Food Nazis Invade First Grade

When my daughter’s health-conscious South Jersey school issued a ban on cupcakes, parental grumbling gave way to grudging acceptance. Until two moms flouted the rules—and the flour went flying.



The parents at Thomas Edison Elementary were pissed.

Already we’d watched our little muffins take hit after hit over the past year, what with the Haddon Township School District shaving $3.9 million from its budget (reading program, schmeading program), and then Governor Christie losing that $400 million in federal education funding due to a typo (too bad, sweethearts), and then the union getting so mad about contract negotiations that it discouraged teachers from taking kids on field trips (no Please Touch Museum for you).

But this? This was the last straw:

No more cupcakes.

The blow came in August, in the last paragraph of the “Welcome Back to School” email from principal Eileen Smith: “Due to the increasing amount of food allergies among our students, the childhood obesity epidemic and in order to be compliant with our State and District Nutrition Policies, we will no longer permit birthday snacks/food in school … [or at] class parties throughout the year.” When the message popped up on my iPhone, I swear I heard a dark maternal growl emanate from every open kitchen window in Westmont: “Whaaaaaat?” Nothing? Not even a Rice Krispie Treat for a birthday? Or apple slices for the first grade’s morning snack? Or a clear plastic glove filled with Pirate’s Booty for the class Halloween party? Not a Capri Sun? A fruit kebab? Nothing? Ever again? Ever?

“Can you freaking believe this?” parents squawked everywhere we could—at Crystal Lake Pool, at the ShopRite, in frantic texts. The district’s three elementary-school principals were pummeled with phone calls. A few parents—those whose kids have vicious allergies—were pleased. The rest were not. Do you think birthday cookies are what’s making kids fat? Do you think kids with allergies and their parents are that unprepared? A few parents were personally offended: “Are you trying to tell me how to raise my kids?” The term “police state” was invoked at least once.

“My son needs a granola bar at 10 a.m.!” bellowed one mom at the first PTA meeting in September, staring Principal Smith square in the eye. By then, the administration had come to terms with the fact that perhaps it had gone too far. After all, just a year before, the Parent/Student Handbook had forbade “foods of minimal nutritional value” as defined by the Department of Agriculture. (Just Say No to Water Ice.) So in October, a second email appeared with a new policy attached: There could be food! And that food could be four items: water, fruit, vegetables and soft pretzels (because nothing says “healthy” like a soft pretzel). Oh, and another thing: No dips.

“No dips?” parents groaned for approximately 23 minutes. Then, everyone calmed down. Rules were rules. We hated them, but we understood them and, of course, would follow them. I, for one, moved on to stressing about more pressing matters, namely what to send in for my daughter Blair’s seventh birthday in March. Sure, it was five months away. But I’d need to be creative. Other parents were already sending in replacement loot for birthdays. If another sticker came into my home, or another temporary tattoo, or another seasonal pencil, I might just be forced to post a bitchy rant on Facebook.

And thus, all was again right at Thomas Edison Elementary.

Until November.

When two kindergarten moms went rogue.

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  • Sean

    As a subscriber, I will surely be skipping right over these “suburbanista” articles from here on out. Yikes.

  • Dolores

    to have so much energy to focus on a cupcake ban and what it means to YOU. Must be nice to be so ignorant to think baking makes you a good Mom. Must be nice to have absolutely NO experience with Juvenile diabetes or food allergies and be able to make flip comments regarding both. Must be nice to get paid for spreading your IGNORANCE.

  • Dave

    I tried to subscribe to Philadelphia magazine online but because of a foreign address could not.

    It seems with articles like this cupcake issue I’m not missing too much. Carry on.

  • Cathy

    Are we teaching our children that if they don’t agree with the rule just go behind the back of the teacher or principal and do what you want to do? Sneaking around is the way to go? It sure seems as though this is what the article is trying to say.

  • Shirley

    What is so wrong about letting little children eat a cupcake or cookie for a birthday or other party? Over-protective parents do their kids no favors for coping in the real world. My husband is a juvenile diabetic who managed to emotionally survive eating a substitute treat at parties. My grown sons went to Edison Elementary School in Westmont and – shock! ate cupcakes at school parties! If someone else’s child couldn’t eat them, that child’s parent sent in something for his or her child. No big deal. They learned that some children were allergic or diabetic. This story is not about the author’s thinking baking makes her a good mom; it is about letting children enjoy childhood and making some occasions special without ridiculous rules regulating every facet of life.

  • Dolores

    I have no problem with letting kids eat cupcakes, my diabetic son included (that is what insulin is for).

    The tone of the piece comes across as quite selfish, a big fat “Who cares about the consequences — if you don’t like a rule, break it”. “Nevermind, those kids with food allergies, anaphylactic shock is not MY problem.

    The following passage contributes to the myth that food causes Juvenile Diabetes:

    “But in the past year, apparently, that banana bread had morphed into a nutritional bomb, likely to spark a sudden and rampant epidemic of juvenile diabetes. Or something.”

    Juvenile Diabetes is an autoimmune disease, and there is nothing a person can do to cause it or prevent it.

  • Trevor

    some of you people are unbelievable! this was an entertaining, informative piece that pokes some fun and shines some light on the current over-protective nature of our society!
    There comes a point where people become so politically correct, so worried about what the 5% want instead of the 95%, so afraid of dodgeball and school dances, hugs, dress codes, inclusion, exclusion, religion, Easter egg hunts, “holiday” parties, gym class, nerds, goths, jocks, bullies and COOKIES that they and their agenda become completely ineffective. This, in turn, creates a situation where their children will end up with a mild to moderate case of social retardation… but hey, what do I know? The issues involve a lot more than just cupcakes, and are indicative of the whole overprotective social dilemma American society seems to be embroiled in. Someday these kids will need to function responsibly in this crazy world, and shielding them every possible thing seems like it will create a pretty unrealistic expectation and disastrous outcome down the line.

  • I really can’t live without my iPhone. It has all the add-ons that I could ever want. It also work’s so good that I don’t need anything else.

  • Daddy

    Welcome to our life in the Haddon Township school system. I, for one, wonder how this so called educator is still working. Ms Smith, I think I know why Gov. Christie wants to change things in NJ schools. YOU should not be in a position of administration or leadership in any school system. Just ask the people who struggle under your leadership everyday.