Upset about school snack options
Parent says healthier choices fit prevalent message of the times
BY LINDSAY FIORI
FRANKSVILLE — Potato chips, candy and Ding Dongs have Heather Geyer up in arms. Geyer isn’t upset about the poor nutritional value in these foods or even about their prevalence in American diets. She’s upset about their availability at Gifford Elementary School, 8332 Northwestern Ave., where her stepdaughter attends third grade.
Gifford has a daily break during which parents provide snacks for kindergartners and students in first through fifth grades can purchase a variety of snacks, some of which are not the healthiest of
“I think it’s undermining what I think a lot of parents, or even what society, is trying to teach children about being healthy,” said Geyer, 34, of Mount Pleasant.
The snack break exists because of Gifford’s 987 students, who eat lunch anytime between 11:20 a.m. and 1:10 p.m. and end their school day at almost 4 p.m, said Gifford Principal Steven Russo.
“It’s a long day, so we give them a snack break in the afternoon or morning” depending on when they eat lunch, Russo said. “I’m not going to have a kindergarten child that eats at 11:30 go all afternoon without a snack break,” Russo said.
But, he added, no child is forced to have a snack. Students can bring different snacks from home or not eat anything. Snack break foods are donated by parents or bought by teachers at places like Sam’s Club. Student snack purchases reimburse the teachers and any additional money earned goes toward field trips or other activities.
Russo said that, while each grade handles parent notification differently, parents are generally informed about snack break through Parent Teacher Association newsletters, teacher conferences and homeroom notes.
The program started more than 10 years ago and Russo has not received any parent complaints in his time as principal, said Stephanie Hayden, Racine Unified School District
Geyer said she knew about the snack break time, but did not know the school was selling treats.
“I thought they just sat around and maybe brought something from home,” said Geyer, who wishes the school staff could sell nutritional items like apples or string cheese.
Good habits should start early
Schools fall back on cheap and nonperishable candy and chips for snack times, ala carte sales and school stores, said Susan Nitzke, professor of nutritional science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“Rather than start with that, start as soon as you can with the expectation of healthy food all day long,” she said. “Then, while you’re solving one nutrition problem you won’t be creating another one.”
Nitzke said the importance of starting good eating habits early in life should outweigh the cost and, if cost is an issue, many federal programs exist to get funding for healthy foods.
“It’s much easier to teach children in school than to re-teach adults,” Nitzke said. “Surveys show early if children start to become overweight they are more likely to have obesity problems later in life.”
Geyer’s complaint comes during National Nutrition Month. To celebrate the month, Unified is having Chartwells School Dining Services’ resident dietitian Lori Vavrek read a book about the importance of good nutrition and physical activity to first through third grade classes.
But Vavrek is not scheduled to visit Gifford because no one from the school responded to her letter sent to all school principals.
“I did not get a request from any teachers at Gifford this year,” Vavrek said.