Food, Snacks, & Treats at Preschool & Daycare

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Meals at Daycare


Preschool teacher not giving food after meal times

Jan 2014

Hi There, We just started at a new preschool. So far the transition seems to have gone well for my 3.5 year old. It's a bit more structured than I'm used to(not super warm/welcoming), so it's an adjustment, but my child seems to be doing well.

Yesterday, she told me that she was hungry when I picked her up. Today, she told me that she asked for a snack/more food, and the teacher said no (I'm assuming this happened outside of the normal snack/lunch time).

I understand that the teacher needs to keep some order and schedule to the classroom, but I don't think it's right not to feed a child who is hungry. My child is not one to ask if she's not actually hungry and she struggles a bit with eating/being picky, etc. I think preschool should be a time of fun/joy. If my child feels so structured that she can't ask for a snack when she's hungry, I don't know if this is the right fit.

Am I being crazy? Is the teacher right to be teaching children that there's a time to eat and a time not to? Or, is she just too rigid not to let a 3.5 year old eat when she's hungry--even if it disrupts the schedule? I need an outside perspective on this. Other aspects of the school, while highly structured despite saying ''play based,'' seem to be going well. We have a huge deposit we've paid to this school, so feeling a bit stuck and kicking myself for letting myself get caught in a situation where the deposit is part of the decision. Thoughts? hungry kid, sad mama

I think that this is a wonderfull opportunity to teach your daughter about life and how everything does not revolve around her. She needs to learn to eat during meal/snack times or understand the consequence that she will be hungry later. Stop enabling her to be a picky eater. It's not cute and no one wants to deal with it. Teach her to eat what is offered, when it is offered, and she will learn a great lesson about how the world works and how to function within the boundaries of society. If I worked at the preschool, there is no way that I would give her any food at non-eating times. Have you ever considered the fact that if she gets a snack that every other child will also want a snack? She's not going to starve to death but she might learn a valuable lesson. No special treatment

Why don't you just have a conversation with this woman? Communication is key. anon

You're not being crazy, but perhaps a bit misguided. If your child ''struggles a bit with eating/being picky'' that's all the more reason to teach that meal/snack time is when you eat and it's OK to work up an appetite in between. As the saying goes, hunger is the best sauce. If she's consistently coming home ravenous, then perhaps the snack time is too early or the snack isn't substantial enough for her and you should talk with the teachers about how to fix that. If she's rejecting the snack and then gets hungry, that could be a reasonable lesson in consequences or you could work with them on finding a more acceptable snack. But if you pick her up around an appropriate time for meal or snack and she's somewhat hungry, that's a good thing. I highly recommend the book ''Child of Mine'' by Ellyn Satter, which teaches a healthy division of labor for feeding children (adults decide what/when/where, kids decided whether and how much). Fan of regular meals

I understand that this may be a challenging (temporary) situation, but no, it is not reasonable to expect that your child is offered food outside of group mealtimes, as a preschooler. I have taught in some top-notch programs, and here are some reasons why children are not permitted to eat throughout the day, much of which is tied to community care licensing law:
* playtime and eating time are separate activities. for safety (choking) reasons, sanitation reasons, and some excellent learning opportunity that requires focus, we eat at the table and play when we're finished.
* children must be supervised while they eat. to expect one teacher to be available to all children who wish to randomly snack throughout the day is not possible.
* state food programs require strict guidelines about quantity of food served (and reimbursed), which are in-conducive to an ''open snacking'' policy
* monitoring the amount and what children eat is important, and best accomplished during set and scheduled mealtimes in a group care setting.

It is my experience that children often have an adjustment period around mealtimes when entering a new program. Sometimes they are confronted with new foods that they don't (yet) care for and will refuse to eat. Sometimes not eating is more about being so stimulated/ anxious by the new environment that all their energy is focused on taking it all in and observing, rather than participating. This changes over time. Kids start to try new foods. They start to notice their friends eating beside them and begin to participate more. Soon enough, these challenges resolve. I have never known a child to become malnourished while attending school.

Quality programs provide written communication about what a child eats, even if it's a chart that indicates ''a lot'' or ''some'' or ''little''... as a parent I think it's reasonable to request some detail for the short- term by your child's primary caregiver. I have made special notes from time to time for families who have a particular concern (e.g '' milk, fruit, no rice or chicken''). So be sure to have open communication with your child's teachers. Also, let you daughter know that different places have different rules and sometimes we have to adjust to new things, even if it's hard for a little while.

