The Lunch Tray’s Food-in-the-Classroom Manifesto

Yesterday I posted about a teacher in my child’s middle school who routinely distributes 12 oz cans of Coke and large bags of gummi bears (and sometimes both) to his students as rewards for classroom performance.  I also recounted how, when my daughter asked this teacher for permission to go to the water fountain, he instead just turned to his mini-fridge and handed her a can of Coke.

Later my daughter read the post (I’d published it while she was at school yesterday) and told me I’d actually underplayed what was goes on in that classroom.  Apparently there was another incident in which this same teacher distributed Popsicles and cups of Häagen-Dazs — and tried to push three of them onto my daughter, who politely declined after just one.   And she told me kids sometimes received more than one can of Coke per class period.

While I was reeling from that news, my son came home from his elementary school, the very same elementary school I actually lauded in yesterday’s post for cutting back on classroom candy rewards.

Well, apparently my son had won some sort of competition and the school presented him with this:

In case you can’t tell from the photo, that’s the jumbo-sized Hershey bar, which comprises four servings.  If my child had eaten this bar at school (which he could easily have done, since I knew nothing about it), he would have consumed 800 calories, 88 grams of sugar, and 48 grams of fat, 28 of which are saturated.

But wait, there’s more.

Yesterday was a standardized testing day in Houston ISD, so the school (without mentioning this plan to parents) also provided my son and the rest of the students with this — as “snack:”

And because someone, somewhere once determined that peppermint keeps kids alert during tests, our school also routinely provides kids with these on testing days:

People, I’m really ready to scream.

I’ve talked about these issues on TLT so often over the past two years I’m getting blue in the face.  Maybe this time around a simple bullet point list would suffice.

Copy it, share it, nail it to your school’s front door.

[At the request of many readers, I’ve created a clean, easily copied Word version of the Manifesto — no fancy “parchment” background to eat up all your printer ink!  It can be downloaded here.]

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  1. says

    Our school is pretty good about not giving food as rewards; however, my son is constantly coming home with his snack unbeaten because he’s had a cupcake (usually head-size) instead to celebrate someone’s birthday. Snack time is at 10 a.m. So he winds up hopped up on sugar – that I DON’T want him to have – for the rest of the morning. DRives me insane.

  2. Casey says

    Let the reformation begin! Thank you for putting this together and I hope to see it nailed on many school (& school board) doors.

  3. Uly says

    Real peppermint might keep kids alert, and it’s easy to grow. Starlight mints aren’t real peppermint.

    Also, nice use of the verb “comprise”!

    • Alicia says

      I should offer to bring in some – grows like crazy. My daughter loves to go out in the garden to chew on those leaves.

      I had to laugh when my daughter’s teacher asked every kid to bring in peppermints for the Iowa’s. My husband bought the mix of starlight mint that include wintergreen, and the teacher let her know those were the wrong ones – Really? Of course, we only gave her 5 for each day, and she let me know that others were eating much more.

      • Jessica says

        I learned about this in my psychology class and this really only works if they also suck/chew on mint while also studying the materials for these tests, so it would only work if they were always using mint.

  4. says

    My 7th grade daughter joined the Shakespeare Club at her school yesterday. She came home excitedly to tell me, “Oh, I got in on the best day! They just finished reading Romeo and Juliet and to celebrate, there’s a party on Friday. I signed up to bring chips. When you go to the store, will you get some?” I’m going to print out your manifesto and send that in with some veggies and dip.

  5. Tricia says

    And don’t forget the effect of those food dyes! Even kids without ADHD can exhibit signs of it with enough Red 40 in their systems. Not the best way to get kids to concentrate on testing!!

  6. Angela says

    OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for posting!! Same EXACT thing with my kids. Blue in the face does not describe it. Screaming doesn’t help. It’s insanity. Actually, it’s laziness. And, at the risk of generalizing and offending, I add – – and these people call themselves “educators???” I finally quit beating my head against the wall with my polite requests. I paid my kids $1 for every piece of junk food, soda, FULL-SIZE candy bar, etc. they were given by a teacher and took it all to a “Wellness” Committee meeting with the superintendent, assistant superintendent, principals and teachers. I set it all up on the table in front of me and asked them to look at the junk my kids were fed (attempted) at school in the past couple months. Visual impacts help. I would suggest anyone who cares about this issue do the same. Get other parents to do it then take it all to your school board meetings and ask the board to make district wide policy changes. All that crap sitting there staring at them makes quite a statement.

    Many can opt out here, but I want to continue venting for those who want to continue reading. I could share with you countless similar stories. One of my daughters who doesn’t weigh much to begin with and doesn’t have a huge appetite but is an athlete, would quite literally fill up on a soda and a piece of candy which are routinely given before lunch. Then, (and this is going to sound like whining) the largely organic lunch I spend 45 minutes preparing every morning for my kids to be sure the items are healthy, home cooked, and nutritious, not to mention the cost of it all and the effort that goes into weekly planning so I can mix it up and give them a variety, – – all that gets pitched at lunch because she’s not hungry. Then she gets to spend all afternoon trying to concentrate and goes straight to practice after school. Thank you Mr. and Mrs. school administrator for feeding my child things we prohibit at home which are nutritionally void and then asking her to perform academically and athletically. Another pet peeve are those mints like you mention and the hard candy jolly ranchers given as a reward in the morning so the residue can sit in their teeth all day. I mean holy cow. I’m not asking for radical (at least not to me) changes. Just a little common sense. We performed in school and weren’t rewarded for bringing our homework in, etc. I know college professors who complain students don’t know how to work hard just for the sake of working hard. It’s because they are all conditioned to get a treat for every little thing.

    I’ll let someone else rant about what they allow parents to bring in for birthday treats. Some of that stuff isn’t even food, yet 25 times a year (depending on how many kids in the classroom do it); they get to supplement their daily diet with sugar (cupcake) and sugar drink (you know, those “juice” drinks from the dollar store that come in a plastic bottle that are nothing but sugar, additives and dye!) Yea!!! Love sending my kids to school where they get this stuff all year. Yeah, I’m bitter. I’m especially concerned for the kids who get no instruction at home about healthy alternatives.

    • says

      I “enjoyed” reading your whole, very well written rant Angela, but I’m furious that you had to write it. SHAME on your child’s school. I love your suggestion to PAY your kids to bring home the crap they’re given, but I’m ill thinking that this is what it’s come to….

      • c says

        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.

        • Bettina Elias Siegel says

          C – I’m so glad that teachers are speaking out on this blog about what it’s like on the other side of this issue. Tomorrow I’ll have a post about exactly that, and I’ll include this comment. Thank you for coming by TLT and I hope you’ll continue to share your perspective as an educator on this and the other issues we talk about here.

