Balanced School Lunches for Picky Eaters

Written by Katie of Good Life Eats

School is just around the corner for us, and I think we’re all glad of that in the Goodman home. We had a great summer and had a fun family vacation, checked out tons of library books, attended swimming lessons, and more. But I think we’re ready to get back to our regular school and work routines. Part of that routine is packing school lunches.

The problem that many moms, myself included, can have is that packing school lunches often becomes too routine. Meaning, that my kids can sometimes see the same items day after day in their lunch boxes. Here are several ideas to help get you started on the right foot.

After last year, I learned that mealtime at school was the perfect opportunity to mix things up. Why? Positive peer pressure. My picky eater wasn’t going to throw a tantrum at the school lunch table when offered something new. School was a more neutral ground for trying something new because I wasn’t present.

I always put enough food in the lunch that even if he doesn’t try the new food, he will still be full. Then it is completely up to him whether he eats it or not. Simply being presented with the item is the first step to trying new foods.

Tips for Packing Balanced Lunches

Beyond the Sandwich

A lunch box doesn’t need to contain a sandwich as the main dish.

One of Madeline’s favorites from last year were All-Natural, Uncured (no MSG, Nitrates, etc.) Chicken Cocktail Sausages that I found at Trader Joe’s. They weren’t an every day item, but once in a while it was a nice alternative to mix things up.

Also, both of my kids love yogurt, so I’ll definitely be sending them with Cheri’s Yogurt, Cottage Cheese, Fruit, and Granola Parfaits in their lunch once in a while.

school lunch granola parfait

Photo by Cheri

Offer a variety of choices that you can alternate throughout the week. Bagels, English muffins, pasta, wraps, homemade lunchables (sliced cheese, meat and whole grain crackers), and last night’s leftovers are all great choices to mix up the typical PB&J offerings.

Speaking of PB&J…

I know this is a heated topic, so I’m not going to get into the hows, whys, rights or wrongs. If your child has a peanut allergy or you attend a school with a no-peanut policy try some of these other spread options to replace the beloved peanut butter sandwich.

We’ve found that we actually prefer Almond Butter to Peanut Butter anyway.

Is a Microwave Available?

Find out of the school has a microwave available. This will definitely depend on the school and teacher’s policy, but having the option of a hot lunch can greatly increase the variety of food that you can pack.

We are lucky at our school that the kids eat in class rather than in the cafeteria and teachers are happy to reheat as long as it takes less than a minute.

No microwave? Try using an insulated thermos to pack things like soup and stews.

Fruit and Vegetables

It’s easy to toss and apple or a banana and a bag of carrots into the lunch box, but it is fun to present fruits and vegetables in an out-of-the-box manner.

freezer smoothies for school lunch

Photo by Shaina

Try serving fruits with dips, like yogurt or almond/peanut butter. Vegetables are great for dipping in cottage cheese, guacamole, or salsa.

One of my favorite ideas is to make smoothies ahead of time and store them in the freezer. By lunchtime, they’ll be soft enough to enjoy in the lunchbox, plus they’ll help keep any other perishable foods in the lunch box cool.

Try some of these smoothies:

Healthy Treats

It’s fun to have a treat with lunch, but my kids are known for eating their sweets first and picking at the rest of their lunch when I’m not there to encourage eating fruits and vegetables first.

how to make homemade fruit leather

Photo by Katie

I often try to add healthier versions of their favorite treats to their lunch so I don’t have to worry about them filling up on empty calories during their lunch time.

Some of our favorites include:

Get the Kids Involved

Often I will let Logan help me make the lunches. He is entering 1st grade this year and is an avid reader. I write him a list that goes something like this and let him do the rest:

Put this in your lunch box:

  • Bagel, Sandwich, Muffin, or Pasta
  • 1 fruit – your choice
  • 1 vegetable – your choice
  • Yogurt, String Cheese, or a “Circle Cheese
  • Fruit Leather or Dried Mango
  • Fill your water bottle
  • Napkin

xoxo, Mom

I offer deliberately easy foods for him to prepare. Being involved in the lunch making gives him the opportunity to make food choices within healthy parameters and helps him practice his reading skills.

Need More Lunch Ideas?

Are you ready for school to start?

About Katie G

Katie’s lifelong interest in food has shown her that part of the goodness in life is enjoying delicious food with friends and family. Katie Goodman is the cook, recipe developer, and self-taught photographer behind GoodLife Eats. It is there that she shares what she finds good in the kitchen and in life. A mix of great recipes, family memories, and yummy photography is what Katie serves up each week.

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