The stress of school lunch

If your child has just started Prep this year, you will have most likely been introduced to the stress of school lunch!

I must admit, I can’t remember it being such a big deal all those years ago when I was at school. It was pretty standard: a Vegemite or peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit, a square of cheese and a fruit juice popper. Mum didn’t think too much more about it, and I was hungry so I ate it. Mostly we were too busy playing at little lunch so I was more than ready for big lunch. I didn’t have a brain break, mum didn’t have to worry about peanut allergies nor too many sugary drinks, and I certainly didn’t have one of those whizz bang lunch boxes.

Today, school lunch requires more thought and to top it off, it often comes home uneaten! Mums dismay as the squishy return of their carefully prepared hummus and vegetable wrap, or dried up fresh vegetables, or cut fruit gone brown. Not to mention the full water bottle. Why is my child not eating at school?

Well it could be for lots of reasons…

Time is precious – even for kids! New friends, new experiences, cooped up inside a classroom instead of roaming free means that playtime is very important to them. They might not always be hungry especially given there are now two or three food breaks at school, or they might not feel like what you’ve prepared. They might even be trying their friends lunch instead. Although it’s incredibly frustrating to waste time and food, it does not always mean there is a big problem. Here are some suggestions to combat the left lunch:

Take some quiet time after school to calmly eat the lunch that was forgotten – when the playground no longer calls, when there are less distractions, and when your child remembers they’re hungry. The insulated lunchbox should mean it’s OK to eat.

When you’re making their lunch, give your child a couple of choices, not too many, just one or two so that they feel they have chosen what they want. Explain what there is and where it is in the new super lunchbox. Make it easy to unwrap as making it airtight means making it childproof!

Make it easy for yourself, if they have a good breakfast and you know they’ll have a good dinner – lunch can be a few healthy snacks. Don’t give them too much or you’ll just get disappointed!

When is it time to worry?

Are they unhappy with their new school routine? Are they still really struggling?

Are they losing weight since starting school? Are they developing aversions?

In the above cases, try to find out what the lunch routine is like at school. Is there somewhere clean, comfortable and safe for them to eat? Encourage family meals at home so that eating does not become associated with stressful experiences. Try to keep meals as positive and relaxed as possible, this can be a good opportunity for your child to talk about what happens at school and the reasons that they are unhappy.  Another approach is to invite some classmates to share afternoon tea – an eating experience with friends outside of school can make school lunches a bit easier.

There are lots of great recipe books for lunch ideas, and a myriad of sites on internet. Here are a few links, but there are many more. Remember, this is something that you will have to do for a good number of years so get your routine going and make it easy for yourself.  Feel free to contact me if you need more help.


  Author: Jacqui Palmer, Paediatric Dietitian for My Nutrition Clinic

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