Toddlers can be extremely picky eaters and it can be a challenge to figure out what to feed them that will also provide them with the nutrition that they need. While it can be normal for toddlers to go through phases of liking or disliking foods, and they will have some days that they eat more than others, providing well-balanced, nutritious meals that they will actually eat is important. In this blog post we will explore a variety of ideas for delicious and nutritious toddler lunches. 

As parents, one of our responsibilities is to make sure that our children are given the right nutrition to ensure proper growth and development and while that can feel very overwhelming, I encourage you to think about it very simply. In our home, I make one meal for all of us which is much simpler than making multiple dishes to appease the taste buds of each person. Since we have done this since our toddler was young, she not only eats a variety of foods,  she even likes many things (what other toddler do you know who eats sauerkraut like there’s no tomorrow?!). Don’t be afraid to keep your meals simple and rotate regularly through favorite things. 

When I plan meals and snacks, I always consider the food groups and I try to pick a protein and a vegetable first and then add a carb to go along with it. Protein is vital for growing bodies and brains (for adults too!) and I have found that my toddler acts better and sleeps better when she is getting good protein. We also eat a lot of fresh fruit and it makes for wonderful snacks and even “dessert”. We try to avoid processed sugars and food dyes as much as possible for our own health and wellness. We do eat a fair amount of fun snacks though, and I’ll share some of those later in this post. 

Strategies to Make Food More Appealing

  • Make things miniature – Young toddlers enjoy food that is “mini” because it is easier for their little hands to handle and let’s be honest, it’s also super cute. The next time you make muffins, try making mini muffins and see what your kiddos think.
  • Make food visually appealing – Remember that adding texture and colors to food will make it more appealing to your toddlers. Are you making a sandwich? Try using a cookie cutter to cut it into a fun shape. Crating fun shapes with your toddler’s food is an easy way to add visual interest. 
  • Make food that is colorful – Children will be more interested in a variety of bright-colored foods than something plain and neutral. Including a variety of colors in your child’s diet (the natural kind, that is) is also a great way to introduce your child to many different fruits and vegetables. 
  • Involve children in the food preparation process as much as possible. Children are generally more curious about things they are touching and seeing firsthand and sometimes just by asking them to help prepare a meal they are more interested in trying it.

Consider Textures

Some children have a preference for certain textures and avoid foods because they do not like the texture. If your child has refused a certain food, see if you can make it in a different way that will expose him to the flavor but be more appealing texturally. For especially young children, choose vegetables that are soft or that can be cooked until they are soft and consider serving meats that are tender and easy to chew. When children can easily eat the foods you serve they will most likely enjoy them a lot more. 

Healthy Toddler Lunch Ideas 

Snack lunches – Snack lunches are my favorite lunch for children and we do them all the time because our whole family loves them. Add some deli meat, cheese slices, apple slices, carrot sticks, and whole grain crackers to a plate and you have a simple, healthy, and super easy lunch for your toddler. 

Quesadillas – Another easy lunch to whip up, cheese quesadillas require only a few ingredients and you most likely have the ingredients in your pantry. A simple cheese quesadilla served with salsa is a favorite with many kiddos. Use a whole wheat tortilla for a little extra fiber punch!

A fun spin on the traditional quesadilla is the black bean quesadilla. Black beans add some great protein and are a delicious addition. You can add them whole, or blend them up with a little salsa to make a paste and then spread it inside the tortillas and grill on both sides. These are delicious served with sour cream and salsa.

Sandwiches – Of course, there’s the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich and what childhood is complete without these? Try using almond butter for a different spin on the classic sandwich and see what your little eaters think.

Alternatively, you could use your favorite whole wheat bread and add a slice of lean meat and cheese to it with a generous slathering of your favorite condiment and you have another great sandwich. Cut them out with into a fun shape and your children will be delighted!

Pasta Salads – We are huge fans of basil pesto around here and like to make a delicious pesto pasta salad with our fresh basil. Add in a little meat for protein and you have a complete meal! Bonus: it’s bright green color is visually appealing to little ones!

Chicken salad or tuna salad – These are great high-protein options that the whole family will love! Try making your favorite chicken salad or tuna salad and serving it on pita bread for a fun twist. 

Hard-boiled eggs – Another easy protein for any meal, a hard boiled egg is not only full of protein, but also contains many other nutrients and healthy fats. Hard boiled eggs are also a great thing to take on-the-go and add to your lunch boxes or travel food cooler. Just make sure to take the ice packs to keep them cold!

As for side dishes, don’t overthink it. I often serve fresh fruit, veggies, and an assortment of pickles for sides. It’s super simple to throw the jars on the table and everyone likes it. Lots of children like the taste of pickled vegetables which is also a great trick for getting more vegetables into their growing bodies. 

Now that we’ve talked about some of my favorite toddler lunch ideas, let’s talk about snacks. If your toddlers are like mine, they are always hungry and looking for snacks. I’ve found that by having a variety of snacks on hand I am always prepared and I don’t feel quite as badly about letting her snack when I have healthy options rather than just junk food.

Favorite Snacks:

  • String cheese – Mozzarella, cheddar, or even gouda there are several options for cheese sticks depending on your taste preferences. Cheese sticks are great because they are already portioned out and they will keep really well in the fridge. They are great for travel!
  • Dried beef or sausage sticks – Another option that will last a while, sausage sticks are one of our go-to snacks when we need protein.
  • Dried fruit – Craisins and dried mango are our favorites!
  • Pumpkin seeds and nuts – Be careful with these snacks in very young children as they can be a choking hazard and are also potential allergens, but once you feel comfortable introducing them, seeds and nuts are a great source of protein, healthy fat, and vitamins.
  • Apple slices or orange slices– Both of these fruits keep well in the fridge and make super quick, tasty snacks. They are especially refreshing in the summer and fall.
  • Carrots and hummus or pesto – We are huge fans of basil pest and I love to make a big batch to put on all the things. If you’ve never tried using it as a dip for your vegetables, it is a treat!
  • Pretzels and hummus – Another fun “dip-able” snack and don’t all toddlers love being able to dip their food into a condiment?!
  • Peanut butter balls – There are so many variations of these out there, but they are not only easy to whip up with ingredients you have in your pantry, it’s also an easy way to sneak extra healthy ingredients into your child’s diet. 
  • Muffins – Muffins freeze and thaw beautifully. I love to make a big batch and freeze them for quick breakfasts or snacks. 
  • Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies – A healthier alternative to Goldfish, these are a fun on-the-go snack cracker. 
  • Annie’s Organic Berry Patch fruit – A healthier version of fruit snacks, we like these for a special treat now and then.
  • Cheese Crisps – These are high in protein and a snack the whole family will enjoy!
  • Skout Bars – I love these snack bars! They are the perfect size for small hands and are made with clean ingredients with lots of flavors to choose from.

As a general rule, I prefer to keep pre-packaged snacks to a minimum and only use them for travel or special occasions. I like to keep a variety of dried meat, cheese, and dried fruit on hand and we go to these things most often for snacks. 

Toddlers can be picky eaters, but consistently introducing them to a wide variety of foods will help to expand their palate and be well-rounded children. If you’re struggling with healthy meal and snack ideas, I hope you found some inspiration in this post. 

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