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“The ‘open lunch bag’ policy works, and the preschool staff love it!”

Posted by on Feb 4, 2013 in Blog Posts | 9 comments

brown-bag-lunch2Last week at  the third and final workshop of the week, a woman approached. She was someone whose name I should have remembered, but I was at a loss. I have this happen often at workshops, usually right after some tech fiasco, and I’m getting over that stress. Anyway, she was very gracious when I said, “Forgive me, but tell me who you are again?”

She replied that she had been one of M’s teachers at a summer camp a few years ago. M had a great summer, and I remember vividly going in on that first day with M’s lunch, and her lunchbox card (third item under appendix at the top) and making the dreaded speech.

Roughly it goes like this: “Hi, I’m M’s mom.  I’m a childhood feeding specialist, and I pack her a balanced lunch including a small treat most days. She does really well with meals and food. I know this may not be how you deal with all the kids, but I ask that at lunch time, please just help her open any containers if she needs it, and then please let her manage her food. Even if all she eats is her fun-size candy bar, or the fruit leather she might get, that’s okay. Please don’t ask her to finish or eat any foods in any order. It’s really less work for you.”

Then I smile obsequiously, not wanting to be “that mom,” but wanting to set the tone. I instruct M to hand the card to any adult who is pushing her to eat in a way she doesn’t like. It has my cell phone number on it. I have never had a call… I didn’t hear much about meals that summer from M or the staff and had forgotten about it until this lovely woman, I’ll call G, raised her hand during the Q and A and talked about how they have an “open lunch bag” policy in their preschool and how it works really well.

G looked around and reassured the audience, roughly half of whom worked in early child care: “It works! You wouldn’t think it does, but they eat more variety and behave better. The staff likes it too since we don’t have to pressure and manage the kids.” Her question was how to reach parents. You see, many parents still ask the staff to enforce ‘this before that’ rules, or even ask the staff to make sure the child eats X, and if he does, then mom will bring a treat at pick up…

It’s always helpful to have folks in the audience back up your message, but I was especially touched when she came up and said, “After we had M in our class and saw how you did things and how well it worked, we instituted the policy. We love it. Not all the teachers do it though. One class they make the kids eat their “real” food first and a little boy was gagging and upset every lunch. He changed to our room and that stopped from day one.”

I was so pleased. I always worry about adding to the burden of staff with my requests, but I have to advocate for my child. I had not heard before that a policy had changed because of it. Usually, teachers marvel at how M eats peppers happily, and digs in to her turkey curry, but they don’t go that next step of looking into their own policies.

At every school M has attended, I offer free staff training, and parent education, and only one preschool has taken me up on it. I’m not sure why. I know that we often get materials  about food on that first day, and some of the schools already have dietitians working with them, alas, pushing all the old control messages…

It made my day, and I wanted to share.

What do you think? How can we get this message out? Short of asking G to be at every one of my workshops, how do we start to reveal to staff and parents that children can be trusted with their eating? It seems like a win-win. Kids are more relaxed, staff is less stressed, kids eat better… I gave G a few ideas, but curious what you think.

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