School Punishes kids with Food

Katherine - posted on 05/16/2011 ( 39 moms have responded )

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Being a recovering bulimic is as much a curse as a blessing when you're a parent. You know better than anyone how hard it can be for kids to deal with food. And then again, you know better than anyone how hard it can be for parents to deal with food.

And now, in a school in Pennsylvania, elementary school kids are being punished for a variety of behavior issues with a simple fix. They're being denied a hot lunch. So if a kid, say, fails to clean up their messy desk, they're told they can only eat a cold sandwich rather than the tacos or pizza that their classmates are indulging in.

Of all the colossally bad ideas that I hear out of schools, this one takes the cake -- no pun intended. It's practically begging for children to walk out with eating disorders.

Using food to punish kids doesn't make them straighten up and fly right. It presents food as a weapon. It paves the way for a lifetime of disordered eating. For anorexia. Bulimia. Binge eating.

Don't take it from me simply because I'm an armchair expert, a parent who has spent hours poring through material on eating disorders in order to fight my unnatural instincts toward food as I parent my child. Take it from countless eating disorder experts who warn that a child who has had a food withheld from them can associate that food with something they need to scarf down when they have the chance, creating an unhealthy binge disorder. That children who cease seeing food as sustenance and something used to punish can develop anorexia because they internalize that they don't "deserve" certain foods, that they have to punish themselves. Because it starts with hot lunch, sure, but it moves on in the altered brain of an eating disorder victim to other foods.

Outside of the eating disordered world, people tend to think of those of us on the inside as responsible for our own fate. It's not a culture that garners a lot of sympathy. Think of how people look at the overweight, telling them to "just stop eating." The same goes for the ultra thin. "Just start eating," they say.

They forget that there's a reason we're "big" or "skinny" to begin with, that there's very often a trigger-point. And while they wouldn't tell a child abuse victim to buck up and just stop thinking about it, that's the attitude toward eating disorders. It's why so many well-meaning parents are guilty of using food as a weapon in their homes. They don't see it as a problem.

It's not child abuse to substitute a promised treat with something not as nice, they think, as long as the child is still being fed. But the way to keep our kids healthy is to ensure they think of food as something to fill the stomach rather than a measure of their own worth.

In fact, The U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits withholding meals as a punishment for any child enrolled in a school participating in the school meal programs for this very reason. Because food isn't a weapon. It's one of the building blocks of life.

What do you think of this? Have you ever used food as a punishment in your home?

http://thestir.cafemom.com/big_kid/12031...

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K. - posted on 05/16/2011

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It's our responsibility to parent, not over parent. This school in question is not abusing these kids, mentally or physically. They're withholding a friggin taco in exchange for a sandwich. Instead of the kids thinking "Wow, I really want that hot lunch today, I better not act like a moron", the parents are getting involved. As usual. Swoop in and 'save' your kids from the big bad school. HOW DARE THEY TRY TO GIVE YOUR KID A SANDWICH?? I mean who do they think they are? Because not only does poor little (we'll call him Johny) Johny not get to eat his hot calorie and fat ridden lunch, but all his friends will see that he has a sandwich. All his friends will know that Johny did something wrong, well we can't have that. That's exclusionary! Fingers will be pointed, people will laugh, and now dammit, we've hurt Johny's feelings! Well crap! School gets sued again and Johny needs therapy. That Niiki, are the kind of kids that are being churned out today. Because of idiotic over-parenting.

Sharon - posted on 05/16/2011

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While i don't like it..... to claim it will cause eating disorders is a load of crap.

Eating disorders are caused by mental issues. Being denied tacos and having to eat a PB&J is a different level of punishment. I don't like it, but I don't see it causing an eating disorder.

My parents did the "you won't eat it now, but you'll eat it for breakfast thing." Punishment by food. I do not have an eating disorder. stupid cafemom retards regurgitated crap

[deleted account]

Food is only junk if you make it that way. The way I've seen pizza and tacos served in school is pretty junky. The way we make tacos at home is pretty healthy (we order "junky" pizza as a treat about once a month). Schools' (that I've had experience with) thought about food: buy whatever is most cost effective. That means white noodles, rice, and bread...food with tons of preservatives...and food that doesn't need to be prepared so that they don't have to hire as many cooks. Oh, and french fries are considered a vegetable...because they are made with potatoes. School lunches are not healthful. At least around here.



