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A Daycare Food Dilemma

A Daycare Food Dilemma

By Amalah

Hi Amy-

I love your column and blog. Congrats on the new house!

Based on your advice, we have adopted a Satter approach to eating at our house, so I am hoping that you may have some insights on another food-related issue.

We have a just turned 1-year-old son and a nearly 3-year-old daughter. We switched in-home daycare providers in March. The new daycare providers (a husband and wife) are very loving and involved with the children. The environment seems stimulating and the providers plan a lot of activities for a variety of ages. Both kids love the providers and overall, we are very pleased with one exception- the food served.

They serve a variety of cereals for breakfast ranging in healthfulness from Rice Crispies to Fruit Loops. For lunches, they serve multiple fruits and vegetables (though the veggies are often canned), but the fruits/vegetables are often accompanied by chocolate milk and processed foods such as American cheese, hot dogs, Spaghettios, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, white bread, etc. I have seen an 18-month-old chugging chocolate milk with his lunch on multiple occasions. At home, we typically try to eat unprocessed, home-cooked food.

Our previous daycare provider did not serve processed foods, so my daughter tends not to eat the processed food at the new daycare (though she fully partakes in the chocolate milk and fruit loops). My concern is primarily about my 1-year-old son as he is just developing his food affinities. Up to this point, I have been sending a home-made lunch with him daily. Our daycare provider has asked when he will be eating with the other kids so that he isn’t left out. On the one hand, I don’t want the little guy to stand out as he gets older as being the kid who doesn’t eat what the other kids are eating. On the other hand, I don’t want him growing accustomed to these foods that are not consistent with what we eat at home.

Other than this food issue, the care really is very good. My husband thinks that I am overreacting and that what is served at daycare won’t dictate their eating habits later in life. I’m not as convinced. Would you continue to send a separate lunch, tell the provider that there are certain off limit foods, or just not worry about this? Am I overreacting?

Thank you in advance for your advice.

Yeah. I’m fully on your side here. I’d actually go even nit-pickier and send in homemade alternatives for BOTH kids. Because that menu is completely unacceptable.

Forget long-term food habits, that day-to-day menu is LOADED with waaaaay too much sugar and sodium for just about anyone, and especially toddlers and preschoolers. Not to mention all kinds of garbage like HFCS, artificial flavors and food dyes. And canned veggies are 1) gross, 2) often add sodium as a preservative, and 3) unless the daycare is buying top-quality or organic brands (which I doubt), there’s a risk of BPA exposure from the cans. NOPE.

I wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about a 1-year-old feeling “left out.” (Which: Come on. They probably want him eating the daycare food because it’s easier for them.)  You  are not overreacting when you’re looking at a daily menu that’s pretty much nutritionally bankrupt…and full of ingredients with the potential to cause real harm to your kids’ growing bodies, teeth, and taste buds. (A lot of processed foods really do warp your sense of salty/sweet in the wrong direction.)

I’ve mentioned before that at some point we do need to accept the fact that we cannot control everything our children eat and drink. And be okay with the occasional treat at Grandma’s or the fact that they get served soda at their friend’s house. But YOU, OP, are NOT at that point yet. Your kids are still babies! All that sugary/salty food is BAD FOR THEM. You have the option to send in more acceptable, nutritious food and drink items to daycare and BY ALL MEANS, you should take advantage of that option.

I did. I still do. My kids have never complained about feeling “left out” or oddballs because they don’t get to eat Lunchables or Kool-Aid. At every school/daycare my kids have attended, everybody eats at the same community table, regardless of whether they’ve brought lunch from home or are eating school-provided food. (And there’s ALWAYS been a mix, thanks to food allergies and kids/parents’ personal preferences.) Your children can sit at the table with their friends and eat their packed lunches.

My oldest cannot tolerate food dyes, so I’ve always told his teachers who added that to the classroom list of food allergies/preferences when it came to school-provided snacks or treats. So I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask that they keep the chocolate milk/super-sugary away from your ONE YEAR OLD. The preschool my last two kids attended had a wonderful snack menu that met all my standards (fresh fruit and vegetables, real cheese/yogurt, whole grain carbs, white milk), so they ate that. But if it had been Froot Loops and chocolate milk and Oreos, you better BELIEVE I would have been sending something from home. Or lobbying for change with the school director…or looking for another school.

(Not saying you need to go that far, I completely understand that a good full-time daycare program is a different beast than finding a preschool. Especially in my area where there are about a million options, most of whom cater to my particular brand of hippie food neurosis. My school food menu privilege is fully in check, I swear.)

When my kindergartner expressed an interest in buying lunch at school, I let him. That whole “you must cede control and let them make their own choices” thing. Thankfully, the appeal quickly wore off once he realized the school lunches were really gross and not worth the access to chocolate milk, and he went back to a homepacked lunch. While packing multiple lunches and snacks isn’t my favorite task day after day after day, I’m grateful I still have the option to ensure my kids are eating healthy, wholesome food during our hours apart. So do you! Take that option and do not let anyone shame you for making smart nutrition choices for your children.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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