i’m excited to have kelsey nixon back to share some of her ideas for creating the perfect lunches for little ones! we get into a lunch-rut more than i’d like to admit at our house with E and S so hopefully you’ll find these ideas and examples as helpful as we did! i especially love that kelsey believes it’s important to keep offering new and different foods to your little ones, even if they remain untouched on their plate, to help expand and grow their toddler palate. that’s something i haven’t thought much about but makes total sense.
As the parent of a toddler, I sometimes find myself pressing the repeat button over and over when it comes to lunches. Toddlers can be terribly picky and opinionated which makes it easy for parents to fall into the rut of making the same thing time after time simply because you know they’ll eat it. I’ve been there – trust me! Even though untouched food on your toddler’s plate can feel frustrating, I do believe that it’s essential to continue to offer up new and exciting foods to help expand your toddler’s growing palate. When it comes to figuring out just what to offer these kiddos, sometimes the best resource is just talking with other parents about what they’re having success with.
One rule of thumb that I like to follow is to try and fill 4 different categories: Fruit, Vegetable, Starch, and Protein. It’s a simple formula to run through so that you know that you’re serving a nice well balanced meal. It doesn’t always happen in our home with every meal, but we make an effort and there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing your toddler love and gobble up healthy food and snacks.
Below I’ve pulled together 4 different toddler lunches that offer up some obvious suggestions and a few less obvious suggestions that may spark some interest for you and your toddler.
If you have one of those rare toddlers (like I do!) that isn’t a big fan of fruit, try offering up freeze dried fruit. They’re crunchy and delicious and easy to eat on the go as well.
We started adding multigrain crackers into the mix when I was looking for good sources of fiber and iron for my son.
The simple apple slice sandwiches are filled with peanut butter and raisins. This is a great example of using ingredients that your toddler loves in a new and different way to keep things exciting.
Finally, edamame is a huge hit with my little guy. They’re easy to eat, bright green, and an excellent source of protein.
Dried fruit is easy to reach for and satisfies a toddler’s sweet tooth.
I’m always a fan of family dinners that turn into leftovers that are ideal for a toddlers lunch. This pasta salad can easily be adapted for adults and toddlers. We make it for an easy weeknight meal and I always count on the leftovers turning into lunch (for the both of us!) By using a filled pasta like tortellini, you’re able to sneak in some additional protein, dairy, or vegetables to make the salad a bit more hearty. I seem to always have spinach tortellini on hand.
Salami slices are a solid source of protein and my little guy loves that they’re perfectly shaped circles.
Olives and an easy-to-open mini cheese wheel round out this meal nicely. Those olive usually end up on my son’s fingertips before he pops them into his mouth!
This corn salad is a family favorite recipe that always yields leftovers that my little guy loves. We tone down the spice a little bit by leaving out the chiles or you can simply combine corn, tomatoes and avocado with a squeeze of lime juice for a simpler version.
My guilty pleasure in life is potato chips, which unfortunately my son caught on to at a very young age! Serving him these black bean & quinoa chips reduces my mom guilt and he loves them.
If you’re looking to switch up your quesadilla game, try making a black bean and cheese quesadilla by keeping the tortilla flat in the skillet and slowly melting the cheese. Once the cheese has melted, turn the heat off and transfer the tortilla with a spatula to a cutting board. Carefully roll up the tortilla with the seam on the bottom and cut rounds for an easy way to serve this toddler favorite.
Finally, dried mango chips are great with jicama. Jicama is technically a root vegetable but tastes like a crisp apple. It’s a really versatile ingredient to have on hand and a great way to mix up the same old veggies and fruits that you serve your toddler day in and day out.
Plums and blueberries look as good as they taste.
Carrot & celery sticks are perfect for dipping into hummus.
I love making these mini pita pizzas by spreading a little greek yogurt or tzatziki sauce on a whole wheat pita and topping it with olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese. I dare you to not eat these yourself – they’re super yummy.
For an unexpected finish to this lunch consider offering your toddler spanakopita. My little guy loves their triangular shape and the delicious spinach and feta filling. They’re crispy and easy to hold and the perfect pairing alongside the pita pizzas. I like making this recipe for my family and freezing any leftovers to include in lunches. Trader Joes also makes a delicious organic frozen option.
Finally, what you serve your toddler’s lunch in can sometimes have just as much of an affect as the foods that you are actually serving. I love these trays that I originally found at Target (similar here) but I’m also a huge fan of these Bento Boxes when we’re doing lunch on the go.
What are the toddler lunches that you have the most success with in your home? Any unique fruits or vegetables that your little ones love? Any success stories on getting picky eaters to try new things?
All photos by Kylie Whiting.