A Reader’s Food-In-The-Classroom Success Story

Last week I shared a reader’s account of a teacher who used candy and other junk food to teach kindergarteners the ABCs and who was oblivious to two reported food allergies in her classroom.  But the story had a happy ending:  after the parent met with the teacher, the junk food program was dropped and the teacher was better informed about the food allergies.

Today I want to share with you another reader success story pertaining to food in the classroom.  Here it is:

Hi Bettina,

Just wanted to share a small success story, and thank you for your work on The Lunch Tray, which inspired me to take a stand for healthier food at my kids’ school.

I have always been bothered by candy rewards in the classroom and donuts and cupcakes served at school birthday celebrations. After reading every post on the subject on your blog, I set up a meeting with my school’s principal and PTA president, armed with your Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto. They agreed with me in principle but were very reluctant to change the policy because food is such a sensitive issue for parents. The principal suggested a survey from a grassroots parent group to see if there would be support in the community, so I formed a Wellness Committee with like-minded moms and we sent out a survey on school birthday celebrations to parents. We had a clear majority in favor of eliminating birthday treats.

We gave the survey results to the administration, along with recommendations for alternative ways to celebrate birthdays based on parent feedback, and they implemented a new policy before the beginning of the school year. Parents are no longer allowed to bring in food for birthdays. Instead, the school has come up with simple and meaningful ways to honor kids’ birthdays. Since it was clear that parents supported a healthier school environment, the school also adopted a no candy in the classroom policy.

Naturally, there has been a mixed response and some parents are angry.  Hopefully things will calm down and our committee will be able to focus on positive changes we can make in the school, rather than just take things away.

Anyway, thank you for giving me the tools to make a small difference.  I really enjoy your blog and have been following silently for a while now.

This story made me feel so good, knowing that the discussions here on The Lunch Tray and my “manifesto” helped inspire a parent to make significant, positive changes.

And in turn this reader inspired me to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I’ve had mixed success reducing classroom treats at my own kid’s school and given that my son is going to graduate next year, I was starting to wonder if it was worth trying anymore.  But last night i sent an email to our elementary school principal asking for permission to send out my own survey to quantify parents’ views on birthday treats and food rewards, as well as chocolate milk and a la carte junk food  in the cafeteria.  Perhaps this data will help me in my efforts, just as it helped this reader.

Clearly we can all learn from and support each other in this forum, so if you have your own food-in-the-classroom story to share, feel free to email it to me at bettina at thelunchtray dot com.

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  1. Amy M. says

    Would it be possible to post a link to a sample parent survey? Thanks so much for doing this blog – it’s such a great inspiration and resource, and its nice to know others share these same concerns.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Amy and Andi: My principal just nixed the idea of an official schoolwide survey (using Survey Monkey and sent to all families.) This sort of survey is only done once a year, sent out by her, and I can understand her unwillingness to let parents use the survey system for whatever their pet issue might be. It could easily get out of hand. That said, I’m still going to try to assess parents’ views via our school’s FB page and perhaps at the next PTO meeting. I’ll certainly let you all know what happens.

  2. Monika says

    It’s good to hear that someone had the success in eliminating junk food from the classroom. I have small hopes for the school my husband’s son attends. The new teacher (2nd grade) rewards the kids with cheezits, gumballs, lolipops, candy… the list goes on. My husband brought up the topic during a teacher-parent meeting and the teacher admitted that other parents raised the issue too but she didn’t see anything bad in giving the kids some candy, her excuse was that she gives very limited amounts of it. My stepson came home with 3 big gumballs one day, that doesn’t seem like a limited amount to us! He’s allowed two sweet or salty snacks a day (plus he has a fruit basket and dip for vegs he can reach for at any time), if he receives them at school then we can’t give him any at home and it makes us seem like we’re bad parents. (The rest of the teachers do not give out any candy, and this teacher is also the only one that does not give homework and gives rewards stickers even if my stepson’s work is riddled with mistakes so me and my husband think it’s an issue with just that one single teacher, not the whole school).

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Monika: This part of your comment particularly resonated with me: “if he receives them at school then we can’t give him any at home and it makes us seem like we’re bad parents.” Sometimes people think that anyone who wants food out of the classroom must be a Food Nazi who deprives their poor kids of all sweets. To the contrary, a lot of us really enjoy sharing sweets with our kids but we want to do so in reasonable amounts. If the school gets there first, then we’re either out of luck or we have to squelch our concerns and overload our kids with sugar. That’s why I included this idea among my ten listed in my “Food in the Classroom Manifesto.” Thank you for sharing here.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Such a good idea! And there are so many other creative non-food rewards. 100 Days of Real Food has a great list here and there are many others out there, too.

  3. Alyssa McPherson says

    You may have better luck tackling this issue at the district level. As it stands here in San Diego, local school districts have drastically different methods of implementing the nutrition guidelines determined by the state. Our school district allows birthday treats and junk food at class parties and another district only 15 miles away doesn’t allow any sugar at all and even requires that all food by store bought because of allergy concerns. That school district states the nutrition guidelines set by the state for being the reason for their policy. I guess our district interprets those guidelines differently or just chooses to ignore them? Good luck!

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Alyssa: I’m actually on our district’s SHAC and we’re revising our Wellness Policy this year. So I agree- that may be the best way to approach the problem. Thanks for commenting here!

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