My son won't eat his school lunch!

Today I packed my son's lunch with items I knew were his favorites in hopes of getting him to eat his lunch after 5 days of coming home with a lunch box full of food. This is not like him to not eat his food entirely. And I even implented my MTM  stylings to his lunches with no luck. So I am at a loss. I decided to video my concerns, discoveries and frustrations. Can you relate?

Email subscribers can click here to see the video.

Thank you so much for your comments and encouragement! As of 9/22, he has eaten his lunch all the way through 1 time. That's progress.

My Action Plan:

  • Continue to build positive reinforcement about school lunch. 
  • Talk about how we need healthy food for energy and fuel to play and learn. 
  • Involve him in the process both in shopping and in preparing
  • Start an initiative to have recess come before eating lunch for the lower grades in our school.
  • Visit the school to see the lunchtime routine for myself.
  • Create a sticker chart which rewards him for completing 1 week of eating his lunch.

Thank you again for your comments, it has been such a huge help! I can't wait until he is back to his normal eating habits.


  1. My daughter is doing the same thing...I think it is a combo of too much to do (talk, hang out, be silly) and not enough time. I brought her grocery shopping with me and let her pick out some things. She wanted applesauce, pudding, yogurts that we could freeze, cheese sticks. She also wanted to try some uncrustables and some boxes vanilla milk from Horizon because someone else had them and she gobbles up the things that she picked out. I was excited about packing fun lunches since she is my first and is just in kindergarten so I got her a laptop lunch box. I'm hoping to start sneaking in some of my ideas...yesterday she went with cucumbers, red peppers and dip because I told her I had it and she did in fact eat that too.

  2. Taking him shopping is a great idea!

  3. Anonymous12:05 PM

    Have you ever thought about going and eating lunch with him? My daughter and I go every Thursday and it has been a real eye opener! My son eats much better thus year in 1st grade than he did last year. How
    Much encouraging do they do in the lunch room for kids to eat? Our staff does a great job walking around the whole time encouraging them to eat. Ours is a small school so some of this may not apply to larger schools. Marisa

  4. OMG, michelle, boo JUST told me she was having a problem deciding whether or not to eat or play during lunch. she's only 3 and in preschool, but she goes three days 9-2, which includes lunch. she said that if she sits and eats then she doesn't have any time to play. i told her that if she DIDN'T eat that then she wouldn't have the energy necessary to play. boo REALLY likes her food, but when i noticed she wasn't eating as much as she had been, the decision between socializing and eating put her in quite the quandry. since my telling her that she HAD to eat or she would not have enough energy to play (and that she would be cranky and people don't like to play with cranky people) she's been finishing her lunches again. AND she told me that she doesn't talk anymore while eating so that she can "just get my energy and be done" in order to go play.

    of course, she's only 3 so i can tell her just about anything..... LOL ;-)

  5. @anonymous that's also a great idea. I hadn't thought about scoping the situation out in person

    @Rory, seriously, your daughter is the cutest! But I love the idea of promoting food in a positive light -that it is NECESSARY for energy for playing.

  6. I would call the school and ask if the "lunch lady" can blow the whistle (or flash the lights or clap her hands or give some sort of audible indication) half way through lunch time so the kids know that lunch time is half over. That way the kids know they only have ten minutes left to finish eating. Then the lunch lady could blow the whistle one more time at the end of lunch to let the kids know lunch is over.

  7. Krista1:59 PM

    My twin boys are only 3.5yrs old so we havent got to school lunches yet but my thoughts are this. If he COULD stay in to finish his lunches perhaps you could go and "visit" several days in a row.. maybe even a whole week and if he does not finish what you would consider a reasonable amount then he has to stay in from playing until he is done. I bet by the end of the week he would be learning to eat quickly and start looking over his shoulder for Mom to pop in! haha
    Obviously you shouldnt be there nagging him about eating but just being a "fun" mommy visiting her wonderful child and descreetly overseeing. Its a subtle way to train him to eat faster and maybe you will see something that would help his time management like items others have or his "technique" lol
    Good Luck and I cant wait to see your answers. Thanks for all that you do for us! :-)

  8. Anonymous2:39 PM

    We had a little issue with teachers who used candy as incentives -- without regard to when they handed it out. Some days the kids were full from candy and needed the time to run off all that extra sugar during lunch.

    As hard as it is to accept, a kid will eat when they are hungry. Is your son ravenous after school? Maybe you can slide in some nutritious snacks (like a half lunch) when his interest has peaked.

  9. @lizandrsn he comes home every day starving, one time in tears.

  10. Schools that have switched to recess before lunch have seen HUGE changes in classroom behavior and kids actually eating their lunches. It makes perfect sense: they just want to play. If they have recess first, then they are less in a hurry to eat. I know it won't happen overnight, but if you and other parents email the principal and superintendent, maybe change will come. Here are links you could forward to them:
    google "recess before lunch" and you'll find tons!

