Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Happy Happy Lunch Box: Packing for picky eaters.

Yesterday I let you in on my geeky little secret: I love packing school lunches.

Today, I'm going to let you in on another one: my sweet little girl is a picky eater. Always has been. And yet I still love making a lunch for her every day.

At this point, you're probably thinking I'm a bit delusional. Either my kid isn't truly a picky eater or I'm crazy. 

Miss C. is a picky eater, though she's come a long way in the last few years. She went from being a toddler who would only eat a handful of foods to a 6-year-old who politely tries everything I ask her to taste, but still doesn't actually "like" most of it. She's still pretty particular, but we've come a long way in our journey to expand her food horizons.

As to the crazy part... well, maybe I am a little crazy. I have three simple rules that I follow when it comes to school lunches, and I swear they take a lot of the stress out of packing lunch for a picky eater:
  1. Pack your child's lunch the night before. I've tried packing Miss C.'s lunch in the morning before school... and with three kids buzzing around me like bees (one of whom is in my arms at all times) I can hardly think straight. This does not lend itself to good lunch choices. Trust me. Putting lunch together the night before gives you some quiet time to hunt through the fridge and pantry for what your little one is most likely to eat.
  2. Never fight food battles at lunch. I always pack things that I know Miss C. will eat, while trying to keep a nice balance of fruit, protein, healthy fats and starches in her lunch. I never, ever pack something that she doesn't like or is even on the fence about because I know it won't get eaten. Does your kid like off-the-wall leftovers, dips, strange fruits or goofy veggies? If it gets them to eat a healthy lunch, pack it!
  3. Make lunchtime fun. You'll be learning more about this later this week in some of our other posts so I won't touch on it too much here. But I do make liberal use of Japanese bento boxes, food cutters and cute little animal picks to make Miss C.'s lunch look more exciting. 
So what exactly do I pack in Miss C.'s lunch? Here's a handy-dandy list of some of the typical things I like to put in her Happy Happy Lunch Box:
  • Apples with peanut butter dip (she's not a huge apple fan, but loves them with peanut butter)
  • Fruit and yogurt
  • Granola and yogurt
  • Carrots and hummus
  • Carrots and peanut butter
  • Cheese and cracker stacks
  • Cheese roll-ups (just melted cheese and a tortilla)
  • PB&J roll-ups (just peanut butter, jelly and a tortilla)
  • Flavored cream cheese cracker sandwiches
  • Sliced fruit (whatever is in season that Miss C. likes)
  • Sandwiches (pb&j, hummus and cheese, salami and cheese, ham and cheese, etc.)
  • Leftover mac-n-cheese
  • Leftover beans and rice
  • Mini burrito (usually left over from dinner)
  • Olives
  • Apple slices covered in peanut butter and raisins
  • Graham cracker and peanut butter sandwiches
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Bagel sandwiches
  • Cheese cubes
  • Ants On a Log (this one is untested in our house, but I'm going to give it a go this year after an after-school snack test run)
A few things to note:

We only use natural (read: unsweetened) peanut butter. I consider it to be a healthy fat and good source of protein, so it makes its way into her lunch several times a week.

Everything is fair game. If she likes what we had for dinner that night, I'll ask her if she'd like to have it in her lunch the next day. Sometimes, I'll have a bit of cream cheese left from morning bagels and I'll put it on her sandwich for a spread. Olives from taco night often make their way into her lunch as well. Does your kid love pizza? Put a slice in his lunch! You get the idea.

Veggies are a huge challenge here. I feel lucky that I can get her to eat carrots. I'd love to feature more veggies in her lunch, but as anyone who has a picky eater knows... it's a journey. One step at a time!

I hope I've given you a few ideas for packing a Happy Happy Lunch Box for your picky eater. Stay tuned tomorrow for Melissa's post on incorporating Japanese bento goodies into your lunchtime routine!

