I’m Profiled Today in Beyond Chron!

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 8.59.03 AMAs you may know from the many times I link to her writing on TLT’s Facebook page, Dana Woldow of PEACHSF (Parents, Educators & Advocates Connect ion for Healthy School Food) writes a regular and informative column in Beyond Chron, an online daily in San Francisco, in which she tackles all manner of food-related topics, from school food reform to childhood hunger.

Recently Dana and her husband visited Houston, and I was honored to be interviewed for her column.  Her profile of me appears today.

You can read why I’m referred to as a “reluctant school food advocate,” my thoughts on school food reform in private versus public schools, and what I hope to accomplish here in Houston ISD before the youngest of my two children graduates.

Thanks to Dana for the opportunity!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

STUDY: 65-70% of American Classrooms Allow Candy For Teaching and Rewards (And What to Do About It)

With the closing of USDA’s period for public comment on the new proposed competitive food rules, we’ve had a lot of discussion here about the food and beverages offered to school kids via vending machines, school stores, and cafeteria snack bar or “a la carte” lines.

But what about the many other ways in which kids have access to junk food at school, such as classroom rewards, school fundraisers and class parties?  Those avenues are not going to be regulated by the new rules, but a disturbing new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation‘s Bridging the Gap research program indicates that they are just as problematic.

It's sad how often I have an occasion to use this stock photo!
It’s sad how often I have an occasion to use this stock photo!

Using data from surveys of nationally representative samples of U.S. public elementary schools between 2009 and 2012, the study found that the majority of respondents had “no school-wide restrictions on teachers using candy in classroom lessons, offering sugary items (e.g., candy) as reward for good student behavior or academics, or offering coupons or incentive programs (e.g., pizza parties for reading).”  Similarly, few schools limited the sharing of sugary items for parties or birthday celebrations.  Specifically, the study found that almost 70% of schools allowed candy to be used in lessons, 67.9% allowed the use of food coupons as incentives, and 64.6% allowed the use of candy as a reward.  60.6% had no nutritional requirements for the food sold in fundraisers and 57% had no limits on sugary items for birthday or holiday parties.

Why is this important?  Because the study also found that in 2004-05, 29% of elementary school kids consumed competitive food on a typical day but the most common sources of this food were not vending machines or the cafeteria, but rather “fundraisers, parties, and rewards or other classroom activities.”

So while USDA’s proposed rules are a big leap forward in cleaning up our schools’ food environment, it’s important to remember that they only take us so far.  It falls to the states and individual school districts to impose policies to reach these other, common sources of junk food in a child’s school day.  That’s why I’m so pleased that the new Houston ISD wellness policy, currently being drafted by our School Health Advisory Council, will directly address the use of food as a classroom reward (as well the equally distressing use of exercise as a punishment.)

But wellness policies alone can’t change school cultures.  We also need the collective will of the individual parents and teachers who are “on the ground” at schools each day to “unjunk” our classrooms. Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources out there to help us in that effort.  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 — 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.

Kids spend the vast majority of their waking life at school and the food they encounter there does matter.  It matters on a purely nutritional level, of course, but it also matters on an educational level.  Whatever nutritional education a child is receiving at school is irrevocably undercut when a teacher passes out candy or fast food restaurant coupons for good performance, or when the school turns a blind eye (or in some cases encourages) fundraising tables heaped with donuts or other junk food.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has made great strides in improving school meals and, we hope, competitive foods sold on campus.  Now let’s work together to try to improve this last piece of the school food puzzle.

[Editorial update (4/12/13, 4:30pm CST): After looking at my headline again, I decided to change “use” to “allow” as that’s a more accurate reflection of the study’s findings.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 5,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

My Response To The Teacher Defending Junk Food Classroom Rewards

Yesterday’s letter from Paul, a former high school teacher who defended the use of junk food classroom rewards, received an overwhelming response.  And, as you might expect given this self-selecting readership, most Lunch Tray readers didn’t take too kindly to Paul’s position.

