Lunch Ideas for Your Picky Eaters

Schoolboy (8-10) sitting at desk staring at lunchbox, pulling face.
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Contrary to what some parents think, children have good reasons to be picky eaters. And while we do want to encourage our children to try new foods and eat what is good for them, we also want to make sure that they eat well at school. Being hungry will not help them concentrate! 

Guidelines for School Lunches

  • Include Nutritious Foods: Become familiar with the food groups in either the food pyramid or the new "MyPlate" recommendations. There is no rule that specifies what foods from those food groups you have to send to school with your child. Nor is there a rule that says you have to have something from each group in the lunch. It's not a bad idea to try to represent those groups in your child's lunch, but if it's not possible every day, then you can make up for what is missing either at breakfast or at dinner.
  • Include Foods Your Child Likes: There is no point in sending your child to school with lunch you know she isn't going to eat. Instead, consider the foods that she does like and then figure out ways to send them to school. You may have to get a little creative sometimes, but with a little thinking, you can find ways to pack them. For example, if your child likes raw carrots, put some carrot sticks or baby carrots in a baggie and put them in the lunch bag.
  • Think Outside the Lunchbox: Getting creative about school lunches means you have to think outside the usual lunchbox ideas. For example, my son liked a cucumber salad made with sour cream and vinegar (without the dill) and liked it on white bread, so I would pack the two separately and include a plastic fork and spoon so he could make his own sandwich. He got a vegetable, grain, and dairy that way. Here are some other ideas on how to pack a nutritious lunch.

Choose Whole Grain Bread for Sandwiches

Make sandwiches with whole-grain bread. If your kid doesn't like the grainy or heavy texture, try a brand with a lighter texture. Some kids, on the other hand, prefer the heavier texture and even the bits of grain in some whole wheat brands. Whole wheat bread is often sweeter than white bread, so some kids actually prefer it.

Crackers and Tortillas Are a Great Alternative

If your child doesn't like sandwiches, consider packing some whole grain crackers. It is an easy way to include grains in your child's lunch. If your child likes tortillas, pack one or more of those. They can be fun to turn into "wraps" with the other foods you include.

Raw Vegetables on the Side

Some children do not like cooked vegetables but will eat them raw. Raw vegetables are sometimes sweeter than cooked ones and they have a completely different texture. Tasty raw veggies include:

  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Green peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Cherry tomatoes (although tomatoes are technically a fruit)

Fruit as a Lunchbox Dessert

Most kids like fruit, so be sure to pack some. An apple might be nutritious, but if it ends up in the garbage, it won't do him any good. A convenient option is individual serving packages of applesauce or sliced fruits like peaches or pears. Fresh fruit is the best choice, but sometimes you can include a juice box. You can also slice the fruit and include some yummy fruit dip.

Dairy Products for Lunch

The most obvious choice for a dairy product is a thermos of milk. However, there are other options, including:

  • Cheese sticks or chunks of cheese
  • Yogurt
  • Cream cheese

Lean Protein for Healthy Kids

There are many sources of lean protein, from both animals and vegetables, that are easy to pack in a lunchbox, including:

  • Cheese
  • Deli lunch meat
  • Pieces of chicken
  • Leftovers from last night's dinner, like roast beef
  • Marinated tofu
  • A hard-boiled egg
  • A jelly sandwich made with French toast

How to Pack a School Lunch

Are you new to packing lunch for kids? Here are some great tips so you are successful for the first time:

  • Pack sandwich items separately and let him put the sandwich together himself so it doesn't get soggy, or eat the items separately. That includes any condiments.
  • Get an insulated lunch box to keep the food fresh and safe. 
  • Include a napkin and any necessary utensils! It's hard to spread cream cheese on a cracker without a plastic knife!
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