Classroom rewards that aren’t food

One of my readers gave me a cool resource, in response to my story about going to my son’s 6th grade teacher asking her to reconsider her policy of giving candy for good behavior and academic performance.

It’s called, How to Reward and Motivate Kids Without Using Food. Here it is.

I bet few teachers have ever seen this. But it’s a great idea and I’m supportive of anyone who tries to interrupt the easy path to good behavior and good grades. That path is a cop-out, and the results to children are harmful. With 1/3 of our kids overweight, and childhood diabetes and asthma and ADD skyrocketing, we don’t need to add calories, acidity, and disease risk to their too-sedentary school day.

Not to mention the tooth decay, depression, fatigue, vulnerability to viruses and bacterial infections, and many other consequences that come with feeding a kid sugar and salt as a reward.

When I talked to the teacher about my wish that my son not be rewarded with candy in the classroom, she said, “Can I give him pretzels instead?” I said, “Uhhh, white flour. Salt.” She laughed and said, okay.

(It’s still rewarding behavior with junk food.)

I hope parents and teachers read this report and share it with others, because it has lots of great ideas.

EVERY time I have a conversation with other parents about the junk-food-in-the-classroom thing, they express their frustration and disapproval. Even regular “Standard American Diet” families aren’t happy about their subpar diet being supplemented with an extra couple pocketfuls of candy almost every day.

But it’s like Matthew said with the Zumba class last week—WHY were we the only ones to leave, or say anything, about the music that made our ears ring long afterward? Virtually all the parents dislike it. Virtually none SAY anything.

I wish more people would speak up. I talk to the teachers in a respectful, non-threatening way. If you’re a parent, I hope you will, too.

“After I eat chocolate cake, I want to die”

I got this email from my friend Matthew:

He had just read this quote: “When I eat chocolate cake, 20 minutes later I’m under my desk wanting to die, When I eat broccoli, in 20 minutes I feel good. But given the choice I always eat the cake.”

Matthew asks: “Why do people choose the chocolate cake?

“Have I ever talked to you about how Tony Robbins talked about training himself to push his plate away when he was full? He grew up in a home with the ‘doctrine of the clean plate’ (or something like that) and had to retrain himself. The psychology of how to train yourself about what is okay and what is not okay is fascinating to me. (I have taught my kids to waste food anytime they want for example, and that was SO WRONG in the tribe I grew up in.)

“I wonder if you wrote some blogs about how to train yourself and condition yourself to have feelings and opinions about healthy eating that are more useful. How about Affirmations for Health by YOU?”

I told Matthew that I was raised with the same rule: you must finish everything on your plate. I’m developing a meditation to go to the very root of why we sabotage ourselves nutritionally, and correct those subconscious beliefs. (I wrote about this in a blog series months ago called, “I love my body. It serves me well!”)

What are your beliefs about yourself and food, that cause you to make poor choices over and over? What are the words you say in your head? Could you write them on a 3×5 card and think about whether they are useful or harmful?

What if you could write NEW beliefs and statements that you could replace those with, which are more useful? It would work only if you repeated those beliefs over and over.

Do you “make” your kids finish their dinner? At my house, you don’t have to finish anything—except your green smoothie, fruits/vegs, or salad. You can skip the rest of the dinner.

Parents, or anyone with opinions, what do you think? I know it’s no longer popular at all to ‘make’ kids do ANYTHING. But I ‘make’ myself eat 60-80% raw greens/vegs/fruit before I consider eating anything else—so it isn’t as if I’m requiring anything of my kids I’m not doing myself. I have done this for so long that I don’t even think about it. It’s not deprivation or neurotic; it’s just habitual.

I have some rules for eating. All of them are based on common sense. All were developed by learning that I don’t feel good if I ever break them. I’ve never written them down until now; they’ve just been in my head. Here are my 13 rules:

1. Don’t eat after 7 p.m. except on a very rare occasion.

2. Always drink a pint of water as soon as I wake up.

3. Never eat sugar on an empty stomach–always with lots of raw food and some good plant protein (like almonds, greens, or beans).

4. If I eat any concentrated sugar (besides fruit), it’s only once in a day.

5. Never eat processed meat.

6. After working out, drink only water for a while.

7. Every meal or snack is 60% or more raw plant food (often 80-100%).

8. Don’t drink soda.

9. Don’t buy anything from fast-food restaurants.

10. Don’t eat anything with MSG in it.

11. Don’t add salt to food.

12. If a meal is below 80% raw plant food, take digestive enzymes.

13. If I eat too heavily for a weekend or more, I take a few days to detox. I might eat all raw food, two quarts of green smoothie instead of one, wheat grass juice, extra water–or even a couple of days of nothing but Meal Replacement.

