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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 ‘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 candy bar, or the fruit leather, 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 as happily as the chocolate, 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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  1. Natalia Stasenko

    My daughter has been complaining about the teacher making her finish her sandwich before she could eat fruit. I spoke to a teachers and there is not a lot of understanding as yet. But they invited me to do a workshop for them this spring – this could be the first step in getting the message through!

    • katja

      So frustrating, but I feel for the staff, many of whom are pressured by parents to do exactly what they are doing… More understanding all around will help! So glad they will have you come talk with them!! Good luck!

  2. Rachel Young

    My son’s preschool teacher is really laid back about food (and about everything–that’s why we love her!). I didn’t realize micro-managing preschool kids’ eating was a thing until another mom emailed our neighborhood listserve looking for advice about a teacher who insisted that kids finish their “protein” before their veggies. Ponder that. She was refusing to let this kid eat broccoli. I hope that family found a new school.

    • katja

      Awesome! From what I hear, the “this before that” is more the norm than the exception. Boo!!

    • Twistie

      What a bizarre and counter-productive way of approaching food! What could possibly be wrong with choosing to intersperse broccoli and whatever protein is on tap? Or, for that matter, eating the broccoli first followed by whatever source of protein?

      The only rules at my parents’ table were: try at least one bite of any new food, no dessert without finishing the main meal, and don’t comment negatively on what others are enjoying. For the sixties and seventies, this was positively children run amok at the dinner table.

      Funny thing, to this day I’ll try nearly anything once and I don’t feel a need to tell anyone else how icky their food choices are, especially if they let me have my choices in peace. Once or twice a year, however, I will forego a meal entirely and just eat dessert.

      I shudder to think how my control enthusiast self would have reacted had I been informed not only what I would eat and how much at any given time, but the order in which I would eat it, as well!

      As a society, we are setting up the next generation to have a seriously screwed up relationship with food.

  3. Maryann

    I love this and am trying to get it at Big A’s school. There is so much resistance — and I can tell the principal hates wasting food so there is a lot of enouragement to finish meals.

    • katja

      I think you hit it on the nail. The adults are resistant… The most resistant seem to be the ones who themselves have trouble with food: wasting it, or yo-yo dieting… If adults don’t feel they can trust themselves to self-regulate, why would they trust children to? I went to a feeding therapy workshop where the teacher said, “Children can’t self-regulate, so someone has to teach them portion control.” I was shocked, but no one in a room of 150 people blinked an eye… The teachers also shared they were on weight watchers. When the adults who are in charge of the kids struggle, can we expect them to support our children? I loved the work you did with the California Dairy Association. More of its kind needs to get out there! Montana schools also doing great work…

      • Kate

        I have read both of your sites and I came to them when my husband and I started an adoption process and I realized we didn’t want to raise our children to, well, to steal a phrase, to be healthy eaters. I was a chronic dieter and HATED wasted food, but you guys totally won me over and I just dove in head first.

        I started by pretty much treating my husband as though he were the child and just putting the food on the table and not insisting he try anything and lo and behold he started eating pretty much whatever I put on the table. I only did that for a few weeks since he’s not a child and I don’t like manipulating him. But both of us have transformed how we eat and we both enjoy food so much more. We are more adventurous in our eating and cooking. Even though the adoption thing didn’t work out for us, we’re so grateful that we learned how to feed ourselves.

        Well, reading this over, it isn’t really on point, but since it’s not about children at all, but the open lunch bag policy works on adults too, if you let it. So I’m going to make it work, since you guys really had a transformative effect on our lives.