Back to school means back to packing lunchboxes in our family. Now that my kids are in kindergarten, third, and fourth grades, packing lunches is a snap. I have the kids take part in assembling their own lunches and we use this simple list of lunchbox favorites to plan and put together lunches I know will be eaten and enjoyed. Plus, I always use my number one tip. (You’ll have to scroll down to learn that one.)
It wasn’t always this easy, though.
Back when they were in Mother’s Day Out and Preschool, packing lunches was a much more difficult.
I remember the days of just trying to find something, anything, they could eat themselves and enjoy. Plus, I wanted to make life as easy as possible for the caregiver who would be managing several little hands and mouths.
So what did I learn? Here are a few tried and true favorites from our family…
What to pack for lunch for toddlers and preschoolers:
- Laughing Cow spread on crackers
- Peanut, almond or cashew butter and jelly on crackers or on tortillas rolled up and sliced
- Hummus on crackers or tortillas rolled and sliced
- Rolled lunchmeat with cantaloupe bites
- Mini cheese ravioli with broccoli, butter and parmesan cheese
- Baked fish cut into pieces with peas
- Small or cut meatballs
- Sandwiches on pressed bread, rolled and sliced. (Flatten sandwich bread with rolling pin, add ingredients, roll and slice like sushi.)
- Fruit slices or cubes and dips (yogurt, peanut butter or almond butter)
- Freeze dried fruit
- Yogurt and granola
- Cereal and a carton of milk
- Cottage cheese and fruit
For any of these, take into account your child’s ability when it comes to choking hazards and be sure to slice things into bite-sized pieces for the younger set.
Tips on packing a lunchbox for a toddler or preschooler:
Except for the tiniest of students, pack the food in containers your child can open and teach your child how to open the container, whether it be a zip bag or cup with a lid. Look for storage containers that have lips to make it easy for little hands to open them and teach your child to pinch and pull zip bags.
Use reusable storage containers instead of the original packaging when packing for small children. Pre-packaged snack-size bags are convenient, but manufactured packaging is hard to open (even sometimes for adults). By putting the food in something easier to open, you are helping your child and her teacher.
When packing canned or pre-packaged fruit, drain the juice/syrup and put the fruit in its own container. Again, this makes it that much easier for the teacher and child.
Use divided containers so your child (or her teacher) has fewer lids to remove. Test them out first, though, if you plan on packing anything with liquid which might run.
Consider serving temperature when you pack lunch. Most schools cannot heat packed lunches. If you’d like your meal to be served warm, pack it in an insulated container. Likewise, pack cooler packs to keep milk and other dairy products cool.
Don’t forget utensils. Pack a fork or spoon, if needed. Label it well if you would like for it to return home.
Clearly label everything you would like to see return home, but expect that a few things will get lost. My favorite labeler is a roll of masking tape and a Sharpie. Simple yet effective every time.
Pack a special treat every now and then. Periodically use stickers to decorate plastic bags or containers, or put a silly or special photo in her lunch she can share. Once your child can read, pack special notes or jokes.
My number one tip for packing lunches kids will eat is:
Ask them what they like… and convince them to be honest in their answers. Let them know they won’t hurt your feelings if they don’t like something. I often have to explain to my kids that it is okay to (lovingly) tell me they don’t like to eat something. Their honesty is the only way to narrow down the menu to what will really work.
Looking for more lunchbox inspiration?
Check out more fabulous posts on great lunchtime ideas on these blogs: