The school dinner dilemma

My younger son has been having school dinners since year 1. I’ll be honest, it’s been a godsend. As the least fussy of my three fussy eaters, it’s ensured he’s had one healthy, balanced meal a day and it’s saved me from making a packed lunch every day. Win! Because, let’s be honest, making packed lunches is a right hassle. And making three packed lunches is really flipping hard work.

My much-more-fussy eldest has always had packed lunch and my fairly-fussy daughter has started having three or four school dinners a week over the last couple of years. It’s been a real help.

But now we’re at a crossroads.

It’s funny how starting secondary school changes so many things. Especially as my younger son is going to a different secondary school to his brother. So everything is different.

My younger son’s school does proper, balanced hot meals. Hooray!

But they serve them at 1.30pm. NO!

That’s really, really late for lunch and my son doesn’t cope well with hunger.

They DO serve snacks, like paninis, at break time at 11.30, so he could have those for an early lunch.

But then I would be being unfair to my eldest.

When my eldest started secondary school, he asked if he could have ‘school dinners’, but school dinners was a snack – a panini or a small pot of pasta. It was, in his view, ‘cooler’. But it wasn’t a balanced meal, like his packed lunch is, and it wouldn’t stop him needing a cooked meal after school. Lose-lose. So I wouldn’t let him have them – apart from once a week as a treat. I must admit, I love that one day a week when he doesn’t have a packed lunch. Especially if my daughter is having school dinners that day. A whole day without packed lunches! Amazing!

So I couldn’t let my younger son have a snack lunch at 11.30, on the basis that he can’t wait until 1.30, because I won’t let my eldest have one.

But, then again, I really, really don’t want to make him a packed lunch. I’ve got used to not making him one and I don’t want to go back to it, any more than he wants to eat it.

So there’s my dilemma.

Do I let them both boys have snacks every day, against my own better wishes? (And you can guarantee my eldest will still complain that I’m being unfair, as he wasn’t allowed snacks in year 7!)

Do I make my son a packed lunch four days a week, even though he doesn’t really want it and I don’t want to make it?

Do we take our chances with the school dinners and my son’s mood swings and see how he copes with the hunger?

Do I let both boys have two snacks a week as a compromise?

So there’s my school dinner dilemma. What would you do for the best?

School dinner, Packed lunch, Son, Secondary school


Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Oh dear!

    Can you pack them with something light touch and not much effort that could tide them over until the 1.30 (!) lunch.

    In work I’ve always gobbled up my lunch before 12. That would be too late for me!

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    • I think that’s what we’re going to do. It seems to be the best compromise. I make myself wait until 12 for lunch, but I’m often tempted to have it earlier!

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  2. Hey there, I feel for you, just in the process of trying to stop son having pizza as a snack before he has his lunch. I think you should keep everything as it is for now as new schools new routines need to be bedded in. With regards to youngest son try and encourage him to have a different sort of snack at 11.30 e.g. Fruit, flapjack or something which will give him the energy boost he needs just to get him through till lunch time where he can eat his well balanced meal. If oldest complains explain that they are different children, different schools and maybe compromise that he could also have a small snack each day again fruit, flapjack etc.. Not sure if that helps at all so good luck.

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    • That’s a really good help, thanks! It sounds like the ideal solution. Good point that eldest should be allowed a snack too.

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  3. Not sure if this helps much but my 2 older boys are 14 and 12 so year 10 and 8 this new term and there school serves a school dinner at 1.10 and for mine like yours its a little late and they get moody when hungry they do sell snack type foods at 11.15 and on occasions when they are very hungry have had lunch then and a snack from home at lunch time but as they are now used to the routines and what foods are available they take a healthy snack of fruit and a sandwich or pasta or a pasty for break and then have a dinner at lunch . this seems to work well for both of them and they are happy , they also take enough drink to last them the day. Also have a great first week at secondary school and have fun making new friends and you wont seem like the smaller ones for long .

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    • Thanks very much! Good to hear that you’ve tested this out and it works for your boys. I think this is what will work best for my son. Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

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  4. In same boat here. I guess it depends whether he’s a good breakfast eater. My son has been having a huge bowl of Redi-Brel and then taken a big banana for 11.20 snack. This seems to have seen him through to the later lunch slot. You could add some crackers to that snack to make it bigger. I refuse to make packed lunches of any description and always have. To be honest the thought of making them for my 3 fills me with horror. I’d never have enough food in and I take my hat off to you if you’re organised enough to do it. If my eldest wants one he’ll be making it himself!!

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    • Thanks very much. I’m very impressed with you never making packed lunches! My son has a reasonably big breakfast, but not big enough! I think the 11.30 snack is the perfect solution, but unfortunately my son won’t eat bananas!

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  5. Ah dilemma! It does sound like he would need the snack time because it’s all so late. Strange how even break time is late. Maybe the two days for now would make all the difference and you can see how both of them go?

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    • They only have one lesson in the afternoon! I think it’s working on the principle that kids perform better in the morning – although not sure how they will manage when they’re hungry! I think a snack at break time is definitely the answer.

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  6. Ooh that is a tricky one! I think I would probably keep things fair and try and save yourself time if you can. My experience with packed lunches is that if they don’t want them, as they get older they chuck them in the bin and buy themselves something anyway and that is such a waste. 1:30 is very late for lunch though I agree. Paninis aren’t too bad, I am finding that I make them at home to get the kids to try new fillings and it has been quite successful. School dinners are really expensive though and with two children having them daily, it can really add up can’t it? We do two days a week dinners and then packed for the rest of the week. A had lunches last year as she has free hot dinners but it was a disaster and she hardly ate anything, so we are back with packed again this year.

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  7. we do from home snacks for break. My 9yr old (yr5) has to take a break time snack in, she’s a good eater though so takes a tub with strawberries, grapes, apple, peach etc in or carrots, peppers, tomatoes and cucumber. If we haven’t got any fresh fruit or veg she will take a flapjack or cereal bar.
    My middle one is 13 (yr9) and he takes a piece of flapjack or a banana, or an apple and babybel for break time which sees him through to lunch. He then buys pasta with sauce or a Panini, he rarely buys the set lunch, more because they have to eat it at the table in the dining room and he wants to get outside with his friends and play rugby.
    a snack and lunch brought from school would soon add up, so a brought in from home snack and a school lunch seems like a good compromise.
    I don’t know about the schools your sons go to but we have scopay, and we can see what they have brought to eat. I make a point of querying his choices, if he’s had pizza slice say three times in a row, I suggest he might want a pasta or salad pot the next day.

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  8. My son is now in Year 8 at a grammar school and does sports 4 mornings before school and 4 lunchtimes…so he tends to buy a panini or a sauage in a roll or something hot at break time and takes an apple, a bag of crisps and a Penguin bar with him to try and eat before afternoon registration (doesn’t always manage). He comes home ravenous – and has evening sports three times a week, too, so needs the energy – but I cook a hot meal anyway for his Year 6 and Year 1 sisters, so it’s no extra work (and his “lunch box” is much quicker to put together than the girls’ ones! Although my youngest is entitled to free school dinners under the government’s programme for Reception – Year 2, she has food allergies that the school doesn’t cater to). You may find that the lunchtime issue resolves itself when your son starts doing activities over lunch!

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  9. 1.30? Are the school mad? I would be eating my hands by then even now and as a child I couldn’t have managed. I’d have thought it made more sense for the school to go for an early lunch rather than such a late one.

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