Back to the candy factory…..I mean, school

My children have gone back to school. If I said I was sorry about that, I’d be lying.

I love my kids, but summer is hard for working moms. And August is crazy around here because I’m about to leave on my 4th trip of the month, all 4 of my kids have had birthdays in the past 3 weeks, and two of my kids have changed from public to charter school, or charter to public school, this year. Immunization waivers from the health dept. are a pain in the butt.

And my oldest daughter turned 16 yesterday and is not only transferring to the charter school I co-founded (Newseek says it’s the #1 school in Utah)—she’s also moving back home after living with her dad for a while. (Tears welling up just writing that. I’ve no words to express my happiness about both of these events.)

I went to the elementary school where Tennyson is transferring into 6th grade. I waited in line to talk to the teacher. A bag of M&M’s was on each desk, with the child’s name hand-lettered on it.

This was the convo:

Me: I’ve heard great things about you! My son is excited to bust out of 6 straight years wearing a school uniform. I just have one concern. I’m kind of a, um, you know, health food nut. I know, I’m weird. But I’m not a huge fan of candy as an academic or behavioral reward. I read in your handout that you do that?

Teacher: Oh, haha, yeah, um, I really should do less of that.

Me: I just wanted to volunteer to pay for alternative rewards, you know, that stuff you can buy a pack at a time—pencils, little toys, notepads, stuff like that? If you buy it, for the whole class, I’ll pay for it, instead of the candy.

Another Mom: Oriental Trading Company is good.

Me: I know candy is the easy thing to do. [I hand her my business card and tell her I’m teaching a class here in Orem Sept. 6 and I hope she can come, bring her husband and kids.]

Teacher: Oh, Green Smoothie Girl! I know you! I do green smoothies.

Another Mom: Oh! You’re Green Smoothie Girl! I just got your newsletter this morning—I want some of those raw bars! Are they really good? [A conversation ensues between the teacher and the waiting moms about how this mom has been surreptitiously slipping the greens into the kids’ breakfast smoothie and how excited she is about it.]

[I know with that raw-bar comment, this whole blog just got suspiciously self-indulgent, especially when I put the link behind the words! They are yummy and so nutritious. But I am not making this conversation up.]

Teacher: It’s hard to find stuff that appeals to 6th graders. Stickers just aren’t gonna cut it. How about pretzels, should I give those to your son instead?

Me: Um, that’s not really better. White flour and salt, you know? When my kids were little, I used to take alternative “healthy” treats to the teachers for when candy was being handed out. But Tennyson probably won’t like that. If you don’t find something whiz-bang enough at Oriental Trader that 6th graders will like, I might just set up a reward system where I pay him $1 for every treat he turns down. Or maybe I will give you some alternative treats for him, if he’s okay with it.

[end of conversation]

Any moms who have better ideas, let me know. My kids have been educated at a charter school I helped open, since my 18-year old was in 3rd grade. So I haven’t had to deal with this, much, for a very long time.

My purpose talking to the teacher is to (a) identify myself as a watchful parent who cares about not only my child’s health and nutrition, but the whole class’s, (b) be positive and offer to help, and (c) let the teacher know that I generally support her even if there’s one area where I’m a fan of the classroom policy.

I’m sure the moms reading this blog would like feedback and ideas, so join the conversation!

Home from AZ

Kristin and I are back from our trip to Arizona, and soon, I’ll share with you a video or two of interviews with a couple of readers. The drive is long and boring. We stopped and toured the spectacular Glen Canyon Dam. We prowled around Orderville, UT, gawking at polygamists and whispering about our little fantasy to kidnap their daughters. We busted up the 11-hour drive with my iPod. I yell, “ARE YOU READY?!” and Kristin yells back, “I’M READY!” and I blast a Poison, Heart, Van Halen, or Aerosmith song from her speakers.

I named my senior thesis, in college, after a line from an Aerosmith song: “Live and Learn from Fools and Sages.” (We learn from the wise people in our lives–but we miss out on learning opportunities if we don’t learn from the people doing stupid things, too.)

A beautiful blonde physical therapist about my age talked to me after the Glendale class. Her eyes brimmed up with tears when she said, “Thank you for giving me my lungs back.” I didn’t give her back her capacity to train and run races without tightness in her lungs, of course. Eating whole foods did. (When I made the shift, my autoimmune problems reversed themselves, too–no more seasonal allergies, eczema, or occasional asthma attacks!)

