Thank you!

As I close out the first week in my new digs here on The Lunch Tray, I just wanted to send out a thank you to all of you….

One big piece of my blog redesign was creating my new classroom junk food guide, and I wrote most of it over winter break,  passing up quite a few sunny Houston days to hole up in a library to get it all done.  I wasn’t sure how the book would be received, but the feedback has been really positive!  Here are a few reader responses:

Hi! Just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your work to bring healthy eating into the classroom. I love the new Guide and will use it to continue to work with my son’s Kindergarten teacher who doesn’t seem to get it. (Nor does the school wellness committee – which doesn’t have a nutrition component).

Can’t wait to read this. I’m the only teacher on campus with a no junk food policy. Hoping for change.

Thanks so much, this is excellent! I’m the pta health & wellness chair at 2 schools & I am trying to bring nutrition education into the schools & create a healthier classroom environment with school parties and such. I started a committee & this is going to help!

Thank You Sooooo much! Just felt defeated as my heart healthy menu that was originally approved got shot down by parents in favor of pizza and junk. I feel like my prayer just got answered-and to not give up!

I’m under no illusions that junk food will disappear from classrooms overnight.  In fact, next week I’m going to share here the story of the mom mentioned in passing in the ebook who lives in a rural area that’s almost comically resistant to promoting healthier food at school. (I’m hoping you’ll be able to give her some advice–  or at least some empathy!)

But when I see responses like the ones above, I do feel hopeful that if we all keep plugging away at this problem, the situation is bound to approve.  And if my guide in any way can help those efforts, it was totally worth the time it took to put it together.  :-)

(Also, many thanks to the Fooducate blog for writing about the ebook in a post today!)

Have a great weekend, everyone!  More TLT next week….

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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My New 40-Page eBook on Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom

Kids Classroom Guide FinalAs I mentioned in yesterday’s post, in conjunction with The Lunch Tray’s relaunch I’ve also created what I hope will be a really useful resource for Lunch Tray readers.  It’s a 40-page (!) ebook devoted to the number one complaint I hear from you most often: the unwelcome influx of junk food into your child’s classroom.

In The Lunch Tray’s Guide to Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom, I address a wide variety of topics including: how wellness policies and the new federal “Smart Snacks” rules relate to classroom junk food; the tricky problem of birthday treats and how to respond to your opponents on that issue; the use of junk food as a classroom reward; the use of candy as a teaching “manipulative;” kids and sugar consumption; and much more.  Here’s a sneak peek slide show of a few of the book’s pages, including the table of contents:

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The book includes tips and materials from some of my favorite fellow bloggers, including Sally Kuzemchak of Real Mom Nutrition, Casey Hinds of U.S. Healthy Kids and Stacy Whitman of School Bites, as well as a Resources section with links to helpful websites and organizations.  It also links to my new and improved Pinterest boards, which now have separate collections devoted to healthy classroom celebrations, grouped by holiday or occasion.

To receive your totally free copy of the ebook, just enter your email address here.  You’ll also be signed up to receive The Lunch Tray’s new newsletter, which will share prior Lunch Tray posts as well as features like kid-approved recipes, cooking tips and tricks, kid-food news items and more.  (Rest assured: I’ll never, ever share your email with any third party and you can unsubscribe at any time.)

In this ebook I’ve drawn on my own real-life lessons in advocacy to offer my best advice, and I welcome your feedback and suggestions for future editions.  I really hope you like it!  :-)

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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A New Initiative to Get Junk Food Out of Classrooms

Credit:  School Bites
Credit: School Bites

I’ve written a lot over the years (really, A LOT – see the Related Links below) about junk food in school classrooms, whether distributed by teachers as rewards for good behavior and academic performance or served as part of birthday or classroom celebrations.

It’s important to note that these practices are not addressed by the new federal Smart Snacks in School rules because the sort of junk food we’re talking about here is merely offered to kids, not sold, and therefore it isn’t considered “competitive food” under these new rules.

To help improve the classroom food environment, I’ve shared my own TLT Food in the Classroom Manifesto, which lists ten reasons why I think classrooms should be junk-food-free (and, ideally, food-free), I’ve solicited a huge number of reader ideas for food-free birthday celebrations (Real Mom Nutrition has a good list here, too), and I’ve also referred you to a useful handout for teachers created by Spoonfed.

