There is no denying that food is a key component to life, especially so during the preschool years. Throughout my preschool teaching career, I have been asked pretty much every year about our snack policy. It seems like every parent has questions and opinions about snack. Comments range from “I think our kids today are snacking too frequently. Do you really think they need a snack at preschool?”, to “I’m so glad you have a nice, healthy snack because my child doesn’t eat that much for breakfast.” As far as the first opinion goes, I understand parents being concerned about the constant snacks given to children. If you participate in soccer, you are provided with a snack at the end of the game. If you participate in sports camp, you are provided with a snack mid-way. If you go to Sunday School, you have goldfish in little cups, or maybe, those great little sandwich cookies I had when I grew up. I agree, that every time you turn around, it seems like kids are offered snacks. Consequently, at preschool, I feel it is a different level of snack. The children at preschool are in attendance for a decent amount of time and the nutritional needs of preschoolers are great because they are growing, and their nutritional needs are greater than in later childhood. This is part of the reason we have a whole group snack time, where children are provided with nutritious food options.
Another reason we have decided to have a whole group snack time at preschool, is because I have seen over the years that children do not know how to sit and eat in a proper manner and with proper manners. (My twin boys still have a hard time with this, and we work on it all the time!) A lot of them do not know how to say “Please” and “Thank You” or how to eat without shoving food down their throat. Many children do not know how to converse with their classmates and eat at the same time. I have found over the years that whole group snack is the perfect place to teach children proper manners, which will help them in many ways in life including the school lunch room, dating, (!), and even business dinners.
Another objective that we focus on during snack time is learning how to eat together without needing to be entertained. There is no television on, music, or a magician pulling rabbits out of hats. We work not only on our manners, but our conversation. Most days, we choose a special question to ask each student, such as, “What is your favorite color?”, or “What is your favorite book?”. During the second half of the school year, we encourage the special helper to be the one to ask the questions to their peers.
We also use whole group snack time, or lunch time on Fridays to help students learn how to manage their food, trash, and lunch box. When they move on to elementary school, the students only have a certain amount of time to eat. We do our best to help them learn to eat in the amount of time given. We also work to teach the preschoolers to learn to be responsible for opening the items in their lunch. After snack or lunch is over, we work on teaching the children what is trash, what can be recycled, and what to take home. Pretty much during the beginning teaching and training phase, someone throws away their lunchbox, (don’t worry, we dig it out of the trashcan) and we end up with leaky lunch boxes from open drink containers. As teachers, we do our best to inspect lunch boxes, to help prevent these issues, but sometimes things sneak by us. Please be understanding if an ice pack, spoon, or plastic container comes up missing during the first weeks of school. With all this training, when I see our previous students in the elementary school cafeterias, it is evident that they are some of the more confident and well-prepared students in the lunchrooms.
Our preschool snack time also offers a time to learn about nutrition and nutritious foods. Many times I have witnessed students trying a new food at preschool, loving it, and then eating it at home. Many days, we will use this time to work on identifying food groups. We talk about Red, Yellow, and Green light foods. We also do our best to be neutral about food and to teach children to stop eating when their bellies are full. I have seen parents who restrict their child’s food choices so much, that when they do have a chance to eat something sweet, they can not stop, and try to hide food in their pockets. We also try to teach our students the importance of moderation. For example, it’s a good idea to try to limit red light foods, but it is also a good idea not to overeat just because it is a green light food. I feel very strongly about teaching preschoolers appropriate eating habits, (especially, since I grew up with a grandma who insisted on a cookie for each hand and even encouraged us to “burp” so we would have more room to eat. How disgusting is that?) PBS just aired a wonderful documentary about the aforementioned ideals called “The Parents’ Survival Guide: Childhood Obesity”. In it, they offered very rational, and very reasonable guidelines and suggestions about food consumption and children. As a preschool, we fall pretty much in line with the suggestions offered by the doctors interviewed in this investigation. Sesame Street has also been known to offer some pretty sound nutritional instruction to preschoolers, with Cookie Monster performing “A Cookie is a Sometime Food”.
In summary, we feel that snack time is an important learning opportunity, in many, many, ways! It provides nutrition for the needs of growing children, an opportunity to teach manners and learn to converse with classmates while eating, a chance to learn to eat in the allotted time, manage their food, trash and lunchbox. Students also become prepared for the lunchroom in following years, learn to listen to fullness cues, and how to eat in moderation. Overall, preschool snack times provides the building blocks needed to provide a healthy relationship with food, that hopefully, will become a life long lesson.