Still using food as a reward for your children? Read on!

Whether at home or school, rewarding with food contributes to unhealthy eating behaviors.

You have a jar in your kitchen that you fill with candy to be given for good deeds. When your kids bring home a good report card, you take them out for dinner. Had a hard day at work? Treat yourself to a pint of your favorite ice cream later. At school, students earn good behavior points all month and participate in a special pizza party – and what’s a pizza party without dessert sundaes? So what? A little sugar and fat isn’t going to make a huge difference. And these easy and usually inexpensive foods can bring about short term behavior change.

Consider these disadvantages to using food as a reward at home or in the classroom:

  • It undermines nutrition education being taught in school
  • It encourages over-consumption of foods high in added sugar and fat
  • It teaches kids to eat when they’re not hungry as a reward to themselves

Instead of a pizza party at school, how about offering a dance party? The Hokey pokey, cha-cha slide and line dancing are all fun. Instead of a candy jar, how about a jar filled with special privilege cards? Examples: Pass from doing chores for a day, trip to a park to play, play a computer game, pick dinner and help prepare it one night, special one on one time with parent, stay up an extra 15 minutes one night, etc.

Enlist the help of your kids and students to create a list of rewards that are meaningful for them and have a discussion about what they can earn rewards for. Sometimes a verbal praise from a parent or teacher in front of peers and other family members is enough. A pat on the back or a high five can mean a lot to a child.

Years from now, kids probably won’t remember what kind of pizza they enjoyed at their pizza party in third grade, but they just might remember how much fun they had teaching their 3rd grade teacher to do the cha-cha slide!

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