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Making school lunches in itself is a challenge, so wouldn’t it be nice if kids ate them too?

If your little one’s lunchbox often comes back full of perfectly good food, the following tips might help!

Give them the guided tour

Give your child a quick tour of their lunchbox in the morning before leaving. Show them what’s for morning tea and lunchtime. This will allow you to deal with any argument or complaint about the food you have prepared, and to give any instructions, so that your child knows what to expect at lunchtime.

Don’t forget to remind your child that they don’t have to eat it all, but they should at least have a taste. (Here’s a useful article to encourage tasting new foods)

Variety

Oh, if I could just use one word to sum up how to raise a healthy eater and beat fussy eating, it would be VARIETY! This is particularly important in the lunchbox. We humans are creatures of habits, and we can be resistant to change!

Keep changing what you put in the lunchbox to ensure your child doesn’t get too stuck on the same sandwich or snack. Include a wide variety of fruit and vegetables (soooo many to choose from!), and try a weekly sandwich-free day to mix things up.

Ask your child about their friend’s lunchbox. Perhaps they’ve seen something they’d like to try?

Let them choose

Letting your child choose some items for the lunchbox will not only encourage them to eat the food, but also help them learn to make healthy food choices. Ask them to pick a fruit or veg in the fridge, a snack, or a healthy filling for their sandwich. You can also find ideas together by searching online or looking through recipe books, for example a new muffin recipe.

Get feedback

After school, ask your child about their lunch. Did they like it? Was it enough? Is there anything that would have made it better?

It can be frustrating when food comes back untouched, but it’s important to get feedback and find out why. Perhaps they didn’t have enough time. Or they weren’t hungry. Or the sandwich was too dry. Or they had a tummy ache. Or the container leaked. Unfortunately, sometimes they didn’t think they would like it and simply didn’t want to eat it.

Once you know the reason, you can use this information for next time. For example, remind your child that they should at least have a taste. You might also need to adjust the quantity, wrap things differently, change the recipe or give your child strategies to finish their lunch in time.

Keep it cold, clean and easy

A warm lunchbox smells funny. Nobody likes a soggy sandwich, squished fruit or leaking containers. Freeze items such as yoghurt, slices or muffins, and put an extra ice pack on hot summer days. Invest in good containers to keep the yummy food safe, nice and cool. For younger children, avoid fiddly wrapping and cut things up so they are quick and easy to eat.

Keep the quantity in check

I know… it’s hard to find the perfect amount of food to put in the lunchbox. Kids are not always consistent with their appetite, with growth spurts and other factors such as their mood, daily activities, distractions and food preferences.

Too much food can be discouraging for kids. Asking for feedback from your child will help, and if food always comes back, try to play around with the quantities until you get it just right. Funnily enough, you might find your child eats more if there is less food!

If you worry about your child going hungry, you can also add an extra snack just in case (preferably something that will keep if not eaten). During the lunchbox tour, tell your child what to eat first for morning tea and lunch, and that they can have the extra snack if they run out of food.

Do you ever get untouched lunchboxes back? Share with us below.

  • I start my school lunch box journey next year & this will help a lot. thank you.

    Reply

  • Very relevant article. I do a mix of subtle variety with old favourites.

    Reply

  • my daughter is the one that brings home the lunch box without its treats. I will make sure they eat their lunch box before they can have an after school snack. If its something thats being repeated bringing home like sandwiches or breadrolls, i stop making it and give my daughter rice crackers or meat balls. Ive bought a thermo to take to school. Im always asking what do you like that mum makes and i have to remind them its not biscuits or cakes because i know that gets eaten.
    I have my moments when i struggle. My kids have had some food where they have got teased like prunes likes like poo so kids will tease them saying they are eating poo, or my kids will ask why cant they have a packet of chips for school when the others can. i dont give them lunch orders even though they have often asked for it. i just remind them saying that i buy mc donalds or a bun and when i have food at home to use for lunch, its being used not wasted.

    Reply

  • I never ever got untouched lunchboxes back. Most of the time everything is eaten. I agree that variety is most important, I vary every day. I never put a sandwich in their lunch boxes, it’s always something different.
    I only gave my kids a guided tour through their lunchboxes the first couple of days when they started kindy.

    Reply

  • I would never give a child something in a lunch box or snack container that they had never tasted before. The odour or taste of some foods can penetrate others too. They may not be a nice combination. Having said that, if your child is with you when you do the shopping, asks for a particular food and it’s been a favourite and you buy it, you don’t expect to be told a couple of days that they don’t like it anymore. I have been shopping with a particular family and personally witnessed it more at least twice.(same child too). There was nothing wrong with the food at all.

    Reply

  • I don’t usually put new foods in lunch boxes. Trying something for the first time is done at dinner or weekend lunches.

    Reply

  • My daughter has a different taste each day so I pack a big variety of things in her lunch box so at least I know she is going to eat some thing rather than nothing, if she try’s something in her lunchbox she doesn’t like instead of throwing it out I get her to leave it in there and we have a chat about it when she gets home so I can figure out why and what she doesn’t like so I don’t keep sending it to school with her.

    Reply

  • Great article.. so important to make sure that they are eating during the day… can be a big challenge… I’m shocked when I hear that they don’t get enough time or whatever.. bad habits form and it is hard to break them.

    Reply

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