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posted: 2/11/2014 8:52 AM

Editorial: Balancing the school snack equation

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Everyone knows where a road paved with good intentions may lead, so we have some words for the Illinois Board of Education as it studies how best to comply with federal regulations governing availability of snacks with high fat or sugar content. Think balance.

Eliminating high-fat snacks from ever finding their way into a school classroom or after-school event may not exactly lead directly to perdition, but it certainly could be carrying the notion of dictating what kids can eat into complicated, uncharted territories.

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To be sure, the federal Smart Snacks in Schools rules are at their core a good thing. Restricting the availability of unhealthy sweet, salty or greasy snacks from vending machines, lunchrooms and most school-sponsored marketing venues reinforces standards consistent with the schools' responsibility to educate young people about what constitutes healthy eating.

But, facing a July 1 deadline by which to define under what circumstances exceptions can be made to the federal rules, the state school board should keep in mind that it can make exceptions. In particular, it should keep in mind that local school districts and local schools should have some control over certain situations when sweets or salty snacks that don't fit strict definitions can be permitted -- say, for a child bringing cupcakes to his or her classmates for a birthday celebration or a community bake sale immediately after school.

This is not to say that schools shouldn't encourage parents and boosters to think healthy when they consider what kinds of goodies to bring in as treats. Of course, they should. But, already managing an array of regulations and standards regarding student safety and behavior, they shouldn't have to add the complication of creating lists of acceptable and unacceptable baked goods that can be offered as occasional treats.

With the emphasis on healthy snacks dominating the hallways, vending machines and lesson plans, an occasional bake sale featuring brownies and cookies or birthday celebration with a decorated cake doesn't have to represent a repudiation of the schools' core message. It's simply an acknowledgment that different choices are available and an opportunity for schools and classrooms to show how those choices can be limited, fit reasonably into an overall diet that accommodates controlled exceptions.

Make no mistake. We're not urging the state school board to throw open the pantry doors. Nor are we saying it shouldn't educate students and parents on the healthiest and safest ways to enjoy a tasty treat. We're just saying there's room for local control and balance in the snack equation. And we think most schools, school districts and parents have the common sense to apply them wisely.

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