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10 Parenting Hacks to get your kids to eat their school lunches

So, the kids are heading back to school and your mind is full of ‘how can I get them to actually EAT their school lunches?’ You’ve seen perfectly good school lunches take a trip to school and come home again. You’ve heard rumours about perfectly good snacks and lunches being thrown away! *gasp! You are a creative, dynamic parent who wants their kids to not only eat their lunches but enjoy it and maybe (just maybe) be the envy of the other kids.

According to children’s nutrition specialist and co-author of the CSIRO Wellbeing Plan for Kids, Dr Rebecca Golley there are two main reasons why children don’t eat their school lunches. Either your busy little scholar has decided that playing is more important than eating and/or they’ve gone for the easy and quick to eat ‘sweet treats’ in the lunch box and left the ‘main course’ to return home. But fret none….. we’re here to help with 10 parenting hacks to get your kids to eat their school lunches today, tomorrow and onwards.

1 Choose a good school lunch box

After hours, days, no weeks of testing we’ve come up with the best lunchboxes for encouraging small people to eat their school lunches. You can read our top six lunch boxes here and then go on to read about all 21 that were reviewed to find one that suits your little person. The best lunch box will be one that your child loves – let them help with the choosing (to a degree). We found time and again that lunch boxes with compartments (that don’t leak) to keep food separate will encourage even the fusiest of eaters at school break times!

2. Use shaped cutters for sandwiches

How to get your child to eat their school unch - sandwich cuttersanimal shaped sandwich cutter

A little bit of creativity goes a long way in a little person’s school lunch box. You don’t need to buy fancy shaped cutters, you can just do different sized triangles or squares… or if you do want to splash out, just head to ebay – tonnes to choose from and reasonably priced!

3. Use as much colour as possible

No one wants to eat a boring looking lunch! Not even you… so add as much colour as posible using multiple food varieties. Depending on your child’s age cut them into small(er) pieces and separate from the other foods (or mix them in if kiddo likes mixed up food!) Try strawberries, grapes, carrot sticks, celery sticks, wholemeal bread, crackers, apples…. and visit our healthy lunch box ideas here.

4. Mix it Up

Along the same lines as the ‘use as much colour’ idea… no one wants a boring lunch box or indeed the same thing day in day out! Mix up the types of things that you add to the lunch box each day. Have a Monday to Friday chart to help you remember the different types of food that go into their lunch boxes on each day and then mix up the chart. Have a ‘random’ or ‘mystery’ day where there is no chart to follow… Instead of sandwiches, use crackers. Instead of fruit use carrot sticks or cherry tomatoes. Variety is the spice of life and kids school lunches are definitely in need of variety to help them get eaten!

5. Have a one colour day

to get your kids to eat their school lunch

You’ll either love this idea or you’ll hate it. So a yellow day – corn, banana, capsicum, pineapple, cheese. A red day – strawberries, red grapes, raspberries, cherry tomatoes, watermelon. A green day – green grapes, green apple, snow peas, beans. Fun!

6. Keep it Cool!

There is nothing quite as disgusting as warm yoghurt that has been left sitting in your bag! Choose a school lunch box that has a cooler section/ice brick if you plan on sending any kind of dairy or meat products (including ham) to school in your children’s lunch boxes. Make sure they (or you) retrieve it from their school bag every afternoon and put it back in the freezer or you won’t have it for the next day! (Note to self!)

7. Remember portion control

Kids have smaller stomachs than ours and thus don’t and won’t always eat a great deal. Sometimes they are just not hungry enough to eat all that was packed. Sometimes they just don’t feel like what was packed that particular day. This happens to you, right!? Encourage them to bring home what they don’t eat rather than throw it away so that you at least know what was and wasn’t eaten that day and can consider afternoon snacks and dinner portions accordingly!

8. Tuckshop

Whether you have it once a week or once a month, most kids will eat and enjoy a tuckshop school lunch. It’s an easy, convenient and reasonably priced way to get kids to eat their school lunch!

9. School lunch box ‘Love Notes’


Everyone loves a little note left as a surprise for them in their lunch box. We’ve created these cool school lunch box love notes that you can print out, laminate (if you want to reuse them) and pop into their lunch box. Cute images for little ones that are are still learning to read and short messages for beginning readers. All together now… awwwww.. click here!

10. Let the kids help grow & make their school lunch


One of the best ways to get kids to eat what they have been given is to involve them in the growing and preparation. Research shows that kids who are involved in the growing of their food are five times more likely to eat it – read more here. And also check out our simple articles with awesome ideas for gardening with kids and then check out how to get them to help in the kitchen and making fresh food and lunches by clicking here and here as well as some kid friendly recipes here.

Final thought

Remember when your kids are at school they will be required to eat their lunch at the beginning of their break before they play. Usually after a designated time, they will be released from the ‘compulsory eating time’ to go to play. Some kids will have chatted through the eating time and then rush off to play without finishing their lunch. Most kids will choose playing and socialising with their friends over eating – this is normal behaviour for children! Try the 10 parenting hacks above to try to get at least some healthy, interesting food into those tiny tummies to help keep those busy bodies and active minds engaged for the rest of the school day! Good luck!

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Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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