Anyway, back to the question. I don't like using food as a reward or punishment in general. Food is too important to use it in that way. And it doesn't take THAT much thought to come up with other forms of discipline.



Will one cold lunch instead of pizza screw up a kid? No.

Mary - posted on 05/17/2011

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Just to be clear - I don't advocate this form of punishment. But I think the assertion that denying a kid pizza for lunch is the start of an eating disorder is also a little exaggerated. Perhaps, if the child was living in home where parents consistently used food as a reward/punishment system, having this method would serve to reinforce the message being ingrained at home.

And, Nikki, I do see where this mother, with this history, is going to be a little more sensitive to the psychological impact that food can have, just a recovering alcoholic parent is going to be hyper-sensitive about their older child's exposure and experiences with alcohol. However, I think some of her fears are a bit of projection.

I have not used food as a reward or punishment system in my house. Hell, I didn't even utilize "treats" with potty training. So to say that my child (when she is school-aged) could develop an eating disorder just because, on the occasional day that she misbehaved, she was made to eat a less-appealing meal than the one she had planned, is (too me) pretty far-fetched.

Sneaky - posted on 05/17/2011

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Here is my question to the mothers that can not see how with holding food might contribute to an eating disorder - what if it could? Why take the risk that any kid will develop an eating disorder simply because you don't think it is a big deal?

I do not know either way. What does concern me is that these kids are being given positive reinforcement in the form of crap food. I'd be sending my kids to school each day and telling them to misbehave so they would get the healthier food option!!! Plus why should my perfectly behaved, slightly special, child be forced to eat pizza (which she hates) when all she ever wants to eat for lunch is cheese sandwiches???

I also have serious concerns about what happens to all these 'well behaved' children when they get out into the real world and associate pizza with feelings of achievement and happiness - can anyone say morbidly obese?

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Veronica - posted on 03/19/2012

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Using food as a punishment is terrible. I can't believe anyone let this even get started in the first place. Basic psychology tells you this is not healthy, much less to have "experts" such as school faculty to even contemplate using these tactics.

Merry - posted on 05/17/2011

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I don't know if it could bring on an eating disorder or not, I haven't suffered from one so I don't know what could trigger it.
But this definitely sounds like it 'could' trigger a disorder so I'd think they should find another form of discipline that doesn't involve food.
My niece has an eating disorder, hers is all about control, she has no control in her life, her mom dictates everything so the child refuses to eat. Do then she gets a ton of attention from parents trying to get her to eat, so her refusing to eat gets 'rewarded' with attention. It's messed up. If you acknowledge her eating or not eating she shuts down, if you ignore her or have non related conversation she eats beautifully. She is 10 and this has been going on for a few years now.
So idk, this might not cause disorders, but I bet you it could exasterbate one already in the making.

Merry - posted on 05/17/2011

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We don't use food as a punishment, or as a reward. We don't make him finish his plate, we don't make him stop before he wants.
We do limit unhealthy foods but they are given not as rewards, just in moderation.
Idk I feel he was breastfed on demand as a baby, I trusted him to know when he was. Hungry and to know when he was full. Worked well so I couldn't see a reason I'd have to start dictating what and when he eats just because he eats solid foods now.
If he began gaining weight, I'd adjust the types of food I'd offer, but he still will have the control of how much he eats.
I also don't say no when he says he is hungry,he's only two so when he asks to eat I feed him,no matter of 'meal' times.
I feel food is a natural process and it's a right not a privilege.

[deleted account]

Ummm...what did your school do? What do schools all around the world do?

1. After school/ in school detentions
2. missing out on special events
3. walking around the playground during recess (thanks Mary)
4. cleaning the white board or tops of desks
5. doing unfinished homework or classwork during a fun class activity
6. doing work alone as opposed to in centers
7. POSITIVE discipline...rewarding by giving privileges (feeding the class pet or being the line leader)

K. - posted on 05/17/2011

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What are some good alternatives this school could be using that would correct the behavior of the student but at the same time not invoke the wrath of the parent?

[deleted account]

I so agree, its not for the most part going to harm your kid.It will more than likely teach them to listen and behave.I just personally think you can go about it differently.Teach them to behave by not having to punish with food.I am sure also, if they tried other forms, it will most likely also teach them the same lesson.

Sharon - posted on 05/17/2011

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OH. I want to say that pizza & tacos are NOT junk food. What exactly is it about them that is junky?