To that growing list of resources I’m glad to add an exciting new Healthy Classrooms Initiative created by School Bites blogger Stacy Whitman, along with a registered dietitian.  What’s great about Stacy’s effort is that it’s a complete program, providing teachers with educational presentations by clinical dietitians, Healthy Classrooms signage, a pledge to sign, information for parents and more.  You can read all the details and access the program’s materials for possible use in your own school here. Bravo, Stacy!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Does Childhood Hunger Justify Food in the Classroom?

A reader named Sheri left a thought-provoking comment on yesterday’s post in which I asked TLT’ers to chime in on a parent’s question about eliminating food in the classroom.  Sheri pointed out that many kids come from food insecure households and therefore my desire to eliminate all food from the classroom (articulated most succinctly in my “Food in the Classroom Manifesto“) might be misguided.

Here’s what Sheri wrote:

I understand that some may be frustrated with food in the classroom, however we need to consider that for many, that food may be the only food they receive in a day. I am a mom and don’t agree with the junk food in the classroom either – my child has multiple food allergies, so I have spoken with our teachers about making the party sign-up sheets start off with a list of healthy options. I also educate about label reading and the dangers of processed ingredients.

But there is often other things to consider before you begin a campaign to stop ALL food in the classroom.

Before you begin a crowdsourcing campaign, I would dig deeper in your communities and find some answers (this may be difficult, but worth the trouble).

Did you know?:
Food Insecurity Facts (

– 16.7 million children lived in food insecure households in 2011.[i]
– 20% or more of the child population in 36 states and D.C. lived in food insecure households in 2010. The District of Columbia (30.7%) and Oregon (29.0%) had the highest rates of children in households without consistent access to food.[ii]
– In 2010, the top five states with the highest rate of food insecure children under 18 are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, & Florida.[iii]
– In 2010, the top five states with the lowest rate of food insecure children under 18 are North Dakota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota, & Massachusetts. [iv]

There was a recent article that addresses the frustrations and push back that breakfast in the classroom is receiving (

If you would like to better understand the full scope of the issue, perhaps a family movie (

And here is my reply to Sheri.  After you read it, please feel free to jump in with a comment of your own on this important question.


Thanks for all of this valuable information

You may be a new Lunch Tray reader, but childhood hunger is a cause close to my heart, and one about which I write often here on TLT (see the many links below). Indeed, just recently I was a “Food Blogger for Hunger” in association with A Place at the Table, the excellent documentary film you cite above.

Here in Houston, over 80% of our students rely on free or reduced price federal school meals and it was precisely that issue of economic dependency which led to my interest in school food reform in the first place — and to the inception of this blog back in 2010.  It was also the issue that motivated my successful campaign against “pink slime” in school food ground beef last year.  And childhood hunger is the reason why I’ve always been a supporter of breakfast-in-the-classroom programs even though they can be, as you note, quite controversial — as such a program was here in Houston ISD when it was first instituted.

But I think it’s very important to make a distinction between “food in the cafeteria” and “food in the classroom.” The former is federally regulated and, thanks to the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in late 2010, great strides have been made in the nutritional profile of school meals. While we still have a lot of work to do in terms of reducing schools’ reliance on highly processed foods, children dependent on the federal lunch and breakfast programs (as well as after-school snack and even school supper programs) can and do have access to nutritionally balanced meals each and every school day (and throughout the summer where summer meals are offered.) That access is critical in an age in which so many kids, as you note, live in food-insecure households.

Food in the classroom, however, is another story.  This food tends to fall into three categories: food brought in for classroom celebrations; the use of food by teachers as a teaching tool or manipulative; and food handed out by teachers or principals as a reward for good behavior or academic performance.

In the case of classroom parties, an excellent 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, co-authored by Marion Nestle, found that the majority of items offered for class celebrations were “low-nutrient, energy-dense foods” such as cake, fruit punch, ice cream, Doritos, cheese puffs, and potato chips.  And while I know of no academic studies looking at the latter two categories of classroom food, in my experience (and in the reported experience of my readers), food used as a teaching tool and as a reward also almost always falls into the “junk food” category.

