Monday, September 12, 2011

Our First Week of School & School Food

Last week began a new adventure for all of us. After four years with a full time babysitter, Thing 1 started full time big boy Catholic School and Thing 2 started full time daycare. The reasons for the change were largely financial. Thing 1 needs to now be in a full day school, which can be pricey. And Thing 2 needs to start some kind of school environment to learn basic socialization and even 10 hours of preschool, as many of you well know, can cost you $15-20 per hour. Add on a full time nanny and you have a recipe for bankruptcy. So we decided that instead of the shorter programs that we'd go full on into full day programs and let our longtime well loved babysitter go. It has been a difficult and emotional change for everyone. But even after three days I think we all agree that we made the right decision.

Thing 1 started in school last Wednesday. We like his teacher. He comes home every day saying that he has made new friends, but he doesn't know the children's names. Thing 1 is slow to warm up. The very first day when the teacher called them to come to circle time all the children made a circle and Thing 1 sat on the outside. That's him. Even at 10 months old he was moving in the opposite direction of the crowd. He just takes his time to get into the middle of things. But he tells us that he likes his school and for that I am grateful.

Thing 2 has been less happy about the turn of events. This poor second child has always gotten hand-me-down everything, including hand-me-down attention from parents and caregivers. So just when he stood to have lavishly long days of one on one solo care we decide to stick him in a chaotic school environment with a dozen other children and half as many caregivers. Let's just say he wasn't thrilled. Day one was a true nightmare where he cried all day, did not nap and did not eat. I blame myself (as per usual) for not preparing him more. I am not sure I even told him about his new daytime routine until the day before, and even that was spotty communication. I spent the entire summer preparing Thing 1 for his new school. I trust that in a couple weeks he will fall into line. Even on day two he ate and took a nap with the other children-a HUGE improvement from our puffy red-eyed first day!

School food was something I also hemmed and hawed about. Both the daycare and the school told me that both breakfast and lunch was included in the tuition costs. Great...except that I know a little too much about school food. It was hard enough to have a daily babysitter plying my kid with treats. At least, of all the junky snacks I know my kids were getting, our baby sitter cooked meals from scratch for the kids and even brought home-prepared food in to share with them. School food is an altogether different thing! All summer I weighed our options, do we opt in? Or do I pack a lunch for them?

A week or so before school started I noted in the parent's handbook that the school lunch program followed the Catholic Diocese's Nutrition Program, whatever that means. I figured it was basic My Pyramid, (sorry.....) My Plate, kind of stuff. But I was stressed about all my new food responsibilities, so I was willing to let him eat at school. Several schools have good food programs!

So two weeks ago I called the school and asked, what was the menu like? Could parents access upcoming items? I was told that children needed a note from their child's pediatrician in order to opt out of the program. And that the note needed to cite allergies or some other medical reason. In response to my questions about the menu I received a voicemail from the principal saying that the offering was pretty standard, "It includes a protein and vegetable and a starch and typical meals are like pizza, chicken nuggets or cheeseburgers." That was pretty much all I needed to hear to know that I was opting out.

For Thing 2 I took a different approach. He doesn't eat. And now he isn't even eating hot dogs (bun only now-a-days) So I am down to fresh fruits, milk and juice, anything in the wheat family and turkey sausage. Oh and if he could he would eat as many French fries, potato chips or other junky foods that he could get his hands on. I am pretty sure I have a future food hoarder on my hands. I decided that given his pickiness that he could benefit from a room full of kids all eating the same thing. It might to help him to branch out. And it isn't like I know what he wants to eat anyway. Much of my packed lunches would likely go to waste anyway.

Thing 1 has been doing okay with the packed lunches. But a curious pattern has begun to emerge. The first day of school he ate just about everything from both his breakfast and his lunch. But he told me that in addition to the oatmeal that I packed him that he had the juice and pancakes that the school served. For lunch he just ate his home food. Okay...And then last Friday he ate the school's offering for lunch, 'square cheese' sandwiches with chips (CHIPS???) and a plum. On top of their lunch he ate about half of the lunch I provided. For breakfast he just ate what I provided. He seems to be double dipping when he is hungry, which I am surprisingly okay about. I want him to make his own decisions. It is clear that he doesn't want to fess up about what he has been eating. After a couple of years of me on my health kick he knows that I am the food gestapo of the house. And that makes me a little sad. I keep telling him that mommy won't be mad if he eats the school food, but would he please just tell me what he ate? It usually takes that promise to get him to come clean. The dialogue now becomes about how and WHY to make good food choices. I don't want to swoop in and force him to eat carrots and hummus. I want him to come to that conclusion on his own. That's how he becomes a functioning healthy adult.

