Packing Kids' Lunches

Archived Q&A and Reviews

General Advice Related Pages School-Aged Kids Preschoolers & Kindergarteners Babies & Toddlers

General Advice

Lunchmeat: Which to pick?

Oct 2009

As we struggle to add variety to lunches, I struggle about lunchmeat. Any lunchmeat eating medical types or microbiologists out there?

The nitrates/nitrites is one concern, but also -- how long is it good for? And is it better to get it from the deli counter vs. the packaged stuff in terms of shelf life/not growing any bacteria? Why do OBGYN offices give out pamphlets recommending pregnant women to heat up lunchmeat before eating it? Is that something we should be doing with our kids' lunchmeat?

I have one microbiologist friend who says just use it up quick. But, what's quick? We try to use it up by the end of the week, but I wonder about its integrity at that point.

I'm laughing as I write this, because it's kind of funny and gross to me -- but it's so handy for lunches! Any thoughts? Mom with lunchmeat issues!

Hi there-- As a mom and a professional chef, lunchmeat grosses me out. It seems like a breeding ground for bacteria, it has a weird texture and often comes with a strange slime....yucky. Plus it is very expensive, high in sodium.....sometimes I'll grab some when I am desperate but recently I've just been buying a small turkey breast (or half, or piece of a breast) and roasting it with salt and pepper. We can use this with sandwiches for the week. If there is a bone attached that can turn into soup. It is slightly more work but not much, and so much cheaper and healthier and tastier. Just a thought! P.S. My son does love salami, though, so we do that sometimes. Seems to last forever. Rebecca
You can buy fresh lunch meats without nitrates at Berkeley Bowl, Magnani's, and Safeway delis. Look for fresh roasted turkey for example. And, it will keep longest if you unwrap it immediately upon getting home, and re-wrap it tightly in cellophane plastic. Make sure each time you open it up for serving, you re-wrap it tightly in plastic. This will preserve it longer. I would stay away from the sorts you find in the supermarket on the shelf, even if it has a zip lock closure. These are generally the ones filled with all kinds of preservatives. I also don't like that the lunchmeats tend to be cured with sugar or honey, making them unappealingly sweet. Packer
I send my vegetarian kindergartner rice and bean burritos at least 3 times a week for his lunch. They're the Trader Joe's brand. I microwave them before school and he eats them at room temp. He also enjoys grilled cheese sandwiches at room temp. Tina
Try Tofurkey or Yves veggie lunch ''meats'' - they taste good and have none of the problems associated with meat. They have: zero cholesterol, low fat, no nitrates/nitrites, last longer out of the fridge, high protein, veg

Packing healthy snacks in kid's lunch

May 2009

We often pack sliced fruit (apple, pear) in a reusable zipped bag in our son's lunch for preschool, but it often gets mangled and ''yucky'' by the time he eats lunch. I'd love to continue to pack healthy snacks (veggies, fruits) and am looking for ideas - both what to pack and how. Thanks. anon

I buy little stainless steel containers to pack the fruits in. I've found them in Ichiban-Kan (the Japanese $1 type of store) in El Cerrito for about $1.50. They are just the right size for snacks with a plastic lid, easy for kids to open by themselves. I've also bought enameled containers of similar size from Daiso (another Janpanese $1.50 store) in Union City. Or if you want to spend $19.99, you can find similar stainless steel containers at the Natural Grocery Store in El Cerrito.

Pyrex glass bowls with lids also come in the small snack sizes. I usually go to the Corning store in the Great Mall or Vacaville outlets, so you can buy them individually rather than in a box set. Though those lids are a bit tighter for the preschooler to manage on their own (at least mine is not able to open one herself). But the Pyrex is great for food that needs reheating. She does get help from the teachers and parents at her school for lids and heating her food. Crystal

We have a bento box type lunch box from Laptop Lunches (do a websearch and you'll find it immediately. They are great! They keep the food separate in containers that are reusable and don't squish the food. One container has a lid for particularly juicy things, the others are open for easy access, but are protected by the lunch box lid. I LOVE this lunch box. Their website also has all sorts of great healthy lunch ideas. Laptop Lunches Lover
Hard boiled egg, celery w/ peanut butter, trail mix, certain ''protein'' bars have less sugar, more good stuff, pieces of chicken, pieces of flavored tofu. anon mom
I've stopped packing pear and apple slices for this reason - they get all brown by lunchtime. Any other fruit works. Today I sent cut up strawberries and blueberries, some grapes, and some sliced melon. He also likes bananas and cherry tomatoes. I send them in mini Tupperwares or old deli containers, not baggies, so they don't get mashed. Hope that helps
Either get small apples that your child can eat out of hand, or put cut fruit in a hard container (tupperware, thermos.) anon
Hi! Try packing your healthy food items in containers instead of resealable bags. If the texture is the problem then the containers should help in keeping the texture the same. Use some containers like tupperware, rubbermaid or something along those lines. Hope that helps. Nanny in the know
Dear Pre-School-Lunch-Packing-Mom, Lose the ''reusable zipped bag''(!) and get a reusable hard plastic B-O-X (Rubbermaid-esque) to transport the delicate sliced fruit, etc. to school. Washable, reusable, pack-tight-able; what's not to like? (f.y.i: I found some brands might leak juices a bit - until I used a small piece of saranwrap on top, before snapping on lid.) --Keep 'em eating fresh!
Put the food in reusable tupperware instead. That will reduce the smush factor. For apples, sprinkle some lemon juice on them to reduce the brown factor. T.
Instead of putting things in plastic bags, I use a Japanese lunchbox. These are compartmentalized containers with a snap-on top. Some of them have compartments for spoons and forks too. You can get an inexpensive one at Ichiban Kan on San Pablo Ave in El Cerrito, in the Jay Vee Shopping Center, corner of San Pablo Ave and Moeser. They're made for kids so have cutesy designs. They sometimes have them at Hello Kitty stores or Sanrio stores in San Francisco, too. sue
Try packing the snacks in a hard, tupperware type container or try a ''Laptop Lunch'' box ( They sell them at the Natural Grocery stores in Berkeley and El Cerrito. They're pricier than other lunch boxes, but we've found them to be worth the extra cost. lovin' the laptop lunch
one word....tupperware...ok I really use the cheap option they sell at Safeway. One consideration is how easy it is for the kid to open. Pears are hard....they mush up eaaslity. You can pack a banana and cut a small slice at the top so they can start it easily. Or cut a slit down the middle and cut into sections if htey're ok wiht eatign the brown ends.

Other more hearty, but still healthy options: edemame, all fruit fruit leather, apple sauce, mango pieces, canned fruit, etc.

I also pack bento-style lunches like many of the other commenters. I post pictures of my preschool son's lunches here: Packing his lunches this way has made all the difference in what he can and will eat at lunchtime. Wendy

Dairy-free and nut-free lunch ideas

August 2008

Although I have managed to feed my child adequately for the past 5 years, I feel intimidated by the idea of having to pack lunch and snacks for kindergarten. Many of the suggestions in the archives include dairy foods and nut butters, which we don't eat. I would be so grateful to anyone who could share their vegan lunch ideas. cj

I feed my kid a vegetarian diet, but you can modify some of my suggestions below with veggie cheese. I bought a little thermos to keep food warm -- otherwise I'd be out of ideas!
Veggie/tofu hotdogs (no bun), with ketchup for dipping Quesadillas with vegetarian refried beans and shredded cheese Tofu cubes stir-fried in olive oil and teriyaki sauce Vegetarian nuggets (Morningstar, Boca, or Quorn), with ketchup Cheese sandwich Veggie ''meat'' sandwiches Cheese and crackers
Good snacks are baby carrots, any fruit, Veggie Booty, pretzels, chips/crackers, raisins...

I look forward to seeing other suggestion too! I always run out of ideas and we do more PB than I would like! The thermos is a lifesaver, though. Just plop the warm dogs, nuggets, or quesadilla (cut into smaller pieces) inside -- it's not just for soup! Lunch packin' mom

leftover fried rice?
My son has dairy, egg and nut allergies, so I pack his lunch for preschool instead of wondering about what they provide. Here are a few of my staples:
Trader Joe's sesame seed butter and jelly wheat or rice pasta with Earth's Best margarine (no dairy) and veggies. turkey or ham sandwiches w/margarine Amy's soy cheese pizza slices carrots/snap peas with a container of hummus for dipping noodle soup w/vegtables (i usually make some for dinner and send leftovers) rice and beans soy yogurt
Nothing here is ingenious, but I hope it helps! mom of allergy kid
Hi. Although my vegan son isn't in kindergarten yet, I have some ideas that may help. Here they are:
* tofurkey sandwich * pasta salad * pizza slice (we use the Trader Joe's dough and sauce) * bagel & soy cream cheese * pita bread & hummus * eggless salad sandwich (Whole Foods)
Vegan Mom

How to keep foods cold or hot in the lunchbox

Feb 2004

Hi, How do I pack cold things (cold milk, cold juice, blue ice) and hot things (hot food in a thermos) for a kindergartener's lunch at the same time? Can they go in the same (soft, insulated) lunch box? If not, how best should I do this? If yes, do you know where I can get such a lunch box? My daughter is bored with sandwiches and I want to do hot food (which I have not done.) However, I don't want her to have to carry too many things. Help! Anonymous

