Here are some quick lunch ideas for 1 to 3 year olds that are easy to eat and packed with nutrition! Enjoy at home or pack for school.
Food Ideas for 1 to 3 Year Olds
This is a fun time for food adventuring. Your toddler is becoming a more proficient eater and is able to handle a wide variety of foods and textures.
However, you may be concerned that your child isn't eating as much as they once did when they were a baby. But don't be alarmed. Their growth rate drops significantly during this time and so a decrease in food intake is normal.
On the other hand, it’s possible your child may be hungrier than before. This too, is normal. Remember every child is different.
If your baby is growing, following their unique growth curve, and happy, then they are eating the amount of food that’s RIGHT for them, even if it’s less or more than the recommendations or what you think they need to be eating.
All this to say, use the meal ideas I'm providing to gain inspiration and have fun making them your own by taking into consideration your child's appetite, chewing abilities, food preferences, and allergies.
I highly encourage you to continue focusing on offering a variety of flavors and textures, even if your toddler is starting to display fussy eating behaviors.
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Packing Lunch for Daycare or Preschool
All of these meals I'm sharing can be enjoyed at home or at school!
I remember when I first started packing lunches for my one year old, I felt really confused and overwhelmed. I hope these tips are helpful!
- Give yourself grace! Don't put so much pressure to pack pack the most nutritious, delicious, and adorable lunch boxes right from the start. You don't have to have all your ducks in a row. Just start right where you are. As you feel more confident and ready, continue making SMALL tweaks along the way.
- Don't pack new foods as they can be really intimidating for your child. Not to mention, you want to see if your toddler is able to eat them without any trouble.
- All of these ideas are easy to pack and don’t require reheating. You can add a lot of variety to these by switching up fruits, vegetables, protein, etc.
- Freeze foods like sandwiches, muffins, fruit, squeezable yogurt tubes, applesauce containers, etc. to keep the food cold. Test at home first to make sure they thaw by lunchtime.
- Make sure there’s always some type of protein and or fat along with colorful fruits/veggies for lasting energy. I’m hopeless when it comes to food art, but using cookie cutters to make veggies fun and exciting as you see here? That I can do!
- Toddlers are notorious for their erratic appetites. Therefore, consider your child's intake over the course of a week, not a single day. You are more likely to see balance and this will make feeding a lot less stressful for you.
How much to pack
It depends on your child! Notice eating trends. If you're finding that more food returns home than is actually eaten, then try packing less.
While my son seems to prefer seeing abundance, your child might get really overwhelmed by seeing a lot of food. In that case, seeing smaller portions may actually encourage them to eat more.
Also, consider their eating habits. If they normally eat ½ of a sandwich at home, don't pack a full-size one. If they don't like to see too many choices, then keep things simple.
Ask the teacher if they could repack what your child doesn't eat. This will allow you to see what foods are a no most of the time so you can plan accordingly. Now this doesn’t mean you should stop serving these foods but you can serve smaller portions or serve them in different ways.
Related: Lunchbox Ideas for Toddlers
Healthy Lunch Ideas for Toddlers
Hummus Grilled Cheese
Spread your favorite hummus on bread, add some cheese and voila! Hummus grilled cheese! I have included some veggie-forward hummus recipes to try as well as step-by-step instructions and cooking tips.
Or invite fun and variety to the classic peanut butter sandwich!
Cut into strips or bite-sized pieces depending on your child's preference.
If your child doesn't like sandwiches, try serving it deconstructed.
Here's a master list of sandwich ideas for toddlers! You don't want to miss this one!
Here's a fun twist on sandwiches. Add whatever fillings you wish and roll up the bread or tortilla!
Give these recipes a try:
Again, another super easy and versatile recipe! Serve alongside some type of carbohydrate and fruit to round out the meal.
Pictured: Orange and purple sweet potatoes and freeze dried strawberries
Also try these pizza eggs!
Pesto or Hummus Pasta
Here are some other dips/sauces that pair well with pasta!
Or you can try these pasta recipes that can be enjoyed without reheating.
Muffins are the perfect finger food for toddlers and are well-loved. Try any of these options!
You will love how easy they are to make with simple, wholesome ingredients. They don't contain any added sugar, which you want to avoid until age 2.
Note: Cubed cheese may pose a choking risk so if your baby is closer to one, offer thin slices, thin slices cut into small pieces, or shredded. Once your child becomes more proficient with chewing and swallowing, you can offer cubed cheese.
Then using kitchen shears, cut into smaller pieces to make it easier for your child to eat.
You can make this ahead of time and reheat briefly in the toaster oven or enjoy cold. If you like cold pizza, you'll find it delicious!
Pancakes or Waffles
The beauty of this iconic breakfast staple is that they freeze well! Simply thaw in the fridge overnight and serve as is or spread yogurt, cream cheese, nut/seed butter, etc. and turn into sandwiches.
If you haven't tried this, it's a game changer, especially if your child has been struggling during mealtimes. Any muffin tin or freezer tray will work.
Simply fill with finger foods and dips and let the magic unfold! The beauty of this meal is that you can assemble with whatever foods you have in your pantry or fridge.
Pictured: Spinach muffins, tomatoes, cheerios, cheese, steak, bell peppers, bread, yogurt, pears.
May be interested in: The Ultimate Snack Tray Ideas
Breakfast for lunch is always a good idea! And yogurt goes with almost everything. Set up a yogurt bar with whatever foods you have on hand. This meal is especially great for the end of the week when you're low on food or have zero energy.
If packing for school, add an individual yogurt cup.
This meal is similar to the snack tray idea shared above except it has a theme.. Pictured is deconstructed pizza.
Simply place the components of the main entree separately, allowing your child to choose and assemble however they want.
This type of meal works really well for babies too!
Here's another example - deconstructed chicken hummus sandwich
If you've never had savory French toast before, now is the time!
The beauty of this recipe is that you can use whatever leftover vegetables you have on hand, and in 5 minutes, you now have the perfect finger food for your child.
Pictured: served with watermelon + ground beef + broccoli (serve a very small portion of foods your toddler is learning to enjoy. Here are more picky eating tips)
Smoothies are such an easy way to pack in a lot of nutrition! Making your own is also cheaper than buying single-serve pouches or yogurt tubes.
And if you want to pack for daycare or preschool, they can also double as as an ice pack!
I absolutely love this reusable pouch. Simply fill it up, freeze, and it will be ready for tomorrow's lunch!
Serve alongside any of the meal ideas you see here!
If you aren’t already doing so, start serving dinner leftovers or other foods, that are normally eaten warm, cold or at room temperature. You may be surprised to find that they taste just fine without being reheated.
With repeated exposure at home, your child won't have trouble eating them at school. Yay to more options!
- Homemade hamburger helper
- Instant Pot Korean Chicken and Potatoes
- Vegan cauliflower chickpea soup - it's pretty thick in consistency so you can even toss in some pasta or cooked grains.
- Vegetarian sweet potato quinoa lasagna
And here's a master list of EASY dinner ideas!