Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Daycare Dilemma

I toured a new daycare this morning. I loved it. I'm thinking of switching Landon at the start of the new school year. The biggest drawback is that they don't provide lunch. His current daycare provides all meals and given that I've managed to bring my own lunch to work all of ONE time, I'm really not sure I could handle making one for Landon each day. For one, that would cut into my prized evening "off-duty" time or my relatively stress-free morning time. Two, Landon eats all sorts of things provided by the daycare that he pretends he doesn't like at home, something about toddler peer pressure and everyone eating the same thing makes him an enthusiastic and experimental eater. Three, see number one. I don't want to. It would change my shopping list, require me to have more in my fridge than condiments, milk, and the precise items needed for the week's planned dinners, and well, I'm starting to whine, but I've been spoiled by our current daycare and its kitchen (which received a perfect 100 during its recent food/health safety check) and see no reason to force myself to become un-spoiled.

So why am I even looking at another daycare? It was an accident. It's the childcare center built by our neighborhood and I put Landon on the waiting list back in February of 2008. When we realized during our house hunting trip in March that he wouldn't get in by September, I erased it from my mind and picked among our available options. We've been very happy with his current center and assumed he'd stay there until Kindergarten.

Then I got an email Monday notifying me that Landon was now at the top of the wait list and would be able to start in the 2-year-old class in the Fall. I remembered all the great things I'd heard about the neighborhood center, found out their builder-subsidized rates would save us nearly $2,000 a year, and scheduled a visit for this morning. It's really, really nice. Beautiful building, big play areas, bright classrooms, and loyal teachers (average time there is 5 years and the center isn't a whole lot older than that). Landon's current daycare could be described in much the same way, so I still wasn't sure it was worth a switch when I asked to tour the infant rooms. Assuming we one day decide our lives can handle the upheaval of another child (we're not there yet), that baby will need some form of childcare, and the only thing I don't love about Landon's current center is the infant area. It looks very institutional and plain and all the babies are so young that even though the teacher-baby ratio is low, I don't think they get to do very much. This place keeps all kids in their current class for one year, which means the babies are of much greater variance in age (the class I saw today had only two that looked younger than 5 months, the other four were a little older and able to sit independently and play, so the caregivers could hold the newest ones a lot more -- much like Maya's distribution of ages). I liked that a lot. If we use a daycare center for the first year for this future hypothetical child, I'd want it to be this one. It felt homey and bright and quite a lot like Maya's.

As I've typed this I'm realizing that I've half-made my decision. The neighborhood center is cheaper by $1800 for Landon's age and $3300 for infants (it was subsidized by the neighborhood builders). I like it just as much for Landon's age and even more for infants. It's closer to our house (though the opposite direction from work). The transition shouldn't be too much of an issue because Landon was slated to move up to the Early Preschool class at his current daycare in August, so he'd be getting a new teacher, new room, and new classmates anyway.

The only things holding me back are the lunch requirement (that sounds a little ridiculous, but I LOVE how easy it is to take Landon to daycare right now- I literally just drop him off with the clothes on his back and he loves their food and eats so well! After a dinner where he refuses to eat anything but starch, JP and I frequently find ourselves saying, "well at least he ate well at daycare.") and the lack of cameras. Those daycare cameras really have been a comfort for me on the bad drop-off days.

So what do you think? What to you pack your toddler for lunch? Is it a hassle? Am I being absurd? Don't forget the cameras, they've been quite nice. But a savings of $2,000 for an equally lovely place? I just don't know. And I need to give them my decision by tomorrow morning. The wait lists wait for no one.


  1. Something to consider: How much would your weekly grocery bills go up if you had to prepare Landon's daytime meals and snacks?

    I'm betting you'd probably want him to have lots of fresh fruits/veggies and other healthy choices along with fun, toddler items. Adding those items to your grocery cart each week might very well add up to more than your projected $2,000/year savings.

  2. I am a home daycare provider and the one thing that gets me is that they don't serve lunch, that seems crazy to me. I've never heard of a daycare that doesn't serve lunch. Do they provide snacks?
    I don't know, I think the lunch issue would be a downfall for any parent, not just you.