Want to follow along with the Happy Happy Lunch Box Blog Hop? Here's who'll be hosting lunch each day:

Tuesday, Aug. 20 – Michelle at needle and nest (That's me!)
Wednesday, Aug. 21 – Melissa at Julia's Bookbag


  1. Really cute post! I like everything she does too except olives, blurgh!! But then I'm picky too ;) She does seem to like dips, have you tried pureeing vegetables for a dip? Or mashing things like squash?

    1. You know, I hadn't thought to puree veggies into a dip... I bet she'd love a savory soft cheese spread or yogurt dip. That's brilliant! I will most definitely be trying that one soon. Thanks, Lucy!! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing your lunch box ideas. I find it extremely difficult to provide a good lunch box for my kid, such a picky eater that I know he won't eat half of what I pack. If it was up to him, it would be Nutella sandwich everyday. Fruits, don't even mention it. But a nice presentation helps for sure. I like your picture of separate food selection in those containers.

    1. You're very welcome! I hope you found a few ideas. I know how tough it can be to feed a picky kid – hopefully this school year will be easier for you!

  3. My youngest just started kindergarten, and she is a much pickier eater than her sister. I have started packing most (not all) lunches the night before, too, because I have yet to make them the exact same lunch. I want to make sure they both get variety, but her sister is older and more adventurous, and I don't want to bore her. Oh, it's fun...

    1. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who needs to pack the night before. It's a challenge – I hope you found a few new ideas to help switch it up for your girls. xoxo

  4. Oh this is such a great post! Love all of these ideas! So brilliant to just NOT put in stuff your kiddo doesn't like. Why waste the food?

    1. Thanks, Melissa! You're so right about wasting food. I've got a bit of my grandma in me when it comes to that. LOL I'm glad you enjoyed the post – I can't wait to read yours tomorrow! xoxo

  5. Wonderful Michelle!! We use a lot of tortillas too! I call them 'peanut butter quesadillas' unfortunately rainy will not eat tortillas :/
    Olives are an awesome idea though!! How have I not thought of them before?? I've also considered the graham cracker sandwiches---I call them grahamwiches :) but do they get soft? I am attempting the flavored cream cheese on crackers here a few days before school starts (fingers crossed!)
    As for veggies, I'm in trouble too!! I'm gonna try dried corn-- yes, the least veggiest veggie there is :/ --if I can find a good recipe and maybe roasted chick peas? (These will both be tested at home...)
    Overall I would say I think Miss C sounds like she is eating very well at lunch!! Much more thoughtful and inventive than my kiddos! Good work!! And thanks for a lot of very very helpful ideas!!

    1. Thanks, Whitney! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! :) It's been a long journey to get to this point. Please believe me when I say that we've only had it this good for the last year or so... the first four and a half years produced nightly dinnertime tears and tantrums (sometimes from me too! LOL).

      Master W. isn't too hot on tortillas either, though he will eat them with peanut butter any time I offer. I think the real problem is that he's really not too hot on cheese, which of course is one of Miss C.'s favorites!

      As to the grahamwiches, is it wrong that I love them a little soggy? My mom used to make them with chocolate frosting and I swear they tasted better after about a day or so. There was something about them being a little soggy that made them so yummy!

      I'm curious to hear how the corn and chickpeas turn out. Let me know if you find a good recipe! xoxo

  6. I wish I could hire you to make Snoopys lunches!!! My big problem is that I DETEST making lunches. I don't know that I would send lunch from home if he weren't diabetic and picky. That combination means that I don't have a choice. I think I need to start making lunches the night before- I really hadn't thought of that! Part of the problem is that I'm such a procrastinator. I love your advice here! It's given me some great ideas :)

    1. I would totally make his lunches for you if I could!!! You definitely should try making them the night before. It really was a game changer for me. It's just too crazy around my house in the morning to try to make her lunch plus round up three squiggly kids. The quality of her lunches improved dramatically when I stopped making them in the morning. And it only takes a few minutes if you do it at night because you don't have any little people (except maybe baby Logo but he's portable right now) vying for your attention. xoxo