Don’t yuck someone’s yum: how to model empathy and tolerance at lunch

02 Mar Don’t yuck someone’s yum: how to model empathy and tolerance at lunch

Kids’ opinions matter.

Not only are they your primary customers, they can help you create a meal program that works. Over the years, I have learned that students will tell you exactly what they want. Kids need to be given — early and often — the opportunity to voice their opinions.

Their attitudes about their new lunches determine the success of your efforts. Engaging them early on gives you a chance to form educational and trusting relationships.

They also provide an opportunity to model empathy and tolerance. The kids will then be in a more inclusive environment.

Promoting Meal Inclusion

Social norms go hand-in-hand with what we eat. These kinds of public pressures are intensified for kids. They are especially challenging for those who have special dietary requirements. While other companies may respond to those requirements by offering substitute meals, we tailor the main entrée. We offer the same meals that everyone else is getting with some small adjustments.

For example, if the day’s main entrée is beef chili, we also make a gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. This way, children who are typically offered something different will be eating the same meals as their peers.

Although the easy meal replacement — often a processed organic frozen patty, or something else off the shelf — might fit the child’s diet, it looks entirely different than the lunch served to his or her peers. A child, who is already highly sensitive about not fitting in, then feels even more different from his or her group.

As a parent of a child who once had severe allergies I learned firsthand how her lunch made her stick out. She has to bring special foods to school each day. It was hard on her.

Because kids’ opinions matter, we make sure they taste-test school food before it is officially incorporated into menus. During that process, we encourage kids to be tolerant and accepting of one another’s differences. One student’s delicious vegetarian meal might seem unusual to someone else. At the end of the day, both still deserves respect. In other words, “Don’t yuck someone else’s yum.”

Tolerance, empathy and respect are wonderful qualities to model to students. Kids will learn (and give us feedback) about food during this process. And in the meantime, we’re all eating chili.

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