Back to school time is a time of new experiences, expectations, and routines. When you have a child with special needs it can be a challenging transition, especially if your child is going to school for the first time or to a new school.
One of the areas that was new for our son this year was eating a packed lunch. This brings with it the need to open containers, eat new types of foods, and understand the new concept that there aren’t seconds, what’s in the lunch box is it. Here are some ideas we found helpful through this transition.
Practice, practice, practice: Like most things, children with special needs learn about new routines and expectations through practice. This summer we, his teachers, and his therapists all helped our son practice opening the lunch box and small containers. We also practice eating out of a lunch box at home on the weekends. Even with the summer over, you can still practice on the weekends. It’s not too late.
Select container that are easy: Even with practice, why put barriers in the way for your child? Select containers that are easier for them to open. For example we use a slide plastic bag instead of one that has to be pulled apart. If your child has an occupational therapist they are a great resource for ideas.
Try out new foods first: Before sending something new to school for your child to eat, make sure they have tried it at home. We introduce new items on the weekends to see if he’ll like it. Keep in mind your child’s texture aversions when selecting new foods to try.
Get creative with ideas: It can be hard to come up with healthy lunch options your child will eat. Read online articles, talk to other parents, and think outside the box. My son loves eggs so we’re going to try egg salad. He didn’t like cold cuts on a sandwich, but when we tried them rolled up he did like them. I also talked to lots of other moms for ideas.
Make it fun: If your child likes a certain character select a lunch box, thermos or drink container with that character. It might make it more fun.
Communicate: Make sure there is someone who can tell you whether your child is eating his or her lunch. If your child is non or less verbal, he or she might not be able to tell you if he or she is eating lunch or if the left overs are being thrown away.
Best of luck in the lunchroom this school year.
Jill Wagoner is the mother of of two. Her oldest child has Down syndrome. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury Post, Modern Parent, Salisbury Life Magazine, and Rowan Magazine.