My Child Doesn't Eat the Lunch I Pack! What Do I Do?

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD
Three boys comparing lunches - My Child Doesn

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You've packed your child a lunchbox worthy of sharing on social media, so why are the contents untouched at the end of the day? Why do some school-aged kids skip lunch? There are four common reasons. Tweet this Work with your kids to see if some simple sleuthing can help you determine the cause of lunchtime leftovers.

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

As a parent, you have the important job of selecting healthful 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 hard 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, and your children will remain well-nourished even if they eat a small lunch.

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