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Snacks

Hello,

I work in a group home for adolescent boys and girls and we (the team) have been having a discussion about whether or not food, like fruit, should be available all the time, or if youths should only have it at snack times. Some of us think there should just be a bowl of fruit on the table that the youths can eat whenever they want. Some of us think this isn't a good idea. We are wondering what other people do, and what is the reason for it.

Thanks for your help,
Candi
...

Hello,
I am a firm believer in having healthy snacks, such as a bowl of fruit, available at all times. We are working with these youth for numerous reasons, which include promoting healthy eating and the youth would be more apt to eat healthy if it was always available.

Thanks,
Becky
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Hi Candy,
I am new to the network but I have worked in residential care with teens for over twelve years and this is a topic that we are always revisiting. Food issues are ongoing and many staff have different arguments as to whether some food should be available at all times or not. We made a decision some time ago that we would have fruit available as many of our youth take medications which alter their appetite so the fruit seemed like a simple solution for the times when they are a bit hungry either before meals or around bedtime. I think we also felt for some of our youth it was an effective way to help kids who had food issues to be assured there would always be something available-something healthy as well. I think at a more personal level I believe it normalizes the residential environment (to a very small degree but every bit counts). Last, I always would challenge my team to look at the costs and the benefits of our decisions and if the benefits outweigh the costs and in some small way normalize life for our kids-then why wouldn't we after all it's only a bowl of fruit?

Michelle
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I feel very strongly that fruit should be available at all time. Eating can be nurturing. I would much rather have a youth eat an apple and talk with me rather than blowing up. Plus having a healthy bowl of snacks (fruit plus more like nuts and nutrition bars) always available allows the youth to make positive choices. In the milieu, we want to give all youth, especially older adolescents as many positive choices as possible so they exercise good judgments instead of always testing the limits - choosing to have a healthy snack is an important one.

In addition, everybody has a different body. We are trying to teach youth how to regulate their behaviors and emotions; regulating what you eat goes hand in hand with emotional stability. In Alcoholics Anonymous one of the basic tenants is to never get to tiered or hungry.

Put yourself in the shoes of the youth. Could you yourself go through the whole weekend with all your own food locked in a cabinet and the refrigerator; allowed only to eat when you called somebody to get permission and only at the prescribed time?

Putting a bowl of fruit and other healthy treats out is one of the quickest ways to impact the positive climate of the milieu. It's normal. Healthy children and youth should be eating as much fruit as they would like. The kids in our care have suffered lives of horrible deprivation. We should not re-create such abuse by locking up the fruit. And don't be surprised if a youth who has been horribly deprived takes and hides an apple or two; as a child I myself lived a life not knowing where my next meal was coming from; it would give me a lot of comfort to have an apple in my pocket. So instead we are saying please take the fruit, nurture yourself, regulate how you feel in positive ways.

Also with the level of obesity among the youth in our care, a great health crisis, we should be teaching healthy snacking behaviors.

And don't hesitate to reach out to the local markets. In my cottage the local grocery store always donated the ripest fruit; we also spent our weekends going to the farmer's market, learning how to cook fruit dishes; learning good nutrition---there are lots of fun milieu activities that can go with a fruit bowl.

Andy
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Hello there.
As a former foster child, who is not an advocate for kids in care, plus families, I can tell you one thing on this subject.

I have heard hundreds of stories of angry adults who complain about locked food cupboards as if they were criminals. I have even got a story on audio of a guy who used to crawl to the kitchen at night to get a slice of bread when he was a kid.

This is a regular ongoing theme with survivors of foster care. Men in their fourties and even into their sixties are telling me stories, which leads me to believe that there is some kind of emotional injury associated with the food issue.