But he is FOUR. It is hard for him to make good food choices. And there is something else besides simple menu offering that I NEVER thought about, peer pressure. The very first day I packed Thing 1 breakfast I made a smoothie and a bowl of oatmeal with raisins. He ate everything. But just before bed he told me out of the blue that the kids at school said his smoothies looked gross. He said they told him not to drink it. (Okay okay, I snuck some kale in there, so sue me-it's not like he could taste it!!!!) So I swallowed hard and asked what he thought of the smoothie. He said it was good and that he drank the whole thing. So I said okay, what do those kids know anyway? I went on to say that it was a good thing that they thought it was gross because then he wouldn't have to share any of it. I said to him 'If you had been holding a bag of cookies, they each would have asked you for one.' That made sense to him.

I know this is going to be hard. This is the first time that he has been exposed to peer pressure. This is the first time he has had to eat meals outside of his house every day. He is going to begin to see how other people live. It is an opportunity for me to explain why I make the decisions that I do. My greatest hope is that he comes home and tells me the food I pack for him is so much more delicious than the processed food he could get at school. My greatest fear is that he will come home and tell me that the kids are making fun of him because he is eating too healthy. Food shouldn't be an opportunity to alienate people. But then again, adults at my own office have been known to make a little fun of me because of my choice of grub. I see him trying to sort out all this information to find out where he belongs and where he wants to belong. As much as I want to intervene, the decision is his to make.

As I mentioned, Thing 2 did not eat his first day of school, except for some pear I had sent with him. The second day he did better. I imagine it will get slightly better each day. Until then I am going to make him breakfast in the morning before we leave. I can fry up some green eggs, soaked pancakes or a bowl of oatmeal. Anything to get some good nutrition into him before he goes to daycare and refuses to eat. Then he will get dinner in the evening. Anything in-between 7am and 6pm is gravy.

The transition has been tough. My flow has been completely turned upside down. But each day I am learning more tricks, and in another month I am sure I will have established a routine. Stay tuned for some tips about how to get out the door on time with everybody packed with food they like!

What tips and tricks do you have for packing lunches?

This post is shared with Traditional Tuesdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Simple Lives Thursdays and Fight Back Fridays


  1. The kids at thing 1's school will eventually get used to what he brings to eat. I used to work at a preschool and one little boy used to bring all kinds of interesting things and the kids just got used to what he was eating and let it be.

  2. I just started my four year old in school after being in a daycare that had a cook (that actually cooked) on site. Fortunately his new school does not offer food and he has to bring a lunch and snacks. I was so relieved but I still get requests for gummies and candy that some other kids bring in their lunches. This is usually satisfied with a fruit leather. I found that having him help decide what to pack in his lunch (choosing from healthy items) has worked well. He will eat everything if he helped pack.

  3. Thank you for this post. I struggle with this as well and not only at my 2-year-old's daycare but at family about pressure! You'd think I was depriving her of air the way some look at me when I provide alternatives to the candy! And I like the example you used with the cookies...will definitely need to remember that one! Thanks again!

  4. We also had a transition -- I cannot imagine managing two at once! Hang in there -- it sounds like you are doing great!

  5. I talk to my kids a lot about lunch. My 8 year old takes everyday. My 12 year old's lunch is included in his tuition so I sort of close my eyes. Fortunately, he has great food sense. My 15 year old buys his lunch and is beyond my control. But, for me little guy, I ask lots of questions about what he liked, who he sat with, what they ate, etc... His school requires that everyone brings lunch and there are no junk foods allowed. But, he has come home with a couple of stories or ideas about what other kids were eating that he wanted to try - seaweed for snack, taking a thermos so that he could keep some noodles warm, etc. I put lots of dried fruit, carrots, cherry tomatoes, celery, etc. Fortunately, his school doesn't have a rule against nuts as he is a vegetarian and loves peanut butter.

  6. Thank you for this! Packing a smoothie is such a great idea. My son is 7 and a vegetarian and I struggle every day between trying to pick healthy options, not too much soy, no nuts to school, is he getting enough protein, calcium and vitamins. Only certain fruits can go in his lunch even though he loves all fruit but if I pack strawberries, they are way too mushy by the time he sits down to eat them. He just informed me that the soy nut butter and jelly sandwiches I have packing are no longer working for him. Some days I feel like I may lose my mind! But then I read a post like this and get one of two ideas and I feel like I can face packing lunch next week! Thanks and keep them coming.