Lunch Ideas for a Picky Eater

Updated on September 14, 2010
E.H. asks from Grand Rapids, MI
18 answers

I need ideas for my daughter's lunch at school. She is 6 and in first grade. The only veggies she likes are mashed potatoes, lettuce, and carrot sticks. She won't eat lunch meat or tuna. She won't eat anything cold that is supposed to be hot, like pizza or hot dogs. There is no microwave available, and I can't send anything with peanut butter (school rule). I have been sending her with either a cheese pizza lunch kit (which is really unhealthy and she doesn't really like them cold) or a bagel with cream cheese. I add fresh fruit, some sort of cracker type snack, and a container of water. These lunches are going to get old really fast if I am sending them almost every day. Occasionally, she will eat what they are serving for hot lunch, but maybe only once a week. I need help!

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So What Happened?

Thank you for all of your suggestions. I sat down with my daughter and we talked about what she would and would not eat in her lunch. Basically I told her I was not going to send her a bunch of junk and that we needed to come up with a plan that included healthy choices. She agreed to eating the hot lunch at school if there were at least 2-3 items on the menu that she liked. On the days that I send a lunch, she would get either a bagel with cream cheese, yogurt, cheese, or a sunbutter sandwich along with fruit, some sort of snack that she picks out, and water or milk. I suggested the thermos idea and she was totally grossed out by it. Don't know why, I would have loved that in my lunch as a child. I've also been checking out the suggested websites for ideas to hide veggies into foods she already eats. I found that I can puree veggies and mix them with the cream cheese and she'll eat it. Lastly, I talked to the cook at school about other choices for picky eaters, and she told me the kids don't get a choice until 4th grade, but if my daughter doesn't want the taco meat and only wants lettuce and cheese in a shell, she will do that. She will also stop putting dressing on her salad because she won't touch it if it has dressing on it. The woman was very understanding, and said she has to follow the guidelines for nutrition, but can make some changes here and there if it would get my daughter to eat at school.

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answers from Detroit on

Experiment with different kinds of canned beans. My kids for one love garbanzo beans with a touch of italian dressing and another fav is rotini pasta and a pinch of italian dressing (good seasons) hummus and pita is fun and easy too!!
Good Luck



answers from Detroit on

when I was a kid I was super picky as well. My mom used to send me with the good old thermos filled with spaghetti or a hot dog with chili, or mac and cheese. I had no access to a microwave either, but everything stayed pretty hot for me. I'd try it, those were always my favorite lunches. Good luck!

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answers from Detroit on

I've been struggling with the same problem!! However, a dear friend of mine put my tired brain at ease. The solution? A thermos!! If you pour boiling water into a thermos in the morning for about 5 minutes, this does the equivalent of preheating an oven. Pour out the water and insert your hot food that will stay that way until lunch time!! Hot dog in a bun, mac and cheese, chicken nuggest, soup, even pizza!! Maybe I'm a little too excited but it's the little things in life that make me happy. Best of luck!!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I always suggest this site for school lunches. She has tones of recipes and pictures of her son's lunches. Have you ever tried Sunflower Seed Butter? We can't eat peanuts here and it's SO delicious. We get Sunbutter. Kroger, Target, Albertsons, and natural food stores sell it.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Check out she has a whole thing where she takes pics of her son's school lunches everyday. Some of the stuff I am surprised that her son will eat, but at least you could get some ideas. The web site is great, easy, really healthy ideas. Good luck!



answers from Detroit on

Just a couple of kids always loved a "snack lunch". fruit, carrots with dip, cheese and crackers, yogurt, how about almond butter for the peanut butter? Or you might put in one of those Ensure shakes. Those have lots of nutrients in them...I don't know how they taste and might have a few too many carbs and sugars....but it's only one meal of the day. School lunches are usually pretty bad anyway. You might make a list of things that are portable, that she likes to eat and you find acceptable for lunch and let her choose or even make her own lunch the night before. That way you are off the hook for sending a boring lunch! LOL! Have fun with it, good luck!





