How To Pack School Lunches Your Kids Will Actually Eat

We have shared a few ideas for making your child's packed lunch a bit more exciting this school term.  Whether you decide to go full out with the delights of cute bento boxes or just want to change up the ubiquitous sandwich for something more exciting, there are lots of ways you can try to ensure you are packing lunches your kids will actually eat.

Packed lunches are a great option when your child isn’t too fond of what the school has to offer or you want a little more control over what your child is eating.  But of course, packing a lunch every day doesn’t do any good if your child doesn’t eat it or ends up trading most of it away for junk food. The key then is to find things that your child loves and enjoys eating, that aren't unhealthy.

Why aren't they eating it?

If your child brings home a large part of their lunch every day, the first thing to do is find out why.  This can be incredibly frustrating but there may be a variety of reasons why your child does not eat all the food in their lunch box.

Try to find out if one of these reasons is behind the refusal:

  • The lunch box itself - is it difficult to open?  Doesn't keep the food fresh enough?  Is too different to their friends' lunch boxes.
  • Boredom - they're fed up with the same lunch every day.  To counteract this try to pack something different each day.  Try alternatives to sandwiches or start making up bento boxes for fun.
  • It's too much.  So cut back!  You may feel guilty sending your child to school with a half-empty lunch box, but if they won't actually eat it you're throwing money away.  Even just sending half a sandwich and more fruit and veg bits may make a difference.
  • Too dry - if they say the filling is too dry, try leaving a sandwich uncut.  Some fillings like dips or peanut butter may stay fresher this way.
  • If your child's appetite seems small, offer smaller servings. For example, half a sandwich might be more appropriate than a whole one.
  • Too sticky - some children hate to get sticky hands.  At school they might not be able to pop out to wash their hands as they would at home, so serve fruit with a small fork or spork, or leave the oranges and soft fruit out of their lunch box.
  • Make other meals count.  If nothing works despite your best efforts then focus on providing a good, nutritious balance of foods at breakfast and dinner, and be ready after school with healthy snacks.  Trust that your child will eat when they're hungry.

How can I get my child to eat better?

The best place to start is to get your child involved.  Depending on the age of your kids, you could even put them in charge of making their own lunches.  Being in charge of packing their own lunch helps to give kids some responsibility, and also hopefully means they have food they will actually eat.

Start by talking to your kids about what they want in their lunch box.  Make a list of options and then head to the supermarket so you have everything you need for the next week of school.  Getting the kids as involved as possible will make sure that they end up with lunches they will actually eat.

For older kids that may mean making their own lunches in their entirety, under your supervision of course.  Younger children can help too.  Even nursery aged children can wash grapes and put them into a container, or pick a snack for their lunch box.

Work on packing lunches together

Get kids of all ages involved in cooking and baking, particularly making snacks and cakes - at least they'll be healthier than shop bought!  Plus kids can learn so much through baking, and they'll love it!

Try one of these delicious recipes for something different:

Sweetcorn lunch muffins
Nutella crumblies
Fairy cakes
Banana and chocolate chip loaf
Blueberry muffins
Blackberry and raspberry upside down cake

It might help to get into the habit of making lunches together the night before.  Over time you can give the kids more and more responsibility for their lunches.  This alone will help make sure they eat what they've packed.  After all, it’s the lunch they made.  Along the way you’re teaching them independence and important life skills too.

Don't be too worried

Of course, you want to encourage your kids to pack and eat healthy foods.  But insisting on all healthy, organic food options all the time may not be your best strategy.  Strike a balance and make compromises.  If your kids pack and eat a healthy wrap or salad for example, let them have some cookies or a healthy cupcake for dessert.

It's all about teaching them to make good choices, but don’t freak out if they decide to pack some crisps or a pack of tiny Oreos.  Your goal is to get them to eat fairly healthy and make smart food choices, not restrict all access to junk food, causing them to trade with friends for forbidden treats.

Related posts:

How to Get Creative with Bento Lunches
Simple Tips for Making Packed Lunches Easy
Back to School Lunches: Go Beyond the Sandwich

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