Jessica Biel is just like us—at least when it comes to feeding ultra-picky children (the struggle is real). The 41-year-old Candy actress—who shares two children, 8 and 3, with hubby Justin Timberlake—got candid when we discussed the best ways to nourish our little ones heading into a new school year.
“It’s chaos, it’s challenging, it’s wonderful, you know, all the things!” the superstar exclaimed when sharing her life as a busy working mom during back-to-school season. Besides being a successful actress with dozens of roles under her belt, Biel is also the co-founder of KinderFarms. Her company makes various wellness products for children without artificial ingredients.
Picky eating is something nearly every parent deals with at some point, and there’s no end to just how choosy children can be. Even pizza can pose a problem in my household: Kid #1 wants square pizza, kid #2 wants round, kid #3 wants it without the sauce, and kid #4 just won’t eat it.
While many things can be stress-inducing for parents during the back-to-school season, ensuring our children eat a balanced meal during the school day can be the most challenging. In fact, a recent poll showed that 3 in 5 parents reported feeling stressed about packing their kids lunches for the school day.
Given that kids eat between 35% and 40% of their total daily calories at school, lunches are an essential meal of the day. Since school-bought lunches often don’t please a picky eater, many parents, like Biel, send their children to school with a bagged lunch.
Biel partnered with the meal and grocery delivery app DoorDash to show that healthy school lunches can be quick, convenient, easy and don’t have to feel like a chore—especially with grocery delivery. “I was griping to friends and family and on social media about how hard it is to get ready for back to school and especially the lunch situation, which is such a mind boggle for me. It’s hard to ensure they get enough protein, and you’re wondering where the vitamins, nutrients, and minerals come from, especially if you have a child like mine who doesn’t eat anything green! It’s hard at home and even harder to ensure they eat enough at school,” laments the Accidental Love actress.
With all that in mind, Biel shares her top tips for packing up successful school lunches that’ll please even the pickiest of eaters.
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Jessica Biel’s 6 tips for pleasing picky eaters
1. Be flexible, not rigid
So, what are some of Biel’s star-approved solutions? The first step is not adopting rigid food plans or requirements in the home. “We do a little mix of what they’re interested in and a little bit of what they’re less interested in. For example, we’ll give our 8-year-old a few choices, and he’ll pick tacos, and we’ll use cassava flour shells and hide veggies inside the taco meat, plus offer cucumbers, red peppers, and fruit,” explains Biel.
Biel also makes a protein shake for kids in her KinderFarms food line, which she says is good to keep on hand when looking for a quick, nutritious meal on the go. “I love these shakes because you can grab them and go; they have a top, taste good, like a chocolate milkshake, and contain a ton of protein, so they’ll feel full afterward,” she explains.
2. Eat the rainbow
Minnesota-born Biel grew up “kicking cans in the cul de sac” and eating a wholesome diet far from the trendy LA meal plans other celebs may implement in their homes. Her next piece of advice? The age-old “eat the rainbow” method. “They don’t always eat all the colors, but I feel better knowing they are on the plate. Even if they eat one bite of each, that’s a win,” she proclaims.
Related: I felt mom guilt and shame for having a picky eater
3. Remember: Sometimes, bribery works
Given that most parents can relate to kids simply refusing to try anything new, Biel says there’s one fail-proof trick that always works: bribery. “I bribe them,” she says with a laugh. “Obviously, duh,” she jokes. “I’ll say, ‘If we can try this vegetable today, you can have a little more tablet time,’ or ‘We can have some ice cream.’ Offering an incentive or even something fun, like a movie trip, often works. Other times I’ll be happy if they put something in their body. Your expectations can’t be too high, or you’ll just get frustrated,” shares Biel.
4. Aim to please the picky eater’s palate
Some kids just keep it simple when it comes to the palate.“My little one only wants to eat cheese and bread lately,” shares Biel, “he does not want to try anything else. We have to get creative finding ways to make him want to try other things,” she advises. One of her solutions is a mealtime take on lift-the-flap books, which kids love. “We find fun plates like a bento box style dish that’s a game to get to the end or one where you get to each section, and each food is a surprise. It might be his favorite sweet treat when he gets to the last one after he’s tried everything else. This makes trying new things fun and exciting.” Or, you can try a lunchbox like this one from Highlights with a maze and a riddle or a cute picture underneath each item.
Older siblings can also help if they are already eating some of the foods you want the little ones to try, suggests Biel. “As our older son eats something, we will point it out to our younger son and say, ‘Look, he’s eating vegetables and getting big, strong muscles!’”
Related: Confession: I’m a dietitian and feeding my daughter is a struggle
5. Prevent lunch prep fails
Getting a head start on lunch prep often leads to a false start. “Part of the problem is that our kids aren’t even eating breakfast yet, and we’re already asking them what they want for lunch. Think about it, who even knows what they want for lunch when they haven’t had breakfast? I don’t even know what I feel like eating for lunch yet. So I feel bad for them because they’re forced to make this decision so early or just eat what we send, and then we get frustrated when it comes back home uneaten,” says Biel. “That’s so stressful.”
Besides not getting too upset when they don’t feel like eating what we sent that day, Biel has other solutions. “I struggle with wastefulness, and sometimes there will be weeks when my child comes home with a lunchbox full of warm cheese sticks and sandwiches. But I try to remember that maybe they just didn’t feel like eating that particular food, and that’s OK. Sometimes I’ll surprise them by dropping off a hot lunch if the schedule permits,” she tells us. “Sometimes I notice my kid is struggling at school, and it’s just because he’s hungry! So I try to do what I can.”
6. Trust that it’s just a phase
Biel also explains that she and hubby Timberlake don’t stress too much—most of the time, they know it’s just a phase, and they relax, knowing their children will likely eat all the healthy foods one day. “Eventually, they will eat everything,” she says with a laugh. “We don’t pressure them too much. It’s all about the baby steps.”