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A Back-to-School Lunchbox Game Plan for Your Picky Eater That Really Works!

Updated: 5 days ago

A mother handing her daughter her lunchbox in the kitchen

It’s that time again! Along with buying school supplies and adjusting schedules to prepare for the school year, there’s also the task of constructing a lunch that your picky eater will actually eat.

Let’s face it, most picky eaters have a handful of ‘go-to’ foods and anything outside of their comfort zone can be cause for rebellion.

There’s no overnight fix for a picky eater, but you can comfortably ease back into the school year, while working toward your goal of building a better eater.

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Here are 5 tips to help get the back-to-school lunchbox routine off to a good, fresh start:

1. Use a simple rotation menu for the lunchbox

Make a list of the foods your picky eater eats now. Include any lunchbox foods you've packed with success in the past.

Try to rotate these foods, by packing 3 (or 4) foods one day, and then 3 (or 4) different foods the next day. If your child's variety of foods is enough to add a third day to the rotation, all the better! Then simply repeat the menu plan.

This is a great place to start for a picky eater. It allows a little bit of variation so your child will not get (more) stuck on 1 or 2 foods, and it opens the door to soon substitute regulars in the rotation with new foods (after implementing Tip 2).

If your child is even more limited, no worries. Just pack the few foods that he likes for now.

It’s a good idea to start where your picky eater is to let him settle in and get comfortable with the school routine before making big food changes in the lunchbox. We’re going for long-term success here!

The inside of a lunchbox that is being packing with a sandwich apple celery and pretzels

2. New food success starts at home

To work toward improving the lunchbox routine, start at home with introducing new foods.

Serve only one new food at a time, paired with familiar foods on your child’s plate. Start with a very small piece of each new food on his plate for one meal a couple of times a week.

Have zero expectations for him to taste the new food (unless that is already an established family rule). There is plenty of time to start working on ‘brave tasting’ after he gets used to the new foods in his space.

The more comfortable he is, the more his food anxiety goes down which can play a huge part for kids.

When a new food does get eaten with some enjoyability and ease, you can add it to your regular lunchbox rotation right away.

3. Involve your child in the preparation

Whenever you can engage your kid in the kitchen, it’s a win! Children are more likely to try foods if they’ve helped prepare them.

Encourage your child to help with some of the steps to put their school lunch together and when making other snacks and meals at home. Even preschool children can help cut sandwiches, fruits, veggies, etc. with a kid-chef knife and supervision.

A lot of kids have sensory issues with foods, so make it easy for them to help. For example, keep a wet cloth nearby for their hands or give them a ladle to scoop foods that they are reluctant to touch.

Helping in the kitchen increases our kids' comfort levels around new foods, in a fun, no-pressure way. These strategies are all part of the process to building your better eater.

A mother and her young son baking in the kitchen

4. Keep it simple, yet fun

Presentation is so important to kids! Don’t worry, I’m not talking about making daily food art to send in the school lunchbox, but a little creativity can go a long way.

Young and older kids alike tend to prefer bite-sized finger foods for fun and easy self-feeding. Consider packing smaller portions of 'bigger' foods for your picky eater who doesn't finish his lunch.

Send only 1/2 of a sandwich cut into 2 pieces with a couple of his food favorites to create a kid-friendly meal. This is less overwhelming for school kids during the usually busy lunch period.

If the lunchbox comes home empty (and you can verify that it was eaten and not tossed for older kids), you will know quickly when it's time to send the whole sandwich. :)

Try fun containers, use favorite cookie cutters for sandwiches, fruits and veggies, send a silly straw, or add a note with a cute message.

Pack a back-to-school lunchbox that engages your child, yet is simple and not overwhelming with too many foods, or packaging that is difficult to manage. These ideas can help to better entice kids when it comes to eating.

5. Keep trying!

It can take several times before your child tries and then decides whether he likes a new food.

The more he gets used to seeing it in his space, the more likely he is to eventually try it. Every kid is different. Your picky eater may surprise you!

Continuing to present each new food 1 to 2 times a week helps the food to become familiar, but not too frequent.

If you’ve had occasional success putting a new food in the lunchbox and your child has eaten it, by all means go for it, while still using the plan to regularly present new foods at home.

Celebrate the small victories for your picky eater, and keep building on each success to nurture healthy eating habits.

A little girl holding a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from her lunchbox while smiling

 picky eater book for parents

Support your goal to Build a Better Eater in your child! Get my helpful go-to guide to help with your picky eater!

For more back to school feeding tips, check out these articles:

A group of kids walking toward a school building with their backpacks on their backs

All blog content shared through HealthSmart! Kids is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice. Always talk with your qualified health care provider for managing your health care needs.

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