Whether you have a kid who refuses to eat sandwiches, won’t eat anything green, or comes home everyday with most of the food you packed in his lunch box, you need school lunch ideas for picky eaters.
Although my own kids will eat just about anything, when it comes to school lunch they’ve become much more picky about what they eat. While they love the lentil chili I pack most of the time, one kid won’t eat cucumbers while the other would rather have a piece of fruit than pasta—go figure!
When it comes to school lunch ideas for picky eaters, there are so many healthy options and ways to transform ho-hum fruits and vegetables and old standbys into a lunch box your kid will love.
School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters: Know What Foods To Pack
It’s definitely faster and easier to throw in lots of processed, packaged foods into your kid’s lunchbox.
Yet lunch is just as important as any other meal so making the most of it will support his growth and development and help him do his best throughout the school day.
When it comes to packing healthy food, here’s a simple guide which incorporates the major parts of MyPlate.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables should make up 50 percent of your child’s lunch box.
Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, which will help satisfy your kid’s hunger and help him feel fuller longer.
Do your best to “eat the rainbow” and offer a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
For your picky eater, pack fruits and vegetables you know he’ll eat.
After a few weeks, start to add in small amounts (a teaspoon will do) of new fruits and vegetables you’d like him to try.
If you’re consistent, chances are, he’ll eventually come around and they may even become his new favorite foods.
Protein is important for your kid’s growth and development and meals with protein keep hunger at bay, balance blood sugar and give your kid enough energy to keep up at school.
Protein should make up 1/4 of your child’s lunch box but you’ll want to focus on lean, quality protein sources instead of processed foods like deli meats and cheeses or hot dogs.
Try chicken, beef, turkey, beans, edamame, tempeh, eggs, fish: canned salmon, sardines or tuna fish are all great, low-mercury options.
Choose whole grains instead of refined grains
Grains should make up 1/4 of your child’s lunch box.
Whole grains have vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and filling fiber, which are stripped from refined grains.
Try whole grain bread, pasta, brown rice, quinoa or another type of gluten-free grain.
Include milk or dairy
The USDA recommends including milk, yogurt or cheese in meals, which are all good sources of calcium that kids need for strong teeth and bones.
If your kids are dairy-free, or you’re trying to avoid dairy, they can still get plenty of calcium from green leafy vegetables, chia seeds and other calcium-rich foods that aren’t dairy.
Add healthy fats
Healthy fats like the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish support your child’s brain health and memory. While some foods like fish, nuts and seeds have both protein and healthy fats in them, if you’re not packing them, be sure to add small amounts of other foods with healthy fats like olive oil or avocado.
School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters
Whether it’s a fun new take on sandwiches or a delicious way to get more veggies into your kid’s diet, there are so many easy, healthy options you can start putting into your lunch box rotation.
Switch up your kid’s favorite sandwiches by making it into “sushi.” Grab your rolling pin and roll our regular sandwich bread or use a whole grain tortilla. Add nut or seed butter and smashed berries, or deli meat and cheese. Then roll it up, cut it into small pieces and you have a fun new way to serve lunch.
Ditch the bread altogether and make a roll-up with sliced turkey, ham or roast beef cheese and lettuce, for example.
Grilled cheese with vegetables
One of the best school lunch ideas for picky eaters is grilled cheese because it’s usually a kid-favorite. Make it even more tasty and more nutritious by adding spinach, diced broccoli or slices of pepper, for example.
Mix in leftover sauteed vegetables with brown rice and your kid’s favorite protein and you have a healthy, delicious school lunch option.
Another delicious option for school lunch are spring rolls. Get spring roll wrappers, add a protein, vegetables and seasonings. Need a recipe? Check out this one for Fresh Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce from Cookie and Kate.
This time of year, soup can be one of the best school lunch ideas for picky eaters. If you’re inclined to make your own homemade soup, you can incorporate several servings of vegetables—whole or pureed.
If you buy soup in a can or box, or one that’s prepared in the store, read labels and compare brands because most soups you’ll find are high in sodium and added sugars.
Quesadillas are super-easy and take just minutes to pull together. You can also switch them up with different types of vegetables, cheese and healthy fats like avocado.
If you’ve got an egg lover on your hands, make the most of it by serving up eggs for school lunch. Try omelets, egg “muffins,” quiche or a frittata and experiment with different types of veggies.
Related: [Video] 6 Health Benefits of Eggs for Kids + How to Serve Them
If your kid usually comes home with the vegetables you packed, try serving them a different way—as faux fries. Slice zucchini, eggplant, yucca, carrot, or jicama, spray them with some olive oil and roast them in the oven on high heat. For more flavor and texture, you can also dip vegetables in egg and breadcrumb and bake them.
Kids love food on sticks and kabobs can be an easy to assemble, healthy school lunch. Choose your protein and add sliced peppers, mushrooms, squash, onions, cherry tomatoes, and meat or tofu for a healthy portion of vegetables.
Bean or lentil burgers
Beans and legumes are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids, but if your picky eater won’t eat beans or lentils alone, try making them into burgers.
With a lettuce wrap, you’ll get an extra dose of vitamins, minerals and fiber and a nice texture without the bread. You can also use the same ingredients you would when you make sandwiches: sliced turkey, egg salad, leftover roasted chicken or chili meat.
Tips for Using School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters
To make the most of these lunch box ideas, and make it easy on yourself, try these tips.
Pack school lunches the night before
Let’s face it: mornings are seriously hectic. I usually wake up at 5:30am but 3 hours later when the bus comes, I’m still rushing out the door.
I know that once the kiddos are in bed at night, all you want to do is put on Netflix or curl up with a good book, but packing school lunches at night can save a lot of time in the morning.
Set aside a few hours on Sunday or use your Crock-Pot or InstantPot to make large batches of vegetables and rice and beans, for example, that you can pack for school lunches.
Use a bento box
Kids love to have choices and a bento box is a great way to pack a variety of foods and plenty of nutrition into a school lunch that your kid will love.
Try a meal planning app
One of the best ways to get your kids to eat their lunch is to involve them in the process. Go grocery shopping together and let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable they’d like to try.
Also consider using a free meal planning app like LaLa Lunchbox together or let them have a hand in making their own lunches.
Your kids may be still be envious of what other kids are eating for lunch or complain that they don’t like what you’re packing. It can be really frustrating but stick with it.
Remember that your goal is to raise healthy kids who are willing to try—and eventually accept—a variety of healthy foods.