On a regular morning, at 6:50am, I am in the kitchen feeding the little monsters breakfast before our oldest heads off to school. It feels very busy just getting one child off to school. My hats off to moms rushing a bunch of kids to school and daycare!
I watch a lot of these moms, from the bus stop, strap their little charges into the minivan to drop them off to wonderful and enriching programs.
Honestly, I often feel a bit jealous of the regularly scheduled programming, the detailed menu plans and the highly organised little classrooms. What mom would not love the toddler height sinks?? There are days when getting one load of laundry feels like it’s something to brag about, much less providing a stimulating environment for my children to learn letters, numbers and music. My jealousy has on occasion led me to cyber stalk various preschool and daycare programs that are offered in Oakville, that my kids will never attend.
However, researchers in Montreal (University of Montreal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center, published in the Journal of Pediatrics ) have found that kids attending daycare centres between the ages of 1.5 and 4 years old, had a 65% higher chance of being overweight between the ages of 4 and 10. The same results were not found in children cared for in different settings.
The study recommended that further research should be done to find out why daycare centers increased the chance of making our kids chubby.
I propose that both daycare centers and schools are setting up our children with unhealthy habits relating to food consumption. The two main concerns I have are frequency of eating and food that is mostly catered.
In daycare, as far as I have been informed, food is given out frequently. Often, there are 2 morning snacks, lunch and 1 or 2 snacks in the afternoon, depending on pick up time. Food is served promptly and eating time is generally short. I have noticed also from my son’s school, that lunch times are very short, and there are many snack times offered throughout the day.
I believe that quick and frequent “feeding times”, are teaching our kids that eating can take place any time of day. Our kids will end up doing more snacking and less enjoying healthy meals.
In our home, we take a French approach to feeding our family. We have breakfast, lunch, an afternoon snack and dinner. Each meal lasting between 20 minutes to an hour. If the kids are hungry in between, I do not offer granola bars, or snack cakes, or crackers. For my littlest (almost 18 months), if she is screaming I will first offer water, I may offer a quarter of an apple if she is really losing it at 9:30am, but this would happen less than once a month. I make a point to teach our kids that “you should eat enough of the healthy meal we made for you, because you will not be getting another snack in an hour.” Maybe this seems cruel…
However, we have seen the fruits of our labor. My oldest was a picky eater when he was 2. He spent a few days with his aunt and uncle, while our second baby was born. As the story goes, he refused to eat anything except bagels. Not toast. Not a bun. Not an english muffin. Just bagels. I believe they made a few trips to the store over the weekend.
In the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, it was found that preschoolers who were unable to wait for more than a few minutes for candy or a treat were significantly at higher risk to be fat by the time they were pre-teens. In daycare centers, generally food is prepared and brought in by a catering company. Catering means that food is served almost instantly. Whereas in a home setting, children hear, smell and see the food being prepared. As a side note, this is helpful because it prepares the gut for proper digestion. In terms of helping with self control though, this is a lesson in waiting, that naturally occurs many times a day. Children see the food being prepped in the kitchen, and they are probably getting hungry! Mom or Grandma tell the kids day after day, to wait until it’s ready. This becomes an ingrained pattern of eating. You need to wait, food is not instant. This is true even in the worst case, if you’re reheating processed food.
I don’t believe that daycare centers are doing anything wrong. In fact, they are a great place for kids to go while mom and dad work. However, there is an inherent vacuum when it comes to teaching food consumption habits that would happen organically in a family situation.
Daycare centers and schools could vastly improve by lengthening mealtimes, and decreasing snack times (or eliminating them altogether in children older than 6). It would also be beneficial learning to cook on a regular basis and teaching children to appreciate meals, instead of snacks, was part of the curriculum. I believe with these two changes we could see an improvement in long term obesity rates.