We made Elaine’s simple 5 ingredient tomato pasta, her fussy eater’s go-to dinner. And it also made a great hot lunchbox option for school (as pictured). The recipe for this super simple midweek family meal, that also happens to check the box for 3 food groups, is below. First, I have a couple of tips and links for packing lunchboxes for fussy eaters

“Sandwiches are a no-go for my picky eater”

Hot lunches or sandwich-free-lunches aren’t necessarily that much harder to organise for your kids. Yet, if your mindset and experiences has always been set around the sandwich, it can be a hurdle. So, here are some ideas that I have on my blog that may inspire you.

  1. Skewers are one of my all time favourite strategies for helping kids get a handle on a new food :p (try things like ham, cheese and cucumber through to pasta alternating between spirals & penne.  Or even load them up with these chicken and chia meatballs)
  2. Baked Risotto
  3. Ricotta and Zucchini Bites
  4. Pack a thermos with soup along with breadsticks, cruskits or crackers to dip into them.
  5. Sushi or roll up a range of wraps or rolling-pin-flattened bread to use instead of rice.
  6. Home made pizzas or scrolls using a simple yoghurt dough.
  7. Sweet potato crackers

And here is a link that I love for 15 more hot lunch ideas from Kidgredients:

15+ hot lunches for thermal containers

What else do I need to consider for hot options in the lunchbox?

1] Food Safety

Food with “at risk” items need to be consumed within 4 cumulative hours of dropping below 60oC. It’s an easy rule to read, but what does that translate to in practice? For example, if you drop your kids to before school care at 7am (meaning you left home at 6:45am), and their first break is at 11am. They have had their food in their bag for 4 hours at that point. If the food’s internal temperature drops below 60oC quickly, there are low chances of beating the 4 hr deadline. (This is especially if they save the hot food component for a later lunch break – most schools have 2 breaks per day in Austalia). So, your options are to pack a less “risky” food – eg. no meat. Or insulate it and make sure it is piping hot upon packing it.  Tip: I always pour boiling water into my thermos for a few minutes to warm it up before putting miss E’s piping hot soup into it.

2] Logistics

For kids already distracted by all the inputs of a school environment, having to do the work of motor planning / balancing and sitting can be hard. So, to make the meal as successful as possible, reduce the workload as much as possible for them. This means practicing opening their containers in a range of environments, find out how much postural support they have in their eating environment, reduce overwhelm by not overcrowding their lunchbox and make the food easy to eat.

3] The Peer effect!

Yes, there is the peer effect at school ~ this can mean so many things both positive and negative. From coming home with new words in their vacabulary (eg .yuck) and lunchbox shaming to being inspired to ask for something new because Johnny has it in his lunchbox. The main thing is to keep your language and roles consistent at home and foster some open discussion about what may happen at school. I have had to go down the path of ….  “Some children are learning about different foods and use lots of words to talk about what they are learning”…. “Some foods do have sugar and others don’t. Drs and Scientists say we we should learn about lots of foods. Mummy gives you the foods you need.” [Handy for when the teacher on the I-quit-sugar bandwagon starts preaching at the kids in a completely inappropriate (given their cognitive processing level and rightful role around food) scare mongering way.]

How to Handle Compulsory Fruit or Vegetable Breaks

In parts of Australia, there is a compulsory fruit or vegetable break in some schools. This is sometimes known as “Crunch and Sip” or “Fruit Break”. I dive into how to provide fruit and vegetables in a lunchbox for fussy eaters in this post and manage this with lots more emphasis on the emotional side of having something they are still learning about in their lunchbox.

What other feeding experts write about…

Jo Cormack from the UK has a wonderful set of key principles for packing lunches for children with food anxiety or a limited range of accepted foods. I particularly agree with packing some foods that you know they can be successful at eating and remembering to make some small changes. The small changes are often “big” for food cautious kids. However, a food jag can lead to even more resistance to variety and possible burn out on those foods you thought were the “guaranteed” ones.

I also liked this post from Dietitian Kristen Yarker with 3 great pointers about what to remember if you child doesn’t eat their packed lunch. I love that she mentions reassessing breakfast and afternoon snack options will help you feel more comfortable about a lunchbox returning home still full. You can always have afternoon snack as a designated mealtime (aka Afternoon Tea in Australia).

Elaine’s Tomato Pasta

Elaine provided this recipe to me via social media. It is one of her family’s go-to quick meals. And it also doubles as a fantastic lunchbox option!

5 ingredient dinner challenge for #pickyeaters by Play with

Get your free printable (click image) to see if you can make all the meals from the 5 ingredient dinner series. All of these recipes have been provided by parents that follow my social media platforms. I have loved increasing my family’s repertoire of foods by trying out their go-to’s! You can access the other 5-ingredient recipes here.

Elaine's Tomato Pasta
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Quick and easy to make. Serve the sauce alongside the pasta and cheese from the middle of the table for family style meal.
  • 1 brown onion, diced very finely
  • 400g tin of tomatoes
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Pasta (for serving)
  • Grated cheese (for serving)
  1. Prepare pasta as per packet directions
  2. Heat a fry pan, add oil, onions and garlic and sautee until the onion starts to become transluscent.
  3. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are heated through and start to simmer.
  4. Grate the cheese.
  5. Serve all 3 components of sauce, pasta and cheese from the middle of the table. Or combine for a hot lunch.

We made ours with wholemeal penne pasta. Yet, this sauce can be used with all manner of pastas including filled ravioli, spaghetti, gnocchi and macaroni. You could serve this with a side of sugar snap peas, garlic bread, a whole host of salads or with some grilled chorizo sausage.

If you make this recipe or feel inspired by this post to try some new ideas in your children’s lunchboxes, let me know! Tag me on Instagram in any pictures you post!





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