Sunday, January 6, 2013

Stop the Junk Food in the Classroom

I've been thinking about how to start my blog for 2013.  A list of goals for the next 12 months? A re-cap of my favorite moments of 2012?  Both are important, and the lists are already in my head.  But for 2013, I have a goal and a mission that may be even more important than what is happening in my studio.

Ever since my son, Jack, started child care 2 days a week before the age of 2, we have been battling with issues of aggressive and anti-social behavior in the classroom.  It took a long time for me to make the connection that artificial food coloring and preservatives was a huge factor in my son's behavioral problems.
Once I finally made the connection - after Jack had two artificial-color-laden icees at a school event and he could not stop crying for 48 hours - did I start to see a disturbing pattern in every classroom that Jack has been in.

When Jack was only 18 months old, his little class would be lined up at the end of the (three hour) day to go home.  In each little fist was clutched a DumDum lolipop.  These treats were given to the children to "sit still" while waiting for mom and dad to pick them up.  I noticed that if Jack ate the treat, he would be miserable for the rest of the afternoon, so I started requesting that the teachers do NOT allow my son to eat the treat, we would take it home (where I would dispose of it).

The next year, at the same school, Jack spent more time in the office than in his classroom.  He was often aggressive  would not sit for circle time, and was not following directions.  I was called in one day - only 30 minutes after dropping him off for class - to pick him up.  I sat in the corner of the classroom to watch him in action.  While I was sitting there, Jack pointed to a cookie up on the shelf.  A colored frosting covered cookie from a store bakery.  This was not snack time.  There was no holiday party planned.  Yet Jack simply pointed to the cookie, and the assistant teacher reached up, gave him one, then went on her way.

I would like you to imagine how I felt at that moment.  I got three hours a day, two days a week, to work on my art or have a little time to myself.  My respite was supposed to be the time that Jack was in an environment where he should be learning to share, read, learn his colors, be creative, get outside and play, sing songs, etc.  Instead, what I witnessed was my 2 year old child being sabotaged by a chemical and sugar laden fake "food" that he didn't even have to say "Please" to get.

Fast forward through the next few years...I would request that Jack was not given milk for breakfast at a state-run Pre-k program.  I was called in for behavior issues.  My first question was "are you giving him milk in the morning? "  "yes" "Even though I asked you not to?" "Yes".  "And you did hear me tell you that milk makes Jack very hyper?"  "Yes.  But we didn't want him to eat dry cereal".  (Most milk is dyed and contains harmful chemical preservatives as well)

Ok.

Another year, another teacher.  This one has colored M&M's on her desk to reward the children throughout the day.

Another year, another teacher.  This time, the children are rewarded for turning in their homework with a Startburst candy.  Not a good grade or a gold star.  A chemical laded square of high fructose corn syrup and petroleum.

And the parties are the worst.  My daughter comes home from school with a different colored frosting mustache more times than I would like to consider.  Holidays are jam packed with treats from friends, projects made out of various rainbow colored icings, and loads of juice at every occasion.

I know this is already long...but wait! There's more!

Here is where my New Years' Resolution for 2013 takes place.

I am not going to sit by and watch my children's success in the classroom be sabotaged by chemical laden, nutrition deprived foods.

I am not going to let another mother spend years questioning every choice she makes as a parent because she simply does not know that food coloring and additives may be a huge contributing factor to her child's bad behavior.

I am not going to let another teacher go on thinking that their Students will not LIKE them if they don't hand out candy every chance they get.  I promise: your students WILL like you for a whole bunch of other reasons!

I will not be afraid to be the unpopular or uncool mom because I believe that healthy food is important for our children, and that crap does not belong in the classroom.

I will be the first best example for my children when it comes to eating healthy and making the right choices for our body.  I will always encourage them to ask themselves how certain foods make them feel - energized and focused? Or sluggish and fuzzy?

I will empower every teacher and administrator with the understanding that they can have a HUGE, positive impact on every child's future by instilling healthy eating habits and leading by example.

Just before I wrote this, I looked on-line to see if I could find some good examples of letters to teachers about food in the classroom.  I was hardly surprised to come across this excellent post.  It showed me that I was definitely not alone in my hope to clean my children's classroom of crap.  Read the post - and the comments - and you will see that this is a battle being waged in classrooms all over.  I especially like the Food in the Classroom Manifesto



More food for thought comes from the Feingold website.  The Feingold diet focuses on removing the biggest factors in behavioral issues in children: artificial food coloring, artificial preservatives, and Salicylites (a natural occurring chemical in some fruits and vegetables).  There is an excellent section on Schools and Food.  There are several examples of schools changing their food and how it had nothing but a positive impact on their school.

