As the mother of three kids, I get up early every morning and prepare their lunch boxes. I make sure they have a small snack for recess and a bigger meal for lunch. Sometimes I send leftovers from last night’s dinner, and other times I make sandwiches or other “cold meal” options that they like. I always make sure to send a fruit and fresh vegetables as part of their daily meal at school.
Occasionally, I’ll send a small sweet treat, but such items are meant to be a “fun surprise” as opposed to a regular thing. I strive to be a “Super Mom” when it comes to making sure they eat healthy and tasty food at school.
Overall, I would characterize my kids as “good eaters,” though, each one of them has his own distinct food preferences. Typically, they like the food I send with them to school, and their lunch boxes come home empty. But one day, something changed!
When my daughter began first grade, her lunch box started coming back almost full. When I asked her about it initially, she said she wasn’t hungry at school. She came home so hungry, though, that I knew this was not the case. When I asked her about it again, she refused to share with me what was bothering her. I even asked her teacher if someone was picking on her at lunchtime or if she noticed anything else that would cause her to skip lunch?
One morning, when I was preparing her lunch box she came to me and said with tears in her eyes, “Mommy, I don’t like my lunch box! It has pictures of a cartoon for young kids, and I’m embarrassed to take it out at lunchtime.” I was surprised by her confession and relieved it was a simple issue. She didn’t want her pink lunch box with “Sky” from “Paw Patrol” that she loved so much last year. She wanted to have a more “first grader look.” I packed her lunch that day in a colorful plastic bag, and the next day we went to buy her a more “mature-looking” lunch box. (Yes, it was still pink but with a different cartoon hero.)
This worked for a few days, and then I started to see food coming back again. When I tried to ask what was wrong, she wouldn’t say but promised to eat her lunch every day. That was still not happening, and it took me a while to understand what was not working for her. It turned out that she didn’t like the stale, soggy taste of the bread after her sandwich had been sitting in her lunch box for several hours until lunchtime.
Well, I had I idea! I created “Make It Yourself Lunch Sandwich.” I packed all her sandwich ingredients in small containers with the bread wrapped separately, so she could make it on the spot at lunchtime. If I sent her a bagel, I sliced it in half and wrapped the bread slices in a cute baggie or paper towel. I added a plastic knife and spoon to the lunch box. Every day, I sent her different ingredients according to the type of sandwich she wanted. For example, one day I sent her cucumber sticks, diced olives and cheese. Another day I sent an omelet with diced cherry tomatoes and lettuce.
Nowadays, my daughter comes home from school and very proudly shows me that she has eaten all of her lunch! Every evening, we talk about “tomorrow’s sandwich,” and she tells me what she would like to have. I discovered that to a child, sometimes a small change can make a big difference (and it’s not always about the actual food if you are working on making healthy choices).
As a parent you want the best for your kids, especially when it comes to food. Making sure your child eats his meals at school can be a challenge, but that’s why you need to “think outside the box,” or in my case, “think inside many boxes.”
If your child refuses to eat his lunch, don’t fight with him over the food. Try to discover what is bothering him, and come up with a different way to do things. I’m not suggesting that you should accommodate him all the time, but I believe that if you ask the right questions, you can find the best solutions for your whole family.
As a nutritionist and a mother, I have to say that I'm constantly learning from my kids. That is why I wrote the book, “Raising Healthy Eaters.” I want to share my knowledge and experience with as many families as I can reach. In my book, you will find important information about healthy nutrition for children combined with delicious homemade recipes -- that my kids approved!
I invite you to read my book “Raising Healthy Eaters” for more information, tips and delicious recipes for the whole family.