I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight just two or three of the most compelling comments on the post and I also wanted to add a few thoughts of my own.

My Thanks To Paul

First, I want to thank Paul for letting me share his letter with my readers.  As I said in a private email to him yesterday, I hope he doesn’t feel like I threw him to the wolves!  :-)  I appreciated the thoughtfulness of his first letter and his follow-up comment yesterday; usually the defenders of junk food rewards just call me a Food Nazi or a weak-willed parent who can’t tell my children “no,” but clearly Paul has given thought to the issue and is trying to see both sides.  And I think we all can tell that when he was a teacher, he genuinely cared for his students and was trying to do right by them.

Furthermore, I’m a proud and committed public school parent in a state that now ranks second to last in the nation for per-student spending.  (Thanks, Rick Perry!)  So I’ve seen it all, from middle schoolers sitting on the floor for several weeks because there weren’t enough teachers to go around, to a tiny “temporary building” (if a building has been around for years and will be around for years hence, how is it “temporary?”) crammed with a teacher, 27 desks and 27 large fifth-grade bodies.  I have nothing but sympathy and respect for public school teachers, particularly those working in lower income populations as Paul did.  And if we’re being honest with ourselves, I suspect that many of us, after teaching for about a week in such conditions, might find our minds drifting toward the Hershey’s Kisses as a surefire means of keeping order and motivation in the classroom.   So let’s not be too quick to judge, unless we’ve walked in a teacher’s shoes (as some of you have.)

(By the way, another teacher, Emily, also came by to endorse candy rewards.  See here.)

Blogger, Heal Thyself

sweet letters helpAs you know, I’m the parent of two kids, now 10 and 12.  And you can well believe that in twelve years of parenting, I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes when it comes to misusing food.   Does anyone remember how, on the advice of my then-four-year-old daughter (really), I started giving my toddler son candy to get him to sit still while I cut his nails, and this routine persisted for years on end?  Yeah, not good.  I’m sure there were many instances when I handed my toddlers a snack (healthy, we hope) from my diaper bag or purse just to keep them occupied.  And even now — even now, people! — I sometimes find myself holding out food as a reward in less obvious ways, like reminding a distraught kid on a particularly bad day that we’ll be having his/her favorite dinner that night, or letting the “winner “of a game or challenge be the one to choose our dessert on Friday night.

Food has a profound hold on all of us, an allure that’s hardwired into our brains to ensure our very survival.  So it’s no wonder that even the most self-examined among us might turn to food as a reward, a comfort, a distraction or for other reasons having nothing to do with nourishment.

OK, now, let’s turn to the comments.

Why ANY Classroom Rewards, Food or Otherwise?

One issue that came up repeatedly in the comments, and which I alluded to in my Food in the Classroom Manifesto, is whether we ought to be providing extrinsic rewards of any type – food or otherwise — for academic or behavioral achievement.  One representative comment came from reader Mommm!!!! who wrote:

I disagree with rewarding kids for doing what their supposed to be doing anyway. How did we even arrive here? Why do we feel the need to reward children for behaving properly and for doing their homework/classwork? I think kids have been doing it for decades upon decades in classrooms worldwide without being in a donkey carrot dangling type atmosphere.

This is a question beyond the purview of this blog, but my gut feeling is that extrinsic rewards can actually undermine a child’s motivation.  I’ve seen this in my own home when I resorted in desperation to a sticker chart or similar system to reinforce a desired behavior.  Inevitably, my kids soon developed a dismaying, “So, what’s in it for me?” attitude toward any future task they were expected to perform.   I know others have had real success with such systems, and I’m certainly no education expert, but I can only share my own negative experience with extrinsic rewards.

