Daycare Food Revolution

I admit that I felt a certain amount of self-congratulatory smugness while watching the highly entertaining and eye-opening “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” this spring.

French fries and hamburgers for every meal? Pizza for Breakfast? How could these people NOT realize they were killing their kids slowly (or quickly in some cases) with those questionable choices? MY child would never be subject to eating such crap because the school he will attend from k-12 has no cafeteria, I’ll be packing all of his lunches.

Then I realized two things:

1) His tastes run strongly towards processed foods and 2) He regularly eats crap at daycare.

My strategy for the first problem is to give him the healthiest processed food possible,  so for hotdogs he gets Applegate farm’s grass fed beef hotdogs, and for chicken nuggets he gets their organic hormone free all white meat chicken nuggets.  French fries are Cascadian farms organic french fries (Yikes, I’m starting to sound like Kate Gosselin!)

The second problem is more tricky..One the one hand, I am extremely grateful to the daycare food program for exposing Jasper to many different food choices that I didn’t have the patience for at the height of Jasper’s picky eating behavior.  I was just NOT going to make chicken for the 300th time and have him reject it again so at some point I gave up and only cooked him the two things I knew he liked.  It was the repeat exposure to new foods at daycare and some sort of developmental change right before 18 months that really turned his eating habits around.   Daycare also finally got him drinking milk, which he now guzzles at the rate of 1 gallon every 4 days or so.  For those things I’m really thankful.

That said, I just received the monthly menu by email and couldn’t help but be upset at some of the choices.   I understand that they aren’t going to serve grass fed beef  or organic vegetables or chicken (though they do use hormone free chicken and milk) but particularly the snack choices leave a LOT to be desired.  They give the kids a morning and afternoon snack, and aside from cheese sticks and organic fruit yogurt (which sadly is loaded with sugar) they are ALL processed foods.  Ritz crackers with Jelly, goldfish, pretzels, vanilla wafers,  Rice Chex Cereal, Teddy Grahams etc.

These are foods that I give Jasper at home on RARE occasion.  But at daycare he gets them twice a day and I just don’t feel they should be serving foods with no nutritive value other than empty carb calories to toddlers.

Luckily I have a fantastic daycare director who is always open to talking about ways to improve the center and when I questioned some of the choices she asked for suggestions for snacks!  Uh oh  – now I’m on the hook for coming up with something better!

I suggested hummus and bread or whole wheat crackers, cottage cheese, and veggies like red or yellow peppers with dip (just NOT ranch dip because all ranch dip has MSG).   I mentioned they are already doing cheese sticks which is great, and they do serve fruit but mostly with lunch but not at snacks.  Then I drew a blank..

Snacks ARE hard!!

So as usual I’m coming to you all for suggestions. What healthy/easy snacks do your toddlers love??

I’m also interested in hearing about your baby’s daycare food program if there is one..does it concern you or are you happy with it?

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Lillian Hoyt says:

You can’t go wrong with stuff purchased at Trader Joe’s – it’s a great place to go for snack stuff without all the yucky fillers. My son loves his veggies dipped in hummus or guacamole.

Also, you mentioned about MSG and ranch dressing – Marie Calendar’s dressing doesn’t have any MSG.

And as far as picky eaters one thing I have learned is never give up! Don’t stop giving them a certain food just because they never seem to eat it. My son for the longest time never touched tomatoes, but I kept giving them to him anyway. And now sometimes he’ll eat them saying how much he loves tomatoes. He still doesn’t eat them consistently, but he will at least sometimes. My opinion is that if you never give it to them they will never eat it because how can they? You never know when they will one day decide to try it. That goes for all foods, not just tomatoes.

Good luck!!!!

PS: You’re so lucky that your daycare center takes and actually implements suggestions like yours!

There are some great suggestions here! I’m often at a loss at home when it comes to offering snacks, so these will help me resort to more healthy options, instead of “treats.”

ariana says:

Hi Molly, so sorry to hear about the financial difficulties :(

I’m going to blog more soon on healthy eating issues, I’ll try to investigate books to recommend.. but do you mean for kids or for the whole family?

Molly says:

Ugh, I really truly need to make eating healthier a priority for my family. Due to Landon’s picky eating habits, our menu has really suffered. And there is just NO excuse for how we have been eating. I have been unemployed for 10 months and we are still spending the bulk of our income on food.

