Guest Blogger: Preschool lunches

Preschool Food: A look at what our youngest students actually eat.

I have been working in preschools and as a nanny for over 5 years, and while this may not be a lot of time, it was certainly enough to change my views on food forever. I consider myself a healthy eater; I eat fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and generally have a good idea about what I am fueling my body with (even if it is a block of ramen or some macaroni and cheese on occasion), but when I landed my first job in the preschool world and realized I 
was eating better than the majority of the toddler’s I was taking care of, I was in shock. It even led to a rather nasty clash with a mother who refused to accept that her child would not eat the “food” she provided and instead insisted I was an idiot who “didn’t have kids and didn’t understand”. True, I don’t have children…but I do know that when a 2 year old screams and cries every single day at the sight of her lunch, yet graciously accepts any food the center provides to her, something needs to be changed.
A typical preschool lunch is the same in every classroom, with the exception of infants. The food pyramid is clearly represented in single-serving-microwavable-macaroni-and-cheese, single-serving-pasta-with-sauce and pre-prepared meals in a box (you know what I’m talking about) and of course, the king of children’s foods…the chicken nugget. I appreciate the fact that parents are busy, stressed and usually strapped for cash, but when these issues start impacting the child’s health and eating habits and they are consuming enough sodium and preservatives to kill a horse before they can even write their name, there’s a problem. 
Now please don’t think I’m being harsh and critical of parents, I know it is not my place to judge, but realistically, I feel pretty safe in saying that most preschool teachers judge parents on a daily basis. It’s a result of the job we do, we are fooled into thinking we are masters of child care because we juggle anywhere from 4-20 kids without breaking a sweat, and usually on minimum wage. We resent the fact their lunchboxes are full of carbs and sugar because we’re the ones who have to deal with the hyperactivity at 3pm and the meltdowns at 5pm. The “crash and burn” hours are the worst shift to work, the lucky teachers leave after nap when the cavalry comes in to “close”. I have personally noticed that the kids who eat a more balanced meal are generally the ones who behave better and therefore learn more. 
Like Mrs Q, I do have some strong feelings and opinions about the food that is presented to children. For one thing, fruit cups, on what planet are barely identifiable cubes of soggy fruit that sit in a cup of a liquid that can only be described as “drool”  something anyone would want to eat? Parents, you can send in fresh fruit, we will cut, peel and serve it to your child. Pudding should be a rare treat…for home. Pizza rolls and Bagel Bites are NOT food, on any level. Ketchup is not a vegetable. Yogurt that comes in a tube is just ridiculous, unless the child is old enough to neatly eat it themselves please, PLEASE, don’t put it in their lunchbox, a cup of yogurt is a much better option and ensures at least most of what you paid for will actually get in their mouth. 
Some awesome foods that should be in more lunchboxes are hummus and pita, frozen peas, freeze-dried fruits and veggies, cheese and deli meat rolls, granola, soy “peanut” butter, leftover dinners, small bagels, hard boiled eggs, chips and veggies with guacamole and even soups that come in the same microwavable containers but are a much healthier and balanced option. All preschool teachers want what’s best for their students, we do this job because we love them, we put up with tough working conditions and crap pay for them. Don’t feel like you need to make our lives easier by providing microwavable meals, it may be a little more work to prepare a balanced lunch on both ends, but it is worth it to know a child is eating healthy and can focus on learning and having fun in preschool, after all, it’s what the parents are paying for.
Our guest blogger blogs at: Child Care Confidential
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78 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Preschool lunches”

  1. Great post. We try to pack healthy lunches for our preschooler too – thanks for the guidelines! P.s. I hate fruit cups too…

  2. Thanks for this guest post. My children will be starting mother's day out next month and we are responsible for sending in a lunch. I was wondering what I could pack that would be appealing to my children, easy for them to manage mostly on their own and reasonably convenient for the staff.

  3. I work at a preschool in Norway, a country where commercial single-serving lunch products are still pretty rare – certainly microwavable pasta dishes or those infamous pre-packaged cracker and lunchmeat products are nowhere to be found. Our kids bring lunch in small bento-style boxes. Open-faced sandwiches, usually on bread with at least some wholegrain flour, are the normal thing. The toppings are simple: cheese, lunchmeats, peanut butter. Most kids will have some sort of fruit and sometimes a vegetable besides: grapes, apple slices, kiwifruit (they LOVE scooping out the "guts" of a kiwifruit!), baby carrots, sticks of red bell pepper, half a banana. Kids will eat these things as long as they believe that's normal! Sometimes they also bring in leftovers from last night's supper, especially if it was pasta or pizza.

