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The School Lunch Police

December 9, 2010 by  
Filed under K.Rowell

What’s the first thing you do when you pick up your child from school or daycare? Take a minute.

Many parents do a quick “hello” (some even skip that part) and then launch into quizzing about what and how much the child ate for lunch. Lunch boxes are handed over, opened and examined closely, followed by either,  “Good job! You ate all your sandwich!” or a “Why didn’t you eat your carrots?” I think it’s so automatic for many parents, they don’t realize they do it. What purpose does it serve? What do you do with that information?

One client I worked with around her son’s picky eating (he was basically subsisting on plane rice and pasta when they contacted me, much to his mother’s chagrin) admitted that the first things she did was check the big dry-erase board that listed all the kids and what and how much they ate from their packed lunches.  It was too much information. Her mood was up or down based on what her son ate that day, and she noted what all the other kids were eating and got depressed when her son was the “worst” eater. How could it not feel like a reflection of her mothering? Why was all her effort around encouraging, cooking with her son, begging, bribing and withholding desserts not helping?

The thing is, it’s hard to let go of control with feeding. If we feed with the Division of Responsibility, we put the food in the lunch box, with options that are balanced most days. The child chooses how much from what we pack. That’s it.

Then we plan and serve and sit with our child while they eat snack, and we get to do it again at dinner time. It’s a lot or work, and for parents feeding in the standard control model today, they are also responsible for how many portions of fruits and veggies, and how many calories, and how much sugar actually goes into the child. It’s too much and it’s not helping.

It’s hard to let go of the things we can’t and shouldn’t try to control.

My homework for that client one week was to not look at the dry-erase board. To let go what she could not control. To not let if and what he ate at lunch color her mood, heighten her anxiety and eventually lead to the  pressure, bribes and power struggles that were undermining rather than supporting her son’s learning around food.

Do you do the lunchbox rifling, the quizzing on the way home?

Here’s a challenge. For one week, be ignorant of what and how much your little one eats at lunch.

What would happen? Would you do things differently? Does it make it easier to not pressure or push at meals and snacks? Does your child notice? Wouldn’t it be nice to just start with, “I’m so glad to see you,” instead of,  “Did you eat all your sandwich?”

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