Coming up with lunch ideas for toddlers can be incredibly difficult. Their preferences change regularly, they can't always manage a wide range of food on their own, and daycares and preschools may be limited with how much they can help. To help you come up with new options, these lunch ideas for toddlers should help.
I know that many daycares won’t (or can’t!) reheat food and they need to have foods that are easy to serve since they are often feeding many kids at a time. Some of these ideas may seem odd to serve cold or at room temperature, but sometimes, finding more options for toddler daycare food just requires a shift in what you think is normal. Because many foods that we traditionally eat warm are actually fine cold!
Adjust these lunch ideas for toddlers based on your own little one's appetite and eating ability. (Some of the toddler lunches here are two snacks and one lunch to cover a whole day.) Adjust how you pack the lunch as needed.
85 Lunch Ideas for Toddlers for Daycare and Preschool
All sorts of beans are great for lunches. They are already in a perfect finger food package and can be seasoned in all sorts of ways. Rinse and drain any canned beans to remove excess salt and pat dry with a paper towel. Then try:
- Black beans or pinto beans with mashed, roasted sweet potato
- Black beans or pinto beans with tahini and lemon juice
- Black beans or pinto beans with mild salsa
- Black beans or pinto beans with cumin, chili powder, and lime
- Garbanzo or white beans with pesto
- Garbanzo or white beans with crushed rosemary, olive oil, and lemon
- Garbanzo or white beans with cinnamon, cumin, and/or garam masala plain or with yogurt
- Deconstructed tacos (shredded chicken, beans, cheese, a little mild salsa)
- Beans with pasta and pesto
- Blended into hummus spread on bread or with crackers
- Bean chili
- Soft-Baked Cinnamon Chickpeas
- Edamame (thawed) with rice, soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil
- Quesadilla with mashed beans and cheese
- Lentils with Indian spices (like garam masala, cumin, and ginger or just with a touch of salt and olive oil)
Chilled or room temperature pasta is a great toddler lunch option—just think of it like pasta salad. The only issue is that it can sometimes firm up when cold, so be sure that you add enough sauce (or olive oil) to keep it moist and easy to eat. Try:
- Elbows with pesto and zucchini (cook the diced zucchini with the pasta)
- Leftover pasta with marinara and meatballs
- Pasta with Italian dressing and thawed peas
- Pasta with chopped tomatoes, cubed cheese, shredded basil, and olive oil
You can try any of these ideas with couscous and cooked rice or quinoa.
While hard-cooked eggs are a more common toddler lunch component, there are other ways to serve up eggs—and most you can do way ahead of time.
- Hard-cooked eggs, diced (just yolks until your toddler can chew the white)
- Egg Muffins (chop when packing for littler toddlers)
- 1-egg omelet with cooked veggies and cheese (chop up when packing)
- Fried rice with scrambled egg
- Pesto pasta with scrambled egg
- Freezer burritos with scrambled egg (for toddlers 2 or 3 and up)
- Deconstructed breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs, beans, cheese, and/or pico de gallo
SHREDDED CHICKEN, TURKEY, OR BEEF
Some toddlers don’t love the texture of meat and poultry, but often it just needs more moisture. We like shredded meat and poultry best since it tends to be easiest for little ones to chew/gum, though you can move onto diced pieces as your toddler grows. You can moisten any of these with lemon juice, olive oil, toasted sesame oil, mild salsa, marinara, lemon-tahini sauce, roasted mashed sweet potato, or pesto.
- Shredded poached or grilled chicken
- Shredded grilled or pan-fried sirloin steak
- Shredded meat or poultry in mild chili
- Ground chicken meatballs
- Ground chicken in marinara sauce or pureed veggie soup
- Ground beef meatballs
- Ground beef in marinara sauce or pureed veggie soup
- Slow Cooker Chicken and Bean Tacos
We’re big fans of plain yogurt, but it’s not always easy for a toddler to eat with a spoon. Here are a few ways we like to serve it up for daycare.