Pizza
Tomato sauce,
veggies,
meat

Tacos
seasoned meat (if you want
beans,
lettuce,
tomatoes
cheese,
olives,
sourcream,
etc

Both sound like they contain healthful ingredients to me. At least, thats what they have here.

Not to mention, at our school, pizza is served with fresh fruit & a salad.

taco is a salad with some more flavor.

You guys are thinking of the straight pizza only meals your own parents served you or the meals you indulged in when young. Schools put more thought than that into their meals.

The healthful options are THERE, its up to your child to make the right choice and eat the salad included with the pizza.

Sharon - posted on 05/17/2011

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KR - I don't think your plan is the road to an eating disorder. Not for someone with a healthy mind.

Ashley up there, was already an abused mentality because she was in foster care, something went wrong somewhere and toss in abusive, neglectful foster parents - and you have the recipe for more warped thinking.

K. - posted on 05/17/2011

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So to everyone who thinks this is a bad idea I'll ask my question again, because it never got answered. If I was planning on treating my kids and ordering a pizza for dinner, but their behavior throughout the day did not warrant a treat, and I instead gave them peanut butter sandwiches and apples for dinner, am I paving the road to an eating disorder?

Isobel - posted on 05/17/2011

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my only thought is...they're not being denied food...they're being denied crappy, disgusting junk food that they probably shouldn't be eating anyway.

Our elementary schools don't offer hot lunches, kids get what their parents pack...and my kids almost never get the automatically "deserved" hot lunch.

[deleted account]

No and i will never do that either.

My parents would punish us by not allowing us food or giving us food we did not like.I also began to punish myself to, by not eating it.If i got into trouble i would not eat,even if they allowed me to, i would not eat it.

I would go hungry instead.I hate this type of punishment.I feel the could go about it in a different way.Do not use food as a punishment and i agree with you Katherine.My sister got the same punishment.She became bulimic but thankfully she overcame it.



*Edited to add*, not in all Case's will it cause a problem, most likely it will not cause a problem,it depends on the children themselves.Just from my experience, personally answering the question, i would not punish with food.

I agree one cold lunch instead of what they kids love is going to teach them to listen and do as there told.lol

K. - posted on 05/17/2011

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And Nikki I wasn't referring to drug usage and teen pregnancy in kids and teens 'these' days. What I meant was the attitude of the kids. It's a 'me' generation. Tag and dodgeball banned from schools, teachers banned from using red pen because it's "confrontational and threatening". Participation trophies, nobody loses anymore, everyone's a winner! Everyone is special. Well unfortunately when they get out into the real world when mommy can't call the boss and rant and rave for picking on her poor kid like she calls the school, it's going to be a slap in the face.

Nikki - posted on 05/17/2011

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Tracey, have I told you lately that I love you? :) This subject gets me very worked up, the words won't come out right, I love what you wrote.

Nikki - posted on 05/17/2011

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"I think the author is being melodramatic" With all due respect Mary, because I think your awesome..... But I relate with this author and in my mind she is far from melodramatic.

She is a recovering bulimic, she has obsessed about food for what feels like every second of every day for eternity. He entire life has been consumed and revolved around food and hiding her ugly truth. In her mind she is not being melodramatic she just doesn't want her child to suffer the same pain that she has.

As mother's we all want to prevent our children living through certain painful experiences we have endured, I think it's a normal part of being a mum. Sure she was not the most objective reporter for the article or story, but then objective media in any form is hard to come by these days!

Mary - posted on 05/17/2011

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I think the author is being melodramatic, but I also think this school is being stupid as well.

When I was in grade school (mid 70's) one of the things they did was have a separate table in the cafeteria where children who had misbehaved had to sit. A "Lunch Mother" (volunteer) sat at the head of that table. The children all ate whatever they were brought/bought for lunch, but they were not allowed to sit with their friends, nor talk/laugh/play with they other kids at the table. They still went outside for recess - but again, they were not allowed to be with their friends, but rather just walked in (relative) silence with that same volunteer mom. It seems pretty simple - they were not denied a meal, nor physical activity - they were just denied "fun", as punishment for bad behavior.

