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All of the reasons I hate popcorn day at my kids’ school

May 2, 2018

As a parent of school-age children I know I am supposed to love pizza day, popcorn day, the chocolate milk order, the bake sale and every other high-yield, low-fuss fundraiser that the school administration or parent council can toss together. Our schools are in a pinch and these are the fun ways to raise some much-needed cash. Do it for the kids, I’m told. I have tried. I really have. But I do not feel the love.

But of all the nickel-and-toonie fundraisers, none raises my ire quite like popcorn day. If your child’s school doesn’t observe this weekly candy-coated rite, consider yourself very lucky indeed.


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Allow me to explain:

Some time last year my children’s school entered into an arrangement with a local franchise of a certain national popcorn chain. The school started selling snack-size bags of delectably flavoured popcorn each Friday. What the popcorn chain gets from this arrangement is a captive market of up to 400 kids. What the school gets is a delicious cut of each sale.

“I need $2 for popcorn day on Friday,” my seven-year-old announced one day. That’s how I found out about this sweet little arrangement. Of course, all of his friends would demonstrate their school spirit by participating fully. He wouldn’t want to feel left out. And I wouldn’t want to feel like the ogre who made him feel that way.

Amazingly this condundrum is not what I hate most about popcorn day. Nor is the nag factor. (My kids are great at employing those “self advocacy” skills we’ve been busily instilling.)

What really gets under my skin is one single product called 'Low-Fat Caramel Popcorn.'

It isn’t even the bald inequality of the situation — I know there are parents at my inner-city school who consider the occasional $2 a genuine burden. 

What really gets under my skin is one single product called "Low-Fat Caramel Popcorn." This product, according to my informal polling, is the most prized popcorn day selection at my children’s school. I base this mostly on the number of tears I encounter when the school sells out of this wondrous, and nominally healthful, product, which happens more often than you would think.

Given the school food and beverage policy currently in place in Ontario, this sugary snack (21 grams of sugar per 50 gram bag, for the record) is defined as a “healthiest option” food. It's one which the school is actually encouraged to sell more of, in place of snacks with higher levels of sodium or fat. And, yes, if they called it “candy” the same policy would forbid it entirely. Of course. But I digress.


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These days my son routinely arrives home on popcorn day with the sandwich, fruit and veggie sticks we have lovingly prepared, entirely untouched. I blame 200 calories worth of "Low-Fat Caramel Popcorn." Although in fairness, the excitement of lining up in the school gymnasium during his nutrition break, to buy the popcorn, probably contributes to not being able to touch his lunch as well.

I don’t have a good solution. Things that have not worked include complaining to other parents and strongly worded emails to our school principal. Things that have worked, more or less, so far, include pulling my hair, screaming at the heavens, packing less lunch and insisting that he use his allowance money to buy that garbage.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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