How to get your kids to eat cold leftovers so lunchbox packing becomes easier

We’re really excited to be partnering with The Root Cause to provide our parent community with great tips and tricks for how to stay organised, pack nutritious school lunches, and encourage your children to eat healthily. The following article has been written by the team at The Root Cause.

School’s gone back for the year which means we’ve got around 200 school lunchboxes to pack per child. Parents often tell The Root Cause that their biggest concerns around packing lunchboxes are:

  1. the time it takes to pack lunchboxes

  2. variety

  3. lunchboxes coming home uneaten.

Can you relate to any of these?

If so, then here’s the great news: If you train your kids to happily eat cold dinner leftovers, you can solve these problems.

If you’re thinking, “My kids would never eat cold leftovers” then you’re not alone.

Bel from The Root Cause has two kids, and they haven’t always eaten cold leftovers. It was a progress and all up, took about four months.

This investment in time has been worth it. Bel’s job in packing their lunchboxes is much easier and her family has so much more variety too. Plus because it’s a meal they usually enjoyed the night before, they love eating it again the next day, so no lunches are coming home uneaten.

Here’s how Bel went about transitioning the whole family to eating cold leftovers.

Tips for introducing cold leftovers

Bel uses a technique introduced to her when she was studying to be a Health and Wellness Coach. It’s called “Adding in and crowding out”.

The idea is this:

  1. You keep giving them what they like – e.g. flavoured crackers

  2. And Add in what you want them to have – e.g. plain salted crackers

  3. Then over time, you crowd out what you don’t want them to have – e.g. flavoured crackers, and you keep giving them what you want them to have – e.g. plain salted crackers.

  4. Each time you offer the food, you reduce the amount of what you don’t want them to have – e.g. flavoured crackers. At the same time, you increase the amount of what you want them to eat – e.g. plain salted crackers.

  5. Be patient in your approach, and you’ll find you can usually make this transition without it really being noticed.

Let’s take a look at how Bel used the same process to get her family to eat cold baked dinners.

1. Choose what you want to include in their lunchbox

Bel’s focus was getting more protein in their lunchbox because protein is important for growth, development, and it helps keep them fuller for longer.

Examples were roast lamb, roast chicken, sausages, meatballs, etc.

2. Start with finger food for afternoon tea

Serve what they’re used to having for afternoon tea. For Bel and her family, this was rice cakes with peanut butter or cheese and some carrot and celery sticks.

If your children are used to having chips or cookies, start with that. If you can, serve it on a plate so it’s all laid out in front of them.

3. Then add in something new

Around day three, add something new to the finger food on offer.

Bel started to add in some ham to get them used to the idea of cold meat as finger food.

If your children have chips or cookies, add in some whole foods like carrots, edamame, or even fruit that you know they will like.

If it doesn’t get eaten, don’t make a fuss about it, just keep putting it out. Be prepared to have it for lunch the next day yourself. Research shows that exposing children to food without stressing/ obsessing about it being eaten is important to expanding a child’s palette.

Be patient and consistent with putting out the new foods. Your kids are not light switches. And accepting change takes time.

4. Add in something new and reduce something else

After another few days, add in something new again.

Bel started to add in some cold chicken (e.g. drumstick) to the finger food. At the same time, she slightly reduced the portion of the other foods.

It was enough of a reduction so the amount of food on offer was not a lot more, but not enough that they noticed their normal food choices disappearing.

5. Keep doing step three for as long as it takes.

Bel’s focus was cold left-over meats, so she started adding in whatever left-over meat she had from evening meals. Over time, this just becomes the norm as finger food.

It’s all about consistency and being persistent without stressing and obsessing over the food.

6. Pop a bit in the lunchbox

Once it’s accepted as an afternoon tea finger food, pop a little bit in the lunchbox.

Follow the same “add in and crowd out” philosophy for whatever foods you’d like to introduce.

It does take time but as the saying goes, “You’ve got to spend a little time to make time”. It is a far more efficient use of your time to make extra whilst you are already cooking dinner and pop it in the lunchbox the next day.

For more lunchbox inspiration and help to empower your kids to make better food choices, join Bel over at or follow her at Facebook or Instagram.


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