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23rd Oct 2023

How to encourage your child to eat their lunch at school

There’s not a lot more disheartening than opening up your child’s lunchbox after school only to see that they hardly touched their lunch.

Maybe they’re just a picky eater, but it can raise alarms about their nutrition and energy levels, as well as worries that they may have fears around eating at school.

There are a number of useful tips that may help with encouraging your child to eat a little bit more of their food, with the ultimate goal that they finish it.

According to John Hopkins Medicine, making lunch fun can help tackle the issue.

If your child is coming home without making a dent in their lunch, it’s likely you’ve opted for this strategy already, but if you haven’t, it basically involves changing how the food looks.

“Fun shapes and bright colours may grab their attention and encourage them to take a bite. You don’t have to spend a lot of time carving cartoon characters out of bologna.

“Just take a few minutes to arrange the lunch neatly, add a personal note or use a cookie cutter to shape a sandwich or slice of cheese to add visual interest to the meal,” John Hopkins writes.

While hitting all five groups (fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy) may seem impossible if your child isn’t eating much, there are ways to sneak them in.

“If dietary restrictions are not an issue, you can try sneaking in foods that your picky eater refuses to eat, such as blending cauliflower with mashed potatoes or adding spinach to a fruit smoothie.

“It’s also worthwhile to ask your child why they dislike certain foods. If they simply don’t like the texture or look, this can sometimes be remedied by trying different cooking techniques,” he suggests.

Involving your child in the lunch-making process is another way to make them feel like they have control over the experience and are more likely to eat something if they helped to make it.

“Participation gives kids a sense of ownership in the final product and it helps them see exactly what’s inside that sandwich or salad they are having for lunch.

“You can involve your children at every stage of the process, from picking a recipe to food shopping and meal preparation.”

Create a list of foods you know your little one likes to eat – ones you are satirised to let them have – and then let them choose from this list that they’d like to see in their lunchbox at school. This allows you to stay in control of what they’re consuming, while also giving your child freedom to choose.

The organisation also advises leaving out any new foods that they may not familiar with when it comes to the lunch-making process.

On average, it takes a child 10-20 times to determine if they like or dislike something, and with the hustle and bustle of lunchtimes at school, they may just avoid foods they haven’t tried before out of the fear of unknown.

“Children tend to get distracted during lunch and often don’t have enough time to finish everything they have in their lunch box.

“They may start with more familiar foods and are more likely to ignore new items. You can also introduce new foods at dinner when the whole family can encourage the child to try something new.”

Children also tend to mimic the eating behaviours of their parents, so try let them see you eating the foods that will end up in their lunchbox.

“If you don’t eat lunch and instead snack all day, your child may start skipping lunch too. Or if you enjoy a cupcake before dinner, your picky eater may start filling up on dessert before they get to the healthy part of the school lunch.

“Leading with a good example is important, especially when it comes to foods you also may be picky about. If you serve mushrooms to your child, yet pick them off of your own plate, your child may follow your cues.”