Please help answer the question here or over at Lunch with Mrs. Q…. And I’ll be chilling out there to chat with you on Sunday night sometime after 8:30 pm CST
First, make sure to praise your daughter for a job well done. That’s why she got the reward and it needs to be acknowledged (I’d love to know how she helped in the lunchroom).
Then reinforce to her that cookies are for eating after lunch. I wonder if she didn’t have time to eat the sandwich. That’s the problem with food rewards for children: they typically eat them before healthy foods.
It’s worth a discussion with the classroom teacher. Ask about the food reward policy. Make sure that the classroom teacher is aware that your daughter didn’t have the opportunity to eat the lunch you packed. Depending on how you feel about your child’s school and how open it is, you could stop by the cafeteria and chat about the food reward system. Chocolate milk and TWO cookies seems excessive considering the short amount of time most schools allocate towards lunchtime (at home I typically limit myself to two cookies after dinner, but we eat dinner at a leisurely pace and then have ample time for dessert — it’s not the rush, rush of a school cafeteria). What kind of heavy lifting did she do?
Stickers are much better rewards for kids and in this case could be cheaper (although the cookies and milk are subsidized by the government). Maybe the PTA could subsidize the reward system in the cafeteria by providing some excellent stickers (like the large ones at the doctor’s office). The great thing about stickers is that they last all day and can be shown off long after lunchtime is over.
What are your thoughts?
35 thoughts on “Open thread: Great question”
Food rewards for kids must be big. My sister used toys/pencils/stickers for reading rewards but the kids wanted the pop and candy that other teachers were using. Another reward that didn't make sense to me was when my neighbor's child was selling magazine subscriptions to promote more reading. Her reward for selling so many subscriptions was a TV!!
My guess is that cost and not too much thought is put into the rewards offered to the students.
I agree that I would also be very annoyed that my kid ate cookies and chocolate milk for lunch. And there are lots of cheap, non-food rewards available. Stickers are good, there are also pencils, funny erasers (my son is getting a set of sushi-shaped erasers in his stocking for Christmas), plastic rings…Oriental Trading Company has a million options! I would infinitely rather my kid came home with another piece of plastic flotsam and a belly full of healthy food than her uneaten lunch and a belly full of junk. Definitely talk with the school and if you don't make any headway there, you might consider rounding up some other parents to back you up. I can't imagine anyone would be happy with junk for lunch.
Food as a reward… I don't feel it's a good idea to connect actions to foods. This young girl may have felt satisfaction in just being a helper, and to give her cookies and chocolate milk may have cheapened the experience for her. Next time she's up to be the lunch helper, she may go in expecting something in return.
I hope it's okay for me to link this, but I am in a similar boat as this blog post about a child who was affected by the food dye in her class "treat" from her teacher:
I think you are right about the young girl probably not having enough time to eat her sandwich. I think she probably ate the cookies first because she wanted to but just didn't have enough time to finish the other parts of her lunch.
When I am delivering "bad news", like "I don't like the way you are rewarding my child", I will often times find a neutral part of the situation to "blame" when delivering the bad news. I find alot of time when I talk about food to people who aren't crazy about food like I am, they kind of shut off. Non-foodie types tend to think I am being overly sensitive about food and health, or that I am just a yuppie who is acting out. My opinions are easy to disregard. But when you address the issue, if you choose to blame the short lunch period, you might keep your audience captive and accomplish what you really want.
I think you're all overreacting. Two cookies will not cause anyone to suddenly become obese and die twenty years young.
I had about 10 large cookies today (I'm 14, by the way, and this is a regular thing for me. I'm a bit of a cookie addict.) and obesity is not even on my "List-o-concerns" – I'm actually underfat.
Maybe I just have some insane metabolism, and the ability to eat a lot and get no exercise but still gain no weight is just unique to me, but it still stands that a second grader will not instantly keel over and die after eating two cookies.
Actually, that could be said about this whole blog. Mrs. Q, I respect what you're doing, but some of the things you have said take you beyond "healthy eater" and put you into what I call "food hippie" territory.
But then again, you are eating all of this crap, which a "food hippie" would not do, so…
Oh, I'm just rambling. I really don't have much more to say.