          • Kelly says

            Ive got a prize bucket in my classroom – pencil top erasers, pencils and the like. Once in a while I will put in bubble gum but that’s rare. I can tell you though, kids still dig through thinking that just maybe there will be candy. I can’t imagine giving cans of Coke and ice cream though — Crazy!

            I think that as parents, we have to be very clear in our expectations with our own kids. I know that in my city (rural Michigan) my family’s eating “guidelines” are _very_ different from most.

            Thanks for the great information!

        • Angela says

          Agree completely. I also agree that teachers are not intending to harm the children or circumvent parents. That is why I advocate for school-wide or district-wide policies – – top down so to speak. This takes the teacher out of the debate. Parents are advised at the beginning of the school year what the policies and expectations are. Recalcitrant parents can be reminded they may feel like it is their right to bring cupcakes to the class for their child’s birthday, other parents view it as their right to limit the junk food/sugar intake of their children. I agree it is a tough spot for teachers but this discussion has to take place. We have to initiate change. Simply giving in because it is easier is not a solution, particularly when the need to model good eating habits and healthy lifestyles is so important. Most schools are teaching nutrition and healthy eating according to the USDA food tray or the food pyramid, but then there is a disconnect in practice. How can children learn from teachers that sweets and sugar really are an occasional treat when teachers give them soda and candy throughout the day and parents are allowed to bring in sugary birthday treats throughout the year. There are so many options if this is necessary; raisins, mini carrots, granola, yogurt parfaits for birthday, etc.

    • Lenée says

      Angela- I too, love your idea of collecting all the treats your kids got over a few months to make your point to the committee. Excellent! I’m just curious about what this pile of junk looked like, and how much did it cost you? If you ever decide to do it again, please take a picture!

      I also love your comment, “I know college professors who complain students don’t know how to work hard just for the sake of working hard. It’s because they are all conditioned to get a treat for every little thing..” Not too long ago I read a response to one of Bettina’s posts talking about this same issue. Forgive me for not remembering who wrote it and where can be found on TLT…. But it was a very profound look at how our kids are showered with treats at school, church, sports practice and games, the dry cleaners, doctors’ offices, dentists, etc., and that this growing and prevalent practice of passing out treats just for the sake of passing them out has created a generation of kids who expect to be rewarded “just for showing up.”

      If this sounds like your post, or Bettina, if you know which post I’m referring to I would love a link to it so some of your readers could see it who maybe missed it the first time around. :)

  7. says

    Oh my gosh, I can’t believe teachers are giving kids candy and coke! Seriously, as teachers they themselves should have been educated about the dangers of sugar, food rewards in general, and proper nutrition. How can they be allowed to give someone else’s child all these things? It’s completely ridiculous.

  8. says

    LOVE this petition and have already e-mailed the link to many parents who have complained to me about the number and quality of snacks served in their own kids’ classrooms.

    Regarding that giant chocolate bar – as soon as one of my kids was old enough to walk to the store by himself, and flush enough to be able to afford candy, he bought himself one of those huge Hershey bars. I watched from a distance as he proceeded to consume THE WHOLE THING over the course of the few hours after dinner. I decided not to intervene because I wanted him to experience the consequences of his action.

    Not surprisingly, around 10pm, he burst into my bedroom clutching his stomach and moaning, “It hurts – make it stop!” He then raced into the bathroom and violently threw up pretty much the entire candy bar.

    Later, when he felt better, we talked about his decision to blow all of his pocket money on such a large candy bar, and what he was thinking to eat the whole thing in one sitting. Turns out, he knew he shouldn’t eat the whole thing, but (like his mother) he has no self control if the candy is sitting right there. He regretted not only eating the whole thing so quickly, but also the fact that now his pocket money was all gone and he had derived very little enjoyment from it.

    This was almost 10 years ago, and I am happy to say that he has never OD’d on candy like that since. He buys small quantities, if at all, and eats just a little at a time. Nothing like projectile vomiting to get kids to pay attention.

  9. Angela says

    And while I’m on a roll . . . .Many educators and other parents will say “oh, it’s just a little reward once in a while.” But, it stopped being that when the classroom teacher, the music teacher, the library teacher, the coach, the birthday kid, etc. all provided “a little reward” all day long. Honestly, they go from one classroom reward to the next classroom reward so that argument is NOT valid. And a full can of soda or a full size candy bar are not small rewards. They are meals in some cases.

  10. momma says

    Caffiene is a stimulant..I consider it to chemically not be much different than Ritalin…so why is it ok to give a child (not your own) a can of Coke!!?? I have fought this battle over & daughter used to go to a religious ed class after school, where she would get a large unhealthy snack & a juice box. Shed come home 100% NOT hungry for the homemade dinner I made. After many kind discussions and getting rebuffed, I finally sent in a letter telling the head honcho that if some kid dropped dead due to a food allergy from food they fed some kid, I would be 1st in line to testify that I had asked them to stop feeding our kids. The next week: no snacks!YAY! I think we can change people’s opinions…they aren’t being malicious. They see ignored kids and want to “help”. They just need to be educated that the WRONG type of help (food is love/reward) is not cool. Im a fluffy woman who battles her weight issues, and I am trying SO hard to not pass my issues on to my kids. I’m not The Food Gestapo, but I hate when someone else puts 150 calories in my kids mouth without my consent.

  11. Steve says

    The 60 minutes segment, “Is sugar toxic?”, should be required viewing for all teachers along with anyone that eats ‘non whole’ foods…

    For an excellent, more technical explanation, see the film below. 1/2 ~ 3/4 way through when the Dr says follow the arrows and your eyes glaze over, skip to time frame 1:11:00

  12. June says

    Okay, now I feel guilty. After two straight weeks of high-stakes and incredibly boring, soul-draining, testing, my daughter’s class is having a surprise ice-cream party. My only semi-nutritional comment was to offer to bring “ices” for the lactose intolerant children. Though, in the teachers’ defense, they never normally give out food and we have these kind of parties maybe twice a year. (Plus, in NYC I think there’s a lot less of an obesity problem since the kids have to walk everywhere? Or at least there are no obese kids in my daughter’s class – and I haven’t even seem more than maybe one at the whole school.) My much bigger complaint is that they often don’t have time to finish lunch and of course the quality of school lunches. But I know you are already all over that one! (and thanks for your posts on that.)