My advice is to go with the fruit available at all times. Even healthy drinks.
John Dunn Founder,
FOSTER CARE RADIO
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Hello,
I am responding to your writing on snacks. In our treatment centre we have fruit available for the youth in the kitchen area , however our kids need staff's permission to enter the kitchen area therefore we can still monitor the intake of fruit and eating between meals. The social workers are paying a tremendous amount per day to have these kids in care and therefore we need to make sure that even something as simple as fruit is available , but at times kids will even abuse these simple snack. We have bkfst , snack at 10am , lunch and snack at 2pm the evening meal and the last snack at 8pm. OUr kids get a sufficient amount of food and snacks. A simple monitor of a bowl of open fruit may be your answer. Some kids can and will over due the eating of fruit as well. They can not be denied but on the other hand if we give these kids all they would like to eat and choose to eat we could be on the borderline of abuse. Fruit is healthy but can also be over ate.

Thanks Tannis
Edmonton Alberta
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Hi Candi;
In my opinion there should always be fruit available to the youth. I do not think things like cookies or brownies should be available all of the time, those I would have at "snack times". Where I work we have two scheduled snack times. One is at 3:30pm after the youth return from school, we sit down and have snack meeting. We have snack and talk about their day (what was good, and what was not so good) as well as using this time for planning the evening. The other snack time is 9pm and at this time we always have a more healthy snack like veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, fresh fruit smoothies etc. Although these times are scheduled on the menu so the youth know when and what is for snack we always have fruit, vegetables, and yogurt available for mid-day munching. I could not imagine living somewhere where there was not at least a bowl of fruit to munch on. The youth we work with have often come from environments where food was not always available, simply having a full fruit bowl out on the table can alleviate many anxieties youth have about if there will be food today.

Just my thoughts,
Amy
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I agree with the policy of having structured snacktimes/mealtimes but also with having available healthy snacks such as fruit available at all times. As a parent of three who have been exposed to the same family eating patterns, I have three children who have very different eating styles in that one eats pretty much on schedule everyday, one eats only when she is hungry and another who eats steady. The reason I have noticed is that their growth patterns are very different, and their needs change in cycles. With having fresh fruit available, you will know that when the child is genuinely needing more, you are making sure that need does not go unchecked or is denied. The child will learn to self monitor his own needs. When basic needs such as food are denied, you may find the child will find ways to meet that need through ways that will be a lot more expensive (not necessarily money) than by offering an orange.

Mark and Tracey Robinson
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At the group home where I work, we try to keep fruit available for the kids. We find that food is often an issue which kids will fight with staff over (given histories of possible food deprivation). There are concerns about hoarding but if the food is readily available, the kids tend to stop hoarding. We have also started keeping canisters of dried foods out (peanuts, raisons, dried fruit, pretzels, etc.) to be available for munching on. As long as this is available we tend to be able to avoid some of the power struggles that occur surrounding food.

Wanda
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All I ask is, "What do you do in your home and what is the reason for the way you do things in your home?" In my home fruit is there for any one who needs it any time when we can afford it. I would do the same in a group home. Fruit is a healthy food that should be available when needed. It is better to have around than cookies and candies.
 
Mary
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Hi All
Having snacks (fruit) available for the kids makes sense to me. However I'm no expert on this but I have observed many kids with food. First of all I would like to know the reasons some thought that the fruit should be only given at snack times. To my understanding we do not get hungry at the same time. Our metabolisms work different depending on many things. (IE) kids might be on medication, females might be in their menstrual cycle or it could be emotional eating trying to nurture themselves through food and what about the big one, kids are always taking growth spurts. During this time they use up more energy and most times graze usually in the evening as they are in school during the daytime hours. Also I think about kids that hoard food I have experienced that if food is not available they will hoard it. At first a hoarder will do this anyway but when they know the food will be there for them they become secure that you will take care of this need and not need to hoard it anymore. Not to mention that fruit is very healthy for them. So please help me to understand the reasons the fruit would not be there other than the narrative and negative that I can think of (COST and Control).
 
Debbie
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I do not think it is a good idea for food to be available at all times. We have a problem with weight with our children, and the available food does not help. Yes, there should be a snack time which is ok, but fruit and juices all the time is not a good idea.

