Friday, July 23, 2010

do you know what goes on at your child's school/daycare?

Is your child being fed well at school, or are the feeding practices there making things worse. Recently I shared that M's camp doesn't follow the Division of Responsibility. You know, making the kids eat all their "real" food before they can earn the treat. My friend also disclosed that her son was coming back from his school with his "treats" because he wasn't eating enough of the arbitrary amount that the 22 year old counselors thought was enough for him to earn dessert. (Sorry for the snarkiness, but this is not OK.)
A recent article in the Journal for Nutrition Education videod several early childhood providers and their interactions with the kids around food.

There were TEN TIMES as many verbal cues and pressure episodes to eat more, or different foods that did not take into account or encourage the child to eat based on internal sensations of hunger and fullness. (380 vs 38...) There was lots of "two more bites of this" and "you can eat your dessert when..."

Remember that over time, children can be fed in a way that overrides and burries their internal cues which means they are likely to eat more or less then they need.


  1. Once they learn to override those internal feelings of "fullness" it can be really hard to get into a place where you can really listen to them again, too. Pushing kids to 'clean their plate' can be something that effects them way into adulthood.

  2. Katie, you are very very right. Not to pick on my parents, who are awesome and did the best they could with what they knew, but being pushed to clean my plate definitely screwed up my hunger and fullness cues.

  3. That is the essence. The culture at large feeds kids in a way that burries those internal cues and it takes A LOT of work to rediscover them for many, many people... Why not preserve those skills from the start?

  4. My daughter just started preschool so I'm going to watch this. She was going to an hourly play childcare once per week. She came home saying. Three more bites of this and then... I asked where on earth she heard this. It's amazing how so many childcare settings do this.

  5. I was just asking my daughter questions about this, based on your post about camp. I learned that the lunch ladies at her school do require the kids to eat their "healthy food" before their "treats" at lunchtime, even for the kids who bring a lunch from home instead of buying the school lunch.

    I promised in the fall to send her in with a letter that says that they are to let her eat whichever parts of her lunch she wants, in whatever order she wants, without pressure or comment on which foods in it are "healthy" or "treats". If that's not enough, I'll go down there and talk to them, and if necessary, I'll barrage them with evidence-based recommendations until they shut up just to get rid of me.

  6. Let me know if I can help! There are some GREAT downloadable documents from that can back you up, as well as saying that in 2008, the american dietetic association said the division of responsibility was "still the best way to feed children."
    Good luck. It might be harder than you think.

  7. I am currently working at a summer day camp and while I would gladly say eat what you want and leave the rest that is not the policy (policy is eat all of your main course if you want desert. My question is what to do with a kid who won't eat anything? I've also worked at overnight camps where this comes up as an issue.

  8. Thanks so much for writing in Allysa! I have a question, where does that policy come from? Is it based on sound practice or evidence, or as my friend's counselor said, "It's how we've always done it, if we didn't, the kids wouldn't eat."
    I wonder though if there is a connection between the "way it's always been done" and the fact that the kids are not competent with eating. What if a child isn't really hungry that meal? You are then asking the child to overeat twice to finish the main meal, and then the dessert.
    The evidence clearly shows that children who eat "poorly" eat less well with pressure (being encouraged or forced to eat...) Your job would be so much easier if you could allow the children to eat what they need. Maybe with time they will trust that they won't be pressured and eat what they need. This is tough stuff, I admit. I highly recommend, since you work with children that you read Child of Mine. I believe that it is our fundamental misunderstandings of how children eat, grow and how their development impacts their eating that is at the root of the problem. How much energy and focus of your attention does the "poor eater" get? My clients often tell me that when they drop the pressure, and provide a pleasant atmosphere, the kids end up eating better. Plus, you know that snack is coming, so if the child doesn't eat much, you are reassured that they have another opportunity soon. has all kinds of on-line policies for child care that would be a great resource for you! I had to learn the basics of normal eating, growth and development. I challenge you to do the same. Are the kids eating "because" you pressure them, or "in spite of" the pressure. Good luck! I do trainings with child care staff, so if you're local, let me know!This is a tough issue, but the kids will do better, and the staff will enjoy their work more, I believe! Remember, studies show that kids pressured to eat MORE eat less well and grow less well.

  9. Very interesting, because I have a completely different problem with my daughter's daycare. This daycare provides all the food for their kids--breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, and even dinner for the kids that stay that late. I have talked with them many times about not pressuring her to finish her food or "eat one more bite" before dessert and I think they are doing a good job with that. But I can NOT get them to stop short order cook-ing for her! No matter what I say (she's fine, she'll eat what she wants and if she doesn't get enough she'll eat more at the next meal, she's not underweight or unhealthy so don't worry about it) they will make a separate meal for her if she doesn't like what they are having. Which means at home if she doesn't like what we're having for dinner, she asks for a pbj. Argh!

    Anyway, this day-care problem is definitely easier to deal with to the pressure to eat situation, but isn't it interesting how many ways we can screw with our kids' relationship to food?


  10. Interesting! What happpened to "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit!" They could make their lives easier! They should know that if they have structure, they don't need to worry bc your daughter will get to eat again soon. There are SOO many ways we muck things up!

  11. Funny, I have a variant of this experience. My son is a super good eater (as in eats plenty, eats a wide variety, likes healthy food and doesn't require "kid food",knows how to stop when he is full, etc.). He's also quite big for his 3 years (as in tall and lean, not chubby)--he looks more like a four or five year old because of his height. His previous daycare provided all meals and snacks and more or less used division of responsibility (though they didn't call it that).

    His current preschool is a German immersion program run by Germans (I'm half German myself). Anyway, they provide snacks (very wholesome--e.g. gourmet bakery bread with cheese, scrambled eggs and fruit, etc.) but the kids bring their lunch. When we first started going there, they requested that I stop sending so much food with E. because he really shouldn't be eating such a large lunch when there are two substantial snacks-- after all, we don't want to encourage overeating, do we? My son kept coming back with his apple sauce unopened and he told me the teacher wouldn't open it for him because she said he'd had enough. Then he said, "But I need a lot of food!" He often asks me to put a larger portion into his lunch container, which the teachers don't seem to have a problem with... but containers of several different things (e.g. sandwich, chips, raisins and apple sauce for example) raises the "too much food" red flag. His teacher also told me she felt it was confusing and troublesome for such a small child to deal with so many different containers. What is your take on this?

    They also ask the parents not to send sweets to school with the kids (no candy, cookies, etc.) although they do have special treats once or twice a week for snack (waffles or bread w/ Nutella). I've also noticed that at snack they don't pressure the kids to eat per se, but if a child already helped himself to more crackers, which are uneaten, he can't request seconds of apple sauce. What's your take on the "if you're still hungry, you're hungry enough to eat what's still on your plate" approach?