When School Serves Junk Food :(

What to do when your kids' school serves junk food.
What’s a natural mama to do when her kid’s school serves junk food? In this video, I share my thoughts and tactics.

How about you?

How do you handle the situations where your kids are offered less-than-healthy food? Share with us in the comments below!


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  1. Hi Genevieve!

    I love getting your emails and watching the IRL videos. I am not even a mom yet, but going into Maternity Nursing and am currently a Nutritionist and Chief, and can’t wait to be a mom someday!

    I had a quick comment about what you said about the chips cooked in olive oil. Now I am not sure how old this particular video is as I could not see a year, so perhaps this is old news but… if you use an extra virgin olive oil at a heat higher than about 200C or 390F (slightly higher smoke point for not extra virgin), it turns carcinogenic and is no longer a neutral (better for you) oil.

    SO… I would highly recommend not seeking out ANYTHING cooked in olive oil, it really should only be used for cold applications or to put cold onto already cooked items. I know it can be confusing when we see cooks on TV using olive oil for everything – that is really a flavour preference, they are not Nutritionists ;).

    Best of luck and hope my comment was helpful!

  2. About a year ago I did an internship at the preschool and way horrified at what they fed the kids. One day was fried chicken and two pieces of celery for the veggie. The teachers ate with the kids and acted like it was healthy, made me so mad.

  3. I work in public schools and one thing that I’ve noticed about the food is that it is all terrible quality. Its not just over processed junk but it is also under-ripe fresh fruits and vegetables. The apples are mealy in quality and the oranges are so hard they can barely be peeled. The veggies all come from a can. It’s no wonder most average kids think fruits and veggies are gross! I’d love to see more fresh fruit and vegetables but I’d also love to see more public school programs that grow their own when they can or work with local farms for fresh in season produce and not just what ships across the world well. Mayhaps we can start advocating for that in schools?

  4. Last year, my son went to a preschool that was unlicensed (but taught by a VERY experienced early childhood educator). This year, he’s going to a larger licensed facility and I’m realizing how difficult the “food rules” are. I told his teacher I would be sending ALL his food with him and he would be unable to eat any shared snacks. However, he’s so used to eating from his snack & lunch boxes all the time I really don’t think this will be a problem. We’ll see if he asks to eat them.

    I do think it’s important to feed your kids appropriately as much of the time as possible. Luckily, I’m able to send all my son’s food WITHOUT getting a doctor to sign off on it.

    Nutrition for kids is IMPORTANT! We’re probably a subset of mamas who even question that Pirate’s Booty (which the school ENCOURAGES people to bring for snack) is NOT real food!!

    Keep up the fight, mamas! Our babies are depending on us. I talk at length my son about the difference between “farm food” and “factory food”.

  5. After a year on Pre k.
    Two kids with many food allergies.
    This year has to be easy.

    No: corn,milk,gluten,soy,eggs,yeast,etc,etc

  6. I am having a very difficult time handling this issue with in-laws. They want to watch my son once a week, but have no respect with any of my food rules. I wouldn’t mind if they gave him ice cream once in a while, but it’s like they try to see how much junk they can give him in 10 hours. Spaghetti-o’s, granimals yogurt ( I call them sugar bombs), jello, fruit in syrup, Popsicles etc. this is all in one day. It makes me so angry. I am very clear that this is not acceptable, but no sooner I mention it and then she pulls out another package of jello. I pack food (even pre-cooking it) and it all comes back untouched.

  7. I did the same thing and started a committee to look at the snacks. It is so hard because if it were up to me, we would skip all the GMO filled whole grains and shifts funds for organic fruits and vegetables. Of course, with our collaboration, a few parents and I were able to work with administration to get the school to switch to mozzarella cheese from American, add hummus to the menu and a cooking activity of smoothies and vegetable soup. I figure, it is better to try and make change than cringe every time my child eats a Cheerio! :)

  8. So happy I found your site Genevieve! My first babe is due in November, and this issue is already stressing me out! Thanks for the great tips, and you are right… sometimes you just have to let it go :)

  9. When my oldest was little I went back to work and she went to a state funded pre-K. They had a policy against bringing in any outside food but the menu I saw on the wall made me want to cry it was so awful. I told them she had a food allergy because it was the only way they would let me bring her lunch and snacks and I even had to have her doctor write a note in order to bring it all in. We told them she was allergic to HFCS which meant I had to bring in alternative snacks for when they had birthday treats but it was worth it to me. Everything was white bread, refined carbs, fruits canned in syrups and they served Sunny D with snack. It was awful to see all the other kids eating it.

  10. Thank you for this post! My daughter is only 4 months old but I know I will face these types of challenges as she gets older. I agree with Margie. Too much deprivation does tend to backfire. My best friend growing up could never have “treats” the other kids were having. She was not allowed to go trick or treating or participate in Birthday treats In High School she started sneaking so much candy and junk home. She cut a hole out in her closet wall and stashed treats! Her Mom was not too happy when she found it ha ha! I like 80/20 idea! :)

  11. Thanks for posting this! My 2 1/2 year old is in daycare and we have been going through this for a while. I pack him his own snack to bring (usually yogurt) and if I know they are having a snack that he will beg for, like goldfish, I’ll send him with a few organic cheddar bunnies (or something that is similar to the snack they are having) that he can eat if he’s still asking for them after his yogurt.

