Packing Lunch for Your Child with Sensory Preferences

Oct 13, 2023

If your child has food preferences that impact feeding at home, those preferences can impact their ability to eat meals away from home too. While at school, your main goal is to provide their safe foods in order to ensure that they are able to eat lunch. But a great way to continue what your child is working on in therapy is to provide them with a few “trying foods”. These foods are foods that are either part of their sensory preference or a food that they have made exploration progress on (smelling, licking or taking small bites). 

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you that it is okay if it comes back every day and it looks like they didn’t touch their “try” food. As long as they are still eating their safe foods, it’s okay for them to not be interested in their “uncomfy” foods at school. I recommend providing their “try” foods in a separated section of their lunch container or in a small container completely separated from their safe foods. In this post you’ll find lists of 4 different categories of “try” foods that you can send with your child to school. 

  1. Crunchy Foods
  2. Soft Foods
  3. Bland Foods
  4. Strong Flavor Foods

Crunchy Foods

If your child loves anything with the crunch factor here are a few suggestions for their “try” foods:

  • Small carrot sticks- Baby carrots are great and you can split those into halves or quarters if your child has more success with tiny proportions of “try” foods.
  • Sweet potato chips-Big crunch factor, especially if they are “kettle cooked”. You can also make these easily at home
  • Pretzels-These are a great way to incorprotate dips into your child’s lunch
  • Granola-homemade or storebought, you can add dried fruits into the mix
  • Cucumber-Cut into rounds or strips or both! These are also great to dip into ranch. 
  • Dried Cereal-without the milk, most cereals provide a great crunch!
  • Celery- A popular way to eat celery is to add a favorite nut butter to dip or on top! Cutting into small c shapes might be less intimidating for your child.

Soft Foods

If your child prefers softer foods, here are a few suggestions for their “try” foods:

  • Mac n’ Cheese-provides some texture, but still soft!
  • Applesauce- Pouches are easy, but I recommend the standard plastic cups (or you can get a big jug and just pour a little into a small container) and a spoon! 
  • Mashed Potatoes- If kept in a thermos, mashed potatoes can be a nice warm food for a cold day.
  • Watermelon- Cut into small cubes or have your child use a cookie cutter to make fun shapes.
  • Fruit leather/fruit-gummies-this is a great way to incorporate fruit into your child’s diet, though I recommend the ones with no-sugar added, natural sugars are best!
  • Pasta-can have a favorite sauce added, just cheese, or plain pasta.
  • Cheese-string cheese, cheese cubes, chese rectangles, there are many options! If your child likes one, trying a new shape of chese can be a great step. 

Bland Foods

If your child likes low flavor/low color, here are a few suggestions for their “try” foods:

  • Sliced apples- Cut into small strips, avoiding the peel until they feel comfortable with white apple part.
  • Mashed potatoes-a soft food that can be super bland! Instant mashed potatoes are a great way to have a consistent consistency. Chunks of potato or peel can be alarming.
  • Cheese- Mozzarella, cottage cheese, and cream cheese are low in the color and flavor profile of cheeses
  • Crackers-crackers are low flavor and consistent in size and color, often an easier “try” food for our children that like bland foods.
  • Rice-Skip the spices! I personally love flavor in my rice, but if your child likes the plain foods, start out as basic as possible. 
  • O-shaped cereal- Both honey and original flavors are not sharp on the palate.
  • Bread-Try adding some strips of bread with dips. Bread often has a low flavor profile, but can be great for trying new things.

Strong Flavor Foods

If your child seeks those strong/sharp flavors here are a few suggestions for their “try” foods:

  • Pickles-Or pickle flavored chips! 
  • Citrus-Try adding small slices or lime, lemon, or grapefruit. They can all be sharp and inviting flavors.
  • Veggies tossed in vinegar-Apple cider vinegar or standard vinegar can add some tang to their vegetables.
  • Craisins-A little more sour than raisins while still sweet, or try raw cranberries (cut in half for safety).
  • Garlic-Anything with garlic has a strong flavor. Garlic bread, garlic roasted veggies or potatoes are a few of my personal favorites.
  • Greek Yogurt-Plain yogurt or greek yogurt with fruits often have more flavor than a standard yogurt pouch, maybe just what your strong-flavor seeking child is looking for. 
  • Peppers- Bell peppers are a great veggie that brings bold color and great flavor 

Another great way to support your child with attempting their try foods is to let them choose which they would like to add to their lunch box that day. Give them 2-3 “try” options, have them pick a fun container, and they can do the packing! This reduces the “surprise” factor at lunch, which can be triggering for our children with feeding difficulties. If you aren’t sure what your child prefers, talk with your child’s therapist and they can help you find the patterns!

Written by Abigail Pichardo MOT License #21520 

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