She told me her problem is her kids: after some initial successes, they’re currently resisting the new healthy menus. I suggested that she not panic, consider that they probably don’t want her to suddenly turn into a Little Caesars mom, regardless of the way kids overstate their opinions. (They aren’t geniuses at communication. And remember, even junk-food moms’ kids complain if they don’t get the food they want.) This mom abandoning her principles would be inconsistent and confusing for the kids. They’re probably fine with her being the health-nut mom, just need to know she can let her hair down, be a little flexible.

Every once in a while I invite all the friends of one of my kids over, for a pizza party. This is so my kids know I can lighten up, even if the rest of the time we are really very consistent. (On those rare instances, I am also very nervous that a GSG reader will see me at Costco buying things I normally never would–any remainder of which will go in the garbage after the party.)

I don’t, however, EVER have junk food in my house for the kids to snack on. (Kristin says people always talk to her after my classes to find out if I’m the “real deal.” She assures them that she spends about 60 hours a week with me, with our work-from-home, and travels, and our “social life,” what there is of it. Feel free to grill her. She says, “I’ve never once seen her have junk food in the house for the kids.”)

My kids know what the snacks are, and I find that if someone is complaining, it’s because I need to pay a little more attention to having things on hand that they like. (When moms talk to me about their “picky” and “resistant” kids, they also always name for me the nutritious foods the child WILL eat.)

To that end, it’s helpful to have a list of the food foods that each child seeks out. Making a list on paper will help you realize there are more things than you think, and it’ll motivate you to discover new ones to add to the list. Put it on the inside of a cupboard.

Paying attention to that may go a long way toward helping them eat right. Add to the list when your child discovers another healthy food she likes–praise her when she does.

This is part of a list I have that helps my kids feel there’s enough to eat, and something to look forward to, at home:

Tennyson, Libby, Emma: fresh blueberries

Libby: raw sweet potatoes, cucumbers, raw chocolate in her green smoothie, nori sheets, prunes

Tennyson: Naked juice, wheat grass juice, sprouted “candied” almonds

Cade: pink apples, Raw Melissa spring rolls, bell peppers eaten like an apple

Emma: carrots dipped in hummus

Cade, Libby, Ten: cases of Costco mangoes

I find any complaining at my house stops, as long as I tune into what the kids want that is good for them and make sure I stock those foods. And as long as on a rare occasion, I “lighten up” for a party.

Sorry if you’ve read this before, but my grandmother told me: “It’s not what you do 5% of the time that’s going to kill you. It’s what you do 95% of the time that’s going to save you.”

this post is so NOT timely (hot cocoa in JUNE?!)

Nobody really wants to read a healthy hot cocoa recipe in June, huh. I’ll have more appropriate spring garden recipes for you Sunday.

But I went for a bike ride at 7:45 p.m. up the canyon. My friend Jennie kept griping about the next steep hill: “I thought you said this was the last one!” It’s my favorite ride, 10 miles up and 10 miles back, so beautiful it takes my breath away.

Somehow I didn’t think about how cold it would be, in my t-shirt and shorts, flying down the canyon at 35 mph. I was so frozen when I got to the bottom that I raced home, made this hot cocoa, and got in a steaming hot bath with it:

BUTTERSCOTCH HOT COCOA

1 cup hot water

2 Tbsp. coconut palm sugar

1 heaping Tbsp. non-alkalized unsweetened cocoa

1 heaping Tbsp. coconut milk powder

¼ tsp. butterscotch flavoring (Frontier brand, no alcohol)

Whiz all in the blender, pour into a mug, and enjoy!

Mother’s Day Blueberry Dessert

The more you eat raw food, the simpler it becomes. When I’m by myself, what I eat at home tends to be bare-bones, if I’m not in restaurants with friends. But when I have a Sunday dinner for my family, or a special occasion, I make it fancier. I’m not always the greatest at planning ahead, so sometimes I open the fridge and make something up, based on one ingredient I’d like to use.

Yesterday my two youngest kids made a lovely Mother’s Day dinner. I had a quick brainstorm about how to make the two pints of blueberries (currently in season) in the fridge into a dessert.

I put some young Thai coconut meat (1/2 cup?) and coconut liquid (1/2 cup?) into my BlendTec, with a little lemon juice (1 Tbsp?) and agave (2 Tbsp?), plus some cashews (1/3 cup?) and 6 frozen strawberries. I whizzed it up into a cream sauce and served it with ½ cup blueberries in each of five crystal glasses as a parfait. Yum, everyone gobbled it up.

(I put question marks after the measurements because I didn’t measure, so these are guesses–don’t hold me to them!)