Why Are We Afraid Of Telling Parents What To Do?

Lately I’ve gotten a lot of success stories from parents who have joined the ranks of “That Mom”. They’ve spoken up and changed the snack culture in their child’s class or sports team (read “Change the Snack Culture: 3 Steps to Take Now” and  “Be Bold. Take Action. Make Change.“).

But occasionally, I hear from frustrated parents too. On Monday, I got this message from a friend:

“My son’s soccer coach gave me the green light to email parents about the snacks. But after I sent out the snack letter, the coach felt I was dictating what parents can and can’t bring. He asked me send another email clarifying that I was only offering suggestions for healthy snacks.”

I don’t mean to point the finger at coaches. In case you were thinking about leaving an angry comment, please know that I think coaches are terrific. My sons have both had great ones–and I know they want what’s best for kids.

I’m not singling out coaches because this is a common reaction from a lot of different people (including teachers, principals, and preschool directors) to the idea of making rules around the food parents can bring to share with other children. Even though these policies aren’t dictating what parents can serve at home to their own child.

There’s a fear of telling parents what they can and can’t do when it comes to food. A fear of making parents angry. A fear of making policy.

There are loads of other policies in place for keeping our kids safe and healthy when they’re at school and elsewhere–from the little stuff (like not being allowed to wear sandals to gym class and requiring shin guards for soccer practice) to the big stuff (you can’t bring a gun to school and you can’t smoke in or around the building). All of these rules are designed to protect our kids.

But for some reason, nutrition doesn’t seem to carry the same weight.

Even if everyone in the room agrees that an apple is better for a child than a bag of Doritos, people get nervous about saying it out loud–for fear of offending someone who gives their kid Doritos. Trust me when I say that my third grader has had Doritos and thinks they’re the bomb. And I’m not offended. Because guess what? An apple is better for him than Doritos. Fact.

If we want to protect our children’s long-term health and wellness, we have to make policy. If we want to reverse course and see rates of overweight, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and childhood hypertension and high cholesterol drop instead of climb, we have to make policy. If we want our kids to like the taste of real food–instead of feeding them junk at school, church, and sports games and then calling them “picky”–we have to make policy.

It may not always be easy. Though a lot of parents will feel relief, a few parents may get offended. And angry. But why does that matter more than our kids’ health?

Liked this post?

Sign up for my weekly Reality Bite email with tips, ideas, and encouragement and you'll receive a FREE e-book, "16 Game-Changing Tips For Feeding Kids".


  1. says

    “There’s a fear of telling parents what they can and can’t do when it comes to food. A fear of making parents angry. A fear of making policy.” Exactly! Leaders need to get over that fear and protect our children’s long-term health.

  2. says

    Thanks for the amazing article. My toddler is almost 4 now and sometimes I feel frustrated because I see so many friends and family members feeding their kids cola and doritos (among other unhealthy snacks). I kindly send my kid with a banana, a sandwich and a milk to school and even to birthdays, on ocasions people ask how I get time to do such things, or even judge me “poor kid, don’t you see he is looking to other kids, he want that!…”
    Even when I take the kid to my office, the first thing people offer him is a dollar for the snack machine…. How can people, even “healthy” people can think so bad about snacks for kids.
    All that inspired me to start a blog with my best friend (on spanish, we are from Puerto Rico) to talk about it and show snack ideas to inspire moms.

    • says

      Claudia–thank so much for your comment! Wish I could read your blog, but alas, don’t speak (or read!) Spanish. Great to know that you’re working to inspire moms and spread the healthy snack gospel. 🙂

  3. says

    I just love this series. My kids are young – nearly six and three and a half, and only involved in a few activities. However, I want to be well-armed to fight these battles when the time comes. So far, the older one, only participates in ballet (no snack) and Daisy Scouts. The little guy goes to school where there is a healthy snack provided (milk and something else. Parents are also encouraged to provide snacks for their kids, as long as we abide by the school’s peanut free rule)

    I was most worried about Daisies. They get a snack – but as I found out last week, when I volunteered, I didn’t need to. Girls (who are all in kindergarten) bring their own water bottles and a light snack is provided. Last week, they got small boxes of raisins and one of the Earth’s Best fruit and grain snack bars. Claire was starving afterwards, but she’s always hungry, and hypoglycemic to boot. I had some peanuts in my bag for her.

