Monday, April 12, 2010

Maybe I should strike while the iron is hot, and switch to a career in lobbying?

I alluded to a few concerns we've been having with our daycare in my post last week. Some are minor and fixable - a forgotten phone call when Finn got a bump on his face (Maryland regulations require a phone call to the parents whenever an injury above the sholders is received), some poor communication about supplies to bring in for the kids, etc. We've talked to the daycare director about some of those things, and policies have been reiterated to all the involved people to make sure everyone is on the same page once again.

Other concerns are not so fixable, like teachers that don't communicate well about my children's day. Often it's a language barrier, where English is not a teacher's first language. I love that my children are surrounded by people (adults and kids) of different races and cultures at this daycare, but it can be an issue where I have trouble finding out what Finn or Lucy did during the day. I also worry about the kids developing good language skills - enunciation, grammar, vocabulary, etc. This is not really a fixable issue, though - unless I have a serious complaint about a teacher, I can't really recommend any staff changes.

I also recognize that every daycare center is going to have a few flaws. There is no one center that is perfect in every way. Because of this, disrupting the kids and pulling them out to send them to a new daycare is not necessarily the right thing to do here. It would cause a lot of angst and upheaval, especially for Finn, who is fast friends with all of his classmates. And we could find ourselves right back in a similar situation at a new center, discovering a little too late some of the flaws we didn't notice before enrolling the kids.

I think the better thing to do is take some of the responsibility onto our own shoulders to make sure Finn and Lucy get the most that they can out of our current school. One of the other parents in Finn's classroom wasn't satisfied with the amount of commucation about her daughter's day, so thanks to her inquiries, we now get a written description about the day's activities on the white board right outside the classroom. These are the kinds of things that we as parents can effect to a positive result, along with making sure we reinforce the lessons and skills being taught in the classroom. I'm determined to be more aware of what is going on at school, and do my best to find ways overcome any communication barriers that may present themselves as the kids work through the different classrooms at the daycare.

Along those lines, I decided to do what I could to make some positive changes on the school's menu. Finn, and now Lucy, eat two meals and two snacks a day at school. They get far more of their nutrients and calories there than they do at home. Which means that I have very little opportunity to influence them toward a healthy diet/love of fruits and vegetables. As is the case in many daycare centers, ours is limited by money in what they can offer to the kids. Vegetables and/or fruit are offered at every lunch, but they are canned (I guess I should be happy they are at least offered, canned though they may be?). Hot dogs are on the menu a few times a month (how this can be seen as appropriate for any age group, but especially the under 2 crowd - hello, no molars and CHOKING HAZARD - I have no idea, but it seems to be a standard at most daycares). I had no visibility over what the breakfast or snack menus were, and I think I chose to remain ignorant so I wouldn't know the extent of the junk. Well, once Lucy started on table foods, I had to become aware, so that I could choose which menu items were appropriate for her. And the unblinding began.

Breakfast includes things like French toast sticks (not horrible, but not a whole grain in sight) with sausage and syrup, white toast with butter and cinnamon sugar, and sugary cereals like Apple Jacks or Fruit Loops (apparently mixed in with Cheerios, so that the whole bowl isn't full of the less-healthy cereal, but I don't think this is always carried out). There is also a day where scrambled eggs are served, so I do know that the kids get a little protein at least one morning a week. There is no fruit served with breakfast, but the drink is milk (instead of juice).

The snack menu, to me, was the more horrifying. Here it is, pretty much word for word:

Animal crackers
Graham crackers
Nilla wafers
Ritz crackers (sometimes with cheese)
Saltines (sometimes with cheese)
Oatmeal cookies
Chocolate chip cookies
Sugar cookies
Vanilla or chocolate pudding

There may be one or two more items that I am forgetting, but they are along the same genre. All carbs and sugar. No whole grains. No vitamin-enriched anything. No fruits or vegetables. Snacks from this list are served twice a day. The one that got me the most was Jello, because one of the floating teachers in Lucy's room couldn't understand why Lucy wasn't allowed to have Jello as a snack. She is young and ... well, she is young. I won't be more unkind than that. In what way is Jello an appropriate snack for my 11-month-old baby who cannot use a utensil, still drinks 4 bottles a day, fills her diaper with poop that I would prefer to have NOT be explosive, and needs a well-balanced diet to teach her how to eat?

If you count the Nilla wafers, graham and animal crackers, there are 6 types of cookies on this list. SIX. Crazy. In my house, we have one "cookie" - graham crackers. This just wouldn't do. I don't think kids need dessert-type foods every day. I grew up in a house where we could have sweets/junk food whenever we wanted, and my waistline has suffered mightily ever since.

Luckily, we are allowed to bring in food from home until a child is two, so I can bring in more appropriate snacks for Lucy. But that still abandons Finn to the mercies of the menu. And doesn't bode well for Lucy in another year. Instead, I decided to try to address the issue with the Director, who has two kids (and one more on the way) at the school herself, including one in Finn's classroom. She has a vested interest in a healthier menu, and I know she has done quite a bit of work to revise the curriculum at the school for the same reason. Conversations with other parents indicated that while many have complained about the menu in the past, no one has been able to get changes made. The problem lay not with the Director, but with the owner of the school (it's a small chain, and the owner lives somewhere in Pennsylvania, I have never seen him nor do I even know his name), an apparently "old school" type who didn't feel the need to make any changes. This is an attitude I didn't really understand, because enrollment was down all last year at our particular center. Doesn't he want to make his schools more attractive to parents, more and more of whom are really paying attention to things like school food, not satisfied with the standard crappy fare we all ate as kids?