Nikki - posted on 05/17/2011

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@KR See we look at things differently, firstly I don't see the problem with "kids today" I work with kids and the large majority are perfectly well mannered normal kids. It's funny how every generation of parents have the same negative view of "kids today!" In fact research suggests our kids are doing better than ever before, lowest teen pregnancy, lower drug usage there's more but I can't remember it. Every older generation becomes a little out of touch with the times, and thus criticising our younger generations is normal behaviour.



I live in Australia, we don't have the same culture of suing others as the US does. Also in Australia our schools do not provide lunch, parents are encouraged to provide a healthy balanced lunch. I can't believe that some schools serve pizza and taco's that's pretty sad, let's feed the obesity epidemic!



Our schools and child care centres use positive behaviour management based on child development research. So no, I still don't think it is acceptable for an institute of education to punish children with food, they should know better.

C - posted on 05/16/2011

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Really an eating disorder because they can't eat a damn slice of crappy pizza or a soggy taco? I mean honestly?!?! Who comes up with this stuff? I am sorry if your child is always given what he or she wants even when displaying bad behavior but I see that more as a problem than being denied a hot lunch. Stop rewarding kids for their horrible behavior and start disciplining them.

Cynthia - posted on 05/16/2011

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i would prefer the school give my son a cold lunch then spank him. i actually think its a good idea. a lot of kids would act right if they were going to miss out on pizza and have to eat tuna. i think its ridiculous to think it will cause an eating disorder. i really don't see what the big fuss is about.

Nikki - posted on 05/16/2011

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Not every child, and not because of one sandwich. But yes I do think that using food as either a punishment or a rewards often can cause a negative association in SOME children. And of course it has everything to do with the parents these days, kids can't raise themselves, it's our responsibility as parents. I highly doubt my child will feel she is entitled to anything and everything because I haven't used food as a punishment or reward.

Cynthia - posted on 05/16/2011

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i pack a cold samdwich for my son all the time... i dont think he will have a eating disorder. i have punished my son for not eating his food. i've made him go to bed with out eating because he didnt want what was on his plate.

K. - posted on 05/16/2011

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You honestly think that because a kid misbehaves and has to eat a sandwich will result in a negative association with food? It has EVERYTHING to do with parents these days. Raising kids who think that they're entitled to anything and everything. But that's a whole other topic.

Nikki - posted on 05/16/2011

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If you have never experienced it then you can't understand. It's got nothing to do with being over protective. Yes eating disorders are essentially a mental illness and yes a lot of people will get them regardless of their upbringing and attitude to food but for some a negative association with food will impact the disorder.

K. - posted on 05/16/2011

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No, I've never suffered from an eating disorder. But I can't see how having a sandwich for lunch instead of pizza is "begging" for an eating disorder. If so, what you're telling me is every time I use my above mentioned example, I'm setting my kids up for anorexia or bulimia? The problem I think is these over-protective parents. Boo hoo, my kid had peanut for lunch because they were bad, time to make this national news. How about the kids just do what's expected of them? God forbid.

Nikki - posted on 05/16/2011

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Just a question, any of you that disagree that using food as a reward or punishment isn't a contributing factor to eating disorders ever actually suffer with an eating disorder?

Cristina - posted on 05/16/2011

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I tend to disagree with the idea that it causes eating disorders because as someone else already said, eating disorders are caused more by self esteem issues and other problems.

I do, however, think that it sets children up for unhealthy eating habits.

As almost every nutritional resource will mention, rewards and punishments with food create unhealthy attitudes toward food.

Link to study:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles...

As a general rule, I try to keep reward/punishment about doing fun things. If my daughter misbehaves we won't be able to do something fun that we were planning. If she does really nice things we may take a surprise trip to the park or zoo.

Stifler's - posted on 05/16/2011

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Denying them pizza or tacos, I fail to see how this will cause eating disorders. They LIKE tacos and pizza... obviously a treat food. They don't get it if they're naughty. Big deal, they should have behaved. They're still getting a sandwich.

[deleted account]

Elfrieda, where I used to teach 95% of the students ate school lunch. About 40% of them received it for free or very cheap through the free and reduced lunch program based on family income. And it wasn't considered "cool" to bring your lunch for some reason. This was a 4th and 5th grade school. I'm thinking most kids at this school eat school lunch if this school wants to use lunches as a tool for punishment.

Elfrieda - posted on 05/16/2011

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Don't most kids bring a lunch to school anyway? I never felt "punished" because I didn't have the money to buy the hot lunch. I ate my sandwich and chatted with my friends. If they weren't allowed to eat anything, this would be a problem. As it is, I can't get very worked up about it.

