Continuing my quest to become a better cook or at least better at putting together meals for my family, I’m focusing on lunch this month. I feel like I’ve finally gotten into a good groove and mastered breakfast, and now I really want to be able to provide nutritious lunch options. Full disclosure: Usually, I’m not home most days to feed James and Charlie lunch, so as a working mom, I rely on our nanny to do that. And while she’s truly the best, I still do the grocery shopping (or create a list of things for her to pick up when I simply haven’t had time to go to the market), and as part of my guilt for not being around and because it’s so important to me that my kids develop healthy eating habits, I really want to plan out his meals in advance. James also does something called Lunch Bunch a couple times a week where he eats lunch at school, so now, there’s the added pressure to put together a packable nut-free lunch he’ll eat. And of course, now, we’re stuck at home and I have to come up with all the meals for the foreseeable future while we quarantine at home.
With the criteria that lunch can’t involve a lot of cooking and meal prep, the prep involved has to be easy enough for this kitchen novice, and the foods have to be healthy and nutritious but also appealing to a toddler, here is the list of toddler lunches that I have found, tried and tested. I promise as I get better in the kitchen and acquire new ideas from friends etc., I’ll add more to the list.
Banana, Peanut Butter and Honey Sandwich
Spread almond butter or peanut butter on multigrain toast and top with sliced banana and honey. Sometimes I’ll top with another piece of bread and then put in the sandwich press to melt (and squash down) so it’s more manageable for James to eat. Go easy on the honey since younger toddlers can choke on too much PB. I”ll toss in some veggies on the side.
You can mash an avocado, add some lemon juice and salt and pepper and spread on multigrain toast. Sometimes though if I’m feeling lazy, I’ll buy a mild guacamole (read: not spicy) from our local grocery store and spread it on toast. I like this option too because there are other veggies in it. You could also spread the avocado on soft multigrain tortillas and roll it up and slice it for an easy-to-grab snack.
Apple, Cheddar & Crackers
Sometimes so he has a mix of foods to grab, I’ll slice up small chunks of apple, cheddar (or another cheese) and multigrain crackers. He doesn’t lay the apples and cheese on the cracker as I like to do (James prefers to eat in compartments) but it works well, especially when we’re on the go.
Strawberry & Goat Cheese Sandwich
Spread a light layer of goat cheese on multigrain toast or a multigrain english muffin and top with thin slices of strawberrys or strawberry jam.
Pinwheels are an easy way to get a young toddler to eat a sandwich as they won’t be overwhelmed by all the bread. I’ll spread hummus or guac (or sometimes nothing) on a multigrain tortilla, layer in a slice of turkey, a slice of swiss, and maybe a tomato. Then I’ll roll it up and cut it into thin slices. I’ll put some veggies or fruit on the side.
English Muffin Pizzas
I used to love these as a kid, so I’ll make for James. I’ll spread marinara or tomato sauce on an english muffin half and then top with shredded mozzarella cheese. A good trick I read was to add some chopped steamed broccoli, spinach, or kale to the sauce (or buy a sauce with veggies in it) to give them a sneaky serving. This kid-favorite gets a healthy makeover to fuel your child’s busy body all day long. Then bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. These are fun to make with your kid. They love sprinkling on the cheese and watching it bake.
“Healthy” Chicken Salad
I didn’t think James would like chicken salad, but we love to get this “healthy” chicken salad they have at our favorite bagel spot in the suburbs when we visit Andrew’s parents and James insisted on trying some one day and loved it. So sometimes we’ll make our own version of it, which consists of sliced chicken, lite mayo, and then sliced apples, and dried cranberries. I’ll usually serve this to him on its own with some fruit or veggies to round it out, but you could also stick it on bread of course. Personally, I love it on a toasted Ezekiel english muffin.
Peanut Butter and Banana Roll Up
If your kid isn’t quite at the peanut butter and jelly eating stage, you could trying spreading peanut butter and thin slices of banana and some honey on multigrain tortillas and rolling them up and slicing it. Then I’ll slice up some veggies to serve with this.
I’ll just throw some berries and granola (or a ground up granola bar) in with plain Greek yogurt. James loves this and it’s an easy option for days James is hungry and I don’t have time to cook something or plan it out.
This is a new one that James enjoys. I’ll just sprinkle cheese over a multigrain tortilla, try to add in some shredded chicken and/or veggies like tomatoes, broccoli or broccoli and throw in a pan. It takes two minutes to make and James loves. I’ll add some veggies or fruit on the side with this.
Turkey Meatballs and Whole Wheat Fusilli
James really likes pasta and meatballs, so this combo is always a win. I usually buy the meatballs from our grocery store that comes with a sauce because I rarely have time to cook, and then I just need to boil the pasta, but you could also make your own turkey meatballs using ground turkey and smash in some veggies into them and then add a tomato sauce over everything.
Turkey or Veggie Burger with Sweet Potato Fries
Sometimes I’ll make a turkey or veggie burger (usually a frozen one I heat up) and then slice it up and serve with some sweet potato fries. Not going to lie, James is still coming around to this, but it’s one of my faves, so I’m hoping in time, he’ll enjoy as well since it’s an easy way to get in protein.
Spaghetti Squash Noodles and Turkey Meatloaf
Sometimes I’ll serve up turkey meatloaf (admittedly usually from Fresh Direct, not home made) and then serve along with some spaghetti squash noodles. He loves the turkey meatloaf and that it’s soft, and he’ll play with (and eat some) of the noodles.
And some easy frozen meals I make in a pinch:
Fresh Direct Chicken Nuggets and Cauliflower Tater Tots (I might like this one more than James)