Is It Typical for a Daycare to Forbid You to Bring in Your Own Lunch?

Updated on August 30, 2010
M.C. asks from Saint Petersburg, FL
37 answers

My son goes to daycare/pre-school a few days per week. Until now, I sent his lunch. They are starting a new lunch program soon where the school will begin providing lunches. This is great for those that want this option but I prefer to send my son's lunch. I am being told that under the new program, I may not send his lunch because no other outside food is supposed to be on site. This bothers me because we are picky. My son is a very picky eater and it is quite possible he will not eat all day if I can't provide a lunch. Also, I am very particular about what he is offered. I try to avoid junk 99% of the time (processed foods, preservatives, artificial ingredients etc). I try to give him a lot of organic food (not all) with limited sugars etc. He is not a meat eater at home and I don't like the thought of him possibly ingesting non-organic meat filled with hormones and antibiotics while at school along with who knows what else that comes from a box. I relaxed my stance when it was only snacks provided at the school..but lunch is normally his biggest meal. It is too important. I will be calling around to other centers today to hear what is the norm and I would hate to make him switch schools over lunch but….in your experience, is it typical that outside food can not be brought in to daycares that provide lunch?
EDIT - Thanks for all of your feedback so far, ladies. The school is going to post the weekly menu in the lobby area each week so the parents will know what is being offered.

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all of the feedback. I believe I received more responses to this question than any other I've ever asked. I see everyone's point regarding allergies. I honestly never even thought of it since it was never an issue before when all were bringing in their own lunches. At this school, they eat in their classroom with their class. So typically there are only six kids (up to 8 possible) eating at one time together. Perhaps we are just lucky in that these children are free of food allergies. Anyway, I tried to talk myself into relaxing a bit about this and see how it goes...that was until I saw the first menu that consisted of meat and cheese pizza, chicken nuggets and fries and hotdogs :-( So I will have to look at alternatives.

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answers from Seattle on

We have kids with food allergies at my daughter's center and no one is allowed to bring in any kind of food or drinks.

So I'd say it's pretty typical...
Good luck!



answers from Jacksonville on

I would fight it. We also eat organics and if someone told me they couldn't, it doesn't seem right.
There is NO WAY I would let my child eat non-organic meat 5 days a week.



answers from Philadelphia on

Could it be because so many kids now have food allergies? My oldest child has a friend that is allergic to any type of nuts. He has to carry an epi pen with him.

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answers from Minneapolis on

Probably the allergy issue, as others said, but personally, this would be a deal breaker for me. I am getting tired of the over regulation happening and simple choice being taken away for making cold lunch for your child

I am truly sorry for those with allergies, but they are the minority in society. I get migraines that can be triggered by odors that are too strong..and they are debilitating and often hospitalize me and disrupt my life and put me in danger...does this mean society needs to stop eminating these odors? I just saw on the local news (due to a popular football player going down due to a migraine news apparently??) that migraines are the World Health Organizations #19 out of ALL the things in the world ...19th most debilitating again I ask...should society have to stop making onion and perfume smells because of people like me???

I do home childcare and follow a USDA sponsored food program. Children can still bring their own meals (it must be labeld with their names, etc) and I simply can not claim them for those meals. Not sure if centers are different..and if so, why they are????? But its a government program, not state or local.

My now teenage daughter has always brought her own lunch (well I would honestly say 90% of her entire school career and she is about to be a Jr in high school)...mostly out of choice, shyness (not wanting to stand in line) and time constraints in those lines in school as she got older, etc. She hated school lunch options (gross to her) why should preschool be different????

Makes me crazy! Sorry!

I hope you find the right solution for you!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Yes, this is typical. As we have become a society that is afraid to let our children experience things - food allergies are at an all time high - God forbid a child who has a peanut allergy come in contact with the scent of a peanut - i know this sounds soooo cold and impersonal but it's really gotten out of hand.

I have a friend whose son is allergic to eggs and peanuts - however, she doesn't restrict him from going places and doing things. He is aware of his allergies and keeps an epipen on him. Believe it or not - his allergies have lessened over the years as he gets more exposure to them.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Huntsville on

I don't know what typical is for daycares, as my daughter has pretty much always been at an Army post daycare. They have always provided breakfast, lunch, and snacks for the kids (aside from formula and jar babyfood for infants). They have a nutritionist who lays out their meals each week, so we know they are not going to get junk. They get well-balanced meals. I know they will accommodate for any food allergies, but I'm not sure how they handle a picky eater because my daughter is only a picky drinker :)

Perhaps your daycare's meals will be planned well? It might not be so bad once you see the week's meals.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

I'm sure it depends on what area of the country you are in, but all the daycare centers around here do not let you bring outside food in for lunch. Allergies are an issue, but it's probably also a matter of ease for the centers. When all the kids are eating the same thing, it's easier to get them to eat. What happens when a kid brings ho-hos and ding-dongs for lunch and everyone wants one? Also, some posters who have suggested fighting or pushing the rules, but as long as it's a privately-owned center, they have the right to make their own rules.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Austin on

This is typical for daycare facilities that promise to control the food that children are exposed to on their campus. My daughter has a food allergy... Her preschool provides all food given to the children. Thankfully, her allergy is not life-threatening (e.g., like a peanut/nut or seafood allergy), however if I was a parent whose child did have a life-threatening food allergy, I would never never chose a daycare that didn't control the food brought into the classroom each day. You may feel your lunches are better (and they probably are more nutritious) however if your child brings his own lunch, all of a sudden 10, 20, 30 other children should be allowed to bring their own lunches too... Then you have teachers trying to figure out whether someone has PB&J or a tuna sandwhich, does the bread/granola bar/snack contain tree nuts?, is this gonna put another kid into anaphylactic shock, etc.

If this is really upsetting to you, then perhaps you should find a different preschool. (I will also mention that daycare facilities that provide the food charge more than those which allow you to bring your own lunch. So, on a certain level, you are paying more than you need to...). I will also add that one of the quickest ways to cure a picky eater is to let him have the same food that all the other children get. His food choices will increase because 1. He'll be hungry and will eat whatever is provided and 2. Seeing his classmates eat the same food is very influential! Good luck!

(P.S. To the responders who think it's unfair, frustrating and overly demanding that they have to modify their choices so that some other parent's small child doesn't end up in a hospital: Really?! Your comments strike me as so self-righteous. You obviously have no idea how much time and effort dealing with a serious food allergy is. You are oblivious to the worry that some parents deal with on a daily basis. And apparently you wouldn't be bothered one bit to find out that something your child brought to school seriously injured another? Empathy, mamas... Look it up if you don't know the meaning.)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boise on

You may be able to provide some organic food for them, but in general, this is normal. I provide organic milk for my son, but let him eat the rest of the food there. This actually may be an eye opening experience for your son. My son eats lots of foods at daycare that he doesn't eat at home because all the other kids are eating it. Plus, it helps them to serve themselves and start making choices. When my son first moved into his current class his teacher thought he was over serving himself fruit. Until she saw that he ate it all. He sometimes just picks at the meat items, but always eats his fruit.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Toledo on

I think this is becoming the norm, mostly because of allergies in small kids. They are liable if your child gives his food to another who is allergic. My granddaughter went to daycare/preschool for 3 years, and we were amazed at the variety of foods she would eat at school that she wouldn't eat at home. They should provide a menu, and be willing to work with you. Just throw the word "allergic" into the conversation, and see if they aren't a little more flexible.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Port St. Lucie on

I feed my son similarly to the way you feed your child. In VPK last year, I really had an issue with the snacks and tried to have them changed or bring my own, but it didn't work. So I just sort of sucked it up that he had cheezeits once a week and fruit loops occasionally :( However, for me, the lunch thing woud be a deal breaker. I would make a huge stink, maybe even exaggerate your preferences and throw the word 'allergy' in. In my opinion, this could be reason enough to switch schools. I can see the point people are making that maybe it would get them to try more new foods but I personally do not want my child to start liking more non-organic, processed junk. Good luck with your decision.


answers from Nashville on

I know you have a lot of answers already, but I wanted to add a bit more. You have so many answers that I haven't been able to read them all, but I can add something to the ones I have already read.

