Most parents tell me that their elementary school child has 20 to 25 minutes to enter the school cafeteria, search for her lunchbox buried in a portable tub, find a place to sit, open all the containers, eat (oh, right, eat), then clean and pack up before the bell rings. In an effort to ensure that their kids eat anything at all, well-meaning parents pack lunchboxes filled to the brim with typically, 7 to 8 different options!
Picture this: Your little first grader searches for spot in a sea of tables, newly found lunchbox in hand. She squeezes in between her best friends, climbing up onto the metal bench, feet dangling, with her little elbows resting on the much too high table top, just below her chin. Most school cafeterias provide the same size seating for the entire school, whether the kids are 3 feet tall or towering 5th graders, about to move on to middle school. Ever try to eat a meal on a narrow bench, your feet dangling and no back-rest?
It’s not easy. By the time your child gets the plastic bags opened, the juice box straw unwrapped and poked hard enough into the box that it squirts her in the face, all while holding up her other hand to signal the teacher “Can you please open this lid?” well, another 5 minutes have passed by. Meanwhile, she’s excited to get out to recess, now just 15 minutes away.
As a feeding therapist, I visit lots of school cafeterias and have learned that parents and teachers have one priority: Getting kids to eat a nutritious lunch. In contrast, kids have this priority: Talking to their friends. How then, does a parent pack a lunch, especially for a picky eater or perhaps a child with special needs, that still allows their child some much needed “down time” to chat with friends yet fill their bellies quickly and nutritiously? Here are 3 strategies to do just that: