In 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act was signed under the Obama administration, which required the USDA to revamp its policies in regards to school breakfast and lunch nutrition. This was all done under the watchful eye of several nutrition and health groups. These changes involved increasing the availability of whole grains, fruits and vegetables as well as reduced and low-fat milk in schools, while putting tighter limits on calories, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in both breakfast and lunch meals sold in schools. Along with these new meal guidelines, the Smart Snacks in Schools standards were recently announced which target other sources of food that are made available on school campuses (fundraisers, concessions, vending machines, etc.) and aim to enforce a healthier food environment for the duration of the school day.
One activity that’s going to require an overhaul with the new Smart Snacks in Schools regulations is the “standard” bake sale. Favorites like brownies and cookies might find themselves cast away in favor of lower-calorie treats like fruit cups or baked chips. Homemade treats can still be brought in but only if the school is provided with a nutritional label with full calorie, fat, sodium and sugar amounts. Since this is not highly feasible for a mom baking a batch of treats, some are saying that traditional bake sales will become a thing of the past.
While all the focus has been placed on the nutritional implications of bringing home-baked goods into schools, there has been no talk of another reason why bake sales should be more heavily monitored. In fact, according to Food Allergy Research and Education, roughly 1 in every 13 school-aged children has a food allergy. A child with a peanut allergy could purchase a brownie that he/she didn’t know contained peanut butter due to the lack of allergen labeling and could go into anaphylactic shock with one bite. A milk-allergic student who was used to the dairy-free cookies he/she had at home could take one by mistake at the bake sale, thinking all cookies were a safe food. Food allergies are a very serious concern, especially in the younger age group and having an assortment of unmarked and potentially dangerous foods could pose a major threat to the health and well-being of children with food allergies.
While the determination of whether or not homemade goods will be allowed at school-sanctioned bake sales at the state level, both nutrition and allergies should be included in this discussion. The odds weigh heavily in the favor of a school having at least one food allergic child and probably more than one. With the prevalence of food allergies on the rise, it’s becoming even riskier to bring in unmarked food into any school. If a bake sale with homemade goods is still going to happen, schools should hold higher standards to the foods that are brought in. All of the “big 8” allergens need to be identified and clearly marked for each item and the treats would need to be individually wrapped to avoid cross-contact with other goods on the table. Allergen-free foods (like fruit cups, air-popped popcorn, etc.) should be kept on a separate table and should only be handled with clean hands that have not previously touched the items on the other table. It’s important to offer options for the students with food allergies, not only so they aren’t left out of the fun but so they aren’t tempted to give in and try one of the un-safe treats as well.
While the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act and Smart Snacks in Schools standards have made huge strides in the direction of a healthier food environment for school-aged children, there is still work that needs to be done to protect the students with food allergies as well. Bake sales and other fundraisers could be life-threatening if a child with an allergy gets his or her hands on the wrong product. Proper precautions need to be taken by the school districts to avoid such complications, and future consideration of protecting the 1 in 13 children with a food allergy should be in the minds of all school food policy makers.