How to Send Your Picky Eater Back to School

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Are you worried about what your picky eater might eat at school?

Does packing lunches for school feel stressful because you don’t know what to send with your child who likes very few things?

You’re definitely not alone, mama!

If you struggle with a picky eater at home, knowing what to pack for a school-lunch can feel overwhelming (just like getting everyone out the door on-time).

How can something as simple as food feel like such a fight?

Picky Eating in School-Aged Children

The reality is that picky eating is a common experience among school-aged children, with research showing that picky eating is usually a temporary behavior and is a part of normal development.

Picky eating can vary from food refusal to being choosy and selective about the types of foods that are eaten. However it may present, picky eating in children often causes major stress for parents who may be worried about their child’s nutritional intake.

With kids who are spending the majority of their time in school, nutritious snacks and lunches are important to help sustain energy, mood, and mental focus in children. But when you’re faced with a child who wants nothing more than a crustless peanut butter and jelly sandwich, how can you ensure they are getting the nutrients they need?

Nothing may be more concerning for a parent than to know there child is not eating a school - here are some ideas to help.

Helping Picky Eaters at School

For most kids, the school lunch table can be a neutral ground where they may be more willing to try different foods they don’t normally eat. Check out the tips below for ideas on how you can help your picky eater feel better about eating at school (and put your mind at ease about their nutrition).

Think Outside the Lunchbox (and Sandwich)

Because packing lunches is something that we do on a regular basis, it’s easy to fall into a routine. Making simple changes to how you present your child’s lunch or occasionally offering things outside of a sandwich can make them curious about trying something new.

Does this mean you need to aim for a picture-perfect Pinterest lunchbox? Not by any means! Keep a few different simple options on rotation, like a pasta salad, yogurt parfaits, soup in a thermos, or fresh fruit and nut butter wraps.

Send the Foreign with the Familiar

Kids are learning how to eat new foods and need constant exposure to acclimate to foods they may not be comfortable eating. Do shy away from adding something they are learning to eat, even if it often comes back uneaten. The repeated exposure to foods they may not like alongside their food favorites can make those foods feel less scary.

Remember that kids sometimes need to be exposed to a food 50-60 times before they feel comfortable trying it. Bottom line: don’t give up sending those foods they are still learning to like. Pairing them with other familiar foods in their lunchbox can help increase acceptability. You never know when they might be willing to try something different!

Intermix Fruits and Veggies

Many parents stress about how to get kids to eat vegetables, and if you can relate, know you are not alone! Fruits and vegetables have similar nutrient profiles, so if your child is more willing to eat fruit, be encouraged that they are supporting their nutrition intake.

Try offering different combinations of fruits and veggies to increase exposure and chances that your kiddos will eat something from what is being offered. Adding dips, like yogurt for fruit, or hummus/guacamole for vegetables, can also make these nutrient-dense foods more interesting to eat.

Make it Interactive

Sometimes a simple switch in how a food is presented can encourage a picky eater to try something new. Including fun utensils for your child to eat with their lunch might spark their interest in eating.

Deconstructed snacks that your child can assemble in a couple different steps (depending on their age) can also make food more fun, like a yogurt parfait where they mix in their fruit and granola, or a vegetable soup where they can add in croutons or crackers. Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated - simple changes can encourage your child to look at their food in a different way.

Get Kids Involved

Let your kids in on the lunchbox planning and preparation. When kids have a choice in what goes in their lunch or can help with the prep work (like washing fruits, putting things in containers, etc), they will feel more empowered with their food choices. Find age-appropriate tasks that your child can help with and let them choose 1-2 of their favorite foods to bring in their lunchbox.

Offer a Balanced Breakfast and After school Snack

For many reasons outside of food itself, your child may not always have a big appetite while at school, and know that’s normal and okay. Offering your child a balanced breakfast before they go off to school and a healthy snack after school can create more opportunities for them to eat and get the necessary nutrients their body needs.

Aim for a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats and meals and snacks to support their energy and growth needs.

Trust Your Kids to Eat What They Need

Ultimately, your child is going to be the best judge of what their body needs. It’s natural to want to control our children’s food intake in order to be assured that they are eating enough, but these type of feeding tactics can actually push your child away from eating.

Picky eating often comes and goes in phases in kids, so the key is to stay consistent in what you are offering and to keep things low-pressure at meal times, including with what you are offering in their lunchboxes. Consistency can go a long-ways, and your child will get the nutrition they need to thrive.

What concerns do you have about sending a picky eater to school?