Back to School Ideas for Picky Eaters

Back to School Ideas for Picky Eaters

Publish Date May 10, 2023 4 Minute Read
Author Allison Yoder, MA, RDN, LD

The start of a new school year can be an exciting time, but it may also leave you feeling overwhelmed. Between orientations, back-to-school events and a new schedule, it may seem like your to-do list is never-ending. Having a child who’s a picky eater can make it more challenging and sometimes time-consuming to plan meals that will be well received by the whole family. Try these tips to simplify your meal prep routine and make the transition from summer break to school season a little bit easier.

Quick Breakfast Ideas for Kids

With everyone trying to get out the door on time, getting breakfast on the table in the morning is no easy task. However, breakfast is an important meal for growing children. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast tend to perform better in school and have more energy. Whether your children eat at home or at school, be sure that they eat a nutritious breakfast every day by including 3 different food groups in their morning meals. Food groups include vegetables, fruits, protein-rich foods, and whole grains or starchy vegetables.

One way to make mornings more appealing to picky eaters is by creating a breakfast bar in your kitchen and letting your kids build their own breakfast. Like a salad bar, a breakfast bar includes a variety of foods to mix and match. When the meal is over, store leftovers in airtight containers and use them again the next morning. Getting kids involved in food preparation and selection provides them with the autonomy they’re often seeking, making them more likely to consume different foods. Be sure to include at least one go-to food you know your child will be happy to eat while adding some fun new options for them to explore.

Here are some quick ideas to include in your breakfast bar:

  • Whole-grain cereals, waffles, tortillas, bread or English muffins
  • Peanut butter or other seed/nut butters
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Variety of sliced fruit, such as bananas, strawberries or orange slices
  • Cheese slices
  • Chopped nuts, such as almonds, cashews or pistachios
  • Raisins and unsweetened dried fruit
  • Milk
  • Hard-boiled eggs

Remember, you don’t need to include all these items. Simply select a few choices from each food group.

Lunch Box Packing Tips for Picky Eaters

A well-packed lunch is key to overcoming the midday lull and ensuring that your child has the energy to power through the rest of the school day. Try some of these tips for easy lunch box packing.

1. Make a list of food favorites – Together with your child, write down a list of favorite foods. Categorize each food item by food groups including vegetables, fruits, protein-rich foods, and whole grains or starchy vegetables. Then use this list to build a balanced lunch box. Keep in mind that the school cafeteria may not be the best place to introduce new foods. It’s wise to stick to a child’s preferred foods when they’re away from home and use mealtimes at home to introduce new items.

2. Focus on variety – Build a balanced lunch box using their list of favorite foods as a guide.

  • Vegetables (pack at least one) – Cut up raw veggies such as carrot sticks, cucumbers, broccoli or bell pepper strips. Or try salsa or bruschetta for added variety.
  • Fruit (pack at least one) – Fresh fruit, unsweetened canned fruit, dried fruit, fruit purées or a fruit and veggie smoothie in a thermos.
  • Protein-rich foods (pack at least two) – Meat, canned tuna, eggs, milk, yogurt or Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese slices, seeds or seed butter, tofu or tempeh.
  • Whole grains or starchy vegetables (pack at least 1) – Whole grain bread, tortilla or pita, whole-grain crackers, granola bars or energy bites.

3. Get the kids involved – Include children in meal planning and preparation. Parents and caregivers are ultimately in charge of what’s prepared or packed in school lunches, but kids are more likely to try new foods – even fruits and vegetables – if they’ve helped to prepare them. You can also offer younger children a choice between two food options, such as an apple or grapes for lunch. Older kids may be ready to pack their own lunches independently. You can teach them about building a balanced lunch and provide options from each category to choose from.

Picky eating may feel like a difficult journey, but it’s not one you need to take alone. Our team of registered dietitians can help you create a personalized approach to feeding your family. You can schedule a telenutrition appointment here.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.