Day 90–Healthier School Fundraisers and Wellness, Part 2

Chocolate chip cookie dough.

It all started with cookie dough. And a well-intentioned effort to raise money for a good cause (See post here).

Now, let me say uprfront, I am not the food police and I am not against a good cookie. In fact, I love cookies. Personally, I don’t buy store bought cookies or cookie dough because I don’t think they taste anywhere near as good as homemade. But that’s me. If you want to eat nothing but commercial cookie dough 24/7, that is your business. Enjoy!

But when teachers and parents spend valuable time teaching young people to make good food choices to reduce childhood obesity and diabetes, it doesn’t make sense to me to send those same children out to sell 3 pound tubs of high fat cookie dough (or chocolate bars or McDonalds gift cards) to their families and neighbors.  We don’t tell them to not smoke, then send them out to sell ashtrays and lighters, right? Young people pay attention. They are watching us. They see us talking the talk, but walking to Krispie Kreme…for money to pay for playground equipment…so kids don’t get fat. Say what???

I may be resisting giant tubs of raw cookie dough, but the good news is, I am not alone! I spent yesterday morning at a healthy fundraiser workshop sponsored by Advocates for Health in Action and came away with many great ideas as well as contacts with other parents and teachers who are involved in school wellness. The good news is that there are lots of creative, non-food options out there for raising funds. The challenge is going to be putting together a team of parents, students and teachers and developing a couple of target initiatives for the coming school year. Here are some things I learned:

  • My county actually has a wellness policy (WCPSS Wellness Policy 5125). While the policy doesn’t give guidance on the nutitional value of foods sold as fundraisers, it does provide some guidance about food in the school. This includes not using food as a reward for student achievement.
  • 49.5% of 12-18 year olds in NC are overweight or obese. I’m not math girl, but that is one out of every two teens in my state!
  • In 2010, North Carolina spent $107.18 million to treat medical conditions related to children with diabetes, high weight and inactive lifestyles. That is just children–not adults!

So what is a PTA, booster club, or youth league to do? There are plenty of options available! Here is a sampling of what I discovered:

  • Fun runs, walks, bike-a-thons take a lot of work by volunteers, but they can be very lucrative for schools.
  • Selling flowers, plants, rain barrels or delivered mulch can tie into a school’s gardening efforts and encourage environmental awareness. One local high school is selling mulch that is delivered and spread by the football team!
  • Selling coupon books, magazines, and school spirit apparel raise money without any large deliveries of goods required.
  • Talent shows, plays, dances and concerts highlight student achievement and give young people a chance to shine. Depending on the community, they can also help foster relationships with nearby neighborhoods.
  • In our area, The Produce Box offers a fundraiser vegetable box!

The workshop also addressed the issue of concession sales at games and/or meets. The goal with concessions is not to take away all the unhealthy options, but to offer healthier options, make them more convenient and price them a bit lower than unhealthy options. What might these include?

  • Soft pretzles
  • Low-fat popcorn
  • Tortilla chips with salsa
  • Sandwiches
  • Turkey burgers
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fruit kabobs
  • String cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Trail mix
  • Water
  • 100% vegetable juice
  • Unsweetened bottled tea

I also learned a great deal about wellness grants available in my community that pay for anything from athletic equipment to healthy food tastings.

Clearly, there is life beyond the cookie dough!

Day 81–Cracking the Cookie Code

Chocolate chip cookie dough.

Ok, I had mixed emotions about the two-month-long cookie sale for our Girl Scout troop. I don’t love the idea of young people out peddling highly processed, sugary food when we already struggle with getting them to eat healthy. But, in the spirit of tradition (and out of fear of the Girl Scout Council), I pushed ahead, stayed positive, kept my issues to myself and we all survived. We counted cookies, set up booths, counted some more, hit up our neighbors, collected money, counted some more and then…we were done! No. More. Cookies!

Then, I received an email from Ellie’s middle school band director. The band’s booster club had chosen a fundraiser to purchase some badly needed equipment and defray the cost for the steel drum band to perform at Disney World. This fundraiser…is…wait for it…selling tubs of raw cookie dough. AAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH. Are you kidding me?

First, let me say that I am a huge supporter of PTA’s and school arts programs, especially band programs–how cool is it that we even have a middle school steel drum band? And I am a big fan of our school’s band director–he is amazing and, for patiently teaching all those hormonally charged young people, he probably deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. I contacted the band director immediately and explained our dilemma. Did I say how awesome he is? He is awesome. I suggested that instead of purchasing a vat of cookie dough, we make a family donation to the band boosters to cover the proceeds of what we might have sold. No problem.

Except there is a problem. And that problem is called “sales incentives”. Or as the folks at Entertainment Fundraising call it: the “Extreme Fundraising Prize Pool”. The dazzling array of cheaply produced, made-in-a-sweat-shop goods had Ellie smitten. And, there is some social peer pressure involved. Those of you without children, do not judge. It’s unfathomable the frenzy these cheap prizes cause within a school. So, after a great deal of discussion, we decided to find out what is in the cookie dough, and if it didn’t seem too terrible, we would see if our neighbors wanted any. If there were unpronounceable ingredients or big health issues, we would pass. No problem.

Except there was another problem. And that problem is called “we’re not going to tell you what is in our cookie dough”. Or, as the folks at Entertainment Fundraising call it: “Secret Ingredients”.

After a fruitless online search to find ingredient lists, I called Entertainment Fundraising to see if they could email me a list of ingredients in their cookie dough. In this day of food allergies, that didn’t seem like a crazy request. I spoke with “Charles” about this at length. Our conversation went something like this:

C:   This is Charles at Entertainment Fundraising!!!! How can I help you!!!!

Me: Hi Charles, our school band is selling your tubs of cookie dough this spring…

C:  Great!!! The cookie dough is super!!!

Me:  Yes, well, I’m looking for a list of the ingredients in the different doughs, but I can’t find one online. Can you help me with this?

C:   Oh (no more exclamation points). No, we can’t give you the list of ingredients.

Me:  Um, ok, why is that?

C:   We cannot communicate with anyone except the fundraiser chairperson.

Me: Um, ok, why is that?

C:  They have the special code to download information from the website.

Me: Does this information include ingredients?

C:  Probably.

Me: But you can’t send it to me?

C:  No.

Me: And why is that?

C: Your fundraising chairperson has the special code.

Me: Hmm, well that seems odd, Charles, but I’ll try to get in touch with our fundraising chairperson…

C: Ok, great!!!! And thank YOU for supporting the children!!!

Me: Whatevs.

I thought for sure, I would never see an ingredient list. Then, this morning I received several pdf files from the band director in my email (because he is awesome). Ingredients lists! Overall, the cookie doughs use a lot of partially hydrogenated oils (which by their nature include trans fats), several different kinds of sugar including fructose and some of the cookies include parabens. Being raw cookie dough, they also include preservatives, which is not a huge surprise. I showed the list to some folks I work with and they all agreed that 1) a vat of cookie dough is, in principle, gross and 2) they were not interested in foods with such a high level of fat.

In the end, this has spurred a lot of thinking about how we talk the talk of health with our children, but we really don’t put that into practice when it counts. We tell them to make good choices, then send them out to sell poor choices to other people. As a result of all this, I have made an offer to the PTA to start a Wellness Committee of teachers, parents and students at the school, but haven’t heard back.

But for reals now, I am done with cookies…