  4. says

    Sally, this is such a great post and really gets to the heart of the matter. As you know, I’ve shared it with my readers on FB and Twitter today. I think one problem, though, lies in this innocuous sentence: “Even if everyone in the room agrees that an apple is better for a child than a bag of Doritos . . .”

    Even if people agree with that common sense notion, a lot of them also have the competing idea in their heads that “Hey, it’s *one* bag of Doritos, what’s the big deal?” They don’t realize, as we do, that these “treats” add up very quickly in a child’s week. Worse, though, they may well perceive a health halo surrounding those “whole grain” Sun Chips and that “hydrating, electrolyte-filled” sports drink, and they actually think they’re doing no harm or maybe even doing kids some good. There’s often a basic lack of nutrition education and then you wade into very tricky waters — who are YOU to educate ME about how to feed kids?

    That’s why it’s so much better if these policies can be issued from “on high,” by the teacher, principal or sports coach, rather than placing the onus on parents to do the heavy lifting. Then the policy is often taken as a given, just like shin guards, and it’s much less of a hot-button issue.

    Unfortunately the onus often *does* fall on parents, though, and your posts on this topic have been invaluable!

    – Bettina at The Lunch Tray

    • says

      Thanks Bettina. Totally agree that the policies do need to be issued from “on high”. That’s why I’m frustrated when those in power–a coach, a principal–don’t want to take a stand on it. It’s often too much for the parents to do themselves. I can change the snack culture on my son’s team, but it takes the league director to make it widespread (and as I mentioned in a previous post, they wanted nothing to do with making policy about snacks). You also hit on something in your comment that I’ve been bothered about–the “who are YOU to educate ME about how to feed kids” point. People who don’t support policy often say it just comes down to education, and that instead of pushing for change or “telling people what to do” we should just educate people. As you say, there are so many health haloes surrounding these foods and education just can’t compete with the billion-dollar marketing machine of junk food. I’m a dietitian and work to educate people every day, but I still think policies are so very important.

    • says

      Jennifer–that’s great! Those apple/dip cups look yummy. And I’m not surprised the kids were excited about them. I do think kids love delicious fresh fruit when given the exposure and the chance to like it. Great job! Welcome to the The Mom club. 😉

  5. Annette says

    I am so glad that I stumbled upon your blog/Facebook when I did. My son is 17 months old, and you have inspired me to be “that mom” when I have to be. Hopefully the culture is changing!!

  6. Holly says

    I am a soccer coach and I specifically asked that snack be limited to things that do not come in wrappers and to bring a refillable water bottle to game because I did not want to add litter to the field and I don’t want my own kid eating junk. I was a little scared, but turned out other parents appreciated me taking a stand on it. So we have brought cut fruit or grapes to every game and I bring a big jug filled with ice water and the boys happily eat and drink their snack after the game…zero complaints:). It can be done!

    • says

      Holly–that’s fantastic!!! In my experience, parents are very receptive to requests coming from the coach. That’s why I always encourage parents to work with their coaches at the beginning of the season on this. What a great example you’ve set for your team, and likely the other teams in the league. Great job!!

  7. KristyC says

    I’m all for educating about healthy food, speaking up about healthier options, offering suggestions, and leading by example – but *not* about telling other parents what they can and cannot do. Why? Because it’s a slippery slope. As a homeschooling mom, I already know of plenty of people (and most governments in the world) that think I am doing harm to my children by homeschooling rather than having them in a public school where they can be “socialized”. (Socialized, by the way, to think that chocolate milk, soft drinks, and junk food are the norm.) Instead, I offer healthy options. I forward articles about “real food”. I share recipes and talk about the food we are eating. Educate, don’t dictate.

    • says

      Kristy–thanks for your comment and perspective as a home-schooling parent. I’m guessing your frustrations aren’t as high as some of ours because your kids aren’t in public school. There is a lot of food given in school–between class rewards and parties–that parents are unhappy about. Schools work so hard to keep kids safe and healthy–rules about behavior, weight/vision screenings, rules about playground activity, etc.–it’s seems logical that keeping kids healthy via the foods that are shared in the classroom would be the next step. I hear what you’re saying about not telling people what to do, but this is the food parents are sharing with the class or the team–so I believe other parents have the right to not want that food for their child and to have some kind of protection and limits around it.

