Recently, I wrote about the huge debate that is going on in our school district right now. Should we allow food in the classroom? While I agree with many points on both sides of the argument, I’m unsure where I stand. Do I think it would be fairer to the kids with allergies, diabetes, or other dietary restrictions to eliminate classroom treats? Yes! Do I think that we go way overboard on the amount of sugar and unhealthy foods that come into the classroom? Yes! At the same time though, I recognize that having food at school helps to provide fun and memorable experiences. I think it would be a bit sad to do away with it completely.
I’m not sure what the outcome will be in the coming months and years, but in the meantime, I’m hoping we can all help each other find a happy medium when dealing with food in the classroom. Here are some ideas I have:
1. Consider the needs of every child. My children have collectively been a part of about 19 different classrooms with 19 different sets of students, and every class has been totally different. Some classes haven’t had any children with food restrictions. Some classes have had a full range – moderate-to-severe allergies, religious considerations, food-dye restrictions, celiac disease, etc. Kaitlyn has been the only one with type 1 diabetes in any of her classes so far, and it has been uncharted territory for most of her teachers. I think that it is our responsibility as parents and teachers to understand these needs and make adjustments as necessary. What will work just fine for one class may not work for another, and it may be necessary to change the timing or the types of food offered. I have been very grateful to Kaitlyn’s teachers when they have made changes to their typical routine to make sure unexpected treats were served at a time when a nurse could help or at the very end of the day when I would shortly see her at pick-up time.
2. Have less food and encourage healthy foods. It seems like every time I turn around, there’s another sugary treat in the classroom. There are holiday parties, incentives for getting work done, birthday treats, ice cream parties for the classroom that sells the most wrapping paper, pizza parties for celebrating the end of school… The list is endless! I don’t think we need to do away with food completely, but let’s take it down a notch. Maybe we can use other incentives like little toys, stickers, homework passes, and extra recess. My son was in a class whose teacher didn’t allow them to bring birthday treats. She encouraged them to donate a book to the classroom instead with a picture of themselves and a little inscription inside. You can bet I’m going to want to get Kaitlyn into that class! Let’s also be mindful about what kinds of food we serve. It doesn’t have to be junk food for the kids to like it. A colorful plate of fruit can go a long way!
3. Use it as an opportunity to learn self-control and delay of gratification. I’m probably going way out on a limb with this one. Many people may not agree with me, but I believe that the sooner Kaitlyn learns to make good decisions about when and what she eats, the better! The bottom line is this: It’s not fair that she has diabetes. It’s not fair that she has to count every gram of carbohydrate that enters her body or endure the pricks and pokes. The fact is she does have this disease, and she has the power to take care of herself. She will be surrounded by opportunities to make good and bad food choices her whole life, and I think it’s good for her to learn that it’s okay to say no to a treat she’d like to have or save it for later. Now don’t get me wrong — I would never suggest that you put a cookie in front of a 3-year-old and tell him he can’t eat it. But as my children grow and are able to understand how to make good decisions, I’d like to help them learn that sometimes it’s better to say, “No, thanks.”
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring. Jen and Kim are real moms of kids with type 1 diabetes and have been compensated for their contributions to this site.