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August 31, 2010

Top Ten foods that get mom and dad sent to the principal's office

PeanutbutterIt's back-to-school time. And while the kiddos learn reading, writing and arithmetic, parents get schooled in the politics of schoolhouse eating.

With all the attention on childhood obesity these days, lots of lunchbox staples have become taboo.

I'm not one to mourn the loss of the once-ubiquitous high school Coke machine. But the case is not so clear for every out-of-favor food. And some cafeteria classics now under fire aren't going without a fight.

Which brings us to this week's list:

Top Ten controversial school foods

No. 1. Peanuts

Packing peanut butter in a lunchbox suddenly seems on par with packing a concealed weapon. Not that I take issue with peanut bans; I gladly complied with one we encountered when my son had a preschool classmate who was highly allergic. The allergy can be so deadly that schools have to take it seriously. But I wonder: why have peanut allergies have become so prevalent in the last generation? I didn't know a single kid with a peanut allergy growing up. Now, the allergy is so common that peanut-free classrooms and peanut-free cafeteria tables are practically the norm.

No. 2. Twinkies

If there were ever a time for a golden snack cake with shelf-stable "cream" filling, this is not it. 

No. 3.  Homemade, whole wheat oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie

I get Twinkies bans, but I was taken aback a couple years ago when my son's Montessori preschool teacher told him he wasn't supposed to have the cookie I'd put in his lunch. It was early in the year and while the school had a stated no-junk-foods policy, I never dreamed that applied to a homemade, whole-grain treat. The recipe was based on one from Alice Waters, for crying out loud! Rules are rules, so I complied. But I'd still put my cookie up against the partially hydrogenated crackers the school handed out at snack time.

No. 4. Meatless Mondays

When Baltimore City school cafeterias started going all vegetarian on Mondays last year, there was a surprising backlash. Not from kids or parents, but the meat industry. The schools were depriving children of essential protein, a meat spokeswoman fretted on national TV. No matter that the meals -- cheese lasagna, for example -- still meet the same protein requirements as traditional school lunches.

No. 5. Candy

Packing candy in lunch boxes is verboten at some schools, but objecting to candy can get parents crosswise with some teachers. A mom I know complained that her kids' public school teacher was giving out to candy every day to reward classroom work. The principal backed the teacher up, telling the mom that were certain kids they couldn't reach without candy. Wow. This National Merit Scholar is brought to you by Hershey's.  

No. 6. Soda

No. 7. Flavored milk

Chocolate and strawberry milk are banned in some schools because they contain loads of sugar. But some parents still want it as a way to get calcium into their kids. As the mother of two kids on a long-running plain-milk strike, I'll confess to being part of the latter group. Still, the sugar content on those little Horizon strawberry milks makes me cringe. So does the price, which I think works out to $14 a gallon.

No. 8. Juice

Another lunch- and snack-time standard lately frowned upon for packing lots of calories.

No. 9. Birthday cupcakes

When the treats are for the whole class, look out! Some school districts have imposed bans.

No. 10. Fluffernutter on white bread

I ate it nearly every day for lunch as a schoolkid. Though I obviously survived, I am depriving my kids of that pleasure.

Newsday photo

Posted by Laura Vozzella at 5:26 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Top Ten Tuesdays


I would have been in big trouble if all these no-no's had been in force back when my kids were in school. When our younger son was in pre-first we had to take turns as "snack parent," and the snacks had to go with the letter of the week. We drew "A," so apples were easy--then ... what? I made sugar cookies in the shapes of angels and airplanes.

Why can't everyone just MYOB and pack and eat what you please? Why must there be Food Police? So what if the overweight kid is sitting there eating Twinkies, candy and soda for lunch. Seriously. As these lists grow eventually the allowed foods will be so minimal why bother? Line 'em up, hand them a bottle of Pediasure and call it a day....

How dare parents decide what their children eat. If they're so smart, why are they sending their little barbarians to school in the first place, huh? It defies reason to question professional educators regarding their dietary regulations. Look what they've done for the little nippers' minds! Why not cut 'em loose on their bodies, too? We can only hope school administrators are soon given clearance to regulate what the children eat at home, lest all their hard work come undone beyond the school zone.
ruth, to your PediSure, I would add toothpaste and SPF 70. Mission accomplished.

When peanut allergies become so prevalent? Interesting question.

Better question: When did gluten allergies become so prevalent?

Modern human civilization developed as a result of our ability to grow and consume agricultural products, notably grains. Within the past 3 years, it seems that 10% of the population discovered that gluten is to blame for all the maladies of the modern mind and body. Give me a break. Admittedly, perhaps 1% does suffer an allergy to gluten. But, much like the peanut allergy issue and prohibiting home-baked treats from Mom (be they whole-wheat or otherwise), attributing poor health to gluten consumption is merely intellectual laziness.

When we have a problem (our kids waddle rather than walk, etc.) we prohibit practices that are symptoms of the underlying cause. Admittedly, there may be psychological benefits to avoiding gluten and prohibiting snacks. In the latter case, parents and others who feel they have a duty (it takes a village after all) absolve themselves of guilt about causing and failing to actually address the problem in a meaningful way. For gluten "intolerants," attributing vague psychosomatic symptoms to the bad mojo of a natural protein similarly absolves them of addressing underlying causes in their own life. It also has the added benefit of placing them at the center of a raging food trend and in the midst of a well-defined and publicly supported peer group. And don't we all love attention.

re: plain milk strike - I have always hated plain milk. My mother used to put *coffee* in mine to get me to drink it (a couple of tablespoons, no sugar). When I started elementary school, we subscribed to the lunch program (this was Catholic school, and it cost a ridiculous $2 a week back in the early 70s). The only beverage available was white milk, so if I wanted something to wash down my hot dogs and beans/pea soup/fish sticks, I had to drink it.

