Mom of 3 Discovered Hack for Making Her Kids Eat: a Lunch Box

  • I’m a cookbook author, and I want my children to love food as much as I do.
  • I found out they try new foods more readily if I pack them in their lunch boxes.
  • Now I take lunch boxes everywhere, from cross-country vacations to Grandma’s house.

Everyone wants their kids to be adventurous eaters — but as a cookbook author, I really want my kids to love food.

It’s not about the bragging rights; it’s because food has been my way into so many of life’s joys, from exploring new cultures through travel to gathering friends at home.

So when my once open-minded son’s list of approved foods narrowed to fruit, fruit, and more fruit, I got nervous.

And yes, maybe I did wonder if this was karma coming back to bite me for having once boasted about his love of puréed beets.

Looking for a solution, I scoured the internet for advice and discovered that kids may need to see a new food 10 to 15 times before they’ll try it.

While that sounds fine in writing, it doesn’t work out great in real life, when the offended party might throw his plate on the floor and cry, causing you, the food-loving mom who’s just doing her best, to choke back tears.

The parent who can take rejection 10 to 15 times is made of stronger stuff than I am.

Luckily, an easier answer presented itself.

The answer was in our kitchen

One day I was packing my son’s bento-style lunch box for preschool and realized we’d run out of his preferred foods. So I improvised with what we had on hand, shredding some cheese, making some popcorn, and adding a couple cucumber slices, which I knew he’d never eat but at least would fill the compartment.

The lunch box didn’t come back empty, but there were nibble marks on a cucumber slice, and that was a huge, unexpected win.

I realized that without me present, ready to be offended or to cave and swap in a preferred food, my son was more willing to try new things. Meanwhile, because I wasn’t there to see if he rejected the food, I wasn’t the least bit offended.

American culture tends to be oriented around dinner as the primary meal, but I find my kids are hungriest at lunchtime, so introducing new foods at that time takes advantage of their peak appetite.

Kids are also susceptible to peer pressure, and I can use that to my advantage. If every kid at the lunch table is happily crunching carrots, my kids are more likely to eat theirs, too.

I started having fun packing their lunches

As I started to see lunch boxes as an opportunity rather than a chore, I had much more fun packing them. Variety, I discovered, is the spice of lunch-box life, particularly when there are so many fun tools and accessories to play with, from sandwich stamps to food cutters to candy eyeballs.

My own lovingly prepared childhood PB&J often ended up squashed by an apple in my Care Bears metal lunch box. That’s not a problem anymore. Bento-style lunch boxes keep every food in its place so that lunches are presented with all the splendor of a kiddie charcuterie board.

Gradually, my selective eater became my most curious one. Guiding him down that path by packing his lunch boxes has become a surprisingly rewarding adventure — so much so that my co-author, Jen Stevenson, and I wrote a cookbook about them, called “Lunchbox: So Easy, So Delicious, So Much Fun to Eat.”

I now bring my kids’ lunch boxes anytime we travel, whether across the country for a few weeks this summer or to Grandma’s house to take the pressure off food prep.

And when my second son, an adventurous eater who ate his way through Italy at 7 months old, tried on selective eating at age 3, and then my third did the same, I didn’t panic.

Instead, I got out my heart-shaped food cutters and got to work.

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