Between my recent laptop crash and this mysterious “Lunch-Tray-third-anniversary-project” I keep alluding to on Facebook, I’m falling woefully behind on various promised posts. One such post is the answer to a question left on TLT’s Facebook page by a reader named Allison who is concerned with junk food in her child’s classroom. Since I’m pressed for time, I’m going to share my bare bones advice for Allison, but I’d love it if my readers could chime in, too, with their own thoughts and experiences.
Here’s Allison’s post:
I have read some of your articles re: food in the classroom – and want to try to encourage our school to consider food-free classrooms (or at the very least – junk free classrooms). Can you give me advice on the best way to plant this idea w/the admin? I was thinking of compiling a notebook with articles/resources (some of yours if that is ok) to share with the principal – stuff to back me up rather than just telling him why we should go this direction. Food/junk in the classroom has always been a concern of mine – but even more so since my youngest has a severe food allergy – and will begin K in the fall. My oldest does not have food allergies – but is constantly coming home reporting to me the crap she has been given throughout the day – as rewards – as incentives – as manipulatives in learning a subject. The worst offenders tend to be the teachers who do not have children themselves (and interesting to note also have weight issues themselves). Any advice you can give me to help me try to make a difference for the health of all students I would greatly appreciate. I know there are other parents who agree with me at this school – but are not willing to step forward b/c of the backlash that most likely will occur from those parents who see nothing wrong with kids grazing all day on sugar. Thanks!
I totally feel your pain. When it comes to food in the classroom, what you’re taking on is not just a classroom problem, but a much larger societal mindset which doesn’t see any problem with these practices, or which doesn’t view junk food as particularly harmful, and changing those attitudes is a very tall order for any one parent to address. Even in my own kids’ schools, I’m glad to report that the incidence of food-as-a-reward has gone down over the years, but the practice certainly hasn’t stopped entirely.
Before turning your question over to TLT readers, here’s my quick answer:
1. Forming a coalition of parents is always easier than going it alone. There likely will be a backlash from other parents, and it’s good to have other people standing with you so you can’t be portrayed as some nutty outlier. I’ve found that health-conscious parents often suffer in silence, and you might be surprised at how many parents feel as you do once you broach the subject with them. This can be done informally, through casual conversations, or you could raise the issue at a PTA or other school meeting to garner support that way.
2. Try to locate your district’s wellness policy and see if it has any language regarding the use of food in the classroom. The policy should be somewhere on your district’s website, often housed wherever there is information about your SHAC (that stands for School (or Student) Health Advisory Council (or Committee)). It’s likely the topic is not addressed, but if it is, then it may be persuasive to show your principal that his/her school is not in compliance with stated district policy.
3. It is always much better if you can marshal facts in support of your position. So rather than making vague complaints about “unhealthy” food, a standard which is open to broad interpretation, it’s much more persuasive to be able to say, “On such-and-such day, the children were given such-and-such sugary foods as a classroom manipulative, with each child likely consuming X teaspoons of sugar during the lesson. However, the American Heart Association recommends no more than about 3-4 tsps of sugar (130-170 calories) in a young child’s day, which is far less than the amount consumed in the classroom that day. And the candy eaten at school was likely not the only source of sugar in most students’ diets that day.” That sort of thing.
4. There are lots of resources on the Internet to help you make your case to a principal, teacher or other parents. Here’s a list from a recent TLT post:
KY Healthy Kids has a useful list of medical organizations which discourage the use of food rewards, a list which may carry weight with your child’s principal or teacher. My own Food in the Classroom Manifesto lists ten important reasons why classrooms should be food-free. (A clean, easily copied Word version — no fancy “parchment” background to gobble up your printer ink— can be downloaded here.) The awesome Rudd ‘Roots Parents website, run by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, has loads of additional information and guidance for parents to draw upon, as does the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the many other sites in my list of parent resources to the right of this post.
To that list, I’d also add this PDF handout from the Spoonfed blog.
OK, TLT’ers, anything to add?
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