Parents of little toddlers and preschoolers who are dutifully packing lunches for daycare and school, you are awesome. I know how exhausted you are by those little ones right now, but I'm here to remind you that in just a few short years, you'll be sending those same kids off to first grade with lunches they packed themselves. I know this firsthand, because I just sent my oldest off with a lunch she learned to pack watching me throughout these past few years.
Toddler and preschool lunches are often the most arduous to pack; most things need to be small and soft, which means you're either spending a lot of time chopping or even more time steaming. That's why I compiled 10 of my favorite preschool and toddler lunch ideas that are both easy and healthy, and will help you pack lunches more quickly until those kiddos can pack their own.
Buy the Lunch Box
We're pretty obsessed with this simple-yet-sturdy bento-style lunch box from LunchBots. We prefer this large size with five distinct compartments, but LunchBots also offers other sizes and configurations like this Small Protein Packer. We also love their tiny Condiment Cups for dressings and dips.
10 Super-Easy, Healthy Lunch Ideas for Toddlers & Preschoolers
Toddlers and preschoolers can eat almost everything their bigger siblings can, but keep in mind that their portions and pieces should be smaller. The below are examples of things I'd comfortably send with my 4-year-old to preschool, but you will need to cut things like eggs or chicken nuggets into smaller pieces for 2- and 3-year-olds who are still practicing feeding themselves.
1. Ham, Cheese, and Peas
It's hard for me to think of a more classic lunch box combo. Pack tiny cubes of ham and cheese alongside peas — the perfect trifecta for a toddler mastering the "pincher" eating technique. Supplement it with a fruit pouch and your favorite crackers.
What to pack: Cubed cheese, cubed ham, diced pear, frozen peas
What to buy: Go Go Squeeze and Bitsy's Brainfood Sweet Potato Cinna-Graham Crackers
2. Soft Soba Noodle Salad
If you're looking for a healthier alternative to pasta for your preschooler, soba noodles are for you! Their tender texture and nutty flavor make them ideal for lunch boxes. Tofu is a great protein option if your kiddos is struggling with the texture of chicken or ground beef.
What to pack: Cubed uncooked firm tofu, soba noodles, watermelon cubes, chopped snap peas
What to buy: Happy Tots Love My Veggies Pouch and Kix cereal + raisins
Whether they are leftovers from dinner or you opt for store-bought, pre-cooked meatballs are wonderful for little eaters. Packed with protein and vegetables, they will keep your toddler full until after naptime.
What to pack: Quartered meatballs (store-bought or homemade), mandarin orange slices, blanched broccoli
What to buy: Veggie Go-Go Strawberry Beet Bites, applesauce cup
4. Breakfast for Lunch
My oldest, now in first grade, was so obsessed with breakfast for dinner that we piggy-backed that idea straight into lunch. We like yogurt bites for little eaters because they are easier to eat than a tube or carton.
What to pack: Hard-boiled egg, mixed berries, cubed cucumber
What to buy: Yogurt bites/melts, applesauce cup
5. Open-Faced Waffle Sandwich
Another breakfast-for-lunch option: cream cheese or yogurt spread onto a frozen or homemade waffle. Cut this into smaller pieces for your toddler.
What to pack: Plain cream cheese spread onto a frozen waffle, diced kiwi, diced avocado
6. Frittata Muffins
Frittata muffins freeze well, and are a filling lunch option for kids and adults alike. You can even pack them straight from frozen, and they'll easily thaw by lunch.
What to pack: Frittata cups, fresh blueberries, quartered cherry tomatoes
What to buy: Cheerios + dried strawberries, diced pears in juices
7. Chicken Nuggets
We all know at least one nugget-obsessed kid. Find your favorite brand and keep them on hand for the days when you really don't know what to pack. Make sure to cut the nuggets into smaller pieces for your 2- or 3-year-old.
What to pack: Quartered red and green grapes, diced avocado
What to buy: Annie's Cheddar Bunnies, applesauce cup
8. Cream Cheese and Strawberry Sammie
If your kids attend a nut-free school, cream cheese is an awesome alternative to peanut butter. We love ours paired with jam or fresh fruit on whole-wheat bread.
What to pack: Cream cheese and sliced strawberries on whole-wheat bread, steamed edamame, shredded carrots
What to buy: Diced string cheese, Happy Tot Oat Bars
9. Taco Tuesday Lunch Box
Quesadillas are a nice way to mix up the routine of your sandwich-loving preschooler. You can tuck the black beans into the tortilla, or serve them mixed with the frozen corn. Yup, that's right — pop the frozen kernels into the lunch box and they'll be thawed by lunchtime.
What to pack: Black bean and cheese quesadilla, diced mango, frozen corn
What to buy: Happy Baby Puffs, dried cherries
10. Hummus Sandwich
My 4-year-old would eat hummus straight from the tub with a spoon, but a whole-wheat English muffin is a tidier alternative. Again, you'll want to chop this into small pieces for little fingers.
What to pack: Hummus on whole-wheat english muffin, diced cantaloupe, blanched frozen mixed vegetables
Do you have no-fail, easy-pack ideas for a toddler or preschooler's lunch? I'd love to hear them! We could all use more ideas for feeding these little tummies.