Lunchbox Blues at School


school lunchWe all know that we need to eat for energy. A long day at school requires good nourishment, but some kids struggle with eating lunch and snacks while at school. My son often comes home with a barely touched lunchbox. There are common reasons why this may happen and a few solutions.

Problem #1: Your Child Doesn’t Enjoy the Foods You Send

As a parent, you have the important job of selecting healthy foods for your child’s lunchbox. But if children think some items are mushy, discolored, soggy, or just plain yucky, they’re not going to eat very much.

Solution: Get your kids’ feedback. What do they want for lunch? Why didn’t they like certain items? Give kids input in choosing foods, and they will be more likely to munch their lunch. Bring children to the grocery store and let them choose some nutritious favorites.

Problem #2: Your Child Is Distracted or Doesn’t Have Enough Time to Eat

Many schools offer a 20-minute lunch period, which seems like ample time to finish a mid-day meal. But silly schoolmates, full-volume chatter, and time to tie shoes, find coats, and locate lunches can result in just a few minutes left to eat. Plus, few foods can compete with the lure of getting outside for cartwheels, freeze tag, and monkey bars.

Solution: Pack bite-sized foods that are quick to eat. A sandwich is easier to eat than a thermos of steaming soup. Grape tomatoes are quicker than stringy celery sticks. Interestingly, some schools have flipped their lunch hour, so children play outside first, then they come inside to eat. This can help because kids aren’t rushing through lunch to get outside, and physical activity makes them hungrier, so they are more eager to eat. When that’s not an option, pack a healthy afternoon recess mini-meal, so children are well-fueled, even if they don’t eat a big lunch.  

Problem #3: The Lunchbox Is Difficult to Open

For younger children, some lunchbox containers, lids, and zippers are too difficult for their small hands to open. When there’s only one lunch monitor for a roomful of kids, it can be challenging for little voices to ask for help. Some children may not be eating because they physically can’t get to their food.

Solution: Before sending any new containers to school, test them out at home to ensure your child can open them. If they struggle, switch to more kid-friendly containers, or speak to the lunch monitor about helping your child with difficult lids.

Problem #4: Your Child Has a Small Appetite

It may look like the lunchbox is coming home full, but perhaps your child is simply eating small portions. This may be because the portions you send are too large, or a morning snack was filling.

Solution: Kids have small stomachs and don’t need large portions. Watch how much your child eats for lunch on weekends to gauge the correct portion to send during the week. If they fill up on their recess snack, ensure it’s nutritious. Send an apple and cheese rather than chips or candy. That way, even if lunch appetites are small, at least you know your kids have eaten something nourishing while at school.

If detective work doesn’t help solve the problem, don’t be too concerned. Prepare nutritious breakfasts, after-school snacks, and dinners. Your children will remain well-nourished even if they eat a small lunch.

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Ina is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelors of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics from New York University and a Masters of Science in Nutrition Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. She is also a Certified Dietitian Nutritionist as recognized by the State of New York Education Department and holds a New York Department of Health Certificate in Food Protection. As a Mom and Registered Dietitian, Ina is passionate about good food and healthy living. Her philosophy on nutrition is science-based yet open and fun. Visit Ina at http://