30 School Lunch Ideas for Fussy Eaters
Lunches away from home are often a bit of a nightmare for fussy eaters. There are so many other things to do that take attention away from eating, and especially if eating is not something super fun.
The environment at school is also often not great for eating. Noise, limited time, pressure to eat one food before another, friends… Find out more here: https://theconfidenteater.com/blog/other/help-your-child-eat-from-the-school-kindy-lunchbox/
Because eating can be a challenge for picky eaters, I have two pieces of advice:
1. Eating is always better than not eating. Often if a child stops eating (or only has minimal amounts) at a certain time, their body stops expecting food at that time. This can spiral into a situation where no hunger cues prompts a child to eat.
2. School lunches are not the place to experiment. If we find a new recipe, it is way better to test at home until it is well within the comfort zone prior to sending with our child when they are going to be away from home.
Check out some ways to help get the lunchbox eaten: https://theconfidenteater.com/blog/picky-eating-support/10-ways-to-get-the-school-lunchbox-eaten/
Although I am recommending foods that are within the comfort zone for many fussy eaters, none of these are magical ideas.
Your child may be stuck on a very narrow range of foods and have frustrating rigidity around those, like only a specific type of bread or brand of jam.
The list has been created more to provide some inspiration. Often, we find we have slipped into the habit of only buying and serving a limited number of foods.
Thinking a little creatively may provide some slight changes that are a win for a child and therefore for us.
Sometimes looking for new options or different ways to offer the same food, shakes us out of our rut! Doing the same thing over and over can be boring for us and the children. Also, slight variations can be a gentle way to introduce new foods.
If you have some great ideas, please share too!
Remember, it’s probably best to test these at home first.
School lunch ideas for fussy eaters
1. Sandwiches. Children often have a favourite one or two sandwich options that are always on the menu. Gently changing the filling is a really good idea as eating the same thing over and over often leads to burn out (even if it is two years down the track!).
One of the best things about bread is that we can add sooo many different fillings. Which of these may work?:
vi) Cream cheese
vii) Nut butter
viii) Choc spread
xii) Sliced beef/pork/lamb
xiv) Sliced sausages
If we have a child that wants plain bread, then gently working on fillings can be done with a deconstructed sandwich.
Either bread with the filling served next to it or done on a skewer with gaps between bread and the other food.
2. Rice cakes. Instead of bread, using the giant, popcorn-esque rice cakes as a ‘sandwich’, probably open-face as they are pretty large for small mouths…
3. Rolls. Buns are a good way to provide a food similar to a sandwich but slightly different in look and texture.
We can go from sandwich to ‘burger’ more easily if rolls are on the menu. In fact, a mini chicken, cheese, or beef burger makes a great lunch.
4. Bagels/croissants. Using different bread-like options is a great way to gently encourage a fussy eater to accept something slightly different.
5. Bread sushi. Anytime we make a change to the foods we offer, it’s a positive. Removing the crusts and using a rolling pin to flatten bread, add a filling and then roll and slice, creates bread ‘sushi’.
We could also make sandwich ‘popsicles’ with flattened bread rolled around a filing with a stick stuck into the base.
6. Wraps or pita pockets. Wraps or pita pockets, can be a good change up from regular bread sandwiches. All the same fillings apply. We can also toast them and serve crispy.
7. Quesadilla/burritos. Having a tortilla stuffed with cheese, folded and fried, or rolled around some minced beef can make a lovely Mexican inspired addition to the lunchbox. My youngest takes a burrito most Mondays.
8. Pizza or calzone. Cold pizza, or even warm, if sent in a thermos, can be a win for a picky eater. Often making mini versions works best.
9. Pancakes/waffles/French toast. Many fussy eaters enjoy pancakes or pikelets and they make a great lunch option. They can be served plain, rolled up or cut into shapes or ‘sushi’. We can send with sweet or savoury fillings.
Waffles or French toast can also be sent cold or even warm in a thermos.
10. Pinwheels/scrolls. These can be made with wraps or with pastry. Mixing up the carbs used may be a gentle way to encourage a picky eater to accept something a little different.
11. Pies. From the super basic, pastry and cheese to the classics like egg and bacon. Often, they are fine cold, but we can use a heated thermos to send a warm version too.
