Taking questions: Fast food rewards in speech therapy?

Source: bing.com via Abbey on Pinterest


Q: I recently read a blog from a new SLP (speech-language pathologist) describing an activity using McDonald’s french fry containers and craft sticks to complete language tasks.  I find it so disappointing that early childhood educators choose to provide free advertisement for these disgusting food science establishments.  A comment that followed the blog indicated that another SLP used free meal certificates from a different fast food restaurant as a reward for completing speech homework!  I was outraged and so disappointed to read this!  As an SLP, I know there are MANY other means to accomplish goals that are motivating and exciting for young children that do not involve food, particularly that type of food.  As a parent, I would be furious if my child’s teacher or SLP was encouraging this type of unhealthy food choices.


A: Honestly, I had seen that in passing online somewhere.  I found two other speech paths who used a similar activity with McDonald’s fry containers. Click over here and here for other examples. While I’m dismayed that McDonald’s is getting promoted by a school staff member, I think that the activity shows how creative many speech-language pathologists can be with their therapy materials. It’s hard to get and keep kids’ attention during sometimes monotonous tasks requiring speech drill. And unfortunately kids recognize and get excited about the McDonald’s brand.

Personally, I cannot imagine using anything from McDonald’s in therapy, but kids do talk about going out to eat and you’d be surprised how often McDonald’s comes up in conversation. I’m careful not to judge and state neutral observations. Speech pathologists do use food in therapy — it’s when food is a reward that things get complex. I admit to using food rewards when I first started out. I had one of those massive boxes of goldfish crackers and I would use them as food rewards in sessions with my students with autism. Bite-size foods are great for discrete trials (do this, get that). I shared a room with a paraprofessional who gave out lollipops after many sessions. Even before the school lunch project, I was not a fan of that practice. Daily candy is not a strong reinforcer. I’ve also abandoned goldfish and all food rewards. Now for discrete trials or speech drill that requires immediate rewarding (not that many activities do), I like little foil stickers, which the kids can stick on a piece of construction paper. Then they can take the paper with them.

I’m assuming that speech pathologists and teachers who use McDonald’s products or gift certificates  to reward students believe it’s an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” kinda thing. Unfortunately, we have to view ourselves as role models — that’s how the kids see us — and avoid endorsing specific brands or a general type of food, like candy.

Speech pathologists who work with clients learning how to navigate their communities do enter fast food establishments. Individuals with cognitive impairment need to learn life skills including ordering at a restaurant (I blogged about life skills in the past). One of my friends from graduate school worked with people with moderate cognitive impairments and spent most of her day in the community with her clients. Being an SLP means helping clients communicate functionally throughout the day, including places they frequent. I think there is a time and a place for discussing making healthy choices.

Another type of client that requires community-based intervention are people who stutter. Sometimes they want to learn how to control their stuttering when they order from a menu — where better to practice than an actual restaurant? Many people who stutter avoid entering fast food restaurants due to fear and avoidance of stuttering. Some therapy plans include desensitization. Effective therapy should take place wherever the client needs the practice and natural settings are preferred.

I went off on a speech tangent there (yes, I geek out sometimes), but I think a substitute activity for the McDonald’s fry game is pulling words out of a bag or putting words  into a box or envelope. Many students feel rewarded with they can physically see they are done with something (no more sticks!).

Thoughts on food rewards?

I’ve resigned from my position at Chicago Public Schools

I still love this city…

After long and serious deliberation, I decided to resign from my position as a bilingual speech-language pathologist working for Chicago Public Schools (CPS). I worked for CPS for six years during which time I had the opportunity to help some great kids and get to know many Chicago families. I worked hard to help my students communicate and I hope I made a difference, but I know for sure they changed me. I’m forever grateful to Chicago Public Schools for hiring me for six years ago and giving me an opportunity to work in one of the largest districts in the country. My work was highly rewarding and it is a bittersweet departure.

I’m already missing my coworkers who just went back to work this week. I had the privilege of working with some talented people. Not a day went by when I didn’t feel inspired by my students or my coworkers.

As I blogged about in the spring, my son had some struggles at his day care/school. My commute into the city was untenable (45-60 minutes each way) even before our move this summer. I’m much farther away now and I’ve realized there’s no way for me to work for CPS without sacrificing family time. I have set up a new preschool/care schedule for Charlie that is far better for him than last year’s situation and I’ll be around for him much more. With a baby due around Thanksgiving, focusing on my home and my family is what I need to be doing.

It’s funny that in 2010 I was worried about being fired or losing my job because I was eating school lunch covertly and here I am quitting on my own! But I knew it was time. I’ll be working some part-time speech jobs to increase my skill set with new populations, but my primary work will continue to be with school-age kiddos. Then I’ll take a maternity leave.

So there you have it. It’s not an exit with a lot of drama or suspense. Just a need for me to be available for my son and my family in the near term. I’m going to miss my work with students, their families, my friends, and all my coworkers dearly, but I know that making this choice for my family feels right.

(Of course I’ll still continue to blog!)

Guest blog: A Surprise in Your Cereal Box?

Parents want their children to start the day out right, especially during this time of year when kids are heading back to school. For many families, that often includes a bowl of cereal.

