Hamlin Food Guidelines

Lunch at Hamlin is an exciting, fun, and delicious experience. As parents and teachers, we have an amazing opportunity to help shape our girls as eaters and members of our food community. Just like in any other classroom at Hamlin, what we say and how we act as adults has a huge impact on the students around us. While many of us may have different food philosophies and approaches at home, striving to present a unified message about food at school by utilizing the following guidelines can help us build a joyful, positive experience around food for everyone.

As adults in the lunchroom, we have a responsibility to encourage the following:

  • Food As A Joyful Experience
    We can have a big impact on helping our girls form healthy, positive relationships with food, which is critically important especially in light of a culture that tends to send girls the message not to eat or to not to enjoy what they do eat. Watching how we talk about our own eating around students is important, so let’s leave any talk of diets, bad/forbidden foods, or guilt around eating out of the lunchroom. Using lunch as time to enjoy each other’s company is also an important part of creating positive associations with food and we can encourage our students to use lunch-time both to nourish their physical bodies and to talk and laugh with friends.

  • Self-Reliance
    In just the same way that we would never tell a Hamlin girl what to think but would provide her with the tools she needs and the supportive atmosphere to make good decisions, our goal in the lunchroom is not to tell a girl specifically what she can or cannot eat. By presenting a wealth of wholesome options with the complement of lessons on wellness and nutrition that are provided outside of the lunch hour, we are trusting our students to take their eating into their own hands. While many parents may approach mealtimes differently at home, we ask that when you are in the Hamlin lunchroom, you honor this idea and give students the space to experiment with their food choices. As adults, we can encourage our students to create balanced, colorful plates and engage them to be critical eaters, without forcing specific foods or imposing restrictions (with the exception of dessert, see below for further information). If you are concerned about a particular student’s eating habits, please address this with her teacher or counselor.

  • Coming Back to The Hamlin Creed
    When in doubt, we can always come back to the Hamlin Creed and how it informs our approach to food and behavior in the lunchroom; for example, reminding our students that they are responsible for their own health and can do so by making good food choices.

Lunch Room Situations and Ideas for How to Handle Them

Situation: You see a student with nothing (or close to nothing) on her plate
Instead of saying…
“Why aren’t you eating?” or “You need to eat something,” remind the student that she needs fuel for her body and try asking: “Can I help you find something you might like to eat?” or “Did you see all the yummy choices in the salad bar today?” or “Why don’t we go look at the soup and sandwiches options?”

Situation: You see a student with only one thing (like bread or plain pasta) on her plate
Instead of saying...
“You can’t only eat bread” or “You need to have something else besides that,” remind the student that different foods are good for different parts of our bodies and some foods give us quick energy, while others give us long-lasting energy so it’s a good idea to have more than just one kind of food. Try asking: “Did you know Chef Emily made two different sauces for the pasta today? Would you like to try one of them?” or “You know what I love to have on my bread? Turkey with mustard--do you want to try it?” or “I see you have some good quick-energy food, let’s try to find something else to make sure you’re still fueled by the end of the day too.”

Situation: You see a student with a plate full of food but saying she’s done. Instead of saying...
“You need to eat what’s on your plate” or insisting on a “clean plate,” ask her how her body feels and whether she has given it enough fuel for the rest of the day. If she answers yes, maybe ask her to close her eyes for a moment and really listen to her stomach to see if it’s saying it’s full (this can be especially important with younger students who are easily distracted by eating with their friends).

Situation: You see a student wanting to get more of a desirable food (like pizza) before finishing what she has on her plate. Instead of saying...
“You can’t have any dessert (or more pizza, etc.) until you finish your vegetables (or what’s on her plate),” try saying, “It looks like you have some really yummy stuff on your plate, have you tasted any of it yet? What did you try that you would recommend I have for my lunch?” or “I know sometimes our eyes are bigger than our stomachs but let’s remember that we can help take care of the planet by not wasting food.”

