One of my pet hates from back when I was in school is cleaning out dirty school lunch boxes that have been in the school bag for a while.
Now, if everything was eaten that isn't a problem at all. My goal is to have just enough of the right foods and foods that my children will eat so that the lunch box comes home empty.
I think a major flaw in our primary schools is that not enough time is allocated to eating. I learnt this when my oldest was in junior infants and he wasn't eating half his lunch. How many times do you hear the excuse, "I didn't get enough time".
I have a client who has recently moved her children to our school from an international school and she can't get over how little time the kids get to eat their lunch.
My solution is to give them manageable portions so when I ask 'did you eat all your lunch?' The answer is 'yes' and I have an empty lunchbox to clean and not one with a squashed half banana, cracker crumbs, piece of cheese and a half-eaten yoghurt pot spilt everywhere.
So what goes into the lunch box to make sure there is enough time for eating? I let the kids choose one item from each group. I do the main item, with protein that the kids choose; ham, cheese, egg, tuna, chicken, chickpeas in a roll, wrap or with crackers, then a piece of fruit and then a snack like an energy ball, granola slice, rice cracker etc.
I believe that if the child chooses what they want, they are more likely to eat it and can be held accountable. What they liked last month might be at the bottom of their list this week, so I always ask them to choose, 'what fruit would you like, I have apples, banana, orange or grapes?'
I believe that it is important that children understand that food is a source of fuel and how they need to eat a balanced diet. For example, 'an orange will help fight off colds', 'fruit and veg are full of vitamins and good for your skin and hair'.
I also remind them that 'chicken is a good source of protein which will keep you full and give you the energy and strength to concentrate for the day' and 'fish is great for your brain and will help you concentrate at school.'