I send my child off to school regularly with a cold drink and a hot meal. It took a while for me to figure this one out. Here's what I do. First of all, I bought a thermos at the Crate and Barrel outlet on 4th street. They are a good size for a lunch box, and are stainless steel rather than glass. (when I bought him a glass one it came home the first day shattered inside). They cost about $11. If you find one somewhere else, great...I just recommend it over a plastic one (doesn't keep things hot) or a glass one (breakable). I leave the lunch box with cold foods in the fridge overnight. In the morning I heat up wha! tever is going in the thermos and put it in then. His lunch box is insulated, so the juice stays pretty cool, and he says the hot stuff is plenty hot. Good luck!
Awhile back I bought lunchboxes that have two compartments: one for hot and one for cold. The top has a compartment insulated fr cold drinks. This unzips to expose the lunchbox where one could put in warm food. They were at Costco but I have also seen them at Target. They are not big and bulky and would work well for a younger child. ara
See also: Lunch box to hold hot and cold foods

How to pack milk in the lunch

Oct 2007

Hi, Could you please share with me how you're packing milk in a lunchbox? I've been using the little Rubbermaid juice box; however, we started two new ones this school year and they both leak. This is getting messy and so I'm looking for alternatives. Also, I'm getting worried about unsafe plastic and chemical leaking. I haven't done enough research to understand this entirely, but is the little plastic juice box safe? Does anyone know? I'm looking into the Klean Kanteen (stainless steel) bottle. Has anyone used this for milk? Does it work OK? My kid is 9 years old and this is all for her lunchbox. Thank you very much for your advice. Anonymous

You can try to use a stainless steel thermos. They do make small sizes. I got one in Japantown. I am sure other places carry it. Otherwise you can get ultrapasturized milk in small juice like containers that do not need refrigeration and Trader Joe's carries it as do other grocery stores although Trader Joes is cheaper. I used to drink ultrapasturized milk when I was in Europe. It is pretty standard there although it is just catching on here. Juliet
Luckily, my child's school has milk at school, but if I had to pack milk I would use a real thermos with metal inside, not plastic, if you don't like plastic. Or, although they are disposable, Horizon makes those little ''juice boxes'' of milk that are UHT treated so they don't need to be refrigerated. anon
I buy small milk boxes, like juice boxes, at Trader Joe's. They are aseptic containers and the milk is fine. You can also get aseptic milk boxes at other stores, like Andronico's. But I've never found them at Safeway. Rebecca
I've come up with packing cold milk in a water bottle (Nalgene or other) and adding milk-ice cubes (milk frozen in ice cube trays). The cubes melt by lunchtime, and the kid gets cold milk. LD
We pack milk for our son in a metal sigg bottle. We clean it with boiling water. We make sure the bottle is cool/cold when we put milk in and we put an ice pack in his lunch box. It's worked great. No leaking or leeching. susan
You might try the new milk cartons (Horizon, Clover) that can be kept at room temperature or chilled overnight to be reasonably cool at lunchtime. They are sealed, completely safe and delicious. You can find them at Whole Foods or other health food stores, and Trader Joe's makes them too. They come in 8 oz cartons and are new so they are frequently on sale.

As far as containers go, Nalgene is controversial I heard. (It's also not good to reuse plastic water containers). I tried bottles I found at Rainbow Grocery etc that don't have Bisphenol-A but found they weren't as strong. For more info, here's a Sierra Club article link.

I haven't seen the Kleen Kanteen, (but they are pricey at 35-50 a bottle! and cannot be used for hot beverages). The plastic tops are made of #5PP, which is recommended and doesn't leach. You might want to use this with an icepack, but is that a lot for her to carry each day? Perhaps a good smallish glass or steel-lined thermos would work better, cost less and be even safer (keep the milk fresh and cold). tabs

We use the Sigg bottle and I clean it with water and white vinegar to get the smell out. I have also put the Sigg bottle in the dishwasher. I believe the main problem with plastic is the off-gassing that occurs when they are exposed to the tremendous heat of the dishwasher. We still use some plastic and I end up hand washing. A major pain but I do believe the plastics are a concern. off plastic
I give my son milk in his lunch for preschool. I put it in a klean canteen (12 oz) with a screw lid that I bought at the berkeley ecology center. It works great for milk. At his preschool though, they keep the lunches in the fridge so I don't have to worry about the milk going bad. (They go to the park for lunch one day a week and those days I give him a milk box instead.) Andi
I didn't see the original question, but I didn't see what I do in the answers. I pack my kids' milk in a regular Playtex straw cup in a thermal lunchbox with an ice pack. I use the ice packs left from my breast pump. They're thin and rectangular and just perfect for a lunch box. We do car trips this way, too. My kids are milk-aholics, and we bring those totes meant for baby food and, instead, pack two straw cups and two ice packs. The milk stays cool for quite some time. (We don't leave the totes in the car; we bring them along in stores, restaurants and friends' houses, so the ice packs don't melt too quickly.) Gwynne
Hi Someone mentioned that Kleen Kanteen are very expensive -25- 50 they have them at the Ecology Center on San Pablo for the small sippy size $9.50 and $2 for the lid or sippy lids- shop there and support green businesses- and Sierra club too. - I have also heard that sigg bottles are coated aluminum with teflon- both not so healthy- go stainless steel-- liza
I use a metal Thermos container with a plastic straw. It works pretty well. It's the one thing I've found that my son will actually use. And I have to be quite careful -- he's got a sensitive nose and sense of taste, and any hint of spoiled milk odor will make him refuse to drink out of it; so we rinse immediately after school, and wash with baking soda often. It helps to freeze the bottle for about half an hour before pouring in the milk (keeps the milk colder). And it definitely doesn't leak. Karen
June 2006

May we please have your advice on how to pack milk in lunchbox for 3rd graders and up? We want our daughter to drink non-fat (plain and organic) milk at lunch and so far we've been using a little Rubbermaid container -- the kind with a push-up thing to drink from. Our daughter is starting 3rd grade next year and this little container seems a little babyish for such a grown up girl. If you have suggestions on what other containers we can use, we'd appreciate it very much Anonymous

I don't think that cup thing sounds babyish at all. In fact, I have an adult co- worker who drinks juice out of the same thing, I think. It is a waste of money and packaging, but Horizon makes little ''juice boxes'' of organic milk, I don't know if they have low-fat though. They are UHT processed so they don't have to be refrigerated anon
Thermos makes a wonderful thermos for lunchbox drinks. You can buy them at Target and they come in great designs and colors. The selection is best in July and August when they bring in ''school stuff.'' It is made completely of stainless steel. The top pops up and you have a straw to drink from.

My 12 year old daughter still uses hers and drinks milk everyday at lunch. I chill it overnight in the refrigerator and put one ice cube in it in the morning. The milk will stay cold for at least 4 to 6 hours. Here is a link: Sabrina

We use the clear rubbermaid containers whith the flip up spout (no straw). Kids at our elementary school (at all grades) use similar containers. I recommend that you go to a big store (like a Target) and shop with your daughter for one that meets your needs. Our needs are a container that won't spill milk in the lunch box. Anon
Sept 2003

Hello, I've read all postings regarding how to pack a school lunchbox. They were very helpful but I still need help. Could someone please share with me about how to pack milk in a school lunchbox? My kindergarten daughter does not like soy milk or the ''Fresh'' milk (in a box just like the juice box; we found it at Andronico's). We don't want to get her started on the chocolate or strawberry flavored milk because of the sugar content. We can't find the little box of milk that used to be available in the frig at Safeway. We thought about packing the milk in a container, but have not been able to find a good container. We tried a plastic bottle (the kind new moms can use to store breast milk), but our daughter cannot open the bottle if we screw it tightly (to prevent the milk from spilling). Does anyone have any idea? Please help. Thank you very much. Amy

Can she buy milk at school in the little cartons? It usually costs the same as if you were buying it at the super market. anon
My son is also very particular about his milk, so I completely sympathize. I found a 20 oz bottle at Walgreens with a screw-top lid and a fold-down straw. It also has a freezer insert - a detachable cylinder that attaches to the inside of the lid when the bottle is in use, then goes in the freezer the rest of the time. In the morning, the frozen cylinder is removed from the freezer and attached to the lid. I fill the bottle with 20 oz of milk, screw on the lid, and voila! It stays cold in an insulated lunchbox for hours that way, without spilling, and always accessible because of the fold-down straw. Kathleen
My older child takes milk (has since preschool) to school every day in a thermos, with a cold/ice pack next to the milk. We have been doing this now for six years and it seems to work (she says that the milk remains cold and she has never been sick from it). My other child (toddler)gets milk in a special container (her lunchbox, it turns out, is too small for a full thermos) that we bought at Target. It is like a small sports bottle (with a pull up top) that has an insert that is frozen (can be removed and kept in the freezer until used). This also seems to be working well. Good luck
I have two suggestions for lunchtime milk storage:

If you want 100% leak proof, the containers that come with the Lansinoh Milk Mate breast milk storage system are amazing. They have a little plastic piece that fits in the lid creating a perfect seal. The lid only needs to be screwed on to normal tightness. The whole set comes with 10 bottles and a storage rack for $28, Im not sure if its possible to buy individual bottles.

