Packing Lunch for Your Picky Eater Preschooler

So you have a picky eater and now he is going off to big boy school and you’re terrified he won’t eat anything. On a daily basis, you dance around him with Dora playing on the iPad trying to trick him into taking 5 bites… How is he ever going to survive through this next phase??

You might be surprised to learn that going off to daycare or preschool may help with your picky eater.

Research shows that children are very responsive to peer modeling when it comes to eating. A pretty clear example of this is when your kid comes home asking for a food that their friend had at school.

picky eater


Picky Eater Solutions

We’ve got you covered with our top lunchtime solutions for your picky eater preschooler.

Plan Ahead

Spend some time doing food prep once a week (batch cooking, chopping up fruits & veggies, or portioning out servings) to make packing lunches each day a breeze.

Mix and Match

Simplify school lunch by mixing and matching foods from each food category to create healthy school meals for the week. It’s important to provide a variety of foods to your picky preschooler. Not only does this promote increased acceptance of new foods but it also helps prevent food jags (when a child only eats one food meal after meal). Bento lunch boxes can be a great vehicle to provide a variety of foods in a fun way.

Include a Favourite

Pack at least one food that you know your child will like and eat. Make a list of your kid’s favourite foods from each food category so you can be sure to include at least one favourite food in each lunch. Keep the list up to date as your kid’s tastes and preferences change.

Perfect Portions

Preschoolers don’t need adult portions! Pack 3 to 5 tablespoons of each food, the typical portion size for their growing bodies. Be sure to send a variety of foods, especially if you’re packing lunch for a picky eater.

Veggies on Repeat

Daycare or preschool is the ideal opportunity for repeated exposure to new or disliked foods in a no-pressure situation. A recent study of preschoolers showed increased intake of spinach when they were offered spinach or other green vegetables once a week for 6 weeks, indicating that repeated exposure helps improve acceptance of new or disliked foods. So, if your kid hates vegetables then pack 2-3 pieces of vegetables every day in their lunch – don’t worry if it comes back with them at the end of the day!

Be wary of relying on pureed fruit and veggie pouches or smoothies, while they’re convenient for parents and appealing to kids, they mask the true flavour and texture of the vegetables and can negatively impact your child’s ability to learn to like the whole fruit or vegetable. They can also be sneaky high in sugar!

After School Snacks

Chances are that some of your kid’s new or disliked foods will come home in their lunch box. A good strategy is to offer these same foods again after school as part of their snack. They may not eat it, but you will have then exposed it to them for a second time in one day. Bonus points for role modeling if you sit down with your kid and snack on the same foods!

Ideas for daycare or preschool lunches


About the Authors

Elise Fairey & Lauren Hershfield of
Picky Eating Vancouver was started by Lauren Hershfield, Occupational Therapist, and Elise Fairey, Registered Dietitian. Together, they provide an integrative approach to address children’s picky eating. They aim to restore the joy in family meals and provide parents the education to support healthy eating.
Photo Credits: Mercedes Mackie and Shutterstock

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