For example, I’ll never forget the day my daughter told me about an elementary school science lesson which replicated the circulatory system by using corn syrup for plasma, red hots for platelets and another candy — I think white Tic Tacs — for white blood cells. After mixing up this concoction for demonstration purposes, all the children were given a cup of it to eat.  Lovely.

Similarly, in prior TLT posts you can read all about how my daughter, now in middle school, was last year regularly handed 12 oz cans of Coke and full-sized packages of gummi bears for good performance in a language class, and how my son was given a jumbo sized Hershey bar for winning a school lottery. Those are just two instances of the many, many times in which my kids have been handed out junk food by a teacher as a reward.

Here’s my point:  I think we can all agree that even children beset by childhood hunger should not be consuming empty calories.  In fact, to the extent children are being fed junk food in the classroom, it’s likely they will then consume less of the nutritionally balanced, taxpayer-subsidized meal offered in the lunch room.  That’s not so critical for kids like mine, who can make up any nutritional gaps at home, but it’s quite detrimental for kids who don’t come from homes well-stocked with healthful food.

So given the almost uniformly poor nutritional quality of food in the classroom, I reject the notion that childhood hunger justifies its use.

That said, there certainly are instances of teachers in impoverished areas bringing nutritious food into their classrooms to feed hungry students, often paying for this food out of their own pocket. That’s entirely different, of course, though it still raises other concerns about classroom food, such as allergy issues.  Similarly, those offerings aren’t subject to any kind of oversight, so we’re relying on a particular teacher’s definition of “healthful food” – one with which we might not all agree.  I also believe that if hungry children have access to school breakfast, school lunch, and after-school snack (if not also supper, as we have here in Houston at some particularly impoverished schools), then even that sort of food in the classroom might not be necessary.

Let me know what you think about all this, and I hope other TLT readers will chime in as well on this important question.

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.

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Can We Crowd-Source A Reader Question re Food in the Classroom?

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!

My answer:


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?

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.

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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.

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Junk Food School Rewards: Restaurants Get In On The Action

Chris Liebig of A Blog About School (and a very popular past TLT guest blogger) shared with me a post he wrote yesterday in which he describes how his school is handing out Dairy Queen coupons for perfect attendance.  Chris points out how this scheme is misguided in about ten different ways – his post is definitely worth a read.

Meanwhile, my son informs me that in our elementary school, classes with the highest homework compliance will get coupons for ice cream shakes at a local burger joint.  I may have moaned audibly when he told me this in the car.

On the one hand, you could argue that a restaurant voucher is better than a teacher simply handing out junk food rewards since, with a voucher, some intervening parental oversight is required.  We’ve certainly thrown out our share of coupons for free Pizza Hut pizzas, awarded as part of a reading program in which my school participates.  That’s a degree of control which was stripped from me when, as but one example of in-class junk rewards, my daughter was handed multiple cans of Coke and full-sized bags of gummi bears by a teacher for good performance.

But why do Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut and countless other restaurant chains get into the “school reward” business in the first place?  To imprint their brands upon young minds as early as possible, in hopes of forming a lifelong loyalty.  It’s a strategy that’s proven to work since young kids lack the critical faculties to view advertising with the objectivity of adults.  But why do parents need to stand for it?

And then there’s the larger philosophical question, raised in my “Food in the Classroom Manifesto,” of why we now reward kids for behaviors — like attendance and homework completion — which in the past were simply expected of all students.  And even when kids do something great, like getting a good grade, aren’t we devaluing the accomplishment when we commodify it?  When I was a kid, my own sense of pride and my parents’ praise was enough incentive for me to perform well, but now, apparently, you can cash in a report card full of  A’s for Krispy Kreme donuts (limit 6 per report card); eight Chick-Fil-A nuggets; a slice of Sbarro pepperoni pizza and a soda; a McDonald’s Happy Meal; and many more.

Totally apart from the healthfulness (or lack thereof) of these junk food restaurant rewards, the practice of doling out treats for a child’s every positive move strikes me as deeply dispiriting and ultimately counterproductive.  As Chris Liebig notes with respect to the Dairy Queen coupons in his school:

As is so often the case with the district’s use of material rewards, the program sends a negative, materialistic, anti-educational message: that school is so aversive that you need to be bribed to attend, and that ice cream is what every normal person really wants.

Exactly right.


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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.”

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