Making sure that your toddler is getting the proper nutrients for their growing body while navigating through their ever-changing likes and dislikes takes some brain power. Ideally, they should be getting interesting, diverse lunches, packed full of veggies, fruits, proteins and healthy fats.
Although, serving a perfectly balanced meal sometimes requires jumping through hoops and some serious innovation.
Life can get busy, and when adding a toddler to the mix, quick and convenient healthy lunches are going to be your best friend. We are here to get your creative juices flowing with some healthy toddler lunch ideas.
What To Feed a Toddler For Lunch
From birth to 6 months, your little one will be getting the bulk of their nutrients and calories from breast milk or infant formula. This helps prepare their developing digestive system for the integration of solid foods into their diet.
Between 6 months to 12 months they will begin being slowly introduced to a variety of yummy foods in safe-to-eat textures and sizes, as they make the transition from bottle to solid foods. This transition provides them with more independence and choice when it comes to their meals.
By the time your little one is 12 to 36 months, they will be able to enjoy most foods that adults enjoy, with a few exceptions that we will touch on below.
For some toddlers, this time of food exploration can be overwhelming, causing them to be fussy eaters, which can make lunch time a little more challenging. This is completely normal, as they adjust to a new inventory of textures and flavours.
One of the best tricks for helping a picky eater is to set a positive example for your little one, as children will often want to mimic the behaviour of their parents. Coming up with healthy lunch ideas yourself can encourage your toddler to try new foods and eat nutritious meals alongside you.
When it comes to toddler lunch ideas, quick and easy is the way to go. Packing your toddler's lunch with healthy foods is not as hard as you may think.
Nutritional Balance in Your Toddler's Diet
The most important question to ask yourself during meal times is, is my toddler getting nutrients from all 4 food groups throughout the week?
According to the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) the 4 groups are:
Fruits and vegetables
Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods
Milk and dairy products
Beans, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
Meals for both adults and toddlers should be balanced with macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are divided into the following three categories:
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that can be found in your food and according to the CDC are an essential part of healthy development, disease prevention, and overall well being. Ensuring that your toddler is getting enough micronutrients from their meals will mitigate the risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, folate, fibre, and vitamin A and C are important parts of a child's diet.
Variety in Your Toddler’s Lunch
To ensure that your child is receiving an abundance of nutrients in their meals, it is important to add a variety of fruits, veggies, proteins, fats, breads, rice and other starchy foods to their diet.
If your toddler is a picky eater, they may be uncomfortable with trying new foods, but as long as they are eating items from all 4 food groups and maintaining their weight there is no need to worry. There are plenty of food options in each group full of both micro and macro nutrients and there are a ton of different ways to prepare them.
Fruits and vegetables 🥦
There are so many ways to get more fruits and veggies into your child's diet. From purees to soups and smoothies, there are numerous ways to get vitamins and nutrients from frozen, canned or fresh fruits and veggies. It is recommended that you add fruits and veggies to each meal, and there are plenty of ways to integrate them into your toddlers lunch.
Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta and other starchy foods 🥐
Many toddlers enjoy starchy foods such as breakfast cereals, potatoes, pasta, yams, and rice, which provide them with plenty of fibre and carbohydrates. With all of these options, there are lots of toddler lunch ideas to rotate through to add variety to your toddlers diet.
Milk and dairy products 🥛
Whole cow's milk can be given to your child from age 1 onwards. It is recommended that toddlers mostly consume full fat cheese and dairy products. This is because they are higher in calories and fat compared to skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, and provide your little one with energy.
Milk and dairy products are often packed full of calcium and vitamin A, which are good for nerve, muscle, and heart function. Although, too much cow's milk should be avoided, as it may fill your toddler up quicker, causing them to eat less and therefore consume fewer calories.
Beans, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins
Most of your child's Iron and protein is going to come from this group. Meat, fish and eggs are all excellent sources of iron and protein. Protein is a great tool for building cells, and turning food into energy. Iron builds healthy blood that is carried all over the body.
Organic’s Best Healthy Toddler Lunch Ideas
There is no shortage of yummy food combinations for your toddler to try. All of these options are great for your toddler as they learn to self feed and some easy toddler lunch ideas can even be made with the help of your little one. Involving your toddler in the preparation of their meals can help them get excited about meal times and gain an interest in nutrition.
Here are 7 lunch ideas for toddlers. All of our toddler lunch ideas include fats, proteins and carbs and are packed full of micronutrients.