Alternatives to Food Rewards

Assuming you buy into the idea of rewards, many readers shared creative ideas for non-food options.  Paul rightly pointed out that the sparkly eraser isn’t going to get a bunch of high schoolers excited and he doesn’t like the idea of homework passes for philosophical reasons.  He wrote:

 Older kids are not as excitable when it comes to trinkets. Also, the high school curriculum isn’t as conducive to giving free time as a reward. Some of my coworkers would use homework passes or bonus points as a reward. Personally, I think (especially at the high school level) that a student’s grade should reflect their knowledge of the subject, and not their behavior.

But even taking Paul’s point, readers offered other ideas that might work well with high schoolers.  Bri of Red, Round or Green suggested:

For older children, get a little creative. . . . . Give them a pass to eat lunch in the teacher’s lounge with a friend. Let them choose an assignment where they get a one-day extension on the deadline. Create a “class bucks” program where they earn points towards being able to cash them in for a movie day, or for a trinket from the school bookstore. Because, frankly, in the adult world your rewards are generally tied to the environment — if you do well at work, you are rewarded with a raise, or a promotion, or more flexibility. It’s a reward that suits the tasks by which it was earned. Motivate your students to do well academically by making their life at school tangibly better in some way.

A Heartwarming Story of a Unique, Non-Food Reward

Finally, I wanted to direct you a comment left by reader Mara Panazarella Winders, in which she excerpts an interview with film director Wes Anderson.  I promise you it’s worth taking a second to read it.  I don’t expect an overburdened public school teacher to be able to devote that kind of time and attention to all of his/her students, but it’s a remarkable example of one teacher showing unusual creativity and sensitivity in motivating a child.

Thank you to all who commented and continue to comment on yesterday’s post.  This is a conversation I know we’ll continue to have and I appreciate everyone’s insights.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 5,100 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

A Teacher Defends Junk Food Classroom Rewards

Way back in November I received an email from a teacher named Paul in which he defended (to a degree) the use of junk food classroom rewards. I wanted to share his email with you right after Thanksgiving, but then I took my month-long mental health break from blogging and Paul’s email got lost in the shuffle. Now, though, I’m glad for the long delay since Paul’s email offers a perfect counterpoint to the discussion we’ve been having this week (both here — “The Junk Food Deluge: Is It As Simple as ‘Just Say No?‘” — and on TLT’s Facebook page) about third parties giving our kids junk food without our permission.

So here’s Paul’s letter:

I enjoyed the topic of junk food as a reward, and feel it makes a great talking point. That being said, I have some counterpoints I would like to make. Before I make my argument realize that my point of view comes from that of a childless former teacher.

alphabet candy rewards
Candy for big academic accomplishments?

The basic mindset behind giving kids junk food as a reward is they like it, and it’s cheap. Kids like junk food. The idea of a reward is to give them something they will enjoy. Also, all of the food rewards I have given my students came out of my pocket. Would I prefer to give them a low sugar granola bar? Of course. Part of being a teacher is modeling good behavior. But, I get more bang for my buck with junk food. If Whole Foods would offer me the same prices I would have given my students healthier rewards.

I completely agree with your point that students should not be rewarded for every accomplishment. It teaches students that they should only engage in something that offers an intrinsic reward and diminishes the value of what they are doing. A former coworker was asked by one of his students if they got a grade for taking notes. My coworker responded, “Do you get an allowance for putting on underwear?” Kids should not expect a reward for going through the motions of life.

However, I think students should be rewarded for major accomplishments. It would be hypocritical not to reward them. As a teacher I preached that hard work can equal success. And look at how adults measure success. We use objects: cars, boats, houses, clothes, etc. To expect kids to not see the world the same way would be a double standard. Also, kids cannot see big picture. They need a quicker turn around. To show them that you worked hard for 2.5 months, earned an A, and now you get a prize reinforces the good habits.

I was purposely vague with the use of the word “prize”. I empathize with parents when they want to limit junk food. And parents should hold the ultimate decision on what their children eat. And it must be horrible for your child to earn a reward that you need to take away.

