As a parent, you don't really plan for having a picky eater—it just sort of happens. One day, you have a sweet baby who is putting everything in her mouth and then, nothing at all. You pack nutritious, well-balanced lunches only for them come home untouched, traded for junk foods or, worse, tossed into trash. Who will win the battle of the wills?
[Spoiler alert]: It'll be you.
With a little creative thinking, school lunches can be not only nutritious and well-balanced, but fun and tasty too, even for picky eaters. Hint: Making food that looks, and even tastes like the foods they already will eat is half the battle. That being said, choosing which battles to fight is a major component of parenting, so keep in mind that lunchtime at school, when everyone else is eating pizza, may not be the best time to send unpalatable or controversial foods.
Here are some more hints to get you started:
- Dips, like cheese sauces, peanut butter, guacamole, salsa and dressings, will go a long way to helping your picky eater choke down veggies. Actually, nothing is off limits to dip veggies into, if it will get your picky eater to try them (and maybe even like them!). Yes, even chocolate sauce (most kids will eat just about anything when it's covered in chocolate, and doctors won't argue if they're gobbling up veggies).
- Smoothies may be your new best friend when it comes to picky eaters. Even if you have to add a little sweetener, a dollop of ice cream or chocolate sauce, you can blend up pretty much anything into a smoothie and pop it into a thermos to stay cool until lunch. Better yet, make it the night before, put it into the freezer and it'll be soft enough to drink by lunchtime. Call it a 'milkshake' and rest assured that nutrients are on their way in.
- Packing a sandwich for lunch is somewhat old-school in light of other parents now packing Bento boxes and making shapes out of the cheese, so as you're getting creative with hiding nutrients, consider getting creative with your presentation as well. An interesting looking lunch may help smooth things over with your picky eater and spark an interest in at least trying things out.
Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters
Main Course Ideas:
- Pizza- Almost always a picky eater favorite, pizza is very forgiving. Mince veggies very finely and mix into sauce, later with cheese and top with a favorite topping. Mini pizzas are fun too. Instead of dough, make them on whole wheat English muffins.
- Leftovers from dinner - If your kid enjoyed dinner last night, save some for lunch.
- Soup- With so many options for adding in veggies that soup affords, get a thermos and keep your child's favorite soup on the menu.
- Macaroni and cheese (homemade) - Box mac'n'cheese is full of artificial ingredients, but it's a kid staple. Make some with real cheese and veggie-based noodles (like spinach noodles). The same idea goes for spaghetti.
- Wraps - Most kids will eat wraps or sandwiches, but instead of using heavily cured meats from the deli, grab a rotisserie chicken or bake some at home and slice it yourself to add into wraps, so it's a healthier option.
Healthy Treat Ideas:
- Fruit leather - Rather than buying a fruit peel, you can make them, or find real fruit ones at a health food store. They're deliciously kid-friendly and have enough real fruit in them to make you happy too.
- "Cake" - Bake up some zucchini bread, banana bread, blueberry muffins and other similar "cakes" using real, whole ingredients. Swap out white flour for whole wheat, or even a nut-based flour, and your kid will gobble up his "cake" without realizing it's actually good for him.
- Fruit with dip - If your kid is picky about fruit, you can make a yummy, easy dip with strawberry yogurt and Cool Whip that kids love. Help your kid choose just one fruit he'll eat and send him with enough dip to finish every piece.
Have your kids help you select food options and pack their lunches. It'll go a long way toward teaching them to make healthy food decisions in the future and how to balance the healthy foods they need with the treats they want. Watching you make healthy food choices is another component. As you're more adventurous with your food, they are more likely to be as well.