Overcoming the picky eater dilemma one lunchbox at a time

Healthy food, picky eaters

Back-to-school is on the horizon, and with it comes the never-ending query of what to pack in your child’s lunch box.

Eating nutritious meals and snacks will help your child learn, play and grow, but if you have a picky eater, sending a lunch to school can be a huge challenge. Many families struggle with picky eaters, so know that you are not alone—it’s common for children to react negatively to some foods.

As a Kelowna registered dietitian, I am here to tell you to not to be so hard on yourself.

It’s likely your child won’t eat a “perfect balance” of nutrients at each meal, and that’s OK.

To help your family prepare for the upcoming school year, here is some lunch packing advice.

Lead with the familiar – Make a list of the foods your child typically likes to eat and include them in their meal. At mealtime, try to provide at least one food you know they enjoy on their plate. To help expose them to new foods, try pairing the food they love with a new food they haven’t tried before. Be sure to also include them in making the grocery list, which will help them feel more empowered over their food choices.

Recruit your child’s help – Encourage kids to take part in grocery shopping, preparing, and cooking healthy meals to help them become more adventurous when it comes to trying new foods, and more likely to eat what ends up in the lunch box. You can assign tasks based on skill level, such as washing fruits or vegetables, peeling vegetables, grating cheese and mixing ingredients in a bowl.

• 2-3 years old – Have them wash fruits and veggies and smell the fresh herbs you are using.

• 3-4 years old – Get them involved with pouring measured ingredients into a bowl or helping to add toppings to a sandwich or pizza, choosing from pre-prepared ingredients.

• 4-6 years old – Get them involved with stirring ingredients together and helping to slice soft- cooked vegetables, fruit, cheese and tofu with a plastic knife.

• 6-8 years old – Let them use simple kitchen equipment, such as a grater, can opener or toaster after you’ve demonstrated how to use the equipment safely.

• 8-11 years old – At this stage, they should be able to help make their own lunch to bring to school, follow simple recipes and help cut ingredients with a knife under supervision.

Remember that appetites fluctuate – Just like an adult, a child’s appetite isn’t always the same. One day they might be eating a lot and another day they aren’t very hungry. There are many different factors, such as growth spurts, their level of activity and what they have eaten the day before, which can impact their appetite level. They might not be interested in eating at every meal, so send a variety of snacks in case they get hungry outside of the designated lunchtime.

Nutrition isn’t a one-size-fits all approach, so if you’re struggling with your child’s nutrition, registered dieticians are here to support your family’s unique nutrition journey. We provide a range of services, such as virtual or one-on-one consultations, webinars and recipe ideas.

To discuss, book an appointment with me, go to www.dietitianservices.ca.


Family Mexicasa Pizzas


• 1-1/2 tsp canola oil

• Half small onion, finely chopped

• 8 oz lean ground beef

• 1 small clove garlic, minced

• 1/2 tsp salt

• 1 cup white corn & black beans mild salsa

• 1 pkg multigrain thin pizza crusts

• 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

• 2 green onions, finely chopped


1. Position oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C).

2. Heat oil in frying pan over medium heat; cook onion, stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir in beef and garlic; cook for four to five minutes, breaking beef up with a wooden spoon, or until beef is no longer pink inside. Stir in salt and salsa; cook for one minute. Remove from heat.

3. Spread half of the beef mixture over each pizza crust, leaving a one-inch (2.5 cm) border around edge bare. Sprinkle with cheese.

4. Place pizzas directly on lower oven rack. Bake for eight minutes or until crust is browned and cheese is melted. Using tongs, slide pizzas onto cutting board. Sprinkle with green onions. Slice and serve immediately.

Joy Zhuang is a Kelowna Registered Dietitian at Your Independent Grocer

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