Parenting, Recipes

Healthy Packed Lunch Tips for Picky Eaters Big and Small

Two part tupperwear with steamed broccoli and pulled chicken.(3-minute read)

By J. Sparks

With many family members heading back to school this September, it is time to break out the lunch boxes again! Whether it be for your kids, partner, or for yourself, check our five tips for packing healthy lunch boxes that will come home empty!

Tip #1: Involve the whole family in preparing lunches.

Preparing lunches together with your family members, especially young children, can increase the chances that they will actually eat what has been packed. One of the best ways to get a picky eater excited about eating their lunch is to get them involved in the decision-making process. Kids are more likely to eat their lunches if they help make it. Younger kids can help with prep and clean-up, and older kids can learn valuable kitchen skills. Letting your kids learn to cook has a myriad of benefits, including an increase in self-confidence and independence.

Tip #2: Switch up your lunch time recipe routine.

While sandwiches are a lunchtime favourite, some family members may prefer to switch it up. Sandwich alternatives can include, bite-sized, bento-style lunches. For bento-style lunch box recipes check out DIY healthy ‘lunchables’.  As well, kids generally love bite-sized snacks on a stick! Whether it’s something as simple as cheese on a stick or something more complex like a mini sandwich.  Another lunchtime idea that can help to change up your lunch list is packing breakfast for lunch. 

Tip #3: Meal plan for quick lunches.

One-pot meals, overnight oats, and leftovers for lunch are all great ways to pack healthy and quick lunches. So is batch cooking and freezing portions for use later. Freezing can make food last longer, and can also help ensure there is something quick on hand for lunch pails. Other strategies to cut food prep time include making snack bins

Pieces of cut chicken lined up in rows with cut red peppers and broccoli florets

Tip #4: Include cost-effective and healthy seasonal produce. 

Planning, selecting, and including seasonal produce in lunch boxes is a great way to reduce food waste and grocery bills. As well, packing after school snacks to be enjoyed before or after school activities can also reduce family spending on convenience and on-the-go meals. There are a wealth of online resources that families can use to make budget savvy & healthy food choices, including this article by U of T Alumnus and Dietitian Leslie Beck.

Tip #5: Carefully select lunch containers & food packaging.

When packing lunches for your family, select containers with temperature control, food safety, and convenience in mind.  For example, children attending elementary school are often given specific times to eat their lunches.  Try to pack foods that may be enjoyed within the time allotted.  As well, it can be important to test out containers before sending them off to school, since young children may struggle to unpack items on their own.  Further, when packing a hot lunch, try pre-heating insulated containers with hot water before adding warmed food.  Also, packing partially freezing items, such as yogurt tubes or beverages, can also keep lunch items cold throughout the day.

In summary, as students head back to school this September, we hope these tips, routines, recipes, and resources will help you and your family to create delicious, healthy, and cost-effective lunches that will satisfy the pickiest of eaters!

Please note: If you are a current staff or faculty member with access to our Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP), please contact the EFAP and ask about your picky eater.

Author J. Sparks wishes to acknowledge Gabriele Simmons and the other Family Care Office work study students & staff who contributed to the writing of this blog.