Written by Rachel Randolph of WeLaughWeCryWeCook.com.
Yesterday, my two-year old son was being so sweet: he was using his manners, playing nicely, and putting away his toys without prompting. He looked up from playing and asked if he could have some of his cupcake, a treat I’d picked up for him over the weekend. He’d been so good, and I told him so as I cut off a little piece for him to enjoy. He stood at my feet practically dancing with delight as I served up his tasting plate. “Yay, yay, yay” he cheered and clapped. He was equally enthusiastic as he bit into the sugary, fluffy bakery treat. Sometimes, it’s just as fun to be the treat-giver as it is to be the treat-receiver, watching a child’s face light up with delight as he bites into his reward and knowing he feels celebrated for his accomplishments and behavior.
But then, it was as if there was an evil spell on that cupcake—one that turned a perfectly sweet child into a raging lunatic. Our sweet reward time quickly turned into a tantrum-induced time-out…during which I may have spouted, “You’re never getting a treat again if this is the thanks I get.”
The problem is I really like seeing my child clap and dance and feel celebrated and acknowledged for doing something good…and I don’t want to stop giving him rewards occasionally in the form of food. But a sugar high really isn’t a reward. The truth is that if I’d given him a whole-wheat, fruit-sweetened muffin, he would have been just as delighted. Furthermore, if I’d packaged it and “sold” it to him as a special reward, he would have danced with glee. The same goes for the classroom. Rewarding children with a piece of candy or sugary dessert and then asking them to go sit still at their desks and concentrate on work is asking for trouble…and giving it to them right before you send them off to their parents…well, come on now, that’s just low! Reward good behavior or achievements with treats that will help students continue to succeed and will help them make happy connections to healthy foods.
**Be sure to check your school’s policy before bringing food into your class.**
Healthy Classroom Treats That Everyone Will Feel Good About
1. Fruit. Keep a fruit bowl in your classroom as a reward stash. Clementines (cleverly branded as “Cuties”) are one of my favorite treats for kids. With a food-safe marker, you can decorate the clementines like little Jack-O-Lanterns for a fun sweet Halloween Treat this month. Grapes, bananas, and apples are also healthy treats. And nothing brightens a room like a bright fruit bowl.
2. Pretzels. Plain pretzels make a great snack, but for a really special treat that will get kids will excited, dip pretzel sticks half way in a little melted chocolate and let them cool. Roll the pretzel sticks in some sesame seeds or sprinkles before they cool for a little more flair. (If you have dairy allergies in your class, Costco’s Kirkland chocolate chips happen to be dairy-free.)
3. Nuts & Seeds. I know many schools have gone nut-free, but if you don’t have an allergy in your classroom and the school policy allows for it, nuts make a great healthy snack for kids. Mix them up with dried fruits (no-sugar-added varieties) and a few chocolate chips for a balanced sweet treat. If you can’t have nuts in the classroom, pumpkin or sunflower seeds are wonderful protein-packed treats as well.
4. Sweeten the Packaging. Not every reward has to be sweet or indulgent. Sweeten up plain pretzels, popcorn, healthy cereal, chex mix, or baby carrots with fun packaging. A little ribbon or colorful tag stapled to a plastic baggie goes a long way to turn a handful of pretzels or carrots into a special reward. Add fun tags like, “Your Good Attitude Popped Today!” “Way to Mix it Up – You Thought Out of the Box Today!” “Way to Crunch the Numbers, Math Star!”
5. Hands-On Treats. Reward your students with a fun experience as well as a tasty treat! (They won’t even realize they are learning.) For example, these adorable little turkey-shaped toasts make a perfect November activity. (Note: Requires access to an oven or toaster.)
Use cookie cutters to let kids cut out their own crisp shapes like this from flour tortillas. Then, spray the shapes with cooking spray and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Broil for a few minutes until they crisp and the sugar begins to caramelize (watch closely so they don’t burn). This activity is great for a holiday or Valentine’s Day party. (Note: Requires access to an oven.)
6. Tortilla Crispers. Use cookie cutters to let kids cut out their own crisp shapes like this from flour tortillas. Then, spray the shapes with cooking spray and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Broil for a few minutes until they crisp and the sugar begins to caramelize (watch closely so they don’t burn). This activity is great for a holiday or Valentine’s Day party. (Note: Requires access to an oven.)
7. Banana Soft Serve. This is an excellent classroom experiment. Kids will be amazed as they watch frozen bananas turn into ice cream! My recipe calls for peanuts, but you can leave them out, or substitute fruit mix-ins or any of the kids’ favorite ice cream mix-ins. (Note: Requires access to a food processor or high-speed blender.)
8. Fruit Smoothies. Teach kids about different fruits (and veggies, if you dare), by mixing up a fruit smoothie in the classroom. Talk about each fruit and the nutrients it provides your body as you put it in the blender. Try some of these combinations: bananas, pineapple, mango, and coconut milk (add spinach and call it a “Super Hero Green Smoothie” or “Slime Slurpie”—remember it’s all about the sell!); strawberry-banana with almond milk; peaches and oranges with yogurt. (Note: Requires access to a blender.)
About Rachel: Rachel Randolph writes and speaks about young married life, parenting a toddler, and her and her husband’s unlikely journey to a whole foods, plant-based diet with humor and sheer honesty. She is the co-author of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, a food memoir with recipes she wrote with her butter-lovin’ mom, Becky Johnson. They also share a food blog at www.laughcrycook.com. Rachel is married to Jared, a high school football and baseball coach. They live near Dallas, Texas with their little boy Jackson.