I take my daughter’s uneaten snack from her backpack after camp and look at her questioningly, while she’s scarfing down her lunch as if she hadn't eaten in days. “I didn’t have time to eat!” she says, defensively. She’s been to many different camps this summer, and this story continues to repeat itself. “I only had part of my snack and they told us it was time to go.” or “I was talking to my friends and then snack was over!” I heard the same thing many days after she came home from kindergarten. “I ate half of it and the bell rang!” “I didn’t have time to even try it.” I’ve seen it in person - kids throwing away entire lunches that had barely been nibbled in order to get to their next class or run out to recess. I find myself strategizing with my daughter on how to get the most of her 5 minute snack time so she doesn’t leave camp ravenous.
I’m left wondering why. Why are we teaching children that other things are so much more important than taking their time to socialize and eat their food? Why are we teaching them to scarf down food as quickly as possible to go on to the next task? Why are we teaching children that what they eat depends on the time they have, rather than what their bodies need?
Children should be learning that meals are about taking a breath and enjoying a moment with friends. They should be learning that they can take a bite and enjoy their food. They should be learning that food fuels their body and it’s important to take the time to eat to have energy for all the other things. Children should have time to actually try the vegetables that they were required to accept due to regulations about school lunches rather than learning the habit of it going straight into the garbage.
Childcare providers, camps, schools, I urge you to consider what we are teaching kids by rushing them through mealtimes. Add a few minutes on and use the opportunity to model social skills with children. Use the extra few minutes to talk about healthy food choices. Use the extra time to actually enjoy a meal.