Granted food shouldn't be rewards for everything – but seriously, I doubt this child will have any long-lasting health problems over one day of having cookies and a chocolate milk for lunch. Again any food is okay in moderation. Though I do admit a better reward would have been letting her have chocolate milk with her lunch…without the cookies. Not all children are into stickers…I know I never was. Anytime I got stickers for as a child, they tended to be trashed – so it wouldn't have been positive reinforcement in my case.
For the above poster who is 14. I think you are right about the metabolism. When I was 14, I was a picky eater and didn't eat a lot of fruits or vegetables. I didn't die from eating lots of sweets. I also didn't develop good eating habits, and my metabolism slowed down and I gained weight.
I think that most people, including Mrs. Q, is more concerned about teaching good eating habits now while they are young. So when they are older and metabolism slows down and they are on their own, they will choose to make good food choices.
Now that I eat a lot of different foods and am a mom, I want to make sure my kids learn that healthy food is important and sweets are nice, but don't come first or only in a meal.
As for the cookies for reward. I sometimes reward with food. Sometimes the reward is just a "Good job!" from Mom. Sometimes it is extra books at bedtime. I change it up so that I can use food rewards if I want, but they don't always expect it.
I agree with the other above poster about blaming it more on the short lunch. Maybe they could take the cookies home to eat at a later time rather than let them have the cookie at lunch. Maybe just one cookie would have been better. I don't know the age of the child in question, but most younger kids are just as happy with toys or trinkets as they are with food.
A good idea for rewards instead of stickers is to have parents "donate" all those unused toys from happy meals. I used to do this when my child was young. The teacher had a "treasure box" and it was filled with things like that. I had many that were still in the wrapper.
I have to also say that on some level, I agree with the 14 year old poster. Two cookies for lunch one day out of 180 is not going to make a child suddenly obese. My mom rarely bought things like chips, snack cakes or candy for us and it amazed me that other people had this stuff in their kitchen cupboards. When I left home, I gorged on junk food simply because I had been deprived of it my whole young life. I made sure not to make the same mistake with my child and so far it has worked. Moderation is the key.
I agree with Clamco — moderation is key. So what if the kid had a couple of cookies and chocolate milk for lunch that day? One day isn't going to kill her. If she usually has a balanced diet, then the occasional treat shouldn't hurt. Sure, a kid should not be scarfing down cookies and chocolate milk at every meal, but every so often a treat is OK. If you continually put these foods on the forbidden list and get all up in arms because of a one-time treat, then the kid is going to end up gorging herself on junk one day. Don't make these foods so off-limits that she ends up overdoing it on them. As Cookie Monster now says on Sesame Street, a cookie is a "sometimes" food.
There are a couple things going on here. First, the child ate the cookies and choco milk in place of her lunch. Maybe it was an issue of not having enough time to eat everything. But most children give given two cookies and chocolate milk with their lunch will eat the sweets first. Hello, they are children!
Secondly we have the issue of a food reward, which can be problematic. Sure, this child is not going to become obese because of two cookies and one chocolate milk one time. But as a parent I can understand why the mom was upset. I put a lot of time into packing my two-year-old's daycare food and much thought about the food and if I found out he ate two cookies and chocolate milk in placeof it, I'd be annoyed. Would it be different if the child were overweight or obese and ate cookies and chocolate milk for lunch (like 30% of school children in this country are)? Should the child's weight make a difference? I say no: every child should be treated the same and food rewards like this should not be encouraged.
It would be good to know how often the cafeteria gives out rewards like this? once a week?
I probably in the minority group here, but come on what child wouldn't eat the cookies if given the choice (granted if it was me I would prefer white milk). Let the kid have her reward without everyone judging her or wanting to change the policy.
I know this site is all about giving kids food that is good for them. Growing up I packed my lunch almost everyday(this was back in the late 70's-early 80's), I didn't like the school food,(and after looking at most of the food Mrs Q eats, I know I would have packed everyday.)
Why does food need to be given as a reward for anything? We're taught to not give food as comfort when a child hurts themselves; why is it given out in schools as praise?
I think children have come to expect treats as rewards and we all need to come up with more creative ideas to substitue for all the junky treats that are handed out constantly.
My personal bias is food allergies. The schools will not be able to "reward" my youngest "properly" due to his significant food allergies. So what then? He'll do the work but get no reward because nobody is clever enough to say "good job" instead of handing out cookies?
