By Kim Korona
We’ve all read the studies. Childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and food allergies are on the rise. Teachers, the guardians of kids between the hours of eight and three, are often caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to bringing treats into the classroom. Plus, as humane educators we know that many foods on the market (due to the ways in which they are produced) have dire consequences for people, animals and the planet. On the one hand, we want to reward our students with foods they enjoy and allow parents to celebrate their child’s birthday by bringing in treats, and on the other, we desperately want to teach our kids healthy and humane habits that will help them grow up to be strong and ethical adults.
As an educator myself, I often want to share food with students at the end of a program to celebrate everything they have learned and accomplished, but I want to offer foods that are humane too. It can be challenging to know what the right snack is to bring into a classroom. The criteria I often consider in foods is that they are:
- Fair-Trade or local
- Not made with animal products
The list is a high standard to follow, but I think all of these factors are important. However, I often miss an additional consideration that is equally as important: that the food is healthful. I have been guilty of bringing my students cookies, pretzels, popcorn, and chocolate even though I know they are not necessarily the most nutritious of foods because I thought, “It’s a celebration. I have to bring in something really tasty.”
Recently, while I was at a party, I talked with a teacher who shared her classroom food policy with me. In an effort to combat the negative impacts of too much junk food, include the students with food allergies, and so as not to make kids who cannot afford to bring in expensive treats feel left out, she has asked parents not to bring cupcakes or cookies to the classroom anymore. The teacher came up with an idea for a snack that everyone can enjoy. Each student is asked to contribute one type of fruit that has been pre-washed and cut into bite sized pieces. She brings in a very large bowl and combines all of the different fruit to make a large fruit salad and calls it a friendship salad.
While it sounds like a simple idea, this special friendship fruit salad has taken the place of all other junk foods that the students would have otherwise shared as a class. She told me it is a huge hit with the kids. They think it is incredibly tasty and each one of them is excited that they were able to contribute to the dessert. It is simple, low-cost, and only requires minimal preparation time for the parents. No family is left out because they didn’t have enough time to prepare a baked good or didn’t have extra money to buy a lot of ingredients. Everyone is only asked to bring in a little and when it is combined with 25 or so other contributions, it makes for a bountiful treat for everyone.
Since this has become the new classroom tradition the students get excited about friendship salad day. They now associate fruit salad with having a party, instead of foods like cheese puffs, cake, and chips. Some of the students have even been exposed to fruits that they had never eaten before.
From time to time we all enjoy a cupcake or cookie, but in the classroom we can be role models for our students. We can make the time we have with them an opportunity to expose them to things that are the best for them, such as healthful, great tasting, humane food. You might just want to make a friendship salad for your own class soon!
Photo Credit: Flickr/ebarney