School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters: Recipes That They Can’t Refuse

Packing school lunches for kids are giving mothers a hard time these days! It’s a challenge trying to figure out what to pack for school lunch and considering if they will eat it. You know the kid’s preferences (which are not always nutritious), and you know what is good for them. The question is how to combine these two facts and come up with a nutritious and acceptable diet.

Remember to stay calm around your fussy eater and not make mealtimes a battle of wills. We are going to offer some school lunch ideas for picky eaters. Here are the scrumptious favorites.


The Best Ones: Guaranteed to Make Them Eat

Cheddar Spirals

school lunch ideas

Ezume Images/

What kid doesn’t love pasta and lashings of cheese?


  • 16-ounce package of spiral pasta;
  • 2 cups of half-and-half;
  • 1 can of condensed cheddar cheese soup;
  • ½ cup of melted butter;
  • 4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese.

Boil the pasta until tender as per directions. In a slow cooker, combine the above ingredients and stir in the pasta. Cook on low for 45 minutes and you have a meal your child will love!

Cheesy Pepperoni Buns

school lunch ideas for picky eaters


This one has added beef for flavor and extra protein.


  • 1-pound of lean ground beef;
  •  2 cups of pasta sauce;
  • 3 ounces of sliced and chopped pepperoni;
  • 4 slices of cheese, your choice, chopped;
  • 12 mini buns;
  • 2 cups of mozzarella cheese.

The oven should be set to 350. Cook the beef in a skillet for 5 to 7 minutes, and stir in the pasta sauce, pepperoni, and cheese. Blend it all for six minutes.

Now, place the buns on a baking sheet and spoon the mixture onto the buns, top with the mozzarella cheese. Bake for about five minutes and they are ready to serve.

Mini Burgers

kids school lunch ideas


  • ¼ pound of ground beef;
  • 3 slices of cheese, your choice;
  • 4 slices of bread;
  • 2 tablespoons of thousand island dressing;
  • 2 pearl onions;
  • 3 cherry tomatoes.

Form mini burgers just like you would a normal-sized burger only a quarter of the size, and cook it like a regular burger. Сut the cheese to fit, cut the bread to match the burger sizes, and add the ever versatile Thousand Island dressing. Then layer in the other ingredients and top them with bread. Secure the whole work with toothpicks.

Lunch Box Ideas for Picky Eaters

Making the food look enticing in the lunch box goes a long way to getting it eaten. One way to narrow down your choices is to make a list of what goes in the lunch box daily. That way, you won’t bore the kids by putting in the same options every day.

Understand what your kid is likely to eat and create variations on those ingredients. Then, you can introduce new foods alongside the old standbys and gradually get your kids used to eating something different. Make sure the foods are easy to eat during the lunch period. They don’t have a lot of time and need foods that are easy to chew.

Presentation is important. If the kids see the lunch box as a fun part of their school equipment they will be more inclined to like the contents. Look for fun lunch box themes, colorful paper napkins, and toothpicks for skewering their lunch.

Also, let kids give you feedback on what sort of lunch box they would like and what are their favorite things to go into the lunch box. Give them options to choose from.

Packed School Lunch Ideas

lunch box ideas for extremely picky eaters

artem evdokimov/

A great solution to packed lunches is cold pasta salad. It can be made with leftover ingredients, it is easy to make ahead of time, and can last all week. Whole-wheat pasta has more fiber and will keep your child feeling fuller for longer.

 Whole-wheat pasta

  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Italian dressing
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cooked broccoli
  • Lightly cooked greens
  • Cheese
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs

A Healthy Home-made Lunch

  • Cheese
  • Whole-wheat crackers
  • Cooked green beans
  • Apple slices
  • Nut butter

Chicken and Guacamole

  • Rotisserie chicken
  • Mini guacamole in a sealed cup
  • Whole-wheat pita slices and carrots for dipping
  • Apple slices

Easy (No Cook) School Lunch Ideas

Kids are fine with simple meals. Offering non-cooked options can break up the monotony of the lunch box and offering nutritious side dishes can enhance the meal for them.

Cheese and Crackers

vegetarian school lunch ideas


Cheese and crackers are as simple as it gets but you can improve the nutrition by using whole grain crackers, adding pepperoni, and cheese, with a fruit or veggie option as you choose.

The Bagel and Cream Cheese

school lunch ideas for kids

Neha Aurangabadkar/

Add anything you want to this one, it will always get eaten. Include jam, turkey, hummus, peanut, or sunflower seed butter on a whole wheat bagel. Or include a side of fruit or veggies of your choice.

Tortilla Triangles

lunch ideas for picky eaters


Here is a yummy south-of-the-border tasty option and so easy to make. Fill a tortilla with your choice of butter and jam, bean dip, hummus, or turkey and cheese. Fold it over and cut it into triangles. These are easy to make and much loved by the kids.