So, I sent an e-mail to the Director (I figured if I did it by phone, I would back down to easily, or forget to mention some of the details of what I wanted to say). This is what I wrote to her:

[Intro stuff on other things] The second thing I wanted to bring up is the food menu. Until recently, I hadn't really been fully aware of everything the kids get for snacks and breakfast (I had more knowledge of the lunch menu because [Finn's teacher] writes that on her white board every day). It's important to me to try to instill my kids with good eating habits - I'm sure this is true for a lot of the parents at the school. We all need to rely on [Daycare Center] to help us with this - Finn and Lucy get 2 meals and 2 snacks a day at [Daycare Center] - the majority of their nutrition for the day. I was wondering if you/the owners would be open to trying to incorporate a few more fresh, healthier options into the menu. I have some specific suggestions that I'm hoping wouldn't be too difficult or any more costly than the current menu, such as:

For breakfast, substitute a whole grain/non-sugary cereal instead of Fruit Loops/Apple Jacks. Use whole wheat bread instead of white bread for the toast.

For the snack menu, substitute yogurt instead of jello. Instead of having 4-5 different kinds of cookies that are served, offer raisins, bananas, baby carrots, and other fresh fruits/vegetables on a few days of the week.

For the lunch menu, substitute frozen vegetables instead of canned vegetables (more nutrients).

From looking at an old snack menu posted outside the pre-K door, it seems that at least some of these foods have been offered by [Daycare Center] in the past. Why are they not offered now, and is there a way we can bring foods like these in?

I don't want to assume that all these suggestions can be easily carried out, but I wanted to put them out there and let you know that this is a very important aspect of my children's care to me. I know I am not alone in this, and that other parents feel the same way. It's important for us to feel like we can have a dialogue with the school about areas where we might like to have some input.

Please let me know your thoughts, and if I can help in any way.


They weren't major changes that I was suggesting, but you need to start somewhere, right?

I sent this off on Thursday night, not expecting to get a positive response. But apparently, luck was on my side! I got a phone call from the director on Friday morning. She had spoken to the owner and his wife that morning, assuming she was doing so out of courtesy and that once again, they would refuse to make any changes. Indeed, the owner's wife was against making any changes to the menu at all. But somehow, the owner himself appears to have changed his mind. Perhaps he is seeing that so many of us parents have the same complaints, and that a cheaper menu doesn't necessarily mean a better bottom line financially. He told the director that he liked what I wrote, because it wasn't just a complaint about the food, there were specific recommendations for change. As a result, the director is now writing up a list of foods to add to the menu (not sure if she is just taking my suggestions only, or compiling a list from other people, too), and the owners are going to figure out which ones they can implement. We should know this week how the menu is going to change.

So, yay! I'm pretty proud of myself for not just accepting the status quo, or the reports from other parents that it wasn't possible to tackle this issue. Better yet, I'm glad I didn't let all my compiled negative feelings toward the center last week drive us toward finding another daycare for the kids. I have a good relationship with the director, and it would be silly to give up and move when it's possible to help make some changes that benefit not just my kids, but the entire center. Sure, it's not like we'll be switching to an all-organic, all-whole grain menu for the kids, but it's a start! And I'm pretty happy with that.


  1. Most people do fall short when they are looking for change because they do not give options to change to. Sarah's school was able to change their menu two years ago to add more fruits and veggies and home made options because of suggestions made by the parents. Keep it up!

  2. That is awesome!

    We lucked out because our day care doesn't serve anything pre-processed for breakfast or lunch. Everything is cooked by the food lady Becky. Some of the stuff they serve is actually cheap, like grits and oatmeal. They do serve pre-processed snacks like pretzels or graham crackers,but nothing sugary.

  3. Nice work, A! I hope more parents are emboldened to speak up and take a more active role in their kid's daycare/schooling. Hooray for you!!

    As for this lobbying, nonsense...I think you should only use your powers for good.

  4. Like Laura our daycare cooks it's own food. There is still some processed food, especially for snacks but hey, I give Cameron animal crackers, cookies and other stuff too. And yes, canned green beans are still her favorite vegetable. A close second is canned carrots :-)

  5. GO, GIRL, GO! Love to all, Mimi

  6. I have to admit, when I first interviewed our current daycare provider, I was impressed with what she was feeding the children at the daycare as we checked it out (fresh cantalope). I am still not so happy about a 4:30 snack whether it is fruit or whatever - just fills up their little bellies and I can't get them to eat at all!

  7. What great progress! And very important progress. Good job.

  8. Oh boy, another question to add to the list for potential daycare providers. Cookies and white bread, really? Yikes. Go you for getting things done!!

  9. Good for you!! I think that is fabulous to not only have spoken up but to have had change come about....and all without a fight!! Rock on. Now if I could only apply some of this to my own kid...the one who refused to eat anything! Sigh...

  10. Great job! You should check this out if you haven't already:

  11. Great job! You should check this out if you haven't already:

  12. I'm glad you are making some headway! I had this battle a couple of years ago with BigChain Daycare- I even spoke to a regional manager, and did what you did by offering specific suggestions. Nothing ever came of it though. :-(

    As for my kids, I pack them their lunch and snacks for school. I had to get a note from their pediatrician to be "allowed" to do that! Crazy. Besides the white bread, sugar cereal, and cookies, another thing that drove me nuts were the "muffins" that were served several times a week for breakfast or snacks. Hello, muffin is another word for CAKE. Ugh.

    Kudos to you for fighting the good fight.