Don’t worry, you’re not special in this regard. This happens to everyone. You put a lot of thought into your child’s school lunch only to have it come home almost completely untouched after a long day at school.
Panic sets in.
“Is my child going to get sick if they don’t eat?”
“Why can’t they put food in their mouth when I’m not there?”
“I don’t know how, but this has to reflect poorly on me as a parent.”
We ask ourselves the same things. Every. Single. Day.
Here are some approaches that we have used to get our kids eating more at school.
Have them control their lunch options (within reason), but guide them with their choices
Kids love a hands-on approach and knowing that they had some say in what they are eating. Opting to include your child in making their lunch can improve their chances of eating it.
- Tip 1: packing their lunch box together either before dinner or before their bedtime snack (if they get one). It is easier for a child to choose what they are willing to eat when they are slightly hungry.
- Tip 2: Taking their order – Ask them what kind of sandwich or main meal they would like to start off with and give them the choice between two options (eg. Do you want a chicken sandwich or a tuna wrap?). You can make the main part of their meal after they go to sleep and add it in to their lunch for the next day.
- Tip 3: Have your child help you pick and pack the rest. Bring their other options to a counter and away from the fridge and pantry so kids don’t have the options of the whole house at their fingertips and you can help them choose from all of the healthy options you have. Try cutting up vegetables and putting them in a container for kids to pick through and fill a snack bag. You can do the same with fruit.
Talk about the importance of health
Our daughter is six and she can tell you, probably better than many adults, why it is important to get the healthy food in and why water is the best thing she can drink. This may make us look like buzz-killing parents, but our girls do get their fair share of special treats. We just choose to keep them at home. That’s what makes them special.
I treat my daughter like a big kid and she gets a say in her lunch. However with that comes some responsibility on her part and mine. If she wants a say as to what goes in, it is my job to educate her on the choices she makes. She understands that a lunch filled with sugar will have her emotional, tired, and hungry again about 30 minutes after lunch is done and she won’t enjoy school as much.
She also knows that vitamins found in vegetables, and fruit help her body to grow, heal, and support her.
Sharing this with her versus making her lunch and just giving it to her has made a big difference this year over last. We don’t get the push-back we did when adding healthy foods and with her increase in eating them, it has now become her ‘normal’.
Focus on what was eaten, not what wasn’t
If you are sending your child in with a full sandwich, two bags of veggies, some fruit, crackers, cheese and a drink and they come back with some left; don’t look at what came home. Maybe they can comfortably eat only half their sandwich. Next time, make them half a sandwich, and put the other half in your fridge for an after-school snack, or the next day’s lunch.
Ask your child
Simply asking why they aren’t eating their lunch can give you the answers you need. You may have to be creative in how you ask. You can start by asking what their friends get for lunch, or how their lunch set up works, then go from there.
Talk to the teacher
If you are still not seeing any improvements, talk to your child’s teacher. They often have insight into how lunch time works. Maybe it is who they are sitting with, the difficulty in opening their kit, or the short school lunch breaks that have them skipping lunch. You can also ask if they have a list of lunch ideas that you can try out for variety.
Healthy Lunch Ideas
These are great options for kids who do not have access to a fridge or microwave at school. Ice packs may be needed for some items. Please read labels before picking up a product as even healthy-sounding items can be loaded with unhealthy ingredients. Choose foods with natural ingredients and choose sugar (stevia or agave) over aspartame or other chemical alternatives and limit your sugar choices.
Fruit and Vegetables
- fresh fruit, raw or cooked
- fresh vegetables, raw or cooked leftovers (fun alternatives, sugar snap peas, edamame, peppers)
- tomato juice
- unsweetened fruit sauce
- salad (I have a delicious pear, feta, walnut salad recipe)
- whole grain breads, pita, wraps, crackers, cereal etc
- cold pasta or noodle dishes
- couscous (cold dishes)
- yogurt (greek, regular)
Meat and Alternatives
- hummus (great dip for vegetables)
- tuna, canned
- chicken, turkey, roast beef
- egg, hard-boiled
Suggested Snacks You Can Make Yourself and Store
- home made granola
- mini muffins (either snack or breakfast muffins)
- popcorn (popped yourself, no microwave, no unhealthy additions)
- roasted pumpkin seeds
Let’s hear your ideas. Add your healthy, easy to make, easy to store ideas for a no-fridge, no-microwave lunch below and I’ll add them in and grow the list so we all have options.