What To Feed A Toddler For Lunch

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One of the most difficult parts of being a parent is figuring out what to feed your toddler for lunch. There’s so many options and I’m out of ideas! As a parent, this can feel like a daily struggle. Here are some tips and recipes I’ve collected over the years on what to feed your toddler for lunch.

You are probably wondering what to feed your toddler for lunch. I get it. It can be a challenge to come up with healthy, preferably homemade meals that kids will eat and enjoy.

What To Feed A Toddler For Lunch

WHAT DOES THE IDEAL LUNCHBOX FOR KIDS INCLUDE?

Here’s a look at what you should aim to include in healthy lunches for kids.

  • Fruit: At least 1 serving of fruit.
  • Vegetables: At least 1 serving of veggies.
  • Protein: At least 1 serving of protein, whether it’s in the form of meat or poultry, nuts, legumes, or dairy.
  • Complex Carbohydrates: Whole grains are essential for long lasting energy and proper toddler brain development.
  • Fats: Toddlers need fats to grow properly so choose dairy products with fat and don’t shy away from plant-based fats like avocado and nut or seeds.

TIP: I know that reality often looks less balanced, so try not to feel any guilt if you don’t check all these boxes every single lunch!

lunch ideas for kids with pasta in grid of 4

TODDLER LUNCHES WITH PASTA

Keep a few boxes of pasta in the pantry to help you make quick lunches for the kids. Serve these lunches at home or pack them in a thermos or insulated lunchbox to send to daycare or school. I like to make twice as much as we need so we have a second lunch for later in the week. (P.S. Small shapes of pasta, like ABCs, cook really fast in about 5 minutes!)

  • Spinach Pesto Pasta with peas and a simple side of fruit.
  • Pesto Pasta Salad with sweet corn, cheese, whole grain cookies, and berries.
  • Broccoli Pesto Pasta with a banana and diced chicken or ham.
  • Pasta with Marinara Sauce with white beans and diced ham or meatballs. Berries and milk on the side.
  • Pasta with Sweet Potato Pasta Sauce, steamed green beans, and melon.
  • Veggie Chili Mac with shredded cheese and sliced or diced cucumbers.
  • Buttered Pasta and Cauliflower florets (add it to the pasta water for the last 4-5 minutes of cooking) with Parmesan, diced chicken, dried fruit.
  • Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with a side of applesauce.
  • Boxed Mac and Cheese with steamed broccoli, peas, and/or diced ham, chicken, or sausage.
  • Ravioli with Pasta Sauce (or Alfredo or another favorite sauce) with quickly steamed zucchini and/or an orange.
  • Gnocchi with Pasta Sauce (or Alfredo or another favorite sauce) with peas, diced broccoli, or even shredded carrots added to the pasta cooking water.

lunches for kids with quesadillas
HEALTHY LUNCH IDEAS FOR KIDS WITH QUESADILLAS

With the help of cheese and tortillas (wheat or corn, depending on your preference), you warm up a yummy kids lunch in a skillet in just a few minutes. I typically do mine in a lightly greased cast iron skillet set over medium-low heat for 2-4 minutes on each side. Flip carefully with a heat-proof spatula. (You can also heat them for about 15 seconds in the microwave.)

  • Simple Cheese Quesadillas on wheat or corn tortillas. Add diced grapes and steamed or roasted carrots on the side; salsa for dipping.
  • Broccoli and Cheese Quesadilla: Add steamed and dried chopped broccoli and shredded cheese to a tortilla. Prepare as a quesadilla. Serve with berries.
  • Sheet Pan Black Bean Quesadillas with warmed corn and fruit.
  • Sweet Potato and Cheese Quesadillas with applesauce and milk.
  • Chickpea and Cheddar Quesadillas (maybe without the green onions!) with avocado and salsa.
  • Quesadillas with White Beans and Kale—layer shredded cheese, white navy beans, and a small amount of snipped kale between tortillas.
  • Spinach Quesadillas with a side of steamed veggies and/or sliced melon.
  • Cream Cheese and Fruit “Quesadillas”. Warm two tortillas slightly and sandwich around cream cheese and sliced strawberries.
  • Banana Nut Butter Quesadilla. Warm two tortillas slightly and sandwich around nut butter and sliced banana.
  • Chicken, Corn, and Cheese Quesadillas with shredded leftover or rotisserie chicken, thawed frozen corn, and shredded cheese.
  • Pinto Bean and Cheese Quesadillas with corn, zucchini, and Strawberry Applesauce.

TIP: You can also roll up mashed beans and cheese in a tortilla, then slice into spirals for a fun and different shape.

kids lunches with sandwiches in grid of 4
HEALTHY SANDWICH LUNCH IDEAS

While not all little kids can handle the mixed texture of a traditional sandwich quite yet, you can still serve the elements in a way that they can enjoy—whether by cutting the sandwich into cubes, sticks, or serving the components side-by-side.

  • PB&J or Sunbutter and Jelly, with an easy vegetable and fruit.
  • Mashed Roasted Sweet Potato on Bread and cut into sticks with turkey lunchmeat and pear.
  • Tuna or Salmon Salad with Bread Sticks for dipping, with cheese cubes and a clementine.
  • Carrot Hummus spread onto Bread and cut into cubes served with diced strawberries and roasted broccoli.
  • Apple Butter and Cream Cheese (or a slice of cheddar cheese) between whole grain bread, cubed as needed. With diced cucumber and raisins.
  • Hummus with Pita with sliced cucumbers and grape tomatoes, and milk.
  • Grilled Cheese on Whole Grain Bread, maybe with a little snipped baby spinach or kale in the cheese. With a favorite fruit and drink alongside.
  • Grilled Cheese with Mashed Roasted Sweet Potato—simply spread it on one side of the bread before cooking—with edamame beans and sliced peaches.
  • Favorite Lunch Meat with Whole Grain Bread, cut into small cubes or served with the components alongside each other.
  • Soft Whole Grain Roll with Egg Salad. Cut into cubes and serve with fruit, chickpeas, and milk.

TIP: When buying deli meat, look for low sodium varieties.

breakfast for lunch ideas for kids in grid of 4
LUNCHBOX IDEAS WITH BREAKFAST FOODS

I LOVE breakfast for lunch (and dinner!) and find that often, classic breakfast foods make for easy meals that the little kids love. And serving them for lunch is a great way to use up leftovers.

  • Yogurt with Granola and Fruit.
  • Overnight Oats with Applesauce and maybe a side of steamed frozen veggies like corn or carrots.
  • Smoothie with Hidden Veggies with crackers or dry cereal. (Lunchtime smoothies are one of our go-to mama and little lunches in our house.)
  • Banana Spinach Muffin with fruit and cheese.
  • Leftover Pancake Sandwich with Cream Cheese and Jam, side of veggies.
  • Leftover Waffle Sandwich with Mashed Roasted Sweet Potato, fruit, halved tomatoes.
  • Cottage Cheese with Fruit like peaches canned in juice, raspberries, or pineapples. With a side of crackers
  • Drinkable Strawberry Yogurt with dry cereal and avocado.
  • Zucchini Banana Bread with cream cheese on top, fruit, and milk.
  • Oatmeal with Blueberries and milk. Or use your toddler’s favorite fruit—raisins, banana, strawberries. You could even let them add their own toppings!

TIP: Add milk or water as a drink to round out any lunch.

 Toddler Lunch Ideas Even the Pickiest Eaters Will Love

1. PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA ROLLUPS SNACK BOX

God forbid those PB&B rollups touch that celery, right? These snack boxes let you meal prep—and give kids plenty of options to choose from.

toddler lunch ideas broccoli pesto pasta recipe

2. BROCCOLI PESTO PASTA

We’re not saying you should lie, but if you don’t tell ’em there’s broccoli in there, they won’t know.

toddler lunch ideas soft and cheesy pepperoni pizza puffs recipe

3. SOFT AND CHEESY PEPPERONI PIZZA PUFFS

They’re made with whole wheat flour for a boost of nutrition

toddler lunch ideas tic tac toe sandwiches recipe

4. TIC TAC TOE SANDWICHES

Whoever came up with “don’t play with your food” had never eaten one of these sandwiches.

