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Discover the secret of childhood from 0-3 year old:

What Is Your Child Eating At School?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 11:38 am | By Stephanie Woo

What's For Lunch?

I want my children to eat well. I feel strongly about this and I think most parents would agree. 

In the last 18 months, my children have attended 3 different schools: a Montessori school in Portland, Montessori summer school in Taiwan and a public school in Brooklyn, NY. I’ve witnessed three completely different food environments in these schools, and the impact they had on my children. I’d like to share this experience with you. I’ll be blunt and tell you the list starts with my least favorite. 

NYC Public School

NYC Public school offers breakfast and lunch for the children. For families in need, this is wonderful. It’s even a service for busy parents who don’t have time to think about these things. 

Now, let’s see what’s on the menu? Items like bagels, french toast and pancakes are served for breakfast. Chicken tenders, sloppy joe and mozzarella sticks for lunch. Here’s a link of the NYC public school menu for the month.

We decided to try the school lunch on the first day. B and M told me they had chicken (great!) with ketchup (uh-oh…knowing my children, they probably had ketchup as the main course) and chocolate milk (they’ve never had chocolate milk). After a meal of high fructrose corn syrup (main ingredient in ketchup) and sugar (main ingredient in chocolate milk), I immediately asked the teacher if they can bring their own lunches moving forward. 

But the sweets didn’t stop there. A birthday happened last week, and they came home telling me they had cupcakes and candy. And then it was chocolate milk and cookies on another day (“I only had 2!”). And then yesterday, they took a field trip to the supermarket and all the children got Halloween goodie bag with candy bars. 

They’ve never had a snicker bar before. Not a fun size. Not even a bite. I decided to let them have one on our way home because they wanted it so badly. Well, after M finished a fun-size snicker bar, she threw the biggest tantrum on the street I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if this is an accident, but there sure seemed like a correlation between that sugar high and her behavior. 

Montessori School in Portland, OR

This is a great private Montessori school, with AMI-trained guides and assistants.

The school does not provide lunch, only snack. Everyone brings their own lunch. We had very specific instructions in the beginning of the year that children are not allowed to bring candy or cookies in their lunch. The teacher also asked us to help conserve waste, so we were asked not to bring individually-wrapped cheese, individual yogurt containers, etc. 

Children had snack in the morning and the afternoon. They were served pistachios (a great choice in my opinion because it takes great fine motor movement to open pistachios), almonds, banana chips, pumpkin seed, carrots, sliced oranges, apples and pretzel sticks. The children helped prepare some of these. There did not seem to be great variety, but children did not seem to mind. They developed a taste for these things and asked for them at home as well. For me, those snacks were great choices. 

Ms. Lam Montessori School in Taipei, Taiwan

This school provides lunch, morning and afternoon snack everyday for the children and teachers. From what I understand, a few other Taiwanese pre-schools also offer menus like this. 

Here’s the lunch menu for the first week of October:

Monday – Wild Mushroom Risotto Cream and Carrot soup.
Tuesday – Sweet and Sour fish, Bean Sprouts with Fried Leek, and Turnip Ribs soup.
Wednesday – Curry Chicken Rice (with Raisins and Soft Boiled Eggs) and Boscht.
Thursday – Apple Egg Salad on Toast with Potato, Carrot and Cucumber, and Corn Soup.
Friday – Noodles with Soy Bean Paste and Meat Ball Soup.

That’s just Week One. 

Snack includes items like home made egg cake, boiled tea eggs, rice balls, green bean soup. 

Click here to see what’s on the menu the rest of the month. 

If you’re saying to yourself, my children would never eat those things, well, that’s what I thought too! But here’s what happened to us. Before Taiwan, for over a year, the only green things my children would eat were avocados and grapes. Any other green thing we got into their bodies was through hiding it, blending it with apple/pineapple juice or through sheer luck that ended the next day. Eating green vegetables was a struggle that I lost nearly everyday. Until they started going to school in Taiwan. 

It began one day when they saw stir-fried spinach on the dinner table, B said, “We eat that at school, too!” And then proceeded to eat big bites of it (along with rice, fish, soup, etc). They would say things like, “I love to eat broccoli!” And fight over who gets the last one on the plate. Since Taiwan, eating vegetables is no longer a struggle in this house. Last night, we had marinated cucumbers. B looked in the bowl and said, “I want the biggest one.”

I don’t know how their teachers did this. I would hug and kiss them if it were appropriate. I’m immensely grateful, to say the least.

Young children have the Absorbent Mind. This means they unconsciously absorb everything in their environment easily and effortlessly. This includes food. If you give them chocolate and candy, they will eat that. If you give them fruits and nuts, they will eat that. If you give them gourmet meals with wild mushroom risotto and carrot soup, they will eat that.

I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on all of this. What do your children eat at school? How does it impact their food choices at home? Please share! 

Reader Comments (4)

  1. This is true! I tell my husband I don’t feel right when there’s only one vegetable on the menu for dinner, and he finds it hard to believe (he grew up with a German/Irish diet. Meat and Potatoes, I feel like it’s a sacrilege when he doesn’t touch the one vegetable on his plate next to the meat and potatoes). My son was eating a great variety of cooked vegetables in his food when he was going to nursery in Taiwan. Now that’s he’s with me abroad, with my indifferent Chinese cooking, I can say his ability to eat vegetables has definitely slipped… : (

    I don’t know if there might be a thing in ‘communal eating’ in the classroom that ties the memory of eating food with their peers to their affection for it. I really really wish I could do that. Hey, maybe you could hire a Chinese cook for your school! lol.

    Saturday, November 15th, 2014 2:32 am | Grace En-Tien Chang
  2. I know exactly what you mean. I wish we had more than one vegetable for dinner, too, but now that we are back in the US, everyday I see green (or red or orange) on the dinner table, I call it success. We ARE hiring a Chinese cook for my school! We will offering breakfast/lunch/snack at my school, and there will be a lot of Chinese food!

    Tuesday, November 18th, 2014 11:25 am | Stephanie Woo
  3. A Chinese cook! How awesome! Just saw this article btw. Picture really tells a thousand words!
    http://eatlocalgrown.com/article/13610-french-kids-school-lunch-vs-american-lunch.html

    Funny thing is, I was looking at the French lunches and thinking “Nah, that just looks normal. Possibly 2/3rds the food variety we’d get in our school lunches in Taiwan. Plus they would never serve us ice-cream.”

    and then the American ones blew my mind. If, for some children, that is the one steady meal they depend on, they are truly being cheated out of the food heritage we have as human beings, even for Americans.

    Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 2:26 pm | Grace En-Tien Chang
    • Well-said! By the way, I also think it has a lot to do with variety. It is just so hard to get a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables here in NYC. I mean, it is ridiculously hard to find a decent-tasting fruit besides apple, pears and bananas, especially during this time of the year. I’d like to feed the children papaya, pomelo or dragon fruit. Though you can probably find it, they taste horrible here. In Taiwan, there are delicious fruits all year round. You really don’t need candy or ice cream when you can eat a ripe summer mango. Stroll down any market in Paris and you’ll find amazing produce as well. But not here, not even at the best grocery stores like Whole Foods. *sigh*

      Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 12:52 pm | Stephanie Woo

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