Thursday, August 09, 2012

Parental "No" Files - Girl Guides Edition

This one got forwarded to me from a friend in Ontario. Her 3 daughters are all involved in the Girl Guides and her youngest is currently a "Brownie" (ages 7-8).

Each summer her group has a camping weekend.  The mom sent me the menu starting with their Friday night arrival:
Night snack: Relatively innocuous but includes a bag of chips per child.

Breakfast: Includes waffles with syrup, jam, whipped cream and chocolate chips.

Morning snack: Includes Girl Guide cookies.

Lunch: Includes s'mores.

Afternoon snack: Includes something called an "edible campfire" which consists of a fire pit made of mini marshmallows, corn flakes tinder, shoelace liquorice kindling, and pretzel and cheesie fuel logs.

Dinner: Includes a dessert of chocolate pudding and rice krispie squares

Breakfast: Includes banana bread and brownies
Now I would certainly agree that roasting marshmallows and having a few s'mores are definitely part of the rights of passage of kids' camping, but why does every single meal and snack time have to involve dessert?

This mom did in fact complain to her daughter's troop leader and was met with the, "but camping is supposed to be fun" argument. I guess that particular leader is so woefully lacking in creativity that she was unable to come up with ideas for fun that didn't involve spooning sugar into 7 year olds.

But no worry, clearly this isn't a problem because my friend doesn't have to send her daughters off with their friends troop members camping. She can just say "No", right? But isn't it sad that she might feel that she has to, and sadder still that at least one Girl Guide leader thinks 7 year olds having fun requires ridiculous quantities of sugar and junk food? Would camping not be the same if dessert weren't served every single time the kids opened their mouths to eat?

(Do you have any "Parental No" examples? Feel free to send them my way - yonifreedhoff via

Bookmark and Share


  1. When my kid was in the second grade I helped with the December holiday party. Each kid was given a juice box and a plate of several carb-heavy "treats," including a store bought cupcake with icing half an inch thick. Oh, they also got a little log of string cheese (supplied by your's truly). The "craft" was to decorate a large holiday cookie with colored frosting, which they could either eat immediately or take home. They were then given treat bags to take home (several parents not in attendance had supplied the contents). The total calories each kid was offered at that party: 1,800, of which 80 were string cheese and the rest were refined carbs. (Oh, they also got a holiday pencil and eraser, and they got to compete in a couple of silly relay races.) I was in the principal's office the day we got back from holiday break. There was no way those kids could "just say no." And if they did, what alternatives did they have: sulk to the water fountain with a piece of string cheese? In response to my complaint (and using my suggestions) the school supplied party treat guidelines to the room parents for the following two years. Those have long disappeared.

  2. Anonymous11:16 am

    If you truly want to have an engaged conversation regrading nutrition, it would be best to provide the full menu. I can't not make an educated comment regarding this situation without all the information. I'm very interested in what else was served. Would be able to update the list with the other food items for us?

    1. Anonymous12:37 pm

      It doesn't matter what else was served -- no matter how healthy or "Yoni-approved." There is no need -- rather, it's obscene -- to serve so much sugar with each meal and snack. You can't balance out all that garbage.

  3. As a Guide Leader, this is a bit heavy on the sugar side and the menus my unit has had are not this laced with sugar, or have different sugar. Instead of jam on waffles I'd have had fruit for example. I am opting to not judge this menu though because only part of the menu is posted -- only the part that makes the accusations credible.

    The food might have been purchased already for the camp when the leader was approached, which might be part of the reason for the "no". Perhaps your friend should offer to help with the menu for the next camp the answer might have been different. There is also more then one leader in a unit and the unit belongs to a district which oversees the units, so there are other people your friend could approach.

    Keep in mind it is very challenging making menus for groups between food allergies, nutrition, and picky eaters. It can be rather difficult finding something that all girls can eat, will eat, and still be healthy. The girls themselves request a lot of sugar when asked what they'd like to eat at camp.

    It is also very important to ensure that the girls have fun at camp, especially their first camp or they won't return and if they are hungry the entire camp they aren't having fun.

    I only wish to point out that this leader has many aspects to balance and it isn't as easy as you might think coming up with a menu, doing the shopping, and the cooking at camp.

    Let's also put this into perspective Brownie units have 1 maybe 2 camps a year, if they get too much sugar a couple times a year is this really going to ruin their health for the rest of their life. Does this justify missing the camp completely and all of the other great things that happen at camp? How does the sweets compare to what this child might have over x-mas holidays?

    To be clear, I think the menu could be improved, but as a parent perhaps you could cut this leader some slack too. I too am a parent and understand your concerns. When I've had concerns, whether it be with school or outside school rather then just complaining I try to be part of the solution and I find much less resistance when I do. It's not easy being a guide leader, it's a lot of work, and camps are a huge undertaking so please be mindful of all that she is doing for these girls.

    1. Anonymous1:04 pm

      First - it doesn't matter what else is being served, these food options could not be salvaged by any other menu.

      Second - if it is so difficult to host an event without inundating children with refined food and sugar, then I question the merit of hosting it at all. If you can't do it properly, then you shouldn't do it. Would you host an event that compromised children's physical safety, because ensuring their safety was too difficult to balance with all the rest of the logistics? No, so why is this different?