  13. Heather says

    Honestly, I think the main thing is to teach your own kids about the health issues of all these treats and they can politely decline. I do a trade in system with my kids. I don’t think the teachers are doing it to “harm” the children, they are probably just doing it because they don’t know any better, haven’t been educated about it, and they think that they are just being nice . I’m sure they are doing the best they can. Printing out a manifesto and sending it to the teacher is only going to make them feel offended, and embarrassed. The more grown-up thing to do is to go in and have a actually conversation with them, and explain your feelings about it. Other wise it comes off not as a ‘concerned’ parent but a snob. I am a fan of your blog and eating healthy, but sometimes I think health conscience people can come off rude, and like they are better then others. I know that is not the intent, but maybe we can all try and see things from a different point of view.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      If you’ve posted a comment and don’t see it appear after a reasonable time, the comment is in violation of The Lunch Tray’s comments policy. No comment is ever censored for expressing an opposing view; comments rife with ugliness and personal attacks will always be censored. If I receive several comments in violation of the policy from a single commenter, all future comments originating from that IP address will automatically be placed in my blog’s spam filter and I won’t see them for moderation. If you care to re-write and re-submit your comment in light of the policy, feel free to do so.

    • Teri says

      I hear what you’re saying–and it IS good to teach children to politely take care of their needs. I would argue it’s essential. It’s also important to arm kids with the knowledge to educate others. Instead of coming across as a food snob, a child may be able to educate her peers that some folks just can’t eat stuff like that, they can eat other things instead, and voila, you have other kids now with an expanded diet, willing to try more new things. Sometimes kids are awesome and flexible and supportive. It’s just that not all respond that way.

      The problem is when people make it very hard to politely decline. Sometimes people with dietary needs come across as rude after people push them to the brink. If you tell your child to politely decline something, and she is bullied like hell for it by teachers, children, and the children’s parents for it, is it really an option for that child? Remember that she’s in the least position of power–the teacher has power over her, the parents have power over her, and the children collectively have power over her. It’s sort of like sexual harassment cases. Sure, you can politely decline your boss’s and coworkers’ advances…but they’re in a position of power over you. This is why we have legal protections like we do–that power gap.

      There are sometimes now good answers, and I completely agree with you that scheduling conversations with teachers and school admins first, before hitting them with an impersonal note conveying frustration, is preferable. No sane, rational educator wants a dead child in their class/school, and you’d have to be living under a mountain, not just a rock, to not know that childhood obesity is a problem. But I was bullied not just by students in my school, but their parents and my teachers. At some point, and I suspect this is where the author of this manifesto is coming from, you have to resort to more direct and blunt statements. It’s unfortunate, but keeping kids healthy does require some cooperation on the part of the school.

      • Teri says

        Erg, this is what I get for posting while my browser is crashing. Third paragraph should just read “You have some good answers here, and I completely agree with you…”

      • Cheryl says

        It is difficult to “Say No” to food for many of us! Think about a shy child or a child who is trying not to eat junk and it’s even harder. Then consider the teacher or parent volunteer or birthday child repeatedly asking “Are you sure?” or “Don’t you want just one?”

        There are many different reasons why children should only eat what is brought from home or approved by the parents. It is not fair to pressure them into eating!

        Think about relatives or co-workers that you have who just won’t drop it when offering food and think about how difficult it would be to say No when they pressure you!

        Don’t get me started on the food allergy part where my child would love to eat it but cannot for risk of a visit to emergency.

        • Amanda says

          I agree it can be really hard for a child to decline a treat…especially when they don;t get them often, or its the afternoon and their hungry because its been 2+ hours since they had lunch…my 10year old learned her lesson after a holiday party sugar overload right before swim practice and almost throwing up in the pool…she swims everyday after school so she now declines the sugary treats, and i make sure she packs a healthy snack to have instead. My kindergartner however…they have a daily snack provided by us parents because they eat lunch at 11am and are at school until 245pm. (and i dont know about all of you, but my kid gets crabby when she needs some fuel) Only a few of us parents and the teacher usually provide any snacks, and there are only 15 kids, so not many birthdays to celebrate, and they have a salad bar at school they have to go through first, before getting the not always healthy hot food. Lucky for me my kids actually like veggies and fruit, cottage cheese etc, which they fill up on most days for lunch.

          I definitely agree it is hard for us parents since we can’t be there, and if my kid were being given sodas (which we have maybe a few times a year as a treat when out) and candy bars, etc…i would not be a happy mom! Some parents give their kids sugar constantly and don;t have a problem with it, so they get upset when they can’t bring it. It really does come down to schools needing to implement a policy and think of what is best for the children, which is hands down, no treats as rewards or brought by parents.

          Another idea for teachers/schools could be to provide a list of some healthy options for alternatives to cupcakes/etc. or as in the case of my 5yr olds class where they request snacks to be brought by parents they could have a list of certain snacks…

          my sons preschool is nutrition only, parents cannot bring anything, they get breakfast and lunch there, and even brush teeth after both meals (which is something i would like the grade school to allow time for after lunch)

          and my girls eat breakfast at home because the grade school has sugary cereals, cinnamon rolls, etc. which is not a meal! How can they do well in class after having that??

          • Bettina Elias Siegel says

            Amanda: Your son’s preschool sounds very forward-thinking. Our preschool was the first time my kids started getting daily juice (watered-down but, still, why?), regular servings of goldfish, in-class birthday cupcakes and even some junk-food-based projects. Back then I didn’t think about it much – I was also bringing the cupcakes – but I’ve certainly changed my views over time. :-) Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences here.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Heather: I agree, of course, that the way to bring about change is to start off with a polite conversation and not by nailing a manifesto to the door (literally or figuratively.) :-)

      What you’re hearing today is just my total, complete and utter EXASPERATION. I just can’t believe *nothing* has changed in the two years I’ve been talking about this, when during that time our children’s health has only worsened and the national conversation about childhood obesity and health has only grown louder. Given all that, you’d think maybe, just maybe, schools might take a harder look at this issue.

      And as a parent, I feel like I’m fighting this battle on multiple fronts. Just how many polite conversations do I need to initiate on a weekly basis? There’s the parent bringing birthday treats to school; the well meaning teacher who bought tons of Girl Scout cookies from her students who were scouts (nice) and then passed them all out to the class (not cool); my fellow soccer team parent who thinks a juice and Lay’s is a fine post-game snack; etc. etc., to mention the over-the-top incidents I’ve just recounted here.

      I guess I am just getting very, very tired.

      • Millie says

        Have you never considered your frustration stems from obsessively forcing an untenable agenda upon a sensible majority who could care less about your personal opinions about kids, schools, foods…or anything else? What makes your fanatic phobias important to society? Why not take it up with your therapist, learn to deal with it? Manifestos are symptomatic of mental imbalance, no? If “our children’s health has only worsened” as you falsely claim, then it is your fault not ours. You have failed to impart any sensible perspective and lately you have contributed to the problem by smearing and vandalizing our mostly OK system. In short, you should be frustrated in your effort to force your personal agenda…for the greater good of society at large.

