Packed lunch ideas for preschool, daycare, and kindergarten highlights:
- Pack finger foods to last the school day.
- Packing mostly the same things every day is fine.
- Littlemore organic puffs are an ideal school day snack.
- Prep lunch foods in advance, including making extra at dinner for the next day.
- Let your child choose some of the foods and help prepare their packed lunch and snacks.
- Know your school or daycare allergy policies.
- Keep it simple and wholesome.
Kids, just like everyone, need healthy food to thrive. Every parent knows this and strives to provide their children with the nutrition to fuel their growth and development. All parents also understand that doing so is easier said than done.
Young children have unique needs and priorities for daily meals and snacks. For instance, unlike adults, between-meal snacks are an essential part of a toddler's healthy diet. Their tummies are tiny, and they use a lot of energy playing and growing, so they need to eat every couple of hours.
And, because toddlers get much of their daily nutrition from snacks, they must be healthy. Snacks are also an excellent way to introduce young ones to new food choices and develop their palates.
Also, young children naturally tend to front-load their meals, meaning that the amount of food they eat with each serving decreases as the day goes on. So packing a healthy lunch and snacks for daycare or school is critical as they are likely to eat more during the day than in the early evening.
Best of all, routinely wholesome lunches create good lifelong habits for children, and they don't have to be complicated. A rotation of simple foods is both suitable for toddlers and easy for parents and caregivers to serve.
Here are our tips for making wholesome packed lunches and snacks for daycare, preschool & kindergarten!
Tip #1: Pack a wholesome and varied selection of food that will last the full preschool day.
We aim to provide a varied selection of wholesome and nutritious foods for our little ones that will last throughout the day. We also like to throw a treat or two. Our treats are small, usually a little sprinkling of granola or a square of chocolate in their bento box.
When they go to daycare or school, they can choose when to eat their treat. If they want to eat it first, great! In our house, eating healthy food is not a condition for getting less healthy food. All food is fine, but of course, when it comes to treats, moderation is key. :)
Tip #2: Packing the same things every day is okay.
Planning daily healthy lunches can be overwhelming for parents already suffering from decision fatigue. When it comes to packing hundreds of lunches every year, repetition is the key to parental sanity.
Know that it's totally fine to serve up the same thing every day. Just add minor variations like switching up the sandwich filling or swapping out different fruits and veggies. Sunflower butter or avocado sandwiches are the go-to options in our house.
No need to cut strawberries into perfect heart shapes. This is real life, not Instagram.
Tip # 3 Wholesome, convenient, non-perishable snacks like Littlemore Organic Puffs are perfect for preschool lunches!
Here's why our puffs are ideal for packed lunches for your little ones.
- They're allergen-free & safe to bring into the classroom
- They have the nutrients & energy young brains need to learn
- They don't create sugar highs
- They're an ideal portion
- They're easy to share with friends
- Kids love them
- Parents feel good about serving them
- They make school day routines easier!
Tip # 4: Plan and prep food for preschool and daycare lunches in advance
A little prep work in advance helps reduce the morning chaos while making it easier to avoid serving low-nutrition packaged snacks. We like to fill the fridge with prepped veggies, chopped fruit, and grab and go protein like boiled eggs or chopped chicken. Then fill the pantry with healthy, nonperishable snacks like trail mix and puffs.
Make a little extra at dinner and use the leftovers for packed lunches. Many of our favorite dinners make fantastic school lunches! Some regulars in our house are cooked pasta with red sauce, grilled or steamed veggies, cheese quesadillas, vegetarian chili, cooked rice and beans, and rotisserie chicken (just be sure to pull it apart well).
Tip # 5: Let your little ones help make their preschool lunch
Let kids choose some of the foods for their lunch. Note toddlers are likely to get overwhelmed with more than a couple of options. However, them just a little bit of autonomy over what they eat means they are much more likely to enjoy and eat that delicious food because they chose it.
Older kids can help with washing and chopping vegetables or even packing their lunch boxes.
We know that this takes A LOT more time than if you do it yourself, so maybe it's not an everyday occurrence. Still, toddlers love helping, and the more they're involved in making their own food, the more they enjoy eating it!
Tip #6: Finger foods are an ideal idea for preschool lunches.
Cut and serve foods in sizes that your toddler can hold in their tiny hands. Finger foods are always a favorite and are simple to prepare and pack to go. Filling your toddler's lunch box with an array of healthy finger food snacks is perfectly fine! Eating finger foods also helps toddlers practice their fine motor and self-feeding skills.
Tip # 7: Toddlers know best when and how much they need to eat.
Kids are actually WAY BETTER at knowing when they are hungry and full than adults are. And, forcing them to eat when they don't want to makes them ignore what their body tells them. Learning how to eat intuitively is a skill we want to foster!
So if your toddler tells you they are done eating, it's good to listen to them. We say something like, "That's great. I see you still have some food left. Would you like to eat more now, or should we save this for later? After this, the kitchen is closed for a couple of hours.”
Don't worry too much if their appetite varies from one day to the next. Also, don't stress if they eat differently at daycare than they do at home. This is totally normal.
Tip# 8: Be sure to understand the allergy guidelines at your preschool or daycare.
Make sure you know the allergy guidelines at your daycare center or school to help keep everyone healthy. Common restricted foods include nuts, eggs, and dairy.
Tip # 9: Preschool lunches are not the time to test new foods.
It's best to avoid sending something that your kiddo has never eaten before in their school lunch. They may find this overwhelming and probably won't eat it, even if they're hungry.
Try new foods at home first, so you know how your child likes them and whether they have any difficulty chewing them.
Tip # 10: Pack a lunch they can eat right out of their lunchbox at preschool.
Pack a lunch and snacks that can be enjoyed right out of a lunchbox without reheating or utensils. This is why Bento Boxes are so fantastic, with their compartments for different finger foods.
One of our favorites is the Bentgo Bento Lunch Box.
We also love this company called 1000 Hours Outside and they sell a great stainless steel lunchbox.
Tip #10 Pack different food groups and celebrate the whole rainbow of colors.
We like to balance our bento box with foods from every food group. Kids need a good and healthy source of protein to make them feel full and energized. We love tofu cubes, hummus, canned beans, cubed chicken, boiled and sliced eggs, and nut butter.
Complement the protein with whole grains like Littlemore puffs, whole wheat pita, or leftover sliced whole wheat pancakes or waffles.
Then round it out with steamed veggies like green beans or carrots and fruits like blueberries and strawberries.
Here are some foods that are easy to build into a busy family's daily repertoire. All of these options are healthy, easy to prepare, and don't require heating.
Perfect preschool packable snacks ideas.
- Littlemore tomato puffs with cheese cubes
- Littlemore tomato puffs with a side of hummus to dip
- Littlemore tomato puffs and carrot sticks
- Littlemore sunflower butter puffs and sliced apple
- Littlemore sunflower butter puffs and sunflower butter dip (check with your school for allergy guidelines)
- Littlemore sunflower butter puffs and sliced grapes
- Peanut butter and apple slices
Preschool packable lunch ideas.
- Toddler taco salad with cooked brown rice, black or pinto beans with cubed cheese
- Soft whole wheat bread spread with hummus or goat cheese
- Cold pasta tossed with pesto
- Whole grain tortilla spread nut butter and banana, rolled and sliced
- Cooked stuffed pasta pieces like ravioli or rigatoni tossed in tomato sauce
- Avocado and cheese
- Avocado on a tortilla sprinkled with shredded cheese rolled and sliced.
- Add flax seeds or hemp hearts to any of these, letting the kids choose their own 'sprinkles' for a little extra nutrition and crunch!
Mix & Match preschool packable snack ideas.
- Sliced hard-boiled eggs
- Cubed cheese
- Shelled edamame
- Sliced leftover waffles or pancakes
- Chickpeas tossed in pesto or plain
- Whole wheat crackers
- Sliced cucumbers, carrots, or bell peppers.
- Chopped steamed carrots, especially for little ones who don't have all their teeth!
- Sliced apples, pears, or strawberries
- Blueberries - "smoosh" these between your thumb and index finger to ensure they are not a choking hazard for children under 2 years old.
- Snap peas
Add some preschool packable dips.
- Peanut or other nut or seed butter
- Whole milk yogurt blended with mild salsa
- Tomato sauce
Remember that kids have minds of their own, and it's totally okay if they don't eat their veggies now and again. Simply make mealtimes fun and wholesome, and you'll set your kids up for a lifetime of healthy eating!
From our family to yours,
Joana + Lauren