Six Lessons from English School Lunches

Nov 14, 2010 by

WHY DO KIDS TEND TO BE LESS PICKY about food when they eat school lunches than they are at home? photo by Anna Migeon

In England, it was recently discovered that picky kids were less picky when they ate school lunches than they were at home. The benefits carried over to home, with many kids coming home and asking for the same foods they were getting at school. It happens that in England, home-packed lunches were found to be generally higher in sugar, fat and salt than the school lunches there. So encouraging parents to let kids eat school food instead of mom’s home-packed lunches seems to be getting them to eat more healthy at school as well as at home.

There are several probable reasons for this reduction in pickiness at school.

But today’s question is:  how can we recreate the conditions of an English school lunch, at home? How can we make home more like school in ways that will increase kids’ eating of good food?

1.  Leave kids to eat, or not, in peace. No hovering. No pressure in any form, including praise, rewards, charts, or dessert bargains. Let hunger motivate them to eat what is available: only healthy choices.

2.  Create a pleasant, friendly environment at the table. No negative talk about food or urging them to eat. Talk about more interesting subjects.

3.  Continually introduce plenty of healthy new meals, designed to tempt.

4.   No snacking outside meals, so they’ll be hungry for your food choices.

5. Don’t give in and follow a child’s lead on food.  Determine the best options for your child and stick to them. Don’t provide bad choices just to get him to eat. Let him adapt to you, and he will.

6.  Don’t take fussiness seriously.  It’s not written in stone. Just as we don’t assume kids will stay in diapers their whole lives because they wear them now, or assume they’ll still be sucking on a pacifier till adulthood, we don’t go along with their temporary aversion to taking baths, for example. We don’t assume our son will never like girls because they have cooties when he’s eight.  We don’t encourage them to be entrenched in childish ways or deal with them out of the expectation of the label “picky.” No, we give them a chance to change their mind and grow up, every day. We encourage them to be open to good things, and we have faith in them.