Today is my son’s eleventh birthday and now that he’s a super-cool-rules-the-school fifth grader, I naively thought we’d moved beyond the desire to bring in classroom treats to celebrate the big day.
Well, no such luck. From the back seat of my car this weekend: “Mom, can we pretty-please-please-please-PLEASE bring donuts for my birthday?”
Of course, there was no way that I — the author of a widely-shared “manifesto” advocating for food-free classrooms — could give in to this request. I tried to gently reason with him and offered some non-food alternatives, but this need to bring in donuts ran deep, people! The topic came up several times over the weekend with ever-increasing intensity. It was getting harder to hold firm and, at one point, I actually started to soften and made a vague reference to the homemade, chocolate- covered strawberries we’d brought in for a birthday a few years ago.
My son immediately seized on this compromise, but then I had to mentally slap myself. As my own Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto makes clear, even food that’s not junk food can be problematic, from causing allergic reactions to overriding kids’ appetite cues to violating other parents’ food rules. No food means NO FOOD.
Finally, I got my son to come with me to the dollar store, “just to see what we might find.” And once we were there, all sorts of possibilities started to occur to him. There were squirt guns and bouncy balls, Slinkies, bubbles, Silly Putty and more. Eventually we rounded a corner and found some really nice Marvel Avengers figurines, the kind that usually sell for a few dollars more. We loaded up on the figurines (and the squirt guns, which were only 25 cents each), and my son left the store completely enthused.
But when we started to assemble the favor bags at home, the doubts set in. What if girls didn’t like Avenger stuff? What if some of the boys weren’t into it either?
Or, as my son so pithily put it: “The problem with this, Mom, is that everyone likes donuts!”
And that’s the crux of the food-in-the-classroom problem, really.
It takes a little more thought and creativity to come up with non-food treats and rewards and they might not always hit the mark with kids. Sometimes the cheap trinket or the special privilege gives a thrill — and sometimes it totally falls flat. But, as Michael Moss (Salt Sugar Fat), David Kessler (The End of Overeating) and others have explained so well, the powerful triumvirate of sugar, salt and fat almost always makes people happy.
I wanted to share this story to show you that even for someone who’s given this matter a lot of (public) thought, moving against the prevailing tide is hard. It takes backbone, it takes creativity and, in this case, it took substantially more money. (We spent about
$40 $30 total on the favor bags, far more than donuts would have cost.)
So will the mighty Marvel Avengers be able to slay the sugary birthday treat? I’ll let you know on TLT’s Facebook page after my son returns home from school . . .
[As a former intellectual property lawyer for Marvel, I can't sign off without explicitly stating that the characters depicted above are TM & copyright Marvel Entertainment, Inc. Please don't sue me, former employer! ]
[Editorial Update 5/28/13: Yes, the Avengers were a hit with boys and girls alike! Whew. And next year, with both of my kids in middle school, the classroom birthday treat will thankfully no longer be an issue for us.]
[Editorial Update 5/28/13: In response to a reader comment about cost, I took a minute to re-do my math and saw that I was off by 10 dollars: $1 per Marvel character and $0.25 for the squirt guns X 24 kids = $30, not $40. That’s just about double the cost of two dozen Dunkin’ Donuts. Not for the first time have have I displayed on TLT my total lack of math ability!]
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