Helpful New “White Paper” on Food Rewards in the Classroom

M & M’s doled out for every correct math answer in second grade. . .   Jumbo boxes of Milk Duds in the third grade good behavior “treasure box” . . . .  A “Junk Food Party” to honor the winning team in an academic contest . . . . 12 oz. cans of Coke and full-sized bags of gummi bears handed out for good performance in seventh grade German class.

It's sad how often I have an occasion to use this stock photo!These are just a few examples of the junk food rewards my kids have received over the years from teachers in their classrooms. It’s a practice I never expected to contend with when my children first entered public school, and it’s what eventually led me to pound out in frustration my 2012 “Food In the Classroom Manifesto.”

But as good as it felt to write that manifesto (and to see it widely shared by so many like-minded parents), ranting about the problem isn’t a solution.  Yet I can tell you from experience that sometimes teachers, principals and fellow parents see no harm from “one little treat” in the classroom and it can be difficult to make one’s case against this practice without factual support.

That’s why I’m thrilled to share with you a new “white paper” on food rewards in classrooms, co-authored by my blogging colleague Casey Hinds of KY Healthy Kids, along with Dr. Alicia Fedewa of University of Kentucky, College of Education and Anita Courtney, M.S., R.D., of Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition.  Now a concerned parent can find in one source all of the prevailing scientific research arguing against the use of food as a reward, a chart showing every leading medical organization which has condemned the practice, generally useful statistics on childhood obesity and even some colorful quotes from experts.  I love this one from Marlene Schwartz, Director of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity:   

. . .  rewarding children with non-nutritive foods in school “undermines our efforts to teach them about good nutrition. . . it’s like teaching children a lesson on the importance of not smoking, and then handing out ashtrays and lighters to the kids who did the best job listening.”

The white paper also includes guidance for schools on how to manage behavior in classrooms without relying on food rewards, as well as a list of useful resources to support that goal.  And while the document is tailored to address the obesity crisis in Kentucky, with some state-specific data included, it’s still applicable to those of us living elsewhere.

So, a huge thank you to Casey and her team of experts for taking the time to put this document together and sharing it with the rest of us.  I consider the white paper the perfect compliment to my manifesto and will edit the manifesto to include a link to the white paper for everyone’s future use.

Are food rewards a big issue in your school classrooms?  Let us know in a comment below.

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  1. Kate says

    Thanks for sharing this! I work so hard to provide a “real food diet” to my children and not use food as rewards/punishment. It’s so incredibly frustrating to have school be the place where all my hard work goes up in smoke. My oldest, a Kindergartner, hopped into the car with a bag of skittles she got for doing well in PE class!?!

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      OMG – Skittles for PE! I suppose nothing should shock me at this point, but . . . And I think this quote of yours says exactly what so many of us feel: “I work so hard to provide a “real food diet” to my children and not use food as rewards/punishment. It’s so incredibly frustrating to have school be the place where all my hard work goes up in smoke.” I am going to share that on FB! Thanks for commenting here.


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