Many daycare centers either require that parents pack lunches for their children or offer parents the option of choosing between a center-provided meal or sending a meal from home. If you decide to send your child's lunch to daycare with them, there are several things that you should know in order to make it easy and safe for your child to eat their lunch at school. Below are some tips that will allow you to pack your child's lunch appropriately.
Consider Portions Carefully
Toddlers often eat less than you think they do. When your child does not finish a meal at home, you can simply store the unfinished food in the refrigerator for a later snack. However, if your toddler does not finish their lunch at school, the leftovers will likely have to be thrown away. This is because many daycare centers have strict rules regarding food and sanitation. To prevent food waste, make sure that you send small portions with your child. Keep in mind that many centers will offer a morning and/or afternoon snack in addition to lunch, so your child may not eat a large lunch.
Send Easy-to-Eat Foods
Unless your child is very young, it is unlikely that they will get 1-on-1 care during lunch. Instead, they will likely eat at a table with several other toddlers. To allow them to eat their food on their own without becoming frustrated, send foods that are easy to eat. Finger foods are a good option, as are foods that your child is already familiar with and regularly eats while at home.
Include Reusable Utensils If Necessary
If your child's meal requires utensils such as a fork or spoon, you should send reusable utensils as opposed to disposable utensils. Reusable utensils tend to be sturdier than their disposable counterparts. This makes it easier for a toddler, who does not have great fine motor control, to eat with them without the utensils bending or breaking. You may also want to include a plastic bag to place dirty utensils in at the end of your child's meal, as most daycare centers will not wash your child's utensils before putting them back in your child's lunch bag.
Make Sure You Know Your Daycare Center's Banned Foods List
While many child care centers have liberal food policies, others may be more strict about what you can and cannot send to school with your child. For example, foods that include peanut products are becoming less acceptable. You can often substitute other common nut butters instead of peanut butter, though. However, you should make sure that you get your child used to these alternatives at home before sending them to school for lunch.
Additionally, more centers are beginning to ban sweets or juices, so it is important that you talk with your child's teacher to know which foods are acceptable for lunch.
Send Foods That Do Not Require Refrigeration or Heating
Many daycare centers do not have enough room in their refrigerator to hold all of their participants' lunches. For this reason, you should send a lunch that does not require refrigeration. Also, there will probably not be enough time to heat individual lunches, so send foods that do not need to be heated. If your child will happily eat lukewarm soup or cold pasta, you may be allowed to send these types of food in a thermal container with the understanding that the food will not be heated for your child.
Each child care center has different rules regarding lunches. Before you plan your child's lunches, talk with their teacher or admissions counselor to make sure you are following the proper guidelines and your child will be appropriately fed while in daycare.