Ideas for Toddler Lunches

Archived Q&A and Reviews


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 lunch time. Other ideas for protein include: tuna fish salad, tuna sandwich, cold chicken, 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 for two year old

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