My Son won’t eat lunch at school. Can a Primary school aged child still have a feeding difficulty?

won't eat lunch, lunch at school, feeding difficulty, primary school

If your child won't eat lunch at school, has a feeding difficulty and is in Primary School a Speech Pathologist can help and support in many ways please feel free to contact us with any questions or book an appointment in clinic or via Skype.

A feeding difficulty is any type of problem a child has surrounding eating and drinking. A child’s inability or refusal to eat lunch at school can get to point that it is impacting on his health or learning potential.

​If a child consistently won’t eat lunch at school from drop off to pick up it can lead to loss of weight or binge cycles as they eat in the car or at home. Children need nutrition for learning at school. Attention and focus can be impacted on with feeding difficulties. Fussy eating (e.g., not wanting lunch box foods) can lead to other fussy eating issues.

​Feeding difficulties, fussy eating and eating disorders in children and can often place stress on the child and family.

​When does the fact that he won’t eat lunch at school become a “problem”?

You may choose to wait and watch:

​If a child’s growth and nutrition (eating food from all food categories) are staying on track and the teacher is not reporting he is falling asleep or very distracted in class, not eating lunch at school may be just something to monitor.

won't eat lunch, lunch at school, feeding difficulty, primary school

​Simple strategies might include

Not turning a hill into a mountain

​i.e. If you ask them what they ate in their lunch box as soon as you see them or get upset when you are throwing away “good food” at the end of the day, a cycle of not eating school lunch can be reinforced. During conversation or through stories you read could highlight how eating is important for being healthy and playing sport. You could give examples of the consequences of not eating lunch e.g. “ooh I felt a bit tired at work today until I ate my lunch. Eating my lunch today give me the energy I needed to do well”; “Oh our puppy is looking very sleeping we might need to make sure he has eaten his lunch”.

If you are worried about how hungry they are at the end of the day, be sure to offer nutritional choices for snacks after school.

​. A “meal” or non-nutritional snacks straight after school may then interrupt later meal times. If they feel they will get “treats” after school for not eating lunch, the cycle may just be reinforced.

Offer a range of lunch box foods

​these can include thermos with left overs, cut up snacks (e.g. chicken pieces, crackers, cheese, carrot), rollup, savoury muffins, mini quiches and not just a sandwich eat day.

Ensure you are not offering too much in the school lunch!

​They may feel overwhelmed by all the food and then won’t eat lunch at school at all. You can quietly observe if some foods are eaten more than others.

won't eat lunch, lunch at school, feeding difficulty, primary school

You May want to seek advice or support:

Talking to your health professional or a speech pathologist that works in the feeding area may be warranted when a child won’t eat lunch at school if:

Nutrition, health, growth or learning is being affected

The eating concerns are going from “they won’t eat lunch at school” to eating in general is now being affected.

“fussy eating” is impacting on lunch box choices. Generally extreme fussy eating is reducing by the time a chid starts Prep/ Grade 1. If fussy eating is continuing and there is just no foods they will eat you can put in a lunch box then support may be needed.

You are concerned there are some underlying issues impacting on the “I won’t eat school lunch” situation.

Remember there can be some underlying eating, chewing, sensory concerns behind “fussy eating”. Children will avoid foods If they feel they are going to choke or find foods really hard to chew and swallow. The enormity of the issues often does not present until a child goes to formal school. When eating lunch at school they are required to take more responsibility for the eating for themselves (i.e., no Kindy teacher to remind them to eat this or that or to speed up if they want to play etc).

There is sudden change in their eating habits that may reflect other issues eg anxiety, stress, bullying, illness, allergy developments

The child is upset by the lunch time situation

​For example they want to eat but they are so slow they can’t eat enough in during the time given (this may well be a chewing and swallowing issue and not just that they are easily distracted by the other children).

How can a Speech Pathology Help when a child won’t eat lunch at school?

​The same muscles used in talking are also used for eating and swallowing. Speech Pathologists have detailed knowledge about these muscles and complex processes involved in feeding, therefore are a great source of assistance. SpeechNet Speech Pathology Brisbane Feeding Clinic work along-side Occupational Therapists, Dietitians, psychologists and other professions to investigate any underlying issues that may be impacting on why a child won’t eat lunch at school. Investigations may be required to discover specific strategies for dealing with anxiety, low appetite, sensory challenges, autism spectrum-related feeding issues, oral motor delay/disorder, and medically-based feeding/eating problems.

won't eat lunch, lunch at school, feeding difficulty, primary school
​A Speech Pathologist May:
  • Conduct an oro-motor and feeding assessment to observe chew and swallow.
  • Provide advice about how to systematically change your child’s lunch time and other foods so that they accept a wider range of foods and foods in all the nutritional categories (protein, fruit & veg, breads and cereals, dairy)
  • Provide strategies regarding environments in the school that may be impacting on a child during lunches e.g. foods that need a spoon if child is poorly coordinated when they do not have a table to place foods on.
  • Conduct regular therapy sessions aimed at reducing aversion to particular foods
  • Recommend altering the characteristics of the foods and drinks on offer to your child.
  • Recommend having an x-ray of your child to get a closer understanding of their swallowing technique – usually conducted through a hospital if gagging and choking is occurring.
  • Work with other professionals where necessary such as a Dietician, Occupational Therapist, Paediatrician or GP if nutritional concerns are apparent or potential other issues (e.g., late onset autism, allergies/ intolerances).

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