To tell you the truth, it’s just laziness on my part. I’ve never been a good cook so I use that as an excuse. But mostly I just don’t like to make anything. It’s SO easy to go through the drive thru! But when I read posts like yours I always feel a strong desire to make eating better a priority. And then it never comes to pass.

Maybe it’s where we live too. In KC there is ONE Whole Foods. That’s it! And it’s in the very “rich” part of town. About a 20 minute drive from here. I have often thought about going to a farmer’s market but I am quite intimidated. I don’t know why!

My mom is a very picky eater and so I grew up eating only things that she would fix. I was in college before I got to eat Chinese or Thai food for the first time!

Anyway, is there a “beginner’s” book that you would recommend reading, Ariana? I truly want to do better food-wise but I think it’s more realistic to start slow. And seeing as how we’re not rolling in cash Whole Foods might not be an option for us.

Stephanie says:

There is an actual Sunbutter brand of sunbutter which I have not tried and can be a bit pricey:

(Just FYI, this is for SIX jars – it’s not $20 per jar!!!)

Trader Joe’s also has sunbutter, which I have tried – it is mildly sweet, though not so much so that you can’t put it on celery, carrots, etc. It has a nice taste – the roasted flavor really comes through.

You can also sunbutter as a nutbutter substitute when baking:

Making your own is pretty simple – there are a variety or recipes out there – I posted a link to one simple one above. Basically, you just pulverize sunflower seeds in food processor until they look very granular and then you add some oil or water until you acheive a creamy consistency. Add a touch of honey or brown rice syrup to give it a little sweetness, and you’re done. It’s not unlike making hummus, really. But buying it is easy too!!! :)

heather says:

I make a “trail mix”! Kashi heart to heart oat cereal mixed with raisins and carob chips..the kids love it and I make a huge jar of it for a great price!

ariana says:

@Stephanie – Doh! Of course it is! I wonder if they’d be able to order it.. is it sweetish like peanut butter?

@Chantal, I think the daycare snacks are 90% wheat, they’d be at a complete loss without it.. I hope you find that Annora tolerates wheat too!

@Dakota, I forgot about Dr. Sears.. I have his giant baby book too and you are right there’s some good info in there.

@Kathleen, I love the distinction between snack and treat! That was my point too, vanilla wafers and teddy grahams are NOT snacks. How cool you and Jeff were neighbors! :)

@Elizabeth, your center food sounds wonderful! I think our center is even smaller, not including the infants there are probably only 15 kids eating (toddlers+preschoolers) at any one time.

Elizabeth says:

I am so lucky that my son’s daycare has a really good meal and snack program. They tend to have 4 really great and healthy snacks and then one day where it’s a bit more of a treat. I personally like it because it’s sort of teaching moderation as well. Anyway, below is his snack menu for the week. I don’t know how large your center is and how feasible these are. Our center has 45 kids (probably 30 eating snack – obviously not the newborns) total to give you some perspective.

Monday: 1/2 Cheese quesadilla on whole wheat tortilla, apple slices
Tuesday: Hummus and Pita bread, Carrots (I’m pretty sure they blanch these so they’re not a choking hazard – yuck!)
Wednesday: Tea Sandwiches on whole wheat with strawberry jam and cream cheese, Red Pears
Thursday: Yogurt (yes, this is probably sugar-laden), Graham Crackers, Strawberries (They turned this into a class project to make parfaits)
Friday: Turkey on whole wheat tortilla, Banana slices

So all in all, I am happy with them and I hope this gives you some ideas to give your director.

Kathleen says:

I have recently instituted new terminology… a snack is something you get in the morning and in the afternoon during regular days. A ‘treat’ is anything cookie/icing/goldfishy. We are only on week 4 and my 5 year old and two 3 year olds are on board. I have a shelf dedicated to them with their cheese sticks/pre=portioned baggies of veggies & fruits. They have a choice of one in the am & one in the pm. They LOVE the control they have to make their own decision about what they want.

Also, Trader Joe’s cereals can be offered up as snacks. We use the Oat Bran Swirls as snacks and they love them.