        • Bettina Elias Siegel says

          This clearly violates my published comments policy against personal attacks and general nastiness, but for some reason I’m letting it through. Maybe because she didn’t call me a foul four letter word, which has become a regular occurrence in the past two months. My bar is getting very low, people . . . . :-)

          • says

            I honestly don’t see why you’d censor a comment like the comment from “Millie.” Let it stand. If it’s insulting, then the author of the comment looks foolish. If it contains a legitimate contra-argument (which, hidden away in there, it actually does), then that’s something that will help your readers think–and help your readers *avoid* groupthink.

            • Bettina Elias Siegel says

              The other comments which did not appear were uglier, had far less substance, and also involved my child. Enough said.

              • says

                Clearly, those you should delete.

                Look, it’s your blog: control the conversation to the extent you see fit. But I encourage you to keep your “censoring bar” low. Sometimes oppositional comments that border on insulting actually *help* your case rather than hurt it, because they show the inner character of those who hold the contra-view.

                • Bettina Elias Siegel says

                  Dan: Don’t know how long you’ve been a TLT reader but in the first year and a half of blogging here, I think I censored at most three comments. My natural inclination is to let everything in. Then the LFTB controversy exploded and while I understand why passions were running high, and though I am a big girl who can take whatever is said about me, there did come a point when my previously civil, respectful blog was basically hijacked by ugliness. At that point I seized reins and said, ENOUGH. And I suppose now I’m working my way back from that point, weighing comments a lot more carefully than I ever would have before. But your point is a very good one and I will keep in in mind going forward.

        • linda says

          I do believe the phrase is “couldn’t care less”. Otherwise, it doesn’t really convey the meaning intended. I don’t think Bettina’s views are fanatic phobias. As you should be able to see, quite a lot of us (members of society even) agree with her opinions which do have scientific backing. Pediatrians. Dentists. Just us regular folks. Millie seems to have a bone to pick with healthy food blogging, as I cannot see how Bettina deserves such a personal attack onher mental health.

  14. June says

    I forgot to say, I am totally shocked about the teacher giving out coke. Not candy, I’m not shocked about that – but about coke without parents’ permission is really surprising. Even though we do have the ice cream parties (see above), I think the parents at my school would be up in arms about the coke give-away.

  15. Deirdre says

    I love this manifesto and it echoes everything I have encountered in five years of working on improvements to the health culture in my school district (in Fort Collins, CO–recently noted as one of the the “least obese cities” in the country)! I would echo Heather’s sentiments though about presenting it to school staff and burning bridges. I recently gained a little nugget (pun intended) of wisdom for all of us who have been deemed the “cupcake capers, crusaders, nazis, etc.”. We need to add first then take away. Fight for something–not against it. For example, start a running club, a fun-run fundraiser, before school game time, smoothies at the spring carnival, having some fruit on the buffet table at the junk-loaded Halloween party (ADDing). Then, in time, we can start asking that food rewards, junk in the cafeteria, taking away recess as a punishment, etc. be TAKEN away. Sometimes we might be surprised at another parent who might say, “Hey–we’re a wellness school. Maybe we shouldn’t have cotton candy at our carnival?…and maybe our teachers shouldn’t be handing out cokes?” Hallelujah. We’re shifting paradigms and changing a culture and it’s going to take some time.

      • Angela says

        Good ideas. Isn’t it frustrating how opposed to change many people are though. None of the concerns expressed here are radical. They all make sense, yet you are right. There are those labels hung around the necks of people who just want the pendulum to swing back to the healthier side of things a little. Unfortunately, no one was ever accused of being a carrot caper. :)

    • Amanda says

      the adding is a good one…we have healthy snacks at our kids holiday parties, along with the cupcakes, and *some* teachers are really great about the kids only having a cupcake OR a cookie, and having veggies with it…so although they still get sugar, not as much, and get something healthy in there at least…

  16. Timmi says

    I thought teachers were so strapped for cash and don’t make enough? If this guy can afford cases of coke and candy on a regular basis he must be loaded or something!
    For testing week one year in high school our homeroom teacher made us scrambled eggs, toast and bacon, served with water or orange juice. I was so amazed and thanked her so many times for giving a hoot and making sure we had a decent meal for test day. She was such an awesome teacher.

  17. says

    just my two cents which is basically not worth much….I totally agree with what everyone is saying Where I have the problem is school should be teaching the “best” way to do everything from the education that children recieve on subjects to the social skills and the best way to eat that will lead to a healthy and productive lifestyle. For those of us that are teaching our kids proper nutrition and feel that having excess sugary items are not good, this has been shown by the medical field to be true and so the school should support what we are teaching our kids if it is the “right ” way of doing something. Instead, what infuriates me, is that my kids are taught certain things at home and then go to school and being sent a completely different message…..not right! We should have control over that, why don’t we….we have the right to have our kids learning about proper nutrition in school, and if we as parents do not want our kids to have these sugary things during the day, why do we not get to have the last say….they are our kids! There is some saying that a lawyer once told me about when a child is in the posession of the school, they are to be taken care of in the same manner as the parent. Bettina, do you know what that is called? So if someone could please tell me how schools are allowed to do what they are doing which is overriding the parent, I would love to know because to me it seems to be a violation of something….don’t the parents of the kids get to make the decisions for their kids until the child is 18……I now understand why people home school, they do not have to deal with all of this nonsense.

  18. c says

    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.

    • Rachel says

      Here’s a couple ideas for alternative ways to celebrate students’ birthdays.

      One of our previous teachers would do one party per month of school. Parents of the students who had a birthday that month were asked to collaborate on the party. For example, one parent might bring the treat, another might bring the paper goods, and another might bring a drink. I’m not saying this eliminated the sugar being served in class, but it certainly limited it by at least half, or even a quarter, of the frequency of parties.

      Another teacher we once had told parents that only healthy treats could be brought to class. She had a list of the kinds of foods she would approve. The birthday person was also given a list of fun activities and was asked to choose one to do with the class. (The teacher also welcomed suggestions.) For example, they could have an extra 15 minutes of recess during which they might play the student’s favorite game. Or they might have a hula hoop or jumprope contest. Or the teacher might read the students’ favorite book to the class. A student interested in drawing might ask to have a mini art session.

      Having said all that, the teachers did tell me they sometimes had parents show up with cupcakes or treats that were not authorized by her and she had to figure out how to deal with it. So, I feel your pain in trying to keep your students healthy.

  19. LA says

    Thank you for this. I thought I was one of the few parents who felt this way. Why do people think only junk can make kids happy? How about extra rewards in the classroom or something not food related. I try very hard to feed my children healthy foods and limit their sweets only to find there were three birthday parties today and each brought a different treat. What are people thinking? Do their kids never have behavior problems because of all the sugar? I could go on and on. Thanks again, making a difference one person at a time!

