The highly sensitive child and the school cafeteria

Filed under: Big Kids, Nutrition: Health, Development/Milestones: Babies, Day Care & Education

Ellie is and always has been a picky eater. She has a rather short list of foods she likes and I accommodate her by packing those foods in her lunch each day. Up until now, eating lunch at school has not really been a problem for her. But since starting first grade in a new, larger school, she has stopped eating her lunch.

I noticed this right away and questioned her about it. She claims that the seating arrangement in the cafeteria is such that she is forced to sit across the table from messy boys with gross eating habits and it makes her stomach hurt. This may sound like a far-fetched excuse, but I believe her. Looking at or talking about icky things has always made her queasy. Plus, this isn't the first time this issue has come up. There were days last year in her old school where she didn't eat lunch for the same reason.

When I discussed the issue with her teacher, she informed me that the children's seats are not assigned at lunch and that Ellie could sit wherever she wanted. So Ellie has been attempting to sit between and across from neat eaters, but it doesn't always work out that way. She is still coming home many days with her lunch box full of uneaten food.

Today, the school cafeteria lady called to talk about why Ellie isn't eating her lunch. After correcting her initial assumption that I was packing foods that Ellie didn't like, I told her about my discussions with Ellie and her teacher and the reason she's not eating. She says that Ellie must eat some lunch regardless and wanted my permission to tell her so.

I gave my permission, but am now wondering if that was the right thing to do. Forcing her to eat when her stomach is roiling doesn't feel right to me. She eats a big breakfast each morning and has no problem eating her school snack outside on the playground. I have considered and even discussed with Ellie the possibility that there is more going on here than messy eaters, but am convinced it really is just that.

I am planning to have lunch with her at school this week to assess the situation for myself. But short of having her eat her lunch at a table alone, I don't see what else can be done. Any suggestions?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.