Just Say NO to Food Rewards in School: A Must-Read Guide for Parents
|August 30, 2012||Posted by Stacy under Food rewards|
A couple weeks ago, I received an email from a concerned mom wanting to tackle the issue of food rewards at her child’s school:
“I’ve been reading your blog this morning and just wanted to say thanks for all you’re sharing here. I’m currently building my own case against food rewards in class. I wrote a letter to our superintendent about the concerns I have with the use of food rewards in the school and now she wants to meet to talk about it. I don’t want to blow this opportunity to make a valid case to the powers that be. Do you have any experience taking on the school about this issue? Any advice as I head into this meeting? Thanks!” ~Lisa
Funny that she should ask! For those who haven’t been following my blog from the beginning, here’s a little background: Last winter, I grew frustrated with all the classroom parties and food rewards at my son’s elementary school. I decided to approach the school principal about it—but before doing so, I did my homework. I wanted to have all my ducks in a row before talking to him. Like Lisa, I really wanted my voice to be heard and knew that this was my best shot. Based on my research and what I’ve learned since, I put together these tips for Lisa, who met with her superintendent and principal last week (and I’ll let you know how it went in a minute!):
1) Check your school district wellness policy In accordance with the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, all school districts participating in the federally funded school meals program must have a written policy that addresses nutrition and physical activity. With very little effort, I found a copy of ours on the school district’s website. Arming yourself with the “official policy” (and I suggest printing it out and having it available to show school officials!) will show that you’re prepared and that your request is in line with the district’s stated goals. In other words, you’re not some crazy anti-sugar crackpot—you merely want the school to live up to its promise.
2) Keep it positive Lest you rub people the wrong way or be branded a troublemaker, start by offering some glowing words about the school. Tell the superintendent how much your child loves it or praise a certain part of the curriculum or a favorite teacher. When you’re ready to get down to business, be sure to phrase your request in a positive way: Say something like, “I’d love to see the school encouraging healthy rewards as outlined in the district wellness policy” instead of “Teachers shouldn’t be giving out candy!” or “I don’t understand why the class is being rewarded with junk food!” Put yourself in your superintendent’s shoes and try not to say anything that will offend him or her.
3) Build your case Prepare a few talking points on the downsides of food rewards (for example, they can heighten kids’ desire for sweets, teach them to reward or comfort themselves with food, and interfere with their internal hunger cues, etc.). In your meeting, be sure to make the link between food and behavior. Kids have more trouble focusing and behaving in class after downing a lot of junk or sugar. The last thing educators want is unruly children who are too hyped up to pay attention!
4) Rally the troops Try to find like-minded parents to back you up. Power in numbers! If they won’t come with you to the meeting, ask them to send an email—and even offer to draft it for them. A lot of parents who may care about this issue may just be too busy to take an active role. If nothing else, at least tell the superintendent that you’ve spoken to other parents who share your opinion.
5) Offer solutions School officials are busy people with lots on their plate. So make the idea of making changes as easy as possible for them! Come in with ideas for non-food rewards that could be used in place of treats and candy. (100 Days of Real Food—one of my absolute favorite websites—recently put out a list of that is so creative and comprehensive that I’m just going to send you there for a printable copy.)
Late last week on my Facebook page, I posted a link to Lisa’s own blog, Autumn’s Lunchbox, where she describes the outcome of her meeting with her daughter’s school. As I suggested, she went in with a copy of her school district’s wellness policy, which she found in an “obscure place” on its website. Here’s her account of how it all went down:
“During the meeting, we talked about our experiences [at the school] so far, our reasons for wanting things to change and our hopes for better times ahead. [The superintendent and principal] listened and were in agreement that it was time to start getting closer to what their wellness policy states. We talked about how times have changed and some alternatives that teachers could use [to reward students] instead of candy. They admitted that they hadn’t been looking closely at what happens in the classroom and our principal admitted to not even reading the [wellness] policy until this came up.”
Gulp! Sadly, this is par for the course in a lot of schools around the country. Despite having wellness policies addressing food not being used as a reward, many schools are doing nothing to discourage the practice. Ditto for all the junk food being served at class parties and other school celebrations and being sold in school stores and vending machines.
On Lisa’s blog, she admits that it was hard for her to speak up. As she puts it, “I worried that [my daughter’s] teacher would not appreciate me messing with her way of doing things. I also worried that the Principal or teachers would get mad at me.” I can really relate to this because it’s so similar to how I felt when I was pushing for healthy changes at my son’s school. No one likes being the bad guy or squeaky wheel. But sometimes you have to make a little noise in order for anything to change!!
Lisa ends her blog post with these compelling words:
“If you see something that you feel is wrong, don’t be afraid to say so…Be kind, don’t get angry or assign blame, don’t get frustrated when the support isn’t what you expected, and when someone admits that they are wrong about something, listen to what they have to say. I am so glad that I said something. I’m feeling really positive about my kids’ future in this school. I know we’ll encounter many challenges along the way, but this was a great success for all of our kids.”
I couldn’t be happier for Lisa, and I really hope that her willingness to take a stand will lead to a healthier environment for her daughter and all the children at their school.
These two handouts discuss the downsides of food rewards at school as well as healthy alternatives:
Rewards Kids Will Crave (Utah Department of Health)
Constructive Classroom Rewards (Center for Science in the Public Interest)
How do you feel about kids being rewarded with food? Are food rewards used in your child’s school? Please scroll down to leave a comment.