Who's the Expert on What Your Child Eats (or Doesn't Eat) at School?

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Is the Clean Plate Club a thing of the past? Depending on your age, you may have been invited (or required) to join this not-so-elite club as a child. You may have been made to feel guilty. The location of the starving children changed according to the news, but your parents may have called on you to save them by eating everything on your plate. And you may have retorted, "SO SEND IT TO THEM!"

Those parents' hearts were in the right place. Like them, I don't want my children to waste food, and I do want them to appreciate what they have, but the Clean Plate Club isn't how we do it here anymore.

I'm not going to tell any parent what to do, because if there's one thing I've learned about children in my limited experience raising three boys, ages 15, 12 and 7, it's this: They're all different. We keep it simple, serving small portions and allowing as many refills as they like. We also encourage our crew to eat mindfully. While I don't force the kids to finish everything on their plates, I agree with Dana Velden that teaching them not to waste is a good thing. And we all do that in slightly different ways.

A recent post on New York Times' Motherlode got me thinking. While we handle things our way at home, my children enjoy plenty of meals out with others, at school and at different camps. Writer Maryann Jacobsen, a family nutrition expert, included the following note in her 6-year-old daughter's lunchbox for day camp.

Dear Camp Counselor,
Thanks for making camp a fun experience for my daughter. When it comes to her lunch and snack, please allow her to decide when she is done eating and to eat her food in any order she likes. Thanks!

Most (okay, I hope all) parents pack food they are comfortable with their child eating. And Maryann Jacobsen is a professional nutrition expert, so her choices are probably even better than most. But she's also an expert in something else: her own child. I think it's unfortunate that she had to send a note so her child would be allowed to eat food her mother chose for her.

Read the full article Saying Good Riddance to the Clean-Plate Club at The New York Times

I like the way one of my children's teachers handled things. She didn't control what the kids ate from their lunchboxes, but she did require that they take home uneaten food. This served two purposes: It reduced trash left at school and allowed parents to know what their children were and weren't eating. She let the parents be the experts.

Do you think teachers or counselors should make rules about what kids eat in their care? How have you handled it if you felt they were too controlling (or not vigilant enough)?

(Image: Flickr member The Two Dimension Collection licensed for use under Creative Commons.)

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Anne Postic writes about cooking for her family on The Kitchn. She lives in Columbia, South Carolina with her husband and three very handsome sons. She loves talking cooking, travel, parenting and art, though not necessarily in that order.