Just Say “No” to Food Rewards in School: A Must-Read Guide for Parents


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 since learned , 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.)

Full post including a follow-up on Lisa's efforts originally published on School Bites:

Stacy Whitman is the author of the blog "School Bites: One Mom's Crusade for Better Nourished Kids at School (and at Home!)". After getting fup with the food situation at her son's elementary school she took action and started a wellness committee.

get involved
join the fun