I have a question – why is the school even GIVING rewards for working in the lunchroom? As a society we are teaching our children that all chores require "payment" of some kind, and I think that this has a much more detrimental impact than giving out food rewards.
If the child does a good job,it certainly should be acknowledged with a "Thank you, Sally, for all your hard work today. We all really appreciate it" from the adult staff. Sally will remember that for days. A cookie, pencil or sticker will either be consumed or tossed aside in minutes.
I am the mom of the child in this post. To be more specific, I am not concerned about 2 cookies and a chocolate milk. Her overall health was probably not compromised. My real concern is that the adults who are responsible for providing a nutritionally sound meals to the entire school made this an option. This is a difficult decision for her to make (many of adults would make the same decision that she make.) Just ask Mrs. Q about what happens to the student at about 2 pm who chooses the "treat" for lunch. Or, ask her how she feel after school when she has consumed a mostly refined food meal.
Additionally, when did sugar loose it's sweetness. I think of example like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Christmas Orange, or sugar rations during times of war. Sugar was a treat. It meant more than it does today. My daughter is exposed to so much highly processed food. School parties, church parties, neighborhood parties, birthday parties, piano lesson rewards, holidays, etc. At home, we do a great job of providing healthy choices for our kids including food, exercise, and rest. She is an intelligent, responsible 8 year old that was had to make a decision that is difficult for many adult to make.
This one-time incident was finally a time for me to make my point. Why treats for everything? Especially rewards that can compromise our health if given in large portions frequently.
You know, I see where everyone is coming from, and yes, offering two cookies AND chocolate milk is excessive.
I think we as a nation are overly quick to complain to others when there's a problem in our lives. Johnny doesn't do his homework, parents complain to the teacher that Johnny is overworked. A well-meaning adult tells Johnny to pick up trash he dropped on the ground, and the parent flips out for having the nerve to parent their child. Johnny gets unhealthy food as a reward, chooses to eat it for lunch, and parents want to go complain to the source of the snacks.
This is going to sound rude, but frankly, it's YOUR child who chose to eat crap for lunch that day, despite having a lunchbox full of food you claim she likes. Maybe the concern should be, first and foremost, between you and your daughter. If it was me who did that as a kid, I would have been in serious trouble for eating my cookie and skipping my lunch. So I would never have dreamed of skipping my lunch.
It's easy to say "yes, but my child is young and can't make that decision on her own yet" but personally, I know (and knew) lots of children who, even at young ages, have consciences developed enough to remind them that mommy would be happier if they ate the healthy food and brought cookies home for an after school snack (myself as a young child included).
In sum, I wouldn't be too quick to march down to the school and raise a fuss. I'd make my top priority talking to my child and learning a lesson about junk food meals (did she feel good that day? Or was she sleepy in class? Or had a tummyache? Or got hungry very fast?) Then, the next time you just happen to be on campus, bring the matter up casually.
We're far too quick to play the blame-game sometimes.
I really dislike the mob mentality, burn everyone at the stake who doesn't agree with us, we're always right and anyone who questions us is automatically fat, lazy and wrong tone this blog and comments have taken. I think this project is now more about feeding your own ego than actually making positive changes. I wonder how you are even a teacher as you and your commenters are very judgmental and very critical of each other, the schools and the students. It sounds like you took a teaching job to advance your own agenda and show up for a paycheck. You are quite lucky you do not work in the private sector as you would have been fired years ago. Instead, you are a drain on the taxpayers who pay your salary and apparently fund your little side project as opposed to educating students.
I think it would be great if people did not use food for rewards. I know that because my daughter has general access to sweets (balanced with healthy food and information) she doesn't consider cookies a "reward". Of course, at 10 she's also outgrown stickers as rewards, but she did like them when she was younger. Her teachers have a container of fun little puzzle-toys, fun erasers and other trinkets to use as rewards.
However, I also agree with some other readers that the job itself, and praise from the adults she helped, would probably have been enough "reward" for an 8 year old. Unless they're already pretty jaded, most kids that age love to help adults with jobs. They feel proud of helping, and that's actually the kind of reward we should be encouraging.
