Whether you are cooking for your child at home or packing lunches to send to the sitter’s house or to preschool, you’re probably always on the lookout for new and easy lunch ideas for toddlers. You want them to eat a healthy lunch, but it’s easy to fall into the habit of fixing the same things over and over again because of time or budget constraints.
Here’s five ideas for kid-pleasing lunches that are easy on your budget and conform to the guidelines of the new Choose My Plate program that replaced the Food Pyramid.
Their recommendations for children two to three years old is 1000 calories a day.
In addition, they suggest one-half of your child’s plate should contain fruits and vegetables, while the other half should contain proteins and grains.
Finally, they recommend switching to low-fat or fat-free milk. As always, you should check with your pediatrician or healthcare provider before changing any of your child’s dietary routines.
Each of these lunches is patterned after Pattern A lunch guidelines for a 1000 calorie meal plan for children 2 to 3 years old and includes 1-ounce grains, 1/4 cup vegetables, 1/4 cup fruit, 1/2 cup dairy, and 1-ounce protein.
You can find a full meal plan for a 1000 calorie meal plan on the My Plate website.
Heart shaped grilled cheese with fruit and vegetables
- Grain: 1 slice whole grain bread
- Vegetable: 1/4 cup raw broccoli florets and carrot sticks
- Fruit: 1/4 cup mandarin oranges
- Dairy: 1 slice American cheese
- Protein: See snack
- Snack: Spread 1 tablespoon peanut butter thinly on 1/4 cup of apple slices. (Cut an apple in halves, then in quarters. One quarter of an apple yields about 1/4 cup of slices.)
- Optional: 1/2 teaspoon soft butter
To make the sandwich: Spread butter on bread (if using) and top with slice of American cheese. Position a sandwich cutter on the bread and cheese and use a sharp knife to cut around the outside edge. Broil until cheese is melted.
Hard-boiled eyeballs with fruit and vegetables
- Grain: see snack
- Vegetable: 1/4 cup green beans
- Fruit: 1/4 cup mandarin oranges
- Dairy: 4 ounces milk
- Protein: One egg sliced thinly to look like eyeballs
- Snack: Spread 1/2 teaspoon butter onto one slice of whole grain bread. Toast lightly and then cut off crusts. Cut into 4 pieces and serve with hummus.
Peanut butter crackers with fruit and vegetable juice
- Grain: 5 whole grain crackers
- Vegetable: 4 ounces (or equivalent of 1/2 cup) vegetable juice of choice
- Fruit: 1/4 cup sliced peaches
- Dairy: see snack
- Protein: 1 tablespoon peanut butter, spread thinly on crackers
- Snack: 1/2 cup yogurt
Egg Salad, Crackers and Fruit with Dip
- Grain: 5 whole grain crackers or 1 slice whole grain bread if preferred
- Vegetable: see snack
- Fruit: 1/4 cup sliced apples
- Dairy: 1/2 cup yogurt
- Protein: Egg salad
- Snack: 1/4 cup carrot and zucchini sticks served with low-fat ranch-style dressing
To make egg salad: Chop one hard-boiled egg finely. Add one teaspoon pickle relish and one teaspoon organic mayonnaise. Blend well.
Pasta and vegetables with tropical fruit
- Grain: 1 ounce cooked pasta of choice, 1/2 slice of bread, toasted and cut into fingers
- Vegetable: 1/4 cup diced yellow squash and zucchini, lightly steamed
- Fruit: 1/4 cup fresh papaya or other in-season tropical fruit
- Daily: 1 ounce shredded cheese
- Protein: see snack
- Snack: Hummus or bean dip served with whole grain pretzels or breadsticks
To make the pasta dish: Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Add sautéed vegetables and 1 teaspoon cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil; toss well. Top with 1 ounce shredded cheese or 1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese.
Tips for Getting Your Toddler to Eat
Serve small portions and introduce new foods slowly. While colorful foods may appeal to some children, other children may refuse to eat a brightly colored food simply because of the color. Autistic children, in particular, may accept or refuse foods based on color.
However, just because a child rejects a food the first time it is served doesn’t mean you should stop offering it. Let children see you and the other family members eating and enjoying a variety of foods. Chances are, they will decide to try the food again. After all, you do not want to encourage children to become picky eaters with narrow food choices.
Be careful when introducing new textures. Remember, your child has been eating mostly foods with a smooth texture and may balk at eating foods that are chunky. Puree foods less and less and let your child acclimate to them gradually.
Save small containers and reuse them to make child-size serving dishes.
Let them play with their food – seriously. Helping to prepare their lunch is a good way to encourage toddlers to eat, and they can do many things to help. In addition to encouraging them to eat more, letting them play with their food is an excellent rainy day activity when you are running short on inspiration for things to do.
Avoid Choking Hazards
Toddlers are still learning to chew and to swallow and may choke. To avoid this risk, spread thick foods like peanut butter thinly. Cut round foods (grapes, cherry tomatoes) and raw foods (carrots) into small pieces. Nuts should be finely chopped or you may want to avoid them altogether until your child is older. If you offer your children seeds or popcorn, monitor them closely while they are eating.
Other Healthy Easy Lunch Ideas for Toddlers
Here are some other easy-to-prepare foods that can be a part of your child’s healthy lunches:
- Frozen yogurt pops (make your own with low-fat yogurt)
- Cheese sticks or pieces (cubes might cause choking so use cookie cutters to cut the cheese into shapes)
- Whole-grain breadsticks dipped in peanut butter or hummus
- Whole-grain pretzels or whole grain cereals dipped in yogurt
- Mixed raw vegetables
- Cut-up fresh fruit served as is or with a yogurt dip
- Vegetable or 100 percent fruit juice beverages
Using these easy lunch ideas for toddlers can lower your stress level and give you more time in your busy day because you won’t need to do any menu planning for their lunchtime meals.
Little girl with juice box image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
All other images copyright 2013 by Donna Cosmato – all rights reserved