    I wonder, though, if everyone else is bringing in a pre-packaged lunch in a ton of plastic, how will a child react to a lunchbox with a sandwich and a bunch of grapes?

  4. Great post! As a non-mom, it never occured to me that a lunch would even need to be packed for pre-school. If I do have kids, I'll keep this in mind!

  5. Interesting post. As a mother of a toddler, I can assure you that the majority of what she eats is on the healthy side – but I won't lie. There are days where time escapes and I rely on convenience foods.

    I do find it interesting how much bashing fruit cups get, though. I can understand fruit cocktail and the like getting the what-for, but the Dole cups (peaches, pears, pineapple and mandarin oranges) are high in vitamins and still have a good bite to them. I just rinse them off first (except the pineapple, which is in juice). The bottom line is, while fresh fruit would obviously be the best choice, there *are* convenience items that can be a good alternative in a pinch. (btw, maybe your parents don't know that you'll wash, cut and serve fresh produce. I don't know that my daycare provider would.)

  6. The guest blogger is so right about feeding our preschoolers, and as a former high school teacher, I saw the culmination of a decade of the children eating these pre-packaged, nutrient empty meals.

    I especially remember one student in the first high school where I taught. We were on the block system, which meant four 90-minute classes a day. He was in my 4th period class, and invariably fell asleep mid-way through. The reason? He normally drank 7-8 Mountain Dews a day and ate an empty lunch. If you saw him in the morning he was hyper and wild. By 4th period he was in caffeine and sugar withdrawal and crashed.

  7. My son will start full-day at his preschool in the fall and, hence, will need a lunch each day. He and I both have issues with gluten so most of the pre-packaged foods are already out of the equation for us. I never thought I would be RELIEVED over the "hassle" of being gf!

  8. Wow. This teacher sounds very obliging. I don't think most day care facilities that handle increasing amounts of toddlers would have time to do this for each child.

    I also wonder if there is a correlation between children who get better lunches and parents who curb the meltdown behavior at home. That could be a factor…not just the lunch they eat. But I know the food does make a difference. I've noticed it in my own children.

    I also agree Becky above with the fruit cup comment. The fruit cups in no-sugar added juice seem like a good solution when it's winter and fresh fruit is harder to come by. The jello cups are not so good. But some fruit cups do seem to have better nutrition.

  9. Thanks for this posting. I am the mother of 2 kids under three and everyday is a battle over food. I am pleased because (at least I think) I am winning. My kids might not eat everything I put in front of them. But they get fruits and veggies every day. I am scared of sugar and even more scared of all the processed foods out there. I work so hard at keeping my kids healthy and am friends with other moms who feel the same, that I often forget that I am in the minority.
    Thanks for posting.

  10. Cindy –

    I pack my kids lunches each day in a bento-style lunchbox. I choose healthy foods – fruits, veggies with dip, yogurt, granola, sandwiches, etc. At school, they are surrounded by kids who eat pre-packaged "convenience" (aka "junk") foods. I help in a class during the lunch time and have seen many a lunch from home that I would consider worse than school lunch. My two bring home empty lunch boxes on a pretty regular basis, though they do ask for the "fun" foods that their classmates are eating. Usually if they don't finish their lunch it's because I packed too much – which tends to happen when a growth spurt is tapering off – or I later hear that they were too talkative during lunch (they get 30 minutes to eat). Sure, I sometimes include a few (4 to 6) Doritos as a treat or put some chocolate chips and craisins in for a special treat – but it's not too often. Drop by my blog and click on the 'lunches' label if you want to see what our lunches look like.

  11. My son is in a preschool that is on the government food program. I only wish I could pack his lunch each day, but that isn't allowed, unless it is with a doctor's excuse for allergies to certain foods. The foods they serve in his preschool are similar to the processed foods that are served in any other school setting. Vanilla wafers, goldfish crackers, etc are considered an appropriate snack. At home, we've rid ourselves of preservatives, artificial dyes, etc., but he still eats crap at school… it's infuriating. I can't even look at their menu anymore. I long for kindergarten, when I know I can pack his lunch.

  12. Are you complaining about the food parents send for children in their lunchboxes, or does your center provide lunches?

    Here's what my son's preschool does: they send a letter out at the beginning of year with guidelines for lunch. Specifically, they ban lunchables and go-gurts. They also recommend not sending desserts or juice. We also strive for trashless lunches at our preschool.

    I don't think every parent follows every guideline every time. I sent some home made brownies in his lunchbox today, for example. If we deviate too far from the guidelines, we get a note from the teachers and we are asked to make changes.

    My recommendation to you is that you do something similar. The trashless lunch is a good goal to strive for in a preschool setting, and it really facilitates a lot of other awesome things (like no lunchables and no go-gurts and no juiceboxes.)

  13. awww… I think we should train kids while still young… but how can it be when the school itself serves pre-packed foods to children??? =(

  14. Although I understand the importance of good nutrition in a child's early years, I'd love to see some attention placed on the middle school/high school students as well. As the parent of an 8th grader, I am greatly concerned about nutrition during puberty and the onset of other food issues such as eating disorders.

  15. I've sent packed lunches for my kids since the first one started preschool. I feel like I do a pretty good job and I even photograph them and post them to my blog in hopes that I can help other parents by sharing my lunch-packing ideas. I'll admit it — I totally panicked when the first food on your list of things you judge parents for was a fruit cup because I send them pretty regularly. While most of your other "don't send" foods were ones that I avoid packing, I really feel like you missed the mark on the fruit cups (as some other people have already noted). The biggest problem with fruit cups is that they're often packed in syrup which adds extra sugar. If you rinse them off before giving them to your kids though, they can be as nutritious fresh fruits. Packing appealing fresh fruit into a lunchbox in the winter — even where I live in California — can be really tough. Cut apples don't hold up well and my kids get bored with oranges and bananas. It's nice to be able to rotate in some canned fruit for variety. It's also better than sending NO fruit on the days you haven't been to the store and your cupboards are bare.

  16. I just have to defend parents a little here. A typical lunch I send my daughter in with is a serving of fruit (always grapes because she is very picky and I just want her to eat fruit), a mini cheese and some crackers with a water. When I pack my daughter's lunch, I think of how picky she is and I think of the fact that she is one of twenty students who the teachers are watching eat lunch. As a mom, I have to beg my daughter to finish her yogurt at one meal a day. I have to bribe her to try new foods and I have to be the one who says, "that has too much sugar." I don't want to make this the job of the teachers as they are supervising a classroom full of kids eating lunch. So, I try to make it healthy, but I also try and make it something I know she will eat so she has energy for the rest of the day. I pack things her teachers will not have to beg her to eat. So, if I send in chicken nuggets one day (I have not had to resort to this yet) please do not judge me as a bad parent. The other two meals I provided that day were most likely much more balanced. I am trying to make sure my child eats, has energy and does not whine her way through lunch. I am sure I am not the only one.

  17. Many daycare centers (such as the one my niece attends) receive federal funding, which means they must follow USDA guidelines for meals served by the center. We discovered that even though my niece's daily report said that she was getting fruit juice as the beverage for her lunch, she was actually getting Gatorade.

    I think it's important for the staff at these centers to receive some type of nutrition education before purchasing food.

  18. Before starting to follow this blog I never gave a thought to "fruit cups" – it just never occurred to me to buy the single serving fruit cups which just seem like a waste of money and waste of packaging. I have occasionally bought canned peach halves or slices packed in juice (not the ones packed in syrup) and I sometimes keep a can or 2 on my shelves for an "emergency" when we're out of real fruit. However it has been months since I've had to open one.

    About the parents who give their kids fruit cups to take to preschool every day because it seems convenient and they think their kids will not be able to handle real fruit, I think that even if the teachers do not have the time to cut or peel real fruit for the kids as this poster does in her preschool, the simple solution to avoid fruit cups is to wash and cut up real fruit and put it in a small plastic container. I do that every day for my son, e.g. I slice pineapple or watermelon or oranges, I remove grapes from the stalks, wash them and put them in small plastic containers. It just takes 2 minutes to do that every night and put them in the fridge and in the morning I pack the containers of fruit in his lunch bag along with his thermos of heated-up food. He is old enough to eat whole apples, bananas, clementines, etc on his own so he gets those whole. Years ago we bought a stack of little plastic containers with lids and we have been using them ever since.

    I can't believe that anyone saves money or much time by buying fruit cups rather than buying fruit and slicing it. I am not talking the most expensive fruits, just whatever is in season and reasonably priced. Our staples are apples, grapes and bananas. Sometimes I will buy a more expensive fruit like a pineapple, but in the end I am sure even that is more cost effective than single-serving fruit cups – you can get many many days of fruit snacks from a single pineapple or a half watermelon kept in the fridge.

  19. Okay, I am not a mother, but I have nannyed for a family for over 3 years, have worked in a day care, and have a growing family with tons of babies to bless out lives with. I have had pleanty of experience around kids and I know that sometimes you are running short on time and you need a fruit for their lunch, but isnt it just as easy to throw in an apple or a handfull of grapes? And there is always a fruit in season. I live in Nebraska and in the winter, we eat a ton of apples, because they are in season during all of fall and into part of winter. I we also make our own applesause and freeze it or can it for those times when my mom cant get to the store before we run out of fruit.

    As a nanny I make eating healthy fun. We make it a game and we take the time to learn about why eating this food is good for you. The kids are always asking "What will happen if I eat this carrot?" I try to answer them with things like "You will be able to see super far away because eating carrots are good for your eyes."

    Eating healthy is not difficult and involves no pain. It really is easy and doesnt take all that much more time to put together a quick meal when you are short on time. And if you are running late, as it happens often in our family due to six people and one bathroom, you are already late so you might as well pack a good healthy lunch instead of a processed lunch. Youre going to be late anyways…

  20. What a great guest blogger! I love your honesty. I really hope parents take notice and pack better lunches for their kids.

  21. I really appreciate this post as I worked in a preschool for six years and saw the same kind of food mentioned here. It didn't matter the socio-economic level of the parents, it was mostly packaged processed food. There were only a few parents that packed fresh fruits and vegetables. I packed a lot of cut up cheese, fruits, and mini bagels (usually whole wheat). It seemed to satisfy and keep them full. Sometimes it would be a sliced avocado, cheesestick, and blackbeans. Easy, fast, and inexpensive. Ham and cheese rolls, pitas stuffed with deli meat and cheese, a whole wheat tortilla smeared with almond butter and jelly. There are endless possibilities that don't cost an arm and a leg.
    What's fun for me is to involve my children in the making of the meals, planning, and shopping of the meals. It takes more time and patience but it's a more rewarding experience. Next year I'm going to start letting them make their own lunches to send to school.

  22. I wanted to echo the commenter who wondered if this is made clear to the parents: that you are willing to do some food prep. I think that's *wonderful* but if I were a preschool parent I probably wouldn't expect that you would do that. (My kids went to half day programs where this wasn't really an issue.)

  23. I have an (almost) 2 year old. Her daycare/preschool provides food for their lunch and snacks every day. I am constantly amazed at what she will eat because the other kids are eating it. She has learned some GREAT habits there. They routinely have meals that look like homemade lasagna, salad, fresh fruit. My 2yo LOVES SALAD. go figure. This is a center, too. It can be done, and done well. There are certainly nugget days, but those are few and far between. Easy Mac as a daycare staple makes me cringe 🙁

  24. I guess I would respect this post more if it was written by a person with kids. Many things are easier said than done once you add kids to the mix, especially 3 kids!

  25. At the end of last summer, when Jamie Oliver's people were setting up to shoot the Food Revolution, they contacted me, and alot of other people like me with connections in the school food world. While they were looking for funding, I gave them lots of unsolicited advice based on my 14 years of school food advocacy. The FIRST thing I told them was to do some work in the preschools and childcare centers. This is where we can get the biggest bang for our buck, so to speak. Get good habits started with both kids and parents.
    I thought it would make for entertaining TV too, after all those preschoolers are so darn cute! Jamie and company did not take my advice on that one.

    Its not as hard to create change in childcare centers and preschools. Much less beaurocracy.
    We need to start here.

  26. I worked in preschool for about 4 years and occasionally subbed for the optional 1 hr lunch period offered in the older classes (4YO & pre-K). Had to LOL at the "we'd rather peel fruit for you than have you send a fruit cup" because seriously? Most of those teachers at the preschools I worked in would rather step in front of a speeding train than cut or peel a piece of fruit. The parents who sent real food of for lunch or classroom snacks were often talked about (in front of the kids) like they were freaks.

    Also, I don't hate fruit cups although I think they are a mess for preschoolers; I think for most kids canned fruit in juice (not syrup) which has been drained & packed in a resealable container is a better option because there's less spilling. I usually do keep some kind of canned fruit on hand for lunchboxes in case I run out of fresh during the week. I'd rather use canned fruit in a pinch than, say, a boxed meal high in sodium and chemicals. At least the fruit is only fruit & fruit juice with no or few additives (some of which may be natural like citric acid/vitamin C). YMMV.

  27. While it's great that you are willing to peel and cut fresh fruit for the kids at your preschool, you probably shouldn't make it sound like that's how it is at every preschool. And I agree with previous commenters who wonder whether the parents are aware that you're willing to do that.

    Also, I'd just like to know what's wrong with yogurt that comes in a tube. I wish people wouldn't make statements like, "yogurt in a cup is a much better option" or "my kid's school banned Go-gurt" without explaining why. Seems to me that yogurt is yogurt. What difference does make what the packaging is?

  28. I definitely agree with anonymous above. It is not that hard to slice and prep fresh fruit at home. You don't need a daycare/preschool teacher to do it for your kids, it's not a whole lot of work.

    We buy whole fruit, based on what's on sale. This way, it's fresh and inexpensive. This week, we have pineapple, cantaloupe, blackberries & grapes. The grapes & blackberries are already washed, the pineapple & cantaloupe are peeled and sliced into the right size pieces, and it's all in big containers in my fridge. If we need it to-go, it's a matter of putting a scoop of fresh fruit into a reusable container. No preservatives, no tin can taste, and no syrup goo.

    I've sent it this way for years with my kids, until they were old enough to handle whole fruit (like apples or bananas). Even now, they like the fruit sliced in the fridge so they can get it when they want it. How hard is it really to buy it, spend 10 minutes slicing it, then storing it in the fridge for lunches?

  29. I am a nanny to a 6,5, and 2.5yr old. The 6yr old gets school lunch…he opts for plain pasta 4 days a week and pizza 1 day a week. His sister is a "home-lunch" kid. I send her the same meals each week. A bagel with cream cheese, a veggie burger, breaded/baked white fish, breaded/baked chicken cutlets and she has pizza one day from the school. Each day she gets a fresh veggie or beans, an apple or grapes and a water. One day a week she gets a juice box or chocolate milk and two days a week she gets pretzles or animal crackers. It's not tough getting her to eat these meals and I cannot phathom give her a pre-made boxed meal. Is she abnormal???

  30. Let's go back to the fruit cup convo for a second. Again, with the bashing! Yes, it's easy enough to put fresh fruit into a container myself. Yes, it's probably cheaper and less wasteful to go fresh, too. But the thing is? My daughter LIKES THEM. And WILL EAT THEM. And if that's the worst "junk" she's ingesting, then I say score one for me. IT'S FRUIT. It's not like I'm giving her a sleeve of Oreos.

  31. I totally agree with this post. And I have 3 kids under 3 who all eat amazingly well because I've never let "convenience" foods be an option. Your children function better on fruits and veggies and it's no harder to throw a banana, orange, granola bar, and come carrot sticks in a lunchbox than a pre-packaged "meal". Maybe it doesn't sound like a "meal" to you, but your kids will function a million times better!

  32. what happened to parents making lunches for their children? my mom always used to (and sometimes still does) make my lunch. usually a pb&j or turkey sandwich (on whole wheat bread), a fresh fruit and/or vegetable, string cheese, and a cookie, or chips. occasionally i would have a lunchable or something like that, and sometimes i would buy lunch but, thats basically what my mom made me for lunch from the time i started preschool until i graduated high school. and my mom (and dad) worked full time. and because my mom packed me good lunches, i learned how to make good balanced lunches for myself.

  33. My daughter gets fed at preschool and they do a good job of feeding relatively healthy meals. She eats a lot of soup, turkey and cheese sandwiches, turkey pasta with peas, etc… They have a choice of lowfat milk or water with lunch. They are homemade meals with nothing packaged.
    As a mother of 3 I constantly see people feeding their kids junk food with the excuse that is all the kids will eat. It is my pet peeve.
    Even when my son was under 20% percentile in weight I did not whip out the junk I tried to bulk him up with peanut butter, full fat milk, cheese etc. I just don't see how feeding a person a bunch of fried and sugary junk is helpful. Furthermore as a super skinny child who is an adult who could lose 10lbs I just don't see this being thin or not eating much as a permanent problem that follows kids through adulthood. I make one dinner every night it has a fruit, a vegetable & grain. I have 3 kids with very different palates and all of them managed to find a fruit & vegetable that they loved through exposure to lots of them. Sorry for the long post- I feel like I have to keep my mouth shut whenever someone tells me how thats all their kid will eat.

  34. to the anonymous person wondering why yogurt in a tube is such a big deal…..just try and imagine what a preschooler would do with a tube of yogurt. they would squeeze it. and squeeze it, and squeeze it. and it would end up all over them, the table, the floor, and possibly the other kids. it is much harder to squeeze a cup of yogurt, which makes it far less messier. i used to nanny 3-yr-old triplets, and i had to beg their mom to stop buying go-gurt. the mess was unbelievable!

  35. As a former preschool teacher and a current manager I can say that I too have seen some frustrating trends with lunches. I think one of the problems with fruit cups was as a teacher of 2 yo, I had to drain the juice or I spent the rest of the day walking in a sticky mess. With fresh fruit you still have some mess but definitely not the sticky juice that goes everywhere. With the tube yogurt I think the biggest issue is the amount of sugar in a serving. I absolutely detest the candy flavored yogurts that come in obnoxious blue and pink, tube and cup yogurt alike. It would be much healthier to choose something with more natural flavoring, or better yet put real fruit into unflavored or vanilla yogurt! For those parents who are not convinced that your preschool teachers will cut fruit, as many do not have the time, it really is a short task to cut or peel an orange at home or send a banana. Baby carrots, grapes, broccoli, cauliflower and even cherry tomatoes are the perfect size to drop into a baggie and have for lunch without too much fuss. Growing up I was raised eating chips. When I got out on my own I found that fresh zucchini or yellow squash cut with a little salad dressing was just as good and had considerably less fat.

  36. Wow, a preschool that BANS Lunchables and Go-gurt? And criticism of fruit cups? Seriously?

    I'm a work-at-home mom, so I make my preschool-aged child's lunch every day. On most days, it's very healthy … fresh fruit, fresh veggies, some protein, etc.

    But I'm thinking back to a time when my older child was probably sent to lunch with some less-than-healthy food. When I was on bedrest, I'm sure he had a lunchable or two. Guess what? He survived!! And I'm not evil!!

    No, parents shouldn't raise their kids on processed foods. Yes, we should take the time to pack a healthy lunch. But to get up on the high horse and sermonize against gogurt and fruit cups is just ludicrous.

  37. As a parent of a preschooler it's really hard not to get defensive at this post.

    First off, it sounds like this is a preschool/daycare setting, not a straight preschool. Full day preschools are mostly federally funded with hot lunches, not requiring that all food be sent from home.

    But for preschool or daycare workers to complain about what parents send seems downright mean. Especially for people who do not have children of their own & have no idea what it takes to keep everyhing together. One meal a day at preschool does not mean that the child doesn't have other foods at home. It's easier on teachers if we do send foods we know our kids will eat & save the battles for at home. The battles that can come with food are part of the parent's job, not the teachers.

    Also, if hot lunches are considered substandard & teachers don't approve of what parents send in, what the heck is a kid suppose to eat?!

  38. To the 2:11pm Anonymous poster who was questioning the difference packaging makes:

    I'm worked many summers in day camps, where all kids are required to bring a lunch (and often a snack too). I can confidently say that whoever invented go-gurt is either an evil, sadistic human being, or Satan himself. Go-gurt is a squeezable tube of yogurt. They are literally impossible to open and eat without spilling: you tear it open (and by you, I mean the adult), and a little (if you're lucky) glurps on your finger. You hand it back to the kid, and more glurps out. Then if the kid puts it down, it gets on the table. And if a little kid manages to get one open on their own, it usually ends with at least half the yogurt on the kid, the table, the rest of the kid's lunch, the hair of the kid next to them, etc, etc. Go-gurt should be banned EVERYWHERE, as should all foods in single-serve squeeze tubes. If your kid isn't coordinated enough to use a spoon to eat yogurt, buy the drinkable kind. Don't buy squeeze tubes!