However (for the second time), I wonder if food rewards mean more to kids who are from depressed socio-economic backgrounds? If there isn't food at home for breakfast or lunch, there most likely aren't sweet treats at home either. So maybe a sweet treat would be a fabulous reward to some kids –and if that's the case, the suggestion posted above about having the child bring the treat home, or eat it after school, would be the way to go.
Maybe for this mom in particular, suggesting to the lunch crew that helpers bring the treat home for after school would make the most sense? She can explain that her child ate the treat in place of lunch, and I'll bet the lunch crew would be totally understanding.
@Anonymous NOVEMBER 14, 2010 1:04 PM-
I completely agree with you! The issue isn't one sugary lunch but the seemingly thoughtless decision to reward her with 2 cookies and a chocolate milk before she had eaten her lunch. If you don't raise your concern with the school, this could become a repeated occurrence. Stand firm and hang in there!
I also agree with many here that food should not be used as a reward. That just sends a really bad message to young developing minds.
Disgusted — Thank you for coming back and spewing hate. You have justified why I have a 100 lb dog at my home. In fact kind sir had this blog been my house, I would have let him out…
It is possible to give cheap, "valuable" (to the kids) rewards for students. I teach 8th grade. I am surprised every year by the non-food items that my 13 and 14 year old students find irresistable in my prize jar.
One year, it was glow in the dark rubber duckies (12 for $3 on clearance from Oriental Trading Co.), another year, it was super cheap patriotic "tattoos" (I teach civics.) This year, they love mini cans of play doh (80 for $7 at Costco). I used to teach elem school, and those kids were even easier to please with non-food rewards.
btw, I do sometimes use candy as rewards, but it isn't necessary all the time, and I always offer a non-food choice.
In this case, the reward was probably a combination of what was cheap an accessible. As long as sweets aren't always the reward, it is probably not such a big deal. The child will learn moderation through the variety of responses to her good deeds and actions: sometimes just praise, sometimes a food reward, sometimes a non-food reward, sometimes no one notices, but she gets intrinsic rewards.
I think people are missing the point.
The two cookies as a reward honestly wouldn't bother me. It's that the food reward was presented so that the child did not eat her lunch.
Something is wrong when a child has time for the cookies and candy milk drink and no time for her lunch. She should have been allowed to eat her cookies after her lunch.
If there isn't enough time for that, then they need to do away with a helper program that deprives kids of the time to eat properly.
Dorothy – Hi, this is the 14-year old back again.
I have a severe peanut allergy. Throughout my time in school (Thus far), my classmates have been given many treats that I could not eat.
This is just another instance of that happening. Even if they quit rewarding kids for helping out, there would still likely be many more instances where your child and others like him would be forced to forgo the snacks.
This is based on my personal experiences from my school district. Maybe yours does things differently and bans common allergens from the school.
But I kinda have to doubt that.
our grade level this year sent out letters stating that sometimes they give out treats..then they listed the various types of treat "rewards" and you could check off what was acceptable to you & your child. Unfortunately, not all teachers seemed to look at the lists that were turned back in.
I bought my 2nd grade son organic 'oreo' type cookies (4pk) as a reward for his awards day/report card. It was a hard decision between $, toy, treat, etc. (I never rec'd anything for straight A's growing up, I was just expected to get them!) Everytime we had been in the store he went and asked for them. I decided that could be his special treat – but I purchased the organic ones.
Come to find out that morning he had oreos & lemonade because his reading class didn't have a teacher that day and someone had them cut things out for them and gave them a snack. (reading class at 8:20-9:00am!!) Oy!!
Perhaps I'm naive here, but could not the school given the reward after lunch? Sure, I suppose the chocolate milk could have been given during, but why give a young child cookies before lunch was eaten? That's just asking for trouble.
Why can't the teacher turn this whole lunch helper thing around – so that being the lunch helper IS the treat? Kids who behave well GET to be lunch helpers. I was always stoked in 1st or 2nd grade when I got to clean the erasers (clap out the chalk dust). Now, getting a lung and eyeful of chalk dust is probably not healthy either, but you get the point. Kids (usually) want to help the teacher, and if helping with lunch is seen as an honor to be earned, you don't have to mess with payment. It's all about intrinsic motivation.