answers from Detroit on

How about egg salad sandwiches or a hard boiled egg, my girls love pepperoni and crackers, chips and salsa,


answers from Kalamazoo on

My kids aren't that found of lunch meat either. They can take pb and they like it, but get sick of it after awhile. What I started doing, every other week, is buying boneless chicken breast when it's on sale. Our local Meijer puts in on sale usually once a month for 1.99 per lb, which is way cheaper than regular sandwich meat anyway. I brush it generously with evoo, alittle salt and pepper and bake at 375 for about 45 min or until done. Let it cool then slice as thin as you can with a filet knife. My kids like it on sandwiches, tortialla wraps, in salads, etc. I would also just do a yogurt, maybe with a container of granola ( I just use Grape Nuts cereal) to stir in and some fruit. Cheese sticks are great. I also make "homemade" lunchables as we call them with cut up cheese, meat and crackers - Tricuits are pretty healthy and some fruit or veggies sticks. Another way to sneak in vitamins is to use fresh spinach instead of lettuce on sandwiches and wraps and mix half lettuce half spinach for salads!



answers from Detroit on

ok first you can send pbj. The rule is you can't send it in a snack to class but i was told for lunch is fine as long as your daughter is told by you and she understands it very very very very clearly she is NOT to share her lunch. Also you can send salad i do for my daughter whos on a special diet i make fruit kabobs and salads and veggies. I do with dip theres containers out there you can use to make a veggie min tray and stuff. I also in my lunches put a yougurt pudding and jello with a juice or my one daughter because of her diet i pack her a bottle of water with a propel pack. Also I to switch it up i put fruit bowls instead of pudding or something the yougurt usuall are the yoplait for adult but some time i put the frozen go garts.



answers from Detroit on

How about yogart with granola and raisins? Does she like hard boiled eggs, deviled eggs and/or egg salad? Any other sandwich spreads she likes such as ham salad, chicken salad? (could be spread on crackers or pita, too). Can she carry a thermos for things like soup or spagetti? Pita chips and hommus dip? Cottage cheese with fruit? My daughter was a fussy eater, too, and she hated lunch at school but since I was working, we had no options so I used to put notes in her lunch box written with small pictures and graphics for her to "de-code" during lunch like I (picture of heart) u. (Picture of donkey) - (picture of key) + 't 4+ get we r going S + (picture of bunny hopping)! It gave her something to do while she was eating and I think she ate more and worried less about what she was eating.



answers from Detroit on

What about whole wheat noodle salads? Many are made to serve cold, and you could search the internet for recipes. Many use shaved carrots and cabbage (maybe she will make the transition from lettuce to cabbage?) with other nuts, like almonds. Also, what about a shredded chicken lettuce wrap? It's easy to add grapes or chopped apples to chicken salad, which is meant to be cold and could be served in a lettuce wrap or pita. Good luck!



answers from Detroit on

My kids like hummus and crackers or cheese and crackers. Also frozen yogurts which by lunch are yogurt.



answers from Columbus on

I'm in the exact same boat as you! I posted the question the other day on here. Here are the suggestions I got, I'll check back on your question to see what responses you get. :)



answers from Benton Harbor on

Definitely get her a thermos if she likes things to be hot--obviously you can't shove pizza into a thermos but does she like soup? or spaghetti? or maybe you could put the mashed potatoes in there. My sympathies, my oldest is incredibly picky as well and we cycle the same two or three lunches over and over again--although she at least doesn't mind her food being cold--she's the opposite and won't take anything warm in a thermos. What we did is we sat down together and brainstormed for foods she would eat and wrote them down on a list. This way when I'm at a loss we can look at it together and she can pick out what she'll have. A chalkboard in the kitchen for menu ideas would be great--I'm thinking of getting one soon.