Consider providing a snack on the way home from school while she needs it. And be sure she has breakfast at home, even if there is breakfast provided. And... encourage her to eat at lunchtime! When you hear about her trying something new, let her know that you appreciate how she took a risk. And then bridge to home by making something from school for dinner, too!

What would not be ok, is if a caregiver *withheld* food during a scheduled meal time (as punishment, for example). That, in fact, is illegal in childcare settings. reasonable rules

It sounds to me like you are jumping to conclusions here, as your child just started at the school and you have not talked to the teacher about what is going on. I can tell you that at this age, our children are not always the most reliable narrators - there are LOTS of reasons that your child did not end up eating a snack. For instance, maybe they were offered snack but refused it.

Until you ask the teacher, you won't know. You will probably find that when you talk to the teacher, she will help figure out why child did not get enough to eat and how to make sure she eats a snack. I am sure that there is more to the story here. Also, the teacher will appreciate knowing that your child has come home hungry, as she might not be aware of it with all her charges -- feedback is really a two-way street.

I think you need to take a step back and calm down a bit, it is really too soon to quit the school. During the preschool years, I found it was very important to keep the communication channels open with the teachers. Most of the time these issues were highly resolvable. Good luck! former preschool parent

No need to hesitate in asking about this. Ask the teacher how often snacks are, and say you are concerned that she is not getting enough to eat. Kids at that age should have lots of snacks. Our excellent preschool offered a morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack and late afternoon snack. The kids always seemed to be sitting down for another snack! The snacks were small--they usually fit into a Dixie cup--but kids could ask for seconds.

Do you provide the snack, or does the teacher? If it's you, say you're packing more snack and you expect she will be allowed enough time to finish. If she's providing it, ask about portion size, frequency and seconds.

Well, first, I'd caution you not to take too literally everything your 3.5 year old is saying, particularly if he/she is bright and you have had issues with pickiness. Your child picks up on the fact that food is a concern of yours, and may be floating some trial balloons to see what kind of reaction they'll receive. And you'd be amazed; even when you think you are being perfectly stone-faced when s/he tells you these things, your child picks up on it! My child was (and is) a master at this.

Also know that she may not eat at school as much because she's had so much fun and been so busy. So she says ''I'm hungry,'' and you say ''Why, didn't you eat your lunch?'' and the truth is she was having such a good time, she only ate half of it, but she figures out that it is much more interesting to say ''the teacher didn't let me eat it'' - and you go from there. It's not because she's a bad kid, or a liar, it's just that strict truth is a really tough concept for a 3 year old (the line between fact and fiction is very very blurred at this age) and fiction is so much more interesting!!

That said, if you continue to have concerns, I'd talk to the school about it. You might say that your child's doctor wants her to be fed more frequently, so it's not a ''me versus you'' issue but ''the doctor says'' kind of thing that will give the school a more graceful way to give in on this issue. Been there!

Is it possible your child is being picky or not eating at snack time? Then feeling hungry later?

My children's preschool had a snack time during which every child could eat until satisfied, but there was no eating outside that time. I used to bring a lunch for them with me to pick up that they could eat on the way home or at the park. (It was a half day preschool.)

Find out what is served and whether she eats it. Find out whether you can send food she will eat, to be served at snack time. Hopefully she is eating a good breakfast before drop-off. I know this is hard sometimes, but it really helps them. Mom of two voracious boys

Sorry, but I agree with the teacher. I don't think it hurts a kid that age to be hungry for an hour or two, and how better to learn to eat during scheduled meal/snack times? Likes a schedule


Daughter not eating anything at preschool

Jan 2008


Our daughter is nearly 4 years old. She started preschool last September, has slowly adjusted, and seems to rather like the school. But she will not eat any of the food provided unless I drop in around lunch time and encourage her to try something. We've essentially stopped giving her food in the car with the understanding that unless she eats at school, she will not be snacking in the car. When we ask her why she doesn't eat at preschool, she says she doesn't feel like eating. Although she is clearly ravenous by the time I pick her up. The other day she said she might eat when she gets to be a big girl. It's rather disconcerting since all the rest of the ~38 kids eat their snack and lunch when it's given. anon

I don't have any real solution to your daughter who won't eat at preschool, but wanted to tell you that I did essentially the same thing when I was in preschool many years ago, and turned out just fine :) I do know that my preschool had rules of sorts (like you must have the soup if you want to eat the cookies) -- you might consider checking if there are some rules that could be bent or modified for your daughter. Good luck!