Ariana, I just got hooked on this website, I found it through Jeff. I grew up 2 houses down from him when we were little : )

Dakota says:

Well. Haha. Ever since i was a very young girl, i was one to love snacks. I know from becoming a mother now that all the processed food is yuck even though i eat it behind my daughters back.. Shh. But. Ants on a Mud Log(raisins on celery
with peanut butter) YUUM. Banana Stackers. (chopped and tacked nanas) look up they have a bunch of information on feeding infants-children good substantial foods and snacks.

jbhat says:

I am going to send you our Kiddo’s school menu. It’s amazing, and it may give you some ideas.


Lindsey says:

What great ideas! Ben is only 15 months so hopefully it is a stage but right now all he wants is chicken nuggets! So healthy, right?

Stephanie says:

Sunbutter is nut-free though! :)

chantal says:

Annora sometimes eats raisins at home. She also loves multigrain cheerios, and can actually feed herself with a spoon which she thinks is lots of fun. At school, their food list includes apple slices, cheese, cheerios, yogurt, and other things of that nature. I’d recommend against asking your daycare provider to include whole wheat crackers… I’m allergic to wheat, and there’s a good chance Annora is too, and from what I’ve come to understand recently it’s a pretty common allergy that often goes undiagnosed because it can look like other things (a cold, eczema, upset tummy/vomiting).

ariana says:

Kari, was hoping you would chime in! I love that bento box site..

Maria, I WISH jasper would eat cubed veggies..he won’t touch them :(

Stephanie, I think the center avoids nuts in general because of the allergy potential. So cute about the tiny foods!!

Erin, greek yogurt is so good! It’s the lesser of two evils, the center director said she can get organic yogurt that is fruity or non organic that is plain.. plus the kids are used to fruit yogurt, not sure how the plain would go over with the kids now (I sweeten Jasper’s yogurt with a touch of honey at home).

Lisa, your daycare menu sounds GREAT! Whole wheat muffin with jelly sounds a lot better than ritz crackers.. I’ll suggest this as well.

I also got some great news from my daycare director who just emailed and said she was able to order raisins, cottage cheese, hummus, nut free granola, and wheat thins.

It’s a great start! Told you she was awesome :)

Lisa says:

My son is only 10mo and just starting to eat the table foods at daycare, but I checked out their menu and here are the snacks this month:

Whole wheat toast or English muffins with 100% fruit spread
Yogurt and fruit (not sure what kind of yogurt)
No sugar added applesauce and cereal
Whole wheat bagels and cream cheese
Trail Mix (cereal, crackers, and raisins)
Whole wheat tortillas & salsa with veggies & fruit
Whole grain crackers with fresh vegetable cream cheese spread, “natural cheese” slices, or soybutter/sunflower butter
Cottage cheese and fruit
Various fresh fruits and veggies

For each snack they choose 2 of 4 options of milk/juice, fruit/veggie, meat/protein, and whole grains

They also have a “kids cook” snack once a week where they make things like muffins, fruit bars, oatmeal crackers, fruit salad, breads, smoothies, snack mix, etc.

erin says:

My mother runs a preschool and is often lamenting about snacks. For her, she has to incorporate not only FDA guidelines and regulations but also strict state (California) regulations and some others as she is a subsidized daycare as part of the child development program at the local junior college. Some of her teachers grew up on the same kinds of junk and are not thrilled about serving it to the kids, so there is that hurdle. She often serves cottage cheese with fruit. She also recently switched to Greek yogurt for the kids as it doesn’t have any added sugar. It’s a bit more expensive but she feels it is money well spent, and generally gets it at an ethnic grocery rather than paying the inflated supermarket prices. The kids also get lots of whole grain crackers and snacks as well as fruits and vegetables. Even veggies can be fun for kids if they are done in ways like ants on a log (celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins). That might not be practical for a large daycare though. Good luck!

Stephanie says:

There are also often some interesting ideas on the Vegan Lunchbox blog often has good ideas, or you can just check out the book from the library:


Stephanie says:

Sunbutter! It like nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.) but it’s made from sunflower seeds, so if your daycare/preschool is nut-free, it’s an acceptable alternative. Ginger will eat it in a sandwich with fruit spread or bananas and honey, but she also loves to use it as a dip for carrots or apple chunks. You can buy it ready-made or make your own:

Ginger is older than Jasper (2 1/2) and she’s into things being “tiny.” (I couldn’t tell you why!) So she likes containers of small things like raisins, sunflower seeds, blueberries, cold green peas, even kernels of corn – anything little she can pick up one by one (nuts too!) She also loves black olives beyond reason – she likes to stick her fingers in the holes – once she has an olive on every finger, she tells me she has “monster hands” – then she eats the olives one by one. :)

