For many picky eaters, eating lunch at school can be very challenging. School cafeterias are loud, overwhelming, and have lots of different smells. And lunches that schools serve can often be iffy for our children. With so much uncertainty as school is getting ready to start, there are a few things we can do, as parents, to help set our kids up for success at lunchtime.
Pack your child’s lunch and snacks. This will provide some predictability for your child and will save your child from having to wait in line for a hot lunch. This way, your child is also able to have more time to eat their lunch (rather than waiting in a long line). You can also open tricky packaging and re-package in easy to open containers if needed. Make sure to practice eating out of the containers you will send your child’s food is to make sure they can open and close them by themselves. Bento style lunch boxes work well for many kids.
Pack foods that are easy for your child to eat, and items that they really like. Eating in a chaotic environment, like a school cafeteria or when stressed from the school day, can be very hard. Having familiar, favorite foods to eat will help your child eat enough that they will have the energy to make it through the rest of their day and be at their best. No one learns well when tired and hungry.
Ideally, pack at least 1 protein, 1 starch, and 1 fruit or vegetable in their lunch. This will help your child meet all of their nutrition needs. It would be ideal if you were able to create at least two different lunch menus so that you could alternate between these menus each day so that your child doesn’t get stuck in a food jag, eating the same foods over and over again.
Here is an example 2 day menu:
For other children with a wider food range, it might be more helpful to make a list of your child’s foods divided into the different nutrition categories (protein, starch, fruit/vegetable). Then, your child could help pack their lunch, choosing one food from each category. If they aren’t able to read yet, taking pictures of these foods for your list is a great option, too. Here is an example with some easy to chew ideas (individualize your list based on your child’s favorite foods):
Beef up breakfast and after school snack to help compensate for a lighter lunch at school, if needed. Consider serving the traditional pancakes and bacon for breakfast, but also consider serving them their favorite macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets at breakfast. There is no such thing as a Food Police who says you have to give low calorie and low nutrition cereals at breakfast. After school, fill in the nutrition they missed at lunch by giving them a larger snack and pushing dinner back a bit. This will help your after-school time go much better at home. If your child is safe to eat in the car, this may be a good time to give them their afternoon snack, so they do not fall apart as soon as they get home. Even a container of milk on the way home to their after school snack may be a possibility for you. Then, when they get home, you can continue their snack of milk with mandarin oranges and a granola bar.
Is your child not going back to school immediately due to COVID-19? It may be helpful to do a socially distanced lunch or snack picnic with one of your child’s friends every once in a while. That way, they can continue to be exposed to other children’s food. It will also continue to help prepare them for lunches in a larger school environment.
If you want more ideas for easy to chew foods and recipes or tips and tricks for helping kids learn to eat better, consider joining our Parent & Caregiver Membership. With new articles posted every month, a library of over 140 articles, and e-mail access to SOS Experts, you can find the support you need to help your child gain the skills to become a lifelong, healthy, happy eater.