I have also had pretty good success with Rubbermaid's plastic Crocodile Juice Box with pop up straw. However, on more than one occasion it has leaked substantially (in these cases it was found upside down and most likely sat upon). They're available in the Tupperware section of Target and cost around $4 for two. (They really look more like elephants than crocodiles). Hope this helps

I have been using an insulated sippy cup with valve and putting it in a soft lunch box with a zipper that has a sleeve for an ice pack. Her milk is still cold when i pick her up from preschool at 4:30 in the afternoon. dawn
I never found a solution to this problem --even with refridgerated bags and ice packs, the milk didn't stay 'refridgerator cold' and neither of my kids would drink it. They even complained about the milk in the cafeteria being warm (since the food workers set out flats of cartons before the lunch hour starts). What worked for us was the substitution of alternative calcium-rich foods: mozzarella cheese sticks, Baby Belle wedges, leftover cheese pizza, yoghurt, even pudding (the cooked kind, not instant). Yes, some of these have sugar, but my kids eat pretty healthy overall and as long as there aren't multiple sweets in a lunch box I haven't seen it as a problem. They're in middle school now, and one is skinny, the other completely average in weight (though I am overweight) And if they want a drink, they get a frozen water bottle (sometimes 50% juice) to drink. When they were little, these were refillable sippy juice boxes, now they are sports bottles! Chris
I have bought a refillable plastic container from safeway or longs, that is kind of squarish, like a juice box, and has a flip top that my children can easily open and close. The night before I pour in about 2-3 inches of milk and place the container in the freezer. The next morning I fill the rest of the container with milk and it generally is still cold at lunchtime. eve
Hi Amy. At Longs Drugs near Safeway on Pleasant Valley and Broadway (and probably at Target, K-Mart, etc.) they have these plastic bottles with built-in straws. They seal for a no-leak lunch, and your child does NOT have to unscrew anything, just pop up the straw and then push it back down to seal it. They come in two sizes, 8oz and 14oz approx. I just wash them in my dishwasher after rinsing or soaking them a bit. To keep your milk cold, they also sell at Longs little blue ice freezer packs that are just sized for a lunch box. Take care! Tiffany
Rubbermaid sells these beverage containers that have this hard plastic built-in straw that you fold up to drink. They don't leak, and would be easy for your child to use instead of something that screws on and off. I think I've seen them at Target as well as at Albertsons. anon
We use a First Years sippy cup with a flip-up spout cover that effectively prevents lunchbag leaks but is easy enough for our son to open himself. If your daughter thinks she is too old for a sippy cup, try the ''sport bottle'' version: I bought ours at Target. Holly
How old is your daughter? Would a sippy cup be okay? If not, Rubbermaid makes a vairety of packable drink containers. I use Gerber sports bottles for my boys (3 1/2) and freeze their drinks overnight so that they are still cold by lunch- which would be particularly important with milk. Good luck anon
We usually send our (pre-school) daughter's milk in an insulated cup with a top that has a built-in plastic straw that folds down into a cover so it can be completely sealed. It's hard to describe, but if you search on the web for ''Playtex Insulator Sport,'' you can see it. I bought a four-pack of the cups at Costco about three weeks ago for about $12. robin
I know this because I wanted to serve milk at my kids' birthday parties...Andronico's sells the little milk cartons! Christina

Lunch for sandwich-hater

Lunches - My daughter hates sandwiches - We do yogurt or she likes a container of marinara sauce to dip string cheese into or I wrap a high grade of bologna from the butcher around a piece of string cheese and a pickle sliver with some mustard and toothpick it. Sometimes I send crackers or baguette sliced thin and a small container of spreadable cheese.


One thing that my 7-year-old likes for lunch is roll-ups, which consist of pieces of thinly sliced ham or turkey (or salami if he can nag me into it) rolled around a small stick of cheese and held together with a toothpick. I pack 2 or 3 roll-ups in a little plastic container and then give him some carbs in the form of crackers or a granola bar. I trust him not to goof off with the toothpicks, but that might be an issue for some.


Another member asked for ideas on bag lunches that don't involve sandwiches. I've found that do-it-yourself lunchables are a big hit with my 11-year-old. This usually invoves 1 or two kinds of crackers, 1 or two kinds of pre-sliced cheese, and 1 or two kinds of pre-sliced and cut luncheon meats. You can make up a bunch of these in advance, and put them in lots of plastic baggies, or you can also get special tupperware-type containers with little compartments that work well for this. I've found Japanese ones to be especially good (ours are actually from Japan, but you can probably get them in Japantown; ask for Bento boxes). To this main dish I usually add a piece of fruit, some small desert-type item (like a fruit roll-up), and a box juice or small plastic container of juice.

Another lunch idea if your child is old enough to handle it, and has access to very hot water: Cup-a-Noodles or similar items. Sometimes you can get a cup of hot or boiling water from the school lunch counter to make this a possibility.


One of my kids doesn't like sandwiches in his lunch either. I give him:

- pizza: order extra next time and freeze leftover slices in baggies
- a baggie full of dry cereal
- packaged sushi from the grocery store
- bread sticks and string cheese
- try different kinds of bread too like hamburger & hotdog buns, baguettes, cinnamon bread, cheese bread, etc.


School-Aged Kids

Summer Camp Lunch Ideas

June 2009

My 8 year-old has been mostly in a school program where lunch was provided at a small fee. Occasionally, I would pack him a sandwich with turkey ham and spinach. But now I have to do this on a regular basis and want to add variety to his lunch. I need suggestions about what type of food I can pack him other than sandwiches, and distinct from morning snacks. Is any meat (chicken, beef, etc.) cooked and kept in the fridge overnight safe to stay out the next day(in a lunch box, i.e. an insulated bag, etc.) from morning till lunch time (probably for 3 to 4 hours)? I am assuming vegetables would be okay. But, I just need to know what parents, who have to pack lunches every day, do in summer or during school year. Thank you. New to Packing Lunch Regularly

I pack a wide variety of things for my son (who refuses to eat the same thing every day). These include both cold and warm things (warm things are in a thermos or a japanese ''lunch jar'' with two separate containers inside, expensive but worth it for me since I do this all year long -- google ''Ms. Bento''). Cold things include hardboiled eggs, sushi (with an ice pack), tofu slices, turkey in a pita, bean burrito Warm things include leftovers that he liked, soup, tortellini with red sauce, potstickers, little spinach cakes, stirfry with rice. In every lunch, I try to include a source of protein, some carbohydrate (e.g. pasta, bread, muffin, rice), a vegetable, and a fruit. In about 5 years of packing such lunches, I have never had trouble from packing meat. Karen
I have been packing my daughter's lunch every day since she started preschool about 3 years ago. I find it one of the most irritating tasks of my daily life, but here is what I pack: I always give her a fruit, a vegetable, a starch and a protein. I put it in her insulated lunchbox with a frozen cold pack (I use a small gel pack). For fruits I use just about any fruit. For veggies she likes carrots, cucumbers, cooked spinach, cooked green beans, grape tomatoes, cooked broccoli and so on. I give her a small container of hummus to go with her carrots/cucumbers. For starch and protein, I usually give her dinner leftovers because she does not like sandwiches. Rice and grilled chicken, tofu and rice, rice with black beans and cheese, pasta with sauce, pasta with grated cheese, turkey sausage with couscous -- any combination or whatever I made for dinner. I give her a yogurt squeezer for a snack, or maybe a rice cake with margarine or dried fruit or a cheese stick. She gets milk in a klean kanteen (not insulated) or occasionally a juice box. She is in a nut-free classroom, so I don't send peanut butter or nuts, but I will when I can. Sometimes she eats everything I give her, sometimes she eats absolutely nothing. It doesn't matter to me . . . it's there for her if she wants and is hungry enough! She is out of the home from 8 to 6, so lots of time she'll snack on our drive home or while she's waiting for dinner. I find that the cold pack keeps things cold enough. I'm sure other parents are much more cautious with meats, but it has worked fine for us for over 3 years. Good luck with your lunch adventure! There are lots of great websites with lunch ideas, one BPN mom posted her great bento box site last week. Slave to the Lunchbox
Hi...I wanted to put out a word of caution when packing lunch meat in the summer -- Bees love protein and are drawn to it! During summer months, I try to keep lunch free of animal based protein (nut butters, too.) I give LOTS of good snacks -- fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts (bees don't seem to be as attracted to whole nuts compared to nut butters,) veggies/crackers and hummus or other dip...Then when we get home, I give the chicken, turkey, etc. Make sure there's protein in your breakfast, too...also, pack a moist paper towel or two sealed in a zip top bag -- this way your kids can wipe off any fruit juice that may have squeezed on to their hands and face. Love to picnic!

