Moms and dads know that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day are not enough to sustain a growing kid, but sometimes dealing with a picky eater doesn’t seem worth the fight. Here’s how to pack nutrition into kids’ meals and avoid fighting over food with children.

How to make lunches healthy and fun

Lunchtime is a great time to refuel your child with energy to get them through the rest of the school day. Sometimes a sandwich every day, while easy for parents to pack, might be boring and repetitive for a child. Spice up your child’s lunch with these simple tips:

  • In place of a sandwich, pack your child strips of baked chicken, carrots and broccoli to dip in honey mustard, fat-free or reduced-fat ranch dressing.
  • Make an inside-out-sandwich using lettuce to wrap your child’s favorite lunch meat and vegetables.
  • Give your child a lunchtime task to build healthy tacos or burritos. Parents provide the ingredients, and your child can construct them.
  • Cut sandwiches into interesting shapes.
  • Serve lunch bento-style by providing your child with several small quantity options.
  • Switch up boring white bread for whole grain.
  • If your child loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, try to introduce peanut butter spread on a tortilla with slices of banana.
  • Mix up lunch sides with apple slices and nut/seed butter, snap peas, sliced bell peppers or cucumbers.

Involve children in the meal planning 

I recommend including the child in the growing, shopping and preparation of meals to encourage them to try new foods. In fact, children are more inclined to try something new if they had the opportunity to help from beginning to end.

You can also make fruit cups with your child. Allow them to pick out the colorful fruit they want. If they prepare it, they’re more likely to eat, plus it’s much healthier than pre-packaged fruit cups that may contain extra sugars and syrups.

Make healthy snacks easily accessible

I would suggest having “grab and go” items available for a child, like sliced apples and peanut butter. This is a great way to control portion and give the child the freedom to eat when they are ready.

How to avoid fighting over food

To avoid fighting with your children about the food you’ve prepared for dinner, I recommend that parents:

  • Adhere to structured, scheduled family meals and snacks with your child where you sit down together to eat.
  • Be a good role model by eating healthy foods and practicing healthy eating habits.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables, serve them in different way, and tell your child how much you enjoy them.
  • Turn off the TV and put away cell phones while you eat.
  • Set clear expectations for manners and behaviors at the table but be realistic about what children can manage.

Consult your child’s pediatrician for more helpful tips on how to improve your child’s diet.


Angela Boadu Angela Boadu, RD, LD/LDN, is the Clinical Nutrition Manager at Children's National Hospital. She has been with the hospital since 2012.

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Posts from Angela Boadu, RD, LDN/LD

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