Now, I know the biggest issues are going to be 1)but will my children (or my students!) not LIKE me if I don't have parties or treats?  2)will the other parents think I'm foolish and over reacting or just plain mean?

1 - yes.  Your children will still love you, your students will still LIKE you!  Their affection is not based on sugar, not enhanced by petroleum based Red 40.  We just need to give them that chance.  I remember when Jack had his first t-ball practice.  After he was done running, catching and playing I asked him "did you like it? was it fun? did you make new friends?" and Jack looked at me with a HUGE grin and said "Mom - the coach knows my name!"  My point being - all it took was the coach showing a little extra interest, a personal connection, and Jack was won over.  Compliment a child's drawing, give them extra congratulations on a job well done, ask them about their pet, anything!  Attention is what they crave - not sugar.  If Jack had been just one of the crowd, rewarded with a sucker at the end of practice, the sucker would be long forgotten by now.

2) Yes.  Many parents will think you're mean, or over reacting, but you know what - who cares?  It's not your job to be liked by everyone.  It's your job to give every child/student the best opportunity to succeed.  Insisting on carrot sticks and hummus instead of cookies and frosting makes you a better example to the students and starts them on a road to healthy eating choices that could last the rest of their lives.  When Jack was in first grade, he was not a fan of many fruits and vegetables.  One day he came home from school BEGGING for a banana in his lunch.  "Why?" I asked.  He told be that if he gets caught eating a banana, he could get a new pencil or a sticker from the lunchroom lady!  Well, from that moment on Jack has loved eating bananas.  Imagine that!  A REWARD for good food choices, that led to a young boy being WILLING to eat a healthy food!

There are so many reasons, from this day forward, to eliminate candy and junk food from the classroom.  These students are the next generation of consumers.  Let's encourage this generation to desire healthy, chemical-free foods.  Let's teach the children that they should eat when they are hungry - not just when junk food is in front of them.

A few simple things to keep in mind...

Water is all that is ever needed at school.  Skip the fruit juices and colored drinks.

Parents: instead of sending in a candy treat for a class room party, ask the teacher what supplies she needs:  a few boxes of crayons or glue sticks cost the same as junk food, and you'll be helping your child's class in a much better way.  And stickers - great incentives and my daughter loves collecting them!  A few sheets of stickers for the teacher's stash instead of candy is a great idea :)

Teachers: take a stand in 2013 to turn your classroom into a healthy environment.  Be brave.  Talk to a few other teachers and you'll find many are willing to stand with you on this.  You are not alone.  By asking for healthy snacks and treats, you are doing NO HARM to your children.  In fact...you could be doing so much more than you'll ever know to set them on a path for health and success.

Teachers: take a look at your students.  Is there anyone who is especially emotional? who has trouble focusing? who obviously has potential but can't "get it together" long enough to succeed in class?  They might have a chemical sensitivity that causes that behavior (food coloring is made from Petroleum - once you start looking at red, yellow, blue, and green as the poison as they are, you won't want to give them to your child/student at all!). Read into the Feingold diet, help your student, and their parents, by suggesting a change in diet.

Remember: many people believe that there is a chemical laden magic "pill" that can cure our problems if we swallow it.  What we also need to understand that there are chemical laded foods CAUSING those problems to begin with.  Why fight a chemical with a chemical?  Try eliminating chemicals them first.  There is NO HARM in eating healthy.  There is no failure in trying.

As for me?  My first goal will be to help the teachers come up with a fun way to reward their students.  I love doing projects with my kids' classes, so maybe a brag book would be a good one to start off the year?  I'm thinking of a colorful book with sections for stickers, proud notes from the teachers, special places where friends can write notes of "thanks!" or why they like being your friend.  Imagine, at the end of the year, if every good job, every task accomplished, every turned in paper, was captured in a sticker/brag book that the children could keep long after the year was done.  The candy may have lasted a couple minutes...but that book could last a lifetime.

I hope 2013 is just the start of the healthier, happier, and more successful classroom for everyone!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

even with suger filled days, we all that came before your son learned how to behave...sugar is not the issue I am betting, discipline is

Anonymous said...

