school lunch ideas for picky eaters

School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters

I am in possession of a very picky eater.  So picky that his teachers requested that he be changed to packed lunches as he was refusing to eat anything from the hot school lunches and so was hungry and distracted during the afternoon.  That sent the problem of his school lunch firmly back to me, but what could I possibly give him that would be healthy, filling and give him the energy he needed? 


At the time he was only agreeing to eat Jam Sandwiches for his school packed lunch.  This didn’t seem to be the most nutritious option for a packed lunch idea so I negotiated a truce….  We agreed that if he eat or at least tried what I gave him each day then he could have Jam Sandwiches on a Friday which is our treat day.  Then I got started coming up with school lunch ideas for a picky eater.

school lunch ideas for picky eaters

Trial and Error

If you are in the position of trying to come up with school lunch ideas for picky eaters then my first tip would be variety.  I have tried lots of packed lunch ideas some of which he has absolutely hated and others that I have gotten away with despite the fact that they clearly contained vegetables.  It is all about trial and error with those fussy eaters.  I must say I do also make deals with him. I am not sure that this is the best way to go, but I work on the idea that if I can at least get him to try some new things one day he might eat them.  With that in mind here are some of the things that have worked when preparing the school lunchbox for my picky eater.

Top Tip; School Lunch for Picky Eaters

At the kids school they are not allowed to throw anything from their packed lunch away either so I know he has actually eaten it…  Although I find this pretty grim when getting the lunch boxes back on a hot day it has really helped me to understand what he has and hasn’t eaten.  If you have a fussy eater I would definitely recommend asking for them to not be allowed to throw things away.  The school may not be able to accommodate the request, but it is worth an ask as I think knowing what they actually are consuming is half the battle. 

I now know that he is often eating the fruit items first so the sweet stuff and then doesn’t have room for the protein.  He needs the protein to help with his concentration and so I have been able to adjust quantities of fruit (he can always have more at home after school).  I have also explained to him that I will remove any ‘sweet’ items like a yoghurt or fruit roll up if he doesn’t start to eat some of the savoury things.  This is something I would never have been able to work out if he was able to throw away the stuff he hadn’t eaten.


Pizza Roll Ups

These are a really quick and easy way of getting him to secretly eat some vegetables as I use my hidden vegetable tomato sauce as the base for the pizza pinwheel. 

packed lunch ideas

All you need is store bought ready rolled pastry, some passata or a batch of my tomato sauce if you want to get those secret vegetables in, grated cheese and any other toppings that your child would like to include in their packed lunch.  We go for diced pepperoni. 

freezable packed lunch idea

Then it is as easy as spreading the tomato sauce on the base, scattering over the rest of the toppings, rolling up pastry and cutting into about 1 inch slices.  You will need to make sure that your toppings go right to the edge though as otherwise some of the pizza rolls won’t have any filling.  I then freeze them on a baking tray and once they are no longer sticky put them in a stasher bagThey stay in the freezer until the night before I need them and then I bake and he eats them cold as part of his school lunch.  I love these as not only are they nutritious and filling they are also a freezable packed lunch idea so they save me time.

Sausage Rolls

At the same time as I am making the pizza roll ups I also do a batch of sausage rolls.  I simply buy raw sausage meat (you can just cut open normal sausages if you can’t get that) and put it onto the laid out sheet of pastry.  Then it is roll and cut.  I tend to keep them fairly thin, but about a couple of inches in length.  It is then into the freezer on a baking tray until they are no longer sticky (just make sure they aren’t touching when they go in) and then into a stasher bag until they are needed.

I find sausage rolls are a perfect option for the days when my kids have an after school club as I like to know they have had some protein.  I believe you can also freeze these once they are cooked, but for me the pastry goes soggy then so I just pop them in the oven whilst or right after I am cooking the dinner et voila a quick and easy freezable kids packed lunch idea.

Pesto Pin Wheels

Again at the same time as I am doing the pizza roll ups and sausage rolls I also make a vegetarian version.  For this you need a pre rolled pastry sheet, pesto (to make it yourself chuck basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and parmesan into a blender and press the on switch.  It really is that simple.  I just guess for quantities and adjust based on taste.  I usually also add a squeeze of lemon and pepper), grated mozarella.  Cover the pastry with the pesto and sprinkle all over with the mozarella.  Bake till golden brown; job done. 

pesto pin wheels

As with the other rolls I freeze these uncooked and then bake the ones I need the night before.  These also make a great buffet item for a grown up party.  I love them!!

Stasher Bags

I keep banging on about these bags so I thought I would explain what they are.  These are silicone reusable bags which I use for everything.  They go in the freezer, the microwave and can even be used to sous vide. They have completely removed the need for single use plastic bags in our household and I rather love them!

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Selection box

I guess this is a bit like a bento box idea.  I have some tupperware from Sistema which is divided into sections and I use this to create him a bit of a selection of packed lunch items. My picky eater seems to do better when he has a choice and when there are several small items to eat.  In his selection box I usually put breadsticks, mozzarella, crackers, a mini babybel cheese, mini snack cucumbers and a yoghurt.  The best bit about this idea is that it is a make ahead school lunch for kids.  I tend to plan out the lunches by the week and can put this in the pot ready to go on the Monday and just keep in the fridge so it is perfect for that morning chaos!