    As for what to pack, it could be fairly simple, but it would take slight planning on your part. Depending on what your lil one likes to eat it could be as easy as preparing something by the week and just grabbing it and putting it in the lunch box. Carrot sticks, cheese sandwich, banana, pudding, yougart, peanut butter crackers/sandwich, juice box, mandarian oranges (in the little containers), applesauce, crackers - you can buy those meals pre made that just go in your freezer, but they are high in sodium. My motto - everything in moderation.

    Good luck - what does JP think?

  3. I only pack a lunch twice a week, keep that in mind. I

    I bought the Laptop Lunch system (a bento-style lunchbox) and it is so easy, convenient, and resistant to yucky food smells that I bought another for Anjali when she begins school this fall (we need two lunchboxes now for picnics and such.) The other day, I timed myself on how long it took to pack both lunches and it took less than 8 minutes - AND I took a phone call while doing so. I find it really easy to flip open the box and just fill the compartments with crackers, fruits, nuts and veggies.

    And no, I am not being paid for that infomercial that just hijacked your comments. :-) That lunchbox has saved me tons of money because I am far more likely to pack a picnic lunch now. Before, I was in too much of a hurry to fiddle around with finding containers and such.

    Final selling point? The lunchbox got buried under some stuff in the car over Christmas break. Come January, I found a nice science experiment growing with the pomegranate seeds. Soaked it in hot, soapy water and it was as good as new.

  4. I wouldn't switch.

    I LOVE the kitchen at my son's preschool. They serve such fantastic meals there and he ends up eating things like chicken fried rice and goulash. It helps him be an adventurous eater, like you said. I think the cost and time of having to prepare 5 toddler lunches is a considerable expense.

    Also, the commute. Having a daycare that's on your way to work is really helpful. Going in the opposite direction even 5 minutes mean 20+ extra minutes commute every day (5 minutes each way, 2 times a day.)

    I think if you like the center the same as the one your son is currently in, and it's the infant room that's tipping the scales, wouldn't you have enough time to get in there when you decide to have another baby? 9 months of pregnancy and 3 month of FMLA should be sufficient to get you to the top of the list again.

  5. Do you know other families who send their kids to the other day care? Maybe you could switch off weeks where you each pack lunch for both kids, so you don't have to do it that often.

  6. My daughter's pre-school requires us to bring a vegetarian lunch from home. It really isn't a big deal. This is what we pack:

    a fruit - a banana, apple sauce, mandarin, or apples with caramel

    yogurt or cheese (she likes American and string)

    main course - pasta with sauce or butter and cheese, macaroni and cheese, sandwich with soy nut butter/nutella/butter/cream cheese, quesadilla, "chicken" nuggets, soup, etc. We just include a note with microwave instructions, if any.

    Since Landon wouldn't need veg, you could do more things like lunch meat/cheese either in a sandwich or with crackers.

    Juice box

    Lunchables are also an option, but $$$ and you could easily make your own version.

    This is bad, but we don't really do veggies aside from what is in pasta sauce. I have no idea what kind you would include since I never eat them myself except for salads.

  7. Oh my - that is a dilemma!

    You seem to prefer the one which provides lunch for Landon as he is now, but are theoretically considering the one w/o, because it has better facilities for an infant that you haven't even planned on having yet...hmm.

    You will be saving quite a bit of money - I don't think the money you'll spend on the lunchbox will account for the whole difference, but perhaps the price is but small for keeping your sanity intact in these formative years? ;-)

    I pack a lunch for my three year old everyday. Sandwich, string cheese, olives, bell peppers, ants on a log, tortilla wraps with whatever, leftover pizza, hummus with rolls and carrot sticks, pasta salad, fruit bars. It varies from week to week, but I've gotten so rutined that it is only five minutes ekstra every morning. And I can see from the remnants exactly how much he's eaten that day.

    What does your husband say about it all?

    If you hadn't gotten a notification that Landon was at the top of the list, would you have been satisfied with the place where Landon is now? The lunch yes, but the price?

  8. To answer a few questions:

    - Not providing lunch is the usual thing around here. Landon's center is the only one I know that provides one in our area.

    - Landon does not like your normal lunch foods- no lunch meat, cheese, peanut butter, etc. However, I do wonder if the toddler peer pressure would make him start eating them if that's what he found in his box at lunchtime.

    - There is no way I'd get into the infant class at the neighborhood daycare without sibling priority. Even with it I'd have to try my very hardest to have a baby in the summer so s/he could start with the new class in the Fall. It's just very hard to get into, as you can tell, it took over a year to get Landon in to the larger 2-year-old class.