I worked in child care teaching preschool and I also went to school for early childhood education. From both I have learned so much about how childcare centers are rated and how they can get higher scores. One thing that childcare centers have to take into consideration is the needs of others when it comes to food. If your child doesn't eat what the 'normal' child eats, they either need to provide an alternative or ask the parent to bring in the food. We had several families who would bring in soy or organic milk for their children because they didn't want them drinking the regular milk we bought. We also had some bring in alternative snack. Vegetarian children were brought in meat alternatives that the kitchen kept in their freezers and prepared for their lunches. There were several Asian parents who brought their children completely separate lunches. Our kitchen even prepare variations of our lunches for those children who ate only kosher foods.

As far as allergies, I know that is a concern, too. We had one baby who was HIGHLY allergic to peanuts. After several scares, any classroom he moved to became a No Peanut Room. Letters were sent out to the parents to be sure they didn't send in any peanut butter, breakfast bars, or snacks that contained peanuts. I know most childcare places are now becoming entirely No Peanut since it is such a dangerous allergy. I don't see why it would be an issue for you to bring your own lunch or for the classroom to send out letters to be parents asking if there are any allergies that parents should avoid. In general, most daycare places serve unhealthy versions of things you would pack in a lunch anyway, so I don't know why that would hinder you at all.

Good luck, and I hope I was able to help a little even with all your other answers!



answers from Houston on

Have you asked them for a menu and information about what types of food they will be serving? Now, I am not as diligent as you about ingredients and junk food but when my daughter was in preschool the snacks and lunches they were served were healthier then what she typically ate at my house. They were balanced meals with lots of fruits and veggies. Now, I'm guessing they were not buying organic, but it was healthy food (again from my perspective it was at least). Since your child will only be there a few days a week anyway perhaps if it is a reasonably healthy meal they will be serving it might be worth a try. It also might help with his pickiness.

By the way, I have had a child in some form of daycare/preschool since 2002 and other than the home based daycare that my son attended for 2 years, all larger facilities have not allowed meals from home.

Good luck,



answers from Tampa on

no wonder he is a picky eater, you have created a picky eater. Why not teach him to broaden his horizon and enjoy foods instead of limiting him. You are going to make him want to eat the junk foods. You can share with him healthy ideas and ask him to try them but don't not allow him to try something because you don't like it. If he eats a fist full of macaroni and cheese 1 day a week he will not be a fatso if thats your concern. Keep him active, pro-biotics, viatamin.. whatever and let him explore. He is just a kid who is learning what he likes and what he doesn't/.
If you made it this far then .. my daycare advise is to talk to the director and find out what will be served (you can take a copy of that menu home with you) ask how things are prepared. If you see something that you would prefer he not eat then just say so and see what they can offer. Noone wants a kid to go hungry. Maybe he can have double veggies instead of spaggeti that day or something.
I always said, before I had kids, that I would never buy or feed my kids peas because I hate them, with a passion, the smell taste.. everything. But when my 2 year old asked me for peas - i bought them and he loves them and I won't deny him something like that just beacuse I don't like them. If it wasn't for school serving it he might not have known that he likes them.



answers from Miami on

They're telling you that so that they can save money. If all the parents sign on the lunch form then the school is provided free lunch for all the kids. However if not all kids fill it out then the school has to pay a percentage of the food. No daycare here in Miami denies any child their home brought food; it's our decisions as parents to be able to provide them breakfast, snack and lunch. I would look further into it. That just doesn't seem right it seems more that they are convincing you to fill out the form.



answers from Phoenix on

I know that a lot of daycares do because of food allergies. If you child had peanut butter and another is allergic its hard to keep them away since they are so young. From my understanding this is the #1 reasonj why they supply the snacks and lunches. Talk to them and see if they can give you an approved list or something and if they will work with you.



answers from Tulsa on

It is absolutely not allowed for kids to bring their own lunches to child care settings. Your child could have a peanut better cookie in his sack and the child next to him be severely allergic. That's the most important one I can think of right now.

What if the kid next to your child had a couple of Hostess cupcakes in his lunch and traded/shared with your child...your child could be eating things from the kid sitting next to him that was prepared in a filthy home environment or even roaches crawling out of the sack next to him. It is better to have the same food for everyone prepared in a health department inspected, and approved, kitchen every day.

If I had a parent as health conscientious as you, I might suggest you find a different care faculty for your child. I would not be able to accommodate your requests. If you were eating these particular foods for a religious or lifestyle preference I would not accommodate your request either, I would tell you this is what we have and give you the option of opting out of your contract with due notice.

It's not that I would not want to feed the kids healthy food, or if I could afford it to select better food that I wouldn't.



answers from Sarasota on

I don't think this is fair at all. I think you should have a right to provide your child with whatever type of food you want. I completely understand the allergy concept and this is why I am posting. I had a friend that had a little boy that was allergic to wheat, soy, milk, peanuts, shell fish, dust, mold, etc. you name it, he was allergic. Do you know how hard it is to find foods that don't have wheat or soy in it? Almost everything does. She has to prepare extremely special foods for him or he gets really sick. I know this is an extreme issue, but it wouldn't be fair if she was allowed to bring her son's lunch. I would fight for your right to bring in his lunch. Personally, if they wouldn't allow me, I wouldn't want my kid to attend that school anyway. Good luck and don't give up!



answers from Washington DC on

Its typical. Some of it has to do with food allergies, USDA regulations, etc.

My son's school was this way. Even when I provided store bought 'backups' for days that I knew he wouldn't eat their food, they didn't offer it to him. So then we ended up making sure that he had an extra breakfast and had a snack for him waiting in the car for when he was picked up.

You can provide a list to them of things that you don't want offered to your son, similar to the list for those with allergies.



answers from Columbus on

I am not sure if it matters much if this is typical if you don't like the policy. It could be the allergy issue, but it also could be a deal that they made with the food provider, it may not be affordable for them to have the service if it is optional.

I would seek another facility if this is not something you can live with.




answers from Tampa on

Ask them- is it because they are worried about allergies like peanuts, and this is a way to avoid them? Or are they making money from requiring everyone to buy there.
What is the menu? If it doesn't fit your son- get a note from your doctor that he has to bring his lunch, and that should be the end of it liability-wise.Don't have a doctor to write that- contact the International Chiropractic Pediatric Assn and get one.



answers from Houston on

I wouldn't say it is typical, but it certainly happens. I toured more than 20 daycare facilities in the Houston area and the "rules" varied in nearly every single location. Sometimes it is linked to taking part in a federally subsidized food program. Other times it has to do with food-handling requirements. One director said it was just easier to get the kids to eat their vegetables...small children will often eat what their peers are eating (even if they won't eat it at home)...I can vouch for that--they actually had quite a good food program, I just couldn't afford the tuition.

My food "rules" aren't on the level of yours, but I am largely disappointed with every lunch program that I've encountered. I know that funding is a major issue...but if you can't feed my toddler a balanced meal for $4.25 a day then you need to get a different business model (yes, that is what our current school wants to charge for the junk they were serving--they tried to call tater tots a vegetable).

I pack my daughter's lunch. She eats an awful lot of fruit and peanut butter sandwiches (whole grain bread, of and I make dinner more vegetable centric.

To be honest, if you like the daycare, I would ask a few more questions and push a little bit. Ask for a copy of the program rules and have them point out where it says no outside food can be brought it. I find that it is often a misinterpretation of the outside food may actually mean that no one can bring food to share or the food must be sealed in a container when it enters or the center needs to provide separate storage for "from home" food (and doesn't want to).

