Toddler Lunch Ideas For Picky Eaters

September 9, 2021 by Kid Care Pediatrics
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Do you have a tiny person with a big opinion?

Here are some toddler lunch ideas to help you avoid those lunchtime tantrums.

 

At some point in a toddler’s young life, s/he will likely become very selective about what they eat.

Fortunately, there are a lot of options when it comes to quick, easy, and healthy toddler lunches. Read on for tips on how to build a healthy lunch plate and some fun things you can do to get your toddler to eat it.

 

What Should Be On Their Plate?

You always want to make sure that your toddler’s meal is well-rounded. We are all familiar with the food pyramid, but how does it tie into portions and our toddler’s particular preferences?

Protein

Every plate needs some form of protein. Protein is what builds muscles and helps a toddler stay full until snack time. You should aim to make protein the focal point of your child’s meal.

Protein can come in the form of legumes, dairy, nuts, or meat.

A well-balanced toddler meal includes fruit/veg, protein, carbs, and fat.

Fruit

Each lunch should ideally have at least one serving of fruit. If your toddler goes to daycare, a banana is a great option. If they are at home, any fruit will suffice.

Make sure that you cut each fruit appropriately to minimize a choking risk.

Vegetable

A balanced lunch should include some type of veggie. Most toddlers have at least one favorite, such as sliced cucumbers, baby tomatoes, or sliced bell peppers.

You can pair it with some ranch or hummus for extra nutrients and variety.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are not the enemy! Toddlers need carbs to fuel that endless energy supply they have.

Luckily, carbs are universally liked and easy to add to a lunch. You can throw in some whole grain crackers for dipping, or simply use a whole grain bread for your main part of the meal. A nifty way to spice it up would be to make a yogurt parfait and add granola for your carb. Most toddlers would be thrilled to find that in their meal!

Toddlers need fat as part of a healthy diet.

Fat

Don’t be stingy with the fat. Toddlers need full-fat products for optimal growth. Not only does fat encourage proper growth, but it keeps them full too.

If you have an adventurous eater, pack some pita bread with an herbed oil dipping sauce. Avocados and full fat dairy are good options as well.

 

Recipes

Running out of ideas? These kid-friendly favorites are sure to please!

  1. Baked Mac and Cheese Bites – These are a great main part of the meal. They can even be frozen and thawed for a protein- and carb-filled lunch.
  2. Turkey Spinach Pinwheels – These are a great option to get a lot of nutrients into a small bite. These have fat, carbs, vegetables, and protein. You’d only need to add fruit on the side!
  3. Homemade Uncrustables – Use a sandwich sealer tool (or even a glass) to make your own version of this lunchbox favorite!
  4. Peanut Butter Apple Cinnamon Rolls – These may look complicated but in reality, are very easy. It puts a twist on a traditional pb&j sandwich and switches it up from a boring lunch to an exciting lunch!
  5. Avocado and Black Bean Pasta – We like this one because besides cooking the noodles, you can just throw the other stuff in. This has ample fat, carbs, and protein for a well-rounded focal point of a meal.

 

Getting Toddlers to Eat

Now that you know some healthy options for your toddler’s lunch, how can we be sure that they’ll eat it?

Whether you’re a stay at home family or always on the go, there are many options to encourage them to eat until they’re satiated.

Cutting a simple sandwich into fun shapes can encourage toddlers to eat.

Make It Fun

A cookie cutter in some of your toddler’s favorite shapes (hearts, stars, etc.) makes food fun and exciting. Toddlers are more apt to pick up a fun-shaped item rather than the same old square sandwich.

Let Them Lead

Do you always feel hungry when it is time to eat? Sometimes toddlers just aren’t hungry. They also might not want to stop playing and will refuse to eat until later.

The best thing you can do is accept it, move on, and wait a while to see if they’re hungry. They aren’t being obstinate, they’re being a toddler.

Offer a “Safe” Food

Having a “safe” food is always a good idea. Safe food is something you’re 100% certain they will eat. For instance, your toddler’s favorite fruit might be strawberries and there’s never any question whether they’ll eat it.

Remember, eating begets eating. If your toddler is eating their safe food, they are more likely to pick up the next thing to shove in their mouth when the strawberries are gone.

Lead By Example

If your toddler sees you eating the same thing as them, they are much more likely to eat it too. Conversely if you’re chowing down on a big juicy burger and you give them rice cakes with hummus, that might not go over well.

Sitting down for meals and eating the same or similar foods promotes bonding during food time too.

Toddlers thrive on routine!

Keep a Routine

They may seem chaotic, but most toddlers thrive on routine.

Try to eat lunch around the same time each day and make your schedule predictable. Maybe arts and crafts time is always right before lunch. With consistency, your toddler will learn to expect what’s next.

Keep It Positive

When you think about it, toddlers have very little control over their lives. There’s always someone telling them what to do, where to go, and even what to wear. Deciding what to eat (or whether to eat at all) might be the only thing they feel in control of.

Try not to take this personally. Experts say that parents should be in charge of 1) what to eat, 2) when to eat, and 3) where to eat. Children are responsible for how much they eat.

If you find yourself getting frustrated, remind yourself that your child is trying to find their individuality. They aren’t refusing your homemade Italian pasta sauce to make you mad. They just might not like red food that day.

Additional Tips

If your toddler goes to daycare, you’ll want to pack a lunch that doesn’t need to be reheated. Make sure that you pack the lunchbox with an ice pack for food safety.

If you stay home and reheating isn’t a factor, your possibilities are a bit more relaxed. Personally, we like easy and healthy meals. Leftovers are a great option as well as make-ahead freezer meals.

Don’t forget the drink! Sometimes we get so focused on the food that we forget the drink. Any water, 100% juice, or shelf stable milk will work perfectly for a well-rounded and balanced lunch.

Are you worried about your toddler’s teeth? If you’re home, you can brush them after lunch but if your child goes to daycare these tooth wipes are a great option. Ask your daycare provider if they will give your child’s teeth a quick swipe to ward off cavities.

 

Conclusion

Toddlers can be a challenge but fortunately with our guidelines above, you can avoid those lunchtime battles.

Remember to remain upbeat during meal times and try to set a routine that your toddler can rely on. If they don’t want to eat, don’t force it and try to keep each meal balanced.

If you’re concerned about your toddler’s diet, call us today for an appointment to discuss your child’s nutritional needs.

Kid Care Pediatrics

Kid Care Pediatrics has been in existence since October 2001. It was established by Omar A. Gomez, M.D. The practice philosophy at Kid Care Pediatrics is to provide quality pediatric medical care for children in a professional yet caring manner.

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