  8. says

    Drives me nuts. Why do they even need a snack at all? Wish we could abolish the post-practice/game snack completely. So completely unnecessary. My kids are 9, 6 and 4 and sometimes I’m sure that all they care about is the Popsicle, chip, juice, etc. that comes after the activity. Depressing. I think people are definitely worried that they will seem overly judgmental if they suggest a healthier snack. But I’m not even suggesting something healthier. I’m saying NO SNACKS at all. I don’t even understand why that extra snack has to be a part of the practice or game. It’s an added expense and hassle that I’m sure many parents would rather avoid.

  9. Justine says

    I am all for healthy snacks – not just for the little ones but for adults too. I feed my family a heart healthy diet, we exercise and lead a pretty chill life. But after raising three kids and having participated in many soccer games, baseball games, swim meets, gymnastics, etc., I have seen the one thing that annoys parents the most – having other adults tell you how to raise your children. Although you may see it as a positive thing to require parents to bring healthy snacks to events (and I agree), other parents see it as being pushy, arrogant, and imposing your lifestyle on them. I agree with your coach – he has to deal with all parents and has to be as diplomatic as possible. Its just the world we live in. Lead by example.

    • says

      Justine–I get where you’re coming from. But when parents bring cases of Gatorade and Oreos for the team, aren’t they imposing their lifestyle on my child? There is a strange double-standard at work there.

  10. says

    I am a kindergarten teacher and a family wellness educator/coach so I do “educate” parents frequently, though I can see how it might feel intimidating to many. Parents don’t like being told what to do with their kids BUT when it is coming from a higher up authority then then don’t have a choice. What do I mean by this? Well, if the school or the sports organization states healthy foods ONLY as a rule then YOU are not the bad guy and the COACH is not the bad guy, ’cause hey, these are now just “the rules”. Then the coach or the other parents can call them on it. So go to the top. Find out who you can talk to about creating change. RULES of many sorts are given at the beginning of a season or school year, some we even need to sign off on, I say then why can’t this added to the list? If you get “healthy rules” put in place then the parent who brings the crap is the one who is going against the grain. Most people, whether they like it or not, will follow the “RULE”. Griping and all BUT at least the kids will get healthier snacks in the end. Oh and Sally – I LOVE YOUR BLOG! YOU TELL IT LIKE IT IS AND WE ALL NEED THAT!

    • says

      Lauren–thanks you so much. YES, totally agree that the policies have to be established by a “higher authority” so the moms and dads don’t have to be the bad guy. If we established rules around outside food and treated them like any other rule/policy, parents would eventually accept them and we could move on. Thanks again for your kind words and for chiming in!

  11. says

    Great article Sally. I feel your pain having gone through this in my community nearly 10 years ago. Happily, we were able to get the soccer club to enact a “fruit and water only” policy. It’s worked wonders. Strong leadership at the top can make all the difference 🙂

    • says

      Yes! Strong leadership at the top–so much depends on that. Thanks for the comment Liz. The changes you’ve made are really inspiring!

  12. Anne says

    “There’s a fear of telling parents what they can and can’t do when it comes to food. A fear of making parents angry. A fear of making policy.”

    This is so true!! I am a pretty outspoken person and in general I don’t shy away from speaking my mind, but I have to admit I have done more venting than advocating for change when it comes to the lack of food policy at schools my kids have attended. I am finally finding my voice, but I know it is not going to be easy to stand up to those parents who don’t see what the big deal is and why food policies are necessary.

    • says

      Anne–congrats on finding your voice! It can be a long, slow, and sometimes difficult process. But it’s a fight worth fighting! 🙂 Thanks for your comment.

  13. says

    Sally, thank you so much for writing this article! I’m with you 100%! In fact, I just said the exact same thing to my husband the other night about the need for policy and why I think nothing will really ever change unless we have rules and regulations in place for nutrition policy at school and elsewhere. This is the one are where I truly believe local governments need to be involved!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *