Lunch Box Blues

When my first child started school, I became aware that on an almost daily basis his lunchbox was still full at the end of the day. There might be a bite out of the sandwich, maybe a few grapes missing or a few carrots nibbled on but other than that I was basically unloading the same lunch that I had loaded that morning.

I found it aggravating. Why was my son not eating? I packed it with a few goodies like fruit roll ups, cookies and other unhealthy little treats to go along with the healthy snacks but those were being left by the wayside as well. I tried everything from lecturing to blackmailing, “well if you eat your lunch, I’ll buy those really sweet donuts that you like,” to guilt trips “you know, there are kids that are starving in our own country.”

Nothing worked, obviously, and my stress level rocketed. How could he go an entire day without eating? How could his teacher go through the day without forcing…er…encouraging him to eat something, anything?

The answer to those questions were simple. For the first time in his life, he had complete control over what he ate. If he chose to eat his sandwich, then he ate it. If he was too busy talking to friends (almost always) he didn’t. No amount of lecturing or conniving on my part was going to change this. It was a hard fact to grasp but after a while, I learned to just ignore the half eaten lunches and found other ways to ensure that his daily intake was acceptable.

Here are a few tips that I thought I would share:

Give options:

Getting a child to eat can be pretty time consuming for any parent. There are a few likes, a lot of dislikes and a small amount of maybes in a menu. The key to getting your child eating while he is at school is to pack a large lunch. My usual lunch consists of two choices for morning snack, two for afternoon and then lunch which has the meal, a fruit or vegetable to choose from and one dessert. Usually, he could find a few things that he wanted and most of the other food could be used on another day. It is important to avoid loading up on foods that will spoil after one day or you will start to have a pretty heavy lunch budget.

Variety:

Ahh, the spice of life. As adults, we hate having the same thing for lunch everyday so why would it be different for children. Yes, sandwiches are a staple of the school lunchbox but you can offer things like wraps, bagels, soups, salads and just about anything. Try to mix it up and take advantage of hot lunch days since this can provide a break from the usual brown bag lunches that are regular throughout the school year.

Don’t Panic:

If your child isn’t eating lunches, don’t panic. This was something that I had to work on since I worried about every little detail. After a few months, however; my panicking days were over and I (and my son) was a lot happier. Remember this general rule about kids “they will eat when they are hungry.” If you are worried about vitamin intakes, pick up a high quality multivitamin for kids.

Offer an After School Snack:

One thing I noticed was my son was famished after school and couldn’t wait an hour and a half until dinner time. Since he wasn’t eating his lunches, I would offer him an afternoon snack. Eventually, I wised up and allowed him to take a snack (one that didn’t have a shelf life of one afternoon in a lunch pail) from his school lunch. He could snack on something I had packed for him and he could hold off until dinner without chasing down the cat to eat him. It was a win-win for everyone (especially for our 11 year old cat ;o)).

Make Breakfast the Large Meal:

Flip your day and make sure your child has a large meal in the morning. This way he will have the energy that he needs to get through the day and if he doesn’t eat, that breakfast should tied him over until the 3:30 munchies hit. Some mornings he’ll eat less but a good breakfast isn’t just a catch phrase for cereals but a way of life.

Following these few tips should make getting over the Lunch Box Blues much easier and you will find one less thing to stress about in the school year.

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