Susan
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Hi,
 
Concerning whether or not you should have food like fruit available to the youth is one of those areas that if you make something an issue it will be. Fruit is not harmful, typically youth do not over indulge in fruit, it is also important to make healthy choices readily available. These youth have so much taken from them, if we as care givers can provide something healthy to them at minimal cost and effort, why not!!! I really think of a therapeutic reason to withhold a healthy item, I am curious about the reasons given by your co workers for not placing fruit out for the youth.
 
Tammy Lucy Wood
Nova Scotia
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In response to your question, in my organization it is a ministry standard that fresh fruit, milk and water be available for consumption under no restrictions at all times day and night. It is an expensive offering, but in the long run it means that kids are eating more healthily if they are emptying the bowl several times a day. Our group home goes through about 5 bags of milk in a day ... if that is any indication as well. Our grocery budget for a week with 8 youth in the house is close to $500, and we do not buy a lot of junk foods ... our junk is granola bars and fruit roll ups for lunches.
 
Hope that helps.
Laura
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I also work in a group home, and we had a similar problem with our adolescent boys. We were only allowing them to eat fruit at snack time, but in reality, when people are hungry, they're hungry. If they ask for fruit or vegetables (carrot sticks, celery, etc.) we let them eat. It's a healthy alternative to what they could be eating, and I don't think its fair that they cannot eat when they are hungry. If it were my son or daughter in a residence, I wouldn't like the fact that they cannot eat fruit if they are telling staff that they are hungry. This is how it was resolved in the residence that I work it.
 
Hope it helps.
Olympia Polihronidis
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Candi,
My name is Tina and I used to be involved in managing a residential group home, and as a team we all felt it was important that we role model positive lifestyle behaviour, and for us this also included nutrition and an active lifestyle. So many of the young men and women who stayed had what i would consider bad eating habits. So we always had a combination of healthy snacks and were creative and junkie snacks 4x a month, plus we would engage in recreation with them like going to the track, gym. Most often it is hard to get young people in general to eat healthy but it is also with silent encouragement and available options that will be made available all the time, of course this would depend on the level of function they may be at. We also had a generous monthly budget, go our guys and girls certainly can be measured by quality of food we served/and had available to them.
 
This took some time for them to get adjusted, they were also including in making some choices in the menu planning and were part of meal preparation though is always harder to have them follow through on depending on how they are feeling emotionally. As a team you have to be committed to actually increasing your work tasks or duties, though we did not feel it was considered a task- it matched our own value system.
 
One way we hooked our young people on fruit, by going to pick local fruit ie cherries, apples, peaches- we were lucky we had this available, and made fruitsalad. Celebrating seasons, cooking contests, incorporating into chore system, can be made included as part of a lifeskills building into budgeting/grocery shopping on a small budget, so there can be different angles.
 
Anyway just a wanted to share that,
Tina Danese
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Hello! I would have to agree with having a bowl of fruit available all of the time and I will tell you why! I worked in a grouphome for about 6 years and we always monitored the kid's food (pantry locked up, snacks and fruit made available only at "snack times", and there seemed to be an ongoing issue with this (kids breaking into pantrys and choosing "junk food" etc.)
 
We should try to encourage as much of a "normal home atmosphere" if at all posible and encouraging our children and youth to make better snack choices and how better to do this than to make it readily available! In the news, they are talking about how obese our children are getting due to the food choices made available to them and the lack of physical activity. I'm sure in your g.h. that physical activitiy is supported and if these healthier choice items (fruit/vegies) are made available, why not?
 
As weight watchers would say ... aren't these "free foods" okay, maybe not the fruit but they are certainly a better choice than the garbage that children opt for. The extra money put out for the fruit bowl is something to consider, but just think, we are promoting healthier choices (it won't fill them up either so you don't have to worry about their not eating their dinner) They seem to have great appetites!
 
Bon Apetit!!
Alice
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I work in a storefront alternate school and I try to have fruit on the table, it is gone fast. Eating healthy is important and not feeling hungry also. Snacks on the time teach students to eventually take what they need and they do not have to sneak food, as some have to. It's a welcoming gesture and sitting in kitchen with a snack opens up chatting at times, another chance to listen and build relationships. Every little bit helps when working with youth.
 
