packing lunches for picky eaters and those with texture sensitivities

There are a lot of options for school lunches in the blog world these days! Vegan, Bento box, Paleo, nut free, Gluten free, sugar free, lunches for busy families, lunches for minimalists . . . I even found a post on how to pack a lunch for your pet.
So there you go.

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I know the world probably doesn’t need another blog post on school lunches, but if you have a picky eater or two in your home, especially for Littles that deal with texture sensitivities or food aversion, then maybe this will come in handy.

My kids are picky eaters.
Like whoa.
My oldest kiddo has severe texture sensitivity issues that have taken a long time to work through. And we are far from done. If he decides he can’t eat something, he can. not. eat it. *cue gagging and worse*
My second oldest has general food aversion issues. If it looks strange, smells strange, is the wrong shape, color, or texture, comes in a new box, or no box at all, then these are good reasons to be less-inclined to eat. At all. Many a meal has been skipped at my house because I cannot force food down throats.
These issues continue to stretch me as a mom. —My patience, and my creativity at mealtimes. I’ve heard all the advice, read all the books, and believe me, I’ve tried it all. It can be devastating, heartrending, to work hard at feeding your people only to have them go hungry by choice. Parents work to meet basic needs. It’s part of our job, and when we can’t do our jobs no matter how hard we try, it gets discouraging.
So maybe, if you’ve ever found yourself dealing with yet another untouched plate, or lunch box full of uneaten food (because it wasn’t hard enough to get up at the butt crack of dawn and pack the darn thing only to have no one eat it!) then just maybe, something you find here will be useful.

Here’s how I plan school lunches.
1. Pack the night before when my brain is caffeinated. (Most mornings even my coffee needs coffee before I can walk straight).
2. Make a list of foods I know the kids will eat. (It’s a short list so this doesn’t take long).
3. Do the prep work (cutting, slicing, building sandwiches, filling beverage containers, etc).
4. Write a note. (“I love you, child! EAT YOUR FOOD. —Mom”

I try and build school lunches by rotating several main foods I know my kids will eat/tolerate.
• Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
• Turkey sandwiches.
• Mac-N-Cheese.
• Egg-Salad sandwiches.
• Cheese quesadillas.
I realize none of the above are going to win blue-ribbons on health food lists, but I make what I can from scratch, use wheat bread*, real peanut butter and homemade jam, etc. There are always options if you can get your kids to accept them. (*Wheat bread is tricky with my second-oldest because she refuses to eat nuts/seeds/oatmeal/flax/grain, or any other such addition in her bread).

Once I’ve decided on the main meal ingredient, I choose sides based on texture, keeping food groups in mind.
• Crunchy: Popcorn, crackers, etc., or Carrots, Apples, Celery with peanut butter and raisins, etc.
• Creamy/Smooth: Yogurt, cheese sticks, pudding, applesauce, banana, etc.
• Small Pieces: Raisins, Fish crackers, cheerios, grapes, pretzels, etc.
• Something new: (This is a difficult one because this food often comes back home untouched in my kids’ lunch boxes. But I keep trying anyway. (Try try again. Solidarity, friends). This category can include pretty much anything. Lunch meat cut up in slices and paired with cheese and crackers. A vegetable cut up in small pieces and made to look interesting with toothpicks as eating utensils. —Same with new fruits, like mango or kiwi. New crackers, nuts, or dried fruit. You name it. If they’ve not eaten it before, give it a shot.
• A treat: This is a wild card for me. If their lunch is already packed full of sugary foods, I skip it. But it’s called a “treat” for a reason, and if I want to throw a little something extra in their lunches, a homemade cookie, brownie, pudding cup, or the like goes a long way in the smile department.
• Beverage: Lots of schools provide milk (1%) as an option, but due to the fact that getting my kids to consume enough calories is a struggle, I prefer to give them whole milk. I usually skip juice/gatorade/etc because these are mostly full of empty calories anyway.

Tricks:
• The more dainty/intricate/interesting food looks, the more readily my kids will eat it. Or at least try it.
• Give up the crust battle. I cut the crusts off bread because it means my kids will consume more sandwich in the long run.
• Peel all the things. Apples, oranges, hard-boiled eggs, etc. If it takes too much work, kids won’t bother. Same with excessive wrappers or packaging.
• Add food dye (as long as it’s not an allergy issue!) My second-born adores anything pink and will happily drink her milk if it contains a drop of two of red food coloring. Same with my first born in regard to the color green. Actual food containers: same story. Use color to your advantage.

Lastly, write a note. Nothing makes a meal more palatable (to ANYONE) than knowing that whatever the heck it is, it was made with love.

Happy packing and good luck!

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