I’m a bit of an anxious overthinker in general. But when our son first began eating solids on a regular basis, I was overthinking my daycare lunch ideas all the time. I didn’t know what to send, or how much. And I was really concerned with making sure he was getting all of the necessary nutrients. But I also worried about him getting bored with different foods, so I was always trying to add variety.
I don’t know about you, but I’m juggling more than enough already. So stressing myself out about making the right daycare lunch for my toddler was just an unnecessary addition. But what I’ve figured out is this: your daycare lunch ideas for toddlers don’t have to be difficult. They don’t need to be elaborate, creative, or particularly unique. Keep it simple and manageable. Because whatever precedent you set now will be harder to change (read: not impossible) as your kid gets older and used to different things. The daycare lunch ideas you use for your toddler need to be 5 things: edible, safe, nutritious, substantial, and compliant.
When you send your toddler into daycare with a lunch, you should know that it is something they’ve been willing to eat in the past. Don’t send them in with a food they’ve never had. This is one of my favorite reasons (excuses?) to just send in leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. Make sure the meal doesn’t need to be microwaved and that it is something your child will be able to eat without assistance. If your child does need some assistance with the food, make sure your daycare provider knows that (yogurt, for example, may be difficult for your child to eat if they haven’t mastered using a spoon yet).
Also keep in mind that you will likely need to provide items like utensils, cups, and bibs for your child. Remember to label all items that you send in with your child so that the items belonging to him or her come back to you.
The term “toddler” is a pretty broad definition. And kids vary so greatly during the toddler years in their skills regarding a lot of things, including eating. Not only do their skills vary, but even a good eater can eat too quickly and choke if the food they’re eating isn’t appropriately sized. Make sure that anything you send into to daycare that needs to be cut up, goes to daycare pre-cut in appropriately sized bites.
In addition to making sure all of the food is cut to an appropriate size for your child, you never want to send your child to daycare with a meal containing a food they’ve never tried at home with you first. Just because your child hasn’t had an allergic reaction to any other foods, doesn’t mean they won’t react to this new item. If you want to print a food tracker to keep track of the foods that your child has or hasn’t tried yet, you can get one here.
Whatever daycare lunch ideas you have for your toddlers should be well-rounded and nutritious. For us, we try to send him with at least one protein, vegetable, fruit, and carb. Not sure what that could look like for your child? Here are some ideas:
Chicken, beef, turkey, pork, beans, tofu, edamame, fish, ham, hummus, eggs, nut butter, yogurt, cheese, quinoa
Broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, squash, peas, carrots, green beans
Grapes, cherries, clementine, banana, watermelon, peach, plum, raspberries, blueberries
Rice, sweet potato/yam, potato, bread, pita, tortilla, oatmeal, pasta, quinoa
Avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil
Keep in mind that some foods fit into multiple categories, which can be really helpful! Such as bananas — double duty as a carb and a fruit! Or quiona, which provides carbohydrates and protein.
Our 16-month-old eats like a teenager. I’m not even exaggerating – this kid can eat more than I can during some meals. For this reason, my philosophy with most meals is that I always try to send him into daycare with more food than I expect him to eat. Some days he will plow right through everything. Other days there are leftovers at the end of the day. Keep in mind when packing his or her lunch for daycare that toddlers are busy, busy people. They are running around and playing all day. And that can be some hard work! They need fuel to keep them going throughout the day, so you want to make sure that whatever daycare lunch ideas you have for your toddler are going to be filling and enough to fuel a long day of play.
Keep in mind that your daycare lunch ideas for your toddler may be fine for your own son or daughter, but may be very dangerous for another child in that facility. For that reason, make sure you follow your daycare provider’s instructions, especially as they relate to food. For example, your provider may have a no peanut-butter policy. Don’t brush these restrictions off. As mentioned above, safety is important. Not just for your own child, but for the others as well. And you don’t want to be responsible for another child having a reaction to a known allergy, especially if you’ve been informed by the provider to avoid packing certain items.
Simple Daycare Lunch Ideas for Toddlers:
Chicken and Peas Pasta
Combine cooked pasta, a little bit of olive oil, softened peas, and cut or shredded chicken.
Simple Chicken and Rice
Send in baked chicken with a simple seasoning (we like Adobo, Cajun, Italian with lemon juice, and salt and pepper) and a side of rice.
You can go ton of different routes with this depending on what you have available and what your child’s taste preferences are. Their little bodies don’t need a ton of dairy, so if you send in a plain cheese quesadilla, try to supplement it with beans, chicken, or another good source of protein. Chicken with goat cheese, cooked vegetables and hummus, cheese and refried beans, cheddar and turkey lunchmeat, and swiss cheese and ham lunchmeat are all great options as well.
Pita and Hummus
My son loves that he is now at the age where he can handle food that doesn’t have to be cut up quite so small. For example, he loves that I can cut his pita into thin strips instead of individual bite-size pieces. He’s just now figuring out how to dip, but as he gets the hang of it, pita and hummus will become a fun meal.
Ham and Broccoli Pasta
Combine cooked pasta, a little bit of olive oil, softened (either steamed or roasted) broccoli, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and cut-up pieces of a ham steak.
Hotdogs and Roasted potatoes
Make sure to cut the hotdogs into edible pieces (length-wise first). We usually roast our potatoes with a little bit of olive oil and some salt and pepper or Italian seasoning.
Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Chicken
Make macaroni and cheese (I love this recipe by Skinnytaste that includes spinach) and send it with roasted chicken breast.
Daycare Lunch Ideas for Toddlers – What I sent into daycare with my son this week
Chicken baked with Adobo seasoning (leftover from lunch on Sunday)
Steamed mixed vegetables
Whole grain pasta (leftover from dinner on Sunday)
Brown rice (leftover from dinner on Monday)
Roasted broccoli (leftover from dinner on Monday)
Leftover ham and broccoli pasta (leftover from Tuesday night’s dinner)
Chobani low sugar Greek yogurt
Black beans (leftover from Tuesday)
Roasted sweet potatoes (leftover from Wednesday night’s dinner)
Salmon (leftover from Thursday dinner)
Whole wheat pasta
Mixed vegetables (leftover from Thursday lunch)