What to do when...

Jane Wood-Chambers

Saturday, 20 October 2018

There are a number of questions that are discussed in the staffroom surrounding pupils’ nuances and behaviours. The questions often sit outside of a pupils learning needs and can appear, at first, to be more about the pupils as individuals, their home life and even how they are parented.

It is important, however, as education practitioners to look a little closer at the questions being raised and to try and answer them without making any assumptions, not trying to relate the issue to our own experiences or choices we would make and by definitely seeking to observe and engage with the pupil.

What then are some of these questions that need further thought? In my experience, the following 3 are always discussed at some point in every staff room.

1. Why are they not eating the school lunch?
2. Why are they not using the toilet at school?
3. Why didn’t they tell me first?

In this first blog of 3, I will be looking at the question ‘Why are they not eating the school lunch?

Why are they not eating the school lunch?

Food and the process of eating is one of the few areas children have control over.

It is almost impossible to make a person eat something when they are adamant they are not going to. Food choices and decisions about what an individual can and cannot eat are also extremely personal and one that needs to be handled sensitively and with care.

girl refusing food

There are as many reasons as there are children as to why a pupil may or may not be eating certain foods at certain times or not eating at all. Sometimes the child does not even know themselves, so certainly will not be able to explain themselves to an adult.

  • The best thing is not to ask at the initial stages, but try and support the decisions the child makes and encourage and engage with them as you would with any other issue a pupil may face.

  • Observe the pupil; are they anxious in the lunch queue and as they approach the counter? do they refuse to accept any food on their plate or tray? what will they accept?

  • Do they speak to any of the adults as they accept or refuse the food or do they move the tray and shake their head?

  • Do they eat anything at all when they sit down, even the food they have chosen?

Speak to the SENCO

Food and refusal to eat or being a fussy eater can indicate a wider special educational need. Often it is the smell, texture or appearance of the food that can be the issue or the location of the place where the food is being eaten.

A noisy lunch hall with a lot of other children and movement can be overstimulating to some pupils and therefore cause distress and shutdown.

Speak with the designated safeguarding lead

Occasionally food refusal or being a fussy eater can be a sign of some form of abuse. The DSL will take note of your observation/cause for concern and then handle it appropriately.


Speak to the pupil

I would speak to the pupil in the classroom and open the dialogue during a lesson. Being creative with how this conversation is had so that the pupil is not pressured or stressed by it is best. Using a storybook as a starter to discuss foods we eat and like or a maths data handling activity to determine the favourite breakfast choices would work well.

Having a food tasting opportunity in the classroom as part of a wider topic or focus would also facilitate a conversation and give an indication of any wider issues.

Speak with the parents

Meet with the family and outline your concerns. Ask very open-ended questions and listen to what the family are saying.

It may be that the food is not what the child is used to eating, it may be that they have a big breakfast and then eat as soon as they get home, so are not hungry at lunchtime or it may be that they only eat a certain type of food and these are not available at lunchtime of are in limited quantity.

Many children love carbohydrates but can struggle with vegetables and salads. 

Gauge your next steps based on the information from your observations, guidance from the SENCO, conversations with the pupil and the meeting with the family and make sure that you all work together.

Food and refusal to eat or being a fussy eater can equally be a stage and if the family are not too concerned and the pupil is not too distressed then just continue to observe and support.

Have the lunch supervisors buddy up to the pupil with a friend for entering the hall, queuing up and sitting with. Prep the lunchtime servers with the plan for serving and seating the pupil as outlined by the SENCO and remember to always use gentle and supportive language throughout the process.



About our Community Expert


Jane Chambers-Wood
Editorial Advisory Board Lead

Over 27 years of educational experiences in a number of settings. Developed a clear vision and ethos for inclusion which puts the child at the centre and a clear understanding of how to support, engage and nurture the individual.

Ability to train all staff through effective and reflective continual professional development in behavioural management techniques that begin, establish and maintain change in all.

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