  9. Such a hard decision, I know! It doesn't sound like you could go wrong either way, though, so that's another way to look at it! I enjoy not having to pack Charlie's lunch, but I don't love the food they give him there either. I am sure, like anything, that it becomes part of the routine after a while and not a big deal. The savings is significant, especially for an infant who you would have to take food for regardless of which center you choose.

  10. To Jennie, I'm not sure I'm satisfied with the price of his current daycare, but I didn't begrudge the expense. It's a great place and he's been happy there. That said, everyone absolutely raves about our neighborhood center and it was a very bright, happy place as I walked around it. I'd be excited for him to go there. We'd also maybe get to meet a few more people in our neighborhood with young kids, which is a plus.

  11. Can J.P do it?

    When Michael started preschool I was like I can not do one more thing and my husband does it and it is great. He and Michael stand at the counter every night and do it and it is their bonding moment.

  12. I vote for the lunch and the camera .... and your peace of mind.

  13. i usually read in google reader and don't comment, but i wanted to come over and just say that you shouldn't underestimate that feeling you have that something simple will detract inordinantly from your quality of life. sometimes those things are silly, but they are still often true. if you really just cannot deal with the hassle of packing the lunch, fighting over what he'll eat, worrying he doesn't eat, etc., then don't do it. given your life it doesn't seem like the $2,000 a year is a make-or-break issue. the baby care seems more relevant to me, but that seems like a much bigger question: how likely is it that you are going to have another child in the next few years? if you're certain you are, then the switch makes sense. if it's just a "what if..." thought, it may not be worth it.

  14. I pack carrot sticks, a sandwich and a fruit (small cans, or an apple). I do it the night before, it takes less than 10 min. Sometimes I put warmed up leftovers in a thermos in the morning. Cold pizza is good too.

  15. That is a tough decision. I personally couldn't imagine having to make lunch for Morgan every day. Though I guess if I had to, I would adapt. I do like knowing she eats great at least 2 meals a day (breakfast and lunch). I swear they feed those kids better than I eat! As for the savings, you would save $38.47 a week on daycare. How much of that would you spend on groceries for the lunches? Thats your true savings.

    On the other hand, would he be with kids in his neighborhood that he will know for years and years to come?

    I don't know the right to JP about it, see if he would help with those lunches!

  16. I'm enjoying all the comments, thank you. I haven't been involved in many daycare discussions because none of my close friends have kids yet and the few that do either stay at home themselves or have a spouse that does.

    As far as baby #2, I'd say we're committed to having one, just not yet. Probably in 1-2 years. Hopefully. I was looking at pictures from Landon's first year the other day and for the first time there wasn't a soundtrack of ear-infection-induced screaming playing in my head.

    Also, for a variety of reasons not yet discussed on the blog, a savings of $2,000 a year would be quite helpful and timely. Not strictly necessary, yet, but still very nice.

  17. I skimmed the comments and didn't notice anyone who had mentioned the video cameras. To me, that's what stuck out more than the lunches. Since you are used to checking up on him on-line, you might really miss that.
    Good luck and let us know what you decide.

  18. LL, reading between the lines, sounds like your decision is made. Just do it!

    packing lunches isnt that bad. we have a nanny share, and yet i still pack lunches for my kiddo. one thing - will they heat up a lunch that you pack? my kid often likes things warmed up, so that's hlepful if they're willing to microwave what you send.

    buying kids stuff isnt that bad once you get into the routine - a lot of it is nicely packaged for their size (e.g. yobaby yogurt, cheesesticks, "pitter patty" veggie burgers) ....

  19. Prefacing this with the fact that I've never actually been to a daycare, I would say that the cameras are a HUGE benefit to the current place. It might not seem so important anymore since you already trust them with Landon, but if you're going to base your decision partly on any future child, I would think the security of being able to watch sometimes with an infant would be really really nice.
    Lunches - hard to pack in advance for anyone, especially when you can't skip a day and just buy lunch. If it actually makes Landon a less picky eater, that could be worth a lot too!
    Money - I remember you saying in a post last year how you were deciding between two daycares, and at first you felt guilty, like if you didn't pay for the most expensive daycare, you were somehow cheating Landon. Obviously he is at a great place now. Having a choice between two places sometimes just complicates an easy decision, so you should go with your gut. Pick the place you AND he will be happiest.
    And since I have already made this obscenely long, I will just add that, as a fellow (type-A) planner, I like to think things out far in advance. But there is something to say for just deciding based on the facts as they are now. You never really know what the future holds...
    Good luck!