And I did. Every day. Never liked it, but I had no choice.

Give me a break. Admittedly, perhaps 1% does suffer an allergy to gluten.

Thoughtful analysis.

There are epidemiologic studies of the rates of true gluten atopy and gluten sensitivity. As one can imagine, the rates of sensitivity are generally higher than for allergy.

My suspicion is that a substantial fraction of laypersons with "gluten allergies" are self-diagnosed, and don't fit the rigid criteria - only that they improve upon limiting dietary gluten.

For that matter, the science gets rather murky with respect to the broad spectrum of associated reactions that have been reported with gluten sensitivities - from arthralgias and depression, to autoimmune disease and baldness.

Suffice it to say, the relevance of many of these associations range from slam-dunks (in the case of say, celiac disease), to vague.

And like many vocal and aggressive patient communities, the wide net being cast around gluten sensitivities runs the risk of legitimate sufferers being drowned out by less scrupulous and quackier voices.

Remember that the vaccine-autism huckstery perpetrated by Andrew Wakefield originated with poor science of gastrointestinal sensitivities.

I don't know how I would have survived my adolescence at a school like that. I'm pretty sure my chemical makeup was about 40% peanut butter and 30% chocolate milk at the age of 10. I think I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day for about 6 years. I used to drink 2-4 of the little half-pint chocolate milks every day at school.

I still don't like "plain" milk. We're lucky that we don't all become lactose-intolerant in adulthood like other mammals, but I think my taste buds try to remind me that I should be.

There are extreme cases of allergies, someone being extremely sensitive, but much of this is to simply avoid any questions about what happens in school. It's a zero tolerance system. Now, let's look at the teachers and administrators lunches and see what they eat! Are they dining with Little Debbie? Having a Coke with their Cheetos? What's the fat content of some of these lunches?

Brian - I'm imagining a teacher returning to class with a few cupcake crumbs dribbled on her shirt and one sad sugar-deprived kid getting an adrenaline rush and lunging for those crumbs.

I was the fat kid in school. I was a head taller then my peers, but seriously put it away for a good deal of elementary and middle school. However, i didn't like sweets, still don't; but still with the merciless "So how many Twinkies have you eaten today?"
To this very day, i have NEVER tasted a twinkie.
As for the peanut allergy kids, i think it's a bit less traumatic for a kids to suffer the slings and arrows of a life without a peanut butter chocolate kiss cookie in their lunch then to watch a classmate card out with a serious allergic reaction.

Over all, i think the "allergy" business has been propagated by a certain lack of MYOB. No longer is it okay to say " i don't enjoy___, i don't eat ___ but thank you."; there has to be a pathology to get other people to lay off with the Food Inquisition.

A little of topic, but is it wrong that I find that image super duper HOT?

Yet another example of the "we know what's better for you" crowd doing what they do best, and we wonder why kids have so many issues these days? We don't let kids be kids fro crying out loud. I'm not advocating sugary sweets stuffed in a kids lunch box, that's ridiculous, but having this rather draconic rule on what food can be brought to school is a bit much.

IPA = Idiots in Positions of Authority

To this very day, i have NEVER tasted a twinkie.

Eat me


I lived on PB&J from K to 10th grade. That is all I would eat. I hated warm lunchmeat and cheese and most of the hot lunches. I would have drank the milk but in high school they changed from cartons to plastic bags. YUCK! The milk tasted like plastic. Give me an orange drink any day.

Great article - i have a severe peanut allergic child so i am sympathetic to the "peanut-free" policies however do not strongly endorse them as they are not generally practical and can provide a false sense of safety. The only practical way to address a food allergy is to make sure that my child is as diligent as possible. As far as the other food items, i am personally fed up with the policeing of snacks, lunch items etc. It goes beyond what i consider to be the business of the school. Case in point, my daughter's teacher last year ate peanut butter cups for lunch in the classroom. So much for "peanut free" and for "no junk food"

Oh Twinkie, shall we arrange a romantic rendezvous at the 7-11 at three am?

11. white art paste
12. ABC gum from desk bottoms
13. brown bag lunches from cloakroom with a milk container sell-by-date of 11/5/89.
14. smoke neck
15. Wonderbread with "those-aren't-black-ryeseeds"
16. unrefrigerated Yoohoo
17. guppies
18. chicken boxes
19. falafel
20. Diet Coke and Mentos

11. white art paste
12. ABC gum from desk bottoms
13. brown bag lunches from cloakroom with a milk container sell-by-date of 11/5/89.
14. smoke neck
15. Wonderbread with "those-aren't-black-ryeseeds"
16. unrefrigerated Yoohoo
17. guppies
18. chicken boxes
19. falafel
20. Diet Coke and Mentos

As a classroom teacher in another state, we don't yet have these rules to abide by. I did have a student last year with a peanut allergy, so, we as a class, were peanut free and she was well informed as to what she could and could not eat. I have no problem with anything a parent chooses to put in to their child's lunch box. My only opinion about it, however, is that parents need to make sure their child gets enough exercise to burn off the sugar they allow them to consume. Don't expect the school to take care of that for you too. Obesity is a problem and I have seen way too many obese children who not only can't participate in gym class like everyone else, but can't keep up in line and class activities. And as far as school lunches go, they suck and everyone complains about them, so get off the couch and pack a lunch for your child! By the way, I do have children, I do pack them juice and a cookie as a snack, and they do get plenty of exercise!

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner blog.
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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