Healthy School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

Healthy doesn't have to mean boring.

lunchbox filled with berries and a skewer style sandwich
Photo: Getty Images

Got a picky kid? Help them join the empty lunchbox crew—and get them excited about lunchtime—with a few simple strategies to make a more enticing school lunch. We're talking whipping up healthy versions of your little ones' favorite foods, having fun with how you present the meal, and more. With these delicious and fun school lunch ideas, even picky eaters will finish every last bite.

Three cheers for an end to uneaten lunches!

01 of 06

Go Beyond the Basics

Sheet Pan Pancake With Bananas, Cinnamon, and Chopped Peanuts
Brie Passano

While it might be tempting to stick to sandwiches, plain PB&Js can quickly lose their appeal. Instead, experiment with anything from whole-wheat mini bagels to protein-packed kebabs, which will get kids excited about trying new foods. Pasta salad keeps well and can be tailored to kids' preferences, while baked whole-grain tortilla chips are fun for scooping up salmon or tuna.

Breakfast for lunch is always popular with kids. Try whipping up whole-grain pancakes or waffles on Sunday and packing leftovers throughout the week. (You can use our sheet-pan pancake recipe to make it even easier!) For an added punch of protein, layer peanut butter between two pancakes. Vary the pancake flavors by trying pumpkin, blueberry, or gingerbread.

02 of 06

Play With Presentation

Getty Images

A few simple tweaks in prepping and packaging can encourage choosy kids to give new foods a try. Making food easier or more fun to eat is important. Bite-sized foods work well packed into Bento-style lunchboxes, and fun, frilly toothpicks can be packed with small cubes of fruit and cheese. Protein, fruits, and veggies look great on a skewer, and dippable meals like veggies and hummus or spinach dip are always a hit.

And you can always have a little fun with sandwiches, too—cut them into fun shapes with cookie cutters, or turn them them into "sushi" by rolling, slicing, and portioning sandwiches into individual bites.

03 of 06

Make Their Favorites Healthier

Lemony Cucumber-and-Herb Pasta Salad
Greg DuPree

Whether you sneak in some veggies or swap in whole grains, you can bulk up nutrition without sacrificing flavor—like adding roasted broccoli and tomatoes to kid-favorite mac and cheese or veggies in pasta salad.

And if you have a dinner that your child likes, make extra so you can pack it in a thermos for the next day's lunch.

04 of 06

Take Time With New Foods

Fusilli with green pesto sauce on a plate

If your child refuses to eat certain foods, it can be hard to know when to keep trying and when give up. Your kid may come around after repeated tastings—but it doesn't work for every picky eater.

Try adding a small, bite-sized amount of a new food to their lunchbox, and continuing to reintroduce it on and off for several weeks to see if they can finally grow to love it.

05 of 06

Make the Snacks at Home

Granola Bars With Apricots, Oats, and Almonds
Philip Friedman; Styling: Colleen Riley

Making homemade versions of the kids' favorite snacks is a nutritious way to satisfy their taste buds. Granola bars that are homemade tend to have much less sugar and fewer additives than store-bought, but are just as tasty and will fuel them for school.

If you go the store-bought route, stick to fruits, nuts, and items with short ingredient lists.

06 of 06

Add Color to Your Kids' Lunch

Fancy Tomato Sandwiches

Even if the main color palette is bland beige food, add pops of color with brightly colored produce, such as raspberries and cherry tomatoes. Those fun colors may entice them to take a bite.

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