Banish Bake Sales?

‘Tis the season (almost) for those holiday bake sales, church/temple bazaars, and school fundraisers. Can’t you see them? Friendly folding table arrangements with impressive displays of frosted, glazed, and baked creations in all homemade varieties. The glossy brochures full of burgeoning tins brimming with gourmet chocolates, peppermint bark, and all manner of confectionery sweets. (Not that anyone is off the hook for the rest of the year. Think sports season candy bars, Girl Scout cookies, and so on.)

Most often it’s all for a good cause. Sometimes for good causes so close to your heart or community that they’re hard to pass up even if they’re selling items you don’t even eat. We’ve found ourselves wondering from time to time, “Are we the only ones who think there has to be a better way (or at least other ways) to get people to give than sweeten them up with, well, sweets?” Apparently, we’re not alone. The New York Times recently offered up a piece revealing the gradual decline of this old-fashioned philanthropic tradition in some parts of the country: the bake sale

The article highlights the demise of school-related bake sales in the context of nutritional policies within schools. Districts are increasingly clamping down on school lunch menus, vending offerings, and other foods sold or distributed to students. In California, state regulations dictate that school sponsored or sold snacks “contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.” (Yes, we could have a field day with these particular parameters, but we’ll choose to exercise uncharacteristic reserve and just stick to the sweet subject.)

And it isn’t just another California trend. As the Times reports, districts all over the country are enacting these types of rules, some stricter than California’s. A shout out to Kentucky here, by the way. (They’re essentially doing away with those so-called sports drinks where many states leave loopholes for them.) In fact, of the 500+ American school districts surveyed in one study, most had regulations limiting at least some of the target nutrition categories (“fat, trans fats, sodium and sugars”). Policies most often covered, not surprisingly, elementary school environments.

Experts like Ginger Gray, the director of school nutrition for the Kenton County School District in Kentucky, say the purpose behind these changes is not just to rescale the nutritional content of school offerings but to instill and exemplify “habits for life.” Their efforts seem to be working. In contrast to critics’ skepticism, kids aren’t “compensating for the absence of sugar or fat at school by raiding the refrigerator at home.” As Marlene B. Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale explains, “Some people think that kids have this internal potato chip monitor, but there’s no evidence of that. People really do eat what’s in front of them.” Let us enthusiastically second that….

These days, policy enforcers are taking the battle, as stated, to the bake sales – in sixteen states, no less. The do-gooder goods aren’t spared, it seems, from school policies’ “competitive foods” category, a label that highlights a long-standing antagonism between the salad bar and brownies. (If a ten-year-old had a choice…. “Pick me! Pick me!” says the loose spinach. Not.)

Gone, or at least numbered, are the days, of annual monster cookie fundraisers, cupcake drives, and holiday pie benefits, it seems. Disappearing as well are the celebratory cakes and ice cream socials. Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the Berkeley school district, explains the logic this way: “I don’t think all celebrations need to be around food. We need to get past the mentality of food used for punishment or praise.” And though in some part of childhood ourselves we might let out a little nostalgic sigh (It’s those monster cookie memories, d—n it!), we agree that it’s time to move beyond the realm of sweets for charitable and commemorative solutions. One district’s idea had us all smiling and nodding in agreement: allowing “an extra 15 minutes of recess” for birthday observances. Now if that isn’t the best idea we’ve heard in a while!

As the Times reports, not everyone is on board with the “’cakes turned … contraband’” movement. We imagine public opinion would be pretty split on this one. Don’t get us wrong. There is a time and place for sensible vices, and times to make compromises to your usual routine. However, given the current health of our public, we’re certainly willing to stand with what we see as progress on this one. We think good people will support good causes even if they don’t serve up those sugary displays. Now what would a Primal “bake” sale look like? Hmmm. Got ideas, Apples?

micala, A-wix, Doramon Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

8 Ways to Reduce Your Chemical Load

Healthy Options for Seedlings

Reader Response: Practical Advice for Parents

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26 thoughts on “Banish Bake Sales?”

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  1. Fruit sales! At the elementary school I used to go to we’d have a fruit sale every year. It was mostly just bags and small wooden crates of oranges, but people went nuts over them. Really good fruit. We could expand this to pears, apples, etc.

  2. I think it is highly essential for parents to also realize the importance of stressing good eating patterns at home as well – schools can put in nutrition restrictions/parameters, but if a child goes home and the parents just give him/her cookies to keep him/her “happy” then it doesn’t do much good. It takes a full, comprehensive effort throughout the day to encourage children to make good eating choices (which then translates into better eating habits as they get older).

  3. Bake sale to benefit child diabetes? Anyone?

    Oh, and how does the 15 extra minutes recess for birthday kids work? Everyone else goes inside to do arithmetic while the birthday boy sits alone on a playground for 15 more minutes?

    Anyway, I honestly don’t remember bake sales as a part of my youth, maybe I just didn’t care hard enough about donating to causes in high school.

    Unless you count girl scout cookies as a sort of bake sale. I did all I could to support the Girl
    Scouts of America, I’ve bought hundreds of dollars worth of cookies to ensure girl scouts everywhere have proper funding to continue scouting.