    The other day I got a call from daycare that one of the moms brought in cupcakes for her son’s last day, so they called me to find out if he could have one. This I struggled with because I really don’t like for him to have artificial dyes and flavors and who knows what else, but I ended up saying yes. It’s a treat he pretty much never has, so I gave in and let him have the cupcake. At least now we don’t have many parties or times that he’s around junk food, but I know the older he gets the more times that will happen.

    • I like that the daycare respects your wishes enough to call and ask. I think you made the right choice though- being too hard core about it and never making an exception, in my experience, tends to backfire in the long run, and kids end up gorging on forbidden foods any chance they get.

      • I myself just had this happen at my daughter’s daycare. I send all her food with her and also had to get a doctor’s note to do so. It was “s’mores” day yesterday, which to me meant “high fructose corn syrup” day. Our daughter never eats this stuff, but in this case, I made the exception so she wasn’t the only one without. 80/20 is a great way to think about this. I also pack a note in her lunchbox which lists the food for each snack and lunch etc. there I also write at the top: NO JUICE PLEASE. So far, they give her water and she is happy.

  12. This is a great post. Here in UK, children are not allowed to bring sweets to school and if they do, they are not just given to them, but sent home with them at the end of the day. So this is really great. At my daughter’s pre-school, they do have a mid morning snack, which is pretty much ok, but I still asked that she only gets fruits & veg and no artificial stuff. They are completely fine with it, no problem at all. And they bring their own lunch. Like Genevieve, I also like to prepare and send them in with some homemade healthy goodies. It takes some effort but is totally worth it.

  13. Love this video! Glad to see such a balanced approach to healthy eating for littles.
    I keep stressing this to so many friends that are parents. Do you best for the regular routine AND even on vacations if you are able but not to stress too much.
    Great job! Thanks!

  14. Great tips. I used to try and dictate everything my parents fed the kids, but after awhile I felt like the food police. They visit them once every few weeks, and I’ve adopted more of a “what happens at grandma’s, stays at grandma’s” mentality. That basically means they feed them what they have, but with a few rules that we all agreed on. No artificial sweeteners, HFCS, and other choice ingredients. But, since they have to read more labels to avoid those, they usually end up with healthier food anyway. It’s easier to ignore the crap until you have to read it. 😉

  15. My son just started Kindergarten and I send him with a snack and lunch. The teacher’s suggestion for snacks was gold fish, peanut butter cracker and pretzels. I usually send fruit. On the flip side for their birthday’s they can’t bring in anything that is made at home, probably because of allergies, but yet she is suggesting peanut butter crackers? Everyday my son says he gets candy like skittles and popsicles after lunch. Not sure why a teacher would want 24 kids on that much sugar and not sure if I should say something to the school. I would prefer he doesn’t continue to get that every day at school.

    • I would mention the concern to the principal. Just because I’m an early childhood teacher and we don’t serve candy to the children. I’m pretty sure there are guidelines and certain food rules also for the kindgers and higher grades.

  16. I do all of that plus one more.. I educate my daughter on why she has to choose these things over those. I explain how things are very unhealthy and can make her very sick. And although some things may look and taste good.. It’s bad. She actually enjoys being the one to make the choice of what to eat and not eat. It’s a breeze at the grocery store.. She’ll pick up the candy at the checkout lane and say “This will make me sick, I don’t want it”. The cashier always looks stunned lol!

    • When my 3 year old son was begging for broccoli at the grocery store I had a lady whip her head around so fast I thought she’d get whip lash, lol. It’s always fun to have the kid who eats.

  17. Here in France, the legislation unable you to pack your kids lunch if they indeed eat on school premises…
    however, meals are (supposedly) created with the assistance of a doctor in nutrition.
    Unfortunately, I know for a fact that because those meals are cooked in school kitchens, they do not always meet my level of standards….

  18. Thanks so much for posting this! My oldest son just started kindergarten and I’ve been doing my best to make his packed lunches very appealing and fun. Since he is a little bit older I try to explain a little bit about why certain foods are better for him, etc. I also bring him to the store with me and give him some choices about what he wants to take for lunch, have him put things in the cart, etc. This way it is less about what I am “making him eat” and more about making good choices together. So far so good, we’ll see how it plays out down the road!

  19. Here’s what we do: when my kids are given junk treats they know that if they hold onto it until we get home they get to trade it in for an even better treat (made by me and nutritious or even a non-food treat). It works a lot of the time even with my 3 year olds! It also teaches them patience and delayed gratification. They aren’t perfect at it, of course but they are learning!

    • I love this idea! My son just turned 3 and usually listens if I tell him something is “yucky”. However, if he recognizes the packaging, he tends to scarf it down, as he has no patience whatsoever. I will definitely try this to see if it helps in those situations! Thanks!

  20. I send my little girl to daycare with a packed lunch. She also loves pistachios so they are always in there. I put in healthy snacks alternatives so she doesn’t feel left out and the daycare knows I don’t give her juice and are very good about it so she gets water and she doesn’t mind. With grandparents I practice 80/20 I pack what I can but I know when she is with them they are going to want to ‘spoil’ her.

  21. Thanks so much for this! I’m already facing this as my not-quite-1 year old has child care a few hours a day. I love how you maintain your health principles yet also don’t deprive your kids. That’s a tough balance! I look forward to hearing how the juice issue goes and what snacks you pack for Griffin!

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