Try setting a date (say, 4 weeks from now) when she's going to be a ''big girl'' so she can start eating at school. Make a big deal out of the countdown (build a paper chain) have a ''big girl'' party if she eats at school on her big day. Worth a try? Until then, keep encouraging her to eat. Also, you don't specify how long she's at school, but if she's home by mid-afternoon, yeah she'll be ravenous, but she won't starve. If she's hungry enough, she'll eat. Paula

My son doesn't eat very often at preschool either. He is nearly 5 and has been at the same school, which he loves, since age 3. When I ask him why he didn't eat he usually says 'I didn't have time'. It drives me crazy, but I try not to let it since he's perfectly healthy. I suspect it's a mixture of the stimulating experience of sitting with all the other kids distracting him from eating, or perhaps he's just not hungry yet. They feed him a few crackers at 9:15, then a snack around 10:30, then eat lunch at 11:45. At home he doesn't get hungry until 1 or 2. Remember, kids will eat when they're hungry. Forcing the issue usually makes matters worse. I have resorted to asking him to bring home whatever he doesn't eat and have him eat it when we get home. I pack a balanced lunch each day so he at least knows what he SHOULD be eating, and remind him that he should be eating with all the other kids so he has energy to learn and play. Hopefully someday it will click for him. Good luck, and don't stress too much about it. I think it's a pretty common thing! anon

Ignore it. Don't punish her. Let her eat in the car, if that's what suits her. The more attention you put on the struggle, the deeper it will go. Alice


Daycare center's unhealthy food

March 2006


Hi- My daughter's non-profit daycare center serves what I consider unhealthy food - lots of high-sugar, high-carb, processed foods (corndogs, jelly sandwiches for lunch, cookies for snacks, muffins for breakfast). I'm trying to spearhead a change towards no sugar, whole grains, and organic as much as possible. It's probably an uphill battle because I have little support from other parents, staff or the director, and the cook is almost hostile. I think I am perceived as a hippie health-nut (which may be partly true...). So far I've talked to the director, who wasn't totally closed to the idea of changes. I'm also considering talking to the board of directors. I'm trying to figure out the best approach before I really stick my neck out. I haven't done anything like this before. Does anyone have any advice about how to make some changes without being counterproductive? Right now I bring all my daughter's food, and I think they want me to stop. Can they legally not accept the food I bring? Thanks, Andrea

I don't blame you for being upset about that food. I would be livid if my son were being served that stuff. You don't say how old your daughter is, but I am assuming she's a toddler. One thing I would be concerned about is her feeling singled out because her food comes from home but everyone else gets to eat the yummy sugary stuff. I wouldn't want her to feel like sugar was a treat you were denying her.

The fact that the daycare center is not willing to change the kids' diet would be enough to send me looking for another daycare. I know you are trying to get them to change, but it seems clear that they aren't going to. We are very careful with our son's diet, and I think it makes a huge difference. He is a healthy little boy who does love his sugar, but never seens to want to eat too much of it at a time (and I suspect that it's because we don't have it around very often, and he's not exposed to it much - he doesn't feel like it's being denied to him, so he just eats what he wants of it instead of gorging himself). He also happily eats the healthy stuff, and I suspect that it's because he hasn't gotten used to food like corn dogs and white bread. He has a great attention span - I think because of not getting too much refined sugar - and he has lots of energy.

So if I were in your position, I would move her out of there to keep her from being exposed to that stuff. I know they get exposed to bad food once they are in kindergarten or preschool and see other kids with it, but hopefully by then our kids' tastes will have somewhat settled into the healthy stuff.

By the way there are plenty of daycares that serve good food. We go to Sundance and I am very happy with it. Check around or ask in the recommendations listserve if you do decide to switch. Another hippy health-nut mama

Since your food philosophy appears to be at polar opposites to that of the daycare center, the best thing you can do is switch your daughter to a different daycare provider that more closely matches your food ideals. Your daughter probably sees and wants what the other kids are eating, so it may be difficult for the daycare center to ensure that she only eats what you send with her. As you say, trying to change the center's food selection will probably be an uphill battle, and may take years. anonymous

hi andrea, i am afraid i don't have much help to offer you...except to say that i feel like i'm exactly in your shoes and that you are NOT the only one out there with these problems. all i can say that might be a tad reassuring is that it sounds like the day care is such a small and closed community that you just aren't going to have much success as long as your daughter remains there BUT the good news is that once she gets into school, which won't be all that long in the general scheme of things, you will at least be more able to travel under the radar and no one will care that you send with your daughter lunches and snacks the quality of which most others are not able to comprehend. doug

