School Lunch Ideas for a Picky Eater

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When you pack school lunches for picky eaters, it's a good idea to include some of the foods that you know they'll eat. But occasionally pack new foods that maintain nutritional balance and encourage kids to try them. Children need to be introduced to new foods repeatedly because, as Dr. Shari Nethersole advises, "Kids' tastes do change, and something she dislikes now may become appealing to her in the near future." If your picky eaters refuse a new food after trying it, let it go and try again in the future.

Make Lunch Interesting

If you want your picky eater to try new foods, make them appealing. Cut sandwiches into star, flower, butterfly and teddy bear shapes with cookie cutters, avoiding the crusts. Pack raisins or other dried fruits in small boxes. Write half of a riddle on the outside of the lid, and the answer on the inside. Skip the bread and make kabobs of cubed cheese, ham, turkey or chicken, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, or pineapple chunks using plastic straws as skewers. Make the kabobs fun to eat by providing a creamy, flavorful dip or dressing. Keep refrigerated foods safe by packing an ice pack along with your child's lunch.

Prepare Healthy Goodies

If your picky eater likes sweets, use recipes that show you how to hide veggies in them. Zucchini bread is a longtime favorite with people of all ages for its moist texture and delicious flavor. Bake the batter as mini-cupcakes and slip several into a lunchbox. Carrot muffins are sweet treats that are good for your kids. Use applesauce in place of half of the shortening to cut down on fat and add more fruit goodness. Bake them in colorful everyday or seasonal paper liners to add interest.

Make Lunch Mysterious

Kids love to wonder what's in presents, so wrap up their lunches like gifts from the food Santa. Bag celery sticks, then wind a section of a comic strip around the bag. Put a container of peanut butter in a tiny gift bag and staple it shut. Wrap baby carrots individually in aluminum foil. Put ranch dressing in a miniature plastic storage box with a lid, and stick a little bow on it. Cube several kinds of cheese, pile the cubes into a sports bottle with a removable lid and wrap the bottle in bright paper.


Sometimes kids don't want to eat because there's just too much food in front of them. Scale down everything you prepare, and pack small portions in school lunches. Cut celery sticks short and thin, add a few matchstick carrots and two or three olives. Make half-sandwiches of several different kinds and cut each half into four pieces. Pack just three pieces. Put a few raisins and dried cranberries in a nut cup and wrap it in plastic.

One-Track Minds

If your kids love cereal and little else, pack it dry in school lunches. Purchase single-serving sized boxes and add some fruit. Pack blueberry pancakes or cinnamon-raisin bagels if they'd rather eat breakfast than lunch. For kids who are stuck on hog dogs, cut a hot dog up in some macaroni and cheese, or slice a wiener lengthwise and make a sandwich of it with ketchup, mustard, ranch dressing or other favorite condiments. Make that familiar peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, but add something different, like a few slices of kiwi or mango, or replace the jelly altogether with sliced banana.