This isn't going to be the first time you face this.



answers from Chicago on

My mom told me that when schools started enforcing this years ago, only part of it was because of allergies. Other reasons were because some people's home are not exactly sanitary. Some schools found that foods (and birthday treats) were being sent from homes that had CATS and other animals crawling around on countertops. Some homes could have roach problems, some moms might even send expired foods. Just think of all the gross scenarious... and then think about how kids like to trade. I was equally disappointed to find out that I could not provide lunch at my son's school, but now I completely understand why.



answers from Miami on

I don't think that's normal. Many do offer the option, but I've never heard of a school not allowing you to pack your child's lunch. So they're going to provide you with the menu in advance - it still doesn't change anything. On one hand I can understand this policy because kids can share their food and there may be kids with severe allergies (peanuts, etc) and that could be difficult to oversee - but, on the other hand it's just not right.

I, like you, try to feed my kids the best I can and I don't want them eating processed, preservative-filled foods all the time and I'm sure what the school will be providing will be processed, or at least most of it. It may seem silly to switch schools over lunch, but it's not just that, it's your principles and you are doing your best to protect your child's health and I say switch to another day care center!



answers from Dayton on

Some lunch programs are partially funded by a federal school lunch program even in daycares and preschools. To get funding you have to follow guidelines. Some of them seem odd to me. For instance, no outside food may be brought in (I think they consider it kind of like double dipping - we are giving you money and food and you are getting more food from the parents). You cannot keep, save, recycle any unserved and uneaten food from a meal. For instance if you have leftover spaghetti sauce, you cannot freeze it and use it for another meal later in the month. If you have leftover peaches you cannot use them to make muffins for snack later in the week. There are alot of rules and they are complicated.

The only time I have ever seen them make allowances for food being brought in was with a perscription and evidence of a food alergy, i.e. someone bringing in soy milk because their child is lactose intollerant and they have to have a dr's note.



answers from Little Rock on

I worked at a daycare that provided lunches and I don't remember ever seeing a child bring their own lunch. I never thought about it. We did have milk allergies and the mother would provide soymilk or something for their child. I myself am allergic to peanuts, and when I was in school the majority of lunches brought in by the other students contained a peanut butter sandwich. I could not even sit with 10 feet of peanut products without difficulty breathing. Most public school in our area have in recent years banned peanut products from the school. Possible that is their idea, to keep certain high allergy foods out of the school. Not sure, it does sound a little drastic, but my children are not in childcare so I don't really know what is common here. Maybe you should express your concern to them about the types of foods you don't allow your son to eat.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I went through that with my son also--several kids in there had extreme allergies. My son as well as most other kids did not eat much of the provided lunch, the teachers told me so. However, they did eat the afternoon snack. I just made sure my son ate before and after going. All of the food that they made was according to state approved guidelines so at least it wasn't all sugary, even the afternoon snack was rather bland and non-threatening.



answers from Chicago on

Who cares what the norm is. If you have high standards for your children and what they eat do not lower your standards. I taught early childhood for 8 yrs. and now finishing my degree for health and wellness and Holistic nutrition. I will tell you first hand that many schools feed children garbage. One school I worked at finally started to implement fresh fruit only. Unfortunately if there is not much money in the budget they most likely will skimp on the food. So that is my experience and what I have seen happen first hand. You pay the childcare facility, it is your child, you tell them what goes. Believe me they can work something out!



answers from Boston on

That seems crazy, what if the child doesn't like what they are serving? Do they have limitless choices? (I doubt it). I would switch schools, my daughter is also picky. Sure its a great option for some people but not everyone. Sounds more like a reform school or something.



