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Healthy Foods

Should schools be able to ban Oreo cookies?

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Milk's favorite cookie not welcome at one Colorado school. (iStock)

This week a Colorado mom got a surprising note from her daughter’s school after packing Oreo cookies in her lunch.

Leeza Pearson of Aurora told ABC News that she was out of fruit and veggies so she included a small package of Oreos in her daughter’s lunch. Children's Academy, a public school in Aurora, Colorado, did not let Natalee, 4, eat the cookies and sent her home with a strongly worded note cautioning about junk food.

“Not only can imposing strict rules or forcing children to remove certain foods have negative effects on the child's emotional state, but it will not have any long-lasting effects on the child's diet either.”

- Lisa Moskovitz, registered dietician

The note, provided to ABC News read: "Dear Parents, it is very important that all students have a nutritious lunch. This is a public school setting and all children are required to have a fruit, a vegetable and a healthy snack from home, along with a milk. If they have potatoes, the child will also need bread to go along with it. Lunchables, chips, fruit snacks, and peanut butter are not considered to be a healthy snack. This is a very important part of our program and we need everyone's participation.”

The school claims they offered the student a replacement snack but Pearson told ABC that was not the case as her daughter came home hungry.

"She is not overweight by any means and I usually try to feed her healthy," Pearson said. "It’s not like I was offering cookies to the entire class and it's not like that was the only thing in her lunch." The mother says her daughter also had a sandwich and string-cheese included with her meal.

After Pearson shared her story, parents and caretakers joined into the discussion. Many sided with Pearson, saying that public schools have no right to police kids’ lunches.

So compared to other commonly consumed snacks, are Oreos really that bad?

While fresh fruits, veggies  and low sugar trail mixes are best, Lisa Moskovitz, a registered dietician who owns  NY Nutrition Group, says that an occasional cookie is okay for kids.

“Allowing your children empty calorie sweets, like Oreos, on occasion is perfectly fine and does not make you a horrible parent,” Moskovitz told FoxNews.com. “Even adults should be able to enjoy an Oreo from time-to-time without any guilt.”

Moskovitz says the bigger issue when parents think snacks are healthy but aren't,  in part because of confusing labeling.

She points to granola bars. Some bars contain almost 20 grams of sugar. KIND snacks has recently been ordered to take the word “healthy” off four its products. Its popular Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants contains 14 grams of sugar and 2.5 grams of saturated fat. 

Compare that with two Oreo cookies, which contain 14 grams of sugar and one gram of saturated fat.

Another snack that parents think is healthy, but often times isn't is flavored yogurt.

Yoplait original flavors contain around 18 grams of sugar per container, but before the brand adjusting its recipe some flavors contained as much as 31 grams of sugar per container.

The American Heart Association recommends that preschool children should have about 16.7 g of added sugar per day. Children ages 4 to 8 should consume less sugar—about 12.5 g per day.

“Try to avoid more than 6 to 7grams of added sugar per snack,” Moskovitz advises. “This does not include natural sugar found in fruit, veggies, and non-flavored dairy.” Parents should also look out for products with hydrogenated oils—trans fats—and sodium.

But if you're stumped to find a healthy snack for a picky eater, Moskovitz says there're plenty of great choices-- both fresh and pre-packaged-- that won't send your kid home with warning letter from the school. Where possible, look for items that contain fiber or protein which will keep kids fuller for longer and help them stay focused in class. 

Good sweet snacks include apples with natural peanut butter, Chobani flip yogurts, natural trail mix with no added sugar (you can even make it yourself easily), granola bars that have at least 4g of fiber and less than 10g of sugar. Savory options include a serving of Pirate's Booty, string cheese, Cheerios with 1% milk and an English muffin pizza-- top a half with tomato sauce and part-skim mozzarella cheese and baked in toaster oven for just five minutes. 

The nutritionist believes that while schools should help educate children about healthy eating, but confiscating snacks goes overboard.

“Not only can imposing strict rules or forcing children to remove certain foods have negative effects on the child's emotional state, but it will not have any long-lasting effects on the child's diet either.”