#387 on your list of things to do is decide what to feed your toddler.
Toddlers are notoriously tricky to feed.
Some days it’s only round food, other days only the beige things, and some days it feels like nothing is going in at all!
Mission Impossible? Don’t worry; we’ve got you, mama.
We’ll take you through our favorite toddler lunch ideas so that you can meet the needs of that tiny customer — and your own as well.
In this article: 📝
- What should a two-year-old eat for lunch?
- What should I give my 18-month-old for lunch?
- What are some meal ideas for toddlers?
- Healthy toddler lunches: putting it all together
- Lunch on-the-go
- Top tips for toddler lunch ideas
What should a two-year-old eat for lunch?
Ideally, you’d like your two-year-old to have a plate with some protein, fruit, vegetables, a sprinkling of complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats (avocado or olive oil, for example).
Growing brains thrive off fats! 🥑
A balanced meal plan. Simple, right?
Um, usually not.
Getting this right every day is about as likely as seeing a unicorn hovering over their high chair.
If tater tots are the only thing your toddler cares for that day, it can be utterly impossible to persuade them otherwise.
Sigh We do what we can.
What should I give my 18-month-old for lunch?
For 18-month-olds, the same rules apply! (AKA the unicorn plate).
Food ideas for one-year-olds are pretty much the same as they would be for two and three-year-olds.
Sugar and salt should be kept to a minimum.
And full fat (unsweetened) dairy products are recommended to keep up their calcium and Vitamin D intake.
(Pssst! If they can’t have dairy, unsweetened fortified soy products are the next best bet.)
Another bit of good news is that toddlers can eat much the same way the rest of your family does.
The biggest differences are how the food is cut and portion size.
(Stanford Children’s Health recommends about a quarter of the size of an adult portion).
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Kacie Barnes recommends “1 tbsp per year of their age per food you serve”.
So as a starting point, a three year old would get about three tbsp of each food you serve (and you can always serve more).
And utensils are also important.
Opt for a spoon or a two rather than a three-prong fork with dull ends.
Finger foods work well too!
Regardless of age, it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on toddlers when they’re eating and make sure the food is cut to bite-size pieces they can handle.
Like any other childhood milestone, the size of the bites may differ from child to child.
It can also help to serve foods soft or moist and make substitutes that better suit their little mouths(that t-bone steak might not go down as smoothly as some ground beef).
Right! Ready to take a look at some toddler meal ideas? Let’s go.
What are some meal ideas for toddlers?
One of the best ways to entice a toddler to eat is to go full smorgasbord.
This keeps their interest and ensures at least something will get in!
And it can be pretty fun too!
Here are some options for mixing and matching.
Keep in mind the the three macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
And also be kind to yourself. (Remember the unicorn?)
I would say keep in mind the three macronutrients- carbohydrates, protein, and fats! Grains, dairy, fruit and veg, meats, etc!
Fruit, glorious fruit!
Remember to cut in an age-appropriate way to prevent choking.
- 🍇Grapes (quartered to prevent choking)
- 🍓Strawberries or blueberries
- 🍍Pineapple (just not the hard center section)
- 🍎Regular apple
Vegetables, but fun ones
- 🥒Cucumber fingers
- 🍅Quartered cherry tomatoes
- 🥕Carrot fingers or “fries” (steamed until soft)
- 🥦Steamed broccoli florets or baby trees
- 🌽Steamed mini corn spears
Why not try a Crudite Platter? Serve a selection of steamed or raw veg with a “dipper” of hummus or tzatziki.
Now, let’s be honest, this might only appeal to a small percentage of toddlers.
But it’s worth a try. And delicious for mama, if they’re not keen.
- 🥚Boiled chopped egg
- 🧀Cheese. Cubed, string, and grated all work well
- 🐄Yogurt. Opt for a tube or tub and spoon.
- 🥧Mini quiches (Here’s a fun recipe) or eggs muffins. These are great for the freezer too!
- 🍗Leftovers from last night’s dinner! Shredded chicken, crumbed chicken fingers, fish sticks, or meatballs all work well.
For daycare, use an insulated carrier with a couple of slim ice blocks.
Or get really crafty and freeze string cheese or yogurt and use that to keep the food temperature safe.
By the time lunch arrives, the frozen food will have defrosted. Talk about multi-tasking!
Pea, chickpeas, and black beans can also be great additions.
Chasing them around the plate is great for fine motor skill development.
- Wrap “sushi”. So, think sushi—except the rice is a whole grain tortilla, and you get to choose the filling. Instead of the tortilla, you can use a single slice of bread. Cut the crusts off and flatten with a rolling pin. Hey, presto! Bread wrap. Here are some fillings to try: peanut butter (sugar and salt-free) and banana, cheese and turkey roll-ups, mayo, and a finger of cucumber in the middle. All the food groups in one meal!