Bonnie - posted on 05/16/2011

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I agree with Sharon. The kids are still getting to eat and in some ways the sandwich they are allowed to eat is healthier than some of the other foods anyways.

K. - posted on 05/16/2011

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I totally agree with Sharon! I think saying that this type of punishment is "begging" for eating disorders is pushing it. Far. And I can see where the school is coming from. If I planned on treating my kids by say, ordering a pizza for dinner and throughout the day they proceeded to act like little badasses, do you really think I'd still order that pizza? Hell no! They'd be sitting at that table with a sandwich for dinner. They're still eating, they're not being malnourished or starved. And to be quite honest, one of the biggest "eating disorders" we're facing now is over eating. So little Johnny got in trouble and couldn't have his tacos at lunch? Good, he'd probably be better off with that sandwich anyway! Many kids here and abroad don't have anything to eat for lunch, and we're worried that if our kids misbehave they won't get their pizza?! WOW!

Mrs. - posted on 05/16/2011

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I actually agree with Sharon.

I mean, they aren't denying food altogether, they are just saying they have to eat a sandwich instead of mac and cheese.

While I think assigning meaning to food by either rewarding or punishing children is not healthy and I do not think this is the smartest way to get what they want out of their students - I don't think they are going to get a bunch of OCED kids out of it.

Tara - posted on 05/16/2011

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That there is some new kind of stupid. It's like people are going in reverse down there.
Were certain slaves not given food or given sub standard food when they didn't obey or were found to be working at less than their capabilities?
Honestly that is some of the craziest shit I've heard of a school doing. Perhaps they could concentrate more on enriching the students relationships with their teachers and fostering a more cooperative rather than competitive mindset instead of focusing on this archaic and worthless system of reward for obedience and in this case the reward being food makes this even more evil and sinister.
Stupid fucking policy makers.
If my kids went to that school I would be raising hell.

Caitlin - posted on 05/16/2011

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Seems kind of stupid to punish kids that way. At my moms school (when she was still teaching) they had a huge discipline problem, most of the kids had families that were on social assistsance and the only meal they got was at school. That being said, there were occasions where the kids were denied their "hot lunch" and given and sandwich, fruit and milk instead, but only for in school suspensions (suspensions didn't work because most parents didn't care - so a suspension basically became a day long detention where you got a list of all the school work you had to do - you had to do it and your lunch was a cold lunch - but still a lunch..) Also, this was a high school, which changes things a bit.

I don't really know if it's setting them up for eating disorders, in some cases it may not be helping matters much, I see it as more of an ineffective and stupid discipline method.

Don't think I've ever used food as a punishment, but my oldest is only 2 1/2 yrs old. The worst I do is when she starts spreading it around and playing with it, she gets her plate taken away, and the second time she's done..

The argument could be made that all the kids that have to bring their own lunches from home feel the same way about their food, seeing their friends eating the hot food from the cafeteria, while they dig into their brown bagged lunch. I don't quite think the 2 correlate.

[deleted account]

Yeah that would get under my skin as well it's not right there are certain things that are a right not just a privilage. Food is a right, a basic neccessity, same as physical activity I wouldn't be impressed to find out my son was denied recess for something either. When I was in school their thing was to take away class trip privilages which I kinda get but even that isn't right because class trips were a learning tool and being left out of one class trip because my homework wasn't done actually put me behind the rest of the class because I missed out on the learning experience the other kids received. Next thing I knew I failed a test because I wasn't given the information to pass it to begin with and then vicous cycle because I wasn't allowed to go on the next trip for failing that one test.

I'm all for consequences but not the kind that are going to defeat the point of disciplining to begin with. You can't solve a problem by creating another problem. I fail to see how lunch has anything to do with a clean desk, and I'm 23 years old so what is that teaching a ten year old? This is just another punishment versus discipline debate and I'm sorry but school is a place to learn not to be punished.

[deleted account]

Wow...can't they come up another form of discipline? It's not really that hard. And what if the kid brings their lunch?

To answer your question, no I've never used food as a punishment. I have occasionally used it as a reward...kind of. We don't typically do dessert, but on the rare occasion we have sweets available, and my daughter wants them, I make her eat "real" food first. I'm not sure that really counts as a reward though...just teaching good eating habits and making sure she gets proper nutrition.

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