But, give teachers another option. Junk food companies are the only ones giving away their product. And they make it easy. They drop off coupons, I hand out coupons. It comes at no dollar/time/effort cost to the teacher.

OK, TLT’ers. What do you think? If you want to share your thoughts below, I know you’ll keep in mind Paul’s thoughtful and civil tone and you’ll word your own comments accordingly. :-) Also, if you want Paul to see your comment, it’s probably best to leave it here and not on TLT’s Facebook page.


Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥
Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 5,100 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

The Junk Food Deluge: Is It As Simple As “Just Say No?”

Here on TLT I’ve written often – some would say ad nauseum! — on the topic of kids being offered junk food by people other than their parents and what, if anything, we should do about it.   But today I want to ask TLT’ers a question:  How do you personally handle this issue?  Do you focus exclusively on your kids (i.e., telling them to “just say no”) or  are you out there trying to change the junk food food environment, an environment which other parents actively, and sometimes angrily, defend?

artificialcolorcupcakesMost of us would agree, I think, that there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of times a week kids are offered junk food as compared to our own childhoods. In a recent US News & World Report piece entitled “Why Is Everyone Always Giving My Kids Junk Food?” Dr. Yoni Freedhoff wrote:

. . .  it never seems to end. Saturday skating lessons often include lollipops, kids’ grab bags from community races regularly contain chocolates, loot bags from friends parties might as well be renamed candy bags, libraries host events with names like “Donuts and Dads,” bending a blade of grass with soccer shoes leads to sugar-sweetened sport drinks on the field and often ice cream or popsicles when the final whistle blows, and so on and so forth. And don’t even get me started on juice. No doubt too, each and every time I speak up, there’s someone out there telling me I shouldn’t be so frustrated, as it’s just “one” lollipop, it’s just “one” ice cream sandwich, it’s just “one” chocolate bar. If only it were just “one.”

Here on TLT, I’ve documented numerous intrusions of junk food in the classroom, many of which never existed when I was a kid: parents sending in sweets for classroom birthday celebrations; the use of candy (and even soda) as classroom rewards; junk food offerings at schools’ weekend clinics and competitions; classroom parties that become sugar-fests; the use of junk food for pedagogical purposes (remember the marshmallow Torahs?); and the practice of schools giving students juice pouches and peppermints to keep them alert on standardized testing days.  (All of those things irked me enough to write my “Food in the Classroom Manifesto,” a document many TLT’ers have since downloaded and shared.)

soccer snacksI’ve also written about junk food outside of school, such as the sugary beverages and chips or cookies parents often bring for “soccer snack;” the day camp that asked parents to bring four liters of soda and two dozen cookies each week; the tennis coach who endeared himself to his players by offering ice cream sundaes after a lesson; the youth bowling league that set out a table of candy and soda each week, urging the kids to go to town; and many more such instances of junk food in previously unexpected contexts.

And I’m getting the feeling lately that a lot of parents out there are becoming very frustrated.

In addition to the Freedhoff piece, there’s been a spate of posts in the blogosphere on this topic.  Food activist Casey Hinds recently shared with me a post by a blogger named Blaze, succinctly titled, “Keep Your Crap to Yourself.”  Blogger Stacy at School Bites has been bemoaning the junk food onslaught at her child’s school.  And Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition and Dana Woldow of PEACHSF both recently objected to the fact that Valentine’s Day has become an excuse for school sugar-fests.

But whenever a parent complains, there’s always someone else out there telling us that, as one of my readers put it, we just need to “instill backbone” in our kids to resist whatever junk food they’re offered.   And this is true not only of those who don’t have a problem with junk food per se.  Last week some of us debated this issue over on the Facebook page of the non-profit Keep Food Legal and a seemingly health conscious mom supported the “just say no” approach.  She wrote:

 I wholeheartedly disagree with the sentiment that you can’t ask your kids to avoid candy and junk. I do it all the time. They simply say “no, thank you.” I’m not going to let the possibility that they might be outside the social norm be the deciding factor for my decisions. I hope I’m raising them with enough strength to not care what other people think of them.  Then again, they’re more likely to go on a diatribe about sugar than they are to let someone steamroll them for not having a cupcake!

