Lunch Time Challenges


How can you be sure your kids are getting the proper nutrition throughout the day when you send them off to school?  As they get older no one checks to make sure they’re eating anymore.  They could be flushing their sandwiches down the toilet for fun and giving their pudding to a girl they want to impress.  Nobody cares.  I am so glad for school to start back up and for all the relief that this time of year brings.  But now it’s time to worry about a whole new set of issues.  Eating lunch is a big concern for me.  Why do I get so upset and what am I going to do about it?  I am glad you asked!

My Son is 12 and he weighs 62 lbs.  He’s down from 64 lbs at his last physical. My Daughter is 8 and in the 90th percentile at 78lbs.  There is only an inch difference in height between them, despite the 4 years.

My Daughter loves lunch time.  She has been crazy about it ever since the first day of kindergarten when she kept interrupting the teacher asking if it was lunch time because she was real excited about busting out her new Scooby Doo lunch box.  She buys the lunch and, until I put restrictions on her account, bought many of the “quarter extras” available to her such as cookies, cake, ice cream, Sunny Delight, etc.  At the elementary level there are no long lines to wait and plenty of time to enjoy all her food. 

Middle School, however, is different.  The lines are long and the time is short.  My Son complains that if he waits in line for a hot lunch he barely has time to eat it, much less socialize afterward.  Sometimes he grabs something small like a pretzel out of the snack line but the problem is his ADHD medicine is in full effect around the lunch hour not only keeping him focused but killing his appetite.  He is not hungry so there is just no motivation to eat.  He is too anxious to find an open chess table and a willing opponent.

The answer is simple, right?  Make cold lunches.  I got to a point last year, though, where I thought “if he isn’t eating anyway, it is wasteful to make him lunch”.  Plus I was more rattled last year in general and probably looking for an excuse remove “pack lunches” from my daily routine.  So I filled up his account with money assuming he would eat when he was hungry.  Like that old attitude, “it ain’t gonna kill him to miss a meal.  If he’s hungry he’ll wait it line.” 

Bad Mom.

Obviously it is hurting him because he is losing weight rather than gaining.  So cold lunch it is.  It is also time to customize their lunches.  Maybe I wrong to ever be feeding them matching lunches, considering their difference in age.  But the similarity in their size through me off, I guess.

So how do I ensure that he eats his lunch at school? Realize that I can’t and come up with a plan  for getting in the daily necessities.

Our doctor’s appointment was a great lead into a dialogue about eating in general.  She told him that he is almost 13 years old and he looks like he is 8.  (Yikes! Harsh! We usually AVOID those comments!)  She went on to make it clear to him that he is as small as he is not because he is meant to be but because he chooses to be. 

The Langston Food Summit of 2008 was eye opening and productive.

We identified that he is most hungry first thing in the morning and ravenous at night.  Duh!  He skimps on lunch and his meds are worn off by late afternoon.  He is up all night snacking on the wrong things and tearing up the kitchen.  We came up with a simple and encouraging plan.

  • Have a bigger breakfast but don’t simply overindulge on multiple bowls of sugary cereal.  Add a piece of fruit, boiled egg, and raisin toast. (these are from his suggested foods)
  • Pack a small, simple lunch of things that are fast and easy to eat so that he is more likely to eat while socializing, even though he isn’t hungry.  He said he would love celery sticks and peanut butter, a granola bar, and a Slim Jim or something similar.  Sounds more like a snack than a meal right?  That’s okay.  It is more than he was eating before and it really is just a snack.  Read on.
  • Enjoy a big family dinner.  He is a great eater at dinner time, devouring a big salad and pasta or the like.  We eat early because Hubby gets home at 3 or 4pm which is great because having not had much lunch, my Son is usually famished by this time as meds have worn off a bit.
  • Here’s our secret weapon.  A fourth meal around 7pm.  This is usually the time everyone gets a scoop of ice cream or mini ice cream sandwich if homework is done and attitudes are good.  He will still get that reward of course, but first he will have a can of Chef Boyardee and a cucumber or something similar.   

I love Chef Boyardee and mac & cheese and all those convenient dinner helpers now that I serve them as the side dish to big salads and crunchy veggie main courses.  For better or worse, this combination is satisfying to him so he can stop snacking and I can close the kitchen at 8:30 and be confident it will not be covered in peanut butter, jelly, toast crumbs, with feet marks on the counters, when I get up in the morning.

I came to see that I was worrying too  much about this one meal of the day that I couldn’t control and decided to turn it into a somewhat balanced snack.  I have plenty of time after school to make sure he gets his proper nutritional allowances for the day.

As for my Daughter, I received a call that first day of kindergarten being notified that after a morning filled of interrupting the class asking, “is it time yet?” she suddenly disappeared.  She was found underneath her desk with her lunch spread out like a picnic, enjoying.  Things have never really changed. :-)

I hope I was able to get you thinking about ways to solve your eating challenges at home and lunch time.  I would love to hear more tips from all of you, too.  So if you have any favorite strategies, please share!

Thanks to a la corey  at Flickr for the hot lunch photo!