When lunch comes home ... again

Young girl with lunch in hand

At a glance

  • Children have small stomachs and prefer to graze all day rather than eat fewer, bigger meals.
  • Sweet treats fill kids up, leaving little room for healthy lunch options.

  • Reassure your kids that it's OK to bring their lunch home so you can see what they need to eat that evening.

  • Lunch is not as vital as breakfast in setting up your child for the school day.

  • Concern is warranted when meals at home are being skipped as well as lunch.

What's going on when school lunch comes home uneaten again, now a stiff and sweaty cardboard cut-out impression of a sandwich at the bottom of the bag?

Almost nine out of 10 Australian parents say children's resistance is a major obstacle in their efforts to provide a healthy diet, and in many cases school lunches are one of the battlegrounds.

But it's a battle families can do without and there are some simple steps to help avoid it.

Lunch versus play

There are two big reasons why kids don't eat their lunch, according to children's nutrition specialist and co-author of the CSIRO Wellbeing Plan for Kids, Dr Rebecca Golley.

More often than not it simply means your lovingly packed lunch has lost out in the competition for attention from other lunchtime activities, or, as also frequently happens, the healthy contents have gone by the wayside in the race for the sweetest treats.

"Lunchtime and recess are when children get to play. There are also often other extracurricular activities, and that's when kids get to socialise," says Rebecca.

"Parents need to be looking at how to make lunch quick and portable, seeing that it's only one of the lunchtime activities that's really important for children."

Talking to the teacher about what arrangements there are for eating lunch and recess can also help here. Do the kids have allocated time for sitting and eating?

Lunchtime and recess are when kids get to play ... when kids get to socialise.Dr Robecca Golley Children's nutritionist

Elizabeth Vincent, assistant principal at Asquith Public School, says sometimes children worry about taking home uneaten lunches in case they get into trouble from their mum or dad for not eating it.

"Parents need to reassure their children that it's OK to bring home uneaten lunch because they then know what they've eaten and you know what to give them that evening," she says.

Early in the year when the weather is hot children tend to eat much less, Elizabeth adds.

"They're not so interested in eating. So including small pieces of cut up fruit that are easy to eat can help, as well as reminding their children to drink more water."

Smart snacks

When it comes to the competition between the contents of the lunch box, Rebecca says treats make it easy for kids to fill up on small sweet options, leaving the healthier bits behind.

Rather than eating three large meals each day including lunch, children's appetites are geared towards snacking on five or six small portions throughout the day.

Take advantage of this by providing a range of healthy bite-size options such as fruit or vegetable muffins, instead of a bigger main meal and sweet treats.


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