Junk food: Is it really a reward when it makes us sick?

image from sodahead.com

image from sodahead.com

Last Friday my daughter was super excited to go to school.  She is in 5th grade and is just at that point where she is starting to realize that a snow day is a lot more fun than an actual school day.  So when I hear the words, “I can’t wait for school!” my mom radar always wonders and asks, “Why?”.

Being on my own journey these last couple of years I have learned that rewarding myself as I reach my goals is something that is really important to help me keep working hard.  I am not very good at following through at times and sometimes will jump the gun on getting my reward, especially when it comes to clothing (aka yoga pants or one more tank top), but I know that the reward is there and I’m working towards something that I really want.  At the beginning of my journey I would even go to the gym in the morning and then go through the drive-thru at McDonald’s for “breakfast”…because I worked so hard and I deserved it.

At that point in my journey I was just lying to myself and setting myself back each time…McDonald’s breakfast sandwich is not really a breakfast and I always felt kindof gross after.  Plus…where was my fruit and/or veggie?…cause hashbrowns that leave grease stains on the package they come in really don’t qualify as a true serving of veggies.  I would have probably been better off if I just stayed in bed those days and slept in.

I see a trend though in our society and it was just reaffirmed by my daughter last week…

  • Rewarding with junk food is #1!  

Here is what happened and the result of rewarding my child with junk food:

  • My oldest child and her classmates in 5th grade worked hard on a computer program that they use in school and outside of school to help prepare them for the upcoming statewide tests.  Each class (except maybe the lower few grades) participates in this and my daughters class blew the rest out of the water.  The reward for her class…(drum roll) A JUNK FOOD PARTY!  
  • When I first saw the note from the teacher I had to actually take a second look…because I didn’t believe it.  The words “healthy foods” were also on the list but those aren’t the words that any child saw.  Seriously though, what 5th grader is going to bring in apples or cut-up veggies when the rest of the class is bringing cookies and chips?  Talk about peer pressure…this is running rampant already at this age and bringing in something healthy might just push the teasing and name calling to the next level. (This is not a post about bullying…so don’t read into that part too much.)
  • The day started by celebrating a birthday party at school…so there is junk food #1 that wasn’t even part of the Junk Food Party.
  • My daughter also won some other special prize because she turned in some other homework before a deadline was due (that is just who she is and what she does…she is good at school)…so she got ice cream sandwiches.  Let’s keep counting…Junk Food #2 for the day.  I found this one out in a different e-mail from the school that day and I actually hoped that she didn’t finish her homework on time because I knew she was getting enough crappy food already.  How is that for being the supportive mom?
  • Junk Food Party was in the afternoon (after she already had the birthday treats and ice cream and school lunch) and she ate chips, cookies, cupcakes and according to her…lots of chocolate.  Can’t say she doesn’t take after her mom on that last one.  🙂
  • My kids don’t eat like this.  I’ve been told these exact words, “well your family doesn’t eat like other families.”  Guess what?  I’m ok with that.  Since my kids don’t eat like that on a regular basis, I had a child come home from school that was the biggest grump ever!  She also said her stomach hurt and she looked exhausted.
  • Oh wait…and the teacher said they had too much junk food so they should take some home with them.  Ya think?!  Well, I found this today shoved in a cupboard.
Back of the bag

Back of the bag

front of the bag

front of the bag

I haven’t yet sent a note to the teacher but trust me…it is coming.  I know that the teachers work hard and try to get all of the different kids to be motivated to work together and that is not an easy task.  Food does encourage kids but we really need to think about what we are encouraging here with rewards like these.

Most of us here at The Journey live in the United States of America.  This is the place where childhood obesity is crazily out of control.  Here are some stats from the CDC:

  • Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.1, 2
  • The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period.1, 2
  • In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.1
  • Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors.3 Obesity is defined as having excess body fat.4
  • Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”—too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed—and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.5,6

Look what else the CDC has listed as Prevention:


  • Healthy lifestyle habits, including healthy eating and physical activity, can lower the risk of becoming obese and developing related diseases.6
  • The dietary and physical activity behaviors of children and adolescents are influenced by many sectors of society, including families, communities, schools, child care settings, medical care providers, faith-based institutions, government agencies, the media, and the food and beverage industries and entertainment industries.
  • Schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors. Schools also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors.

See that bold one…yep, not what happened on Friday for my child.  I can tell ya that right now.  I am ok with the birthday party.  I am NOT ok with the Junk Food Party and the ice cream sandwiches.  

Did you know?  The amount of pasta in this box is the correct serving size for a total of 12 kids between the ages of 3 to 5 years old.

Did you know? The amount of pasta in this box is the correct serving size for a total of 12 kids between the ages of 3 to 5 years old.

Not only am I a mom but I am a licensed day care provider that works with the USDA food program.  This program monitors everything that I feed the kids and lets me know what I do really well and what I don’t.  I just had them visit me yesterday with more tips and requirements based on what they are currently recommending and this time they brought in some fake food for the kids to see that were visuals of the correct serving sizes that they should be eating.  The kids learned a lot and were repeating the following fact over and over yesterday and today:

  • Macaroni and cheese (the box kind) has enough servings of pasta for 12 kids that are between the ages of 3 to 5 years old.  Additional protein must be given to all children though that is about the size of half a bratwurst (or something similar) because the cheese in boxed mac & cheese is not adequate.  

I knew the cheese part (is it really real cheese anyways?) but I didn’t know the pasta part.  It might seem extreme but there really is not much nutritional value from pasta and a serving size for a child is much smaller than most of us think.

What else can we reward kids with…or even us adults?  Here are a few ideas or things that we do at our house to help encourage the kids to work hard AND make healthy food choices:

  • Stickers!  Kids love stickers.  
  • Temporary Tattoos.  These are just as cheap as candy.  Plus…no calories or trans fats!
  • Child gets to read their favorite story with you.
  • One-on-one outing with mom or dad that doesn’t involve eating…could be a park, movie, play area at the mall, etc.
  • put a puzzle together
  • play a fun game (not video games, either)
  • dance to a fun song together
  • go for a walk
  • visit a zoo
  • find a story time or music time in your area for kids and go with your child
  • go to your library and let your child pick out a book
  • pick out a new outfit or pair of shoes

Here are a few helpful resources for you!

Now it is time for me to chat with a teacher.

Do you reward yourself with food?  If you are a parent…are the yummy treats the norm or something that is a “sometimes” food?

Thanks for being part of The Journey!  You can find more stories, recipes, and activities…including workouts right here!  Follow us by e-mail or get up to date info on Facebook at www.facebook.com/smallchangesbigpicture

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams

– Jessica

Find out more about Jessica and Cori, the writers at The Journey.


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