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Ask an Expert: My daughter hardly has time to eat lunch.

EdNews Parent expert Julie Hammerstein answers a question from Michelle of Boulder:

Q. My daughter is a slow eater and often doesn’t eat enough lunch with the time allowed. I pack her a lunch so that she doesn’t have to stand in line to buy it. I like that the school schedules recess before lunch so that the kids don’t rush eating to go outside, but it doesn’t seem to have helped my daughter much. I joined her one day to see what lunchtime was like and I didn’t finish my lunch either. Is there a reason it has to be so rushed?

A. Having a slow eater, or a child who is “food-challenged”, presents some interesting challenges when they feel rushed during lunch. In support of the school, lunchtime can be a real scheduling dilemma, especially for schools with larger populations. Trying to accommodate recess, special classes, assemblies, and a robust curriculum…it’s a miracle they fit it all in.

I also understand your concern, and encourage you to talk to your daughter’s teachers. A possible solution is to see if they’ll allow your daughter, and other slow-eaters, to end recess a few minutes early to get started on their sack lunches. You may also want to seek out an administrator – e.g. the head of nutrition services for your school district – to see if you can get some face time to voice your concerns. Remember to come with ideas. When you have creative solutions, people are more inspired to listen and look for ways to take action.

In the meantime, what you can control are the types of foods you put in your child’s lunch that are easy to eat, have plenty of nutrition, and contain enough calories to fill up a little belly in a short period of time.

Try these nutrient and calorie-dense items for healthy lunch solutions, and let me know how it goes.

Easy-to-eat lunch ideas

  • Yogurt tubes or Kefir smoothies – natural brands are best – are drinkable, quick sources of calories.
  • Sandwiches on thin bread are less tedious, and ‘soft’ fillings are best – i.e. hummus, peanut butter, or egg, tuna or chicken salad. Turkey, ham and other lunch-meats take longer to chew.
  • Fruit – bananas, berries, grapes and soft melon can be popped in little mouths very quickly, whereas apples and ‘bigger’ pieces of fruit take longer to chew. Remember to pre-peel oranges, tangerines and ‘cuties’.
  • Whole-wheat tortillas are a great alternative to bread, with easy-to-eat spreads like cream cheese, hummus, or peanut butter. You can also roll the tortilla and cut it into 1-inch rounds for bite-size finger-food.
  • Low-fat string cheese is a good protein source that’s filling and easy to eat.
  • Veggies – cherry tomatoes, edamame, snap peas and cucumbers are easy to eat. Carrots, celery, broccoli and other crunchy veggies are time-consuming. Save these delicious varieties for dinner!
  • Hard-boiled eggs are good options and are loaded with protein and DHA for healthy brains.
  • Whole-grain cereal bars – natural brands are best – these pack a good source of calories, and offer energy-giving carbohydrates as long as they are naturally sweetened.
  • Crunchy treats – Veggie or Pirate Booty and popcorn are easier to eat than pretzels and have more nutritional value than chips.
  • Fruit alternatives – all-natural fruit leathers are too chewy and sticky, so save these for snacks. Better to use applesauce for a quick fruit option in place of fresh fruit.
  • Avoid things like soup and spaghetti that just take too long to eat. Rather choose veggie chili, pasta salads w/cherry tomatoes and chunks of cheese or tofu that are filling even in small portions.

Please feel free to comment below with additional questions, or to offer additional ideas for fast and friendly lunches.

Read what EdNews Parent expert and “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper has to say about short lunch times.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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