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Pasta pot

It seems that almost all kids like pasta so I have also bought my fussy eater a thermos hot food flask which I fill with his favourite pasta meal and then he not only gets something nutritious, but something hot too!  I tend to keep it simple and go with my hidden vegetable sauce, chicken and bacon. 

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I make sure it is really hot when it goes in and that there is lots of sauce.  This helps it to stay warm.  This is perfect for the winter.  If you live in a warmer climate you could still do the same with a pasta salad version of their favourite pasta dish.  This does work as a make in advance lunch if I just make enough when we eat it for dinner.  It does still need reheating in the morning so it does need to be on a day that you are not behind schedule.  For me that is basically never!

Do it Yourself

The last thing that has really worked for my son is sending him into school with a packed lunch that is like a do it yourself sandwich or roll.  For some reason the idea of making his own sandwich or roll seems to make him more inclined to eat.  When I am rushed for time I sometimes want to just give him a sandwich, but if I do I know it will come back uneaten (he doesn’t even like the Jam sarnies that he previously loved anymore)  However, if I give him a roll, a little pot of butter and slices of cheese or ham then it all gets eaten. 

Final Thoughts

I hope some of these make ahead packed lunch and freezable school lunch ideas are useful and help you with your fussy eater.  It is so frustrating trying to feed a picky eater, I know.  You want them to eat healthily, but you also just want them to eat!  I feel your pain.  My consolation is that I am told the extreme fussiness found in little kids usually doesn’t continue forever.  I await the time when my little boy will be eating me out of house and home.  In the meantime if you have any great ideas for make in advance lunch box ideas for kids or in fact any quick lunch box fillers do share…  I would love to hear all ideas as next week he will probably decide he hates all of the above and I will be back at square one.

30 thoughts on “School Lunch Ideas for Picky Eaters”

  1. Kirsty, what great suggestions! And great that the school doesn’t allow kids to throw anything away, so parents can tell what’s going on. I normally wouldn’t put a link in a comment, but since you asked for other suggestions – I like my own recipe for hummus better than store-bought and I make it with all organic ingredients. – protein to go along with pieces of carrot, different colored bell peppers, cucumber, broccoli, whatever. #DreamTeam

  2. Sounds like you are doing a great job managing your picky eater! I have always done packed lunches for my children as it is so much more economical and I also get to control what they are eating. Those days are gone now as my older two girls are 21 and 20 and my 11-year-old is homeschooled! #DreamTeam

    1. He most certainly is!! I actually noticed that he behaves better when he has eaten his lunch and doesn’t make daft decisions at school… #DreamTeam

  3. Lovely ideas. I would find it difficult not to eat these myself and they might not make it to the kids lunch box. My youngest son has autism and he only eats an extremely limited diet but at least he’s eating something rather than nothing. When he does expand his diet I will totally try those pizza wheels as I think they’ll be a hit with him. #DreamTeam

  4. Those pizza wheels sound lush. If I baked them I don’t think that they would last long enough to make it into the kids lunchboxes. My youngest son has autism and has an extremely limited diet but at least he’s eating something and not nothing. When he does start to explain his diet I will definitely start with those pizza wheels. #DreamTeam

    1. I am not going to lie I always eat one or two before they make it to the freezer! I should really try to remember that with my son as well. Something is better than nothing… #DreamTeam

  5. These are all brilliant ideas! I have to say I was (still am) a picky eater and at school I used to throw my sandwiches in the bin and eat very very little of my lunch. I still won’t eat bread and struggle with what to take on picnics/days out but I am a whole lot better than I used to be. I take cold cheese on toast with me now instead of a sandwich and I much much prefer it!

    1. Do you like tortilla wraps? Only I am not a huge sandwich eater, but I love a ricotta, ham and courgette ham wrap… #DreamTeam

  6. Some really great ideas here and I like how the recipes are batch recipes. I have one really fussy eater out of 4, so not bad going really! #dreamteam

    1. I am a bit obsessed with batch cooking. Maybe it is a mum of 4 thing lol! I too only have one really fussy eater, but he is rubbing off on his sisters! #DreamTeam

  7. Love these ideas. Especially the pasta and pizza roll ups. Touch wood – we are super lucky to not have any problems with fussy eating.But these would be great way of switching things up a bit. #DreamTeam xx

    1. I love the pesto roll ups and actually served them at parent drinks recently. They went down a storm! #DreamTeam

  8. I do feel sorry for the humble jam sandwich which seems to be a no-no these days…I’m pretty sure they didn’t do me any harm! #DreamTeam

    1. I know… I am sure they won’t kill him. I rarely eat a sandwich now as I am always avoiding carbs. When did a sandwich become the enemy?! #DreamTeam

  9. I was an absolute fan of buttered noodles as a kid. Just loved them. Still do. I love the sausage rolls, that sounds like a great lunch! #DreamTeam

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