The Case Against Food Rewards in School (Plus, Healthy Alternatives!)
|May 4, 2012||Posted by Stacy under Food rewards|
Last week on The Lunch Tray (my new favorite blog!), I was shocked to read about a teacher in the Houston Independent School District handing out full-size bags of gummy bears (66 grams of sugar) and 12-ounce cans of Coke (39 grams of sugar) to high-performing middle school kids. Yes, it is an over-the-top example. But unfortunately, the practice of rewarding students with junk food is pretty common in schools around the country.
So what’s the big deal? Is there really any harm in using a piece of candy, a chocolate-chip cookie or the promise of a special ice cream party to help motivate kids in the classroom? The health gurus have spoken, and the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
As we all know, kids love sweets. But when you dangle them like carrots, it can further intensify their desire (think Justin Bieber concert-type frenzy). It teaches them to eat when they aren’t hungry, to associate food with feeling happy, and to comfort or reward themselves with a trip to the fridge. Just ask any nutrition expert: Food rewards, even small ones, are a no-no.
Explains my friend Sally, a registered dietician who writes about kids and food on her Real Mom Nutrition blog: “Rewards are everywhere today, and even if a child isn’t overweight or obese, the constant food rewards are setting a pattern that isn’t healthy in the long term. We’re raising kids who expect junk food for every little event or accomplishment!”
“Rewarding children with unhealthy foods in school undermines our efforts to teach them about good nutrition. It’s like teaching children a lesson on the importance of not smoking, and then handing out ashtrays and lighters to the kids who did the best job listening.” ~Marlene Schwartz, Ph.D., co-director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University
We certainly don’t want to make things any harder on our teachers. After all, they have the challenge of keeping a group of easily distracted young people in learning mode every day. But there has to be a better way than rewarding them with candy, soda and other nutritional zeros.
Obviously, for a reward to be effective, it must be something that students desire. So how do you figure out what they want? Simple: Ask them! At the beginning of the school year, teachers could poll their class (either as a group or individually) to gather ideas–reasonable ones, of course.
On the USDA’s website, I also found a list of suggested alternatives to food rewards—from trips to a treasure box and additional recess (for elementary school kids) to reduced homework and extra credit (for middle and high schoolers). They sound like good ideas to me. But there’s only one way to find out…
Got any great ideas for healthy classroom rewards? Bring ‘em on!
MORE STORIES THAT MAY PIQUE YOUR INTEREST:
- Just say “NO!” to food rewards in school: a must-read guide for parents!
- New study: Restricting junk food in schools could help students manage their weight