Shelley
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As a helpful encouragement to kids we provide a health breakfast of a variety of chocolate covered cakes usually filled with a hydrogenated cream filling of some sort. We find a big 44oz pop usually helps to get them going. Since this does not fulfill their appetite we try to make various nutritious snacks available for them to eat during class. While the food costs are down our computer repair bill is a few $1000 a month now. We would not want to withhold any food from them so they would be hungry at lunch, after all they do need their play time. We also found that when a kid is angry, bored or having a bad day food helps them calm down. A side benefit from this is that now the kids are so content and sluggish even in their hyperactive state they are unable to move very fast. One other unforeseen side effect has been we have not had any kids run away in over a year. In fact we can not even get them to leave when they are supposed to. It is amazing the deals you can get at the dead bread store. This outing provides an opportunity for the youth to develop independent living and community safety skills as well as managing their budget.
Well enough of this.

At the day treatment school we have, food is not always available to youth during the day. We have breakfast at 8:30, snack at 10, and lunch at 12. We have a very light snack sometimes at 3 though the snack is usually provided at the various foster homes when they get home during their daily debrief. We do not use food as any reinforcement nor do we use it for punishment.
 
They are not allowed to have food in the classrooms nor during treatment groups. At meals they are to take a reasonable portion and there is always enough for seconds. Many of the staff are vegetarian so these options are also available to the kids. All meals are prepared in accordance with a very healthy dietary standard though it is a bit higher in protein than that of an adult menu. Nutrition is an issue for us not the kids. We are responsible for this part of their lives. They are responsible for school work, peer relations, staff relations, past trauma in their lives, and any number of other age appropriate skills that a young teen should be working on. I am serious when I say we do not let the kids eat whenever they want. I do not want a kid to feed boredom, anxiety, anger or other emotions. We have kids who stay busy and as soon as there is a slow time they think it is time to eat. Not so. There are times for snacks and meals and it is not during class or whenever the urge to graze through the kitchen arises.

Hope you can take this with the seriousness yet humor intended.
Larry
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I would recommend a paper by Melvyn Rose, 'The Function of food in residential treatment'. Journal of Adolescence, 1987, 10:149-162. Melvyn takes a strong line on the symbolic and emotional value of food for young people; he is writing within the psychoanalytic tradition, and gives examples of ways in which making good food constantly available was a powerful element in a residential treatment programme.
 
Another writer in this tradition was Barbara Dockar-Drysdale, who wrote of 'converting delinquent excitement into oral greed', which was a line I always found very useful in practice. In other words, some of the contagious wildness in groups of young people (e.g. in residential treatment) may have its roots in deep anxiety of all sorts, which needs recognising and acknowledging if we are to re-establish communication with young people who may have temporarily 'lost it'. The way for them to 'find it' again may be through feeling able to have a good feed again. Much better for them to indulge themselves in this way (if we can tolerate our envy of their greed) than for them to indulge themselves in violence, abuse etc. Very important to offer this at the right moment, of course, otherwise things get very messy indeed. How do you know what the right moment is? That's another story. ...
 
Adrian Ward
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Might I ask or suggest that you ask the children in the group home? They tend to be the ones who are always left out in decision making processes.
 
Just a suggestion
:) John Dunn
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I can tell you from my experience both some pros and some cons to having "fruit" available at all times. Pro- Often the children we work with have been deprived of food and in some cases as a punishment. This is evidenced by their attempt to hoard food in their rooms and lock boxes. so having some snacks available at all times acts as a safety for them. Con- depending on the population you work with, some fruit can be made into other things, e.g. Apples can be used as pipes for smoking marijuana, apples and oranges with some bread if left in a plastic bag will ferment into a wine-like drink. These are but a few of the creative things that i have encountered in my experience working with youth. Although it really depends on the population you work with, just be aware of these things.
 
R S Elenez
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