Nourishment

“Right there, in the middle of every school day, lies time and energy already devoted to the feeding of children.  We have the power to turn that daily school lunch from an afterthought into a joyous education, a way of caring for our health, our environment, and our community.”

– Alice Waters, Edible Schoolyard

 

The Little School approach to nutrition is designed not to simply feed the children, but to nourish their whole selves – to care for their nutritional health, to provide a joyful eating experience in an inspirational environment, and to connect them to their larger eco community through tending gardens on campus and sourcing local farms for the freshest ingredients.  Our goal is to respect children’s natural ability to eat as much as they need and to grow in the way that is right for them while we work to cultivate positive lifelong eating habits within them.  We are aware that early childhood is a critical time period for influencing healthy eating habits and we take this window of opportunity seriously.

 

When feeding children in our care, we work to maintain a division of responsibility:

 

It is our job to choose and prepare the food, provide regular meals and snacks, support a pleasant eating experience, teach children about the food they are eating, and model openness and enthusiasm about the food at mealtime. It is the child’s job to eat the amount that they need, learn to eat new foods, grow predictably, and learn positive and pleasant mealtime behavior.  For infants, the division of responsibility is clear- parents choose what the child will be fed – formula or breast milk, and the infant is responsible for everything else.  We follow the infant’s innate cues to determine when, where and how much we feed them. When babies begin to transition to solid foods, adults are still responsible for what the child eats, and  also become more responsible for when and where the child is fed. The child is still, and always, responsible for how much and whether to eat the food that is offered.   This continues from toddlerhood through childhood – the adults are responsible for what, where and when and the child is responsible for how much and whether they eat.

 

This approach allows us an opportunity to demonstrate our belief in the competency of children. And it is an approach that takes patience, practice, and perseverance.  The key to success is confident consistency. We understand and respect children’s innate fear of new or unfamiliar foods and view a child’s hesitancy as a stage he or she can move through with our support.  We operate with the knowledge that when we provide multiple exposures of new foods in a non-threatening, non-judgemental manner, children will eventually choose to alter their attitude about the food and include it in their repertoire.   We are mindful to never use coercion, even well intentioned rules such as: “finish your plate”, “take a no thank you bite,  or “eat more of this, then you can have this.”  This is pressure that impedes the children’s right to take their own risks, listen to their own signals, and develop their own healthy sense of initiative.

 

Just as Conscious Discipline challenges adults to examine their own beliefs around children’s compliance, our Nourishment philosophy requires us to turn our gaze inwards and examine how our own beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes about food impact our children.  We are consistently mindful of our power to influence children’s choices and behavior. We know that the attitudes we model toward nutritious food, particularly if negative, act as powerful motivators for children.   Our preconceived notions of what children will or will not eat can influence a child’s decision to try a bite of something new.  By being conscientious of our own limitations, we are able to employ strategies for enticing children to eat while  perhaps even acquiring a new relationship with the food we eat ourselves.

 

With our infants, we work to support them as they develop trust in their world. We demonstrate that we are responsive to their hunger cues and offer security by demonstrating to them that their needs will be consistently met.  We provide a nurturing and comfortable place to eat, in our arms, and spend this eating time also connecting with each child until we read cues that he or she is done.  We feed them when they are hungry and stop when they are done.  As babies begin to explore food served at school, we follow their cues and allow them to explore with small bites and tastes.   As soon as they have developed the finger control to grasp, they are given opportunities to feed themselves.  By the time they are one, most babies are on a consistent and predictable snack and lunch schedule.

 

Our toddlers’ growing independence calls for us to allow them opportunities to do more for themselves, including taking on more responsibility for feeding and cleaning up after themselves, regardless of the mess.  Spills are considered routine, not a crisis. We provide portions appropriate for them and present them in a manner to promote success. We allow them to say no to new foods and respond with respect for their personal tastes as well as offer possibility for change:  “Ok.  You don’t like (the new or unfamiliar food)  yet”.  We understand that sometimes toddlers go on food jags, or can change preferences frequently.  We expect that at this stage in their development, often their appetites are led by growth spurts, which can lead to varying eating habits.  Predictable routines and repeated exposure  are provided.  We maintain confidence that if a child does not eat all foods presented at a meal, another opportunity is only a short time away.

 

As toddlers move into early childhood, we encourage them to take on even more responsibility around mealtimes. They contribute to setting the table with silverware, pouring milk into glasses, passing ceramic bowls to each other, and cleaning it all up.  The practice of passing plates, not only encourages social development, but requires balance, coordination, and problem solving.  Real risk of breakage allows for the opportunity to learn how to safely handle and manage these items. When an occasional dropped glass breaks, we use these opportunities to teach how to safely clean up after an accident happens.

 

We encourage the children to listen to their own bodies’ signals of satiety to decide when they are hungry and when they are full.   Children are empowered to serve themselves from the family style servings, and adults act as as advisors when it comes to portion sizes.  Children are responsible for whether they try a new food or how much to try.  We provide encouragement to take those risks and celebrate when new foods are explored. Children learn a great deal from each other in this stage. Witnessing a more adventurous eater happily take a spoonful of chickpeas and tomatoes can stir curiosity in a picky eater, and lead to an exploratory taste.

We provide all of our children with meals that are created with intent.  We offer opportunities to learn and experiment, to take risks, to practice independence.  We demonstrate our trust in their ability to listen to their own internal signals as they decide how much and what to eat from the choices that are offered. We serve delicious food prepared with fresh ingredients brought to us by local farmers or grown in our own gardens.  And we understand and accept the powerful responsibility we carry to nourish the children in our care.