      Thirdly - and perhaps most concerning to me - being "mindful of what she is doing for these girls" has to involve consideration of what this teaches young girls. It teaches them that when times are busy or logistically complicated, refined and sugary foods are appropriate choices. It teaches them that "fun" means refined and sugary food. And it encourages abdonning moderation.

      We teach our kids the tools we think they need to navigate life successfully. Brownies and Girl Guides have a great opportunity to help shape our young girls into smart, confident and self-sufficient women. As an organization, I would have hoped that the response would not be "cut her some slack" and it's not as bad as other holidays, but rather thank you for putting a spotlight on this issue and let's address this.

    2. Anonymous1:15 pm

      1) Most kids "request a lot of sugar". Most kids also request that they be allowed to stay up all night, skip school and run naked around the backyard, however it is our jobs as adults (parents, teachers, leaders) TO NOT ALLOW THIS!
      2) You seem to completely agree that junk food = fun. This is a horrible lesson to teach children and will only result in adults who self-medicate their lack of fun with junk food. I don't see any reason why they can't still have fun after a bowl of Shreddies.
      3) Yes, being a leader is hard (I am one) and camp is a lot of work, but there is just no way it is easier, cheaper or better to give girls waffles instead of toast or cereal. Unless they are neglected at home, chances are that they eat these things every single day.

    3. Anonymous3:50 pm

      "Let's also put this into perspective Brownie units have 1 maybe 2 camps a year, if they get too much sugar a couple times a year is this really going to ruin their health for the rest of their life. "

      And soccer practice is only once a week, and camp is just one week a year, and birthday parties are only one or two a month, and Valentine's day is only once a year, and visits to grandma's are only once a month, and, and, and.

      Just because something doesn't happen often doesn't mean it should automatically include a ton of junk food! Because kids will go to many, many, MANY things that happen infrequently, and this attitude is filling kids up with junk at every turn.

  4. I am a Brownie leader, and I have had girls refuse to eat anything for 24h apart from naked carbohydrates. I usually insist they have a complex carb and something else (either a protein source or a fruit/veg) to participate in the activities - and I've refused participation for girls who won't eat anything. And I tend to say no main course = no dessert. I had one complaint from a parent whose daughter wouldn't even eat the bread from her cheese sandwich, so I made her stay back from a hike (I am mean), but the complain was that he wanted his "full value" (fine, the hike was free!).

    And I have to say we have never had this many sugary snacks, dessert for lunch is usually just fruit, though last time we had a sleepover we made cupcakes and the girls had a half each for dessert after supper. We buy jam and small child-sized chocolate biscuits or small bags of crisps e.g. for snacks, but we only buy unsweetened cereal, and as I say don't have a sugary snack for every meal.

    However, I know some Guiders would do this, and wouldn't consider it wrong. And I think it's partly imagination - so the best solution I'd say is to offer to do the catering next time! For example, I struggled to get girls to eat fruit apart from bananas last time but a suggestion was made by another leader to cut up fruit or do fruit kebabs - and I hadn't thought of that - but will definitely try it.

    (Our biggest problem though is not girls wanting too much sweet stuff but extreme fussy eaters - the girl who wouldn't eat a cheese sandwich - another girl wouldn't eat bread. Just fussiness, not any neuropsych issue.)

    (Waffles, on their own, especially if toasted, are no more sugary or calorific than toast with fruit spread and butter, or cereal with milk).

  5. Anonymous7:11 pm

    Guide and Brownie leaders are volunteers. There is a very simple solution if a parent doesn't like some aspect of the program, they can choose to get involved and volunteer their time. The year that I was a leader, all four of the leaders were mothers that worked full-time outside the home. If I had been the leader in this situation my response would have been "Thanks so much for volunteering, I can certainly understand your concerns, and I'd be delighted if you would take over the menu planning, the grocery shopping, cooking and clean up for Saturday at camp!" In all seriousness, my girls have been to many Guide and Brownie camps, and the menus at those camps rarely included that much sugar and processed food. That said, if you don't like what is being offered by a volunteer organization, then feel free to come and help out.

    1. Anonymous6:34 am

      The problem here is larger than just one camp. I can't volunteer for absolutely everything my kids are involved with - I would love to, but there are only so many hours in a day. Saying 'you don't like you, YOU do it' might help with this one camp, but there's still the other 20 times a week where people pushing treats on the kids.

      The problem is a culture we've created where 'fun' = treats. And this somewhat odd idea that if we don't have access to food the second anyone might be a tiny bit hungry that it's the end of the world. So food must be constantly available And god forbid anyone skip a meal occasionally, or only eat a few bites.

  6. Anonymous8:07 pm

    It's not so simple. The girls "wanted" sugary treats. The weekend was supposed to be "fun." Ever been that parent that has tried to change food culture of the sport team snacks, the school lunches, the classroom treats, reward systems ... only to be called the food police, supporter of the nanny state, no-fun parent, or my favourite" "you can't tell me what to feed my child!" I have volunteered/provided my time and food to try to create environments that support healthy choices, and you know who complains the most? Other parents.

  7. Hello Dr. Freedhoff,
    A great suggestion would be to have the parent talk with the Guide/Leader, and if that didn't work, to go and speak with their provincial office. PLUS, the girl could also make food suggestions! These are all ideas that would empower the parent and or child - goes great with the mission of Girl Guides!
    Girl Guides of Canada -Guides du Canada