Snacks & Treats at Daycare

Worried about all the snacks at daycare

April 2007


Hi, I would like to ask some advice about food at daycare. My son, nearly two years old, attends daycare (home daycare) three days a week. He always eats a healthy breakfast (oatmeal and orange juice). When we arrive at daycare however they immediately start offering him food (also sometimes to stop his occasional crying on arrival, which gives him a wrong association that crying will get him food or cookies). I am trying to follow a normal schedule of breakfast snack lunch snack dinner, which goes well when he is at home. But I have the feeling this is not really done at daycare (where he already gets cookies on arrival in the morning and I have even seen him get sugar, colored Cheerio, which he never gets at home). He gets a healthy lunch there, with vegetables which he eats. I am worried though about all the snacks. I have tried to address this, but to no result. I am really pleased with the daycare except for this issue.

Tell the daycare provider not to feed your child these snacks. How they feed children is one of the main ways you can determine if you have a good daycare. It sounds like your daycare is not as good as you think it is. daycare provider anonymous

You might try bringing health snacks for him, although in my experience (both our daughters were in a home daycare) it's pretty tough to fight the environment and even harder to get your daycare providers to change the way they do anything. Also you have to nip those things in the bud - once it's been going for a while, it's even harder to change. One time when I dropped my daughter off I lingered to chat with her caregiver and saw the woman's mother give my daughter (then 2) a gummi bear. I was shocked!! (choking hazard, sugar, first thing in the morning!?!) I told them we didn't want her eating those things and they said it wouldn't happen again and it was the first time, which I knew was a lie since my daughter knew what they were called. But they did stop. Anyway, my point being you have to decide how bad it is, and if you can't change it, either let it go or go somewhere else. In our case, the good things outweighed the bad, so we were happy to stay. nobody's perfect


How to improve snacks at preschool

Feb 2003


My daughter's preschool does not serve what I consider the best snacks in the world. In an effort to improve on this, I'm working with another parent to try to get paren's to bring snacks on a regular basis. I know that some preschools do this; have parents rotate bringing snacks. If you participate in a preschool like that, I'd love to know the logistics of how you do it. Also, I'd love to hear from anyone else who may have experienced this problem and have solved it, or anyone who has some great ideas about this issue in general! I thank you and the kids at the preschool thank you! Hilary

I can tell you how we do things at our preschool (CCC, in North Berkeley), but it is a co-op, so the situation will no doubt be quite different from yours. Every family participates as parent-teachers one morning a week, so we're already on site. As participating parents, we have one of five potential jobs, which rotate. One of those jobs is snack. The snack parent brings enough snack for all the kids (26) and then serves it to them. Up to 8 kids at a time can sit at the snack table. We don't have any rules about what sort of food is okay, though this has periodically been subject to discussion. There is a sort of unofficial agreement not to bring meat or very sugary snacks. We avoid allergens. A typical snack is cheese cubes, crackers and grapes, but some parents bring or make miniature waffles, noodles, latkes, mini pizzas, etc. There is almost always some fresh fruit or vegetable. We almost always serve just water to drink. The kids get a good variety of snacks, and each parent brings a snack every 5 weeks. We have a tiny kitchen, but it doesn't have a stove or an oven, so cooking must be done in the microwave, the toaster or a hot-plate. Judith

I belong to a coop preschool and had some of the same issues about snacks. We had a nutritionist come to speak to our parents group and specifically asked her to talk about snacks. It was not expensive ($40). Lisa

I cannot agree with you more about the need to improve school snacks. What is cheap and convenient (i.e., has a long shelf life, can be stored for years in the classroom cupboard, still has a salty or sweet taste, but is deader than a doornail) tends to be the current trend. Nevermind that the children's palates will be perverted to wanting only salt and sweet, and refusing the healthy nutritious foods you offer.

Your plan to bring healthy foods is great but potentially time consuming. But a bowl of fresh fruit, some cut up veggies and a bean dip or avocado dip, some nuts and seeds with small quantities of dried fruit, cut up cheese all are fairly manageable and usually well-received by most of the children. A crockpot of homemade oatmeal can also be a lovely cold-day treat. I've made applesauce too.

Good luck with your efforts. It's really hard but so important to help children keep their palate for whole, healthy food. Another mom swimming upstream