A spoonful of sugar for every three spoonfuls of cereal is not what most parents want their kids to find in their cereal box! But if you are feeding them popular cereals like Lucky Charms for Frosted Flakes, that’s what they are eating.

The cereals most marketed to children are also the ones that serve up the most sugar, according to a new report from the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

While cereal companies chose to aggressively market unhealthy, sugary cereals to kids, most companies also have much healthier cereals in their product lines, the report finds. That’s why PreventObesity.net is working with the Rudd Center to ask cereal companies to promote healthy cereals to kids.

The cereals marketed to kids are far less healthy than those marketed to adults. They have 56 percent more sugar, half as much fiber and 50 percent more sodium. That’s certainly not a healthy way to start the morning, especially considering the fact we are in the midst of the childhood obesity epidemic. More than one-third of children are now overweight or obese, putting them at risk for conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, hypertension and even some cancers.

Even though most popular kids’ cereals are still poor in nutritional quality, companies aren’t boxed in. They also make healthy cereals that they could market to kids. They just choose not to.

That’s why we’re asking Fed Up with Lunch readers to join us in encouraging companies such as General Mills, Kellogg’s and Post to promote healthier options to kids. Tell them to promote cereals such as regular Cheerios, Unfrosted Mini-Wheats or Shredded Wheat over Trix, Frosted Flakes, Pebbles and other products loaded with sugar.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Let’s work together to make it a healthy one, too.

 Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch is the senior writer and editor for PreventObesity.net, an online advocacy network of people dedicated to reversing childhood    obesity. A project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PreventObesity.net connects leaders across the childhood obesity movement with hundreds of thousands of supporters in advocacy efforts to implement policies that will help reduce childhood obesity nationwide. 

Mrs Q’s News: Is School Lunch Unconstitutional?

(I know the photo has nothing to do with school lunch, but I just like it)

1) Rep. Todd Akin (yeah, that guy…) thinks that the school lunch program is unconstitutional. Say what?

2) Two high school students went undercover with a video camera to investigate school food (See: School lunches become a billion-dollar battlefield). Not surprisingly, I love that kind of thing!

3) Healthy school lunches: How to get kids to eat them? Recruit parent volunteers to be “food coaches” — I think it’s brilliant.

Taking questions: Food Stamp Abuse?

A shot from last weekend’s farmer’s market. Those peppers were $1 each…

Thanks again for your comments on last week’s post. Things are better on the eating-all-your-dinner front. I think I’ve realized that Charlie is going through yet another growth spurt. One day this week he ate a huge breakfast, lunch, and dinner — like full adult portions. My mother has noticed that he is getting taller — and I have, too. So I just feed him and he eats, some days more than others. The end…I guess. For the kitchen, My husband and I want to get a Learning Tower, but the cost is on the high side to say the least. So we wait.

I didn’t get any new questions this week, but I dug up an old one from my email:

Q: I picked up up some salad ingredients to last my household for the week.  I headed to a local wholesale store, where I gathered an armload of fresh, delicious Romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, assorted bell peppers and cucumbers.  With all these vitamin-enriched, low-calorie, low-cost foods, I made my way to the terminal with the shortest line, where there was one family in front of me.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed that these people were buying nothing but large quantities of Gatorade and ice cream for their kids.  If that wasn’t disgusting enough, they had a total of $50 for all this refined sugar, which they paid in full using food stamps.

To say the least, I was appalled. I did some research into this issue and discovered that there is little to no regulation on what people can buy with their food stamps.  Is it so unconstitutional for me to not want my tax dollars to pay for them to get diabetes, so that I can pay more in the future for them to get healthcare?

I’d like to get more involved in fighting this issue but I do not know who to go to first.  I figured you may be able to point me in the right direction.  State legislature?  Federal legislature?  Start small or big?
A: I am not an expert in food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP). It is a highly political issue (just like school lunch) because it is a huge government program. Forty-six million people rely on food stamps and qualifying is actually pretty tough. There are people who can’t put food on the table and don’t qualify for food stamps because they “make too much.” On the other hand, there are people who abuse the system (under 5% of people). I think what bothers the reader above is not the fact that Gatorade or ice cream were purchased — I bet that if the people had one Gatorade and one container of ice cream there would be no email to me. It is that they bought what sounds like a lot of Gatorade and ice cream — $50 worth.

First, while I do sneak peeks at what people have in their grocery carts and sometimes I do have to stop myself from gawking, I think we definitely need to step back and make sure we aren’t judging too harshly. We don’t know what was going on here. Was it a big family birthday party? Did they combine all of the kids’ birthdays into one big bash? We don’t know the whole story. Also you never know when it’s going to be you on the receiving end of government help. You might get a divorce, lose your home, or lose a job. Life happens. 

