We feed our kids all day long in this country.
And then we wonder why child obesity is becoming a problem, why picky eaters are increasingly common, and why behavior issues are ramping up in our schools and homes.
As I mentioned in this kid-friendly soup recipe, in France, children get one snack a day, after school, at home. They wouldn’t dream of eating on the go or of adding a snack at a different time.
The French are by and large healthier than Americans. We don’t know why, but let’s assume that a one-snack-a-day policy isn’t doing anything all too harmful to their long-term health.
In our house, I work very hard to make sure my kids have a healthy relationship with food.
We serve tons of healthy options. We don’t have a clean plate policy at meals, but we do insist on tastes and on not having seconds of something while other items sit untouched.
We have sensible snacks (including these 10 snack recipes your preschooler can help make), never too close to a meal, and we don’t have a blanket “no dessert” policy – by allowing some junk food in our lives, we hope to demystify it and teach balance.
And then school begins.
Other people start feeding my children, and frankly, it drives me nuts.
I’m more than happy to have help teaching my children academic skills, but please – don’t force food on my children.
And I’m not talking about birthday treats here, which are egregious enough.
This is about mandatory community snacks at preschool.
I have a problem with the snacks policy, which is that parents bring in “healthy snacks” for everyone to eat once a day.
Here’s my beef:
- Preschool is only 2 1/2 hours!
- At 12:30-3 p.m., that’s right after lunch for most families, definitely ours.
- We often eat our afternoon snack at 4 p.m. when the big kids get home from school. John will still wish to join in.
- If snack takes 15 minutes, that’s a full 10% of the class time (which means I’m spending $160 this year for trained educators to proctor my child eating).
- Community snack means that invariably, even if there are occasional grapes, raisins or apple slices brought in, my child will be eating snacks that we do NOT eat at home, and that I count as junk food.
It all drives me nuts, and I’m determined to do my best to convince the teachers that the children will survive without snack and that it should just be cancelled all together.
EDITED TO ADD: Really, truly, folks, I’d be more than happy with plenty of other options, like a fruit/veggie/water snack policy or a “bring-your-own” system. I started big on this issue to get a conversation going here (that worked!) and also in a sense to bargain – when you’re trying to make something happen, sometimes you start with more than you want so that the other person pitches less and it’s actually what you want. You know? I’m hoping the teacher will be open to me coming in to lead some food-related activities, and I got some wonderful ideas from readers via Facebook that I can do short of asking for snack to be cancelled. Got any other “middle ground” thoughts for me? I’d love to hear them as I keep the conversation going with the teacher…
Proactive Parenting at School
I’ve traveled this road before when our second child was in preschool, and we had some adaptations for her (raisins in her backpack for days with undesirable snacks) but I also stain-treated my fair share of shirts with Gogurt stains on them, proof of consumption of the monstrous substitute for healthy homemade yogurt spiked with sugar and food coloring and crammed into a highly spillable tube.
Rabble-rouser that I am, I decided to cause trouble strive for systemic change before school got underway this fall.
This is the email I sent to my son’s new preschool teacher:
I’m writing about a subject that an article I just read brought to mind: snacks.
I know this won’t be a popular opinion, but I’d really love to explore the idea of omitting snacks for the short 2.5 hours the kids are at the preschool building.
John loves to eat and will eat whatever is in front of him whether he’s hungry or not most of the time, but I can’t imagine him actually needing nourishment during the afternoon since he will come right from lunch at home. His return time to our house will still be long before our normal afternoon snack time, which has always been when the big kids get home from Elementary School at 4ish.
Would it be possible for me to discuss this with you? I’d much rather see the time spent at school (and thus my tuition money, in a sense) going toward learning, exploration, and imaginative play, or even playground time, rather than eating. I do know that eating together is an opportunity for social learning and hospitality skills, but I still feel that a daily snack is too large a percentage of the children’s time.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this.
Her response was gracious and leaves me with more questions than answers:
Thank you for voicing your concerns with me about snack time. Snack time is part of our preschool program and is part of all the preschool classrooms and not something I can change for one classroom and take away from the other students. We do keep snack time to right around 15 minutes and snack options are set up by me and we try to keep them healthy for the students.
However, if you would like, we can discuss other options that I can have John work on during snack time if you would prefer that he does not partake in eating a snack at school. Some of those options could be practicing name writing, working with letter sounds, working with math manipulatives or doing a gross motor activity. I will definitely discuss your concerns with the other preschool teachers at our next meeting. Thank you again for coming to me with your concerns and we will work together to come up with a plan for John’s first preschool experience to be an exciting and educational learning experience for him!!
Now I’m in a pickle.
If I really want John to have learning time instead of snack, I have that option – but at great cost.
It would mean making him stand out, marking him as different from the crowd, and also forcing him to watch others eat while he is sequestered elsewhere. The social implications are massive, and I’m not sure it’s worth the trade-off.
I’ve dealt with this issue before, but at an older age, and every year makes a difference when they’re so young.
I mentioned that we allow some junk food in our lives to teach balance – but if junky snacks are part of John’s day four times a week, at what point does compromise become routine? I think four is far too many in one week, but I’m not sure what our solution will be yet.
- Do we send our own snacks for John?
- Do we let him choose whether the preschool snack counts as his one-a-day “dessert?”
- Do we ask that he skips snack to do learning work?
- Or perhaps, might I work with the teacher in advance to help compile a list of allergy-free, healthy snacks to recommend to parents?
That last one is my favorite, so now I need to work up a plan and a reply email to the teacher and see how badly I set my reputation as “the weird one,” “the pushy one,” or “the troublemaker” before we even meet!
If we could stick to fruits and vegetables, there would be little room for error. But there would also be less room for parents to just pick up a snack at the grocery and send it in without an iota of work – produce, unlike Gogurts and pretzels, usually needs to be washed, cut, or both.
School Lunch Solutions for Real Food Success
Lisa at 100 Days of Real Food has a new lunch box meal plan, More Real Lunches, Real Easy – and it’s only available for two weeks.
Both books include 6 weeks of meal plans for school lunches, from shopping lists to menus to packing plans and of course, simple, kid-friendly recipes. Kiran and Lisa will tell you what to do the night before and the morning of to get lunch running smoothly – truly everything is mapped out for you.
If you missed their first release of Real Lunches, Real Easy, you can get both as a package for the limited time.
Buy the meal plan (one or both) and get 60% off The Healthy Lunch Box – just email me your receipt from 100 Days and you’ll get a coupon in return within 48 hours. You’ll be set with resources for the school year and strategies for a lifetime.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate to 100 Days of Real Food and receive commission on any purchases.