The great lunch fail.
Another day at school, another wasted lunch. He likes to graze but never finishes anything and comes home STARVING. And CRANKY. Oh, except for the treat – that he finishes every day. Everything else is returned soggy/slimy/warm… gross. So you’re wasting your time, your food, and your money. The only thing you’re not wasting? Patience. You already ran out.
When Alex* started half-day Kindergarten three years ago (yikes!), we were asked to send a snack. I lovingly prepared bite-sized fruit kebobs, cheese cubes (he’s string averse – I know, right?) and home-baked mini-muffins to send him off Catherine McCord style. For about a week. Most days he ate a bite of fruit, skipped the cheese, and inhaled the muffin. I quickly adapted by cutting out the healthified cake, easing up on my prep (what was I thinking?), and insisting that he finish what he brought home before munching on anything else. He complied and life went on happily… most days.
Skip ahead to last year: grade one. Full-day school meant snacks AND lunch to prep/pack/unpack/green bin. After my initial excitement (“I can make this! Or this! Or this!), reality kicked in: making school lunch sucks. I was familiar with the ‘making meals that don’t get eaten sucks’ concept, but Alex had already turned that corner (Jack however… still living it… still sucks), so I was surprised to be back in picky-eater-mode again. And we’re not talking “Wow, you can tie your shoes?” surprise, more like “What did you stick in your brother’s nose?” surprise.
Here’s what to do to survive the school lunch revolt relatively unscathed:
- Talk it out. Not as in “I paid good money for this food and I expect you to eat it!” but a genuine “Can you tell me why you didn’t eat your sandwich today?” when he’s in a chatty mood.
- Listen. You won’t know he struggles with those little food containers unless he tells you. Which means, unless you ask him and then pay attention. And if he tells you he doesn’t like oranges, lay off the oranges. You can work on specific foods when he’s progressed to a less finicky age, but right now if you keep sending his least fave to school, well, it’ll keep coming back. Sub an apple, no harm done.
- Practice speedier mealtimes. Kids are often so busy talking/playing/staring that they honestly forget to eat. Until lunch is over. If you work on ‘less dawdling more eating’ at home, it’ll carry over to school too. And, bonus, you won’t be stuck at the table waiting for your munchkin to finish his meal… again.
- Meal plan together. By talking with Alex, I learned that even though I thought the lunches were delightful surprises, he didn’t like being surprised. It was more of a “what the heck is this?” upon opening his lunchbox, followed by a sigh, and a couple of disappointed nibbles. Not exactly what I was going for. Together, we brainstormed five fave lunches and assigned each one to a day. He liked knowing exactly what to expect at lunchtime and I liked having just enough variety without having to overthink it. I’m pretty sure I already do enough overthinking.
- Be realistic about what he can actually eat in the allotted lunch/snack time. If I pack more than a main meal (sandwich/bagel/wraps) and two snacks (fruit/veggies/yoghurt) the least appetizing part (AKA the most nutritious) is coming right back.
- Serve any lunchbox leftovers after-school pre homework/playing/grumbling/more snack.
- Re-think dessert. Sure, he will love, love, love you if you toss in a Bear Paw, but he’ll survive without. Alex has dessert every night after finishing dinner, so a mid-day sugar fix really isn’t necessary (even if “all the other kids get one!”) But I add a treat on Fridays because, well, it’s Friday. Gotta live it up sometimes.
I’d love to tell you to get your mini-me to help with the prepping/spreading/packing, because I have no doubt that’s a great way to overcome school-lunch-syndrome. But in our homework, activities, and chores reality, there’s barely enough time to free play as it is. And listening to their imaginations without interrupting… worth every Wowbutter and Jam I have to make solo.
The bigger a deal you make of something, the bigger a deal it becomes. Keeping it simple by sticking with old faves means less work and waste. You know who likes doing more work and creating more waste? Nobody.
Email us if you want to know our five-lunch menu plan or need tips to speed up a dawdling eater.
*Alex is the name our seven year-old chose “to be famous”. Jack is the name our oldest chose for our four year-old, who agreed because he worships the ground his big bro walks/jumps/LEGOs on.