If there’s one question I hear over and over again, it’s this: “I try to feed my kids well, but I’m thwarted by all the junk they get at school! What can I do about that?” Here’s my answer. It’s a handout you can print and give to your child’s teacher or principal. In it, I list five reasons to avoid junk food in the classroom. And then five ways educators can help make that happen. I’ve also created a companion resource page that now has a permanent tab on Spoonfed. On that page, you’ll find links to all sorts of resources, including lists of real-food snacks and treats, and ideas for non-food classroom celebrations and rewards.
Here’s the two-page PDF version. I’m also including the full content below. Hope this is all kinds of helpful.
Oh, in case you need a little pep talk before approaching your school, this other post might help: You are in charge. Never forget that.
Now the handout:
Why school and junk food don’t mix.
And what educators can do about it.
Step 1: Five reasons to avoid junk food in the classroom
- Children’s health and well-being are at stake.
Children are inundated with low-quality food and drinks, items filled with sugar and additives that have been shown to have startling effects on their health, development, behavior and ability to learn. We’ve all heard the stats about childhood obesity, but these issues don’t discriminate. Skinny kids can be unhealthy, too.
- Parents (and only parents) should decide what their children eat.
Parents are free to feed their children however they choose. But that right does not extend to other people’s children. Whether families avoid certain ingredients because of allergies, dietary needs or lifestyle choices, parents need to know their rights won’t be usurped by other parents or teachers offering food in class.
- Children see schools and teachers as role models.
Parents can (and do) tell kids no, that they can’t take the lollipop at the bank or the blue birthday cupcake. But when treats are so common that they’re no longer “special,” when ingredients are inferior and even dangerous, when “choice” is a toss-up between “bad” and “worse,” then parents need allies. Especially at school, where kids spend most of their weekday hours and where junk food is epidemic: birthday celebrations, holiday parties, rewards, sports practices, fundraisers, fairs, vending machines and even classroom activities. Children take very seriously the lessons and values they learn in school. Allowing junk food in the classroom is an endorsement of junk food.
- Unlike school lunch, classroom food can change overnight.
School lunch gets a lot of attention. And better school lunch is worth fighting for. But that takes time. It requires buy-in from many different parties. And the results may not be apparent for years. Changing food at the classroom level takes only a couple of committed people. And it can happen quickly, even overnight.
- Classrooms will be happier places, for both kids and teachers.
This isn’t just about children. It’s also about educators. Every teacher has seen what can happen: Kids act out because of artificial food colors and preservatives. Or they’re sluggish and inattentive because of sugar. Some children are particularly sensitive and show more obvious signs, but almost all kids respond to these substances in some way. (Adults, too.) And, as educators well know, one disruptive child can drain a teacher’s energy and throw off the balance of the entire class.
Step 2: Five ways educators can help
- Get up to speed on the issues.
Visit www.spoonfedblog.net/resources/ for resources on food, food additives, health and behavior.
- Just say no to any food in the classroom.
Make a commitment to not allow food in the classroom. Instead of birthday treats, ask the birthday child to share a special book or toy with the class. Instead of food rewards, use privileges or experiences as prizes. Instead of junk-food fundraisers, sell items that support healthy bodies and healthy communities. Visit www.spoonfedblog.net/resources/ for non-food ideas for classroom celebrations and rewards, and ideas for healthy fundraisers.
- If you do allow food, encourage real-food alternatives.
If you choose to still allow birthday treats, suggest alternatives with no chemical additives and little sugar. Do the same for class holiday parties, or ask parents to sign up for specific items that you (or a like-minded class parent) identify. Ask that parents send water only, not juice or sports drinks or soda. Also ask parents to consider that what children eat affects their behavior, and thus affects the entire class and the teacher’s ability to manage the class. Visit www.spoonfedblog.net/resources/ for alternative snack and treat ideas.
- Tell parents about food in advance.
If there will be food for a birthday or classroom activity, tell parents in advance. This allows time for parents to talk to their child, then opt out or provide an alternative, if desired. This can be as simple as an e-mail or a mention in the weekly class newsletter. You might also provide a birthday list at the start of the year.
- Help students become food-literate.
Children are able to understand food choices and eager to make their own decisions. Help them do that by using age-appropriate curricula, field trips, books and movies to discuss where food comes from, how it affects our bodies and why it all matters. Visit www.spoonfedblog.net/resources/ for resources developed with exactly that purpose in mind.
Finally… thank you! Together, we can do this.
Copyright protected by Digiprove © 2012 Christina Le Beau
Thanks for this great info, Chris. I will be sharing it on Facebook and Twitter. Beautifully done!
I love this! As a teacher and a real-food parent, it’s hard for me when teachers are vilified as monsters in the real-food community. I like that your post was full of suggestions for what we can do.
Before I had experiences with my boys that led me to change our diets, I was one of the those teachers that gave candies as rewards… I promise, teachers aren’t doing it to cause problems or to undermine parents. If they’re anything like I was, they are doing it because they just haven’t thought of anything different. When I was in elementary school, there was a prize basket… when I became a teacher I just set it up the same way.
I changed my system to be a reward card system, and at the end of the week, students earn rewards like “using the classroom computer during free time” “wearing sunglasses to school” “dance break” “bring a stuffed animal to school”…. nothing food related. The kids LOVE the rewards….someone implemented her dance break reward today and the kids were in a better mood than I’ve ever seen them.
Robin: Just thinking about that dance break puts me in a better mood. What a great idea.
I LOVE your reward ideas. Dance break is awesome, I hope music is involved!! 😀
this is THE best!!!! one million LIKEs! bravo, well-done, you go! sharing!
Thanks, Stacy and Jenna. I love that so many people are sharing and seeing this handout. Strength in numbers, baby!
There really needs to be more attention paid to what is served to kids at school as it’s not always the best food.
Who do you suggest I petition with this information? The school board in my district? The director of nutrition? The principal? The state and their policy on snacks?
Ruth: This piece is intended as a resource for approaching teachers and principals on an individual level, about classroom food specifically (vs. cafeteria food). You could certainly use the information however you see fit, but that was my goal with the piece. Hope that helps?
Thank you so much for providing this!!! A friend and I tried to confront this issue at our local school last year and were met with fierce resistance from parents (the principal was ok with it, but would not take a stand – although both of my kids teachers were open to it). We received a lot of hate mail. I love seeing the reasons non-food classrooms are beneficial to everyone all laid out. This will definitely be helpful as we continue the battle this year!
I stumbled onto this blog post doing an online search about what educators can do to keep kids from bringing in outside junk food for “snacks” during the day. Every morning I am greeted by children with bright red fingers from their Hot Cheetos and other red food dyed chips, and each day in class, I confiscate yet another red Gatorade bottle from a student who is drinking it. I often notice that the students who are eating and drinking these things are the ones who have the hardest time focusing, paying attention, and being in control of themselves.
I have tried bringing in articles and stories about how these foods and beverages contain ingredients that could be contributing to the lack of focus in the classroom, but they just laugh and continue bringing in the same things.
What I would like to know is where are the resources on what schools can do about the kinds of junk students are bringing in from outside? If you know of anything like that, can you please point me in that direction? Our school does not sell these kinds of items, but the liquor stores at both corners near our school does. They could be getting them there.
Susan: I don’t know of any resources like that, but have you talked to your school about simply not allowing those kinds of foods in school? You can’t necessarily control what the kids do before they get to school, but you can certainly set policies about what kinds of foods are allowed in the classroom. It sounds like you’ve been making a good effort to educate the kids, but what about the parents? Is there an opportunity to talk to them? Also, how old are the kids you’re talking about?