answers from Milwaukee on

why not a jelly sandwich... it can be on flat bread or torillas. preztels or a simple trail doesn't have to be store bought but some of her favorite snacks all together! poptarts may not be the healthest but they work in place of a sandwich. my son also likes ritz bits cheese crackers. hope this helps some...i also have a picky eater.



answers from San Francisco on

Here is a list of picnic ideas which can also work for lunch ideas to bring to school.



answers from Detroit on

Another great website is They have a whole section on kid friendly foods, lunches, etc. My kids are all big, but I use this site a lot when I work with my clients. The recipes found on this site are fabulous.

One thought I might suggest. Who are your lunches getting old for? If your daughter complains, keep suggesting that she might want to try other foods just to see if she might like them more now than she did later. Dr. Bill Sears, the Harvard trained pediatrician and author of LOTS of books, tells that it can take 10 or so tries to get a child to eat a new food. Don't give up...keep asking and 'encouraging' her to try a food, even if she's said she didn't like it before. Check out for more suggestions for a picky eater.

A wide variety of veggies are essential for optimal health. Are you concerned she's not eating any? I work with a company that puts fruit and veggie powders into capsules and gummies, a supplement that is much more powerful than a multi-vitamin. Dr. Sears shares that it even gets kids to like veggies after a time. It's called metabolic programming.

An RN/Naturopathic Dr./Nutritional counselor friend of mine will be speaking in Grand Rapids sometime the week of Sept 20. I can get you a flyer if you would like to attend. You will be really amazed at what you will learn about how to optimize your health for disease prevention. What you and your family eat now will determine the diseases they acquire as they age.

Good luck with the website...have fun with it. As others have said, have your daughter join you in selection and preparation of her lunch. When they are engaged, they seem to be a bit more adventurous. I look forward to hearing from you. I have lots of other great ideas that I'm learning in a series of wellness classes I'm taking from another Naturopath who has her PhD in Nutrition. Charts with serving sizes for different ages, etc. My passion is to help others learn how food is medicine as well as fuel. Take care, D.

PS Nutella and lots of other nut butters have added trans fats in them. They are not listed as partially hydrogenated...manufacturers rename things to 'hide' them on the label. Trans fats are BAD. I can share more if you'd like.



answers from Detroit on

Try wrapping some cheese in a tortilla. You can either leave it rolled up as is or you can slice it to make pinwheels.

Also, an great alternative to peanut butter is Nutella. It's a hazelnut spread that is often mistaken for CHOCOLATE! Who wouldn't want a chocolate sandwich? I grew up on the stuff and you used to only be able to get it at specialty stores. Now pretty much every grocery store has it. I get mine at Costco because it works out to be much cheaper for what you get.

Since she likes lettuce you can always pack her a nice salad with some fruit and maybe crackers on the side...goldfish, or even pretzles. I do that for my daughter quite often. I just stick it in a conainer and pack a small container of salad dressing or a little packet if I have one left over from carryout salad.

Will she eat pasta salad? That could be a nice change. You can dice up the carrots really little or shred them and throw 'em into the pasta salad. Maybe a few peas just to test the waters. I hate peas but will eat them if they are mixed into my food.

Yogurt is always a good thing to put into the lunch. If I find GoGurt on sale I will stick it in the freezer so it is ready to eat by lunch time. String cheese is always fun. I also let my kids have one "treat" as well. Like a pudding, or some sort of snack cake, even fruit snacks.

She may like granola bars.

You can also try having her help you pack her lunch. I find that my kids are more likely to eat it if they had a hand in what goes into it.

I keep a variety of those cracker type snacks and different fruits and just change it up every day or every few days. I let them buy the pizza lunch once a week too. Gives them something to look forward to.

My daughter will go through a phase where she only wants one kind of sandwich for a whole month but I change up the sides to keep it interesting.

Good Luck and Happy Eating!

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