Michelle Obama isn’t banning bake sales, birthday cake


Some sweets allowed. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Put Down the Cupcake: New Ban Hits School Bake Sales” a Wall Street Journal headline warned. The Daily Caller blamed the first lady: “Michelle Obama’s Meddling In School Lunches Now Causes BAKE SALE BANS.”

But no, the government isn’t waging a war on brownies. School bake sales haven’t been banned as some recent headlines have suggested. Nor does little Johnny have to bring carrot sticks instead of cupcakes to share with classmates on his birthday.

New rules requiring healthier foods in public schools took effect July 1 as a result of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010. They set nutrition standards for all food and drink sold during the school day, including “competitive foods” — government language for vending machine snacks and bake-sale goodies.

The standards, which dictate how much fat and sugar food sold on school grounds can contain, do extend to snacks sold as fundraisers. That raised the hackles of some state school superintendents, including John Barge of Georgia, who called the rules an “absolute overreach of the federal government.”

“Tough economic times have translated into fewer resources and these fundraisers allow our schools to raise a considerable amount of money for very worthwhile education programs,” Barge said in a press release. “While we are concerned about the obesity epidemic, limiting food and beverage fundraisers at schools and school-related events is not the solution.”

The new rules don’t dictate how many bake sales hawking noncompliant goodies a school can hold each year. The rules leave it to states to set the limits, but caution that such sales should be “infrequent.” Georgia said it will allow 30 bake sales per year per school during which students can buy foods that don’t meet the new standards. There are about 2,500 public schools in Georgia, so that’s 75,000 bake sales per year. Not much of a ban.

Tennessee settled on 30 days during which bake sales are permitted, according to USA Today. According to the National Journal, Idaho will allow 10, and Illinois aims to shrink its current cap of 36 to nine in the next three years.

The limits only apply to on-campus bake sales held during school hours. That means fat-laden snacks can flow freely at athletic events and afterschool fundraisers. Kids can also distribute order forms for sweets such as Girl Scout cookies during school hours. These fundraisers aren’t part of the limit set by the state.

In another effort to provide “flexibility for important traditions,” the rules don’t bar kids from bringing cake to share with classmates on their birthdays. Nor do they bar parents from packing desserts in lunches brought from home.

The war on bake sales story got started on Fox News when the law was enacted back in 2010. A conservative group, Judicial Watch, fanned the frenzy with a headline that said “Feds Take Over School Bake Sales.”

Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
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