a picky eater making the bad face at her plate of food

Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

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It can be difficult to ensure that your children are healthy when you’re dealing with picky eaters. Adding some fun lunch ideas for picky eaters can reduce your stress while your kids and your family try new (healthy) foods.

Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

Lunch for picky eaters

It is a constant joy to experience all of your child’s accomplishments. In the early years, mealtimes can offer many of these opportunities. From the first bites until the time your child can feed themselves, these experiences can be exciting. But as your child grows, mealtimes can lose some of the joy and become a time of frustration and worry.

This is because children will often develop a few favorites and begin to avoid new foods and healthy options. While this is normal, there are a few tips and a great way to bring some excitement back into mealtime while encouraging picky eaters to try new and different foods. Being a discriminate eater can be a positive attribute as long as the child receives the appropriate amount of daily nutrition.

These lunch ideas for picky eaters are not meant to change a child’s preferences, only to ease the introduction of and improve the attitude towards new healthy lunch ideas, particularly from the ages of two to six.

a sandwich with some fresh fruits and vegetables sides

Start New Foods Early

Because of possible food allergies, it is important to wait to try many new foods. It is important to follow the instructions of doctors, but variety is possible before the child is two years old.

If the parents don’t like a particular food is not a total loss, it might not be available in the house. Avoiding foods can make introducing new foods to children and the entire family more difficult at older ages.

What the parents eat plays a role in what the children will eat at the end of the day. If the parents are willing to try new food (or ones they dislike) there is a better chance that the children will eat the food.

Another source of information comes from siblings and peers. An older brother or sister that tries the new food in different ways may help ease the experience for the young kids. Watching other daycare kids enjoying a food helps kids want to try it too.

Having a small meal or a lunch time party with the child’s friends is another good method to introduce a new delicious lunch idea. One adventurous child can encourage everyone to try the great alternative with only a little adult support if needed at all.

Bring Fun into Meal Prep

Using meal prep and prep time can be fun and help to ease new foods as a main course into the picky kids’ diet. Talk about the food, let the pickiest eater hold it, and help prepare the food in some way.

Mixing ingredients by hand is a great lunch idea for picky eaters to share with younger children and makes the new food fun. Making the interactions enjoyable goes a long way. It is possible to remove a lot of the doubt or fear that could come with trying new healthy ideas of food.

Combining a favorite food with a new food can also be very effective and doesn’t take a lot of time. Broccoli on pizza, mushrooms on a burger, and zucchini on spaghetti and sauce are just a few examples. The only limit is your willingness and imagination.

Remember to have fun. Enjoy the meal, the conversations, and the time with your child. Meals are the time to relax from your day. Adding fun to the preparation of meals or school lunches can help increase the food variety for the children. Using these great ideas will help add the interest in food needed to explore new taste sensations in the future.

Picky eaters still need all of the basic nutritional foods that less picky buffet grazers easily find. The trick is to shop for foods in each food group: fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and whole grains.

It is possible to meet healthy diet requirements without huge taste sacrifices by simply choosing different items that still contain balanced nutrition. In home daycare, we follow the food program guidelines and that helps make sure we have balanced meals to offer the kids.

Whole-grain foods carry the carbs that make up about half of a healthy calorie intake. If whole-grain wheat bread doesn’t fill the taste bill, try whole-grain rye, oat, or barley. Whole-grain pasta, cereals, and unprocessed brown rice can also take on the flavorings of tomato sauces and fruit mixes to make them more palatable.

MyPlate.gov states that whole grains are more likely to provide needed nutrients for healthy meals than processed white bread, pasta, rice, and sugary cereals. Add a variety of nuts for protein and fiber to aid digestion.

Meat, fish, and dairy products supply much of the needed proteins and fat-soluble vitamins for building strong bones and blood supply with picky eaters. Lean cuts of meat and meat alternates can provide needed nutrients and satisfy difficult taste buds. And diary products such as fluid milk are important as well.

Picky eaters still need a variety of foods and new things to try, with about 1/2 the daily intake in carbs, and 1/4 each of protein and fats.

Find fruits and veggies that contain vitamin C and B-complex nutrients needed for daily replenishment. These water-soluble vitamins can’t be stored and need daily sources. Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K can be stored by the body. The easiest source of needed vitamin D is the sun, and outdoor activities can supply that as well as exercise.

a toddler eating a piece of pizza

Lunch for Picky Toddlers

Fresh fruits and veggies are high in nutritional value without the added sugars and vitamin loss that come through food processing and make great healthy snacks. MayoClinic.com states that by starting your shopping in the produce section, you are more likely to fulfill healthy eating needs.

Shopping by color rather than for specific products can help ensure you get a variety of needed nutrients and extra protein. Substituting broccoli and kale for disliked spinach and Brussels sprouts can keep nutrition in a diet without sacrificing taste. With wide varieties of apples, tomatoes, and lettuce species available, you can meet both nutrient needs and taste preferences.

Another great way to help kids love veggies is to roast them. They have so much better flavor and texture when roasted. Here are some delicious recipes for roasted vegetables that my family and daycare kids love:

Easy lunch for picky eaters

  1. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: A classic that’s usually well-received. You can add a twist by using different types of cheeses or adding ham or turkey.
  2. Pasta with Butter and Parmesan: A simple and gentle meal. You can also add cooked chicken or vegetables if the person is willing to try. I find my kids prefer their food separately and I have better luck getting picky kids to eat separate components. It depends on the group of kids though, so try everything.
  3. Chicken Quesadillas: Just a little chicken and cheese between tortillas, served with a side of sour cream or mild salsa. For more quesadilla ideas, check out steak quesadillas here. Or if you have a non meat lover, check out these black bean quesadillas too.
  4. Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches: This is a staple lunch for many kids. Serve it with a side of yogurt or cheese to get them enough protein.
  5. Homemade Chicken Nuggets: Baked chicken nuggets can be healthier than their store-bought counterparts. You can use a mild breading and serve it with ketchup or a mild barbecue sauce.
  6. Pizza: Most picky eaters enjoy pizza. To make it healthier, you can make it at home using whole wheat crust, low-fat cheese, and possibly sneaking in some pureed vegetables into the sauce. You can also do pizza-flavored pasta or a myriad of other pizza flavored dishes that are linked in the pizza article.
  7. Macaroni and Cheese: Another classic dish that’s easy to make. You can try different kinds of pasta to keep it interesting.
  8. Tuna roll ups: Most kids love anything in a tortilla. The possibilities are endless. If you have a non tortilla eater, try rolling cheese up in turkey or ham slices.
  9. Pasta dishes: Most kids love pasta. There are so many pasta dishes on the blog, but check out these homemade hamburger helper style dishes for some of our favorites at Little Sprouts. So much more flavor in homemade than in the boxed variety. If you haven’t tried to make your own, give it a try!
  10. A favorite dish here is our cheap and easy taco soup. It’s another great one for kids that don’t like meat. My kids beg for this over and over again and even as adults ask me for it.

There are so many great lunch ideas for picky eaters for even the pickiest kids. Over the past several decades, I have seen every level of picky and every level of not picky. I have served them all and everyone learns to like at least a few new things. For more inspiration at breakfast, try these breakfast ideas for picky eaters. And snack time picky eater ideas too!

The key is not to beg or pressure. To make the meal pleasant. To know what appropriate serving sizes are for each age. And to offer new things without worrying if they will eat them or not. Just offer them a bite and let them take the lead on what they like. Eventually, they will be hungry for what their body needs and everyone will grow and flourish on their own time! You’re doing great!

For more lunch inspiration, check these out:

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