Preschoolers & Kindergarteners

Uneaten Lunches at Preschool

Sept 2009

My four year old is not a big eater--never has been. Lunch is by far his smallest meal. Sometimes it is only three bites from a sandwich and an apple wedge. He is just much more interested in play and the world, then food and it doesn't take much to fill him up. The problem I am dealing with now is that he is taking lunch to preschool 3 days a week and it usually comes back uneaten--two bites from a sandwich and maybe a handful of raisins. Last year he only had lunch one day at school and he barely touched it then. I've let him make his lunch, I've included him in the food selection, I've given him lots of options and packed his favorite foods in a cool lunch box, but he still barely eats a thing. I don't think the (fruit and carb) mid-morning snack at school helps as it fills him, but I can't forbid him from partaking in it. Socially he is doing well at the lunch table, he just doesn't eat. I am accepting that this is just the way he is. But, I am concerned now because on two of the days he stays longer and when I pick him up I can tell that he has low blood sugar. He then craves sweets and whines and melts down when we get home. Bringing food with me in the car at pick-up sometimes helps this. I feel guilty because of all the food he is wasting. I get sad throwing the food out everyday and gasp at the money we are wasting. We throw out a lot of food for his other meals too. I don't think my portions are too big compared to what other kids his age are eating, but maybe? I feel a bit hopeless and uninspired when it comes to making the food because he won't touch it. I am almost tempted to send him with a couple of crackers and a banana. His teachers just say that he is just more interested in play then food. My question is--do I just accept this and pack very minimal lunches? What kinds of quantities of food do parents pack for lunch for their minimal eaters? I'd love to know how much you are sending with them. Also, will he always be a small eater? Did your small eater suddenly blossom into a big eater at any time in childhood? I imagine sending him off to high school with a slice of apple and a few almonds... --Tired of wasting

My 6yo son has always been both a light eater and a sloooow one, including in preschool. He's still eating when the other kids are done and then he wants to go out and play with them. I just keep his lunches really small - a couple slices of fruit, half a sandwich, and then some raisins or other snacky thing that he eats in the morning. It took me a while to figure out that that was enough for him, especially since my other (smaller!) child eats like a T-Rex. A snack after school definitely helps with the low blood sugar issue (mine turns into a monster when he's hungry and doesn't realize it, too). I think some kids just don't need much in any one sitting. Packing Lunches is Hard Work
I think you have answered your own question--offer him smaller portions at home, send less food to preschool, and bring a snack or have him eat his leftover lunch when you pick him up. If he's a healthy weight and is able to play with lots of energy then surely he's getting enough to eat, even if he doesn't eat as much as you think he should. Really, you're the one wasting the food, not him, if you keep giving him more than you know he will eat (and I mean this kindly). And I'm sure he'll eat more when he's a teenager--the appetites of teenaged boys are legendary, just as small children are known for existing on tiny portions. Less gruel, please!
I used to consider packing plastic food in the lunch box because so little was eaten... Actual suggestions 1) your idea about packing a ''snack'' rather than a full fledged lunch is a good one or 2) have your child eat the rest of lunch on the way home and/or 3) bring the rest of lunch with you when you pick up your child to eat on the way home, 4) feed your child a good, nutritious breakfast. Many preschoolers just don't eat much -- they grow quickly again right around kindergarten, and eat more before that growth spurt. If the teachers aren't concerned, I wouldn't worry about it. My child seems to have mostly outgrown the pickiness, without any direct action on our part. mom of a former picky eater
My son was (is) similar to yours. I would try not to worry so much. Kids have different daily rhythyms for their appetites but as long as there is always food available when he wants it he will get what he needs. One good sign is that it probably means he really likes his preschool activities (they are more interesting than food). Two things I do: yes, I pack really small lunches, maybe 30% more than I think he is likely to eat, in case he has a bigger-appetite day. Second, I open the uneaten lunch in the car on the way home, and he is often starving at that time and devouers the whole thing. Sometimes I make eating the lunch food a condition of having other snacks, so it doesn't get wasted. Sometimes it does mean that dinner is delayed a bit (since he has just eaten at 5 pm) but I figure that calories are calories whether they get consumed at 12 or 5.

Oh, and now that he is in kindergarten his eating habits seem to be slightly more normal, maybe because of the peer pressure aspect, I don't know. So there is hope for change over time. anon

My daughter (pre-k) doesn't seem to eat at lunchtime regularly, either. What she doesn't eat at lunch, she usually eats in the car on the way home. That sometimes causes her to then eat a smaller dinner, but I really don't get too worried about it.

At breakfast, I make sure to get as much protein into her as possible (eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt) to tide her over in case today is going to be a light lunch day. And for lunch, I just pack her my regular combo of fruit, veggie, protein and carb (usually complex, though not always) ...I love edemame as it is a two-fer (veggie and protein) that is 'fun' for her (she loves to peel them open.)

And, finally, I don't really think too much about how much she eats. I've tracked her food intake very now and again (as I do for her elder sister) and over the course of two weeks, the intake seems to be about right on...things seem to average out over a 72-hour period...

Finally, you know how much snack is being served? My child's preschool lets the children take it at any time during the morning or afternoon, but has a definite amount that they can take (e.g., 2 slices of apples and one spoonful of nuts). -anon

My daughter is actually an eater but had the same trouble at school so I was very concerned when she would just eat her fruit or not eat any of her lunch. My solution, especially when I saw her melting down, was to feed her something from her lunch as soon as I put her in the car. Sometimes she would eat the whole thing or at least her sandwich and fruit or cheese stick. The other thing I did was change our eating habits at home. She went from feeding herself a bit then running around playing and coming back for bites of food when hounded to do so. We changed to having her sit till she was done, not feeding her again after dinner (if she asked we would say ''I am sorry you are hungry but am confident you can make it to breakfast.'' or snack or what ever meal we were working on; also telling her we would leave a place if she couldn't sit eat, then play; only had to follow through once) and having her ask to be excused which just reminded her that she was deciding to finish eating. I don't know how your child's preschool works but all the kids at my daughter's sit together and eat. My daughter gets involved in what others are eating and then jets as soon as one of the other kids finish up to play. I asked the teachers to keep an eye on her and remind her to eat several times during lunch and if she got up before she had any food to ask her to sit back down. More work for them but that's what I'm paying them for plus a hungry child is harder to care for and won't learn. Another child in her class who eats like a bird sits forever. He's a super slow eater but is reminded a lot by the teachers to eat so he generally eats well when there even though it is much less than most. I would also ask your preschool to give your kid less snack, just limit it so he doesn't fill up. Also pack high protein whole grain items in your kid's lunch; cheese, nuts, quinoa, garbanzos, dips (great for getting them to concentrate on their food and have fun) like cream cheese, whole yogurts, hummus etc. so he doesn't fill up on sugary things like fruit that will allow him to crash soon after eating. Good luck! Alexis
Two 5yo kids I care for went to the same montessori and experienced this. They allow kids to self-regulate, but I ask you: If you were 5, would you choose food or more play?

I'm over 30 and forget or don't make time to eat and then suffer low blood sugar and the effects (grumpiness, no energy, getting spaced out, inability to think clearly, depression, inability to handle stress, become a raving lunatic). I can attest that it's hard enough to keep on top of it as an adult, let alone when you are 5 and you are allowed to play in lieu of taking meals. When it's food time, the focus should be sitting to eat, without the option to play. When I realize I have low blood sugar, if I just give myself a good meal, I'm pepped up and completely normal within 30 minutes. It's a drastic difference.

In the boy, everytime I picked him up, he too had only eaten a couple bites. He was a mess and I had to start bringing honey and give him a spoonful right away to get his sugars up so that he'd bounce back and be normal, because he was so whacked out that he would still usually refuse food at 4:30. Thankfully, honey is medicine so I felt okay about it: In the boy, he was eventually expelled for biting another kid, which occurred due to his low blood sugar psychosis. It was preventable had the adults been caring for him properly.

In the girl (different family), she was coming home at 1pm in the hot summer, dehydrated and unfed (they also don't push water at the school). Her mother told me it would take 2 hours to get her daughter back to normal. She had to recover from the poor care at preschool daily. But if the mom would just come at noon (even though she had to pay til 1), she could get her daughter fed and hydrated and then she was just fine.

It is my opinion (and many local mamas agree with me) that these schools letting young kids self-regulate this particular aspect are being highly negligent. It makes me really upset that parents pay a lot of money and receive negligence in return (and then pick up a whacked out child). To put a finer point on it, blood sugar yo-yo-ing is a diabetic precursor. Experiencing regular low blood sugar bouts is hard on the body and not at all acceptable.

It appears your preschool is operating under the same M.O. Please talk to the director about the eating thing. Feel free to pass my story on. I don't want more kids to suffer.

Yep, I have one just like that. Would barely eat lunch at school then fall apart as soon as I picked her up because she was so low on food. After awhile I figured out it wasn't just school. My daughter had a hard time eating with a big group. I think snack was easier at preschool because the children came to the table a few at a time whereas at lunch everyone came together. I noticed at potlucks she would reject everything, even food she loves at home, then fall apart as soon as we left the party. There was just too much going on socially for her to focus on food. Now she is in fourth grade and for the first time she consistently eats her lunch at school. So, no, you probably won't be sending your son off to high school with a miniscule lunch.