  4. “Bake Sales” don’t even have to be stopped, in my opinion. They could just be made healthier. Like Rob said, sell fruit, but also “baked” goods could be sold too. For instance, there were some great recipes a few days back on Primal Snacks (here is the link:… sell veggie chips, or apple chips, or carob treats. You can still sell the baked, sweet, salty, etc, just in a healthier manner. That way, the people are raising money for a good cause AND promoting health. Can you get a better combination?

  5. Here where i live there’s a school that raises money this way-selling “Yankee Candles.” You know those scents make your house smell like a bakery. It sells very well every year.
    A candle lasts way longer than something you eat up right away. It’s a better investment and something you enjoy, i think that’s a great idea, people really go for those candles.

  6. I had a kid come by my door a couple weeks ago selling candy bars so that his school could buy new football equipment. I passed on the candy bars but made a cash donation anyways.

    The SoG

  7. I agree with the fruit idea. When I was in marching band, we sold grapefruit and tangelos by the bag every winter and made a lot of money.

  8. Unfortunately, my school participates in two annual fundraisers peddling candy and refined-carb goodies like pizza and cinnamon rolls. Owing to concerns about allergies, we no longer allow parents to bring in birthday treats.

  9. Erasmus,

    Thats my town for you! We new mexicans love our posole too. Thank goodness I have never been a big fan.

    The SoG

  10. I say we keep the bake sales, and just include little viles of insulin to compliment the cookies and cupcakes. Nothing says school and holiday spirit like a syringe, a vile, and a caramel haystack on a decorative paper plate!!!

  11. I apologize to any I offended with my last comment. I think historians 100 years from now will look back and wonder why we let this go on for so long though. I am a parent, and what I see weekly, even in California, appalls me. Despite laws and restrictions, I know of teachers who regularly give out candy to entice students to perform better. I know I have deviated from the topic of bake sales, but the thread here is adults telling children it’s okay to get sick and die young — all in the name of sweetness and the euphoria of a cookie. The very topic makes me ill.

  12. Oh yeah, I live in sugar city. Bake sales, bribes with sugar, school birthday treats, treats after kids sports, you name it.

    Girl scouts recently took out the trans fats from their cookies. That’s a start.

    I think having treats on special occassions is fine and fun, especially for kids. The problem is that these days kids are eating junk almost 24/7 and people don’t realize it.

  13. They came to ban trans fats, and I said nothing because I do not eat them.

    Then they came to ban sugar and corn syrup, and I said nothing because I do not eat them.

    Then they came to ban grains, and I said nothing because I do not eat them.

    Then they came to ban the frankenfood vegetable oils, and I said nothing because I do not eat them.

    Then they came to ban the saturated fats I do eat, and there was no one left to defend me.

    With all due respect for people’s heart-felt and genuine concern for the health of others, government regulation is not the answer. Education and leading by example is the only moral and practical way to alter people’s behavior when they are engaged in personal activities. And what is more personal, private and intimate than eating? Ok – maybe one other thing and the government shouldn’t go there either! Picket bake sales and refuse to support them, but do not bring the government into it. We must remember that government regulations are right now limiting our choices and freedoms to enjoy healthier foods because they claim to know what’s good for us. We know that is not so and it can never be so. Climbing down off of soapbox…

  14. Girl Scout cookies still have trans-fats in the form or partially hydrogenated soybean oils. Check out the ingredient lists here ( and you’ll never touch one again. GS cookies, like so many other snack foods, get away with advertising zero trans fats if there is 1/2 gram or less per “serving,” as defined by the manufacturer. Food companies get the trans-fat content under .5 grams by a) shrinking the serving; and/or b) replacing some of the hydrogenated oils with tropical oils like palm kernel.

  15. Most of the money from girl scout cookies goes to the Girls Scouts bureaucracy. My opinion is local girl scout troops are worth supporting, but the council that oversees them is just a way for someone to make a lot of money doing nothing while appearing to do good.

    You can disagree with that, but I would say if you want to support girl scouts, do it by giving money to the local troop. Then the girls can go camping or whatever without dealing with the council.

  16. One of the schools in my city (a French-immersion elementary school) has a yearly auction/sale of artwork created by the children. Granted, a lot of the people who attend are parents/grandparents who are willing to throw down some cash for their lil’ darlings, but I know other people who attend and get some good artwork. It’s a great way to encourage creativity, and the kids are more active participants in their school’s fundraiser.

    I love the extra recess idea. I had elementary teachers who often used extra recess as a reward. We all loved it. When I’ve taught, I’ve always tried to find a way to avoid the sugar birthday treats (forget getting anything done once they’ve had those cupcakes), but I already used up every bit of outside time possible, so that wouldn’t have worked for my classroom. I usually did extra art and games, which they had a lot of fun with.

  17. I like how in my daughter’s grade school they have eliminated cookies, candy, and such from school parties but the current fundraiser is selling cookie dough!!!!

  18. We are battling the PTO at my daughter’s school right now. They are selling snack cakes and candy every day in the classroom during the school sanctioned snack time. We send my daughter with healthy snacks but she comes home every day asking to buy the junk food that her classmates are eating. It’s frustrating. The PTO won’t offer healthy snacks because they claim they don’t sell. Thanks for sharing this article. Very informative.