Hummus Sandwich Lunch
This sandwich is a great lunch idea and can be served assembled or as a deconstructed lunch box. The hummus can be store bought or you can make your own using just a few staple ingredients. To make this yummy lunch, spread hummus on bread or serve as a dip with bread cubes. Cut up fruit, animal crackers, and desired veggies and serve!
This lunch ideas for toddlers requires cooked chicken and boiled eggs. For the chicken many parents choose to cook it in a stock as this method is easy and fast. You can poach or roast the chicken with your desired seasoning. Make sure the internal temperature reaches 165°F (75°C) and cut into cubes.
For the hard-cooked egg place it in a saucepan and add cold water, covering 1 inch above the egg. Bring water to a boil and take the pot off of the burner and let sit for 10 minutes. To help peel the egg, emerge it in cold water before removing the shell. You can add a Hipp fruit muesli snack box on the side.
To make this quick toddler lunch start by stirring together eggs, cottage cheese, shredded cheese, grated onion andparmesan cheese then add your shredded veggie of choice. Pour the mixture into greased muffin cups and bake at 350 F (176°C). You can prepare muffins ahead of time and serve with crackers or pita bread, fruit, and veggies. You can add a Holle pouch for a healthy snack on the side.
This pesto pasta salad is an easy toddler lunch packed with fresh veggies and is another easy toddler lunch idea. To begin, prepare your pasta of choice, and stir in your veggies, beans and pesto. Once prepared, you can serve with fruit and a fun snack like puffs or fruit bars.
These fishcakes are packed full of flavour and nutrients and are a filling toddler lunch idea. To begin, peel, boil and mash potatoes. Continue by adding seasoning, tuna and sweetcorn and divide the mixture into patties. These fishcakes can be baked or fried depending on your preference. Serve with salad, fruit and organic date fruity rings for dessert.
The prep time for these burgers is less than 30 minutes and is a great healthy toddler lunch idea. Your little one can help you mash all of these ingredients together, making it a fun interactive activity. To begin heat the oven to 200C/180C. Mash chickpeas, veggies, garlic, lemon juice and spices together, divide into burgers and bake for 20-30 minutes.
If you are in a rush or need a quick on the go meal, these spinach and cheese quesadillas are for you. All you need to make this healthy lunch idea are tortillas, cheese and spinach. Simply place the tortillas in a pan, load them with cheese and spinach and cook for 2 minutes on each side. Pair with a Holle organic apple-cinnamon crunchy snack pack for dessert.
As long as your toddler is eating a variety of organic baby foods, maintaining their weight and gaining the appropriate amount of weight outlined by their pediatrician there is no need to worry, even if they are on the pickier side. Oftentimes, it just takes some patience and consistency for children to get more comfortable with food.
Toddlers' tastes are rapidly changing, so even if they don't enjoy a certain food item the first time, try to introduce it to them again after a break. Consider introducing it in a different way, perhaps changing the temperature, texture or combining it with foods that they do enjoy.
In general, toddlers need 1,000–1,400 calories a day, and roughly 35 to 40 calories per pound. These numbers can vary depending on a number of factors, such as activity levels and their current height and weight.
When possible, it is recommended that toddlers eat three meals a day and two to three snacks a day, although the sizes of these meals and snacks will differ day to day.
Your little one's hunger cues should be honoured and it can be helpful to let them have some control over what they are eating. As long as they are overall eating healthy, balanced meals throughout the week, there should be no pressure added to a toddler to finish their plate. Eating less some days or a skipped meal here and there is completely normal as their appetites fluctuate.
Your toddler may show signs that they are full through pushing food away, clothing their mouth or turning their head.
Food to Avoid in Toddler's Lunches
While most food is safe for your toddler to consume, there are a few items you want to look out for to keep your little one safe and happy.
Foods with added salt or sugar should be kept off of the menu, as well as any foods that pose a choking hazard. The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) suggests avoiding hot dogs, popcorn, nuts, seeds, sticky peanut butter, and any raw fruits and vegetables that are cylindrical, airway sized, and compressible.
In addition, unpasteurized juice, milk, yogurt or cheese should be avoided from birth to 24 months.
There are so many healthy ways to feed your toddler. As you can see, with so many choices available, quick and easy meals do not have to be boring or unhealthy. Quick toddler lunches can be made with healthy foods and nutritionally dense ingredients, providing toddlers with all of the carbs, fat, protein and micronutrients that they need.
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.