5 Tips for Talking to Your Kid’s School About Food Rules

December 7, 2022

As a parent, it’s important to be involved in your child’s education and engaged with your kid’s school. One topic you may need to discuss with their school is food rules. There are the basics of course, like:

But also, what the school’s expectations are around the foods your child eats, are teachers allowed (or expected) to comment on food choices, are there rules around healthy or unhealthy foods and who sets those rules. Here are 5 tips for talking to your kid’s school about food rules, especially when it comes to diet culture.

First, you may be wondering WHY you may need to have these conversations with the school. After all, schools and teachers are understaffed and overworked, they wouldn’t possibly add more to their plate by commenting on the food choices your kid is making. Right?! Well… that’s not quite the case.

The Back Story

I shared on instagram recently that my oldest had been hyper focused on food labels and whether an item was healthy or unhealthy. If you’re new here, I’m a pediatric dietitian – food and health for kids is literally my calling and career, and I do not speak about foods that way. So that made me go searching for the source of that language. After some questions with Charlie I was able to learn that there were classroom conversations and expectations happening that didn’t line up with our family values, or my training as a dietitian.

That’s a fabulous place to start with your kids if you hear those comments. Ask them to share more about their understanding of healthy choices and unhealthy choices, or on why you should eat certain foods more than others. Charlie is nearly 7 so I was able to ask him more about the conversations, including who was sharing those messages, so I can have a targeted chat with the school staff.

Charlie shared about children being told not to eat so much junk food, or that they shouldn’t eat so many crackers because children need protein, being encouraged to eat healthy foods, or being told that school lunches are unhealthy choices. Now this is not how I speak about food in my home, with my kids or my clients. But because of the work I do, I know that just ignoring these comments or questions is not the answer. A seed has been planted in my child’s brain, one that I cannot uproot. But I can push back on those thoughts, and encourage him to be more curious instead of concrete. I asked him about what he thought was healthy or unhealthy and why those foods counted.

Next up, I reframed those black and white thoughts for Charlie. So instead of saying that specific foods were healthy or unhealthy, we discussed that all foods provide a variety of important nutrients for the body. I asked him if he thought cheeseburgers were healthy. Then we ran through what each food provided (think quick energy from the bun, full tummies and strong muscles from the cheese and meat, etc) so he had more context on the impact of certain foods. He had heard that sugar was bad and so we listed some foods that have sugar. I then asked him if he thought foods we enjoy could be bad, and reminded him that foods don’t make us good or bad because foods themselves aren’t good or bad. This will not be a one time conversation with him, but I’m planting competing seeds, or doubt for those diet culture messages.

5 Tips for Talking to Your Kid’s School About Food Rules

  1. Start with your child, learn more about what they are told in the classroom
  2. Next, you need to reframe for your child
  3. Compile your resources, and specific concerns. Separate emotion (like frustration) from the facts of what you understand to have happened.
  4. Reach out to the staff member identified as the person spreading diet culture messages. For Charlie’s teacher I said, “Hello I am Charlie’s mom, Courtney. I wanted to touch base with you regarding some food messaging that Charlie has been bringing home from the classroom. When would be a good time for us to discuss in more detail, and share resources?”
  5. When you’re able to connect with the staff, show appreciation, share what you’ve learned and set some boundaries together. It could go something like this, “Thank you for finding some time to meet with me today. I value all of the work you do for my child and the other students. In our home we are working hard to raise children who are able to listen to their body and are not prone to eating disorders or other chronic health conditions. I’ve done lots of research in this area so I can support my child and much of what I’ve learned finds that by not commenting on food choices and implementing intuitive eating I can decrease my child’s risk of eating disorders, mental health concerns and chronic health issues like obesity. I would appreciate it if you could refrain from using healthy or unhealthy food language in the classroom. I’ve compiled some evidence-based resources on this topic, would it be okay if I shared those with you? Thank you so much for your time today and with my child.”

Now, I know there are lots of other healthcare providers reading along and so if you’re in pediatrics or nutrition definitely add that piece I like to do it like ‘I’ve done lots of research in this area for my own child and for my work in pediatrics/nutrition as part of continuing education… I would be happy to share more information with the staff or connect you with a colleague who could provide the inservice.

The big picture I want you to remember is that establishing a strong degree of body trust and the skill of intuitive eating is the goal. If we can raise kids who like and respect their body and who can eat a variety of foods that fuel their body and soul, they will be kinder emotionally stable and healthier children. Your kids spend a significant amount of time at school each week and having healthy boundaries around food, that mirror those at home, are imperative. If you’re feeling nervous about how to handle additional questions you may get, review the links below to build your understanding of the literature and impact for your family. And one last thing… It’s your job to advocate for your child, do it respectfully but it’s not something to apologize for.

Additional Resources

There are lots of other fabulous articles on this topic. I’ve compiled a few of them below.

Optimizing healthy eating in the classroom

Ellyn Satter Resources for Schools (check school/preschool section)

Please don’t teach my kids to diet

How to talk to your kids about diet culture

Ditching diet culture at school

If you’re looking for more targeted guidance to support your picky eater, download my ebook Blissful Meals Guide for Picky Eaters today.

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