If you have a little one in daycare, you know how crucial a role the caregivers and environment plays in the development of your child. After all, that’s where so many of our kids spend the bulk of their time during the week! My kids have been in both in home and facility daycares and there’s one thing about food that totally caught me off guard:
The repetition with which food is served in a daycare setting can completely change the dynamic of meals at home.
I know that there is a wide variation in the quality and types of food served at daycares and that there can be challenges related to what the food on offer actually is. If that’s happening in your life, I urge you to talk to the director, care provider, and/or teacher and discuss your concerns openly. I’ve had good results from doing that over the years, even if some changes seemed to take forever to actually occur. It can be intensely frustrating to voice an opinion and feel like you’re not being heard, so remember that the care provider is likely doing their best within the structure of the facility or operation—and may simply need more communication or information to come to a solution to the issue at hand.
But back to the issue of repetition. Most daycares operate on some sort of a regular food schedule, so your child may a regular handful of meals in some sort of predetermined rotation. That’s great for the ability of the facility to plan and prepare meals, and it can go a long way towards helping little ones become familiar with new foods—they may even start to eat foods there that they haven’t yet eaten at home! This is clearly a win! But your child may also start to refuse your chili, say, because they have become so used to the one they eat at daycare. Or, formerly favorite meals may turn into battles as your child’s expectations of what pasta sauce (or mashed potatoes, meatloaf, or applesauce) should look like shifts. Or he might have evolving taste preferences based on the regular flavors he eats day in and day out at school.
If this starts to happen in your house, first, realize that it’s normal and probably to be expected if your kiddo is eating food made by someone else everyday! And remember the upside of it: Your child is eating a range of food he may not eat at home and is, in all likelihood, not fussing about it if the rest of his friends are eating it too. But if you start to see negative impacts on your meals at home due to daycare food, here are a few things you can try.
What to do when daycare foods causes poor eating habits at home
1. Ask: How can I make it yummier?
When my daughter let me know loudly and clearly that she much preferred Miss Cathy’s chili to mine (even though she’d been eating mine for two years!), I asked her this question and gained helpful insight into what I could tweak about my own recipe to meet her altered preferences. In our case, it meant eliminating diced tomatoes (so offensive!) and making it more beans and corn than anything else. I could live with that.
2. Make some other elements of the meal similar to how it’s done at school.
Does your daycare let the kids serve themselves from family style bowls? Do they sit at a little table instead of in a highchair? Do they pour their own drinks and bus their own plates? What do the kids do when they’re done eating and their friends aren’t? Follow the lead of your school—you could even try to have lunch with your child one day if you can fit it into your schedule—to add in a few familiar ways to foster independence and the eating experience might start to be on more of an even keel in both places.
3. Involve the kids in planning meals.
This won’t really work with a two year old, but a three year old can help you plan meals that they too will like. You can give a choice of tacos or burritos, or penne or rotini pasta which may increase the likelihood that she’ll eat the food once it’s cooked. It’s a simple thing, but having control over even 1 element of a meal can make it seem a little less daunting to a little one.
If you can remember that the preferences of our little eaters are a moving target and know that this phase will pass—or at least know that you’ll be onto the next phase!—this doesn’t need to become too big of an issue. It’s normal for kids to love one food on day and hate it the next, so try not to take it personally if they give one of your meals a thumbs down. It’s never about you!
I’d also like to acknowledge the fact that there are other real challenges with daycare food, especially for families with food allergies. This is not meant to minimize those at all! If you have a question related to daycare food, comment here and I’ll work on a post for you.
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