  20. Larkin says

    I largely applaud this article, but what about universal breakfast in the classroom? Does this fall under the manifesto? Universal breakfast is a wonderful way to ensure children are eating a (sometimes) healthy breakfast at school when many of them may go without (as long as it is a healthy breakfast). I think there should be an amendment to this manifesto about breakfast in the classroom.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says


      I do support universal in-class breakfast, so perhaps an amendment is needed.

      And just for those who think those two positions are inconsistent, as did a commenter on my post about universal, in-class breakfast earlier in the week, I think the difference is one of parental oversight and consent. Nine times out of ten, when my kid comes home with a chocolate bar in his backpack, or blue icing smeared on his face from a birthday cupcake, or is not hungry for snack because he had a handful of Girl Scout cookies the teacher was handing out, I had absolutely no idea my kid was being fed that day by the school.

      With breakfast, on the other hand, not only does everyone know about the program and can talk to their kid in advance about whether or not to take the breakfast, in a well-run program it is very easy to simply opt your child out. My son, who eats breakfast at home (and doesn’t want the school meal anyway), doesn’t have a meal card in the stack available each morning and couldn’t get the breakfast. I’m so appreciative that our principal made opting out so easy, which is not the case, apparently, at many schools.

      Thanks for making this important point!

  21. says

    Thank you — 1 trillion time THANK YOU!!

    Yes, this violates parents’ rights.

    But most importantly, it violates the children’s rights to the health and safety of their own bodies. Daily . . . often hourly . . . in our schools (public and private).


  22. Amy says

    My son is in 4th grade in Clear Creek (outside of Houston) and they are allowed to brag their own snacks to class since lunch is so late in the day. Yesterday was also testing day and he said they wouldn’t need a snack but after reading this I asked him if his teacher gave them anything. He said bottled water and some Cheerios. Other than possible allergy ramifications (are Cheerios an allergen? I don’t know because we luckily don’t have food allergies other than my younger son with dyes). I guess we came out of this pretty good comparatively….

  23. says

    i approached both of my kids’ teachers this year and asked if i could purchase a fun student activity for the class in lieu of birthday food. both teachers agreed. my second grader brought in an airplane launcher (the science is the energy in the rotating wheels transfers to the plane, which accelerates it). my kinder kid brought in a mini salt water fuel cell car (the science is in what powers the car). they brought these items out at recess and students who wanted to participate could join around, students who didn’t could play. i found both projects in hobby lobby’s (craft store) activities aisle.

    after the salt water car play day, the kinder teacher said she just recently learned that as an alternative to birthday food, students were permitted to bring in a special toy. i suggested she include that in her letter to parents at the beginning of the year to provide the option for more students to celebrate b-days with a fun class activity vs food. she seemed relieved to have a non-junk food option for students.

    BTW – neither project was more expensive than 20-30 cupcakes at the grocery store bakery.

  24. Tina B says

    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. I don’t reward the students for any old thing, but for going the extra mile on something or for random acts of kindness I see performed in the classroom.

    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!!! Our district doesn’t have a policy regarding food, and because we suffer from so many major deal issues being inner city, low social economic, as well as a negative district balance, layoffs, and pay cuts, getting a food discussion going isn’t even on the radar. Don’t even ask me about what is served for breakfast and lunch!

    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.

    I see the same senario play out at breakfast time. I know which kids have a breakfast at home, but then they see pancakes, fruit bars, Trix yogart, banana muffins or blue berry muffins, and even though they are not hungry they take it anyway. I feel like it is a losing battle and I have tried to fight the good fight and get better food for our students, and improvements have been made, but it still falls so short of the goal.

    • Amy says


      I LOVE the idea of bringing in an activity instead of a sweet treat! At our school I coordinate all of our room parents and I am definitely going to see if I can get that thrown in as a suggestion!

      I always struggle when my kids’ birthdays come along (I have three boys in elementary) because they want to feel special on their day also. I usually go to the bakery and order “real” cupcakes that are small in size with a small amount of white or chocolate icing on them. That is still the norm in our school and I confess that I do not want my children to be different than all of their peers. I cannot handle store-bought cupcakes with two inches of colored icing made of crisco and artificial dyes. Of course the real cupcakes from the baker cost more, but it’s worth it to me to have just a few ingredients in them and know that they are made fresh that day. (I also always bring the teacher the ingredient list in case a child has an allergy). It always pleasantly surprises me when the kids’ faces light up and they say that they are the best they’ve ever eaten. I think to myself… well, what you usually eat is probably processed and artificial. This is as real as a “cupcake” can be. So, it’s a compromise I guess. I know my kids eat healthy meals all day and evey day so the cupcake I bring doesn’t bother me. I hope I am teaching them to make healthy choices so when someone brings the bright blue cupcake they politely say “no thank you”. But, come on, they’re kids, and I don’t expect them to not want things like that all the time. But sometimes they surprise me, especially my older one. I don’t remember the last time he let artificial food coloring pass his lips. :)

      What I love about my 10 year old (my oldest) is he feels “guilty” that everyone else doesn’t know how bad for them the food is they are eating. He wants to tell them. I’ve explained to him that not everyone wants to be told how to eat more healthy. That he should set a good example and that if his friends ask him, “hey, why do you always have water instead of gator aid” or “why do you eat fruit after football practice instead of chips” then let them know that you’re giving you’re body the nutrition it needs and that you don’t eat fake foods with things in them that aren’t good for your body. But he feels a great sense of responsibility to “spread the truth” about healthy eating. I know he’s going to do great things with his future. :)

      • says

        Amy – your 10 year old has learned a very valuable lesson, I think! One which many adults in America and elsewhere would do well to learn, as well. It is only natural to want to spread the “good news” (whether about finding G-d, or discovering the benefits of healthy eating, or quitting smoking, or even how good Red Velvet cupcakes taste) – but this evangelizing is often resented by those who would just as soon not be preached to about what an awful mess they are making of their lives. By learning how to evangelize in an unoffensive manner, he has taken an important step down the road of civility.


    • Casey says

      I’m grateful for teachers like you and understand the difficult position you face. This is why parents need to take this manifesto to the administrators, school council, school board, PTA, etc. and be vocal advocates for strong wellness policies that address these issues. We are the ones in the best position to back up wonderful teachers like this who are trying to make a difference!

    • says

      I hadn’t thought of this from your point of view Tina – the part about being tempted by sugar and treats constantly, due to the school’s “bring on the treats” policy. I have the very same issue as you – I CANNOT have them in the house or, forget it. Once I start, I cannot stop. Reading all these exasperated comments here is simply well, exasperating! You illustrated perfectly how utterly frustrating it is to be the teacher in these situations – aware of how wrong this is but not in a position to put a stop to it. AAARRGGHH!! doesn’t even begin to express it….