answers from Tallahassee on

Hi there,

My daycare provides meals as well but they have never said that we can't provide our own lunched. On Fridays is sack lunch day anyway. I bet if you ask they would be willing to work with you. I'm not as near as worried about what my child eats as you but do like them to eat healthy. Plus kids will eat their veggies etc better in a group setting than at home for Mom. lol


answers from Kansas City on

i actually think you can talk to your pediatrician and they can write a letter stating that he needs to have his own lunch for health reasons (even if it is just fear that he may lose weight if he is not eating those lunches)

its worth a shot! things like this are why it is a blessing in disguise that my kids have celiac disease. they will never be able to eat a school lunch.


answers from St. Louis on

I do not think it's strange - most daycare centers will not allow any kind of outside food. I think it's possibly a health hazard (think if someone got sick from food and people had brought in outside food, how do they find the source)? If there are things you do not want your child to eat, give them a list. But I'll be honest - if everyone is having hotdogs and mac and cheese and he has to eat something organic and maybe not 'fun', he may start asking you to stop sending food anyways!!! Kids don't like to be picked on or picked out of a crowd for being 'different' and by having a separate meal for him, you may be *unknowingly* setting him up for this.



answers from Denver on

I'm not into institutional food either. They tend to take too many shortcuts and have cost as the bottom line rather than health. I don't make Kraft anything at home because I don't want my kids to eat it, therefore I won't let the school serve it to my kids either. For me, I'd either make a stink about providing my own food (nicely of course) or I'd find a new place to take him. GL!

And PS, my kid's schools have very easily dealt with allergies in student populations with 400+ kids where a few are allergic, some are allowed to bring a lunch, and some eat institutional food. They haven't had an incident yet and everyone is treated with respect and not 'singled out'.



answers from Cleveland on

Those are very unhealthy offerings thru the school. I'm with you, I would switch.



answers from Miami on

You will most likely be appalled at the menu when it's posted.
Talk to the headmistress/principal and express your concerns. If you are Kosher, Vegans, or other diet-conscious category, no institution can force their diet upon you.
Some parents are relieved to have the chore of preparing lunch taken off their list of things to do. But you are not one of them, so stand up for your right to nourish your children as YOU see fit.
Good luck



answers from Orlando on

The same thing happened with my children at their daycare. They were willing to work with me though. I brought in soymilk for them and asked that they not be served beef or pork. They were able to work their menus around that and always created meals for all the kids that had chicken or turkey as the protein. I completely understand where you are coming from, but its going to have to be a judgement call by you depending how much you like the rest of the school. I now have my kids in a Montessori where they bring their own lunch, but they still eat things I don't want them to from their friends lunches. But they know its not good for them and certain foods are not allowed at all. Its gonna happen, all kids do it. If you can find another school you like that will allow their own lunch, even better. If not, just try to make sure he gets a super healthy breakfast and dinner and takes vitamins. Also explain to him why you eat certain foods and not others, the younger the better. You can even show him the labels of those foods that have all those huge words compared to a healthier food choice with simple ingredients. That was effective with my kids. And when he starts saying but why can't I eat "xyz" just tell him because I love you sooo much that I want you to be very healthy and strong and so only let you eat foods that are good for you. I have heard my kids repeat that to their classmates and that usually shuts up any little tempters making fun of them for not eating candy- they end up looking like "why doesnt my mom love me enough to not let me eat candy" poor babys. lol

good luck!

btw always say allergic not I prefer. Unless their allergic, society seems to think we are just being a "crazed health nut" lol Technically we are all allergic to the additives/preservatives etc just not an intense reaction like someone allergic to peanuts or something, so its technically the truth! :)



answers from Minneapolis on

I can see why you want to provide your child's lunch yourself. Totally normal. However, this child care center is a business and is free to create or change their policies as they see fit. If enough families protest their policies by leaving and the center starts losing money, then they will change their policies. That's how capitalism works. Some other business model of fairness-for-all (which is not actually possible) sounds more like socialism.

You can try to get them to make your daughter an exception by getting a doctor's note stating she is allergic to X and Y and Z and therefore has a medical reason for needing her own lunch. Otherwise, you should probably find a new provider that fits your family better.

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