A guest post with Crunch and Sip ideas for fussy eaters by children’s nutritionist and fussy eating specialist, Simone Emery from Play with Food.
Parents in Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia are probably familiar with the Crunch and Sip® program.
In other Australian states, a similar primary school initiative is known as a fruit break, brain break or snack break.
In effect, this is an initiative across Australian primary schools to assist kids to increase their fruit or vegetable intake by having a designated time for it. If you have a fussy eater, this may have you feeling nervous about what to pack.
How does a fruit break work?
In order to fit the break into the school day, it can exist alongside administrative tasks like roll-call or during group time like news or group reading time.
Or in some cases, children leave it on their desk and take responsibility for when they want to eat it during the morning session.
At most schools classes take a pause in proceedings, the food is retrieved from their bags and is eaten at the desk within the classroom.
Many primary schools (especially in early years) want the fruit and/or vegetables to be provided in a little container, separate to the rest of the child’s lunch.
This helps the children select the right container for the break. This little container can even be popped into a basket at the front of the classroom for distribution later in the day.
Obviously, with so many variations, it is worth finding out more about the logistics for your child’s class.
On a population level, having a break that includes healthy foods is a positive. Teachers report improved concentration and an overall improvement in the nutritious food arriving in lunchboxes. (And by no means do I want to discredit an amazing program.)
However, for a child that is anxious about fruits/vegetables or new environments, this break to eat fruits and vegetables can be confronting. For a parent, this can be worrying you too. And that’s why I’m glad you are here.
A Plan to Assist Fussy Kids with Fruit Break
Once you understand the logistics of the break, also check the list of typically allowed and not allowed foods online (see link below for Crunch and Sip guidelines).
Introduce the fact that there is going to be a fruit and/or vegetable break daily at school.
Make sure you have time to discuss this, remembering, they may not have any questions straight away. They may need to mull it over. Hence, it will be handy to give them your researched detail at the time. Kids do sweat the small stuff!
Get them involved in planning or visualising the snack, recess and lunch breaks of the day.
This is your golden time for exploring the content and root causes (and offering empathy).
Try doing practice runs with the containers – possibly without any food in them at first. This can help them learn about their containers.
You will then want to chat about the sorts of foods that go to school, what is not allowed (eg peanuts etc) and what other children will possibly have.
Tolerating and seeing what others have in their lunchboxes is a great way for them to learn about more foods too. If after a few weeks, don’t be disheartened if they ask for something to go to school after seeing their new BFF eating it …but then bring it home uneaten. Eating isn’t pass/fail.
By tolerating that new food in the lunchbox, they have had a good learning. Everybody need lots of “learns” before deciding that we really don’t like something. Also, just because you devise a plan now, doesn’t mean it will work until the end of time – you are usually up against it with fruits and vegetables due to the seasons, availability and changing sensory properties (like smell, texture, taste). Be flexible in your plans.
Next is to work through what they can do during fruit breaks. This is where learning language is very important and that we have tools available to the children so that they can “opt-out” if they need to.
Start each sentence with “you can..” and not “don’t”.
For example, say “You can learn about the strawberries today by smelling them during Crunch and Sip”. Or “You can learn about the apple cut in a different way in your Crunch and Sip today”.
Crunch and Sip Ideas for Avoiding Food “Burn Out”
If your child has ONE tolerated fruit/vegetable, it’s important to change the presentation from one day to the next. Each change is a “new food” in a child’s eyes. Even if the change is microscopically small to you, it could be huge to a child.
If food is presented repeatedly exactly the same within a 48hr period, it is more likely to result in “burn out”. Constantly requesting the same safe foods is known as food jagging. Some safe foods seem to be immune to “burn out” for some children, however, it’s the just-tolerated-ones that get dropped this way.
For example, how to present apple differently:
- Whole Apple
- Apple quartered/eighths (pre-soaked in pineapple juice so it doesn’t go brown in the lunchbox – (a tip I learned from the Kidgredients guide to awesome lunches)
- Apple slices (soaked)
- Diced and peeled apple (soaked)
- Candy stripped whole apple (peeled downwards with 1cm between each stripe)
- Apple rings/slinky (core removed and soaked)
- Dried Apple (not usually allowed every day)
- Apple puree
- Diced apples in natural juice (don’t forget a spoon)
- Homemade stewed apple pieces
Opt-out tools give kids the confidence to keep learning about new foods. A child needs to feel secure and be ready to enact these strategies by themselves in the school environment. Hence, practicing at home in advance is very important.
School friendly opt-outs include (but aren’t limited to):
- packing a wipe/serviette/hankerchief to wipe fingers on or to discretely spit into
- a cocktail fork/toothpick/fork/spoon/bento plastic pick to avoid using fingers if they worry that they will get too messy
- a water bottle so that they can rinse out their mouth, if they take a taste
- to know that it is ok to just look at the food, give it a lick or acknowledge it in some way – all learning is good learning
Children will be more comfortable to learn about food if it is not crowded into their lunchbox. For example, putting in a few cubes of diced carrot may be enough.
Children are usually more likely to approach a few cubes than a full carrot.
Do some practice runs
I would recommend taking the kids out with their crunch and sip containers to a busy area like a food court or playground. Observe how they go processing the environmental cues along with the fruit or vegetable.
At this point avoid any physical or non-verbal prompting to eat or talk about the food as this will apply pressure to the situation.
Additional Resources and Links:
The Kidgredients review of the top 8 containers for Crunch and Sip and also the Kidgredients definitive guide to choosing a lunchbox (reviewing 24 lunchboxes available in Australia).
If you are after some more encouragement for your fussy eater Simone’s post on 9 Things Not To Say To A Parent of a Fussy Eater resonates with so many parents and may help you think of ways to talk to people that offer “well-meaning” advice.
If you aren’t sure if your fussy eater needs more assistance, this list of red-flags can help you decide on further courses of action you can take for fussy eaters (picky eaters vs problem feeders).
More from Simone Emery
Positive food talk with kids – Simone’s video for parents, educators and carers of children that delves into helping a child learn to approach new foods with language tools that don’t rely on pressure. Pressure is very difficult for children anxious about new foods. Adding pressure like a reward system, bribery or using emotional language makes eating even harder for children. Learn more about helping them without hindering them with pressure.
Goodbye Picky Eating with Simone Emery. This is Simone’s signature consultation package. She offers 3 levels that also come with her 8 module bumper pack of information. The modules cover lunchboxes, eating healthy on a budget, how to shop for healthy foods, family food dynamics, the impact screens have on mealtimes and fussy eating behaviours. It is a supportive package of information that you get lifetime access to. The consults start with the package + 30 min Skype chat to a fully comprehensive video play dates (to observe your child’s eating in real time) and multiple phone consults.
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