Sugar or no sugar in the classroom?

With the holiday’s approaching, do sugar and other sweetened treats belong in the classroom?

With the Holiday season approaching more and more classroom teachers and/or school administrators are starting to put restrictions and limitations on what outside snacks can be brought into the classroom for birthday and holiday celebrations. Of course not all agree that this is the correct action to take to help decrease obesity. Many parents and community members believe that minimal exposure to sweetened treats during the class day will not have an impact on the overall health of their children. But why does every celebration have to involve food as the focal point?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national recommendations include limiting parties to one per month; serving only healthy foods, offering non-food items in goody-bags and having party activities that do not involve food.

Local school districts in Michigan have even jumped on board by having a once a month dance party, extra recess or interactive programs to increase physical activity in the classroom. The teachers have reported that the students actually want to be involved in the physical activity more than eating a sweet treat. Another Michigan school purchased an “It’s my Birthday Pin” for all students to wear on their special day.

Alternatives to celebrating with food can include:

  • Opportunity to sit or team up with friends on a project
  • Have class outside or in a different location in the school building
  • Extra recess, gym or art time
  • Get a no homework pass for a day
  • Make deliveries to the office for the teacher
  • Listen to music while working
  • Dance to favorite music in the classroom
  • Get “free choice” time at the end of the day

At school, home and throughout the community kids are offered food as a reward for “good” behavior.

Often these foods have little or no nutritional value but are easy, inexpensive and can bring about short-term behavior change which may then turn into a habit of expecting the food as a reward.

Michigan State University Extension offers nutrition education classes for youth in the school setting. Show Me Nutrition educates youth with age appropriate content on nutrition, food safety, physical activity, media influence and body image. Participants will receive handouts and content as well as engage in activities to learn how to have a healthy lifestyle. More information can be found at

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