Most parents have enough to juggle when it comes to packing school lunches, given that they often need to be nut-free, waste-free, and are sometimes scrutinized by school admin for their healthfulness.
But when your kids are picky eaters who refuse to eat sandwiches (the ol’ staple) or think mushy foods are poison (stop suggesting hummus, Pinterest. IT’S NOT HAPPENING!), the daily school lunch challenge hits new levels of stress.
But before you decide that your kids are just going to have to starve or throw your hands in the air and decide to home-school, we rounded up some tips to make packing a lunch for picky eaters easier on everyone.
1. Give them agency
In the same way that a kid is more likely to get dressed if they can choose their own (mismatched, hilarious) clothes, a kid is more likely to eat something they had a say in.
“On the weekend, plan school lunches with your kids for the week ahead. Get their input on foods they like,” notes Canada’s Food Guide’s tips for healthy eating at school.
Involve them in the planning, shopping, and actual preparing of their lunch. Let them pick the veggies and fruits that look good to them. Show them some healthy options and let them tell you what they think they might enjoy eating.
Health Canada also notes that you can whip dinner leftovers into a quick and easy lunch the next day.
And if all they want is buttered noodles or rice (kids ... ), well, some fruit on the side, a cheese stick, and some sliced cucumber will round out that lunch just fine. But maybe try whole-grain noodles and brown rice.
2. Give them variety
With picky eaters, especially younger ones, it’s all about options. Pack a lunch with a variety of foods and textures they can pick at.
Canada’s Food Guide notes that kids’ packed lunches should include fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods, and protein foods. There are a lot of options within these categories, nutrition coach Nancy Popkin previously told HuffPost U.S.
For proteins, there are: hard-boiled eggs, edamame, meats (maybe diced as finger foods), and nuts if those are permitted and tolerated (nut butter spread on fruit or crackers could be a winner), Popkin suggests.
Lentils, tofu (maybe in a veggie stir fry), oven-roasted chickpeas, and canned fish and shellfish are great protein options, too, according to Health Canada.
For grains, there are bread and butter, crackers, pasta, naan bread, pita, quinoa, brown and red rice, and freekah, to name a few.
Try to include some fat, Popkin suggests, such as yogurt or cheese, especially if your kid isn’t big on the protein foods. Fruit is usually an easy win with picky eaters, Popkin notes, and you can try sending veggies with a dip like guacamole, or including some in a pasta salad.
3. Give them the same thing
Say you find one lunch your kid will happily eat. Is it OK to send the same damn thing every day until they’re sick of it?
“Wanting to eat an apple and a cheese wrap with salsa and some carrot sticks everyday is fine,” Harrison said.
So save yourself some stress. Kids like predictability, after all.
4. Remember that nutrition is more than one meal
Don’t kick yourself when lunches come home uneaten, your kid only eats the treat you sent, or you said eff it and sent them with a Lunchable.
Nutrition is more about what your kid eats over the course of several days, and not so much about one meal, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) notes on its webpage for picky eating.
“It’s unlikely that your child will eat something from every food group at each meal, but try to get all the servings your child needs over several meals and snacks throughout the day,” CPS said.
5. Try these lunches
Here are some ideas that look pretty tasty!