Food as Reward / Junk Food / School / Sugar

Like the Switch Witch? Thoughtful Reduction for the Rest of Sugar Season


My appreciation for the Halloween Sweet Swap grows with each passing year. It was wonderful to wake up the day after Halloween without a family sugar hangover and kids who were excited to find out what the tooth fairy had left in place of the candy. It’s a bit like Christmas morning without the exhaustion of spending hours preparing the night before and has certainly increased our family’s joy in celebrating the holiday.

After a few years of using the Halloween swap, I decided to see if it would work in other situations to help my children avoid the sugar overload. Despite having spent years advocating for strong school wellness policies, it still felt like I was playing a game of junk food whack-a-mole with all the treats and food rewards at school. Since I couldn’t rely on the school to help my children stay within the recommended limits for added sugar, maybe I could rely on my kids. So I made them a deal. If they chose to say “no thank you” when they were offered food as a reward, sweet treats or junk food at school, I would give them a gift card to their favorite bookstore. It worked like a charm.

When they came home from school and told me about the testing lollipop or birthday cupcake they had turned down that day, I would thank them and give them the card. When they became more interested in horses, we switched to cash so they could save for a show. Sometimes they would choose to have the treat that was offered but afterwards they would realize it hadn’t really been worth it. So often kids are told to make healthy choices but are put in situations where the healthy choice is an extremely difficult choice. Making this kind of deal helps to even the playing field and prevents children from feeling deprived when they skip the sugary treats.

This was highlighted last week during a science demonstration at the University of Kentucky (full disclosure: my husband is an employee). The chemistry department invited families and children to an interactive show to learn about energy. It started off with a dancing gummy bear experiment to show the reaction between sugar and potassium chloride. An impressive amount of energy was released from just one piece of candy and the chemist discussed how excess energy from too many gummy bears turns into fat.

So why, with Halloween less than a week away, would these smart people then give out candy to kids for answering questions? It was not just one or two pieces of candy but six pieces at a time. So much for the recommendations from the major medical organizations not to use food as a reward. On top of all that candy, they also gave out cupcakes decorated with the periodic table of the elements. Thanks to the deal, my kids passed on the science cupcakes and candy just as they’ve passed on the treats for reading and math. Instead of developing the habit of consuming all the sugary treats that are offered (like so many children and even adults do), the deal has helped them develop the habit of passing them up.  They have them as the exception rather than the rule.

The deal does not apply to their friends’ birthday parties so they have plenty of opportunities to enjoy cake and other sweets.  They savor these once-in-a-while treats but don’t binge from deprivation.  The deal applies to the birthday cupcakes at school to help them avoid the excess sugar from the in-school and out-of-school double celebration.

Some would argue that the deal doesn’t teach children long-term strategies for when they are older and there’s no promise of a reward.  Actually, I have found it has helped my children learn to be thoughtful about food. For example, my daughter’s friend was selling candy bars at school for a team fundraiser.  My daughter did not want to buy the candy but she did want to support her friend.  She decided to make a donation in lieu of candy.  If she had not been learning to be mindful with food because of the deal, I’m sure she would have just gone ahead and bought the candy to eat.

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff recommended the Switch Witch for Halloween this year because it encourages a discussion about “thoughtful reduction.” With the deal, we have this discussion year-round and it helps us shape our environment to avoid the sugar overload. Fellow blogger Brianne DeRosa asked this question about the Halloween excess:

So, not to be a buzzkill or anything, but can somebody please enlighten me? It’s Halloween. The kids are going out tonight and collecting masses of candy. Why is it, exactly, that we need to have them pre-gaming at school with cupcake parties? What’s the rationale behind this?

I say it’s because this is how we’ve been taught to show love and affection to kids in our country.  You can ask the same question at Christmas, Valentines Day, and Easter.  Until we see that it’s causing more harm than good, it won’t stop. The deal has helped help me teach the next generation that there are better things in life than overloading on sugar.

One thought on “Like the Switch Witch? Thoughtful Reduction for the Rest of Sugar Season

  1. Pingback: 7 Mistakes Parents Make Feeding their Children

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