Maria says:

Jonah’s snacks aren’t what I, as an adult, would necessarily consider a snack (i.e. chips, cookies, etc.) but I’d rather him eat something substantial and not something void of nutritional value, as you said. And so he gets cubed pieces of cheese, homemade applesauce, edamame, cut up carrots or cubed pieces of yams (he seems to like them better cold), both are also steamed until slightly softened, hummus on a slice of whole wheat bread, all kinds of fruit, hard boiled egg…and I’m drawing a blank :) Hope this helps.

kari says:

Hi Ari,
My daycare does not provide lunch or snacks – so we always are packing our own…and you know where i work – and that organic/sustainable/local healthy food is near and dear to my heart (oh and it pays my bills!) :)

here is a great website for ideas:

liam starts preschool in sept – they also do not serve food – so its all “byol” – i have been doing alot of research on fun portable lunches / snacks.. and i LOVE the bento box thing…
this isn’t the ONLY bento lunch box idea site/ blog… google it and a ton of great ideas pop up :)

good luck!!

Katie says:

I recently say a recipe for a fun and healthy snack. It was cumber slices with humas and green/red pepers.

It looked yummy and I plan on trying it this weekend with my family to see if it is something we all might enjoy.

ariana says:

Lindsey, how old is your son? Jasper only ate like 5 things until 18 months when he had a huge expansion in his food likes.. hopefully it’s just a stage!

ariana says:

Ashley, those links are fantastic! I highly recommend reading them. I also found one commenter’s blog here that had some good suggestions:

Including a list of healthy snacks as a PDF:

I had thought of most of those already but it’s still a good list. Many of these lists include peanut butter, Daycare is peanut free, but Almond butter might be a decent option (here they mention soy butter, but soy has it’s own issues!)

Ashley says:

There are some great discussions on this subject over at Fed Up With School Lunch: and – check out the comments. The guest blogger of one of the above posts posted a riff on the theme at her own blog: Somewhat geared towards lunches, but enough snacky foods in there that it might help!

Lindsey says:

I want to hear what people have to say. My sweet little man won’t eat fruit (sometimes he’ll eat banana) or veggies. We give him a lot of yogurt and cheese. I never know what to feed him!

ariana says:

Well, I’m glad at least that I’m not alone!

I will definitely consider sending Jasper with his own “healthy” snacks if we can’t figure out ones that Daycare can implement, but to me that is definitely plan B. First of all, daycare is willing to make a change which would benefit all the kids! Secondly, I’m not sure if Jasper would willingly eat healthy snacks while the other kids are eating cookies.. but I guess it’s worth a try if all else fails!

Sarah says:

Oh, this is the exact internal crisis we have! We love Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, as well as Food INC. (If you haven’t seen it, it is a must!)

But, all three of our kiddos go to daycare as well, and their choices are budget based much more so than health focus.

Unfortunately, ours has a very limited available selection as they order through Cisco. They have done a great job of working with what they have, and making sure there is fresh fruits and veggies at every meal.

Good luck – and please share if you have advice on being an advocate for changing the program in corporate daycare settings!


Shae says:

I too cringe at the daycare snacks – so I often send mine with a snack of fruit she can eat with their snack – maybe you could do that? I can’t believe they even entertained changing the menu! I think daycares are bottom dollar and junky snacks are cheaper than healthy ones! Here are some ideas:

fruit dipped in yogurt cup
dried fruit (is that still healthy? Don’t know)

Man – nevermind – snacks are hard if you don’t give them fruit!

Sara B. says:

Our daycare has the same snack choices as yours, so I just bring in all of Marino’s snacks. He is an AWESOME eater and I don’t want him to get used to eating junk. Everyday I bring in: an orange (which he shares with the other kids), an apple (same thing, he can only eat half an apple), a pineapple wedge (they sell these individually packaged), a 100 calorie pack of cut up cheese, regular raisins, yogurt raisins (this is a special treat, I tell him it’s candy), veggie hummus with whole wheat Ritz crackers and whole wheat goldfish. Sometimes I also bring in strawberries, watermelon or black/blue/raspberries, depending on what’s is season.

He doesn’t eat all that everyday, but those are his options.