Lunch Ideas for a 1 & 3 Year-Old

Before I started meal planning for lunches, I usually threw some lunch meat, string cheese, raw veggies and a piece of fruit on a plate and called it good.  If I was feeling particularly generous, I’d add goldfish crackers for good measure.  As you will see from this week’s lunches,  we still have plates that look like that.  But not every day.  When I decided to be more intentional about adding more variety to my kids’ meals, lunches were the hardest.  Most of the ideas I found were things my kids wouldn’t eat (and they aren’t particularly picky), took too much prep time, or weren’t the healthiest options.

Like with breakfast, I start lunch planning with a protein, then choose a veggie, and a fruit.  Most days there is a dairy and/or a carb, but I’m not as intentional about those.  Obviously, there are days when this doesn’t happen perfectly, but I found that if I am intentional about trying to do it most days, it happens more often than not.

I worked at childcare center when I was in college and one of the health department rules for the meals that were served was that each food on the plate had to be a different color.  The thought behind that was that the different colors in foods represent different vitamins that are contained, so varying the colors assured getting a spectrum of nutrients on each plate.  I try to keep this in mind when I’m planning my kids’ meals.

My son can’t chew raw veggies yet, so if those are on the menu, he gets a pureed veggie pouch.  Frozen vegetables are my best friend.  Especially now that most of them come in a bag that can be thrown in the microwave and go from frozen in a package to steamed and on their plates in less than 6 minutes.   And because steamed veggies are softer, my son can chew those.



MONDAY: Turkey, Swiss & Avocado Wrap, Veggie Straws & Blueberries – I didn’t wrap the ingredients in the tortilla for my son because #obviously.  My daughter used to love to have hers in a wrap and then I’d slice them into 1″ pinwheels with toothpicks, but for the last few weeks, has requested to have it “like Wyatt’s” (aka cut up into pieces).  Veggie straws are a special treat for us and my kids can’t get enough of them.  I don’t use them instead of a veggie, but will add a few to a lunch every now and then.



TUESDAY: Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich, Cottage Cheese/String Cheese, Carrot Sticks, Veggie Straws & Grapes – Tuesday is my work day.  The kids go to day care, so I need a lunch that I can easily pack for them.  This week, I went with old faithful, PB&J.  My son hasn’t been eating string cheese lately, so I subbed cottage cheese for him.  I cut his carrot sticks super thin in hopes that he could bite and chew them.  The experiment failed.


WEDNESDAY: Chicken Nuggets, California Blend (Broccoli, Carrots & Cauliflower), Cottage Cheese/String Cheese & Strawberries – What is it about chicken nuggets that kids (and adults too, who are we kidding?) love so much?  I purposely put the veggies next to the nuggets in hopes that my children will be grabbing for the nuggets and accidentally get broccoli instead.  I think it’s happened once or twice.


THURSDAY: Apple Carrot Zucchini Muffin, Hard Boiled Egg, Carrot Sticks, String Cheese & Grapes – Finding a lunch protein that isn’t sandwich meat was a little bit of a hurdle for me.  I was so excited when I thought of hard boiled eggs.  Paired with a muffin packed with vegetables, add some cheese, and you can’t go wrong.  It was a great idea, except for my son’s refusal to eat eggs.  But I keep putting them on his plate.  I will be victorious……


FRIDAY: Englis Muffin Pizza, Carrots/Veggie Pouch & Blueberries – When I was a kid, some pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese on an english muffin was gold.  Am I alone in this?  I thought my children would share my excitement.  Until I realized that the first time I made them, I put them on cinnamon english muffins.  Don’t do that.  Go with the classic.  Or, if you’re really feeling fancy, the multi-grain work too.


SATURDAY: Black Bean Quesadilla, Broccoli & Strawberries – Dump a can of black beans (with the liquid) in a blender and add some minced garlic and/or lime juice and puree.  Slap them on a tortilla with some cheddar cheese and you’ve got a protein packed lunch in 5 minutes.


SUNDAY: Chicken Nuggets, Frozen Peas, Cottage Cheese & Strawberries – I don’t know what it is about frozen peas, but my kids love them.  They ate them at their previous day care, and now it’s the only way either of them will eat peas.  Feel free to cook yours like a normal person.


I cannot believe that I documented an entire week’s worth of lunches and not one of them included macaroni and cheese.  That is a statistical anomaly.

I only noticed after looking at these pictures that we had an alarming lack of variety in fruits and vegetables this week.  We normally eat more than just carrots and strawberries or blueberries.  I had some extra carrots that I wanted to get eaten up, which is why they are on half of this week’s plates.  Same with the berries.  Other raw veggies you will often find on our menu are sugar snap pea pods, sweet peppers and cucumbers.  For fruits, we mostly go with what’s in season (thus the abundance of berries), but other options include apples, pears, peaches, plums, tangerines and bananas.






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