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Why Your Child May Not Be Eating At School
Opening up your child’s lunchbox at the end of the day only to discover that they have eaten little to none of what you thoughtfully prepared is never a good feeling. When this happens, the first thing we often do is ask the child why they did not eat their lunch. Occasionally a child, depending on their age, is able to accurately articulate the reason, but most of the time we are given a handful of excuses that do not always paint the full picture.
Here are 3 common factors that can influence whether or not your child will eat their school lunch and tips for what you can do to help:
1. Insufficient time to eat - Most schools offer only 20 minutes for your child to eat lunch. For slow eaters, children who are easily distracted or those who love chatting with friends, this can be a concern.
TIP: Try to send your child with only one container that allows them to access all of the items in their lunch at the same time. Include easy-to-eat, nutrient-dense foods so your child can get more out of a smaller quantity of food.
2. Presentation/visual appeal - If the food does not look good, your child will not eat it. Consider how well the food will hold up by the time your child opens their lunchbox, particularly if you are preparing lunches in the evening. How the food is presented can make a huge difference, so investing in a good lunchbox can be helpful.
TIP: Look for a lunchbox that has divided sections to ensure that items do not get mixed together when your child throws around their backpack.
3. Sensory-based considerations - Extra sensitive children can be particular about the smell or temperature of their food. For example, my 6 year old will eat chicken at home but not served cold in his lunchbox (although his 4 year old brother will eat it cold).
TIP: Packing lunches in a stainless steel container can minimize lunchbox-related odours compared to using plastic containers. Experiment with the use of an ice pack to keep foods cool or an insulated container to keep foods warm to ensure your child’s food is at the right temperature for them.
*Some children may also be affected the smell of other kids' lunches and even the lights and noisiness the lunchroom. Addressing these concerns on an individual basis and often speaking to your child’s teacher or principle can help creating a more positive eating environment for your child.
Another point to consider when packing school lunches is what you are trying to achieve. This should not be the time to try to introduce your child to new foods. Offer familiar foods that your child enjoys eating. The goal for school lunches is to give your child energy to get through the day and fuel for their brains so they can focus on learning. Introduce new foods at home and once your child becomes comfortable eating that food, you can then begin incorporating it into their school lunches. If you are struggling with your child eating lunch at school, you may also consider beefing up their snacks to balance things out. Remember - snacks do not need to be “snack” foods. Just think of it as a small meal or another opportunity to eat.