In the mean time I figured out to send food that would make it through the whole day even if she nibbled at it a bit in school. I sent small containers of crackers, nuts, dried fruit, sea weed, etc. Whatever she didn't eat at school was then available in the car on the ride home. this definitely worked better than sandwiches which are pretty unappetizing by 5:00 pm.

Even at home my daughter was not a big eater. I followed the advice of continuing to offer a variety of foods, even when she rejects them multiple times. Somedays something would just click and food she would never touch before was suddenly her favorite. So hang in there. As your son grows so will his appetite. Until then have healthy food available when he needs it most and try not to worry. katrinca

Kindergartner Lunch Ideas

June 2006

My daughter is starting Kindergarten in the fall and I was wondering if there was any advice about lunches, what to pack and how to pack well. My daughter's Preschool has provided lunches and snacks so I am very nervous about this year. What works well and what does not? What are some favorites that are easy for working parents? Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Anon

Here's my ''fridge list'' -
One of these: bagel w/whatever cinnamon bread w/butter ham/turkey/salami sandwich pasta or mac-n-cheese in thermos chicken nuggets in thermos burrito cereal in a bowl/milk in a thermos One/two pieces of fruit/veggies - my son likes celery w/peanut butter in a little container for dipping. Smoothie Squeezy yogurt Boxed raisins, cranberries Trail Mix Pretzels Crackers Cheese sticks or cubes Popcorn Kids Clif Bar - or other protein bar Chips and guacamole muffins rice cakes dry cereal - Mighty Bites & Heart to Heart are yummy and loaded w/good stuff Box of milk or juice
LL Bean makes a great lunch box w an inside pocket built just for ice packs to keep everything cold. Make as much as you can (if not all) at night. You'll be so happy you did every morning. I try and do it while making dinner. Signed -Three years of pre-school lunches
Oh, I know how you feel about preparing lunches. I wasn't sure either when my daughter started preschool. I decided to set the tone from the get-go, so that she knew what she could expect and I never really deviated much from it in the past 2+ years.

I give her a sandwich with either lunch meats or cheese. Lately she has ventured out a bit and has asked for peanut butter & jelly, which is still a good source of protein. I always give her fresh fruit like a banana or a little tupperware container with either grapes, strawberries or raspberries. There is also always either a cup of apple sauce or yogurt in her lunch box. They get either milk or water at school, but I always give her a container with juice.

As my life got busier (2nd child, part-time job, bigger house, demanding hubby - hehehe), I didn't always have time to fill all these little containers with fruit and yogurt/applesauce. I found that Trader Joe's or Whole Foods provide great solutions. They have these items pre-packaged and they are very reasonably priced. They even have little juice packages that I occasionally throw in. They're great for my busy mornings when I need to be ready half an hour ago!

One other thing that was very helpful to me was the fact that my daughter's school doesn't discard half-eaten items. For example, my daughter doesn't eat the crusts of her bread, so I always get those back. I know if she only ate half of her banana or yogurt, because they will return it. If her lunch box is empty (which it has been only once since she started going to school), then I know that she truly ate it all. It's just a good way to keep tabs on what she is actually eating. I surely hope this helps. JOJ

This is a tiny little point, but ... it may be worth making. I am always trying to find ways to help my daughter see herself as an unpicky eater (which she is, generally). When she was in preschool she started getting picky about eating sandwich crusts, so instead of fighting it I started cutting her sandwiches with cookie cutters. That gave the benefit of making the sandwich inherently more interesting to her, and the crusts weren't an issue - it wasn't that I was ''cutting the crusts off'' - I was just making the shape. As a result, she forgot that she had an objection to crusts, and now when she gets a sandwich with crusts she just eats them. Maybe she grew out of it - she's 6 now - but I suspect that not having to notice and reject the crusts every day in preschool helped. It's a tiny thing, as I say, but it kind of made me see other ways I can help her stay flexible in her attitudes, and I feel like that's a great outcome. Plus she thinks she has a great mom because she gets shaped sandwiches - cheap marketing for me! Crusty

Kindergartener not eating at school

Sept 2005

My daughter started long-day kindergarten (8:15-2:25) this month, and brings her lunchbox with 2 snacks and lunch to school. Problem is, she eats next to none of it at school. I pack things that she would dependably eat at home and at her preschool, but she brings almost all of it home. When I've asked her why she hasn't eaten, she shrugs and says she doesn't know. According to the teacher, a lot of the kids are not eating much at lunchtime (they are not allowed to play for the first part of the break, so it's not as if they are playing instead of eating). When she gets home she is completely fried and wants to eat her lunch. She really needs to start eating if her attention span is going to be worth anything. I've tried smoothies spiked with protein powder, booty, even fruit mini muffins we made together, and it still comes home. Someone please reassure me that this will pass soon! Concerned

1. Make sure your daughter can open her lunch box and all the containers by herself.

2. Let her make her own lunch (under your supervision, give her two or three choices from each food group, and she does the assembly and packing).

3. If available, let her buy a school lunch a couple days per week.

--good luck

It's a matter of starting a routine, but you are not there to reinforce it nor to remind her. So I would use a combination of internal and external reinforcements. First of all, I would ask her the night before what meal she wants for the next day (commitment). Second, ask her if there is any reason why she wouldn't eat it anyay. Fish around for possibilities - do you feel shy/are you embarrassed about the food or eating it in front of others? Do you hate the feeling of sticky hands? Your daughter might finally think about it - at least she'll know that you really care. Third, and most importantly, tell her that she will earn a point for every day she eats her school lunch herself and ask her to bring leftovers home - to never throw anything in the trash. If she follows this truly, this will give you a clue about the portions she needs and also she shouldn't be hungry when she gets home. After 10 points, she'll get a little prize/toy.

This should work. If it doesn't, which I doubt, tell her (after 3 failures) that from now on each time she doesn't eat the food she committed to, she'll lose a point and after losing 3 points, she'll temporarily have a favorite toy or movie on time out which she can earn back with 10 points along with the little prize. Sounds a bit rigid, but it works well for any ''change in desired behavior'' issue. We established a good morning routine with that. Anonymous

Yes, at this stage it is reasonable to expect that this phase of not eating at school will pass. It is, however, important for you to keep paying attention just to make sure that it is only a phase. It is generally helpful to document these kinds of situations for future reference.

Generally, asking a young child why he or she is behaving a certain way yields a response such as ''I don't know.'' It may be helpful to (in a very matter of fact way) find time to play 'school' with your daughter and see what happens when you get around to snack/lunch time. Then, if possible, some time when she has a friend over, start a little game of 'school' and see if anything different happens at snack/lunch with the friend around.

Kindergarten is a significantly more sophisticated social environment than is preschool. An educated guess might be that your daughter is seriously focused on sorting out social/peer dynamics. Because snack/lunch times are the times when the children's separateness from each other is most emphasized (unlike with toys, each child brings her/his own food from home and sharing is not encouraged), each child's sense of identity as it is seen by the group is most vulnerable at those times.

There are many possible thought processes in which your daughter may be engaged around her snack/lunch time experience. As long as you continue to pay attention with a relaxed and open attitude, your daughter will know that she can come to you if she ever feels overwhelmed by the social demands of school. Nechama

I wonder if your child goes to the same school as mine? We also have a long kindegarten day (8:20 to 2:35). My daughter, while not a big eater anyway, has barely touched her lunch since starting kindegarten. At preschool she did eat lunch. She says she just is not hungry. Then I reasized why. The kindegartner's schedule at our school is such that the kids eat lunch at 10:45! So she eats two bowls of oatmeal at 8:00 and then she is expected to eat lunch a little more than two hours later. It makes no sence to me. Then they have ''snack'' at 1:30. It seems that if they switched the lunch and snack times (i.e. a later lunch) that more kids would be eating. The only thing I can think to do other than talking with the powers that be at the shcool, is to pack her more substantial snacks. But now, the teacher is recruiting each parent to bring snaks for all kids for 2 weeks out of the school year, which means she will get whatever snack said parent brings AND not eat her lunch. At this point for me, the best thing to do is to talk with the teacher, and go from there. Check you child's schedule and you may find she is not eating b/c of the early lunch schedule. At least you will know why. Good luck! Angie

How to pack lunch for kindergartener

March 2005

Up until now, my son has been attending a preschool where they serve delicious and nutritious lunches at an unbelievably low price - so I haven't had to make him lunch every day. Well, soon he'll be starting at a summer camp and then kindergarten in the fall and I'm looking down the barrel at having to make him a lunch every day. Anyone out there have some great, easy and nutritious ideas for lunches? And when I say easy, I don't mean, ''well, when you have some leftover salmon from the night before, just mix it with some of this and some of that and presto, a delicious salmon salad''. I am ''food-challenged'' and am capable of not much more than a PB! Any helpful tips would be appreciated as well. Do you usually pack it the night before (if so, does it still taste fresh the next day?)? We're usually running out the door in the morning, so this would be a great time-saver. Also, where's the best place to buy a lunch box (I haven't just seen them in my normal shopping around). My son has one now, but it doesn't have a thermos, which I imagine is essential for soups, etc. By the way, is it possible to put milk in a thermos and expect that it stay cold until lunch (so I don't have to send him with a juice box every day)? Thanks for your help! mom suffering from lunch anxiety

we pack a lunch for my son for his nanny share. we pack his favorite fruit - a banana, some orange or apple. small containers or baggies with cheese, ham, crackers, raisins, (I'll also pack nuts when he's older), a bit of pasta or mac and cheese (this might require warming though), juice and water. what we lack in fancy preparation we try to make up for with variety. by the way - theres nothing wrong with PB also food challenged
I pack lunches the night before, to save rushing in the morning. Target has an extensive line of lunchboxes. I've found thermoses to be rather hit or miss because they don't seem to conserve temperature, hot or cold, terribly well until lunchtime. I always pack fruit with my daughter's lunch. Simplest lunches: beans and rice (low sodium canned beans provide protein and fiber), bread and cheese and fruit. She will always eat anything fried but it is not terribly healthful. Simplest lunches mh
Definitely do it the night before (or even earlier). My kids liked an assortment of little things in little cups (or baggies if you don't want the clean-up) - raisins, cut-up fruits and vegies and cheese, canned chick peas, etc. And PB is fine too (if it's not out-lawed due to allergic students). In a steel vacume bottle, with a small lunch-box size ice-pack, a drink (and other foods) should keep cool for several hours. However, I never put milk in packed lunches, since I worry aobut getting the thermos clean enough. If you don't want to do juice (we dilute it a lot), how about an herbal iced tea? I use Trader Joe's Mint-Melange tea bags (it's mint and lemon grass) to make a pitcher full to keep on hand. It's also good combined with orange juice. If you really want to send milk, you can find it in juice-box type containers. (Expensive, though). Freeze it overnight, and it should be fine by lunch-time. And I really believe that leftovers don't have to be warm! My daughter has been eating leftover (cold) mac and cheese for years with no complaints. R.K.
re milk; I have found that I can freeze about 4 oz milk or juice or water in my son's travel cup overnight; then in the morning I add another 2-4 oz of the same liquid. It usually stays cold til lunch. iris
One thing to add that I did not see in the archives or in the responses: A kindergartener is capable of making his/her own lunch and learning from good or bad lunch choices. My daughter is 4.5 and has been making her own lunch for the past few months (with less and less supervision needed). She knows to make a fruit choice, a vegetable choice, a dairy choice (yogurt, cheese, or a squirt bottle of milk), a sandwich, bagel or wrap (pbj, hummus, cream cheese, turkey), and a snack (nuts, egg, dry cereal or crackers). She feels a great sense of accomplishment and I know she is eating a lunch that she likes and is made with ingredients I approve of. --stress free lunch

Healthy snack/lunch for a picky kindergartener

Sept 2004

My daughter is starting kindergaten this fall and needs to have a snack and lunch available everday. I know to give her fruits and vegtables but is there any suggestions on other foods that may fill her up. She is a VERY picky eater. The only kind of sandwich she likes is Peanut butter and Jelly. Can any one please recommend any other HEALTHY snack/lunch I can try. Maybe a store? Most foods she likes have to be warmed up and I don't think they can microwave the childrens lunches. Please any advice/suggestions will be helpful. mom of a picky eater

You're in luck - I just found myself in the same predicament with my pre-schooler and forced myself to sit down and make a good, solid list of ideas so he doesn't end up eating PB everyday - like last year!!
Main courses... Bread w/butter (cin/raisin, cranberry, zuchini?) Bagel w/? Ham or turkey w/string cheese (in tupperware - no bread) Mac-n-cheese - heated at home in the AM and placed in a thermos, it stays warm enough. Bean/cheese burritos - same heating instruction Snacks... Any fruit Small yogurt Pretzels Crackers Fig bars - or other breakfast bars Tortilla chips w/guacamole Pop corn Smoothie - loaded w/good stuff Raisins, cranberries, trail mix
Happy Lunching!
Since you say your child is ''picky'', these suggestions might not work (you don't give examples of what you've already tried), but here are a few main-course (protien) ideas: hard-boiled egg; cheese stick or cheese ''shapes''; rolled up turkey and/or cheese slices (Trader Joes has a large variety of pre-sliced real cheeses); an assortment of cut-up things with (fancy?) toothpicks for fun eating; chick-peas straight from the can (optional - sprinkle with seasoning); cold tofu cubes (optional - soy sauce for dipping); almost anything that you usually warm up can really be eaten cold, too. And there's really no requirement to have a different lunch every day. I know I often have the exact same breakfast on most days, and don't mind a bit! You can plan more variety at dinner. R.K.
Boy, I know what you mean. How about PB and banana sandwich? I give my daughter hummus and TLC crackers, or hummus sandwiches, which she really likes. There are lots of hummus flavors. I recently started giving my daughter shredded carrots with a little cole slaw salad dressing, which she'll eat. I do much of my shopping at EC or Berkeley Natural, which has interesting healthy snack foods. Been there
I have this same issue with my daughter who has just started 1st grade -- what to pack for lunch and snack! I did tons of research and have continued to do it. I want healthy and nutritious food for my daughter as often as possible (every day!!), but it wouldn't be good if she doesn't ! eat it. I'm no expert, but I'll summarize below what I know (from my own experience, from friends, from research, etc.) Hopefully you will find some of it helpful. :)

1. Get a Thermos food jar. You can find the basic black/silver Thermos food jar at Target (sometimes they can be all out though). Thermos has come up with ''Funtainers'' which are the Thermos food jars with fun designs for kids. I was able to get a nice pink one with stars for my daughter during the summer. There appears to be a new pink flower design out, but I don't know where to find it yet. You can fill the Thermos food jar in the morning with Mac & Cheese, noodles, chili, pasta salad, fried rice, soup (if she can handle it). All with some kinds of veggies, of course.

2. Other non-sandwich, non-Thermos lunches that I've made: parmesan chicken (basically home made chicken nuggets), mini pizza (made with English muffin and home made turkey sausages), cheese and sausage on Tortilla, BBQ chicken drumstick, whole wheat pita bread with hummus (hummus in a separate container), chicken salad in pita bread (Whole Food makes ''Sonoma Chicken Salad'' that is really good). I would have done tuna salad in pita bread too but I'm worried about the mercury level in tuna and so I don't use it.

3. You can easily make your own Turkey sausages with ground turkey and spices -- less fat and lower salt that way. If you don't want to, you can get the healthy turkey sausages from most stores. I like the Diesel apple/cranberry turkey from El Cerrito Natural Food for my daughter. You can also get the no nitrate/nitrite ham/turkey/chicken from Whole Food or El Cerrito Natural Food.

4. I have been told that roll-ups can be good with kids (turkey/ham/chicken/cheese roll up in tortilla or regular bread). You might want to try it. I have not tried it with my daughter yet.

5. Snacks -- fruits and veggies (have you tried soy beans? Just boil them in the morning and pack them -- very easy). Other good stuff -- yogurt, stick cheese, rice bars (my daughter likes Envirokidz), granola bars (if your daughter can eat them; mine has loose teeth and can't chew them well), pretzel, crackers (Whole Food has a variety of low fat kinds), nuts and dried fruits, and all kinds of dip. You can do cereal -- the ''Barbara'' brand has nut-o's, multigrain, wheat puff (quite good, nutrition-fortified too), etc. I pack cereal as snack all the time. Just put it in a little plastic Rubbermaid container. You can also mix them and put in a few animal crackers. There are also those bars with fruit in them. You can find the healthy (or should I say healthier) ones at Whole Food. My daughter does not like them much. There is a new Clif bar for kids that just ca! me out. I found it at El Cerrito Natural Food. My daughter eats some but it is not her favorite. (One mom told me that her kid loves it.)

6. I started baking muffins this past month to use as afternoon snacks. So far, this has been working out. I gather recipes for healthy muffins (whole wheat, with fruits or veggies, low in fat, low in salt, use honey instead of sugar, etc.). I bake them over the weekend and freeze them. I take one out of the freezer the night before, let it thaw in the frig and reheat it in the morning. Once it cools, I pack it in a little plastic container for the afternoon snack (can also be breakfast). One time, I put in a few chocolate chips in each muffin. That makes my daughter like the muffin more. (These healthy muffins are really not bad. Really!)

