Ideas for Preschool & Kinder Lunches

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  • Not eating lunch at preschool

    (2 replies)

    My preschooler basically never eats the lunch I pack for him, no matter what's in it. At most he'll eat a few bites. It seems like he does not like eating near the other kids and the other day he told us he couldn't eat because there was a bad smell. He often asks the teachers for privacy during lunchtime and they're good about setting him up at a table far from everyone when they are able to. It does not matter what foods I pack, how cute I make them, etc - he likes the foods, but just does not like eating them at school. 

    When I was a kid I also basically never ate lunch at school because the cafeteria smelled bad and I did not like being squeezed in with all the other kids and their lunches and open-mouth chewing. I was fine, I just ate a lot of snacks after school and survived, although it wasn't nutritionally ideal. I have not mentioned this to my child, because it seems hard to empathize on this subject while also encouraging him to eat. So, for example, I probably shouldn't highlight the fact that I was totally fine and it was not really a big deal that I didn't eat at school although that's what I'm trying to tell myself about him. 

    But I would really like for my kid to be able to eat at school. When we pick him up on days when he hasn't eaten anything he's super tired and grumpy. Anyone had a similar situation and figured it out? 

    My child is the opposite! Eats everything and loves food and tends to over eat. I was like that too when I was young and it has its own challenges. I wanted to share that the most important thing is to bond with your child so I would encourage you to share your experience with him. He probably feels isolated by his sensitivities and knowing you went through it and turned out fine would be a relief to him. Then you can talk together about strategies for him to get through the day better. Your experience is a gift to offer him and no one knows better than you what is likely to work and not work because you have been through it. 

    Oh, I feel for you! That does sound tricky. I wonder if a protein smoothie might be a happy medium? That is, assuming he would be more inclined to DRINK something at school than eat. Either way, having a cheese stick, some almonds, crackers, etc. in your car when you pick him up will surely be crucial. Get some protein and carbs into that kid ASAP! It's so hard to connect with your kid when the first thing they do when they see you is meltdown... Ugh. Been there. 


Archived Q&A and Reviews


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

  • 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