Skip junk food fundraisers

October 5, 2011 

Brace yourself: It's school fundraising season again. Here comes the parade of doughnuts, cookie dough and candy bars.

It's also prime time to remind coaches, teachers, school administrators, parents - and kids - to be choosier about how they raise money.

Yes, fundraising is for a good cause, and now more than ever, teams, marching bands and other school groups need the money. There are many ways to earn it, though, without pushing high-calorie junk foods.

It's critically important for kids. With obesity rates at an all-time high, schools should take every opportunity to model behaviors that support health.

They also need to create an environment that makes it easier - not harder - for kids to control their weight and eat foods that enhance and not hurt their health.

We're getting there.

It's hard to say no

When our nation's child nutrition legislation was reauthorized in 2004, Congress added a requirement that schools receiving federal funding for their meals programs must by 2007 have a wellness policy in place addressing nutrition and physical activity.

It's a good start, but it's not enough.

Wake County, for example, does not permit schools to hold fundraisers in which food is sold during the school day. Food fundraisers are permitted at other times, though, which is typical of what schools do around the country.

It means many kids are still exposed to lots of low-nutrition, high-calorie foods that exacerbate weight problems. It creates an environment that makes it hard to say no to bad foods.

Doughnuts or fruit?

My son's marching band is selling citrus fruit again this year. I'll buy three cases.

But the push to raise funds for much-needed equipment is a strong incentive to sell junk foods, too.

When his band mates were discussing a possible doughnut sale as well, my son put it to me this way, "People will buy doughnuts. They're not going to buy apples."

Maybe. But it doesn't have to boil down to brownies versus rice cakes.

There are plenty of other options, too.

The next time somebody suggests a bake sale, cookie or pizza dough, fast food, soft drinks, doughnuts or candy, speak up and counter with an alternative.

Alternatives to sweets

Make it an appealing one. There are plenty of good options such as these:

A raffle. Prizes could include tickets to a concert or game, T-shirts, movie tickets, outdoor classes, a skateboard, an iPad or sports equipment.

Water bottles and cups with the school or team logo. Shirts and caps with logos are another option.

Stadium gear, including seat pads, blankets and towels.

Magazines and coupon books.

Fresh fruit is always a good choice, but plants, seeds and bulbs work, too.

Car wash or dog wash.

Walkathons, 5K or 10K races.

You can find many more good ideas online at Eat Smart, Move More NC, and Advocates for Health in Action, among others.

Support your schools, and support our kids' health, too.

Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian and a clinical associate professor at UNC. Send questions and comments to suzanne@onthetable.net.

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