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Lunch Ideas for Even the Pickiest of Eaters (Toddlers!)

Does your child ask for grilled cheese or PB&J every day for lunch?

Image courtesy of Rawich |

Image courtesy of Rawich |

Or maybe he’s is a bit more adventurous (read: eats some veggies and will try some foods that aren’t white!)….but you’re out of ideas?

You know your kiddo isn’t getting the best nutrition, because he’s eating the same thing every day, but you’re not sure where to start…

Well, you’re in luck my friend!

I have some fun (healthier) recipes and tips to get your child to try some new foods (including veggies!).

First here are 7 tips to get those “un-favorite” foods (especially veggies) off the plate and into their tummies:

1. Serve lunch in a bento box – or an ice cube tray
Never heard of them?  They’re basically lunch boxes with compartments and they’re FUN! These are especially good for the picky eater who doesn’t like their foods to touch. If you’re in the market to buy one and want to know which material (aluminum, plastic, stainless steel, etc.) would work best for you, check out this article.

For the little toddlers, you can even use an ice cube tray. All those little compartments are much more fun than a plate!

2. Hide ’em
I’m a big fan of Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious cookbook where she hides veggies (and fruit) in everything from grilled cheese to brownies. The goal, though, is to develop the taste for veggies and get rid of the fear….so it’s probably not the only way you’ll want to get veggies into your child.

I make up the purees and freeze them in ice cube trays (each cube ~1/4 cup) and my kids help me add the cubes, which they know are vegetables, so I don’t need to hide them anymore.

The key to hiding veggies is this: make the recipe (ie spinach and carrot brownies) a few times without mentioning the hidden healthy ingredients, and once they declare it an awesome recipe, then you can let them in on the little secret. If they back peddle, just tell them you know they already like it…they told you last time you made it!

3. Make Dips
Here’s something you probably don’t spend all day thinking about – Most kids aren’t huge fans of tomatoes…yet they eat ketchup with everything. You know why? Because dipping finger food is fun!

Knowing that, you can create all sorts of fun dips for them to try with carrots, celery, cucumber, peppers…and bonus, many dip recipes are made with veggies!

Here are a couple of articles with yummy dip recipes: 5 Healthy Dips that Qualify for Lunch, (#1-yum!) 10 Dips That Will Reform Your Picky Eater (love #9), and Kid Friendly Veggie Dips.

4. Offer as an appetizer
Have you noticed that the favorite foods are always eaten first…and then they plead that they’re too full to eat the healthy stuff on their plate?

Well two can play at that game! Offer the healthy stuff first and I bet they’ll eat it.

And as you’re getting lunch ready, sneak a bite and whisper to your child, “Oops, sorry! I didn’t mean to take your special treat – it’s just so yummy!” Works like a charm.

5. Consider consistency
When I was little, my parents boiled the poop out of our nightly dinner broccoli. It was the consistency of wet socks. Truly unappetizing…

I don’t boil any veggies anymore. I roast them to make them crunchier or saute them so they still have a bite or steam them to take the raw edge off. But I do. not. boil. anymore.

And I bet there are some foods that if you cooked them slightly less (or in some cases, more), your kiddo would actually eat without a fuss.

Or maybe your child thinks bananas are mushy and won’t touch them with a 10-foot pole. Why not make a nut butter and banana sandwich? If he likes the taste of bananas (and it’s just a consistency issue), that will go over big.

Or yogurt is too slimy? Try mixing it in a dip (recipes from tip #1).

6. Change up the shape
Sandwiches are always rectangular (or square) in most houses. But what if you used a cookie cutter to make it into a flower or a football? That’s way more fun.

You can use a cookie cutter for pancakes, cheese, fruit, some veggies…the possibilities are endless!

Along the same lines, you can prepare veggies in different shapes too: use a potato peeler to make ribbons for carrots and zucchini or a mandolin to make chips or fry shapes (including waffle fries).

Or my favorite (although not for the young toddlers) – kabobs! You can make fruit and cheese skewers, meat and cheese skewers….so many options.

In the ideas section below there are a couple other interesting sandwich “vehicles”…

Image courtesy of Simon Howden |

Image courtesy of Simon Howden |

7. Get them involved
If you have some outdoor space, cultivate your little gardener by letting her help pick out what to grow and more importantly help pick the veggies when they’re ready.

Or when you’re grocery shopping, ask your child to choose a food (vegetable) that you’ll make when you get home.

And depending on the age of your child, let him help make the meal…he’ll be more likely to at least try it if he made it himself!

Need some recipe ideas? Try these out:

  • Does your child like bacon? Try these BLT Bites (anything on a toothpick is more fun – but only for the older kids!) and these BLT Bites that look more like a little nest!
  • Does your child like potato pancakes? Zucchini pancakes aren’t a giant leap from there.
  • If your child likes plain cheese quesadillas, try adding some protein (diced chicken or beans) or veggies.
  • Have you got a little boy addicted to all things car and truck? Try these stoplights.
  • Got a pickle lover? How about wrapping a piece of provolone and turkey around a pickle spear?
  • Need some new sandwich combinations?  Nut butter, banana and honey. Pear and avocado. Apple, cheddar and ham. Avocado and turkey. Apple, cheddar and nut butter. Ham (or turkey) and cheese “skewered” with a mini pretzel stick. And don’t forget about hot panini type sandwiches…who doesn’t like melted cheese?!
  • Is pasta your child’s #1 favorite food? Try a cold tricolor pasta salad with diced veggies.
  • Or these bread cups are pretty fun (although maybe you could pick a healthier bread!) Using a thinner bread will also leave more room for the meat or veggies you stuff inside.
  • These Pinwheels can be made more child-friendly with just cream cheese, turkey, baby spinach and some shredded carrots…maybe some diced grape tomatoes too!

Remember that the experts always say that it can take 10-20 exposures of a new food to get used to it….so don’t give up too soon!

Did you find these tips helpful? I hope you’ll use the buttons below and share with a friend!


  1. […] so much! If you’re looking for recipes for healthier meals, check out my ideas for Breakfast, Lunch and […]

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