7. Oh, almost forgot -- hard-boiled egg! This works for some people. It hasn't worked on my daughter yet. Maybe I'll try again this year. I buy fruits and veggies from the local farmer market (and use the vegetable wash if the produce is not organic). I go to Whole Food once a week or every other week and I go to El Cerrito Natural Food all the time. These two stores are more health conscious in my opinion. Trader Joe now carries a lot of organic items as well. So far, that's what I did for Kindergarten and summer camp. I need to expand the list for 1st grade and am looking forward to reading the responses to your question. Thank you for asking it! Anonymous

Your daughter sounds like a cross between my two picky children. I have struggled to find something for my son's lunches as he only likes PB or fresh, warm food. We finally found a thermos that works--is small enough to carry just one serving of pasta. I got it at the Walgreen's store in Berkeley at Gilman and San Pablo. My other child only likes things plain, though she is willing to eat them cold or at room temp. For her, I often send just plain noodles--if you used the thermos you could send the noodles warm with some butter or any other topping your daughter likes. I've also sent bagels with butter and nuts.! sp; Whole Foods carries a lot of ''healthy'' crunchy snacks that mimic the ones in the grocery store. One of our favorites is the cheese puffs. Popcorn is another option for a healthy snack. Andronico's and Whole Foods both carry small individual containers of chocolate milk, which add some protein if you are sending noodles. Hope this helps! Two Picky Eaters
my daughter also greatly prefers warm foods. 1-2 times a week I bake in toaster oven(or microwave but crust is better baked) an Amy's pot pie (broc & cheese or veg) to be ready when we have to leave then wrap the whole thing in foil and put back in its box- it's moderately warm by lunchtime and she usually eats it. also,
edamame/ soybeans (come frozen, just boil or seam, can add a bit of salt, they are good at room temp and filling) pasta (can warm before too so it's not freezing) rice with pesto almond butter instead of pb sometimes bagel w/ cream cheese or hummus pizza tortilla rolled up with cheese, rice slice, hummus or turkey if eat meat, etc. wildwood baked tofu- pineapple terriyaki flavor tamales or burritos yogurt, go-gurt tubed yogurt, yogurt drinks (though even organic can add lots of sugar,) applesauce
We shop primarily at health food stores and Monterey Market __ROSS had special thermoses last month that are ''Vacuum Sealed'' this has kept my tea very HOT for 8 hours! if you can't find a discounted one though you might not want to put it in the lunchbox because they're normally $20-$30 which would be pretty hard if it didn't make it home. Chris

Menu ideas for preschooler's lunch

July 2003

My 4 1/2 year old daughter started with a new day care facility this week. Since they do not provide lunch, we are required to pack her a lunch each day. It is only Wednesday, and I am running low on ideas. So far I have done cheese, crackers and turkey breast, a turkey wrap using tortillas, and will be fixing a salmon patty sandwich for tomorrow. I've included fruit, jello and carrot sticks. In addition to PB sandwiches, I would love some nutritious ideas that don't require reheating? My daughter is not a fussy eater, so we are open to many things. I can add an ice pack to keep foods cold and have a thermos for liquid hot foods. I look forward to receiving your ideas. Carol

I'm sure you will get lots of good suggestions from other people, I just wanted to make one point about kids' meals they often are quite happy eating the same few items multiple times in a week. I tried for years to think of interesting things to send for my kids' lunches -- trying to think of something different every day, because *I* would want to eat something different every day. But they really didn't care, they liked PB two or three times a week, bagel & cream cheese the other days, some fruit, some crackers & a juicebox. So don't stress about it, they'll get a variety of foods at the meals they eat at home. Melinda

Babies & Toddlers

What to Pack for Lunch for my 28 month old

Sept 2007

My 28 month old daughter just started at a pre-school this month that requires the kids to bring a lunch from home. My problem is that my daughter has not really mastered the utensil thing, and she is used to a lot of attention (including spoon feeding in the case of most vegetables or messy stuff like yogurt) to get her eat. So, I'd love some ideas for finger foods that won't require as much adult supervision to get into her. The pre-school is small enough that they will heat things up for the kids if need be and do a little bit in the way of feeding assistance.

All that I can come up with are sandwiches (PBJ or lunchmeat) or little bean and cheese burritos or quesadillas. Other ideas for nutritious finger foods would be greatly appreciated !! Thanks Lunch-Packing Newbie

I had three kids go through pre-school (even as young as 18 months) where I had to pack lunches for them. Here are some suggestions for really easy, healthy foods they can pick up or use easily with a spoon or fork. Keep in mind that during the next few months, you're 28 months old will be mastering the skills of eating, so things should get a little easier in the near future...
- all fruit, cut up in squares (like watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes, mangos, bananas) - cubes of cheese (mozzarella, mild cheddar, gouda), served with whole wheat crackers) - hard-boiled eggs, sliced - tuna sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches - pasta salad (corkscrew pasta with bite size pieces of ripe tomatoes, basil, feta cheese, olives, carrots, bell peppers, drizzled with olive oil and pinch of s & p) - soups (chicken noodle, minastrone, - served with bread) - corn bread, cheese toast, - bite size pieces of vegetables (string beans, corn on the cob, broccili) - cassaroles (mac & cheese, spaghetti)
Hope this helps! nicole
Some ideas from my two kids, 3 and 7, and other families:

Make a ''trail mix'' and toss in whatever cereal, dried fruit, crackers, bars or newtons, nuts(if she eats them) she likes in a bag. Get a compartmentalized container to make a ''bento'' box of little finger food (depending on what she likes:anything from sausages to potstickers to stalks of cooked broccoli or carrots even penne noodles).

2 and 3 yr olds love dip. Guacamole can just be a mashed avocado with a squirt of lime. Carrots and ranch seem popular. My older son subsisted on straight hummus for a whole year until I got him convinced to eat whole wheat pita with it. I don't have the time but it's easy to make pita chips by tossing them with olive oil and baking. If your like me, you buy 'em.

Cheese slices or sticks, hard boiled eggs, pieces of chicken. Try making PB and J as a roll-up or ''aram'' with a tortilla. Good with hummus too. If yr child only eats the white food diet, send mac and cheese. Mix the week up by rotating yogurts with different flavors of applesauce. I buy those bags of tiny apples. They're great to grab. Some people send packs of cheese or PB crackers. Dinner left-overs are good hearty lunches. On a particular stressful week, my kids got waffles and loved it. I don't always do it but it seems the best way to deal with lunch is to cook up/make some stuff on some quiet moment on Sunday. I sometimes cook up extra noodles, vegies, etc then. I know people with multiple kids who do it religiously.

Check in specifically with the school as to what else they may serve for a snack. It widely varies: some serve fruit crackers and water. Some cook up quesadillas and serve a protein rich snack. Then you can anticipate what to compensate with.

Good lunch ideas can be found in a cookbook called ''Good Food For Kids''. It has a whole section of lunch box recipes and ideas.

Don't forget it's probably time for her to learn how to use utensils anyway and preschool is the perfect place! They clean the mess for you and the kids teach each other by example. You'd be surprised what those teachers can accomplish with our ''babies'' in decades experience of caring for kids. have a good lunch! lunchbox maven

Packing lunch for a toddler

August 2005

My two-year-old will be starting preschool next month and we'll have to start packing her brown bag lunches. Unfortunately, she doesn't like sandwiches. We usually feed her hot food like pasta and soups, but this won't work at preschool. Any suggestions for easy-to-pack lunches? She likes variety. Janice

Your daughter just hasn't had the right sandwich for HER. Keep offering various sandwiches.
*Give sandwich ingredients in the form of finger foods with dipping sauce
*Maybe the bread tastes yucky (change brands or lightly toast the bread)
*Maybe her sandwiches are too wet or dry
*Maybe she doesn't like the typical ingredients selected (hates mayo or mustard?)
*Try mini-sandwiches that fit in her hand
*Use cookie cutters for interesting shapes. Airplane shape works well because the wings/tail fit so nicely in their small mouths. She may be intrigued simply by the unusual shape (just include other stuff too in case she rejects it).
*Eat sandwiches around her so she wants to do as you do. Good luck.
At home and out, my daughter, now 9, has always enjoyed a huge variety of foods. But packed lunches are a different matter. No matter what variety we provided or what spin we put on different foods, most lunches came home uneaten UNTIL...we discovered the hot lunch thermos! We bought one of those small thermoses for soup and casseroles--and pack pasta in it every day. We cook up a package of pasta on Sunday evening and reheat it, in the microwave, in the morning to pack it in the thermos. Helps to prewarm the thermos with some hot water. Works like a charm and she eats it up daily. Worked for 5 years now! Good luck! Kim
Things we often put in my almost 2 yr olds lunch: Cheese sticks (like string cheese), cut up fruit, mac n cheese with veggies and tofu added, all sorts of leftovers, almond butter and jam on soft wheat bread, yogurt or applesauce, veggies. You could try to start packing leftovers now and eating out at the park so that she can get used to eating her food cold. J
I think the best lunch for toddler-preschool is lots of small cut-up items. An assortment of cut-up fruits, vegies, cheese, meats (if you use them), tiny crackers, etc. can be sent in a few small containers. It keeps well, doesn't need heating, can be partially eaten without contaminating the rest, and allows for choice and variety. R.K.

What to pack for lunch for 14 month old

June 2003

My little girl, who is 14 months old, has just moved next door at her daycare to the Toddler side and I've heard that some parents pack fresh lunches every day. My girl is still getting those baby foods and lunchables in plastic cups and/or jars. Please give me your best suggestions and recommendations on good, easy and healthy lunches to pack-up for a little girl? Of course the easier and healthier it is; the better it is. Thank you.

