Nutritionist Ellyn Satter talks about repeated, neutral, exposure to foods being key to developing your child's palate. Exposures can range from just looking at a food (even pictures - think of how your child is affected by magazine advertisements) or as complex as helping to prepare the food. Some kids are like to know where their food comes from: check and see if your local zoo or botanic garden offers tours of their edible gardens. When teaching your kids to taste new foods, offer them an out - some nutritionists and parents recommend the "no thank-you bite"; what worked in our household was to wash the distasteful bite down with some water. It's also important to be matter-of-fact; don't urge a child to eat foods they refuse to try - it may well take 20 exposures before a child will accept a new food; the key is to neither push nor give up. (Keep in mind that all kids are different: some kids have more difficulty than others)
To help reduce the stress of the lunch line, ask your school to offer pictures of the meals they'll be serving, - make sure your child gets to see what's for lunch the next day the night before or the morning before school. Ask if teachers can support you by offering a "preview" of lunch - just to look at - in the classroom. Ask your child which items they'll choose (in the Offer Versus Serve system many schools use, children can select any three or more out of the offered five options.) While lunch staff are not allowed to direct children towards or away from any food, you can weigh in by discussing what different foods do for us and why it's good to eat them. If you're packing a lunch, create a weekly lunch chart designed like the Summer Food Service Program: one protein, two fruit/veg, one dairy, and one whole or enriched grain; have your child help "design" his or her own lunch ahead of time. The key is to keep your child involved, prepared and educated, so they gradually learn to make good choices on their own.
*Forgot to add, this post is part of the Lunch Revolution Blog Party (with prizes galore) at Notes from the Cookie Jar and Fed Up With Lunch with Mrs. Q.