So, I’m curious to know what you think, Lunch Tray readers.

For those of you who focus less on your kids and more on changing the food environment, have you ever encountered resistance or even overt hostility from other parents?  In the piece mentioned above, Dr. Freedhoff wrote:

My experiences have taught me that junk food as part of children’s’ activities has become so normalized that my questioning this sugary status quo genuinely offends people’s sensitivities and sometimes even generates frank anger.

(Also check out my 2010 Lunch Tray post “Why Kids + Food = Conversational Hot Potato,” in which I discuss why I think this is such a hot button issue.)

For those of you who do instruct your kids to always refuse junk food in these settings — the teacher’s candy reward, the donuts at the class party —  has that approach been difficult for you or for them to maintain?

Or perhaps you focus more on educating your kids about healthful eating and then trust them to make their own choices– accepting the fact that sometimes they’ll make the wrong choices?

I’d love to hear what you have to say.

_______

In one of those moments of blogging serendipity, I just noticed that blogger Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition has a post up today which dovetails perfectly with this one.  She takes on the common argument, “We Ate Junk Food and Turned Out Just Fine, Right?”  Also check out my spiffy new “Snactivist” badge over to the right, courtesy of Sally.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 5,100 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Bettina Elias Siegel

Study: Type 2 Diabetes Harder to Treat in Children

The New York Times reports today on a study finding that Type 2 diabetes (previously referred to as “adult-onset” diabetes, before the current childhood obesity epidemic) “progresses more rapidly in children than in adults and is harder to treat.” Researchers don’t know why this is the case, but suspect that children’s growth and hormonal changes at puberty play a role.

After following almost 700 pediatric diabetes patients for four years, the study concluded that the conventional oral medications for diabetes are far less effective in in children than adults; many of the study subjects had to resort to insulin injections to control their blood sugar.  The New England Journal of Medicine’s summary of the study results is here.

Lately I’ve been feeling just incredibly frustrated about improving our children’s food environment, frustration which reached a crescendo last week with my angry posting of “TLT’s Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto.”  But then I read a report like this, which included an interview with a teenager who fears the amputation of her limbs, and realize we have no choice but to keep on fighting.

 

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 3,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Bettina Elias Siegel

Food In the Classroom: Teachers Speak Out

The Manifesto! Click to enlarge it - copy and share it if you like.

Yesterday’s manifesto against food in the classroom, which I pounded out at my keyboard in a fit of complete frustration and anger, has clearly resonated with a lot of people.  With three exceptions (two of which I couldn’t print because they contained such foul language), comments posted here and on Twitter and Facebook have uniformly been in favor of getting food rewards and birthday treats out of our schools.

And many readers, like one named LA, wrote in to say, “Thank you for this. I thought I was one of the few parents who felt this way.”

Clearly not.

The other notable development is that I’m starting to hear from teachers.  Just as when I write about school food reform, I welcome comments and guest posts from school food service workers sharing their unique perspective, it’s been illuminating to hear from educators about this issue.  Here’s a sampling.

From Tina B:

I am a teacher, and while I admit I made the mistake of food rewards early in my career, I learned many years ago to stop the practice. I now have a treasure box filled with party favor trinkets items and a huge stash of stickers that I happily use instead. . . .

As for Halloween and Valentine parties, I allow sweets to be brought into the class. Candy treats are passed out at the end of the day (roughly the last 40 minutes or so) and I encourage the children to take most of their treats home. Because I teach in a poor district there usually isn’t that much to pass out anyway.

But the birthday celebrations are a completely different story!!!  . . . .

