First Person

Ask an Expert: Healthy, fun school treats for kids

Q. The end of another school year is almost upon us. But there are still a few school parties to go – not to mention daily snacks. Can you give me some tips on how to make the snacks healthier in general and OK for kids with food allergies, too? 

A. It’s very easy to pack a bag of chips, Goldfish crackers, cookies or super sweetened juice boxes as a child’s snack for either home or school – but they are often filled with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, poor fats,  and additives and preservatives that are likely to lead to poor health.

Far too often, children’s snacks are full of SUGAR.  This will only lead to poor focus and concentration at school, weight problems, mood swings/irritability and other health issues.  There is also an increase with food allergies among children, which makes bringing snacks to school even more challenging.  So what can parents do to make sure their kids are eating nutrient dense snacks?

Here are a few fun and creative ideas along with easy recipes that are wholesome and delicious to get even the pickiest of eaters to enjoy! Most of these are ideal for those with food allergies such as gluten, dairy and nuts.

Healthy school party tips

Get involved and be creative Making a snack or meal fun may entice picky eaters to try foods they might otherwise turn their nose to. My mom used to make us a “surprise” for our after-school snack.  It was often just beautiful fruit, a mini sandwich or homemade pudding, but the way in which she displayed it using cut out shapes and pretty glasses made it irresistible.  Better yet, get your kids involved and have them prepare these with you. Here are some fun ideas:

  • Octopus swimming in hummus: Who wouldn’t want to grab a leg off this guy and take a bite? You can also use guacamole or plain Greek yogurt…or better yet, mix avocado with plain Greek yogurt (for those that can tolerate dairy) and add fresh squeezed lime juice for a tasty dip. You can also use jicama sticks, sugar snap peas and cucumbers for great dipping.
  • Here is a fun sandwich idea along with a tree made of cucumbers and pretzels.  Use sprouted, 100 percent whole grain or gluten free breads. You can also find gluten free pretzels for those who are sensitive to gluten. Add tuna salad, egg salad, chicken or turkey for added protein.
  • Make it a kabob  Small cookie cutters work great for making all kinds of snacks more appealing to young children.  Substitute chunks of avocado for those with dairy allergies.  This idea works great with fruit such as apples, bananas and melons as well – add rolled up turkey for extra protein…and be sure to squeeze in some greens.
  • Use a muffin tin to display veggie snacks, fruit, crackers, dips, etc….You can find heart-shaped or colored tins, or patterned muffin papers to add even more fun.
  • Include protein in their snacks.  This will prevent their blood sugar from spiking and give them more sustained energy, focus and concentration. Try serving: Hard boiled or deviled eggs; turkey roll-ups with veggies and avocado in the center; nut butters with veggies, apple slices or try other butters such as “sunflower butter” for those with nut or peanut allergies; or hummus or other bean dips.
  • Make your own trail mix. (For those without nut allergies, of course). Most of the prepackaged “bars” contain way too much sugar.  You can premix your own special varieties and put them in baggies. Don’t forget to add a bit of flaked coconut and go easy on the dried fruit. Create fun packaging with ribbon, stickers, baggies and other containers.
  • Skip the juice and sodas.  These are simply loaded with sugar – even those that are labeled pure fruit juice.  Instead, try a club soda or sparkling water with just a splash of fruit juice – add lemon, lime or a few berries for an extra sparkle.
  • Set an example: Children will imitate what they see, so if you are noshing on junk, and have unhealthy snacks in your pantry, that is exactly what they will want.  Keep a bowl full of fruit and vegetables on hand at all times along with a healthy dip such as hummus, guacamole or Greek yogurt.

First Person

I’m a teacher in Memphis, and I know ‘grading floors’ aren’t a cheat — they’re a key motivator

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Shelly

Growing up, my father used to tell me not to come to him with a problem unless I had a solution.

That meant I learned quickly what kinds of solutions wouldn’t go over well — like ones involving my father and his money. His policy also meant that I had to weigh pros and cons, thinking about what I was able to do, what I wasn’t, and whom I needed help from in order to make things happen.

I sometimes wish decision-makers in Memphis had a father like mine. Because more often than not, it seems we are talking about the problems void of a solution or even possible solutions to vet.

Right now, the issue in Memphis and Shelby County Schools is the “grading floor,” or the policy of setting a lowest possible grade a teacher can assign a student. They have been temporarily banned after a controversy over high-school grade changing.

Grading floors aren’t new to teachers in Memphis, or to me, a fifth-grade teacher. I have taught and still teach students who are at least two grade levels behind. This was true when I taught fourth grade and when I taught sixth grade. Honestly, as the grade level increased, so did the gaps I saw.

More often than not, these students have been failed by a school, teacher, leader or system that did not adequately prepare them for the next grade. Meanwhile, in my classroom, I have a responsibility to teach grade-level material — adjusting it for individual students — and to grade their work accordingly.

That’s where “grading floors” come in. Without a grading floor, all of my current students would have grades below a 65 percent.

Can you imagine seeing the face of a fifth-grade boy who tried his hardest on your test, who answered all the questions you gave orally, who made connections to the text through auditory comprehension, only to receive a 0 on his paper?

I don’t have to imagine – I see similar reactions multiple times a day. Whether it’s a 65 percent or a 14 percent, it’s still an F, which signals to them “failure.” The difference between the two was summed up by Superintendent Hopson, who stated, “With a zero, it’s impossible to pass a course. It creates kids who don’t have hope, disciplinary issues; that creates a really bad scenario.”

I know that as years go by and a student’s proficiency gap increases, confidence decreases, too. With a lowered confidence comes a lower level of self-efficacy — the belief that they can do what they need to do to succeed. This, to me, is the argument for the grading floor.

In completing research for my master’s degree, I studied the correlation between reading comprehension scores and the use of a motivational curriculum. There was, as might have guessed, an increase in reading scores for students who received this additional curriculum.

So every day, I speak life into my students, who see Fs far too often in their daily lives. It is not my job as their teacher to eradicate their confidence, stifle their effort, and diminish their confidence by giving them “true” Fs.

“This is not an indication of your hard work, son. Yet, the reality is, we have to work harder,” I tell students. “We have to grind in order to make up what we’ve missed and I’m the best coach you have this year.”

In education, there are no absolutes, so I don’t propose implementing grading floors across the board. But I do understand their potential — not to make students appear more skilled than they are, or to make schools appear to be better than they are, but to keep students motivated enough to stay on track, even when it’s difficult.

If it is implemented, a grade floor must be coupled with data and other reports that provide parents, teachers, and other stakeholders with information that accurately highlights where a student is, both within the district and nationally. Parents shouldn’t see their child’s progress through rose-colored glasses, or be slapped by reality when options for their child are limited during and after high school.

But without hope, effort and attainment are impossible. If we can’t give hope to our kids, what are we here for?

I don’t have all the answers, but in the spirit of my father, don’t come with a problem unless you have a solution.

Marlena Little is a fifth-grade teacher in Memphis. A version of this piece first appeared on Memphis K-12, a blog for parents and students.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede