Changing Day Care Food (Part three)

Click here to read part one and part two of this series.

The results of the survey were sent home with every child. What I loved about the survey was that the day care listed every food item they have on their menu, they added more information about the food (canned versus fresh fruit), and then asked a simple question about frequency with straightforward answers (Keep as is/Remove/Increase frequency/Decrease frequency).

Survey says:

1) The vast majority of parents are highly satisfied with the food at daycare. Most people clicked “Keep as is” for all the food items. Approval ratings hovered around 90%.  For example, the blueberry muffins that the day care gives out at snack time, and sometimes as part of the meal, are junky. The mini-sized Spunkmeyers are undoubtedly made with white flour and all look identical like they came straight from the factory. Maybe I’m one of the few parents who has seen the cook deliver these to the rooms, but on the survey 94% of parents said “Keep as is” for the muffins. Disappointing.

2) Parents don’t mind about the ice cream. Eighty-nine percent of parents agreed that ice cream should be kept as is. Seriously? In our house, ice cream is a seasonal food. My little guy barely had any ice cream all winter (maybe once a month), but now that it’s getting hotter, he has gotten ice cream twice this week already. I really want to be the one to determine when he gets this special treat.

3) Fresh fruit is in while canned fruit is out. For snack time. a whopping 25% of people want to increase the frequency of fresh fruit on the menu and 10% of parents want to decrease canned fruit. And for lunch the number of parents interested in decreasing canned fruit rises to 19%.

4) Less beef and more whole grains. The survey respondents want less beef (8%). When you scan the monthly menu, ground beef is offered at least twice a week. It’s excessive in my opinion. Parents want to see increases in whole wheat bread (15%) and spaghetti (7%) and they want to drop any remaining white bread (10%). For what it’s worth, I have never seen the kids with white bread.

5) More soup and more chicken nuggets!? Parents want more chicken soup (7%) and, even more surprisingly, 8% of parents want more chicken nuggets on the menu. This is where the ingredients matter. I’d welcome made from scratch chicken soup (without the MSG that’s in canned soups under various aliases) and scratch chicken nuggets (no pink chicken foam), but I don’t see that happening at my son’s day care. They have a cook, but that’s only one person for a few hundred kids. I think they’d need more personnel and space to make healthier food.


When I pick up my son, there’s a super chatty guy behind the counter and we talk a little bit. It must have gotten around that I sent in the letter because he started telling me about the new snacks they are looking into. He mentioned that the manager is redoing a least part of the menu to make it healthier. I have a feeling that I’ll be blogging even more about day care food in the future.

I think that my letter requesting a parent survey was a tipping point. They must have already been thinking about change and needed a little push. Honestly, we pay a small fortune for day care for our son ($1,100 per month) and they enrich the kids’ experience with music programs and special visitors. Now that the day care is taking a closer look at the food, it can only make the place better.

No matter what the day care decides to do about the menu, requesting parental input was smart of them. It makes them look good because it shows that they care about parents’ opinions. I am looking forward to June’s menu…

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21 thoughts on “Changing Day Care Food (Part three)

  1. Hey Mrs. Q!

    I find it interesting that people want to decrease meat and increase carbs – bread and pasta. Weird.

    And isn't ice cream part of our daily allowance for dairy?…JOKING!

    You are changing the world, my friend.

    xo Kim

  2. When I read the results, I couldn't help but be saddened by the overwhelming "keep it as is." While you are focusing on 19% that want less canned fruit, I am thinking – 81% were okay with current canned fruit levels.

    As a social researcher (sociologist), I am also curious about the survey's response rate and the families themselves who use the day care center. Obviously you skew the results, Mrs Q (happily, to be sure). But I wonder about food awareness more generally among the parents of the day care center and why so many, in particular, are okay with ice cream!

    My daughter is in very small day care center run by the university where I work and they NEVER have ice cream or cookies or cupcakes unless a parent brings them in to celebrate a child's birthday. They periodically make muffins or a cake (no frosting) together as a class project to eat at snack time, but these are either from scratch or a mix. They have one cook who makes most things herself (very little is frozen/preprepared) and I often see her returning from the local grocery store with FRESH ingredients for that week's menu when I drop my daughter off on Monday mornings. My daughter loves the food and many of the children have asked their parents to get "Miss Karen's recipes" for items on the center's menu.

    I think size is a big issue here with the menus you have shared, as you mentioned that several hundred children attend your son's daycare center. We feel very fortunate to have this small center (around 40 children in two rooms – one infant/toddler and one preschool) on our campus. As I have read your blog over the past year, I am even more thankful for the food they provide there.

  3. I'm disappointed by the results but am not surprised. I believe that most people really don't understand what constitutes healthy food OR the impact healthy eating has on one's health.

    But I do think it's great that your daycare distributed the survey! Slow and steady wins the race, right?

  4. I think that parents just don't pay attention and that is sad. And I fully understand the costs associated with daycare. My son was in one for 2 years. (luckily I had relatives who watched him until he was 2 1/2, then he went into a prek at our school) But remember, the cost per week divided by say 40 hrs and that usually is less that what babysitters get. No wonder that day care workers are usually paid just a little above minimum wage! sad where the priorities lie.

  5. Most adults are pretty clueless about food and don't have great standards when it comes to their own food intake and food supply. Or, they KNOW better, they just don't feel like acting on it. So, you'd think people would want better for their kids, right? But honestly, if it would require them to change their habits and do a little more work than usual, forget it. Laziness and cluelessness work together to keep our nation tubby and complacent!

  6. I think part of the problem is once you switch and only give children items that are prepared at the daycare (nothing pre-package or pre-prepared), it's going to cost everyone more to use this daycare.

    Granted not everyone knows precisely what is good for you, but I do have to say Ms. Q is also ill-informed as well. With my schedule if I made every meal from scratch, I'd need another few hours in the day every day. I am also a very fit person. I actually look forward to a blog by her son later on – especially once he's not living at home and will try out all the foods Mom deemed bad.

    Just last year or maybe two years ago I actually read a study how it's actually best to give your children more ice cream or frozen popsicles (granted you can make your own better version) since it fights off heat strokes. If I find the study I'll post it here in the comments.

  7. $1,100/mo. for daycare for one child? That's it! I'm definitely sticking to cats ;o)

    Mrs. Q, I've been wondering what your specific concerns are about ice cream on a frequent basis. Is it just the sugar or is it also the fat? If it's just the sugar, presweetened yogurt can be just as sugary as ice cream (assuming the ice cream doesn't also contain cookies or candy). The yogurt is probably lower in fat than the ice cream on the other hand. I'm not advocating for ice cream but the yogurt might be just as concerning as the ice cream and it seems like yogurt is served nearly every day.

  8. I think once you decide to send your child off to daycare, you sort of relinquish your rights in a way. You're shoving off your parental responsibilites. You gotta look at the type of person that would put career ahead of their children, not likely to care about the type of food he/she eats either…
    My children were in daycare, it broke my heart everyday. I became educated, in food and family. I was the annoying mom that sent my son's lunch and snacks in with him.
    Now finally my husband and I have made career choices that have allowed me to be home with him to make the ultimate decisions, in every aspect of his day to day.
    Most people don't care about where their food comes from. I think the majority of people in this country eat out at least once a day.

  9. I wonder if the results would have been different if parents had been given an alternative to what they were being asked about. i.e. – "Would you rather see fewer days with chicken nuggets and more with roasted chicken?" I'm guessing that as a parent quickly reading the survey I would think "Sure, my kid like chicken nuggets, keep 'em coming!" if I wasn't given an alternative to what that "something" other than chicken nuggets was.

    Some of the less encouraging results in this survey may be a result of the design of the survey, not an actual representation of parent preferences. A great addition to the survey would have been a list of 10-15 possible food options and allowing parents to select their top 5 from that list.

  10. Anonymous said…

    "I think once you decide to send your child off to daycare, you sort of relinquish your rights in a way. You're shoving off your parental responsibilites. You gotta look at the type of person that would put career ahead of their children"

    Wow anonymous, what a ridiculous thing to say. Putting your children in daycare is not "shoving off your parental responsibilities" it is a way for both parents to work and provide for their family. What an ignorant and rude thing to say to Mrs. Q, if you don't like what she does, don't read her blog!

    How nice that you can stay at home, many people are not that lucky. Mrs Q- keep up the good work, I'm a teacher too and I know how exhausting it is, I admire you.

  11. My class just finished a chapter in our textbook about how poll results can be skewed based on how the questions are asked. The main example we used swayed from 55.1% agree to 29.5% agree when asking the same people essentially the same question worded differently. While I'd like to think this might account for some of the numbers, I think the majority of the "problem" is lack of education among the parents. It's nice to hear that the daycare administration seems to be on board with making some changes despite these results. Keep up the good work, doing this alone will effect the lives of hundreds of kids!

  12. "You gotta look at the type of person that would put career ahead of their children, not likely to care about the type of food he/she eats either… "

    Well, if we're going to sling stereotypes around, what about the type of trashy person who sits on the couch in her trailer watching TV all day, while her kids drink Kool-Aid and eat Little Debbie cakes and potato chips? Not all stay-at-home moms cook organic meals from scratch, and not all working moms bring their kids up on fast food.

  13. Anonymous @ 1:49pm and others who commented about the "type of person who puts their career ahead of their children."

    Mothers work by choice and need. My husband and I couldn't make it on his income alone, but also I enjoy my job so it's a little of both in our case. Even if I wanted to stay home and we had the money for it, I would send my son out for preschool half-time. He really benefits from being around children his age right now since he's an only.

  14. I have to agree with speculations above that the responses can be skewed by the way the questions were asked. Perhaps by offering an alternative, more parents would have chosen things that are more in the whole food vein. Also, my initial thought after reading this entry was, "Hmm. Well, I'll bet a lot of adults don't really know what's *in* a blueberry muffin/chicken nuggets/canned fruit/etc." That and they may believe that if it's what their child wants to eat, might as well keep it comin'. That sort of thing.

    But kudos to your daycare for taking a step in the right direction!

  15. I am often amazed at how little people around me know about food, or think about food in general. So many people I know think a blueberry muffin is a very healthy breakfast… when really it's loaded with sugar. Muffins are like little unfrosted cupcakes… and I am always amazed at how few people realize this. (And that is just one example.)

    I would also be upset at giving ice cream often. I too think it's a "sometimes treat" not a weekly or more thing.

    I also wonder how the questions were worded that may have skewed the results. And was there any place to put in comments, or just check boxes?

  16. Some of the parents' responses are so sad! I don't have children, but if I did, I can't even imagine being so passive about what she would fuel her body with!
    I've been following your blog for a while, and I was thinking about it the other day as I had a conversation with my mother-in-law, who is a school cook. The school system she works for is getting ready to roll out the new federal school lunch guidelines next school year, and everyone seems to be up in arms about it. No more pizza! No more froot loops at breakfast! Can you imagine the audacity of the federal government to hand down such harsh guidelines!?! (tongue in cheek…) Anyway, her concern with the new guidelines are that fewer kids are going to eat in the cafeteria when the menus change next fall, which means cooks get laid off. A similar situation was happening a few years ago when the breakfast count dropped, they were going to cut a couple of the cooks back to part-time. But they started serving breakfast pizzas and more kids started eating breakfast at school, and they didn't need to cut anybody's hours. The school lunch director has already suggested to the cooks that if numbers fall, that could be a likely scenario next school year. I can understand her frustration, but I haven't figured out how to broach the subject of the importance of healthy school food, without sounding like I am taking "their" side against her. I'm just at a loss how to come to a middle ground. Healthier kids at the expense of an underpaid cook's livelihood (in this economy in an already economically depressed area)???

  17. Hey Mrs Q!

    I've worked in a couple out of school care programs, and I've seen the whole spectrum of menus. I watched my old program morph from menus similar to the ones your centre serves the kids. Now, they have butter chicken for lunch once a month, fresh fruit is the most popular snack (they serve mangos, papayas, kiwi, berries, and so on, not just apples oranges and bananas). THe focus is on whole grains, fresh food, and bringing these kids up with healthy food as the norm.

    My current program (which I am leaving, due to my frustrations with management), has a rotating snack list, which consists of the following snacks;
    *Process cheese or bologna sandwiches (with pickles)
    *Cheese or bologna with crackers and pickles
    *Granola bars and fruit (either apples or oranges)
    *Veggies and dip
    *Corn chips and salsa
    *Trail mix

    Fridays is "Treat of the Week,"

    That's it. I've tried suggesting buying different fruit, like berries, grapes, or pineapple. I've suggested serving pitas and hummus, or whole-wheat mini pitas with cream cheese, or ANYTHING other than chips and salsa. I've continually had my suggestions rebuffed as being "too much work."

    It saddens me that I'm serving this food to kids, and the attitude that change is too much work is one of the many reasons I'm leaving.

  18. I think it's great to try to make changes to daycare lunches, but bottom line I think there's only so much change that can happen in an institutional setting like that, given our system of food distribution/regulation. I was endlessly frustrated by the food at the daycare my daughter went to previously. What they thought of as healthy (like those blueberry muffins, since it wasn't a cookie, after all) was light years away from what I think of as healthy. I got lucky and transferred out to a home daycare where the kids help cook and work in the garden, and where she serves all homemade, healthy organic foods, and as much local as possible. She also does yoga with the kids, and takes them on long nature walks, and other similar activities. I think it's sad that this is the exception rather than the rule in daycares, and that most parents don't have access to something like this. I also realize that this is difficult to do on a big scale, so the chances of real, profound changes coming to the food programs in institutional daycares is pretty slim.

  19. I wanted to add that, although I piled on to the muffin-bashing, I think muffins can be a great part of breakfast or a good snack. Not the sugary store-bought ones with fake blueberry flavor in them, of course. But whole wheat, real-fruit and nut muffins sweetened with a small amount of unrefined natural sweetener, along with yogurt (also not the super-sweetened commercial yogurts) or an egg or some other healthy protein – to me that's a great breakfast. I love baked goods and want my kids to enjoy them too. I just want them to know that there's a huge difference between the crap you'll buy in the store and the healthy treats you can make yourself.

  20. Very well said Rachel. I like to make muffins or scones once a month or so for a nice weekend breakfast (oatmeal muffins and orange scones are always big hits). When you stop and realize how simple and pure a muffin or a scone can be, it really is astounding to think about the amount of crap manufacturers manage to pack into one bitty treat. I just don't get it…

    And to the "career ahead of children" commenter: wow. Just… wow. It's hard to believe that some people can have their heads shoved so far up their asses sometimes…

  21. A parent giving up rights by putting their child in day care? It's actually just the opposite. By working, the parents are being fully responsible for providing for the family and that includes being able to purchase and provide the best food they can afford.
    Also, I'm kind of the opposite with my kids. I don't feel guilty for not letting them have junkfood, but I feel guilty for the junkfood they do get. There needs to be a balance.

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