Kids at school at lunchtime

Family Health

Uneaten Lunches? Try This Dietitian Mom’s 5 Tips To Reboot Your Kids’ Lunch Boxes

Nov 7, 2018

Looking to hit the refresh button on your kids’ school lunches? Tired of packing, and then unpacking, an uneaten lunch? I got you covered, and I’m feeling the same way! Most parents (me included) dread packing lunches, especially at this time of the year when activities are in full swing and mornings are cold and dark. Throw in a family crisis, an injury or a sickness, and life gets even more busy!

In fact, some days I’m tempted to just toss a bunch of packaged convenience foods in there, and if the pediatric dietitian is saying that, I have no doubt you feel the same way sometimes!

So if you’re looking for motivation or ideas about how to refresh your kids’ lunch boxes, check out my top five tips below! (Hint: they’re not all about the lunch itself.)

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Remember That Kids Go Through 'Food Jags'

A common feeding issue for toddlers and preschoolers is the dreaded “food jag." It’s completely normal, but can have many parents feeling frustrated. I’m raising my hand to this one. A food jag is simply when a child requests the same food over and over and over again, and will often refuse to eat anything else. Sound familiar? The best thing to do is keep offering variety and don’t give in! If you only pack the beloved apples in your son’s lunch, then chances are he’s only going to eat apples, and will not expand his palate. And the important thing to remember is that food jags don’t last forever. Remember to pack a variety — even if you know your kid likely won’t eat most of it. For picky eaters, a great strategy would be to pack apple slices and another fruit like orange slices.

Focus On Your Responsibility

It can feel frustrating when your child continually comes home with an uneaten lunch. It can feel wasteful, and let’s be real — you put a lot of work into making a yummy lunch! But it’s important to remember that you are trying to create a happy, healthy and independent eater. This means letting your child listen to their own tummy cues. The division of responsibility is my preferred feeding philosophy. In a nutshell, your responsibility as a parent is to provide the where, when and what, and it is your child’s responsibility for the if and how much. You’ve provided them with a nutritious and balanced meal for school, they have set times for eating (recess and lunch) and hopefully they can enjoy their food without too much distraction. Just focus on your job if you can.

Make A List

Keep track of what works and what doesn’t. What lunches do your kids love and what lunches are super easy to make? Having a list of go-to lunch-box items (with enough variety) can help take out some of the guesswork when it comes to packing school lunches, and can be a lifesaver on a busy morning! For a refresher on what to include, check out my step-by-step guide and lunch box essentials. Also ask your kids to contribute! Because let’s be honest, while you’re packing a lunch for one (and feeling a little bit stumped for ideas), they’re seeing the lunches of all of their classmates! You never know what they might suggest — their friends might provide the lunch inspiration you are missing.

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Get Them Involved

In addition to asking them for help with the above lunch and snack list, get the kids involved in lunch box preparation. Let them pick their fruit from the fruit bowl (still in your control) or a pantry item from the “snack container." Not only will this help them feel valued, but will provide them with ownership over their lunch. This feeling of control over their lunch often translates into them actually eating their lunch, too! Win-win. 

Deep Clean The Lunch Box

Did you know that you should clean not only the lunch containers every day, but the lunch box, too? Now you do! Lunch boxes need to be washed with warm water and soap every day to prevent the growth of bacteria. Not only is this a food safety concern, but we all know that it would be unappetizing to open a stinky (even slightly stinky) lunch box to eat lunch. So start fresh with a deep clean of your kids’ lunch box. Better yet, assign them the task! Soap, big water bucket, scrubbing cloths and tell them it’s time to give the lunch box a bath (or car wash). Then assign them the task of emptying their lunch box after school each day so it can be washed. This will help set a routine and ensure their lunch box stays school safe and germ-free.

For some lunch box inspiration, check out my blog posts: 15 Nutritious After-School Snacks That Your Kids Will Love and 50 Easy And Nutritious School Lunch Recipes.

Article Author Sarah Remmer
Sarah Remmer

Read and watch more from Sarah here.

Sarah Remmer, RD, is a pediatric registered dietitian and owner of Sarah Remmer Nutrition Consulting, a nutrition consulting and communications company based in Calgary, Alberta. Her website and blog contain practical tips and advice for parents and families on feeding and nutrition (everything from pre-natal nutrition to teens), as well as nutritious and easy recipes and videos. Follow Sarah on Facebook for free advice, tips and family-friendly recipes!

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