Oh, you've got to stop wasting your money on that jar food! Plus, your little one will enjoy the variety that ''real'' food offers. We pack for our 15 month old the following: Yo-Baby or Soy-baby yogurt, soft veggies (cooked), pasta, hot dogs (soy dogs)--cut them up into tiny, bite-sized pieces--cut up fruit, apple sauce, rice cakes, cheese, leftovers from last night's dinner, and anything else we can think of. Mama of a Fat Baby
I would first get several small Tupperware containers and fill them with things like:
* cut up fruit or berries (it's so easy to feed tots in the summer)
* sliced cucumbers
* little sandwiches of the sort she likes
* Mac and Cheese
* Cheerios
* Yogurt or sliced hard-boiled egg (kept in the fridge)

She could eat some of these as snacks throughout the day and others as lunch. My kids still enjoy this ''tapas'' style dining. Plus they liked all the little containers. Bon Appetite! Julie T.

For my 14-month-old, I usually pack a vegetable or fruit, a prepackaged applesauce or yogurt, and a ''main course.'' I find it easiest to use frozen veggies (Trader Joe's has organic ones) and just microwave and chop up (same with frozen berries) or fresh fruit. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods also have lunch-size applesauces and I use Yo-Baby yogurt. For the main course I usually just chop up whatever we've eaten for dinner. My son especially likes burritos, pot pies, pancakes, scrambled eggs, and pasta with cheese. Sometimes I make mac and cheese or I buy the organic pasta rings with soyballs. Hope this helps! Jamie
My daughter is 15 months, and I transitioned her off baby foods around 14 months old. Some healthful (and easy) foods you can pack in your daughter's lunch are yogurt (yo baby yogurt is excellent), whole milk pudding cups, cut up fruit, whole wheat bread, diced leftovers from dinner, graham crackers, and mashed up bananas. Of course, you would want to make sure at home that your daughter can tolerate\\likes the foods before sending her off to daycare with them. Good luck feeding your toddler. It is a fun age because the toddlers are developing their palates and appreciating food tastes more. jan
I also stressed about packing lunch for my now 17 month old. Some of the lunches the other parents pack always look so exciting and nutritious! After doing it for several months, I have gotten into kind of a routine of what works, and though it is not that exciting, it is nutritious, and low stress. Here is what I include every day:
(1) either pasta or rice. I change the pasta shapes so it seems like ''variety''
(2) vegetable: either broccoli, peas, or sometimes asparagus. Right now, these are the only fresh vegetables my child will eat. Sometimes I have tried to pack other fresh vegetables, thinking I should add variety, but they don't get eaten, so the bottom line is it seems I'm more concerned about variety than my child is! Sometimes I don't bother with the fresh vegetable, and just send a jar of babyfood (like squash, spinach, or whatever) to mix with the pasta or rice.
(3) 1/2 slice of bread with one slice of tofu cheese (the kind that looks like american cheese).
(4) cut up pieces of pears or apple or other fruit

Then I also include some or all of the following:
* avocado
* applesauce, sometimes mixed with rice cereal or oatmeal (this is like a little vitamin pill, especially if you get the kind of applesauce that has Vitamin C added).
* plain whole milk yogurt, sometimes mixed with silken tofu and/or a teaspoon of jelly or jam

One thing that really helps me is that the caregivers tell me approximately how much of everything gets eaten (e.g. all, some, or none!). This way I know if my quantities are close! I should say some of the ''exciting'' things I see the other kids having include: waffle, french toast, scrambled eggs, fresh strawberries, meat, potatoes.... it doesn't seem like it would be that much trouble to get organized to do this, but the bottom line is that what I send gets eaten and seems pretty balanced to me. June W.

At 14 months my son still sometimes ate infant cereal for lunch - - what can I say, he liked it. But he also ate pretty much all the same things that anyone would have for lunch, although we didn't give him peanut butter yet, by then or shortly afterwards -- including all kinds of salads and sandwiches. Some ideas for you:
- Dinner leftovers make a great lunch, especially if the daycare can warm it in the microwave for her. A bowl of pasta or rice and veggies, or even pizza, is healthier than lunchables.
- An easy alternative to assembling a sandwich is a whole grain dinner roll or a muffin, yogurt or cheese, and cut-up fruit and veggies.
- Bananas don't need to be cut up.
- Neither do blueberries, although they can be messy!
- You can buy carrots pre-grated and use those until she can handle baby carrots without choking. Mix in a few raisins and call it salad.
- Those little single-serve cups of applesauce or diced fruit are fine (just make sure there's no sugar added), and work better for a small child than a whole apple.
- Cheese can be bought in sticks (like string cheese) or deli slices, or cut up into small pieces ahead of time and stored in baggies to be added to her lunch.
- Many toddlers love uncooked (in fact, still frozen) peas -- again, no cutting required.
- Think outside the box for spreads that could be turned into a ''sandwich''; perhaps your daughter would like hummus, canned pumpkin, apple butter, or yogurt on bread. Holly

Ideas for cold toddler lunch

April 2002

Hi, my daughter (2 years old) just started to go to a preschool where they do not heat the lunches. I think she is getting tired of cheese/cracker and pasta salad lunches and we are not very creative with other cold lunches (she does not like cold veggies). Any ideas for somewhat wholesome recipies? Thank you, Catharina

You didn't mention any food restrictions so I hope that these ideas help...tortilla roll-ups are great. I use cream cheese, turkey, avocado, cheese, tomato, shredded zucchini etc... (anything that I have in the fridge works well) Other ideas would be cold chicken breast, three bean salad (buy pre-made for time saving), tuna, chicken or egg salad (assuming there is refrigetation available). Amy
I am always inspired when I look at what the other kids are eating at school. You might ask the teachers or check out the selection yourself if you are ever around at luch time. Other ideas for protein include: tuna fish salad, tuna sandwich, cold chiken, peanut butter on apples, cottage cheese, baked tofu slices with dip, yogurt, cheese sticks, sliced hard-boiled egg and the old PB Suzanne

Vegetarian lunch ideas

August 2000

I'm looking for suggestions for quick and easy vegetarian lunches for my two year old to take to childcare. We do eat fish and eggs and a bit of cheese. She has a great appetite and loves many different kinds of foods BUT I've grown tired of making the same old thing each week which includes tofu and veggies, pasta and veggies, sometimes polenta and veggies and tuna fish sandwiches. (lunch is always supplemented with fruit, crackers etc) Any new ideas or variations on a theme would be much appreciated. Thanks!

I cut up pieces of baked tofu for my 5 year old son. They come in flavors like Teriyaki, Savory, 5 Spice, etc. He's a fussy eater, though not vegetarian. He likes tofu. Cheese and crackers with slices of apple works for us, or crackers and peanut butter. Yogurt too. Good's tough finding food for kids sometimes. They'll like something for a while and then suddenly they don't like it anymore. Go figure.!!! June
Here are some vegetarian lunch ideas. For a sandwich, you can make a bean/cream cheese/tofu spread. I usually use garbanzos. The ratios are 2-1-1. Also, good old pb You can always do baked beans with tofu dogs (I use canned baked beans from Eden to save time), rice balls or cold pizza (tomato focaccia bread with something on top like a pizza). Those are just a few ideas. There are some great books out there for vegetarian toddlers; two I have are Super Baby Food (has a lot about baby food but also lots of toddler recipes) and Feeding the Whole Family. Hope these were helpful suggestions. Hilary
I've been thinking about the lunch issue myself, with a 4 year old and a 2 1/2 year old just starting pre-school. (And I've recently learned that children lose 50% of their sense of taste by the time they are 6!) I'm sharing some of the foods we've tried (some vegetarian, some not, but almost all organic). I'd love to hear other ideas to add to the list. Thanks!

Cold food

  • Cheese sandwich (in cookie cutter shapes)
  • Cheese sandwich (on whole grain hamburger bun)
  • Crackers with cream cheese
  • Confetti tabouli (with finely minced vegetables)
  • Mini bagel with cream cheese
  • Tuna fish sandwich
  • Almond butter and jelly
  • Yogurt with real fruit mixed in

    Hot food (more like warm; in a thermos)

  • Cream of tomato soup with brown rice
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Spagetti
  • Pasta primavera
  • Fried rice
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Chow mein
  • Teriyaki chicken wings
  • Aidell's mini hot dogs
  • Taquitos with sour cream
  • Quesadillas
  • Sweet and sour chicken
  • Nasi Goreng

    Fruits,nuts and veggies

  • Mini carrots with ranch dressing
  • Oranges cut in star shapes
  • Watermelon
  • Cherries
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Plums
  • Mandarin orange slices
  • Pineapple
  • Three bean salad
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Apple/apricot sauce

    Carol T.

    I make my 3 year olds lunch every morning, I feed her meat but probably like once a week or so. These are some of the things I feed her, I will be interested in seeing others ideas to add variety

  • 1. Vegetarian corn dogs (available Berk. Bowl or Whole Foods)
  • 2. Cheese and tomato sandwich
  • 3. P B & J sandwich
  • 4. PB and honey sandwich
  • 5. Corn on the cob
  • 6. hard boiled eggs
  • 7. cut up vegie hot dogs
  • 8. yogurt, yogurt, yogurt
  • 9. cut up microwaved sweet potatoes.
  • 10. quesadillas
  • 11. quick cooking rice, Mahatma or Rice a Roni
  • 12. whatever you had for dinner the night before