Coming up with lunch ideas for your toddler—whether it’s for his daycare or preschool lunch box, or his midday meal at home—can be daunting. You want to be sure you're offering a variety of healthy foods while also including surefire toddler lunch ideas he’ll love, even if he's joined the picky eaters’ club. Here are some ideas for the kinds of foods you could include, and some specific ideas for lunches that are anything but boring.

30 Healthy and Easy Toddler Lunch Ideas

Whether it’s for a quick and easy lunch at home, or for a daycare or preschool lunch box, get your creative juices flowing with these ideas:

  1. Italian pasta salad: Cooked penne tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, sliced cherry tomatoes, and diced mozzarella cheese

  2. Egg salad: Hard boiled eggs mashed with mayonnaise and served with whole-grain crackers, bell pepper strips, and apple slices for dessert

  3. Zucchini fritters: Grated zucchini mixed with an egg and a spoonful of flour, shaped into mini pancakes and pan-fried in vegetable oil, served with sour cream

  4. Chicken and applesauce: Fried or baked chicken tenders with store-bought single-serve unsweetened applesauce and cubed cheddar

  5. Eggs in purgatory: Eggs poached in canned or fresh tomato sauce with chickpeas and baby spinach and served with whole-wheat bread or toast

  6. Waldorf chicken salad: Diced grilled chicken with diced green apple, diced celery, and sliced red or green grapes mixed with mayonnaise and served with whole-grain crackers

  7. Hoppin’ John: Diced ham steak with canned black-eyed peas, cooked long-grain white rice, and diced green bell pepper

  8. Cold lunch plate: Hard boiled eggs with cucumber sticks, and plain whole milk Greek yogurt with fresh blueberries for dessert

  9. Black bean guacamole: Canned black beans mixed with diced avocado, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, diced tomato, and chopped chives

  10. PB & banana sandwich: Whole-wheat bread spread with creamy peanut butter and half a sliced banana, served with a peeled, seedless mandarin or clementine for dessert

  11. Bagel and “lox”: Whole-wheat mini bagel spread with cream cheese and topped with sliced tomatoes so it looks like lox

  12. Mexican pizza: Brown rice cake spread with guacamole and topped with grated Monterey Jack cheese and diced tomato

  13. Mini sloppy joe: Ground beef cooked with chopped vegetables (onion, tomato, carrot, and celery), spooned onto a bread roll and topped with grated cheddar

  14. Ham and cheese roll-up: Soft 8-inch tortilla wrap lined with sliced Virginia ham, sliced Muenster cheese, and romaine lettuce, rolled up and cut into four pieces

  15. Hummus and veggies: Store-bought single-serve hummus pack with a whole-wheat pita cut into strips and mini cucumbers or sliced cucumber for dipping

  16. Tuna sandwich: Canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise on whole wheat bread with baby spinach

  17. Cheese and crackers: Cubes of cheddar, whole-grain crackers, sliced cucumber, and sliced grapes

  18. Mini omelet: Egg omelet cooked with baby spinach, grated mozzarella, and sliced mushrooms (if your toddler will eat mushrooms!)

  19. Decosntructed BLT: Cooked lean pork or turkey bacon with sliced cherry tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, and whole-wheat toast cut into star or heart shapes, and mayonnaise for dipping

  20. Savory muffin: Oat flour muffin with chopped carrots and broccoli mixed into the batter before baking, served with cream cheese

  21. Macaroni and peas: Cooked elbow macaroni with cooked peas and cooked diced sweet potato

  22. Meatball slider: Sliced, cooked meatballs layered on a bread roll with tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese

  23. Chicken peperonata: Diced chicken breast and sliced bell peppers in different colors, sauteed in a little olive oil, served over pasta or rice

  24. Southwestern pizzas: Top 6-inch corn tortillas with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, diced tomatoes, and chopped bell peppers; bake in the oven until the cheese melts

  25. Cottage cheese with fruit: Cottage cheese with diced apple or pear, diced plums or pineapple, and sliced grapes

  26. Tropical chicken and rice: Diced grilled chicken with jasmine coconut rice topped with diced mango, diced kiwi, and diced red bell pepper

  27. Dippers plate: Chicken fingers and pretzels with mustard for dipping, and a dessert of sliced strawberries with yogurt for dipping

  28. Buttered twisty pasta: Corkscrew (fusilli) pasta with melted butter and grated Parmesan cheese

  29. Buddha bowl: Quinoa with steamed soy beans (edamame), cubed and roasted butternut squash, and diced red bell pepper

  30. Mini pizza: Mini whole-wheat pita (or an English muffin split in half) spread with pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella, baked until the cheese melts.

Planning Your Toddler’s Lunches

Here are some tips for planning your toddler’s lunches and for dealing with certain concerns that may pop up during mealtime:

Finding the Right Nutritional Balance and Variety in Foods

When assembling your toddler’s lunches, aim to include a variety of nutritious foods from the basic food groups, which include:

  • Protein foods, such as meat, fish, poultry, and eggs

  • Dairy, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt

  • Fruits and vegetables

  • Whole-grain cereal, bread, and pasta, plus potatoes and rice.