A Simple Sandwich

healthy school lunch ideas


A whole grain bread paired with sunflower or peanut butter and jam is a simple but nutritious option.

Healthy School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

lunch ideas for picky eaters adults

Vladislav Noseek/

Healthy ingredients that you can always add if you feel like it include Greek Yogurt, granola, peppers, baby tomatoes, grapes, mini muffins, cracker pizza, peanut butter, banana or apples, celery sticks, snap peas, mini bagels, and broccoli with ranch.

Get creative and try different nutritious ingredients, until you discover what they will eat.

Vegan School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

Increasingly, more people are turning to plant-based diets, yet schools still do not offer vegetarian or vegan options. This makes it even more important to pack a healthy vegan offering in your kid’s lunch box. There are many great vegan recipes and ingredients on the market these days, so your kids no longer must rely on the school lunch line.

Vegan Cheese Sauce

kids lunch ideas for picky eaters

Natalia Sem/

You can easily make a vegan cheese sauce that is packed with nutritious vegetables and oils. Here is a popular recipe:

  • 2 Tbs of olive oil;
  • ½ onion, diced;
  • 3 minced garlic cloves;
  • 2 peeled and diced Russet potatoes;
  • 2 peeled and diced carrots;
  • 1 peeled and diced sweet potato or yam;
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth;
  • 1 cup of plant-based milk;
  • ¼ cup of nutritional yeast;
  • 1 Tbs of coconut aminos or soy sauce;
  • ½ tsp of salt;
  • juice of 1 lemon.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a sauté pan. Then throw in your onions and let them sauté to a caramelized state. Then toss in the minced garlic and sauté for 30 to 30 seconds before adding 1 cup of the veggie broth. Then you add the diced yam, potatoes and carrots. Bring to a boil, cover, and let the ingredients simmer for 15 minutes

While you are waiting, mix the other cup of veggie broth with the nutritional yeast, plant milk, coconut aminos, lemon juice, and salt in a blender. When the vegetables are finished cooking, add them to the blender ingredients and blend to smoothness. Once it has a cheese sauce-like consistency, immediately serve over chips, pasta, or French fries. Place leftovers in an airtight container and store them in the refrigerator. It can stay fresh up to a week.

This is a great standby to make your vegan menus stand out and be popular with the fussy eater in your home.

Vegan Quesadillas

picky eater lunches


Add refried beans to the vegan cheese to make it tastier. Spread the refried beans over a large tortilla, sprinkle vegan cheese over the beans, fold in half, and heat on a griddle until the cheese is melted.

Black Bean Made in a Blender

cold lunch ideas for picky eaters


  • 1 tin of black beans;
  • 1 lemon;
  • 2 tsp of ground cumin;
  • 1 tsp of onion powder;
  • ½ tsp of ginger;
  • 2 tbsp porridge oats;
  • a grinding of black pepper.

To get a smooth, homemade paste, blend all ingredients on the puree cycle of your blender until you achieve your goal

Serve it on whole wheat bread, crackers, or over a whole grain.

Easy Vegetarian School Lunch Idea

Veggie Burgers

packed school lunch ideas

Kolpakova Svetlana/

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes;
  • 1 can of cooked chickpeas;
  • 1 tsp Cajun spice;
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder;
  • ¼ tsp salt;
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper;
  • organic avocado mayo.

Bake the sweet potatoes in the oven or microwave. Spoon the flesh out of them and into a large bowl. Mash the chickpeas and add them to the sweet potatoes. Add the Cajun spice, herbs of choice garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste.

Form the mix into 4 patties and place them in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up. Preheat the oven to 350f. Remove the patties from the freezer and place them on a baking tray. Bake for 25 minutes, turning them once.

Remove the burgers from the oven and build your own burger to your taste. Add lettuce, tomato, onion, and avocado mayo.

Veggie Bean Chili

school lunch menu ideas

Elena Veselova/

  • oil;
  • onions;
  • garlic;
  • spices;
  • chopped tomatoes;
  • vegetable stock cube;
  • birds Eye Mexican Bean Mix;
  • frozen Veggies.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and add the onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and spices, stir and fry for another minute. Add the Mexican Bean Mix and frozen veggies and cook for 8 minutes. Serve with brown rice or let cool and put in a sealed container for the lunch box.

Gluten-Free Lunch Box Ideas for Picky Eaters

picky eater lunch box ideas

Julia Mikhaylova/

A gluten-free diet is necessary for a kid with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. If your kid has been diagnosed with either of these ailments, then a strict gluten-free diet must be followed. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and such extracts as malt and brewer’s yeast.

Your kid will still have many options for a healthy diet, including meats, fish, poultry, beans, fruits, vegetables, and most dairy. In fact, everything that is gluten-free. There is no medication for this so only choosing the right food options will work.

With a gluten-free diet, kids with celiac disease will absorb all the nutrients they need to grow and stay healthy. There are many delicious recipes available to get your kid eating what is right.

