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Child eating dinner

My Kid is Now Eating Dinner At 3:45 pm. Here’s Why

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Dinner at my house now starts at approximately 3:45 pm, when my son arrives home from school. His “dinner” is actually his lunch, that he hasn’t opened at school. You know, at lunchtime. Which means he’s not actually eating anything—at all—during school hours.

His lunches are filled with his favourite foods—chicken fingers, pasta, homemade meatballs, apple slices. Yet, somehow, the contents of his lunch come home completely untouched and he will only eat what’s prepared for him, after school. So, dinner is now practically in the middle of the day!

Yes, it’s only been a handful of days since my son, now in Grade One, has started school, so this may change. But he went from four years of hot lunches, thanks to a private lunch program offered at the private school where he went from preschool-to-S.K. He used to eat warm and healthy lunches in a calm environment, with teacher supervision. (The cost was $220 a month for these lunches.)

Now, he’s eating in a loud, crowded cafeteria, with hundreds of other students, which to me, and probably to him, is akin to being in a general population prison cafeteria. (Okay, maybe I’m overreacting.) But why isn’t my kid eating lunch? How can my six-year-old survive an entire school day, without eating anything, but breakfast at home at 7:15 am?

Of course, like any worried parent, I asked my son why he wasn’t eating his lunch. I asked him if he could open the Tupperware. I showed him how to open it. It’s not that he doesn’t like the foods being sent, because he eats it as soon as he gets home. I still don’t know why he’s not eating at school because my son doesn’t like answering questions, especially when it comes to school. (Apparently, “nobody” is his best friend. He does “nothing” at school. And he plays with “no one.”)

Truthfully, I am a total rookie when it comes to school lunches, since, like I mentioned, I’ve paid for hot and healthy lunches since he was in pre-school and my daughter has always attended a private school, where there’s a menu and a salad bar. So, no, I’ve never really packed lunches before.

I asked my son’s best friend’s mother if her son came home with untouched lunches and she answered, “He eats maybe one item I pack,” and then added, “He comes home cranky and famished.”

My son’s “dinner,’ which, really, is his untouched school lunch.

I am far from the only parent whose child comes home with their lunch untouched, or barely touched. I was interested in this article, aptly titled, “My child doesn’t eat the lunch I pack. What do I do?,” written by Cara Rosenbloom, RD, a Toronto-based dietitian. She writes there are four common reasons why some school-age kids skip lunch, including your child doesn’t enjoy the foods you send. She suggests you get your kids’ input, and bring them to the grocery store and let them choose their favourites. This isn’t an issue for my son. I know what he likes to eat and that’s what we send but to no avail.

Another reason, she suggests, is that your kid is distracted and doesn’t have time to eat. This one, I can sort of wrap my head around. I was shocked to learn that most kids in public school only have 20 minutes for lunch. TWENTY MINUTES? (Yes, I am a rookie at public school and this shocked me!) So, yeah, my loveable goofball is probably goofing around with his friends for 18 of those 20 precious lunch minutes. And maybe, as the author says, my child just has a small appetite, which means he may only eat a snack-like lunch. Oh, and I’m not to fret, because breakfast and an after school snack and then dinner are “enough.”

But is it?

If I skip a meal, I turn into a cranky F**k, and also, my work suffers, because I can’t concentrate. So, yes, I worry that my child isn’t going to have the energy to, you know, learn if he doesn’t eat anything during school hours.

In another article, another worried mother posed a question to an expert. She wrote, “One of the most surprising problems my daughter encountered in her first year of Kindergarten was eating at lunchtime. She had gone from a small and quiet preschool setting with 10 other children to the hustle and bustle of 60+ kids in the school lunchroom. I was especially worried the first week when every day she brought home a full lunch box with a few bites taken out of her sandwich. In addition to being hungry and overstimulated by the day, she was melting down in the car at pick-up and our evenings were unpleasant until she balanced out.” The expert, Dr. Kay Toomey, suggested these 6 helpful tips to improve your child’s eating at school.

They are pretty good tips, my favourite being, “Beef up Breakfast.  If your child doesn’t eat well during the day at school, start them with better nutrition before their day begins. Consider serving the traditional pancakes or bacon for breakfast.  But also consider serving them their favorite macaroni-n-cheese or chicken strips at breakfast. There are no Food Police who say you have to give low calorie and low nutrition cereals for breakfast.”

I’ll admit I had a good chuckle when I read the suggestion, “First, get your school to put recess BEFORE lunch. Get involved in your child’s school lunch program and encourage your school’s administrators to put recess BEFORE lunch. This helps children get their bodies ready for eating and helps them to be hungry for their meal. Having recess after lunch means that many children don’t eat because they would rather go outside to play. Studies show schools with recess before lunch have fewer behavior problems with the children in the afternoon than schools with recess after lunch.”

Even though I agree with this, I just can’t imagine myself outside the school, holding a homemade sign protesting, “RECESS BEFORE LUNCH!” and chanting, “Recess Before Lunch! Recess Before Lunch!” I’d probably be arrested. And, while I do care that my son isn’t eating his lunch, I don’t think I care THAT much, to make such a stink.

Luckily, in a couple of weeks, my son’s school is offering a lunch program, where I won’t have to send my kid to school with a lunch he won’t touch. Again, I’ll throw money at the problem, in hopes that my son will eat whatever the school offers him.

Mostly, I’m looking forward to eating dinner at 5:30 pm instead of at 3:45 pm. I mean, I’m old. But not THAT old.

(Oh, and for 51 amazing lunch ideas, click here!)

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