**If you have a concern about a student’s eating habits, please refrain from saying anything directly to her. As a parent, you can bring your concern to a teacher, to a counselor (LS: Ms. Cobb, MS: Ms. Mathur), or email Ms. Biale (biale@hamlin.org). Remember you may not know the whole story behind her behavior, and a girl may feel judged or shamed by any specific comments you make about what she is or isn’t eating.

Do’s and Don’ts for Talking About Food

Don’t: Draw attention specifically to what is on a student’s plate or ask her questions about why she chose something. Even if you mean it without any kind of judgement, she may interpret it that way.

Do: Praise girls who have colorful, full plates by saying things like: “Wow that’s such a beautiful plate--look at all the colors you got!” or “It’s so great how you’re taking good care of your body and giving it lots of fuel!”

Require girls to take a specific food or forbid her from eating what she says she is hungry for.

Remind her of all the great choices she has, and why a balance of foods is good for our bodies. Invoke the Hamlin Creed by explaining that it’s her responsibility to ensure she is well-fed so she can have energy for the rest of the day. Encourage her to have a balanced, colorful plate and to eat what she may have already taken but do not force her to finish or to take something she doesn’t want. If a student seems to be taking an unreasonable amount of a certain item (say 10 pieces of focaccia), it’s ok to ask if she will have time to eat all of what she’s taking or to let her know that a couple of pieces is a good place to start and that she can come back if she’s still hungry for more. Keep the focus on whether her body is hungry for what she’s taking and less about whether she is allowed to have it or not.

Focus only on what the student is eating.

Involve yourself. Talk about what you’re having that you really like and ask them to suggest something new for you to try. Remember that everything you say (even if it’s to another adult) can be heard and internalized by students, so always try to keep conversations about food (even with each other) positive.

Talk about calories, weight, or associate whether she is “good” or “bad” with what she’s eating.

Talk about food as fuel for our bodies and a way to ensure we have energy for the whole day. Emphasize the importance of listening to your body to hear what you are hungry for and to know when you’ve had enough. Keep returning to gratitude for the wonderful food we have, the hard work of the people who have made it for us, and the great friends that we get to eat lunch with every day.

Nutrition Principles We Can Agree On:

While ideas about nutrition are often changing, and many of us may have found particular diets that work best for our specific bodies, the general principles that will be beneficial to everyone include:
  • A colorful plate full of different types of foods is important to increase vegetable intake and strengthen all parts of our bodies (this also helps us try new foods)
  • A balance of different food groups is important to provide both quick energy and long-lasting energy
  • Dessert is the one food in the dining room that is a treat and, therefore, offered in limited quantities
  • Food made from whole ingredients that are minimally processed is preferred
  • The amount we eat should be dictated by how are bodies feel, with the consideration that we want to be aware of the food waste we may be producing


Dessert is a treat and, as such, it is the one food that is not completely “unlimited.” In general, there will not be any seconds on dessert, unless there is a lot of extra, in which case the older girls (grades 5 and above) can have small pieces for seconds. If a girl asks about seconds, you can say: “We are so lucky to have a treat today and I think one piece is enough for you to really enjoy it. If you’re still hungry, I bet we can find something else to help you feel full.” Focus on being grateful for what we have instead of worrying about getting more.

In our conversations about dessert, we can use language that emphasizes energy levels and remind girls about the experience of feeling “sugar-high” and then quickly feeling depleted, which most of them have likely had. Instead of suggesting that sugar or dessert is “bad” and that indulging in it makes you “bad,” we can concentrate on how it’s not the best food for giving us long-term energy. Similarly, we can avoid comments that would imply that restricting dessert is “good,” such as “I see you’re being good today by not having dessert.” Never mention anything having to do with weight-gain or guilt after eating sweets, but instead talk about dessert being a special treat and a “sometimes” food, which is why we only have it once a week.

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San Francisco. California 94115
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