Preschool and Pop Tarts

This is a guest post by Dr. Dina R. Rose

You’ve grown a great eater…until he lands in daycare or preschool.

That’s what happened to Michelle’s son. He was a shopping cart-riding/broccoli-gnawing tot until he got to preschool where he was exposed to Goldfish crackers, gummy candy, and some sort of birthday treat from a classmate nearly every week.

And to Courtney’s son. He was an eating champ until he got to daycare where they served him cafeteria food like macaroni and cheese, corn dogs, and even Pop Tarts for snacks.

What can you do?

You can become an advocate for change. You can also use this as an opportunity to teach your child how to live in a world dominated by this stuff.

There isn’t anything your children need to understand about eating right that can’t be presented in child-sized nuggets.

No child is too young to learn how to handle sweets and treats. But you can’t teach this stuff just by limiting the junk. You’ve got to talk to your kids too.

Talk to your child about proportion.

Proportion is easy to explain: We eat some foods more often than other foods.

And, there’s room in the diet for everything. Including Pop Tarts—which I still eat once a year or so when I’m in the mood to taste my childhood!

Here’s a sample dialogue.

Mary: The food you eat at daycare is pretty tasty, isn’t it?
Bob: Yeah, I love it.
Mary: I love that kind of food too. But you know what? It’s not the healthiest food.
Bob: It’s not?
Mary: No. Remember how I always say that we have to eat things like fruits and vegetables more often than we eat hot dogs, noodles, and cookies?
Bob: Yeah.
Mary: Well, because you eat all that Fun and Treat Food during the day, we have to be extra careful to eat Growing Food at home. That’s why I am always going to offer you things like apples and pears for snack when you get home from school. You don’t have to eat the snack, but there won’t be food again until dinner. Okay?
Bob: Okay, but I don’t like pears. They’re mushy.
Mary: I didn’t know you don’t like pears. Thanks for telling me. This must be a new thing because you liked pears last week. Let’s make up a list of the fruit you like right now and I’ll make sure to include those items in our Rotation Rule. Okay?
Bob: Okay.
Mary: But remember, I’m going to keep serving pears from time-to-time. I like them and you never know when you might want to start eating them again.

Don’t know about Growing Food, Fun Food and Treat Food? Read Slackers Rule. Or what the Rotation Rule is? Read End Picky Eating with The Rotation Rule.

Some lessons can’t be learned by structure alone. They need explanation.

Imagine walking into your child’s classroom to find the teacher handing each child a book. Afterwards, you watch the teacher sit down in her chair, open her book, and start reading quietly to herself.

It wouldn’t take long before the children figured out what they were supposed to do: open their books and start reading.

So far the teacher’s actions seem reasonable. They also seem perfectly adequate: the children have all the information they need to figure out what they’re supposed to do.

Now imagine that the children don’t know how to read. Do you still think the teacher’s actions seem adequate? Probably not. Some lessons need active instruction.

If you’re worried that having this kind of conversation with a young child would make him feel bad about his daycare center…

As if you’re somehow putting them down or accusing them of serving unhealthy food, you could add something like:

  • “Every family eats differently and your teachers have to make sure they serve something that everyone likes.” Or,
  • “Your teachers know that kids like to eat Fun and Treat Foods with their friends. But we can’t eat these foods all the time.”

The key to authoritative parenting is blending a solid structure and firm discipline with warmth and compassion.

That’s why talking to your children is so crucial. It’s where the warmth and compassion come in.

During these conversations you not only get to explain your thinking to your children, but your kids get to explain their thinking to you.

Dr. Dina Rose is a sociologist, foodie and mom. In It’s NOT About Nutrition: The Art & Science of Teaching Kids to Eat Right, Dina combines her professional expertise on socialization, her knowledge about nutrition, parenting and food psychology research, with the practical skills she has gained from talking to, interviewing and coaching hundreds of parents.

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  • Denise

    I like this approach, because it’s important that children learn healthy eating habits for when they get to make their own choices.
    At the same time, though, we need to educate our daycare & school administrators so that non-food products like poptarts aren’t even offered to children.

  • MamaT

    I recently heard some great advice for talking with children about healthy and not-so-healthy foods. Because they will be exposed to junk food (at schools, parties, friends houses, stores, etc), my friend suggested asking them to concentrate on how they feel after they eat something new. A lot of food tastes great while you are eating it, but sometimes it can leave you feeling wacky, hungry, tired, or give you a headache. It is tough to be so aware and make the connection, but it is good practice to inspect how different foods make your body feel and then make choices based on that.