Fussy eaters are notorious for liking something one day and refusing it the next. So, it’s no surprise that you end up feeling frustrated, particularly when you take the time to pack a nutritious and appealing lunchbox.
We all want to make sure our kid’s health is the best it can be – especially to minimise snotty noses and coughs – but that can be easier said than done.
When looking at diet, the problem is that a picky child often has preconceived, negative associations with food. So the first thing you need to do is build up their trust and get them enjoying food again. Try not to fuss or force foods, as this can lead to more negative associations.
Instead, start including your child in shopping, meal planning and food preparation – when they know what’s coming they are more inclined to try it. Sometimes giving children an option between two healthy snacks will be enough to make them feel involved.
If all else fails and your child is set on being fussy, don’t panic! All children are different and it may just be a short-lived phase.
7 tips for a foolproof lunchbox
1. It’s all in the presentation
Fussy eaters often use all their senses when deciding what to eat. Consider their lunch as a whole. Choose a lunchbox that appeals to them, pack the food neatly and use frozen water bottles or ice-packs to ensure it transports well.
Try adding colourful fruits and vegetables and cut them up into small pieces. When cutting up fruits and veg you can avoid any bruised parts but you may find that some fruits get brown faster. Using a sharp knife helps avoid browning, as does dipping the fruit in lemon juice and water.
This will go some way to enticing them to at least open their lunchbox in the first place.
2. Don’t get too familiar
A lunchbox full of variety is key to good nutrition and overall food acceptance. When it comes to fussy eaters, try to include at least one or two of their preferred healthy foods when introducing any new foods or foods they’ve rejected in the past. This can reduce any anxiety and encourage acceptance.
Having something different from day to day can also increase the likelihood of your child eating more. Most adults don’t like to eat the same thing every day either!
3. Tick off the key nutrients
Packing a lunchbox that includes quality carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, protein like cheese and lean meats, and a little healthy fat like avocado is a good start.
Remember that your child’s packed lunch is only part of their diet, so look at the day as a whole to keep a healthy balance. If you are concerned about their eating habits you may like to consider supplementing their diet to support their nutrient intake.
4. Add a little sprinkle of love
School can be emotionally challenging for kids and sometimes they can feel a little overwhelmed. Lunch can be a nice reprieve, so a sweet message from Mum & Dad or a slice of their favourite baked treat can help kids to relax and recharge at lunchtime.
5. Mix up the main meal
Typically a lunchbox involves a sandwich, which can easily turn into a soggy, inedible mess by midday. Don’t panic, there are plenty of other ‘mains’ you can include. Crackers and homemade dips, savoury muffins and pizza scrolls are all fussy-eater favourites.
6. Raw and simple means healthy
Most kids prefer a simple lunch. Their lunchbox is the one thing stopping them from joining in on that game of chasey or handball. Raw veggie sticks, cheese cubes, homemade popcorn, and chopped fruit salads are all wholesome, easy-to-eat snacks to fuel an active body and busy mind.
7. Use your freezer
Stocking your freezer with healthy snacks and delicious baked morsels will be your saving grace each and every morning. Pop in a caramel rice puff bar one day, and a banana muffin the next. By having an endless stock of homemade snacks you will always have something delicious on offer.
Easy lunch recipes and tips from Georgia Harding
Mum of 2, Georgia Harding, has over 20 years of naturopathic experience and has made thousands of lunchboxes for her kids! She runs her own blog Well Nourished
, where you can find recipes and ideas around a healthy lifestyle for both you and your family.
She has even written The Well Nourished Lunchbox eBook
, which has raving reviews from time-pressed mums looking to offer their kids healthy school lunches.
We have picked out a few of our favourite recipes for you to try and a couple of tips from Georgia herself.
1. A dinner leftover: Zucchini, mint and haloumi fritters
- 4-500 g zucchini grated, moisture wringed from it
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Handful mint leaves, picked off the stems and finely chopped
- 180 g Haloumi, crumbled
- Zest one lemon
- ½ tsp sea salt
- Good grind black pepper
- 3 free-range or organic eggs, whisked a little
- 50 g chickpea or spelt flour
How to make
- Combine the zucchini, onion, garlic, mint and haloumi together in a large mixing bowl or food processor
- Add the zest, salt, pepper, eggs and mix to combine
- Add flour and mix well. The mixture should have the consistency of a pancake batter
- Add butter to a fry pan and heat over a moderate heat. Add the batter (approx. heaped tablespoon) and cook until brown, carefully flipping
2. For a treat: Berry nice brownies
- 200 grams sweet potato, peeled, grated and extra moisture squeezed from it
- 125 g of butter
- 170 g sweetener of your choice (honey, pure maple syrup or rice malt syrup)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tsp vanilla powder or paste
- 30-60 g of raw cacao
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 tbs coconut flour
- ½ cup raspberries, fresh or frozen or pitted cherries are lovely too (estimate about one berry per slice)
How to make
- Preheat your oven to 180℃
- In a large bowl, blender or processor, mix together the sweet potato, butter, sweetener, eggs and vanilla until combined
- Add the cacao, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder and combine
- Stir in the coconut flour. Your batter should be the consistency of a thick, cake-like batter. Let it sit for a minute and if it still seems a little wet, add more coconut flour teaspoon by teaspoon
- Line a small slice tin with baking paper
- Pour the batter into the tin and top with the raspberries or cherries (optional)
- Bake for 25 minutes or until the centre is firm to touch or a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing. It will firm up once chilled
- Store in the fridge in an airtight container or you can also freeze them
3. For something simple but fancy: Rice Paper Rolls
To create a really nourishing meal or snack, you need to build a rice paper roll with a little protein and some sort of vegetable or salad.
It’s best to grate, shred or thinly slice (julienne) the salad and vegetables. Georgia also always mixes in a little juice of a lemon or lime to keep the salad fresh.
Start by running slightly warm water over both sides of the rice paper.
As you feel it start to soften, place it on a wet board or bench top, add the filling and roll.
The paper goes sticky as it sits so get rolling quickly.
Place the filling towards the top of the paper (2 good heaped tablespoons), fold down the top edge, followed by the sides and then roll it downwards towards you.
- Tuna, diced chicken or chopped up boiled eggs mixed with pesto and grated carrot (or any other vegetable or salad)
- Diced chicken or tuna, shredded nori (sushi) paper and salad or sprouts tossed in a little mayonnaise and lemon juice
- Diced leftover sausage or meat patties and shredded or grated salad dressed in a little lemon juice
- Leftover potato salad or coleslaw with diced chicken or tuna
- Any leftover quinoa, rice or noodle dish, salad and lemon juice
- Leftover omelette or frittata with salad and lemon juice
- Haloumi and salad dressed with lemon juice
- Chickpeas or cannellini beans marinated in lime juice and a little cumin and cinnamon powder, with salad, sprouts or coleslaw
When putting the rice rolls in your kids lunchbox you may want to put some baking paper in between them so they don’t stick together.
Also remember to try and present the food in an appeasing way. Compartment lunchboxes are great for keeping food separated and looking fresh – something that seems to encourage kids to eat more. Some are even insulated or contain a space for a ice pack to keep the food chilled on those hot summer days.
If you have any favourites that your kids love, share them with other mums in the comments below!