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At school, home and throughout the community kids are offered food as a reward for "good" behavior. Often these foods have little or no nutritional value but are easy, inexpensive and can bring about short-term behavior change. Using food as reward has many negative consequences that go far beyond the short-term benefits of good behavior or performance. 

There are many disadvantages to using food as a reward: 

● It undermines nutrition education being taught in the school environment. 

■ Nutrition principles taught in the classroom are meaningless if they are contradicted by rewarding children with candy and other sweets. It is similar to saying, "You need to eat healthy foods to feel and do your best, but when you behave or perform your best, you will be rewarded with unhealthy food." 

● It encourages over-consumption of foods high in added sugar and fat. 

■ Food preferences for both sweet and non-sweet foods increase significantly when they are presented as rewards. This can teach children to prefer unhealthy foods. 

● It teaches kids to eat when they are not hungry, as a reward to themselves and may contribute to the development of disordered eating. 

■ Rewarding with food can interfere with children learning to eat in response to hunger and satiety cues. 

■ Providing food based on performance or behavior connects food to mood. This practice can encourage children to eat treats even when they are not hungry and can instill lifetime habits of rewarding or comforting themselves with food, resulting in unhealthy eating behaviors and/or obesity. 

Research clearly demonstrates that healthy kids learn better. To provide the best possible learning environment for children, schools must provide an environment that supports healthy behaviors. Students need to receive consistent, reliable health information and ample opportunity to use it. Finding alternatives to food rewards is an important part of providing a healthy school environment. 

Ideas for Non-food Rewards 

Social rewards 

"Social rewards", which involve attention, praise, or thanks are often more highly valued by children than a toy or food. Simple gestures like pats on the shoulder, verbal praise (including in front of others), nods, or smiles can go a long way. These types of social rewards affirm a child's worth as a person. 


● Trophy, plaque, ribbon, or certificate in recognition of achievement or a sticker with an affirmative message (e.g., "Great job"). 

● Recognizing a child's achievement on the school-wide morning announcements and/or the school's website. 

● A photo recognition board in a prominent location in the school. 

● A phone call, e-mail, or letter sent home to parents or guardians commending a child's accomplishment. 

● A note from the teacher to the student commending his or her achievement. 

Rewards for individuals: 

● Going first. 

● Choosing a class activity. 

● Helping the teacher. 

● Having an extra few minutes of recess with a friend. 

● Sitting by friends or in a special seat next to or at the teacher's desk. 

● Teaching the class. 

● Playing an educational computer or other game. 

● Play a favorite game or do puzzles. 

● Reading to a younger class. 

● Read outdoors. 

● Making deliveries to the office. 

● Reading the school-wide morning announcements. 

● Helping in another classroom. 

● Eating lunch with teacher or principal. 

● Private lunch in classroom with a friend. 

● Listening with a headset to a book on tape or CD. 

● Going to the library to select a book to read. 

● Working at the school store. 

● Taking a walk with the principal or teacher. 

● Designing a class or hall bulletin board. 

● Writing or drawing on the blackboard/whiteboard. 

● Taking care of the class animal for a day. 

● Allowing a child to choose an extra recess activity for the class on his/her birthday. 

● Items that can only be used on special occasions (special art supplies, computer games, toys). 

● Bank system (earn play money used for privileges). 

● Trip to Treasure Box with non-food items (stickers, tattoos, pencils, erasers, bookmarks, desktop tents). 

Rewards for a class: 

● Extra recess. 

● Eating lunch outdoors. 

● Have lunch or breakfast in the classroom. 

● Going to the lunchroom first. 

● Reading outdoors. 

● Extra art, music, physical education, or reading time. 

● Listening to music while working. 

● Listen with headset to a book on audiotape. 

● Fun physical activity break. 

● Dancing to favorite music in the classroom. 

● Playing a game or doing a puzzle together. 

● "Free choice" time at the end of the day. 

● A song, dance, or performance by the teacher or students. 

● Teacher performs special skill (singing, cartwheel, guitar playing, et cetera). 

● Teacher or volunteer reads special book to class. 

● Bank system: (earn play money used for privileges). 

● A field trip. 

● Show-and-tell. 

● Fun video. 

School supplies: 

● Pencils: colored, with logos, or other decorations. 

● Pens. 

● Erasers. 

● Notepads/notebooks. 

● Boxes of crayons. 

● Stencils. 

● Stamps. 

● Plastic scissors. 

● Bookmarks. 

● Highlighters. 

● Chalk (e.g., sidewalk chalk). 

● Markers. 

● Coloring books. 

● Rulers. 

● Glitter. 

● Pencil sharpeners, grips, or boxes. 

● Gift certificate to the school store. 

● Receive a "mystery pack" (notepad, folder, sports cards, et cetera). 

● Paperback book. 

Sports equipment and athletic gear: 

● Paddleballs. 

● Frisbees. 

● Water bottles. 

● NERF® balls. 

● Hula hoop. 

● Head and wrist sweat bands. 

● Jump rope. 


● Stickers. 

● Yo-yos. 

● Rubber balls. 

● Finger puppets. 

● Stuffed animals. 

● Plastic or rubber figurines. 

● Toy cars, trucks, helicopters, or airplanes. 

● Plastic sliding puzzles or other puzzle games. 

● Slinky. 

● Gliders. 

● Magnifying glasses. 

● Spinning tops. 

● Marbles. 

● Jacks. 

● Playing cards. 

● Stretchy animals. 

● Silly Putty. 

● Bubble fluid with wand. 

● Capsules that become sponges/figures when placed in water. 

● Inflatable toys (balls, animals). 

● Small dolls or action figures. 

Fashion wear: 

● Hair accessories (barrettes, elastics, or ribbons). 

● Bracelets, rings, necklaces. 

● Sunglasses. 

● Eyeglasses with nose disguise. 

● Hat or cap. 

● T-shirt. 

● Sneaker bumper stickers. 

● Shoe laces. 


● Key chains. 

● Flashlights. 

● Cups. 

● Magnets. 

● Crazy straws. 

● Backscratchers. 

● A plant or seeds and pot for growing a plant. 

● Books. 

● Earn tokens over a longer period of time to redeem for a "bigger" reward. 

A point system can be used. Points can be exchanged for privileges or prizes when enough are accumulated. This also may be used for an entire class to earn a reward. 

Whenever individual children have done well, points can be added to the entire class's "account". When the class has earned a target number of points, then they receive a group reward. 

Additional Ideas for Middle School and High School Students 

Middle school students: 

● Sit with friends. 

● Listen to music while working at desk. 

● Five-minute chat breaks at end of class. 

● Extra credit. 

● Fun educational video. 

● Computer time. 

● Fun brainteaser activities. 

● Assemblies. 

● Field trips. 

● Eat lunch or have class outside. 

High school students: 

● Extra credit. 

● Fun educational video. 

● Reduced homework or a homework "pass". 

● Coupons to video or music stores. 

● Donated coupons to video stores, music stores or movies. 

● Drawings for donated prizes for students meeting a grade standard. 

● "Free Choice" time at end of class.