  39. I would be more sympathetic to the guest blogger if she were a parent who actually understood what entails getting young children out the door on time in the morning, especially for working moms and dads. Most daycare centers/preschools are not willing to peel or cut up fruit such as an apple, pear or kiwi for a child because there simply is not enough time to do that for every single student.
    She also needs to understand that at the preschool age, most children go through terrible phases of picky eating. There was a time when I was afraid my oldest daughter would never eat anything but peanut butter and jelly, mac & cheese, and – gasp – chicken nuggets. Thankfully she grew out of it, just in time for my middle child – who used to eat anything and everything – to start her picky phase. It's just part of life.
    I do not let my kids have the Go-gurt that has HFCS in it, but Go-gurt does make a variety without it, and they love them frozen. There's nothing wrong with them and much easier, cleaner and more practical to pack a tube of yogurt in a lunch as opposed to a cup of yogurt and a spoon. As for fruit cups, also nothing wrong with them. Having some diced peaches or pears in a cup is better than having none at all. There was a time when my oldest child would not eat fruit if her life depended on it. I was lucky to get her to eat a fruit roll up. The fact that now she will eat bananas and peeled apple wedges is a huge accomplishment. Some kids are just that way. The eating habits of my oldest and middle children could not be more opposite and we didn't do anything differently with our second child that we did our first.
    I used to be idealistic before I had kids, too. They would never watch TV, never have fast food, never eat processed foods, but guess what? Life happens and sometimes you have to rely on convenience foods and there's nothing wrong with that. Of course no child's diet should consist mainly of processed, packaged foods, but again, every once in awhile is perfectly acceptable.
    Like I always say, I was a much better mom before I had kids.

  40. Not all yogurt is the same. It's important to read labels. A lot of it is packed with sugar, which leads me to see it as more of a processed dessert than an actual food item.

    And to me, anything that comes in a package with a list of ingredients on it isn't really food, but a processed edible product.

    I won't even eat plain, sugar- or sweetener-free store bought yogurt. I make my own at home. It doesn't take more than a few minutes.

  41. My children attend preschool at our local YMCA. You'd think they would be big advocates of healthy eating, but I have taken quite a bit of flak for sending in healthy meals. The teachers will go on about how they "hate avocados" or "can't stand sweet potatoes" right in front of my kids! The center director asked me once if I couldn't just send in sandwiches — not because I was sending in anything messy or that the teachers had to prepare, but only because my kids' meals were different from those of their peers. Snacks are provided by the preschool, and they always involve juice and are often cookies, cupcakes, pudding, or chips. It drives me nuts, but I fear my kids will be penalized if I complain.

    That said, I agree with other posters that the occasional lunchable should not be judged. If a child is living a healthy lifestyle, infrequent indulgence in convenience foods is hardly a big deal.

  42. i'm going to go along with a few other commenters. just becuase a lunch is made of chef boyardee cups, fruit cups, and go-gurt doesnt mean thats what the kid eats for every meal of the day. I'm not a parent but i did my share of childcare work while i was in college. the fruit cups and go-gurts can be just as messy as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. with picky eaters, you give them what you know they will eat and hope the kid grows out of it.
    and not all preschools function the same. my school was able to peel and cut fruit and it stated that in the parent handbook. what made this easy was having a small class and 2 staff members available. if there are 30 kids for lunch, there is no way someone can peel and cut a piece of fruit for each child. fruit cups made the job easier. there was also a food suggestion list provided (previous commenter mentioned this). suggestions for parents helped since this was the first time many parents had enrolled children in a formal program

  43. I worked at a preschool for nine years.

    One thing I would add: portion size. Our preschool students (age 3 and 4) would get both huge individual portions (if parents were measuring something into a baggie) and WAY too many individual items (including – often! – three things that I would classify as dessert).

    A typical lunch for one child might include sugared apple sauce (the bright red variety) AND a pudding cup AND a package of cookies!

    Over the nine years, I had exactly two families that sent healthy lunches with their preschool child. The difference in behavior and focusing ability between a child who had chicken, broccoli, and a pear for lunch and a child who had a lunchable, a pudding cup, a bag of chips, a go-gurt, etc. (yes, all of those – and more) is striking.

