Would a ban of classroom treats be good for gluten-free kids?

My local school district is considering banning the use of food as a reward for children in the classroom. There’s a poll asking parents if they are in favor of the ban, which the school board says will help fight childhood obesity.

This is far cry from my own childhood, when kids whose parents attended Parent-Teacher Association meetings were given a full-size candy bar as a reward the next day. I think the idea was that kids who didn’t get the bars would go home and beg their parents to go to the next meeting. I didn’t even bother because my parents, who had four children in five years, were to busy to go to a PTA meeting no matter how much I wanted that candy bar. So I sat quietly while they were handed out, knowing I would never get one.

But the injustice of giving or withholding a prize from a child for something they had no control over did stick with me. Years ago I convinced my own children’s elementary PTA only to give out rewards to children for their own accomplishments.

While that might have satisfied my sense of right, it didn’t take care of all the situations my daughter Amanda, who has celiac disease, faced when it came to classroom treats.

Creative moms who baked beautiful cookies or harried moms who bought tricked-out grocery-store cupcakes were ever present. Every once in a while a kid would show up with a food that was a wonderful surprise for most classmates but off limits to Amanda. And teachers themselves often had goodie jars on their desks to offer a quick reward for a classroom kindness, a question answered correctly or an assignment well done.

I’ve was occasionally frustrated when my daughter’s whole class would work to reach a goal only to have the prize be a pizza-party that would leave her out unless she brought her own.

So you would think it would be easy for me to vote against treats in the classroom altogether even if this proposal is not prompted by concern for kids on special diets.

But as much as I remember the times when Amanda couldn’t have what everyone else was having, I also remember her delight when she could.

A number of her teachers, when told about celiac disease at the beginning of the school year, went out of their way to make sure they had something special for my daughter. Or they would check with me and only buy treats for the whole class that were gluten free.

We came up with ways to cover the other situations — kept cupcakes in the teachers’ lounge freezer and a supply of gluten-free goodies right in the classroom — for impromptu snacks or unannounced birthday celebrations. For Amanda’s birthday, we always brought something special. One year, we made gluten-free “Rice Krispies treat” bears and jazzed them up with M&M buttons and fruit-roll-up bows and bow ties. After a steady stream of birthday cupcakes, they were a big hit.

I recognize the problems food in the classroom creates for children with allergies, diabetes and other health issues. But I think parents of those children usually come up with good solutions.

And even as the parent of a child who went all the way through school on a gluten-free diet, I wonder if it really benefits our children’s health to say “no treats in the classroom.” Do we teach the right lessons about healthy eating by sending out the message that all goodies are bad? Can we honestly say the occasional classroom candy is the childhood obesity culprit? Don’t even adults look forward to the little break in the routine that a treat can be?

Today, Amanda, a college freshman, loves the nutrition class she is taking. She says she is learning that moderation is the key to healthy eating. I think that’s the lesson we want to teach even our kindergartners.

At first I wasn’t sure how I would respond to the poll. Now I know.

  • Sea

    I don’t think a ban of classroom treats should be necessary. From an outside perspective, with all the testing going on even of very young children it seems that a lot of the fun has been taken out of childhood. I’m not crazy about excessively sweet treats for kids, but an occasional treat (hopefully one reasonably healthy) could make activities or celebrations more fun. Obesity is a problem that needs to be handled with nutrition and more active family lifestyles, not something teachers should be expected to aggressively combat at school. I do think children’s “traditional” diets are vile nutritionally and many parents (and schools) would do well to give them a makeover- give the kids the right attitude towards good, REAL, delicious food and you won’t have a generation of tater tot and chicken nugget addicts.

    -Sea, 32
    Gluten Free since age 3

  • A surprise pizza party happened just last Friday for my 4th grade celiac. She took it in stride, but reminded the teacher that she couldn’t have it. The teacher felt awful and didn’t give the pizza a second thought.
    What surprised me was that we usually get a warning when something like that happens. But not this time.
    This topic brings up another issue for me…those coupons/incentives/rewards for Pizza Hut for kids doing their reading or spelling or something.
    Just today I had to tell my daughter’s teacher that it’s not a reward for her to get a coupon to a place she can’t eat.

  • Interesting post! I eat gluten free. My daughter does not (except for dinners at home). She just reminded me when she came home today to make sure we send in all the box tops so her class can win a donut party. She is definitely motivated by food. It is the highlight of her day at school whenever there is a party, treat, or birthday with sweets. Her first grade teacher has two prize baskets – only one is candy. I love what my daughter says – “It isn’t good to pick candy as a prize b/c then your prize is gone in a few minutes and you have no prize.” Finding exciting and appropriate prizes for older kids that are not food related is probably difficult and costly, but I am sure creative teachers can handle that!