I also agree that it isn't the 2 cookies and choc milk one day that's the issue, but rather the habit/example that is being set. How often will the daughter be lunch helper throughout the year? I don't think food as reward in general is a good habit either.
For Canama the 14 year old – I had a stupidly fast metabolism as a child and teenager, and yes, it will slow down when you reach full adulthood. But your eating habits will stay with you, and if you are building your body with 10 cookies a day now, you are not doing your future self any favors. "Underfat" may in fact be malnourished. I know 14 year olds sometimes don't care too much about their future selves, but trust me, it will be that much harder for you to change to healthy eating habits when you're an old-looking 30, feel sick all the time, and can't lose weight.
Wow, I can't believe some of the hateful comments here. First of all, Mrs. Q is just posting the story and asking for feedback. Second, it has been mentioned here before when comments turn ugly that no one is forcing you to read this blog. The author is entitled to her opinion, and if you don't have something constructive to say, then just don't read it. You are certainly entitled to disagree, but you are not entitled to be mean.
That said, I agree that food treats should not be the norm for good behavior or grades at school. I can say no when my kids ask for that stuff at home, but I can't say no when the teacher offers it as if it were a valuable commodity.
I've been reading your blog from the start but have never posted before.
While I'm not thrilled with the idea of junk food as rewards, I'm not concerned with their occasional consumption at school as a classroom treat or reward. We feed our 5 year old twins a healthy diet and teach them good eating habits. We don't have any forbidden food, we've just taught them moderation, time, and place.
I know that what we are teaching is being taken to heart by our daughters. If we are out at a play date and someone offers them a snack, they always ask before me before they eat it. This holds true when I'm not there as well and lest you think I'm full of it, I dropped them off at a cookie decorating party at my sister in laws and they were the only kids who saved their cookies 'til I picked them up. They wanted to ask me if eating them was okay to eat them right away, otherwise, they were saving them for dessert that night. Even if they sometimes choose to eat dessert first or instead of a meal, it's a rare occurrence and I'm just not that concerned for the long term. I think school lunch itself is a much bigger concern and does more damage by teaching bad habits then the occasional food reward.
On the other hand, I absolutely despise cheap plastic crap. Goodie bags are my worst nightmare because it means cheap plastic crap of dubious origin. I don't give it out and I don't want it coming into my house. When we get fast food on road trips, I never get the kids meal with the toy. For the girls' birthday party, we purchased high quality used books and let each guest choose a book instead of goodie bags.
If rewards are necessary or desirable, how about a privilege instead. Picking the book for story time, getting to be line leader, choosing the game/activity on the playground, getting to pick first or go first for something. I'm sure there a privileges that older children would also enjoy and appreciate as well.
In our district, it is against policy to feed the kiddos anything before lunch, no exceptions.
On the day before Christmas break, a half day for us, no breakfast or lunch, many of the younger grades have breakfast "feasts," but that is the only time they are fed early in the day.
JGold – I've actually been told by a nutritionist that I need to up my calorie intake since I'm in the 50th percentile for height, the 25th for weight, and the 5th for BMI. I really don't know how I could possibly eat more. (Part of the reason, though, is that I have been diagnosed with Chron's Disease and often go for a day or two with nothing to eat).
50th percentile is average. And 25th percentile is by no means underweight.
That's part of the problem. We as a nation think that 100% on the charts is what our kids should be striving for. That's not how it works. A child at 100% for height and weight is going to be a fairly large child.
50% height and 25% weight is just fine. I'd get a second opinion if a doctor is telling you you need to gain at that.
The problem is the combination – they should be a bit closer. And again, I'm only 5th percent BMI and about 5% body fat, which is a bit below normal for someone my age.
I doubt that 14 cookies is the way your nutritionist wants you to go about gaining weight.
And I call baloney to the numbers having to be close together at 25-50. If you are looking at 3% weight and 75% height then sure. But 25% and 50% are really not that far off. I seriously question this nutritionist.
I actually suspect they may have charted you wrong because I can't wrap my head around that someone with such a low BMI is in a health percentage range on the chart. 25% is not a concerning number.
Check out the normal curve for more info:
50 percentile is normal. The range of normal is 16th percentile to the 84th percentile.