  25. Amy says

    I wanted to point out additionally that in our district (Clear Creek ISD outside of Houston), on state testing days, school breakfasts are offered to all students free of charge. I guess the teacher offering what she felt was a “healthy” snack in Cheerios and water would possibly fall under this same umbrella. We are a Title 1 school: over 50% of our student population is “economically disadvantaged”. So I do see the need to make sure some of the children in our school have something in their stomachs, and a snack of bottled water & Cheerios in my kiddos case is fine with me. Although I’d prefer he’d been given some fruit or veggie (hey, aren’t apples supposed to be great for mental alertness?) I do understand how stressed the teachers are as well as the kids and convenience has to be considered.

    It’s a totally separate subject but when it comes to making real changes in our school it is very, very hard. My principal agrees with a lot of my philosophies. However, we have students who’s basic needs may not always be met. They may come to school without being fed on a daily basis or without being bathed. Many of the parents in our school never come to parent events or activities involving their children. So I see it as speaking for the voiceless. Our district does pretty well but could definitely do better. I would love to see healthier Valentines and “winter holiday” celebrations. But we have to have fruit, cheese, veggie patters at those. So while there’s room for improvement, I guess it could be worse. Now that I’m off on a tangent, I guess I’ll cut myself off or I’ll continue babbling….

  26. caree says

    I consider myself ‘old school’, but I’m really not all that ‘old school’, being that I was born in 1980. What is up with all the constant ‘rewards’ these days? Maybe my memory is fuzzy, but the only ‘rewards’ I remember in school was a written or verbal Good Job! or a sticker on my work. Or a special day in gym where we could play with whatever we wanted. And birthday parties? When has that become a thing? I don’t ever remember b-day parties being allowed in school as it was too distracting; daycare maybe, but not at school. I remember in middle school, the birthday kids would walk around with a balloon(s) all day, but that’s about it.

    And I remember state testing well; even as young as the third grade. But keeping kids alert? I’m pretty sure back then they they cranked the AC on high (Brrrrrr) and lead us in numerous rounds of ‘Head Shoulders Knees and Toes Knees and Toes’ during breaks. That peppermint thing is BS!

  27. Tina B says


    I know all about basic needs not being met. My district is 98% free lunch and Universal breakfast for all. I keep room freshener in my classroom at all times (the one that sprays a tiny burst every 20 minutes) because the children are unbathed, uniforms crusty from food that was eaten a week ago. I have even gone so far as to keep a few extra shirts and let kids go change in the bathroom, then I take their soiled clothes home to launder and bring back. My students have needs, serious, serious needs. For most of my class the breakfast and lunch they get at school really is the only food they will get all day. That is why I wish the quality of what we served was so much better. Those two meals load them up with carbs, sugar, salt, and fat but very little of anything else. Obesity is a huge issue where I work, both for the parents and the children, but I am not placing blame on the parents for the obesity because when you have to fill your children’s bellies with very little money you are going to load up on mac and cheese, hot dogs, and ramen noodles because something becomes better than nothing. There are so many days I come home with a heavy heart because I see such need and though I do my best to help where I can, the problem is just bigger than me.

    • E F/M says

      Tina, I went to a school very similar to that, except maybe the laundry part. Oftentimes, a parent really can’t afford to buy healthful food–and this is in a place with several small farms. For some, the cost of gas is prohibitively high to keep fresh food stocked or even drive the distance to get it every once in a while; for others, it’s the cost of the food itself or the time needed to prepare the food (people who could afford to buy healthful whole foods in bulk but don’t have the time to make them ahead, or even nightly, etc.). I had a friend who ate ramen noodles for dinner at least three nights a week, and sometimes for snacks as well if it was an especially “lean” day (obesity, hello!).

  28. says

    Oh my. We have an allergy policy in my town (Lexington, MA), and it states that there can be no food in the classroom other than what the kids bring from home or the food service provides. Our celebrations are food free. The allergy policy really saved the day, so now we don’t have to deal with the daily barrage of junk food that used to be the norm (rewards, b-day parties, holidays, etc). See if you can talk to the head nurse in your school district about initiating an allergy policy. I’m sure the parents of food allergic kids will be your number-one ally. And the nurses will probably support it too!

  29. Bee says

    My daughter has a teacher that is sending mixed messages. At the beginning of the school year she sent out a note stating only healthy snacks allowed for snack time. Bravo. Little did I know that she gives out candy throughout the day as rewards. I’m so upset. I can’t wait for this school year to end. I don’t believe in using food of any kind as a reward.
    Now a positive food story. The classmom for my son’s class has been having different parents send in fruit on test mornings for the class. My son loves it and can’t wait for our turn.

  30. the pink slimer says

    Okay I’m kind of an old fashioned guy and don’t mind a bit of candy for me or my kids , but the whole point should be on keeping it reasonable, ice creams ok, but to bribe kids with it is lame , but if a parent does not want they’re kid eating this stuff couldn’t you just teach your kid not to, or send a note to school saying you want your kid not to have these things? Don’t take all the fun out of school for my kids though, I think a reasonable middle would be ok, you know what I hate, that you can’t send homemade snacks but you can send processed crap, what’s up with that? Bettina I love your work against the pink slime companies trying to hide that crap in our kids(and our own) food, for the people who don’t like pink slime being labeled that think of a pr campaign where the slimer from ghost busters is green and has a heartfelt conversation with kids on how mean old bettina is trying to stop him from coming over to play at lunchtime! He can highfive kids play the guitar and say anti drug slogans before he jumps into they’re greasy lunch bag!

  31. the pink slimer says

    Don’t do the lame allegy kid ruins it for everyone thing, we don’t need the life sucked out of all the kids for the kid who’s overly protective mom never let them eat anything as a baby and now they are allergic to everything, its to lame and it will discredit the entire blog in the future

    • c says

      Sorry, could you elaborate on this comment for me? Do you feel that people have food allergies because their moms didn’t let them eat anything as a baby? Could you be so kind as to link the research you are quoting? I would be interested in seeing this, as a grown person with food allergy who was fed a varied diet as a child. Thanks so much.

  32. pink slimer says

    When it comes to research I would recommend google, or bing, or maybe we are about the only country in the world that has a different fad diet for our babies every generation mostly due to marketing of Baby formula and pre made foods, you don’t think restricting a baby to a diet of only this or that will set them up for failure? We have known since I was a kid that it was the ninny moms that caused it,I was breastfeed and ate regular good food always just like good intended, allergy s are for the pampered and misled

    • c says

      Pink slimer, I would highly recommend that you do a little reading on or to educate yourself with factual information regarding food allergy rather than angrily name-calling mothers of children with a medical condition. As this blog encourages kindness toward all participants, I feel calling others “ninny” and “misled” when you are in fact the one who is misleading with false information is just not the way to go. I have food allergy, I married a man whose relatives have food allergy, and my child has food allergy. I am not a ninny, I am a mother of a child for whom genetics played a part in her medical condition. If you do want to know real facts, please do not hesitate to ask a medical professional, another allergy sufferer, or myself. But do not tell me that a medical condition is caused by pampering or being a ninny. I mean really now.

