Monday, June 28, 2010

teaching kids to overeat

The summer-camp brochures probably don't say, "We'll teach your kids to swim, paint, get along with others, and overeat!"

My husband told me that while I was in Denver, M asked him to pack her less food for lunch. When he asked why, she said that the camp teachers have a rule that you have to eat all of your other foods before you get your "treat," and she was getting too full but still wanted to eat her treat. (Note, her lunches usually have leftovers like stir fry and rice, and one or two sides which might be a baggie of cherry tomatoes or red pepper, or pickles, maybe some tortilla chips, or yogurt, or carrots, and about twice a week she gets a mini candy bar or fruit snacks for dessert...As with every other meal and snack, the idea is that she gets to pick and chose from what I provide and decide how much or if to eat. I can't predict her hunger so I often pack extra. Some days she eats everything I send, others barely a bite...

Hubby said he was surprised by how mad it made him. (I thought this was cute :) He was upset that they are trying to push her to eat and are interfering- of course he left it to me to deal with so I get to look forward to dropping M off with a note in her lunch bag that says, "M is allowed to pick and chose from what we pack her. If she wants to eat her dessert first and only that, that's fine. Please do not make her eat or finish parts of her meal to get her dessert. She knows how to eat. Please call me if you have any questions." I have told M to hand them the note if they try to tell her anything about eating.

I'll talk to the director and her teachers to get them to "back the $%##!!& off," in a nice way of course. You see, I too am angry that they are interfering with her ability to tune in to hunger and fullness. We work hard to feed well, and it is getting harder as she goes out into the world more, to protect her from harmful interference.

Though, I imagine most parents come in asking the staff the opposite– to make sure the kids eat their "growing food" before the "treats." I am always amazed how many parents pick their kids up from school and the first question is, "Did you eat all your lunch?" while digging out the lunch box and inspecting the contents.

There are lots of reasons why making kids finish their food or arbitrary amounts before dessert mucks things up. Here are a few
1) it teaches kids to overeat. Dessert can taste so good they will often overeat to get to dessert.
2) it teaches kids that the only good food is the treat, and all the rest is what you have to slog through to get to it.
3) it takes over the child's job with feeding, deciding how much to eat.
4) it is hard work for the provider and a waste of effort
5) it sets up a power struggle and conflict
6) children eat LESS well (less fruits and veggies) when pressured

How do your childcare/schools support or undermine your feeding practices? How do you deal with it?

update: this morning I was putting the fruit chews in her lunch and Hubby mentioned that the same baggie kept coming back last week uneaten. M even asked me then not to put so much treats in her lunch so she wouldn't get too full. Annoyed beyond measure, but happy that my little one resisted the pressure and still stopped when she was full...


  1. Great post Katja, how awesome to hear how all 3 of you are handling this. What a smart cookie (pun intended) M is to get her needs met within the imposed camp rules. Looks to me like you now have a little assistant out here in the world helping to educate about healthy eating habits. Keep up the great work!

  2. I agree this is excellent and not just for children. Anyone recovering from weight loss dieting malarkey and such could use your techniques to help regain some rapport with their hunger and appetite.

    I'd also add to your list that it teaches children to use themselves as a dustbin rather than using one designed for that purpose.

    And an addendum to that, teaches children that waste is leaving food you don't want, when it's really eating food you don't want. (Your body has to use up energy processing what you neither want nor need, wasteful).

  3. Three summers ago we had my stepdaughters at a summer day camp where a homemade (by the teachers) snack was provided mid-morning and afternoon. The trouble was the girls didn't like what was on offer, and they're not at all picky eaters. And in their defense I tried one of the cookies they brought home and the girls were right - it tasted like ginger-flavored cardboard. Not wanting to offend the teacher/baker in question I didn't say anything to the camp, but I did pack the girls snacks they would enjoy if they got hungry: hardboiled eggs, hummas and cauliflower, or some string cheese.

    The trouble started when the next day the snacks I packed came home untouched and the girls told me the teachers said they were to eat the camp-provided snack or nothing. Huh? When I signed them in the next morning I found the head counselor and explained that my girls would rather snack on stuff that came from home. She informed me (and I should explain at this point that I'm fat and my stepdaughters aren't) *I* was taking my weight-related neurosis out on my children, and that I shouldn't expect kids to be deprived of sweets just because *I* have an "issue with weight." Thanks to my Midwestern upbringing I was struggling to be polite by not telling her that it wasn't that the girls couldn't eat cookies, it's that the cookies they were offered tasted awful, so I just pulled a lie out of nowhere and said that the girls are Type I diabetic and couldn't eat sweets, and if they wanted a snack they were to eat what I provided. Period.

    So I spent the remaining days of the camp worried someone would find out that the girls aren't diabetics and would confront me on my lie, but why was I even put in that position to begin with? All I wanted was for my stepdaughters to eat food they found appealing if they were hungry, and we were expected to pack a lunch for them every day so packing snacks shouldn't have been a big deal in the first place. Anyway, we found a another camp the following year where there were no Snack Wars, and the girls have been happily there every year since.

  4. Oh Boy, Karow, That sucks! It is totally unfair (but typical I assume) that the teacher made those assumptions and reacted the way she did. I have had other fat parents say that feeding their children well is especially hard because people are so misinformed and moralistic. You realize you can't win. If you wanted them to eat cookies, they would have said you were a bad parent and were going to make them fat if you didn't restrict them! Navigating snacks is hard. It's part of why I pack so much lunch food. Lunch is generally about 4 hours after breakfast, so even if the snack is small or awful (cardboard cookies or microwaveable mac n cheese only) she will be fine. I know she gets a snack at school, but I still give her an opportunity before dinner to snack again. Politeness is overrated as you will see in tomorrow's post! But, I hear you! Sounds like you are having a better time this summer!