  20. I detest packing lunch for my children. It's worse now that most schools are going nut-free, which rules out more than you might initially think (most granola bars, trail mix, etc.). And the cameras are a major plus, too, and not just for the bad mornings (I'm thinking of the Valentine's Day party--or something like that--that you weren't able to attend but watched him having a good time).

    Also, don't underestimate the stress of the transition for Landon. Little kids seem so adaptable, but switching locations, caregivers, peers, schedules, and food all at the same time can be a lot more stressful than just moving up to a new class in an already familiar environment.

  21. $2000/yr savings minus yearly food costs minus dollar value of your time preparing, cleaning up, and shopping for those meals (what would you bill a client for that time and how much Landon time would you miss) minus dollar amount you put on the peace of mind cameras give you minus extra commute time = probably not as much savings as you might think. My point is take the money out of the decision, I really don't think it sounds like you are saving as much as you think you will. Just do what feels right to you. I know it's a hard decision, I am just like you when it comes to things like this. The good news is that the reason this is a hard decision is because you have two excellent choices available to you.

  22. I had to make the same decision a few months ago - a spot opened up a daycare that is a 30 second walk from our apartment and that was a good bit cheaper but did not have a camera and did not serve meals. I chose to keep my son in his current daycare (a 10 minute walk) because I love the camera and that they serve him all three meals. It was worth it to me to not have to buy and prepare the meals. I did have to send his meals when he was in the infant room and it did take 15 minutes of my already too short night.

  23. I am right there with you on the "dropping my kid off with the clothes on his back"! JP's daycare provides a wonderful assortment of breakfast/lunches that he would NEVER even think of eating at home- example: they had "fun" spaghetti for lunch yesterday; tonight I served "not so fun, but still good" spaghetti and he promptly pushed it away. So I gave him a poptart and reasoned that "he ate real food at daycare today". So you're not crazy for considering the food choices at daycare! good luck- I'm sure ya'll will make the right choice- you have so far in his life!

  24. Maybe this is too easy to say, but -- go with your gut. Go with where your gut tells you is the best place for Landon. You'll make all the other things (including lunch) work out.

  25. Hi! I am delurking for this:) I am a 29 yr mom with a 2 1/2 year old. We just switched from a day care that didn't provide food, to one that now does. It makes such a difference in my routine. While it may sound trivial, it has definitely helped me to feel saner. I don't have to prepare lunch/snack (or breakfast, actually.) We can leave must faster in the morning, and I don't have to put together lunch at night, and I don't have to buy as much food when I go shopping. Not having cameras is also a big deal for me. While you may not worry with the new neighborhood place, I think the place you are at may offer a sense of security that you won't realize you have until it's gone. Lastly, I think consistency is really important. Maybe move places when you have another baby. I'd strongly consider staying put for now. Good Luck!

  26. I know that the money can be helpful but look at the true cost. As someone said, for $37 - is it worth the time you would use to make the meals, the extra 5 minutes in the opposite direction from work, the extra 5 minutes when you are running late to get him, etc. I think that you will find you will spend that amount of money just in different ways and in other categories.

    For me, I spend $4 a day to use the toll road because it saves me an hour of commuting. Is my time worth $4 a day?

    Is your time worth $37 a week for hte new day care? Also, what is the hidden cost of the cameras?

    I would say that if money aside, you would move him, then do it but dont let $$ sway your decision.

    Good luck!

  27. I don't think it's stupid at all to not want to have to fix lunch every workday of your life. I, too, have only been disciplined enough to make my own lunch once since starting work in September. You do so much already, you don't HAVE to do it all. Give yourself a break! Time is money, and sometimes it's worth paying extra to have less stress. For me, at least, this would be one of those times.

  28. Well in that case...

    Since you have to pack lunches from Kindergarten anyway, you might as well start practicing now! It's really a piece of cake. And while you're at it, pack lunch for yourself and JP too (or let him do it!!), and then you'll really save some money.

    As for saving money - when you switch places, set side the money you save every month on the new place, to a separate account (or at least some of it). Nice to have a rainy day stash, and it will come in handy when baby nr. 2 comes, whenever that may be.

  29. Do you eat lunch at work? Do you buy it? if so, you could buy healthy (but convenient) stuff for both of you, pack it (it's just as easy to pack 2 lunches as 1) and then the cost savings are even bigger.

    lunch takes us 5 min. we do hummus and crackers, or corn chips and guacamole/beans, or leftover cold pizza, etc. we add fruit and usually yogurt.

  30. 1. Lunch is a pain but you have to start sometime.

    2. Cameras are good, but not always foolproof. Brian broke his elbow at daycare. They had cameras in the rooms but it happened on the playground. He was 2.5. They didn't realize. He has a super-high pain tolerance and just sat there holding it to his side. They finally realized he was much more quiet than normal... Yeah, cameras can help, but not always. If someone wants to hurt your child (not saying someone hurt my son - probably an accident), they will find a way.

  31. I give him what he wants for lunch, but I give him lots of choices. Often he wants basic macaroni but I make it fun. I pack chicken nuggets with little containers of ketchup. I've done mini pancakes with a little container of syrup for him to dip. I buy his favorite frozen spaghetti and microwave that, sandwiches etc. He gets string cheese, milks or juices, whatever fruit he will eat (bananas, strawberries etc), some kind of fun cracker of cereal and a desert. All of these can be prepacked. I buy those mini snack bags and prepack his crackers, or cereal snacks. His drinks are all prepacked or I buy little reusable containers and just fill em up with milk to save money, I usually pack his lunch (aka toss something in the microwave or prep) while I make my morning cup of coffee. Takes about 5 minutes total.

    We have a school here in reno that also doesn't do lunch. They provide snacks, and allow for cold lunch only. It hasn't been a problem at all for people. Once you get in the habit it's easy. Plus, since all the other kids have lunch boxes it makes my son excited to have one and excited to eat whatever I packed him

    To make it fun I have cute napkins that I pick up here and there on clearance, and fun kids plasticware. He looooves it!

  32. oh yeah, i also love things like gogurts or yogurt smoothies...again quick to just toss right in

  33. Make your decision based on Landon, not on future hypotehtical child. You just never know what your life circumstances will be at that point. We ended up changing day cares a couple weeks before #2 was born. It worked out fine. This was to a place that had a 3 year wait list, but suddenly had space. You just never know.

    Also, lunches, they are the bane of my existence. I don't think there's a chore I loathe more. I'm not sure why I feel that way, but there it is. Can't avoid it now that my girls are school age. Yes, they could buy lunch at school, the choices are reasonably healthy, but it is expensive and the kids don't necessarily make good choices. So I keep control over it.

    Good luck. Daycare dilemas are such a pain.

  34. so...what did you decide to do?

  35. You'll have to eventually pack school lunches, why not start now! Also, there are no cameras in regular schools, I'm sure you'll be fine w/out them now. And if you're ever worried about how Landon is doing once you drop him most kids, they are happy again after 5 minutes. I would pick the day care close to home, especially if you're thinking of having another child. Good Luck!

  36. I pack Horizon's milk (bought by the case at Whole Foods), a fruit or yogurt, something crunchy (pretzels, veggie chips, etc), and sandwich. Some days I send soup, buttered noodles, or anything else that will fit nicely in his thermos instead of a sandwich.

  37. Sorry to do to all the nuttiness.. but what about the quality of food currently being served. If you decide to go with organic food and/or organic milk, the cost is certainly in the $20 -$25 range.. so then is the 10 bucks or so worth it, Also larger day-cares get better prices on individual portions/single serves of meals and milk than you would be able to in your regular grocery store.

  38. I'm a little late weighing in on this, but I've been out of blogging for almost a week now. I have to pack my baby's food, but I have to pack breakfast, lunch, two snacks, and her milk. Every freaking day. Apart from the obvious drawbacks, I'm afraid I'm turning her into a picky eater by always packing the same things. My biggest staples are organic alphabet pasta, scrambled eggs, and leftovers. And for snacks, she goes through about 40 bananas a week. [[Shudder.]]

  39. Oh, oh, I forgot. The Best Thing In The World is babybell cheese - you know those little cheeses that come wrapped in red wax? They're AWESOME, less processed than string cheese, and in perfect, pre-packed sizes.