Second, what I’ve found is that most Americans don’t have a clue about nutrition. In their defense, where are they supposed to learn? In the home? We are going on three generations of convenience food. My grandma cooked from boxes as did my mom — until she taught herself how to cook in the 1970’s. I’m so thankful for that. I am in my mid thirties and I’m still teaching myself how to cook. What about nutrition education? There is no such thing. So if you don’t get it at home and you don’t have access to nutrition education or cooking classes, you are at the mercy of corporations who want you to buy their products. They spend millions and millions of money on ad campaigns. The answer is more education. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, either. A lot of people don’t realize the resources available at the library. I remember telling a mom that the library close to the school had more than just books — it also had CDs and DVDs. She was totally floored. Anyone can check out a big stack of cookbooks and teach themselves how to cook or they could go to the community center and inquire about free programs — but they have to know about those resources. That’s where education comes in. 

Third, many local and state governments are taking a closer look at what people are buying with food stamp money. There have been numerous attempts to ban soda, chips, and candy across the country. In some places, those bans have failed because of lobbying by corporations who want federal money to be at consumers’ disposal. If you feel strongly, write your representative. Personally, I think soda is one of main culprits in the large increases in obesity over the past thirty years and I’d like to see it be banned. You can only eat so much candy before you have a terrible feeling your tummy (I call that sensation “gut rot”), but soda? You can drink a ton of empty calories and really not notice.
What are your thoughts on this controversial question? What did I miss in my answer?

What $30 Buys at the Farmer’s Market

These photos reflect my typical haul at the farmer’s market (this is from July before our move). I have found that fruit is more expensive than veggies. The peaches (above) cost $6 (my most expensive single item purchase) and the tomatoes and cherries were $5 each. With fruit alone I’m looking at an outlay of $16. Yes, I consider those tomatoes to be as good as candy…and fruit. While the green beans were a bargain at only $3.

How do I justify “costly” fruit? Fruit is a snack, a lunch side, or a dessert, depending on the meal. For me fruit replaces salty, fatty, or sweet snacks that I like too much.

Some vendors sell corn for $0.50 per ear. That’s $2 of corn. I need to write down how much everything is next time — I don’t remember how much the potatoes cost me. I’m going to say $4.

Beets are dirt cheap. I find them for $3 a bundle. Same for the carrots. I like to roast veggies, even in the summer. I love beets way too much. They are even better pickled. I haven’t been able to find a pickled beet vendor this summer, but if you find one at your market, buy a jar. I gobble them down. I guess I exclaim this is “to die for” a lot because Charlie will take a bite of something and say “this is to die for!” When I heard him say that the first time, I almost spat out my mouthful of food. We do enjoy eating around here. But pickled beets? They are “to die for.” Now I just need to screw up the confidence to learn how to pickle something!

Total (rough estimate): $31 (Any random cheese or lemonade purchases not included!)

The produce works for multiple dinners and leftovers. Normally, fruit is a snack. Yep, I call that a bounty.

Mrs Q’s News: Laws, Summer Food, and Teens in Action

Flower in my mom’s yard last summer

1) Interesting study found that states with laws against competitive foods (junk food) in schools have students who weigh less.

2) Photo gallery of summer foods deemed unhealthy. It might be a little extreme, but it does add up.

3) Three teenage girls started a petition to get a female moderator instated for a presidential debate (for the first time in 20 years) — and they did it! Proof positive that teenagers and kids are powerful advocates for change.

Taking your questions: Advice from Mrs Q and you

One of the great things about a blog is that it’s an exchange of information. Even though I don’t respond to comments because I’m time-strapped, I read them all and they have been invaluable to me. Admittedly, I like giving advice — that’s probably because I’m a “first born” in my family (Side note: I totally buy into the theory that birth order determines personality characteristics). But I also like getting advice — I need help a lot of the time, especially when parenting.

To encourage even more of a give-and-take on the blog, I’m going to start up a feature where I take questions on school food, food and kids in general, mealtime help, basic cooking questions, blogging questions, food politics thoughts, etc. I’m going to do my best to answer the question(s) and then I’ll leave the rest to you. Commenters can support or criticize my response or add their own perspective and opinion.

Feel free to comment on this post with a question for next week’s post or email me directly at fedupwithlunchATgmailDOTcom. If I don’t get any questions, then I’ll ask my own. So today I’m going to ask MY own questions. I have two questions related to food and kids:

Q1: My son has stopped eating as much dinner as he usually liked to eat. He’ll eat maybe a third of his plate and he’ll ask to leave the table. We don’t force him to stay. I don’t care if he doesn’t finish his dinner — that’s not the issue. What he’s doing is that just before bed he claims that he is hungry. Of course he is! We explain to him that he needs to eat more dinner at dinner time, but we know that he is legitimately hungry. So we have let him eat a little food right before bed and more recently we have saved his dinner and he has eaten some or all of what’s left. The amount of food that he eats varies from a little to a lot. Is this about control? Do we have to be more firm and let him not eat before bed? We’ve had two nights in a row where he ate better dinners and didn’t request a bedtime snack, but I’m not going to assume anything. What would you do?


Q2: Charlie helps me cook in the kitchen. At our old house we just pulled a dining room chair into the kitchen for him to stand on and participate. That worked pretty well. At our new house we have a step stool on loan from my mom and he’s bee using that. It’s sturdy, but smallish so the stool is not a long-term solution. What do your kids stand on when they help out in the kitchen?

 Thanks for your input!