  11. You know, I don't have a solution to your problem. Only sympathy. We pulled my oldest daughter out of public school after 4th grade, and I know she had the same sort of problem. (Except I think she may have had 10 minutes to eat and 10 minutes to play.) Even though we have been homeschooling for 3 years now, she still WOLFS her food down like she's a starving prisoner.

    What about the possibility of a snack time in class? Would the teacher go for that idea?

  12. Have you seen this blog before? It's about helping kids learn to eat healthy through habits (as opposed to nitpicking about nutrition). Sometimes I agree with her, sometimes not. But she did just do a post on kid's lunch. I don't think she's addressing quite the problem you are (that time crunch is so unfair for kids!), but I thought it might interest you anyway.

  13. Hi, Shelley,

    Maybe he just needs to get back into the schedule--I know that I'm not hungry at "lunchtime" for at least a couple weeks after school starts. Maybe he could eat a snack at afternoon recess if you talk with his teacher?

    Are you involved in the PTA, or in a position to talk with the principal? Berkeley schools have switched eating/lunch time because kids weren't eating in favor of playing, but, knowing they had to go straight back to class, kids cleaned their plate. :) She mentions it in her TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ann_cooper_talks_school_lunches.html).

  14. I don't know how things are now, but when my sons were in school, the lunchroom helpers would walk around and see what the kids had eaten. If it wasn't much, they weren't allowed to go play yet. Perhaps something to ask at PTA or PTO.

    Also, have you tried just sitting him down and talking openly about hunger and how our bodies need fuel and if we don't feed it we get weak and tired. Sometimes it takes little ones the longest time to make that connection because they live so much in the moment.

    Good luck and keep us updated okay?

  15. Anonymous5:45 AM

    Michelle, your post could have been written by me. My son was in daycare previously where they provided the meals and the teachers supervised lunches. He's super picky at home but at school would eat. This month he's entered grade 1 in a new school. It's been 2.5 weeks now and everyday he comes home with his lunch 3/4 of the way full, if not more. I use the Easy Lunch Box to make it easy for variety. Like your son, he says he doesn't have enough time to eat (20 minutes too and then they play outside). I think he also chats a lot. And like you, I've asked him what he wants and pack it. It worries me so as he's pretty skinny. So unfortunatley I don't have any suggerstions but just saying that you're not alone.

  16. Anonymous9:03 AM

    I had the same issues with my daughter last year. She returned home with uneaten lunches and was hungry after school. I finally attributed her lack of eating to too much socializing and lack of time. To my surprise, this year, my daughter has been coming home with mostly eaten lunches. She tells me that she is very hungry by the time lunch rolls around. Last year, her lunch was at 10:30. This year, she eats at 12:00. I'm starting to think that she just was not hungry at 10:30!

    I really like the comments from people stating that lunch and recess should be switched. I heard about that study as well and it really seems to make sense to me too!

  17. My son gets two twenty minute recess periods each day and one of them is before lunch. I ate lunch with him at school today. The kids are assigned a table to eat at. This way they don't spend their time roaming around the cafeteria looking for a place to sit. The lunch room staff encourages them to stay in their seats and raise their hand if they need anything (napkin, dipping sauce, straw, etc). The children ask the staff for what they need and the staff gets it for them. The kids remain in their seats and continue eating while the staff gets the things they need. This allows the kids to use up every bit of the thirty minute lunch period eating. It also minimizes the confusion of 150 kids running around. When there was five minutes left to eat, the lunch staff clapped their hands and the kids clap back in response. The lunch attendant then told the kids they have five minutes left to eat. And, boy did the kids gobble up the rest of their food with that five minute warning. One boy was pestering one little girl at the table by attempting to take her food. The girl raised her hand and the lunch stuff nicely told him to keep his hands to himself. He pestered her one more time and I told him to use the time eating his lunch so he has energy for the rest of the school day and he stopped...Anyway. I hope this helps.

  18. Kelley4:38 PM

    I had a similar issue last year. The problems were: 1) lunch was at 11:15, 2) lunch is only 20 minutes, 3) he takes medication that makes him less hungry, 4) he eats SLOWLY, 5) he talked or went to the bathroom or the clinic, etc...
    I did find some things that he would consistently eat, and I enlisted the teacher's help in having him eat something from his lunch in the afternoon since he had barely eaten at lunch time. I also would have him eat some of what he hadn't finished when he got home if he had not eaten an amount I considered acceptable. The biggest thing I did though, was make sure that I packed as much nutrition as I could into breakfast and dinner. It was a struggle all year, but this year...lunch is later and he eats more. Some days he eats everything!