we don’t want kids going to school to sell brownies filled with drugs? I understand that we should be healthy, believe me, I’m all for health… but the school district needs to protect themselves.

    If school want to make money, why not try arts and crafts instead of bake sales. It promotes good habits and keeps America healthy. One fund raiser at a time.