In recent years I have sent home letters to parents asking that birthdays be sweet free or to send in fruit or veggies, but since other teachers don’t have this class policy I really can’t enforce my requests. Parents of multi aged children (meaning kids in multiple grade levels and classrooms) can never remember which teacher has this policy, or just tune it out all together. Then there are the parents that have the attitude no one is going to tell me what to do when it comes to my kid. Parents will send in cupcakes for all, Capri Sun or the plastic bottles of colored who knows what, as well as bags of chips and bags of candy.

I have had parents go to the principal to complain about me because I absolutely refused a Costco sized sheet cake and two liters of Coke. The parent brought no plates or serving utensils for me, and I have learned from experience that to carve up a sheet cake into 28 peices and pour 28 cups of soda takes almost 45 minutes from start to finish and then the clean up process as well.

I physically cringe when I see all this junk arrive. First, the children see this bounty arrive and then proceed to ask about it all day long. “When are we going to eat cake?” becomes the mantra for the entire day. I’ll be in the middle of a math lessen and a child will raise their hand to ask “is it time for cake?”! Because I do not want to have 28 sugar crazed children in my room I save this stuff for literally the last 20 minutes of the day.

Another reason why I cringe when it arrives is because I myself have a sweet tooth and even when I stand there and tell myself that I will not eat that, I will not eat that, under no circumstances am i going to eat that…I almost always crack and eat the cake. :( I have learned for myself that the best way for me to eat healthy is the total removal of all temptation. Now I am a 40 year old woman and have a hard time refusing the cake, so really, what are the odds of a child saying no? We can teach our children to eat healthy so they have healthy bodies and minds, but cake is yummy, and temptation combined with seeing all the other kids eating will result in our kids cracking every time. . . .

From a reader who goes by “c:”

When teachers try to say no to parents with cupcakes, we get labeled as the mean teachers. It’s tough to stand up to parents on this issue and risk a grudge when we need those parents to work as partners with us to help their children succeed academically. Parents are often looking for something to dislike us for, and saying, “No, I won’t let you serve cupcakes to the class for your child’s birthday, ” is often very hard to say when you know you also need to say, “Mrs. Smith, I would like to have your child assessed for speech.” Just a different perspective to keep in mind.

c also added in another comment:

As a teacher who insists the food in my class is rarely present, healthy, and safe for everyone, I applaud this article. For every 1 parent who is sick of the unhealthy foods, there are 5 who complain when the teacher stops serving it. It’s amazing how many complaints I have fielded from parents who think it’s mean of me to have a party of fruits and veggies with no cookies, cupcakes, or other foods that will send my food allergic kids into anaphylaxis or diabetic kids into shock. Parents think kids NEED sugar to have a fun class party. I have had parents who, even after they have been told no, will still show up without permission with 30 cupcakes and plop them in my arms with a satisfied look on their face, thinking that now that the kids have seen them, I have to serve them. This debate has two sides to it – please remember that there are plenty of teachers who are really extremely tired of having 30 kids hopped up on sugar in their classrooms and parents demanding that it happen on a regular basis.

Parental push back, especially when it comes to birthday treats*, is a real issue.  Here in Texas, our legislature actually passed a “safe cupcake amendment” to protect parents’ rights to bring in sweets for their kids’ birthdays.  And I personally know one parent who was vilified at her children’s school when she dared question the birthday treat practice.  So my sympathy is with well-meaning teachers on the receiving end of some intense parental anger when they try to curb classroom sweets.  (By the way, for an interesting examination of why parents get so riled up over this issue, be sure to check out this post on Real Mom Nutrition (“For The Love of Cupcakes“) and the article she discusses there: “Food Nazis Invade First Grade.”)

