Chaos in the School Cafeteria: How to Find the Calm


As a feeding therapist who works with children who have difficulty eating in various environments, I often visit kids in their school cafeterias – otherwise known as the school CAFÉ-FEARIA, according to one 7 year old client of mine. Have you ever visited a café-fearia?

Claming the chaos in the school lunch room. How to help your child eat lunch at school.

IMAGINE being a brand new kindergartner, toting your sparkly new Disney™ princess lunchbox down the school hallway when you turn and enter utter chaos. Older kids tower over you as you negotiate the sea of tables and try to find where you a supposed to sit for the next 20 minutes and try to eat. Irritating florescent lights flicker while children chatter, teachers clap loudly to insist on silence and rebellious potato chip bags ignore the adult plea and pop open with a BANG! Metal lunchboxes clang as hungry tykes begin to unpack a multitude of tins, cartons, juice boxes and squeezable thing-a-ma-jigs to display on the giant tables like a fire sale gone wrong.

Squeeze in and climb up onto your bench, feet dangling, and balance there while your elbows rise up to shoulder level in order to stabilize yourself on the table edge; your little eyes barely able to see past the barrage of baggies and containers spread before you. Ignore the boy next to you who keeps elbowing you in the ribs repeatedly as he turns to talk to his friend on the other side of him – and turns back to eat – and turns back to his friend. By the time you get the baggies opened, the juice box straw finally unwrapped and poked hard enough that it squirts you in the face, all while holding up your other hand  to signal the teacher “Can you please open this lid?” well, another 5 minutes have passed by.  Meanwhile, that nice girl that played with you at the craft table this morning keeps smiling at you and wants to chat…and you do too.

Schools do Care

Fortunately for your little munchbug, most schools are readily open to suggestions. For 5 year old Carly, her school recognized the importance of lunchtime and how it impacts the rest of a child’s day. Carly was the tiniest child in the classroom and easily overwhelmed by noise, sights and sound. Upon entering the cafeteria, the last thing she could do was focus on what her teacher needed her to do: eat.

Carly’s priorities were:

  1. Dealing with the chaos
  2. Making friends

Carly’s principal allowed us to bring in a smaller table with chairs that not only fit Carly, but most of her classmates, too. We positioned the table in the corner, so that Carly flanked one wall on her left and faced two friends across the table, who likewise had a wall behind them to minimize distractions. Carly’s feet touched the ground to provide stability and the table was at “sternum height” so her elbows easily rested by her food.  (If I might use an example that perhaps adults can relate to:  Ever try to sit on a towering bar stool with no foot support while you sip that lovely martini and chat with the handsome man next to you?  It’s not easy!) Kids need core stability for fine motor skills like biting, chewing and swallowing and opening lunch containers. “Right-sized” tables provide that stability.

Carly eats from her EasyLunchbox Container

To make the experience even more efficient – Carly brought her EasyLunchbox. See that adorable, curly headed moppet in the picture above? One easy lift-off lid and she is free to gab with her friends and grab bite size pieces of fresh, yummy lunch! By the way, check out the pile of pandemonium on the rest of the table. How do the those precious kids even find what they are supposed to be eating? No wonder half their food ends up back coming back home, uneaten! Oh, and see that bigger kid dangling his feet behind her? THAT’S where Carly used to sit!

Whenever possible, find the calm in the chaos by:

  1. Little feet on the floor
  2. Table top at sternum height to see your food and rest your arms.
  3. Swift, easy-open container: Easylunchboxes!
  4. Fresh, bite-size foods to grab and gab.
  5. Smaller tables reduce noise, foster social skills and provide stability for little munchbugs!

For more ideas on helping your child be a more adventurous eater, visit My Munch Bug on Facebook.

Melanie Potock, Pediatric Speech Language Pathologist

Dancing_in_the_Kitchen Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP is a national speaker on the topic of picky eating and  the authorof Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food!  With over 12 years’ experience treating children with feeding difficulties, Mel’s approach to developing feeding skills includes the fundamentals of parenting in the kitchen, such as how to avoid mealtime debates and creating more joyful mealtimes, even with a hesitant eater.  Mel wrote this book in the same manner that she works with families; with an open heart and a touch of humor. She has also produced the popular children’s CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food,  currently being considered for a Grammy nomination. Both products are available on her website at

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