Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten

Consume This First is excited to have another guest post from The Non-Toxic Mom. Be sure to visit her blog, where she blogs often and with enthusiasm about living a non-toxic lifestyle.

AHH, SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH YOU? I’m not talking to those of you who get it; I’m talking to those of you who are still clueless. Particularly YOU, the administrator who agreed to have a meeting with me and then nearly knocked me out of my chair with absolutely insane comments and a backward philosophy. Why why why did you look at me like I’m a crazy, overbearing, neurotic parent? Did I come to you as the “competitive”mom, and insist on knowing how all the other kids in the class are performing?  Did I come to you as the “pushy” mom, and insist that you work harder to teach my 3 year old developmentally ridiculous practices, like reading? Did I come to you as the “entitled” mom, and insist that my extra wonderful child should have every little thing catered to her specific desires? No, no, and no.

I simply asked you to look at the snacks being served to the 2,3, and 4 year olds in your preschool. I excitedly said that we have a great opportunity to advertise ourselves as a school that cares about health and wellness. You said feeding the kids good food is not the school’s responsibility. I insisted that we have a chance to influence the early eating habits of these kids. You told me that I’m the only parent who cares about this stuff; I should just look at the food the other kids bring in their lunchboxes. For snack I suggested fruit; you said they’ll never eat it. Even worse, you said your teachers cannot be expected to take the time to cut it up. I asked you to at least choose crackers and cookies without preservatives and artificial ingredients; you said you’re not convinced there’s anything wrong with serving these things to kids. I gave you 3 types of cereals that have decent ingredients and that my kids love for snack; you warily sneered that you’ll have to “taste test” these cereals to see if they’ll meet the approval of the preschoolers.

WAIT, ADMINISTRATOR  X, IF YOU RECALL, THERE WAS MORE. I switched gears and asked you to please stop giving my child Twizzlers, lollipops and Hershey kisses on Thursdays after ballet. You told me that you will not stop because the children work for food. After I caught my breath and picked myself up off of the floor, I mentioned that I was pretty sure that rewarding children with food was not a great practice. With a straight face you told me, “When the girls are not listening during ballet, I tell them that they better dance if they want their treats, and you know what? They start dancing, so IT WORKS!”

Administrator X, I almost dropped dead when I heard this. I have been an educator for 13 years. I have worked with kids of all ages. I have taught lots of preschoolers. I have worked with kids with severe special needs who needed constant reinforcement, but managed to survive not getting it from food. You said it works. Of course it works. That’s hardly the point. Lots of things work in the short term. You can beat the crap out of your kids if you want a temporary measure of compliance; does that mean it’s a good idea? Hardly. Reinforcing and rewarding kids with food works, but it is less than ideal. I’ve been watching kids lately. They are absolutely devastated when everyday activities are not concluded with some sort of food ceremony:

“Hooray, you went to the bathroom. Here’s a cookie.”
“Yippee, you put your dirty tissue in the garbage. Good job. Here’s a jelly bean.”
“Wow, you didn’t hit your brother at all today. Here’s a cake; let’s celebrate.”
“Great, you finished your breakfast…here’s dessert.”

GIVE ME A BREAK. It’s enough already; food is for eating so you can grow tall and strong and remain alive. If you absolutely must hold a reward over their heads, buy some stickers and call it a day. Don’t reward my child with toxic garbage at 10:30 in the morning because she didn’t annoy you while you were trying to teach ballet.

OK, deep breath….so I’m annoyed about the snacks at my daughter’s preschool; the toxicity of them, the way they are being used to manipulate the kids, and the resistance to changing them.  I was inspired to think about what I would do if I ran the school. This inspiration was motivated by your snide comment, Administrator X, as we parted ways and you sneered, “Maybe you should start your own school.”  So what can teachers and administrators do to promote better habits and food practices in our kids?

  1. Model your own interest in healthy eating by creating a culture of wellness in your class. Encourage kids to bring in fruits and vegetables- if you want to have a star chart, have one for those kids who bring in good snacks. If you provide the snacks to the kids, take the time to wash and prepare healthy snacks together as a class. Praise kids for trying new foods.
  2. Stop using food as a reward. It’s a cheap and dirty trick.
  3. When you serve junk food, don’t also serve chemicals. Cookies and crackers do not need to have hydrogenated fat, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, artificial colors, and GMO’s. Read labels.
  4. Leave the candy out of school. A cookie is one thing; lollipops and gummy bears are a whole other level of ridiculous.

SCHOOL LEADERS, LISTEN UP. I know your job can be very challenging. Most of you deserve all the credit in the world for your dedication to the children in your care. Sorry to add to your “to do” list; I know it’s already quite long. But years after the silly songs and circle time rituals are forgotten, habits will remain. Teach your little students to care about eating well. It’s one of the most valuable lessons you can teach and one they’ll always remember.

And yes, I’d love to start my own school.