Don't worry if a particular lunch doesn’t happen to include every food group, or if your toddler doesn't eat each type of food you serve. If you continue offer a selection of nutritious foods at mealtimes and snacks, with varying tastes and textures, your child's diet will balance out over the course of the day and week.

Determining How Much Food Is Enough

The amount a toddler eats varies from meal to meal and day to day. If your child is growing and gaining weight, changes are she's eating enough. Children this age are quite good at making sure they get what they need and don’t overeat. Some typical serving sizes for a 1- to 3-year old include: 1/4 to 1/2 slice of bread, 1 oz of meat, 2-3 tablespoons of beans, 1-2 tablespoons of vegatable, 1-2 tablespoons of fruit.

In fact, your toddler may need less food than you might think. Roughly 1,000 calories a day is about right. That's not a lot when you consider that your child might consume 300 to 450 of those daily calories in cow's milk (about 16 to 24 ounces) after she turns 1. All in all, your toddler will get the right amount of calories if you offer her three nutritious meals a day, along with about three sit-down healthy snacks. If you’re concerned about your toddler’s eating habits and/or growth, talk to her healthcare provider, who will be tracking her progress, and can offer specific advice tailored to her needs.

Surrendering to Your Toddler’s Mealtime Choices

At this age, your toddler should be allowed to make as many decisions as she reasonably can—including what she wants to eat. Offer her a range of nutritious foods to choose from, and let her take it from there. Your toddler’s needs will vary according to her growth rate, activity levels, and metabolism, so don’t worry if one day she eats everything in sight, and the next day she’s pickier than ever before. She doesn't need mushy baby foods anymore. In fact, if you give her foods with some texture to chew and swallow, her oral skills will improve, and her tastes will broaden. A toddler's appetite and growth tend to level off in the second year, so she won't need as much as she used to. Let her choose her own food from what the whole family is eating, but skip any added salt or spices.

Dealing With Picky Eaters

Sometimes mealtime can feel like a tug-of-war when your toddler doesn’t seem to want to eat anything, or refuses to eat anything other than buttered pasta, for example. There will be times like these, but this doesn’t mean your toddler won’t eat a balanced diet ever again. This is just a normal picky-eating phase that happens in toddlerhood. If it occurs, don’t push the subject of eating, or try to force any particular food, because it may make things worse. Instead, continue to offer different types of foods, letting her pick what appeals to her in that moment and letting her try new foods at her own pace.

Avoiding Food Bribes

It’s a good idea to avoid using food bribery during mealtime, like promising a reward such as sweets if she eats her broccoli, and to avoid making comparisons with siblings, such as by saying “Look at your big brother; he loves his vegetables.” These tactics can lead to future eating problems. Making mealtime a casual, relaxed, social time is the best way to help your child pick up good eating habits and acquire a healthy attitude toward food and nutrition.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • An easy lunch option for a toddler can include a half sandwich of turkey, chicken, tuna salad, egg salad, or even peanut butter. Serve with a half cup of steamed green vegetables, like green beans. Finish with a half cup of berries or a small low-fat oatmeal cookie. Your toddler can wash it all down with a half cup of whole or 2 percent milk.

  • If your toddler wants to eat an egg every day, then yes (unless there's a specific reason your healthcare provider recommends otherwise). Some toddlers go through phases where they eat the same foods for a period. Just keep offering him a variety of different foods, including ones he may have refused in the past, until he decides to try something new. But until then it’s OK if he reaches for the same foods every day.

  • There are certain foods that are considered unsafe for toddlers because they can be a choking hazard. You shouldn’t feed your toddler the following foods:

    • Whole hot dogs
    • Chunks of peanut butter
    • Chunks of meat, potatoes, raw vegetables, or fruit
    • Nuts, particularly peanuts
    • Raw cherries with their pits
    • Round, hard candies, including jelly beans
    • Chewing gum
    • Whole grapes
    • Whole cherry tomatoes
    • Marshmallows
    • Raw carrots, celery, or green beans
    • Popcorn
    • Seeds like pumpkin or sunflower seeds
  • Your toddler needs foods from the basic nutrition groups: protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and carbohydrates. This last category includes popular foods like cereal, bread, potatoes, rice, and pasta. So, no, pasta is not bad for toddlers as long as it’s in moderation.

The Bottom Line

Planning your toddler’s lunch can be relatively simple, and even fun. There may be times when your toddler doesn’t want to eat at all, only wants to eat one type of food, or seems to refuse anything green—or even a food that he loved just last week. This is all just a normal part of toddlerhood. Eventually, picky eaters will become more adventurous eaters. Just keep offering a variety of tasty foods, and let him choose and determine what he wants to try. Preparing your toddler’s lunch also doesn’t have to mean twice the cooking. Your whole family might enjoy the ideas on our list, so you can cook up a big batch and get everyone’s meals ready in one go.

How we wrote this article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.