Just in time for Halloween, I wanted to share a food-in-the-classroom horror story sent to me a few weeks ago by a reader from Ohio. Here’s what she told me:
At kindergarten orientation the teacher went over classroom stuff and passed around clipboards for parents to volunteer, etc. One of the clipboards was for parents to bring in ABC Snacks, which paired a food with each letter. For example: marshmallows for M, cookies for C, Oreos for O, dinosaur fruit snacks for D, brownies for B… A couple were not so bad: grapes for G and raisins for R. Almost all were pure sugar, though.
My child is allergic to several things, and out of the 26 snacks she could only eat about 8. Most disturbing is that there were nutty bars for N. (NUTTY BARS!)
After orientation I asked the teacher, “I missed when you said this part- what’s going on with the ABC Snacks? Is it once a week they get one of these?”
She said yes and I told her (again) that my daughter has food allergies and can’t have the majority of them. She said, “Oh! I didn’t even look at this! Someone just gave me this activity. So which ones can’t she eat?”
I told her and she said, “Well, she’ll see the other kids with it and get the idea.” I said that I’d bring in some raisins for my daughter, to make her somewhat less excluded. This is not ideal, but my mind was completely blown.
Then the teacher pointed out the nutty bars and asked if it would be a problem just having them in the room with her. My kid doesn’t have airborne peanut sensitivity, so I said, “No, if she doesn’t eat them she’ll be okay. But this little boy over here was also at the peanut free table today, so it might be a problem for him.”
“Oh? There’s another peanut allergy in the room?”
To summarize, all of the forms that I filled out before school began that explained my child’s allergy were not read- at least not by her teacher. This was technically the first day of school and she had no idea that another child had a peanut allergy. Upon finding this out, it took her 4 weeks to decide not to do an activity including peanuts. Most striking for me was that she repeatedly said, “I didn’t even look at this. Someone just gave it to me.”
When we discussed the matter further by email, the reader told me that the problem really stemmed not from the teacher but a “bad food culture throughout the school.” She said that PTA fundraisers and rewards usually involved junk food by default and that teachers were given no guidelines at all on the use of food in the classroom, with practices varying considerably from class to class. She added, ” I know that in some schools, when the nurse sees a food allergy form come in she takes it to the teacher, explains it, and has the teacher sign off on it. Here, it wasn’t even communicated.”
The happy ending to this story is that after meeting with the teacher, the reader reported that the “ABC snacks” program had been dropped and that the teacher seemed to better understand that the reader’s child must not be given any food that wasn’t brought from home.
But all of this points up — again — how food in the classroom can cause all sorts of unintended problems. Whoever thought of this “ABC snacks” idea probably just hoped the program would get little kids excited about learning their alphabet. (And this idea dates back to the Middle Ages when Jewish teachers would drizzle honey on Hebrew letters on a child’s first day of study, to create an association between sweetness and learning.) But as we know, there are so many reasons parents might object to food being used as a teaching tool or reward, from serious food allergies, as was the case here, to a common sense desire to limit sugary, processed foods in a child’s diet.
Once again, people, I must refer you to my Food In the Classroom Manifesto (always available on the right side of the blog), which lays out ten reasons why schools need to re-think the use of food. Feel free to download it, copy it and share it with your child’s school to help explain why you and other parents are concerned about practices like this.
I’m going to share another reader’s food-in-the-classroom story next week, and feel free to send me yours at bettina at thelunchtray dot com.
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