    We served the kids water with their snacks, and parents complained. We asked that they send milk or water with lunch and please no juice – and they complained. We sent home reams of literature about the amount of sugar in juice, but it was seemingly ignored.

    The same three-year-old children who would open giant lunchboxes and take out 8 or 9 items (many of which contained sugar) would have a plastic container of either juice or kool-aid as a beverage.

    The problem with a lunchable isn't that it is a "convenient food" – it is only a few seconds more convenient than putting real cheese and crackers into a baggie, after all. The problem is that it is not food. If you doubt me, buy a lunchable and try to eat it.

    Preschool children spend their day jumping, running, climbing, playing, imagining, drawing, painting, building, planning, discussing, listening, sharing .. they need fuel to do their job! Not sugar and chemicals. Real food.

  44. We packed my daughter's snacks all through preschool and now pack her snacks and lunch in kindergarten, and it's just not that difficult to supply wholesome real foods. As others have mentioned, it might take a little extra prep time, but so what? It all comes down to priorities, you know?

    Lots of people have mentioned that parents shouldn't be villified for sending the occasional processed convenience snack. Of course that's true. We're all human and occasional junk isn't going to kill anyone.

    BUT. Here's the problem with that argument: For a lot of kids, these kinds of foods are not in fact occasional. They are the norm. If parents were really honest with themselves (not talking about anyone here, just speaking generally), I think many would find that "occasional" is actually "often."

    And one of the big reasons for that is that too many parents wrongly cast their children as "picky eaters" when in fact the parents have never given their kids a chance to eat anything but so-called "kid food."

    Yes, there are children with serious sensory issues or food allergies that make them painfully averse to certain foods. But the vast majority of "picky eaters" are actually kids who've never been given a chance to learn to eat real food. Imagine, then, what happens if we teach our kids in preschool that processed convenience foods are acceptable snacks and lunches. We're setting them up for a lifetime of bad habits. We're training their taste buds to favor crap over real food. We are creating a huge problem that will only get worse as they get older.

    Also, just want to add something else to the discussion about canned fruit: Not only do syrupy fruits have lots of sugar, preservatives and other chemicals (as do yogurt tubes and most other yogurts marketed to children) — they also aren't as nutritious as fresh or frozen fruit. And not only do they generate a lot of packaging waste, but, in the case of fruits packed in cans, they also are contaminated with BPA, an endocrine disrupter that just about every credible scientific source now agrees is dangerous.

    Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the food they eat
    http://www.spoonfedblog.net

  45. Thank you for this post! It gives me such hope that there are child care workers who CARE about kids…not just convenience or USDA "health" requirements. I also appreciate that you gave suggestions for better lunches and not just criticism. I hope that folks like you and Mrs. Q keep up the good work and keep recruiting others onto the band wagon!

  46. The preschool my children attend promotes healthy eating. My son is currently in the 2's program where a parent volunteer provides a snack for the class. The preschoolers in the 3
    s/4's/5's classes bring a packed lunch to school. Guidelines are provided for the snack and the packed lunch. For example, a protein, carb, and fruit/veg should be included and no desserts/sweets are allowed. In addition, parents are urged to use reusable containers for lunch and not prepackaged items to reduce the amount of trash produced. I am very happy to have found this preschool.
    My suggestion to the guest blogger, would be to work with the school administration and other teachers to create a guideline for parents. As a parent I would really appreciate this.

  47. I was a much better mom before I had kids too. Good lord, you people are going to give your kids all kinds of food complexes. Lighten up!

  48. It's amazing to me to read these comments and see parents who would vilify elementary, middle, and high schools for feeding their children junk are now turning around and acting defensive when they themselves are providing that junk.

    "Go-gurt" and macaroni and cheese cups and Lunchables TM are not food. "Juice" boxes with 3% juice in them and Kool Aid are not real things. They're advertising incarnate. Parents need to stop trying to justify feeding their children this stuff. If you wanted convenience, you shouldn't have had children.

    As far as the "you don't have children so I can't take your advice seriously," this guest poster probably has *more* experience caring for a greater number of children than do many of the mothers posting here. I for one believe her.

  49. In addition to being messy, Gogurt also has a lot of added sweeteners and artificial colors. That said, I do buy it sometimes because my daughter hates regular yogurt (and believe me, I've tried what seems like every brand and flavor under the sun) but she'll eat Gogurt like there's no tomorrow.

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