It’s your job to provide meals and snacks and your kid’s job to eat them. Sometimes you need help with the in-between, especially for school lunch—when you aren’t there to ensure your little learner fuels up for the afternoon. When it’s hard to get choosy clientele to love their lunch, read on for six ways to spice things up.

photo: Yoshiyasu Nishikawa via Flickr

1. Involve them in the process. Ever consider how it feels to have every. single. meal. presented to you (I know, that actually sounds amazing.)? But your little may have a big appetite for autonomy. This can be as simple as cutting up melon or mixing dough (good fine motor practice and sensory play for preschoolers, BTW) or as unique as subscribing to a monthly cooking kit, like Baby Boy Bakery’s We Cook kits. We love that the inspiration is to create childhood memories while benefiting kids’ charities. Your sous chefs will take pride in what they eat if they’re involved from the get-go.

2. Get to know the lunch staff. Part of appreciating what’s on our plate is appreciating those who help prepare and serve it. If your kids have a school lunch account, encourage them to talk to their lunch ladies and gents. They can ask questions about the local fresh option their school may have or if a garden project is in the works (or maybe help start one!).

photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr

3. Add a little perspective to the recipe. So your kid turns down your homemade minestrone for another bowl of goldfish? If only she knew how lucky she was to have fresh, healthy ingredients, right? Well, it may be a good time for grade schoolers to start volunteering. Feeding America’s Hungry to Help Project fills in the summer gap for families who rely on school lunches and serves up a Family Action Plan to help end hunger.

4. Serve age-appropriate portions. It can be daunting to finish everything on your plate (or to be asked if you did at school). And added pressure usually backfires anyway. If it’s extra hard to get your child to chow down at school, set him up for success with smaller portions. Include an after-school snack if hunger strikes later. Check out these recommended portions for each age range from HealthyChildren.org.

photo: Tonya Staab via Flickr

5. Add a surprise. Whether it’s a cookie-cut puzzle sandwich or a little note slipped in the lunchbox (here are 12 sweet ideas for the midday meal), the element of surprise reminds them they may be out of sight but never out of mind—or heart. That little extra prep may reap big lunchtime returns.

6. Practice food positivity at home. The way we talk about food with (and around) our kids makes a big impression. Each family may have its cultures, allergies, and preferences to contend with—at home and at school. Helping our kids understand how food energizes our bodies so we can keep learning, playing, and feeling good, helps them take that respect back to the lunch table, too.

What are your ideas for getting kids to love their lunch? Share with us in the Comments below!

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—Jennifer Massoni Pardini