- A little sandwich. A single slice of bread is usually enough for little tummies. OR get out those cookie cutters. Shaped sandwiches are always a win.
- French toast cut into “soldiers.” You may know “soldiers” as “fingers.” Basically, long lines is what you’re after.
- Mini muffins. These are a freezable meal prep lifesaver and so easily customizable. The smaller size is also less overwhelming for little hands. Go for pumpkin, cheese, corn, or our favorite, banana muffins.
- Mini pizzas, quartered.
- Egg-fried rice or regular savory rice studded with carrot, beans, or peas. Gluten-free and delicious.
Pasta. Everyone’s fav (well, almost)
Even the pickiest of eaters will usually accept some pasta.
And for little mouths, pasta doesn’t need heating.
Add a little olive oil, and you’re good to go.
Some great options include:
- Penne and basil pesto
- Gnocchi and cheese sauce
- Pasta shells and “red” sauce (that’s tomato sauce to us). Sneak in some carrots and puree for extra veg action.
- Pasta salad. Why not try this one from My Fussy Eater?
- Chickpea/lentil pasta noodles for an added protein/fiber boost
Healthy toddler lunches: putting it all together
Here are a few combinations for healthy toddler lunches, but of course, the options (and what little precious will eat on the day 😉) are endless.
- A portion of their favorite cold pasta
- Strawberries cut as needed
- Yogurt tube
- Hummus for dipping
- Pita triangles
- Squares of feta cheese
- Tomatoes/cucumber cut as needed
Breakfast for lunch
- Mini egg muffin
- Small tub of yogurt
- ¼ cup dry cereal
- Grapes cut as needed
Move over, ladies! This last one’s for littles who lunch.
- Mini quiche
- Carrot and cucumber “dippers” (make sure they’re cut very slim and long)
- Tzatziki for dipping
- Nectarines, peeled, segmented, and cut as needed
But what about super easy toddler lunches?
The kind you can throw together at the last minute?
Because, let’s be honest, we don’t always have the time or energy to get our Martha Stewart on.
Here are some great store-bought options to keep them happy.
- Mini rice cakes topped with hummus or smooth nut butter
- Pretzels, preferably unsalted (these can also be dipped in said hummus and nut butter)
- Baby chips
- Dry cereal (again, great for those motor skills)
- Prepackaged yogurts
- Individually packed or grated cheese
- Cold meats
- Tinned fruit in natural syrup (packed in 100% juice or water instead of syrup)
- Granola bars, either cut into cubes or left whole, depending on your child’s age.
- Dried fruit
- Fruit pouches
Put that all together, and you get our final lunch option:
The last-minute lunch
- Cheese cubes
- Cold meat rolled up
- Fruit pouch
Ta-da! Assembled in all of 2 minutes! 🪄
Top tips for toddler lunch ideas
Set yourself on the road to success with these tried-and-true tips:
Get a bento box
This one’s for toddler lunch: nursery edition.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the genius that is the bento box
It allows you to separate lunch items out, so nothing gets soggy or squishy.
And if food-mixing-with-other-kinds-of-food is a deal-breaker for your kid, it’s a godsend!
Many regular lunch boxes now come with two or three built-in compartments.
Silicone cupcake molds are a great way to separate food, too.
Try new foods several times
Generally, children require between ten and fifteen tries of a new food before it becomes “trusted” and then enjoyed.
And while this can be true for some kids,” Barnes adds “many need lots of exposures before they even try it. The 10 to 15 number refers to POSITIVE experiences with the food”
So just continue to offer healthy foods in a pressure-free way, and chances are, they’ll start to enjoy them.
There’s a lot to suggest that taking the pressure out of meal times leads to healthier eating habits.
The freezer is your friend.
If you’re baking one batch of muffins, you might as well bake two.
The same goes for dinner.
Set a bit aside and freeze.
It can be a lifesaver in a food melt-down emergency!
Be gentle with yourself
Do the best you can.
And check in with your Peanut community when you need support.
Nobody is more stubborn than a toddler who has made up their mind.
The most important part is to take the stress out of mealtimes — for you and them.
And while we said unicorns don’t exist, just remember the humble rhino.
It does exist.
And while it may not look exactly like the unicorn we hoped for, it’s got four legs and a horn.
So when on a specific day, they only consent to eat food that isn’t “wet” (🤷♀️), consider that day rhino day.
And while miracles may not happen, you’ll still manage to pull off something that works.
Luckily, they’re pretty darn cute. The kid and the rhino.
All the best, mama.