Chocolate Serves up “Teachable Moment” at School

A couple of days ago on Twitter,’s Annie (@phdinparenting) – probably Ottawa’s most prominent parenting blogger – was talking about the list of banned junk food at her kid’s school. It includes candy, chips, popcorn and chocolate. Not just chocolate bars, chocolate. *Sigh.*

Chocolate? It’s the gold standard in the mother’s lunch bag of nutrition tricks. You can load up muffins or loaves with all sorts of goodness – whole wheat flower, wheat germ, flax, yogurt, eggs, carrots, pumpkin, zucchini, apples, dried fruit and nuts, you name it – and if you throw in a few dark chocolate chips, they’ll eat it. Virtually every time.

Not only that, research suggests dark chocolate is good for you. It can help improve heart health, cut stroke risk, boost psychological well-being and it may even contribute to a drop in body mass index.

That’s because cocoa beans contain flavonoids, natural compounds with antioxidant properties. (The important thing, when eating – a modest amount – of chocolate, is to read the list of ingredients and ensure cocoa comes before sugar. When you’re buying a bar, it’s best to choose one with a high percentage of cocoa.)

Certainly schools are curtailing junk-food consumption for good reason. Childhood obesity and inactivity are serious health issues in this country. It’s fitting – in fact, long overdue – that the Ontario Ministry of Education has implemented a new School Food and Beverage policy, including nutrition standards, with compliance effective September 1, 2011. This time last year, kids were learning and being tested about nutrition in physical education class, then buying poutine in the school cafeteria and loading up on junk at on-site vending machines.

Now that’s not okay. However, there should be a happy medium between offering junk at school and banning healthy treats. As we all know, junk food isn’t restricted to chocolate bars, candy and chips. I remember a little girl in an elementary class who brought sugar sandwiches – white bread, margarine and brown sugar – and fruit “drink” to school. Another wee girl had a lunch bag that contained rice crispie squares and a couple of glazed donuts. That’s it.

A comprehensive list of junk food for banning would go on for pages. Unfortunately, there’s no end of garbage for kids and adults to eat these days. Hopefully, from the get-go, kids are eating healthfully and learning good health habits at home.

School can and should reinforce good life habits – including the importance of making healthy choices, eating a variety of nutritious foods and enjoying occasional treats in moderation. Chocolate serves up what educators like to call a “teachable moment.” It’s an opportunity to show kids they have the power to make smart choices and to enjoy eating tasty, healthful food that will make them feel good too.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

  Pam Dillon

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