Gluten-free grains and flour alternatives are:

  • amaranth;
  • brown, white, and wild rice;
  • buckwheat;
  • almond meal flour;
  • coconut flour;
  • corn;
  • cornstarch;
  • guar gum;
  • millet;
  • pea flour;
  • potato Flour;
  • potatoes;
  • quinoa;
  • sorghum;
  • soy flour.

Gluten-Free Lunch Box Ideas

vegan school lunch ideas

Julia Mikhaylova/

Spend some time experimenting with new ingredients and recipes, and don’t forget raw fruits and veggies. When buying spreads, dips, jams, or anything processed, make sure they are labeled gluten-free on the package.

If your kid is a picky eater, nutritional shakes and power bars can be really tasty and a good way to give them the ingredients they need but chocolate flavored. Consider consulting with a Dietician if in doubt.

Kids want to feel that they are part of the group and may worry that their gluten-free food is thought of as “weird”. Try sending enough food so that the kids can share it and their friends can taste how delicious the food is. Remember to talk to them about the risk of trading lunches and eating something that could harm their health.

Gluten-Free Snack Ideas

easy school lunch ideas

sweet marshmallow/

  1. Corn tortilla chips and salsa or guacamole.
  2. Gluten-free pretzels.
  3. Ants on a log (celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins).
  4. Cucumbers and Hummus.
  5. Avocados on gluten-free toast.
  6. Brownie pumpkin bars.
  7. Cheddar, bacon, and chives on gluten-free crackers.
  8. Kale muffins.
  9. Gluten-free tortillas with cheese and veggies.
  10. Popcorn.
  11. Apples with peanut butter.
  12. Rice cakes.

Gluten-Free Lunches

homemade school lunch ideas for picky eaters

Irina Rostokina/

Gluten-free fried rice: Use long-grain rice such as jasmine rice. Cold, leftover cooked rice will have a better consistency for this dish. The eggs are gluten-free and rich in nutrients.

The vegetables: Use onion, carrots, red bell peppers, frozen peas, and scallions for the base but any handy vegetable, eggplant, celery, or spinach will do.

To make the sauce, mix tamari, toasted sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

Scramble the eggs and set them aside using oil or a little butter. Heat more oil and evenly cook the already diced vegetables. Add garlic and then the frozen peas which will soften and warm nicely. Add the rice and scallions, then pour the sauce over everything and stir and voila! A tasty meal and totally non-gluten.

Ideas for Extremely Picky Eaters

lunch box ideas for picky eaters

Kostikova Natalia/

Although it is common to find kids that are picky eaters, some kids are extreme in this regard to the extent that the parents must involve a professional. Picky eating becomes serious when kids become undernourished or are eating so little that it seriously impacts their lives.

This seems to happen around 7 or 8 years of age. That is when parents begin to realize that the kid has changed from a normal eater to one that will hardly eat at all and that it is affecting their quality of life.

This is picky eating at a clinical level and may involve several reasons. Some kids have developed a heightened sense of smell and or taste which makes them averse to certain foods. Others may have problems with anxiety and the food is not the reason at all. Whatever the reason, the more the child avoids food, the more ingrained the habit becomes.

  1. Firstly, help the child figure out why he/she doesn’t like the food. The child may think the food is unhealthy, or just dislike the texture, or hate trying something new and untried. The mother should now explain that the food is tasty and suitable for a growing child even if it doesn’t look that way.
  2. Make a list of the things the kid wants to eat and another of the things the parents think they should eat. Then figure out what they are avoiding in the foods, texture, taste, or smell. Then through gentle, therapeutic exposure to the foods the kid has been avoiding the fear of food will diminish.
  3. Other times, just interacting with the food physically, touching it, smelling it, and having the food on the table in a non-threatening way can help them come around. Tell them they need to try something three times before rejecting it. New flavors take time for the taste buds to adjust to. When trying some new food, have the kid rate from 0 to ten. Anything over a five they agree to eat a few times a week.

The longer the kid has been a picky eater, the longer it will take to overcome food avoidance. Sometimes it will take professional help. But with treatment and patience, great improvements can be made. Sometimes by trial and error one little breakthrough such as liking a particular flavor of cheese, can lead to eating sandwiches and then a lot of other delights.

Don’t Give Up Hope with The Picky Eater

healthy lunch ideas for picky eaters

LightField Studios/

In conclusion, as the parent of a picky eater, you are not alone. Many parents have gone through the same issues. Previously, picky eating was considered an eating disorder. However, a new study says that it may be the result of helicopter parenting.

It seems the more insistent the parent is about the kid eating everything on the plate, the more likely a picky eater may be born. On the other hand, when parents are less strict around food the kids are less inclined to be fussy eaters. It seems that a relaxed attitude will encourage a better relationship between the child and food. So, breath, enjoy the kitchen and your child will too.

The picture on the front page: Ekaterina Markelova/

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