  33. pink slimer says

    Ok so I can safely say you are at least upper middle class if not a millionaire to be in a social circle that has such a high amount of allergys the poor can’t afford them so that’s out, how many poor kids in the ghetto have them, I’ve never met one yet, how many Ethiopians have them, starving people don’t have them its a province of the wealthy, so i’m sorry but if you just give a baby a taste of every possible food as soon as they are born and able to take a taste it never happens, same with pets, and the animanimal allergy

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      pink slimer: I’m not an expert in food allergies, but I don’t think science is on your side here. I’ll let others with more knowledge respond.

      • c says

        I teach in a low SES neighborhood. Out of 25 kids, 3 of them have a life threatening food allergy. I can assure you, their parents are not millionaires. Some of them cannot afford the Epi-Pens their kids need. And, seeing as I just told you that I am a teacher, I am sure you can surmise that I am not a millionaire. I cannot tell you how many people in Ethiopia have food allergy, but I can tell you that it does not matter how much money is in your wallet or which neighborhood you live in. It matters which genes are in your DNA. What a sad thing that you are so willing to hate based on a medical condition. It makes me think of the song in South Pacific –
        You’ve got to be taught
        Before it’s too late
        Before you are 6 or 7 or 8
        To hate all the people
        your relatives hate
        You’ve got to be carefully taught
        There is a very fine line between hating little kids with a food allergy and hating little kids with different physical characteristics than you. I doubt anyone with a food allergy ever did anything to you to cause this anger you have – it might be time for a little self-reflection before you decide to post again.

    • Amy says

      Pink Slimer:
      I do not claim to be a doctor, though I do have a masters in clinical psychology and know how to read a scholarly research journal. If you do a little homework, I think you would find your claim to be inaccurate. Poor children are much more at risk for developing asthma and allergies than their “upper middle class” and “millionaire” cohorts. What poor people generally cannot afford is the diagnostic testing to determine exactly what they are allergic to. But the fact remains that children from parents of low socioeconomic status have higher rates of asthma, higher rates of asthma morbidity (death from having asthma) and also higher rates of atopic allergic reactions (caused by a multitude of things: environment, food & beverage, etc). For someone so quick to be critical of others for their beliefs, I would think you might want some more data to substantiate your argument. A simple review of some research in a few medical journals (that can be found online) will give you the facts you need. But then again, my husband has a favorite saying, “Facts can spoil an interesting argument”. I guess it depends on if you are wanting the facts or are just wanting to be contentious.

  34. Trudy G says

    I agree with you wholeheartedly about food in the classroom. I have a 3rd and 6th grader. My third grader received a 12oz can of pepsi in lieu of a Valentine card from one of his classmates. The student wrote “To: John From: Jason” on it. That was received in addition to the other cards, bags of candy and other treats. What was that parent thinking? This Friday is a half day of school which I have our semi-annual dentist appointments scheduled. I just learned that my 3rd grader is having an ice cream party to celebrate all students learning their multiplication tables. Just what I need before the dentist! Plus, we were going out for a special lunch and shopping afterward. That really limits our options. My 6th grader is involved in scholastic bowl. After away matches, the bus takes them to dinner at McDonalds. McDonalds gives the bus driver and coach a free meal as an incentive. I support the dinner with friends/team so they can have an opportunity to “hang out” without parents. But, what about Subway?

  35. says

    I retired from teaching three years ago. All of the soda and candy machines had already been removed from the 1-6 campus several years before. The only food problem we had in 6th grade was students slipping bags of candy to school to sell to the other students and other students bringing their own sugar and caffeine drinks which they would consume just before school or they might have a lot of junk food that they brought from home to eat at lunch. We had stopped for the most part any sweets except what the parent sent in the students’ lunch box or brown bag. We did have some treats during testing days but they were not candies but carrot sticks, fruit juice and healthy snacks. The cafeteria food the last few years was not very good not because of the cooks but because the district bought the most inexpensive heat and serve foods available. Some districts nearby had real kitchens and better meals. I’m surprised these practices are still going on. We were not allowed to give sodas, candy bars, or other treats. We could have two parties a year which was the day we got out for the Christmas/midterm break and usually Valentine’s Day. There were sodas and sweet snacks on those two occasions only.

  36. Stokely says

    It’s so not politically correct, but when I look at my kid’s school, I see overweight teachers and an overweight principal, none of whom could ever understand the errors of using junk food as a reward for desired behaviour.

    We get ridiculous notes home at the beginning of the school year–please pack healthy lunches, please pack healthy recess treats (which I always do, BTW)–but what do they serve at their school events and fundraisers? Burgers, pepperoni pizza, candy, fake-juice, etc etc.

    But the hard work has to be done at home. If your kid doesn’t have a taste for junk food, she or he won’t overindulge in it — even when it is on offer. As you point out in your post, your daughter was fine after one Coke and wanted water the other time. Mine is the same way. She’ll have something sweet and then opt out before finishing it, because once the novelty of the first couple gulps wears off, she realizes it’s yucky. On the contrary when her less food-savvy friends come over, they are like little honey bees swarming our fridge in search of glass after glass after glass of fruit juice, since we have no soda. Water won’t do–they NEED SUGAR!

  37. says

    Behind you 100%. We are slowly killing our kids with sugar, and it’s hard enough to feed them right without the school’s “help.” I have one son with allergies and one who gets sick when he eats too much junk, and they would both love nothing more than to see a blanket ban on outside food in the classroom. Everyone feed their own kids! Nail it to the schoolhouse door!

  38. Danica says

    At my son’s elementary school, they have an approved snack list for the district. However, some parents don’t even look at it…and the teacher doesn’t turn the snacks away. My son wants to know why we cant be the cool parents and bring in goldfish smores because so-and-so did…How do you deal with that?

    • c says

      If the teacher were aware that there were more parents upset that the approved snack list was being ignored, she would probably feel less pressure to accept the snacks from the parents who ignore the snack list. Let her know!

  39. says

    When I was teaching high school, the easy way to reward kids was with candy. It’s cheap, ubiquitous, and the kids love it. I tried to keep in mind the scene from It’s a Wonderful Life when Zuzu gets sick because she was shielding the flower she’d won as a reward at school from the wind on her walk home. Flowers may be more expensive now, but there are certainly plenty of non-food ways to reward children that can be as easy to find and purchase for the average teacher. I couldn’t believe how much my high school kids LOVED getting stickers on their A quizzes. They’d peel them off and stick them on their binders or books and talk about the funny and weird stickers that I’d find (Disco dancing hamsters, for instance), and would even make requests for stickers. These were 14 to 17-year-olds, so clearly this is something that little kids would love, as well.

