Plan a Healthier Bake Sale, Before They're Banned

Some school districts are banning bake sales, but there are simple ways to make them healthier for kids who can still enjoy them.

March 25, 2010

Public enemy no. 1? Some school distrcits are banning bake sales.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—As Michelle Obama criss-crosses the country promoting her "Let's Move" initiative to combat childhood obesity, the New York City school district just made its own move to fight obesity. It banned bake sales during school hours as a way to improve the diets of its students. But the move has parents and students up in arms. For one thing, bake sales have long been excellent fundraisers. For another, the city still allows processed packaged foods to be sold in school vending machines.


THE DETAILS: New York City’s effort is aimed directly at the 40 percent of its public school students who are obese. The policy went into effect after the district revised its nutritional standards for all snack foods sold in schools, whether at bake sales, in the cafeteria, or in vending machines. The district now only permits beverages that contain 10 calories per serving or less and snacks that contain 200 calories per serving or less—and only 10 percent of those calories can come from saturated fat. Because homemade baked goods aren't labeled with nutritional information, school officials argue, there's no way to know how high-calorie or high-fat they are.

New York City isn’t alone in this effort. All school districts in California have instituted similar limits on bake sales in public schools, in part because of the obesity epidemic but also because of food-safety issues. "Foodborne illness is common in this country, and each school has the responsibility of providing a safe food environment," says Andrea Giancoli, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and nutrition policy consultant for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Keep reading for more tips on keeping bake sales healthy and safe.

She notes that cafeteria workers all must pass rigorous food-safety certification courses, and even packaged foods are held to strict government food-safety regulations. "But there's no way to oversee the safety of someone's kitchen," she says. "Things might be undercooked. The person who's making it could be sick. Or a child who is picking through cookies and touching them [at the bake sale] could be sick."

Bake sales are still allowed in California off of school property and not during the school day. "We're not trying to dictate what people do after school, but we are trying to create a healthy school environment," she says.

WHAT IT MEANS:Parents and students argue that these bans are hypocritical because they allow processed, packaged foods in schools but not home-baked foods, which can be made with healthier whole grain flours and often don’t contain trans fats. "We do want kids to have less packaged food and more homemade meals," says Giancoli, "but it is far easier to monitor nutritional content in packaged food." It's tough to find the right balance, she says, because bake sales are such important fundraising vehicles. "There's a long tradition of bake sales, for parents and for kids,” she says. “People take them very personally. We’re trying to preserve the tradition without selling unhealthy food."

Even if the schools in your area aren't considering a bake sale ban, you can make sure the food you contribute is healthy as well as delicious:

•  Package it yourself. Make foods you can package into separate baggies or containers, such as cookies or brownies, to prevent germy hands from touching food at a bake-sale table. "You don't want kids' or parents' hands all over your food," says Giancoli. "The fewer people who are touching it, the safer it will be."

•  Be watchful of portion sizes. You may think your cookies taste better made with butter. Which is fine, as long as each cookie isn't the size of a salad plate. Giancoli recommends keeping the maximum serving size of each packaged treat to about two ounces—the same as a small slice of bread. "There's nothing wrong with having a cookie, but we need to think about smaller portion sizes," she says. If you prefer muffins, use a mini-muffin tin, such as this one from Williams-Sonoma made from aluminum-coated steel.

•  Go for healthier treats.You can find lots of low-calorie cookie and brownie recipes that taste fantastic in the Rodale Recipe Finder. These Dark Chocolate Crackle Cookies, Peppermint Sugar Cookies, and Healthy Brownie Cookies all weigh in at under 100 calories per serving.

•  Consider alternative ways to raise money. Yes, it’s true that bake sales are relatively easy ways to raise money fast (a good thing, with so many school districts facing budget cuts), and students can handle them without much adult supervision. But there are other great options. You might suggest movie nights, raffles or, better still, something that involves exercise—a dance marathon, bowling night, or a fun run.

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