But I want to end on a positive note.  Two days before I published my manifesto, a comment happened to come in on a much older Lunch Tray post (“Sarah Palin and Birthday Treats Redux“) about Sarah Palin’s 2010 publicity stunt of bringing sugar cookies to a Pennsylvania school to protest proposed “Nanny state” school nutrition guidelines.  That post turned into a distillation of my many arguments against in-class treats, and a reader named Annemarie, a teacher, had this to say:

Wow. so, I’m having a sort of mini food revolution myself, personally, and this blog comes at such a great time. I’m absolutely a foodie, and one of the hardest parts of trying to eat more healthily is fitting my foodie lifestyle into healthy eating. More importantly, I’m a mother now, to a beautiful almost-two year old, and eating right has suddenly become so much more important. People are encouraging my attempt at losing the ton of weight I want to lose, and it’s hard to explain to them that this isn’t about losing weight so much as its about changing my entire lifestyle when it comes to eating and feeding my family.

The reason I’m responding to this, though, is that i have a confession to make. I am a teacher of sixth graders, and I must say that in my seven years of teaching it never occurred to me to think past the reception of the treat. What I mean is I knew treats made my students happy. I bring treats in about five times a year, if that, although the clemtines I give them for PSSA testing some don’t consider a treat. We have a pizza party to celebrate reading Olympics, and every time we have a fundraising competition the winning team gets an ice cream party (that I have nothing to do with!). It never occurred to me the violation I was committing, and I truly mean that. My job is to educate, and yes, providing treats here and there is great. Bt reading these comments and this article has completely changed the way I’m viewing my treat-giving! It never occur to me that i Might have students who have parents desperately trying to save them by teaching them proper nutrition, and it never occurred to me that providing treats might interfere with that.

I’m a little confused by some comments – no one is entitled to cupcakes, and I think, honestly, the idea of getting creative with treats for the classroom and using non-food rewards is so important. I can’t wait to try and think of something clever for our next reward!

If that doesn’t make you feel hopeful . . . .

 

* A while back, I was stressing about celebrating my own child’s birthday in the classroom and TLT readers came up with many fantastic, food-free ideas:  “A Happy Ending to the Classroom Birthday Treat Dilemma.”

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 3,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Bettina Elias Siegel

My Daughter Asks for Water, Her Teacher Hands Her a Coke

Yes, really.

As you know, I’m no fan of handing out of candy for academic performance or good behavior, but since my children’s elementary school changed principals a few years ago, the incidence of candy rewards in the classroom has dropped off considerably.

Now my daughter is in middle school and she recently rotated through a class with a teacher (if any of my Houston peeps know of whom I speak, please don’t disclose here) well known for handing out sugary treats.  When I heard this news I cringed a little, but I assumed we were talking about relatively small amounts of candy to which I could turn a blind eye.

Um, not so much.

Over the last few weeks, good academic performance has been rewarded with full size bags of gummi bears (66* grams of sugar) and 12 oz cans of Coke (39 grams of sugar).  Every class, every week.  High-performing kids could (and did) receive both a bag of gummis and a Coke in a single class.

On the last day of the rotation, my daughter went up to this teacher’s desk for permission to go to the water fountain for a drink.  Without asking her if she wanted it, the teacher turned to his mini-fridge and handed her a can of Coke.  Her words to me later that day:  “I like Coke, but he’s made me sick of it.  I didn’t even want it!”

And here’s the kicker:  yesterday my daughter moved on to the next teacher in the foreign language rotation.  This teacher’s reward for high performance?  Inexpensive bracelets and other trinkets from the country in question, which my daughter pronounced “cool.”

I’m guessing it took this new teacher maybe five more seconds of thought to come up with that idea, instead of lazily sinking to the lowest common denominator:  sugary garbage.

If any of you have a worse classroom reward story, I’d really love to hear it.

 

[*Ed Update:  Thanks to a catch by reader Linda, on 4/28 I changed the grams of sugar in the gummi bears to 66 grams, from 22.  I hadn’t noticed that there are three servings in the 5 oz. bag.]

 

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 3,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2012 Bettina Elias Siegel