12. Sausage rolls. Sausage rolls can change up the lunchbox. Home-made ones may be okay made with some additional veg too. Or, we can skip the sausages and do ‘carrots in blankets’.
13. Quiche/frittata. Mini egg-based offerings are a great protein boost. We can make super plain or stuff with a range of fillings. They are also flexible so we can use bacon or toasted bread as the base instead of pastry.
14. Fritters. We can create sweet or savoury versions, and again we can play to strengths and use only minimal and accepted choices like flour, egg, and cheese.
15. Spring rolls. I make super simple home-made versions of spring rolls (I buy the wrappers) and they are a big lunchbox hit for my boys.
16. Rice. Rice is a staple for many picky eaters. Sending to school to eat as is, or warm in a thermos makes a change from a sandwich. If we can add sauces, protein or veg to it, even better!
17. Sushi. Many fussy eaters like sushi. If sushi is not a hit, we can often simplify and make more appealing. For example, removing the nori from the outside or stuffing with a child’s favourite filling. Cheese anyone?
Onigiri. Rice balls are like a super simple plain sushi. Made with sushi rice and then squished to form a ball, they are often a hit with children. You can go fancy and add faces or patterns with seaweed sheets cut into shapes – or not.
18. Pasta. Ah, a fussy eater favourite. Pasta cold, on skewers or in a thermos, makes a filling lunch option. If we can add a tomato, cheese, or pesto sauce, even better. Combining with protein or veg, bonus points
Don’t forget, a very simple pasta salad may be an option. Pasta and cheese or bacon, for example, may be a good start.
19. Nuggets. Sending chicken nuggets as a lunch option can be an easy way to change up what’s happening in the lunchbox. We can send a small pot of ketchup, honey, or sour cream as a dip too.
Fish fingers. Like nuggets, fish fingers are a change from standard lunch fare and could be a gentle way to introduce something a little new.
20. Ham/salami/luncheon/bacon. Adding protein to the lunchbox helps a child stay fuller for longer. The processed meats may not be top of the nutritional tree, but they are often accepted by fussy eaters.
21. Sausages. Sausages can go hot, cold, sliced, on skewers, in a hot dog bun …
22. Chicken/pork/lamb/beef. Many fussy eaters love protein, so adding to the lunchbox could be easy. Sending some left-overs from dinner makes life easy for parents and provides a filling addition to the lunchbox.
23. Meatballs. These get their own section as they are a little left-of-centre for a lunchbox item, but mince is often okay for picky eaters. We can send with pasta, rice, in sandwiches or on their own.
24. Cheese. It’s a fussy eater staple in many households and a fatty and filling lunchbox option. Sticks, slices, grated or on skewers with or without other foods.
25. Eggs. Like Vegemite, eggs are often either a win or a no, no, no. If we have a child that enjoys eggs, they are a budget friendly protein option. Boiled eggs are the obvious choice, but a simple omelet can work too.
26. Muffins. There are 1,000 different recipes for muffins. Some savoury, some sweet and some a mixture. If we have a child that only likes sweet muffins, they can still be a good way to introduce new choices at lunch.
Cakes. Not normally thought of as a ‘lunch’ food. However, a slice of home-made banana cake, for example, could provide a break from the monotony of a *insert favourite spread here* sandwich.
27. Scones. Again, scones can be sweet or savoury and are within the comfort zone of many picky eaters.
28. Cereal. Sometimes serving a familiar food at a different time is a gentle way to introduce change for a fussy eater. I wouldn’t advise cereal for breakfast and cereal for lunch, but on a toast day, for example, it could be a win.
Don’t forget, there are lots of ways to jazz up cereal, like spreading nut butter or jam on wheat bricks.
29. Jacket potatoes. I think these are often left off the list, but are a simple, budget friendly and filling option. They are okay cold but probably better warm in a thermos. Don’t forget how they are almost as flexible as bread as we can add all sorts of fillings.
30. Nachos. Corn chips with optional added cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and/or mince. If sending in the lunchbox we can have the chips in one container and the additions separate.
There are probably some other great ideas I’ve missed so please feel free to let me know!
Hopefully this has provided a little inspiration. If you have friends or family who may enjoy reading, please share.
Judith is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/