For many kindergarteners, one of the major changes they face is lunch time. The lunch routine in kindergarten is nothing like at home, at daycare or in preschool: they have a smaller window of time in which to get their meals unpacked and eaten, and at the beginning of school, many kids get confused, don’t eat, and spend the rest of the day hungry and irritable. The solution? Practice school lunch time at home.
To get started on your at-home mock-lunch sessions, carve out a couple of 20-minute periods when you know your child will be somewhat hungry but not yet starving. Tell them what you’re up to, in your best this-is-going-to-be-fun way, to get them on board.
Don a pair of silly glasses, hold a clipboard, and use a ridiculous teacherly voice. Your goal is to try to make this scenario as realistic yet non-threatening as possible, so they’ll feel comfortable enough on day one to enjoy some kind of sustenance at lunchtime, and keep their A-game going all day.
Set a timer
Many kids are given just 20 minutes to eat, so it’s crucial that they be able to use that time to the best of their empty bellies’ advantage. Setting a timer is the easiest way to prepare for this new routine.
Go for 15 minutes to start, and if it’s really too challenging, give another five. The reality is, kindergarteners will spend at least five minutes chatting, melting down or throwing paper aeroplanes instead of eating, so the 15-minute timer will set them up for success, if they can eat at least something nutritious and rehydrate before it goes off.
Prioritise the good stuff
Another key part of this exercise is helping new students understand that even if they don’t finish their food, that’s totally fine. Some kids will worry that they’re failing at lunch, and think they could get in trouble, or worse, starve.
Reassure them that it’s normal to feel rushed, and to not be able to eat everything, and review what they can do to make sure they eat a complete meal, even if it’s small in portion size — in other words, save the oatmeal cookie until after they’ve had at least half the bagel and fruit or bean salad first.
Teach them about nutrition
This is a great opportunity to talk about self-care, nutrition, and independence, too. Generally, kids are psyched to be granted autonomy at any age, so serve up this info like it’s really important big-kid stuff, and they will take it to heart: Proteins will give them energy, help build muscle, and grow.
Veggies, especially colourful ones, like carrots, peppers, and broccoli, will sharpen their senses and fuel their brains, and fruit will fill them with antioxidants to help fight off any germs or viruses lurking in school rooms.
Make sure containers are kid-friendly
Just as crucial as what they eat is how it’s packaged and prepared — and I’m not talking about presenting kids with emoji-faced tortillas. During your practice lunches, take the time to let them practice opening and closing all the food containers you may be packing for them, and try to make things bite-sized or easy to hold in one small hand, to save them time and frustration.
If they struggle with any containers or lids, ditch those and find something quick and easy to handle. This is another common lunchtime challenge in kindergarten, and teachers are too busy to help the whole class open boxes, jars and zip-top baggies.
Last but definitely not least, use this time together to talk about your child’s expectations and concerns, and, above all, the foods they would be most excited about, to get them through the first difficult week or two.
If they request tuna salad every day, or Grandma’s five-cheese ravioli, try to make it happen. Let them pick their main dish, and at least one fruit and one veggie side, as well as a special treat, too — just for being a rock star. You can also plan and write down a weekly menu together, to make both your lives easier.