toddler lunch ideas sweet potato noodle ham and cheese cups recipe

5. SWEET POTATO NOODLE HAM AND CHEESE CUPS

The ability to eat their lunch with their fingers is a major plus

toddler lunch ideas four ingredient banana pancakes recipe

6. 4-INGREDIENT BANANA PANCAKES

Pancakes for lunch? Listen, it’s all about choosing your battles.

toddler lunch ideas sweet potato bacon and broccoli egg muffins recipe

7. SWEET POTATO, BACON AND BROCCOLI EGG MUFFINS

They’re quick, filling and healthy to boot, and you can swap the fillings for whatever your kid likes best.

toddler lunch ideas homemade spaghettios recipe

8. HOMEMADE SPAGHETTIOS

It’s not that much more effort than the stuff from a can, and you have the added benefit of knowing what it’s made of.

toddler lunch ideas homemade crispy baked fish sticks recipe

9. HOMEMADE CRISPY BAKED FISH STICKS

The eternal question: To dip, or not to dip?

toddler lunch ideas easy enchilada cups recipe

10. EASY ENCHILADA CUPS

Easy on the chiles, heavy on the cheese.

 Lunch Ideas Your Toddler Will Love

  1. Italian pasta salad: Cooked penne tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, sliced cherry tomatoes, and diced mozzarella cheese

  2. Egg salad: Hard boiled eggs mashed with mayonnaise and served with whole-grain crackers, bell pepper strips, and apple slices for dessert

  3. Zucchini fritters: Grated zucchini mixed with an egg and a spoonful of flour, shaped into mini pancakes and pan-fried in vegetable oil, served with sour cream

  4. Chicken and applesauce: Fried or baked chicken tenders with store-bought single-serve unsweetened applesauce and cubed cheddar

  5. Eggs in purgatory: Eggs poached in canned or fresh tomato sauce with chickpeas and baby spinach and served with whole-wheat bread or toast

  6. Waldorf chicken salad: Diced grilled chicken with diced green apple, diced celery, and sliced red or green grapes mixed with mayonnaise and served with whole-grain crackers

  7. Hoppin’ John: Diced ham steak with canned black-eyed peas, cooked long-grain white rice, and diced green bell pepper

  8. Cold lunch plate: Hard boiled eggs with cucumber sticks, and plain whole milk Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries for dessert

  9. Black bean guacamole: Canned black beans mixed with diced avocado, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, diced tomato, and chopped chives

  10. PB & banana sandwich: Whole-wheat bread spread with creamy peanut butter and half a sliced banana, served with a peeled, seedless mandarin or clementine for dessert

  11. Bagel and “lox”: Whole-wheat mini bagel spread with cream cheese and topped with sliced tomatoes so it looks like lox

  12. Mexican pizza: Brown rice cake spread with guacamole and topped with grated Monterey Jack cheese and diced tomato

  13. Mini sloppy joe: Ground beef cooked with chopped vegetables (onion, tomato, carrot, and celery), spooned onto a bread roll and topped with grated cheddar

  14. Ham and cheese roll-up: Soft 8-inch tortilla wrap lined with sliced Virginia ham, sliced Muenster cheese, and romaine lettuce, rolled up and cut into four pieces

  15. Hummus and veggies: Store-bought single-serve hummus pack with a whole-wheat pita cut into strips and mini cucumbers or sliced cucumber for dipping

  16. Tuna sandwich: Canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise on whole wheat bread with baby spinach

  17. Cheese and crackers: Cubes of cheddar, whole-grain crackers, sliced cucumber, and sliced grapes

  18. Mini omelet: Egg omelet cooked with baby spinach, grated mozzarella, and sliced mushrooms (if your toddler will eat mushrooms!)

  19. Decosntructed BLT: Cooked lean pork or turkey bacon with sliced cherry tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and whole-wheat toast cut into star or heart shapes, and mayonnaise for dipping

  20. Savory muffin: Oat flour muffin with chopped carrots and broccoli mixed into the batter before baking, served with cream cheese

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