Packing school lunchboxes can feel like a daunting task, especially when you have a fussy eater. It can also feel very disheartening when lunchboxes come home mostly uneaten at the end of the day. The ideal lunch box should have enough food to meet the nutritional and energy needs of a child while at school and give them energy to learn, concentrate and play. This is easier said than done!
Firstly, some things to ease your mind and reassure you; when it comes to school lunchboxes:
- Simplicity is ok
- Your child won’t always love everything you send and that’s ok
A well-researched theory in the feeding therapy world, is the Satter Division of Responsibility (sDOR), which was developed by feeding expert Ellyn Satter. The sDOR distinguishes between the roles of parents and children when it comes to feeding and eating. Essentially, sDOR proposes that parents are in charge of the what, when and where of feeding and children are in charge of if and how much.
If we think about this as it relates to school lunch boxes, it means that:
You decide what goes into your child’s lunchbox (making sure there is variety and balance) and then your child decides if and how much they eat.
This may sound obvious, but for some families with very fussy eaters, parents can start to cater to the limited range of accepted foods by sending only food the child likes or wants. Although that is the path of least resistance, it doesn’t give the child the opportunity to learn about new foods. Having said that, it is VERY important that parents do pack known preferred foods, so that there is always something the child feels safe and comfortable eating. We need to keep your child’s long-term relationship with food as priority, we want kids to have a positive experience with food.
So, what if your child’s lunchbox comes back uneaten? Know that it is very common and that there are a lot of factors that come into play that determine if and how much a child eats. Perhaps they had a very filling dinner the night before, or they ate a huge breakfast that morning, or maybe they weren’t as active on that day and didn’t feel as hungry? Sometimes it can be helpful to look at everything your child eats across the whole week, to get a better sense of their overall nutritional intake.
Some practical tips for packing a school lunchbox for fussy eaters:
- Involve your child – encourage them to be a part of the preparing, choosing and packing, maybe this will excite them to try something new.
- Make it fun – this doesn’t have to mean a lot of time and effort, keep it simple.
- Make a snack inspired lunch. Children have small stomachs! They also want something they can quickly eat and then get on with playing!
- Check they can easily open all containers and unscrew lids; this might take some practice.
- Include foods that you know they will eat as well as some non-preferred foods.
The below links have alot of helpful general information about packing healthy lunchboxes. For more specific advice about helping your fussy eater, our OTs at Kids That Go would love to help.
CERIE JAMIESON, Occupational Therapist.