Packed Lunches for Picky Eaters

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By: Kristen Yarker

Whether it is for daycare, preschool or kindergarten, packing lunches can be stressful.

Parents often ask me for help in planning lunches and snacks for their kids. Especially their picky eaters. They know that they’re stuck in a rut. But they don’t know how to get out of it while still making sure that their fussy eaters will eat something.  

Here’s what I recommend:

Buy a lunchbox with separate sections

Often called “bento-style”, these help little ones feel in control of their lunch because all the foods are kept separate, yet they can see everything that’s available for them.

Include challenging foods in packed lunches

A “challenging food” is either a new food or one that your child has seen many times but refuses to eat. Now take note that I’m not saying to pack a lunch that only includes challenging foods. That’s just plain mean. What I’m saying is to frequently (not necessarily every day) pack one challenging food along with your child’s favourites. Perhaps the challenging food is a new raw veggie or fruit. Or perhaps it’s serving their favourite sandwich in a wrap instead of the usual bread.  

Why does this work? For several reasons:

– For many kids, picky eating stems from being afraid of the food. The first step to getting these kids to try new foods on their own is to have them become accustomed to seeing a new food in front of them. It’s the first baby step in overcoming their fear. By frequently presenting a new food, they become accustomed to the food’s presence. Thus they become more confident. Eventually that confidence, along with their desire to grow up, is what motivates them to try new foods.

– The “bento-box” style lunch kits make it easy to include a challenging food because the challenging food won’t touch your child’s favourites. Because we all know that touching would be horrible (groan)!

– You don’t have to watch your child not eat a food. Often, picky eaters stay longer in this stage than necessary because it’s become the family routine – you make a dish, you ask your child to try it, and they refuse. Day after day. By presenting the challenging foods at lunch you’ve broken the routine. And so your child has the opportunity to take on a new persona – i.e. the child who tries new foods.

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