    Love the blog, by the way.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Emily Guy Birken: Good for you for thinking outside the box (the candy box!) with stickers and other non-food rewards. And thank you also for the kind words about The Lunch Tray!

  40. E F/M says

    Hi, I’ve stumbled across your website and wanted to share my experience as a kid (I graduated from high school last year) in a poor, rural classroom. Many of us came from broken homes or otherwise unfortunate and stressful situations, and very few of us had parents who could afford to buy or prepare real, healthy, unprocessed food. School food was free or reduced for a lot of us as well, and due to a combination of an insufficient cafeteria budget New York mandates on calorie/fat/nutrition content, food selections from our tiny cafeteria were usually small-portioned, processed, unfilling and not really nourishing (say, a tiny bacon/egg/cheese sandwich or sugared yogurt cup rather than a filling bowl of oatmeal or REAL yogurt). Older kids who could afford it usually went to the pizza place or gas station across the street for their lunch, and that wasn’t much better. I can’t speak for everyone, but my friends and I were “unconsciously conscious” of this undernourishment and generally whenever there was any extra food for any reason, we’d eat it because we were hungry or because our bodies simply weren’t getting enough nutrition from regular meals. In fact, food in the classroom was invariably devoured–there was usually somewhat of a mob when it was served. I’m a vegetarian now, I eat much better these days than when I was going to school, but when the choice is between unhealthy food when you can get it or being hungry (and sometimes not knowing when or where your next meal will be), food always wins.
    Also, for understimulated/underchallenged (aka bored) kids like me, a snack or pizza party or whatever was something to look forward to, some sort of stimulus to break the doldrums of the fidgety, sedentary day. I still see this sort of thing to a lesser extent at my college campus; the people who go there are from much better-off families, but the meal plan is considered sub-par by most (personally it works pretty well for me, you just need to know what you’re doing) and generally on-campus events offering food will always draw a few people who go there simply to eat something different. Food isn’t just nourishment; it’s stimulus, something that children crave (with good reason; that’s how the brain develops–by processing stimuli).

    Conclusion: The majority of readers of your manifesto probably don’t come from extremely rural and poor areas. I completely empathize with the parents out there who are trying to raise their kids free from processed, oversalted, preserved, GMO, nutritionally empty foods. But there are kids out there who look forward to a pizza party because it means they won’t go hungry that night, and I know they would object to the “please stop feeding our kids!” message. Personally, I’m in favor of “feed our kids healthful snacks,” as there’s nothing more distracting in school than low blood-sugar levels or a growling stomach.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      E F/M: As a newcomer to this blog, you may not have seen this post which directly addresses the question of whether childhood hunger justifies food in the classroom. Ideally, the free/reduced price meal in the cafeteria, along with school breakfast (and in some schools, free fruits and vegetable snacks, also) would meet the nutritional needs of hungry kids. But from what you’re telling us, that’s not always the case in practice and when it’s a choice between subpar food and hunger, I agree that the former wins. I really appreciate your sharing your perspective here, and would love to hear what other readers think.

  41. Ann Lord says

    My mom was a fifth grade teacher in the 60s. One the favorite rewards in her class was getting to spend time in the Chess Corner.

    It seems to me that we should approach rewards in the same manner that we approach discipline: Logical Consequences.

    Just as we would never sanction taking away food as a punishment for misbehavior, it’s inappropriate to give food as a reward for accomplishment.

    Please, could we stop hating on teachers? Not one in a hundred people here could survive a week locked in a room with 30 children; keeping them from killing each other; being responsible for all the home problems they bring in with them; dealing with each one’s learning abilities/disabilities; trying to get them all to remember, understand, and regurgitate exactly the same information for the standardized tests; not knowing whether they ate last night or were beaten. Oh, and don’t forget, you have to check for head lice!
    I think almost everyone would slip up on occasion and make a poor choice of action, especially if that choice is approved by the larger society or even tradition.

    This is manifest in the number of people who resent the idea of teachers making anything close to a decent wage (read, more than I do). People seem to think that teachers are just babysitters (with 2 masters’ degrees, post-graduate certification, and continuing education). Except we pay baby sitters better than teachers. In my area, teen babysitters get $5/hour per child. For a teacher that would be $135,000/year:
    ($5/hour/child X 5 hours /day X 180 days/years X 30 children)

    That’s what mid-level executives make.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Ann: I hope you know that, speaking for myself and I think almost every TLT reader, no one here hates on teachers! To the contrary, I have the utmost respect for what they do every day (awe, really). Specifically with respect to candy rewards and a teacher named Paul who defended them, I wrote here:

      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.)

      That said, I love your mom’s use of Chess Corner, which just goes to prove that it’s the “treat” that kids love, not necessarily the sugar! Thanks for commenting here.

    • says

      Well said Ann! I’m going to use this when advocating: “Just as we would never sanction taking away food as a punishment for
      misbehavior, it’s inappropriate to give food as a reward for accomplishment.”

  42. S says

    We have a no-food elementary school (outside of lunch, of course) and I love it. The policy was instituted before we started there by the principal. Health was certainly part of it but one issue not noted in the manifesto was the issue of economic disparity. We have a wide range of incomes in our school from extremely wealthy to about a quarter qualifying for free/reduced lunch. Wealthy families would bring in elaborate treats for birthdays while others could barely put food on the table for dinner so bringing treats for the whole class was a real stretch. Now that nobody can bring in food the issues that created are eliminated. There are, unfortunately, plenty of opportunities for economic differences to cause discomfort but at least it doesn’t have to be highlighted as part of a kid’s birthday.

  43. says

    Wow. I have been where you are and I’m glad you speak up about it. The teacher with the coke and ice cream and popsicles? I can’t imagine how’d I’d tame my language when I spoke to him, and believe me I would be speaking to him.

    Thank you for the manifesto. I will definitely use it.

    And about the teacher bashing? No way. I don’t have it in me and as Bettina said above, I’m absolutely in a awe of a person who can not only maintain a classroom full of children, but teach them as well. I can only imagine though, that a classroom full of sugared up kids makes it more difficult for teachers to do the important work that they do.

  44. says

    Could I suggest that in addition to the Word version you offer at the bottom, that you add a PDF? Many people don’t own Microsoft Word, plus you (as in You, Bettina) can format the document in a way that best shows off the content, which is great. Also, when a PDF is emailed, the recipients can often immediately see contents … even when viewing on a smart phone.


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