Lunch Box Toddler Meal Ideas for Age 1 Year and Up
Gone are the days of packing up breast milk, formula and thin puréed baby food or pouches and jar foods. Your toddler has transitioned from milk being their main source of nutrition, to needing a nutritious mix of veggies, fruits, protein and dairy from table food. Honestly, keeping Samson properly fed with nutrition and variety is one of my biggest fears with parenting. I pack his lunch daily and although I find it fun at times, it can also be daunting. Trying to come up with lunch box items that are quick and easy to put together can be a stretch.
I feel that as he gets older (currently 16 months old), we should be moving onto self-feeding type meals. Especially with his growing desire for independence. Also, Samson already has his full set of teeth, including molars. I wanted food that he could enjoy using those chompers on, instead of on us.
I stalked Pinterest looking for ideas, but I’ve found that a lot of the meals are for toddlers who are a bit older like at least two years old. So, I being the creative and resourceful Mom that I am, decided to start making up my own meals and recipes. Some foods I discovered by accident, and others were suggested by friends.
Below are a few ideas that we have been using the past couple of months. Samson has a big appetite and is at daycare most of the day and I usually pack quite a bit. I’ve broken these down into categories: Breakfast, Lunch and Snack. These meal ideas are great for everyday feeding also. Don’t feel that you are limited to saving these ideas for the lunch box. Lunch can be dinner and Breakfast can be lunch. With how picky toddler’s can be, the laws of when to serve what are out the window. You just want to make sure your child is fed, and fed well.
For our oatmeal, I use the plain quick cooking oats, heated in the microwave. This recipe is good for older kids and adults. Just adjust the measurements to how much you need. In a microwave save bowl (or my favorite, a large wide mug), combine half of a 3/4 cup of oats and 3/4 cup of water. Heat in the microwave on high for 1 minute. After it has cooked, mix in one of these flavor add-in’s: 1/2 a medium banana heated for 30 seconds and mashed, 1 tsp. of jelly, 1 tb. of peanut butter, or 1 tsp. of honey. You can always use more or less of these add-in’s depending on personal taste. To make it a little creamy and to thin the oatmeal out if it’s too thick, I add about 1 tablespoon of milk.
Toddler Breakfast Ideas: Mini Waffles or Pancakes torn into smaller pieces. Cheerio’s and dried fruit. Breakfast Bar. Breakfast smoothie (frozen fruit, baby/kids yogurt, water and optional oats). Hard Boiled Egg (sliced) or Scrambled Eggs. French Toast squares. All can be served with a cup of water or warm or cold milk.
For the grilled sandwich in the picture above, this is how I make it. Two slices of honey wheat bread, it’s not too thin and not too thick. Two slices of cheese, one for each slice of bread two slices of lunch meat. With the slices of cheese on the bread, take the lunch meat and hand shred to smaller pieces (makes it easier to chew) and spread on one slice of cheese. Place the sandwich open faced in microwave for about 10 seconds, just enough time to melt the cheese. Press the two parts together so the cheese combines with the meat. Next, place the sandwich in the toaster oven for 2 minutes to lightly toast. After toasting, press the sandwich to flatten down again (think panini style) and cut into 1 inch squares. I use the same toasting and cutting method with all of his sandwiches. Also if they are younger, or it’s too thick, you can choose to use just one slice of cheese and lunch meat. Hand shred the cheese to mix with the meat so both sides of the bread will still be able to stay together.
I was afraid of lunch meat for a long time, because of his age, and all of the additives, nitrates and high sodium levels. However, I discovered Hormel Natural Choice and feel comfortable with using it. Plus, it’s more affordable than a lot of other organic or health conscious lunch meats.
Toddler Sandwich Ideas: Peanut Butter and Jelly, Cheddar Cheese, Ham and Cheese, Ground Chicken / Ground Turkey and Cheese, Cheese Quesadilla, Chicken and Cheese Quesadilla. To sneak in vegetables, I sometimes add shredded carrots to the cheese and meat sandwiches; you could try peas as well. We haven’t personally tried these, but I’ve seen cream cheese and jelly, hummus and shredded carrots, avocado sandwich, and peanut butter and banana.
In an attempt to move on from the fruit pouches, I started to give Samson whole fruits cut small, so it’s easy for him to pick up and chew. You can make a fruit medley of whatever fruits your child likes. This is also a great way to introduce new fruits to their diet. We began with just grapes, cut into halves or in four’s depending on how large they were. After he was good with grapes, I mixed in fresh blueberries, cut in half. The medley above consists of, grapes, clementine (cut in half), raisins, and thin cut apples. You can also add bananas, blueberries, Kiwi, dried fruit, and my recent favorite- veggies! Yup, just add in diced carrots, peas, or corn. Since they are slightly sweet like the fruit, your toddler shouldn’t really notice the difference.
Although, he can’t feed this to himself without making a ton of mess, I still wanted to include it because he eats this almost everyday. I like the organic yogurt by Stonefield. They have one for babies 6 months+ and one for Toddlers. I go back and forth depending on what’s available at the store. Samson loves these, and although he can only handle lactose free milk, he never has had a problem with this yogurt. I also love that they have significantly less sugar than the regular yogurts made for children.
Goldfish, Cheerio’s, and Veggie Snaps
You can never go wrong with Goldfish cheese crackers and Cheerio’s (plain and honey). They are typical staples of most young kids snacking diet. Samson looooves Cheerio’s and Goldfish are a very close second. I’m always concerned about sodium levels. I discovered that the Goldfish line has one specially made for babies. It’s called Goldfish Babies. It has less sodium than the original and other flavors.
What I love about Cheerio’s is the additional nutrients that are added to the cereal. So in essence, he’s able to get some of the vitamins he needs while enjoying his snack. Also, the shape of cheerio’s were specifically made to be easy for young children to enjoy and reduce choking hazards. Purchase one large box, and you’ll have Cheerio’s for weeks! A lot more economical than buying bottles and bottles of baby puffs.
We recently discovered veggie snaps by Harvest Snaps and they have easily become a household favorite. They are low on sodium for his typical serving size, PLUS he’s actually eating veggies, the first ingredient is the bean on the package (green beans, lentil beans, or black beans). They have various flavors, and so far we have tried the Tomato Basil (lots of flavor) and the Lightly Salted. Of course, I’m not depending on this to give him his recommended daily veggie serving, but it’s a nice healthy option for a treat.
So there you have it Mommy’s and Daddy’s more ideas to add to your lunch box tool box. If you try any of the meal or snack ideas above, I would love to hear how it worked for you and your toddler! Leave me a comment below with any other tips, tricks or suggestions for other toddler meals and snacks.