I think every parent is probably familiar with this situation. When you’ve put all that effort into packing a lunch only to see the whole thing come home again can be fairly disheartening.
Having the occasional lunch box come home isn’t really a big deal, but if it’s happening every day it’s probably causing you to worry. Let’s take a look at a few scenarios as to why this might be occurring …..
- You’re packing too much - For little kids, a lunch box that is filled to the point of over flowing is really overwhelming. If it looks like more food than they can handle, there’s a chance they’ll reject it outright. Try packing less (possibly way less than you are currently packing) and they may eat more.
- Too many unfamiliar items - We may have lofty ambitions of wanting to send our kids to school with uber healthy lunches but if it’s not items that they’ve seen and eaten before at home, they’re unlikely to suddenly eat it at school. Keep new foods to token amounts and remember to role model and expose them to a wide variety of foods at home.
- Too difficult to eat - Are you including containers with lids your child can’t open? Does your child need their fruit cut up? Perhaps they don’t like handling wet foods like watermelon, could you use a food pick or mini fork to help with this? Sometimes gently exploring the issue with your child can help you identify some easily solved barriers
- The eating environment - this is a big one. Eating at school is not the same as eating at home. Primary school aged children will nearly always prioritise playing and being with their friends over eating. Most schools put aside “eating time” prior to the commencement of play, but I know plenty of children who can talk their way through this time and not eat a thing. A lot of primary schools would probably benefit from allocating play time before eating time, but we’re not there yet. Keeping your lunches simple, quick and easy to eat, will mean that your child is likely to get more food in during the allocated eating times
- Feeling anxious - It’s not unusual for children to feel anxious at school and this tends to reduce their appetite. This is especially true if they are starting school or at the beginning of a new school year. Try not to pressure them to eat their lunch as this will likely make it worse. Give them time to adapt, and accept that they may eat less for a while. Packing less and prioritising favourite foods that are easy eat are all likely to be helpful.
- Sensory issues - Many children experience sensory issues that make eating in the school environment especially difficult. It’s often too loud, too chaotic, the smell other other children’s food is too strong, or the chairs and tables are at the wrong height and don’t allow proper support. If this is your child, seeking an assessment with an occupational therapist may help you to problem solve some of these issues.
Whatever the reasons that your child is bringing their lunch box home full, it’s likely they’re going to be ravenous after school. Having a healthy snack ready and waiting will be a priority. I like to offer smoothies straight after school. The combination of fruits, seeds, possibly a grain like oats, and a protein rich milk, means that you’ll be delivering a combination of nutrients that will power their after school activities and keep them full (but not too full!) until dinner. Our smoothie bottles will keep your smoothie cold for at least 6 hours or more. Pack a smoothie for your school pick up and you’ll have some happy kids on your hands when they see you at the school gate.