- Overnight Oats, sent with a spoon or in a reusable pouch
- Stirred into cooked and cooled oatmeal
- Added to smoothies
- Mixed with tahini and lemon for a dip or sauce for beans, pasta, or chicken
While oatmeal is traditionally a breakfast food, it’s also a super healthy option for toddler lunches or snacks. For toddlers who prefer to feed themselves, I like to serve it thicker so they can pick it up in chunks.
- Thick Finger-Food Oatmeal: To make 2-3 servings, add ¼ cup rolled oats to a 2-cup glass measuring cup. Add ½ cup water and cook in the microwave for 60 seconds, stopping in the middle to prevent it from boiling over. Stir in 1 tablespoon chia or ground flaxseeds and then add:
Cinnamon, vanilla, and shredded unsweetened coconut
Cinnamon, vanilla, and a little peanut or almond butter
¼ cup applesauce, mashed roasted sweet potato, or mashed banana
¼ cup chopped berries
2 tablespoons snipped raisins or dried cherries
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, snipped kale or spinach, and a dash olive oil
Store future servings in airtight containers for up to 2 days.
Fruit is of course a great option for mealtime and here are a few of the ways that I like to pack it for daycare or a day out of the house.
- Apples, shredded with a little lemon juice
- Applesauce, in a reusable pouch
- Bananas (send whole and ask the provider to serve in sections, or section and request that it be served at breakfast or the morning snack to reduce browning)
- Berries, halved (blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
- Clementines, peeled and diced or sectioned
- Grapes, quartered
- Kiwi, diced
- Mango, diced
- Melon, diced (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon)
- Peaches or plums, diced
- Pears, diced with a little lemon juice (make sure they are very ripe and soft)
- Pineapple, diced
- Smoothies in either a straw cup or a reusable pouch.
- Applesauce or fruit puree stirred into oatmeal or overnight oats
- Watermelon, blended into juice
I find that I have to regularly remind myself of other veggie options besides frozen peas. Here are some of my go-tos for packed toddler lunches.
- Beets, boiled and diced
- Broccoli, roasted or sautéed and chopped
- Carrots, roasted or steamed until tender
- Cauliflower, roasted or sautéed and chopped
- Cherry tomatoes, quartered or halved
- Green beans, roasted, steamed, or sautéed and diced
- Peas, thawed (look for “petite peas” which are usually very tender)
- Potato, diced and roasted with olive oil (try tossing with pesto!)
- Snap peas, steamed until soft and diced
- Sweet potato, diced and roasted or roasted whole and mashed
- Broccoli Pea Soup served in a reusable pouch
- Roasted Carrot Soup served in a reusable pouch
- Toss with pasta in pesto or marinara
- Puree kale or spinach into pesto
- Blend spinach, cauliflower, or sweet potato into smoothies
- Stir mashed sweet potato into applesauce
- Snip shreds of kale or spinach into pasta or rice
- Snip shreds of kale, spinach, or broccoli into cooked grains with cheese
- Add any diced veggie to an omelet with or without cheese and dice to pack|
OTHER SNACKS FOR TODDLER LUNCHES
You can see my Master Snack List here, but here are a few easy ideas to round out packed food for a day.
- Dry cereal: Cheerios, Kix, Shredded Wheat (broken up), Crispy Rice
- Baby/toddler Puffs
- Dehydrated fruit or veggies
- Store-bought pouches
- Cottage cheese (4% fat and reduced-sodium if possible)
- Kefir, plain or blended with mango and served in a straw cup or reusable pouch
- Whole grain crackers, reduced-sodium if possible (choose softer, less crunchy crackers for toddlers under 3)
- Leftover pancakes, diced (stir in a little applesauce to moisten if needed)
- Leftover pancakes sandwiched with cream cheese
- Leftover pancakes sandwiched with nut or seed butter
- Whole grain muffins, cubed
- PB&J sandwich cubes (younger toddlers might not love the texture of bread yet—I sometimes use applesauce instead of jam)