It’s the time of year for lunch-packing. Parents of picky eaters may dread the thought of coming up with a balanced lunch for their kids, day in and day out. If you serve the same thing, you feel guilty for the lack of variety. But if it’s something new, it comes home uneaten.
I can’t claim to know what your picky eater will want in terms of food ideas. But I can offer some ideas on how to go about packing your child’s lunch.
So here are the 5 hows that really can make packing lunch for the picky eater more rewarding, effective, and full of variety.
1. Don’t repeat
One of my rules for lunch is never to repeat the same lunch two days in a row. I aim to have something different most days of the week. In order to do this, you may need to move beyond the sandwich.
For example, Little D (6) won’t eat deli meat yet but he does eat PB & J, pita filled with hummus and cheese, and avocado sandwiches. So I can rotate those but also include some random food days like a fruit and veggie muffin, boiled egg, and cheese.
Hot food is another option. Just get a good thermos and heat leftovers in your child’s lunch. My kids get to choose school hot lunch once a week. When you think beyond the sandwich, the ideas keep coming.
2. Plan lunches
I try to plan the week’s worth of lunches so I’m not throwing in the same old, same old every day. This helps with decision fatigue too. Who wants to start their day making all these what-to-put-in-lunch decisions? If you have it planned out you can make the lunch in no time flat.
3. Aim for “different” over “new”
I don’t think packed lunches are the place to experiment with new food. But different does the trick. Over at It’s Not About Nutrition, Dina Rose offers some advice on different, like cutting up sandwiches into shapes. For my son who likes cheese sticks and shredded cheese, it might be putting in chunks of cheese instead. Kids feel like they are eating something new or different, which can build confidence.
4. Practice “new” after school
I’m always looking for new lunch meal ideas for my kids. But instead of trying them out at school, I serve them as part of their afternoon snack or on weekends. But for picky eaters, it’s best to let them know you are thinking about this for lunch. But most importantly, have them make it with you.
For example, Little D frequently refuses egg sandwiches because he prefers his eggs scrambled. So one time I had him watch me make fried eggs. He could see it was the same egg, just cooked differently. When we were done, he sat down and ate the whole thing (now, I’m not about to pack a fried egg sandwich for lunch but you get the idea).
5. Experiment with kids making their own
Armed with a template to follow (you can find one in Fearless Feeding), school-age children can experiment making their own. In my book From Picky to Powerful, Super Healthy Kid’s Amy Roskelley shares what happened when she allowed her son to make his own lunches:
When my son started taking a lunch to school in the first grade, I realized very quickly he wasn’t eating what I packed. In fact, one day near Halloween, he told me that he traded his entire lunch for a single candy corn! (He’s a very honest kid.) It was at that moment I realized no matter how healthy I wanted my kids to eat, in the end, it was up to them whether they actually ate healthy food or not.
So, I turned the lunch packing over to him. I let him make food choices, within healthy guidelines, but he packed it himself. When he chose what went in his lunch, he ate what he brought. Fast-forward to today, and that boy is in high school, and he’s an amazing eater! He has packed his own lunch since the first grade, and he always brings fruits and veggies. And to my delight, he no longer trades them away!
If you focus on the “hows” of packing kids’ lunch, over time, there will be quite a variety of food to pack for your child.
So how do you feel about making lunches this year? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
For more advice on feeding picky eaters see Maryann’s book: From Picky to Powerful: The Mindset, Strategies, and Know-How You Need to Empower Your Picky Eater