August means back to school for many children, and for parents of Kindergarteners, this means it’s time to prepare your child for what to expect at a new school. As you prepare your child for what to expect during their school day, don’t forget to prepare them for what to expect at lunchtime!
Lunchtime is just as important as classroom time for the developing child. It’s a time for children to engage in two meaningful occupations: eating and social participation. If your child has never been to school before, or never eaten lunch at school before, lunchtime will likely be a little different than they have been used to, so it’s important to prepare them and practice to help set them up for success. Below are some important considerations when preparing your child for lunchtime at school:
How your child’s lunch is presented at school will likely look different than how it is presented at home. Instead of a plate, they will likely have a lunchbox and a variety of containers holding their food. It’s important to make sure your child knows how to open all of the containers and packaging that they will find in your lunch, and identify any containers that may be too difficult. Some children’s fine motor skills may not support independence in opening and closing all containers and packaging, so alternative options may need to be explored. Here are some tips for setting your child up for independence with food packaging:
- Practice! Serve lunch at home in the lunchbox they will take to school. Close the lunchbox and allow your child opportunities to open it themselves. Consider whether they will be most successful with a zipper, buckles, or something else.
- In addition to serving lunch in their lunchbox, serve each food to your child just as you would in their school lunch – in ziploc bags, tupperware containers, wrappers, water bottles, juice boxes, etc. Figure out what works best for your child. For example, they may be more successful with a ziploc bag than a string cheese wrapper or prepackaged bag of chips. Until they can successfully open these packages independently, remove the food from their packaging and place them into a container your child can open successfully.
Lunchtime at school will come with a time limit. Before the school year begins, find out how long your child will have to eat their lunch, and practice setting a timer at home so they can get used to this expectation. Your child is likely accustomed to having as much time as they need to finish their meals, so this may be surprising or upsetting to them at first. Make sure they understand it is OK if they don’t finish all of their lunch at school if they run out of time, and tell them when they will have an opportunity to finish their lunch later if they are still hungry.
Just like everything else at school, lunchtime will come with its own set of rules. Do your best to preview your child for what lunchtime will look like, and what will be expected of them. Some common lunchtime rules include:
- Sitting at a designated table in a cafeteria or outside with their classmates
- Remaining in their seat until they are dismissed
- Only eating their own lunch, no sharing food with friends
- Cleaning up their trash and putting away their lunchbox before they are released for recess
By preparing your child for what to expect at lunchtime at school and practicing mealtime independence prior to school starting, you can help set them up for a successful start to Kindergarten!