Here are some quick and easy, healthy lunchbox ideas for toddlers that will keep them happy and nourished at daycare or preschool.
To all my lunch packing parents out there, I just want to say, you are amazing! It’s one thing to prepare meals for our toddlers to enjoy at home but packing a balanced meal for on-the-go or school adds a whole other degree of difficulty, no?
When I first started packing lunches for my 2 year old son, I felt super overwhelmed, mainly because I put so much pressure on myself to do it “correctly.”
But what I’ve learned over the course of months is that starting truly is the hardest part. You WILL learn by trial and error which types of lunchboxes appear to go down well with your child and which don’t.
In part 1, I shared 4 main things to consider when packing a healthy lunchbox as well as my strategies and meal inspirations.
I always find it SO helpful to see actual images of lunchboxes from other lunchbox packing mamas so I wanted to share more of mine!
This post contains affiliate links, meaning I earn a small commission (from the company, not from you) if you purchase the products through these links. I only promote products that I use in my own kitchen from companies I trust!
Formula for Packing a Healthy Lunchbox
Here’s my go-to formula that really encourages and motivates me to pack a well-balanced lunch for my toddler.
protein/fat + complex carb (e.g. whole grains, beans, lentils, starchy vegetables) + fruit and/or vegetable + water
Following this formula will make incorporating a variety of foods simple and doable.
My favorite lunchboxes
While they may look large in pictures, the compartments are actually quite small. This is especially helpful if your child feels overwhelmed by seeing large portions.
- Aim for balance. Not every single lunchbox has to be perfect, but do aim to include at least 3 components from the formula mentioned above.
- Consider your toddler. Include at least one safe food that you know your child will eat. If they like their bread, veggies, etc. cut in a certain way, honor their preferences.
- Get your child involved. This is something I’ve been working hard on lately. It’s so much easier for me to do everything by myself, but my toddler absolutely loves to help out in the kitchen.
- Ask your child. Keep in mind though, you don’t want to give them too many choices. Offer just TWO choices from the same food group. For instance, “would you like pasta or bread? Banana or raspberries? Chicken or beans? They’re more likely to eat what they chose.
- 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.
- Don’t give up! There will be days when the lunchbox you packed comes back hardly touched for whatever reason. Don’t panic or get upset. Rather, the best thing you can do is keep offering a variety of foods with their food preferences in mind. Your child will get the nutrients they need to grow and thrive over the course of days and weeks.
While these lunchboxes may appear to have taken a ton of time to put together, they actually took me less than 10 minutes to pack! How? Here’s my current strategy!
We do plenty of PB & J, and if you do too, here are some ideas to help you incorporate more variety!
- Top left: mashed avocado & tofu sandwich + raw cucumber & bell pepper + beet hummus + oranges + pineapple + cheese
- Top right: PB and banana (can substitute with sunflower butter) sandwich + spinach sweet potato blender muffin + chicken + raw thinly sliced cucumber & quartered cherry tomatoes
- Bottom left: mashed avocado & white bean sandwich + beetroot muffin + cara cara orange + steam roasted carrots + flaked salmon
- Bottom right: Sweet potato lentil dip sandwich (recipe in my Veggie-Centered Delights ecookbook) + spinach and sweet potato blender muffin + hardboiled egg + roasted butternut squash + thinly sliced apple
Here are some other quick and easy sandwich ideas:
- Any spreadable dip, like hummus + vegetable (e.g. grated raw carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumber, bell pepper)
- Cream cheese + fruit or vegetable (e.g. thinly sliced cucumber, mashed corn)
- Chicken or egg salad – I like to use Greek yogurt instead of mayo
- Apple slaw – grated cheese + grated carrots mixed in with Greek yogurt
- Shredded chicken + pesto
- Here’s a post on unique and healthy toast toppings. Just fold in half or add another slice of bread on top and voila!
- Left: Plain with a drizzle of olive oil + mango salsa + canned black beans + steam roasted sweet potatoes + spinach muffins
- Right: Black bean yogurt pasta + hard boiled egg + raw bell peppers + apple slices
- Top left: Nut-free broccoli pesto pasta + chicken + raspberries
- Top right: Potato corn chowder (from my One Pot Meals ecookbook) + roasted carrots + orange
- Bottom left: Hamburger helper + avocado + spinach muffins + watermelon
- Bottom right: Sheet pan chicken and veggies with pasta + avocado
- Top left: Baked chickpea veggie cakes + avocado + cucumber + apple + roasted potatoes (sweet and russet) + pizza hummus (from Veggie-Centered Delights ecookbook)
- Top right: Broccoli pizza muffin (from Baby Led Weaning Comfort Meals ecookbook) + chicken + raw cucumber & bell pepper + edamame pea dip (from Veggie-Centered Delights ecookbook) + spaghetti squash
- Bottom left: Baked shrimp cakes + multigrain rice (w/ sesame oil) + roasted kabocha + broccoli + avocado + orange
- Bottom right: Butternut squash quinoa cakes (from Baby Led Weaning Comfort Meals ecookbook) + hardboiled egg + beet hummus + raw yellow zucchini + canned kidney beans + apple
- Not pictured: Vegan quinoa muffins and here’s my collection of readers’ favorite baby and toddler muffins
Tips on encouraging kids to eat their veggies
I did a survey asking parents which food group their kid(s) struggles with eating at school. And the majority said veggies. Not surprising.
So here are some tips. You can see them in action in the images above!
- Keep including in the lunchbox. Because exposure!
- But don’t include a completely new item. Expose them to it at least a week before, especially if your child is selective.
- Make veggies fun by cutting into fun shapes, like stars, bears, bunnies…these cookie cutters are one of the best investments ever!
- Switch up cooking methods
- Have fun experimenting with seasonings!
- Switch up texture. If you haven’t yet, here’s how to introduce raw vegetables in a safe and fun way!
- Include a small portion to minimize waste.
- Serve with dips! They can ignite their adventurous spirits and allow them to satisfy their desire for independence. Research actually shows that kids are more willing to try and like vegetables if served alongside a dip!
The formula for making ANY dip
- You’ll find diagrams that list the amounts for each component/ingredient (protein/fat, veggies, liquids, seasonings, etc.) to add along with recipes to help get you started
- You can totally customize to your family’s flavor preferences. If your child will only eat ketchup, try pizza hummus. Ranch? Try zucchini yogurt dip
- No more spending hours searching for recipes or obtaining specific ingredients