My kid, for example is in the 83rd percentile for height an the 24th percentile for weight: he is high average for height and low average for weight. This was the last doctor's appointment (he used to be really chunky and it all fell off as he grew in height) and the doctor is not worried. The kid is growing taller faster than he is growing out…opposite of Mommy!
Canama, I'm 5'10" tall, and until I hit 19 years of age, never weighed over 115 lbs. That was "normal" for me, despite eating like a horse, and no, a majority of what I ate was not cookies.
I'd recommend keeping a food journal of what you eat and when you eat for a week as you eat now, checking out the nutritional balance (if you have trouble finding a site that gives you calories, then there's an English language version of an app at Fineli.fi at least, that I use to count calories for my recipes).
Whatever you eat, it is usually good to aim for eating at least some breakfast, with at least one item with protein in it (like yoghurt or cold cuts on a wholemeal sandwich), and fruit or some nice veg for snacks.
That's about it. Eat as much as you feel like, follow a model of trying to eat about six fistfuls of fruit and veg through the day (yes, juice can count, if it's fresh pressed), and you'll be on your way to eating healthy even as an adult, regardless of your current weight.
Being slim at 14 is not a bad thing, just don't let other girls get to you. I had to see a school psychologist for all of junior high because the other girls set about rumours that I'm anorexic (with my portions, it'd have had to be bulimia, but 14 year olds can be confused about such terms, and I've never enjoyed the idea of throwing up, even when seriously sick).
If you eat healthy now and are in the habit of moving at least 30 minutes per day (even walking counts, that's why I have dogs!), you'll grow to be a healthy adult. And don't let the other girls' opinions get to you. Remember that.
To address the question about rewarding a child… I think it is up to the parents to choose when a child gets sweet treats, at least while they're still too young to fully understand their choices. I have worked at gradeschools as a teacher (substitute teacher, sometimes for dysfasia or autist groups), and always carried a little case with a few animal stamps and an ink pad with me.
Children who had done their homework used to line up in the morning to show off their homework to me, and expectantly tried to peer over the shoulders of each other to see what animal it would be this time. It's a good alternative to have something like that.
Also, what continually baffles me about school lunch in the US, if what Mrs. Q and the commenters write, is that where I come from, lunch tends to be 30 minutes of eating + 15 minutes of recess. And there's a minimum of 15 minutes of sitting by the table before you're allowed to leave the dining hall at the school I've worked at. I've always eaten slowly, partially due to my somewhat autistic mind being particular about food, so I had to use a majority of that 45 minutes. I can't imagine 20 minutes is enough even for normal healthy kids, if they want to actually finish their lunch.
The helper style of chores rotate from student to student, and they are not rewarded in any special way for their work, except by thanking them verbally.
This blog is interesting reading to me, since I'm moving to the US for love of a man, and any children I have will attend schools in the US, and somehow I was thinking my country's (Finland) school food was bad, but in comparison, it seems decent. Better than the US, probably a par or two below the Japanese and French that have been featured by your guest bloggers.
Thank you Mrs. Q for capturing my interest!
Keep in mind, that when you work, sometimes you get a pay raise or a bonus based on your work. the same thing can be said in this case.
When I went to school and we helped in the lunchroom. We were sent down about 30 minutes before the lunch line opened so that we could eat first. We were given about 20 minutes to eat. Then the last 10 minutes was getting ourselves ready to help. We put on aprons, bandanas, and washed our hands. When we served lunch we got our lunch free that day. So we got eat what was served. Even if we brown bagged, we still go the free lunch. We washed the trays and silverware, we washed down the tables. But we also missed recess (because of washing and putting away the dishes) and it seems that schools don't have recess, but the trays now days are throw away. When we were done, we would get a jaw breaker.
But I agree, the cookies and chocolate milk for that one day isn't going to harm the little girl. This could have been a good time for the mom to day that is great you did a good job, but reinforce that cookies are usually eaten after you eat your lunch. But like most kids, they gravitate to the sweets.
But I also feel that healthy eating starts at home, with the school reinforcing healthy diets. I think we have gotten to the place where we expect the schools to do it all and when the kids don't act like we think they should we point our fingers at the school. Maybe the school lunches aren't what we were like our kid or any kid to eat, but lets not point the fingers at the school. We need to let the lawmakers know. They are the ones the initially started this mess.
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