What Your Kids Really Think About School Lunch

by Danielle Omar, MS, RD
What Your Kids Really Think About School Lunch

It’s been a long, hot summer here in Northern Virginia, and I’m thrilled that fall is on the horizon. It’s by far my favorite time of year. Not only for the perfect weather, but also for the food! We love fall food in our house. From 5-bean chili to roasted butternut squash, fall is cozy food. Fall also means back to school for the kiddos. My third grader wasn’t exactly thrilled to get on that bus the first day of school, but she’s getting used to it now.


With the new school year comes an additional stress for parents. School lunch! Like many parents, I pack my daughter’s lunch. It’s not so much because I don’t want her eating the school lunch, but more so I can stay in the know about what she’s eating. If it were up to her, she would have a hot meal followed by ice cream every day.

This year I decided to do a little research and find out what Norah really thought about her bag lunch. I was curious to know what she ate first from her lunch box, what her favorite lunch was, and what she wished I would send. Her answers were not that surprising. She goes for the fruit and the protein option first, her favorite lunch is a hot lunch, and she wishes I would pack her some ice cream.

Intrigued by this information, I wanted to know more. I asked a few friends and colleagues to do some detective work and ask their kids these same questions about their bag lunches. The results were interesting.

First, the friends:

o Janet’s 10-year-old son, Carter, eats the cheese and crackers first. His favorite lunch is a turkey sub. His 7-year-old sister, Ella, eats her fruit first and loves lasagna the best. These two were both totally satisfied with their lunches and didn’t wish for anything else. Janet is doing something right!

o Susan’s 4-year-old son, Sam, eats his veggies first (yay!) and loves his crunchy snacks the best. He wishes he had more crunchy snacks like pretzels or popcorn in his lunch.

o Megan’s 10-year-old daughter Lucy eats her hot lunch first, especially if it’s pasta. Her favorite lunch is spaghetti with meatballs and she wishes her mom would send more fruit.

Do you think Dietitian’s kids are any different? Not a chance!

o Regan Miller Jones’ 9-year old son eats his sandwich first. His favorite lunch is a good old PB&J! He wishes he had more cookies.

o Vicki Shanta Retelny’s 4th grade son, Grant, eats the chips first, followed by his sandwich and then his fruit. Her 3rd grade daughter, Samantha, takes a bite of her sandwich first then eats all of her chips. They both love their sandwiches on the “good” bread, which is white ciabatta-type bread. Grant wishes he could have a hot lunch, like pizza, hot dogs, pancakes, etc. Samantha longs for more chocolate candy in her lunch.

o Christie Wilson’s 8-year-old daughter, Chloe, eats her Baby Bell cheese first. Her favorite lunch is crabmeat salad with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and dressing. She wishes she had more crab meat in her lunch!

o Sarah Krieger’s 6-year old son, Seth, eats his sandwich first, which is usually a cheese tortilla or chocolate hazelnut spread on wheat bread, which is his favorite lunch. He wishes he had more cookies!

o Holley Grainger’s 4-year old, Ellie, eats her yogurt first. Her favorite lunch is chicken nuggets with ranch and strawberries. She wishes her mom would pack her famous Double Chocolate Mini Muffins!

So what does this all mean for you? For one, I think it’s important to get your child’s input and feedback about their lunch. If they long for a hot lunch, think about sending them with dinner leftovers or soup in a thermos. We use this one and it works great. You can also let your kids buy a hot lunch one day each week. Allow them to read over the school lunch menu and choose the day themselves so they have some control.


Another tip is to get feedback. I ask Norah everyday “how was your lunch?” She will tell me right away if she’s tired of something or wants me to add this or that. Another trick is that I send all of her food in a Tupperware-type container and tell her not to throw away the leftovers. This way I can see what she eats and doesn’t, and then ask her about it.

I think it’s important to make lunch fun. Norah asked me this week if I could send her beets shaped like hearts. Her friend’s mom had done this and she wanted it too. I was happy to do anything that would inspire her to eat beets for lunch!

My last tip is about exposure. Sometimes it can be frustrating when food comes back uneaten. Don’t worry about it so much. Your kids are in training to become adult eaters. It’s important to keep exposing them to salad and/or veggies at lunchtime so they know that these foods are a part of a healthy, rounded meal. Even if they take just two bites, over time it becomes the new “normal.” Heck, they might even look forward to it!