Is Valentine’s Day Too Sweet?

February 20, 2007

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

On Feb. 14, my fourth grader came home with a bag of Valentine cards and a bigger bag full of candy. His class exchanges Valentines — most came with candy, a few had pencils, and one included Play-Doh. I sent my son to school with cards and stickers (characters from the movie “Cars”).

Reviewing the big pile of loot, I wondered if my son felt that his contribution had measured up. Did he think his offering looked skimpy in comparison to those he received from his classmates? Interestingly, my son said that he was proud to have been true to our goal of making healthy contributions to his school events. (He was once overheard telling a friend that his mom had to send healthy snacks to school or she would lose her job, but that is a story for another blog!)

Valentine’s Day = sweet treats. It’s easy and inexpensive for parents/kids to tape candy to the cards they take to school for their friends. And it’s easy to see why Valentine’s Day and other school activities end up becoming candy fests.

Last week, the Chicago Tribune profiled wellness related initiatives in Evanston, Ill. It’s exciting to hear how students are embracing the changes made in the cafeteria. I know first-hand how hard the wellness committee in that school district worked to develop the required wellness policy.

But, I think that most would agree that inconsistent messages are very confusing for kids. How can kids rationalize the health-related messages they are getting from their teachers and in the lunch rooms with the Valentine candy or giant heart-shaped, frosted sugar cookies?

If teachers are going to be successful in teaching kids to make healthy eating choices, they need some help. Many school districts are beginning to address this tough issue regarding the kinds of foods that kids are offered in their classrooms. If there was a district policy in place regarding classroom treats, teachers who are working hard to promote healthy eating messages in their classrooms wouldn’t have to play the role of food police, or turn a blind eye to this inconsistency.

And I’m sure that most parents would be willing to send healthier treats to school with the Valentine‚Äôs Day cards, if they thought that there was a “good” (read: fun/appealing to kids/inexpensive) alternative to the those Sweet Tarts. The (closet) entrepreneur in me sees a business opportunity here! Next February, let’s chat about the healthy Valentine’s Day treats our kids exchanged at school.