Get a clue and research the toxic impact of petroleum based food dyes, Anonymous. They are so dangerous that they are not even allowed in children's products in Europe with a black box warning about effects on the brain. M&Ms in Britain are made with NATURAL, safer dyes while the candy here is still produced with toxins because our FDA is a joke. It's not about sugar. Educate yourself before you open your mouth. And take your parent bashing somewhere else.

Kristina Havens said...

Dear Annonymous, you know who I am...surprised you didn't want to stand behind your statement. I have had to defend my parenting techniques to every teacher, assistant, administrator, coach, dance teacher, and psychologist who has seen my son. Would you like to know how I run my home? My kids are in bed at 8:00 every night. (After we read stories, every night.) My children do not have access to junk food. My children clean their own rooms, their own sinks, and have chores around the house. The TV is a treat, and turned on less than an hour a day. Neither one of my children play on the computer at home AT ALL. on rare occasions they play my iPad when we are out. My children do not have tv's or computers in their room. They clean their own places at the table. Both of my children are bright, independent, creative, and fun. They have limitations at home. I hope you never have every person around you judging your abilities as a mother every second of the day. When you have one perfect child and one child who just can't get it together, you realize that both receive the e same amount of love, attention, AND DISCIPLINE, but one just can't control himself - he behavior is BEYOND HIS CONTROL when he ingests harmful chemicals, you finally, just a little bit, regain a little bit of your self worth that has been stripped away by every narrow minded "administrator" who wants to blame parents for not disciplining. I was disciplining my child so much, for so long, that I felt like his parole officer, not his mother. My right to embrace and love my child was taken away from me by every teacher who suggested my child needed MORE punishments - and I believed them. I locked him in his room after a bad day at school instead of playing in the backyard together. I denied him play time with his friends because he was bad at school. I cancelled evenings out and fun events to discipline him FOR WHAT HE DID AT SCHOOL. and you know what? At some point, I needed to stop being a cop and start being his mom. He needs my love, my guidance, my hugs, my time. I will discipline him, but I will not sacrifice my need to love him any more. 

Anonymous said...

I use anon because you have a lot of followers and I dont want a bunch of backlash in my mailbox. What is so wrong with wanting to FREELY express an opinion without fear? Here is good for me.

I was not trying to piss you off either. I am just saying that behavior needs to be the focus, not the food, in my humble opinion. Let's say you get all of the bad food away from your kid then he grows up and attends a gathering with a lot of hidden sugars and/or dyes in the healthy looking food. He eats it. He goes sugar crazy and stops at an elementary school with an oozie on his way home.

Isn't is better to teach little people how to behave no matter what they have ingested or how they are feeling inside?

Food for thought ;)

Michelle Arnold Paine said...

The manifesto is great -- what struck me about your stories most was the childhood obesity problem. We are rewarding two-year-olds with lollipops at SCHOOL? What do we think we are teaching them?? Appalling. My daughter is only two months old, but it is good to have a preview... i guess!!!

Kristina Havens said...

Dear Anonymous, If you have a lot of followers, I challenge you to share your thoughts on your blog. I challenge you to be the light at the end of the tunnel for one of the families who follow you - one of the mothers who may be in the very same situation that I was in. A mother who loves her child beyond comprehension. Who plays with him outside every day to get him away from the TV and the computer. Who fosters a love of reading. Who bakes homemade cookies. Who does art projects at the kitchen table all the time. Yet the child is constantly cruel, disobedient, hurtful, and over-emotional. The mother is probably at the end of her rope. Like I was. Everyone around her is telling her that her child's behavior is HER fault. His actions are a result of HER poor parenting skills. Her neighbors don't invite their child over because SHE can't control him. Please - help another mother, another child. Write about the dangers of food dyes, petroleum based chemicals, and preservatives on children. Don't deny one single mother the possibility to change the course of her child's life forever, just by understanding that some children cannot handle chemicals in their food. I beg you.

charcoalblue said...

Hi, I have personally seen what a difference diet can make to children. It is impossible to reach a child when their brain is confused by their sensitivity to artificial food colouring but also naturally occurring food chemicals in fruits and vegetables (salicylates, glutamates & amines). Here in Australia, Sue Dengate wrote a book called 'Fed Up', and it is about her work in the school system here and the type of diet (different to Feingold although similar foundation) to follow. She recommends the RPAH elimination diet. Searching any of those terms in google should produce appropriate results. I am positive you have researched everything, I only mention because sometimes Australian news doesn't make it in the US and I have read on a lot of non Australian based blogs where they haven't heard of it. For us personally, salicylates is a major problem, even just from too much fruit, honey, tomatoes or avocado.