When Mansfield school officials voted to ban food from classroom celebrations last month, they were challenging the nation’s love affair with cupcakes. Many of today’s adults developed deep feelings for the tiny confections in elementary school, waiting anxiously for that frosting-smeared cardboard box as it weaved its way from desk to desk.
Defenders of Mansfield’s policy say it will help cut down on unhealthy eating and allergic reactions to foods. Officials are right to worry about food allergies, but banishing all celebratory treats, from orange slices to ice cream, is an extreme response. When the snacks in question are gluten-free brownies or nut-free cookies, they even present a teaching opportunity.
Cupcakes should be eaten only as an occasional exception to an otherwise healthy and balanced diet. But by banning treats completely, school officials fell into the same unhealthy trap as crash dieters. In response to a similar initiative in Texas in 2005, the Lone Star State’s legislature passed a “Safe Cupcake Amendment.’’ Massachusetts shouldn’t go that far. But Mansfield officials are encouraging parents to give colorful pencils and erasers, in lieu of edible treats, to make classroom birthday parties fun. Kids should be excused for wondering if erasers come in orange and vanilla.