Open letter to teachers:
Please don’t give our kids food rewards!
I represent over 20,000 Mums from the Additive Free Kids community around Australia. These Mums are concerned about the state of the food supply and the amount of additives in our food and the resulting impact on children’s health. I have been requested numerous times to assist these parents in raising the issue of the provision of food rewards to children in class. Parents are unsure how to raise the topic with you best.
I am writing to you on their behalf.
The main concerns that I hear from the community are, based on the following points:
1. Food rewards contradict healthy eating principles that schools should be following.
Each state in Australia has its own version of a Healthy Eating Policy in place. Unfortunately, each state in Australia seems to have a different Healthy Eating Policy in place. If we look at some some of the bigger states in Australia:
The Education Department of Western Australia’s “Healthy Food and Drink in Public Schools Policy” states that Principals are required to adopt a whole school approach to healthy eating within the school community and the implementation of that policy is the responsibility of the principal.
The “Healthy food and drink in public schools procedure’ states that “students will be supplied green and amber foods in school settings, including classroom rewards, classroom cooking activities, school camps and excursions.”
For the avoidance of any doubt, food and drinks classified as red are those that are lacking in nutritional value, are high in saturated fat and / or added sugar and / or salt and can contribute excess energy.
Victoria’s Education “Student health and wellbeing” website states that the importance of the foods eaten in a child’s early years and “at school contribute significantly to a child’s daily nutrient intake and also have a considerable influence on their lifelong eating habits, growth patterns and energy levels.”
New South Wales
The “Nutrition in schools” policy states “Healthy eating and good nutrition should be promoted in all school activities and programs which involve food and drinks.
The “Right Bite” policy in South Australia applies to food provided for curriculum activities, sporting events, camps, excursions, homework centres, out of school hours care, student rewards or behaviour management programs.
The policy states that the school should:
AVOID OR LIMIT TO A MAXIMUM OF TWO OCCASIONS A TERM RED CATEGORY FOODS.
“Red Category foods and drinks are banned from sale in school canteens, vending machines and preschools at all times. However, some may be provided on a maximum of two occasions a term in certain situations, such as celebrations or events like fetes, in which the whole school community is involved.”
In Queensland the “Smart Choices – healthy food and drink supply strategy for Queensland schools” is in place. The strategy states:
“Schools have an important role in promoting healthy eating and physical activity to students and providing an environment that supports a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet can improve behaviours critical to educational success and performance at school. Effective school based nutrition and health interventions can also help improve academic performance”
The strategy also states that red foods should be limited to no more than TWO occasions PER TERM. It also states that it is important to be “consistent across all areas of food provision in the school. This includes the tuckshop, vending machines, fundraising, classroom rewards, excursions, camps, celebrations, sports days, enterprise education activities and curriculum activities”.
The policies and strategies exist and are in place at the State and Department levels.
Parents in the Additive Free Kids Community feel that it is a bit contradictory to have all this effort put in place making sure that we have healthy options in our canteen, education around healthy eating in our curriculum yet these food rewards are being handed out regularly in class as rewards?
I can’t tell you how many examples I have heard of parents complaining about how many food rewards are being handed out in a school term. Far exceeding the TWO a TERM across every school activity.
In one circumstance I have heard of a child receive 48 in just one term, from just one teacher. That didn’t include any other fundraising, celebrations, sport days, camps or any other school activities.
It isn’t acceptable.
We want better for our children.
Please adhere to your school’s Healthy Eating Policies and strategies. I will be encouraging disgruntled parents to attend your school’s P&C meetings, to have their voice heard and to start the conversation: “Why is our school not following the Healthy Eating policy (or similar)” that is applicable in each state.
2. Food rewards are not suitable for children with intolerances
We live in a world where childhood allergies are on the rise. You will have seen this with the growing rate of anaphylaxis students that you need to keep an eye out for in the school playground.
Underneath these allergies sits a growing proportion of people suffering with food intolerances. These food intolerances are overlooked. Now whilst, the intolerance isn’t life threatening, it can still bring a lot of heartache to a family. Those families with intolerances aren’t required to fill out the allergy forms that your school requires. There are no forms for intolerances.
These families could be dealing with any of the following symptoms or a combination of symptoms:
- aggressive behaviour
- behavioural problems
- learning difficulties
- night terrors
The parents of these children with intolerances may not have come to talk to you about them, as their child has begged them not to. Their child doesn’t want to be seen as different or singled out in any way. So you as the teacher won’t necessarily know which kids suffer with these intolerances. The parents may respect their child’s wishes, but they bare the brunt of the after effects at home afterwards.
You may or may not be aware that nearly every lolly on the market has some form of additive in them. Have you flipped the packet over? Have you read the ingredient list? Have you researched what these ingredients actually are that you are handing out to the children in your class?
It is virtually impossible to buy any lollies without them. Every time you hand out a lolly they will most likely have a colour, flavour or preservative or a combination of all the above, despite the marketing claims on the front of the packet.
Sometimes all it takes is one lolly to send a kid over the edge. There is a large flow on effect to the family unit as a result. Please reconsider handing out those lollies as a reward.
3. Food rewards should be a sometimes food
Handing out food rewards regularly in the classroom undermines all the good work that is happening at the school in terms of healthy eating practices and policies.
As parents we are trying hard to teach our children about sometimes foods. For parents that are trying to do the right thing and limit these RED items to sometimes food, it isn’t fair that a teacher hands these out to our children. It should be the parents choice when these are given.
As we have seen in the policies above, some of the States decided that there should be TWO or less RED category food items provided in a whole term, across any school related activity. I believe most parents in the Additive Free Kids community would be ok with this. However, they have approached me for assistance as the reality is far from this.
4. This is a society wide issue
This is a society wide issue …it is happening everywhere.
Everywhere a parent goes, their child is being offered a lolly or treat. They are handed out after:
- – sporting events
- – hairdressers
- – church groups
- – doctor visits
It really is unnecessary. This letter has been addressed to teachers first and foremost, as we recognise that you are our partners in raising our children.
Our children spend the most amount of time with you, outside of our care. We would love for you to be on the same page as us.
Helping us to raise happy, healthy children.
Please leave the lolly and food rewards to the parents to decide when and if they are appropriate.
Suggestions for other rewards
I know that these food rewards make it easier to keep your class under control. I know that they are inexpensive and effective. I have complete admiration and respect for teachers managing classrooms 20-30 school children. As I am sure my community does too. We know that you all do an amazing job and one that is undervalued in society. We know that you need tricks up your sleeve to get the job done!
However, I am sure that you are able to find another alternative that are just as inexpensive and as well received by the children.
Let’s get imaginative and look at different options.
Some ideas include:
- simple praise and encouragement
(a phone call home to parents or carers) goes a long way!
- lucky dips
- raffle tickets
- computer time
- playing a game or puzzle
I am sure there are many more options that you could consider. Lets get imaginative and steer away from the food rewards.
Thank you for taking the time to read this on behalf of parents in the Additive Free Kids community.
Additive Free Kids
PS For all those teachers that aren’t using food rewards in class, thank you! We appreciate your consideration.