Making a packed lunch for your toddler, whether for nursery or just a day out should be fun! We all want to make sure that packed lunches are healthy, but also that they’re going to be eaten!  We have some great advice from the experts at the Infant and Toddler Forum on how to make a delicious, but healthy packed lunch, not just today, but tomorrow, next week and for the months to come!!

Plan ahead

A well planned menu will help you to provide meals and snacks with foods from all the food groups, no matter how busy you are. Making lunches and snacks for your toddler to take to pre-school or nursery is always easier if you plan in advance. And it should help to make budgeting and shopping for food more efficient, and help you plan time for cooking and preparing food.

The Infant and Toddler Forum offers some tips for making your meal plan:

  • Make a list of meals and snacks and/or stock up on nutritious foods so that you can put together a meal in minutes
  • Save money by just buying the foods for nutritious meals and snacks in your menu plan, not impulse buying
  • Involve your toddler in planning, shopping and preparing food
  • Cold meals can be just as nutritious as hot meals
  • Always include a drink – water is a good choice
  • Base the packed lunch on a starchy food to give your toddler an energy boost from the carbs. This can be any type of bread or instead you could use crackers, crispbread, bread sticks or a pasta, rice or potato salad instead.
  • Choose meat, fish, eggs or pulses as a sandwich filling or to add to a salad. These foods provide the best source of iron for toddlers. They also provide other nutrients.
  • Nuts are also a good source of iron and protein but most nurseries and schools do not allow these on the premises due to the risk of a toddler having an allergic response to them.
  • Add some vegetables sticks and some cut up pieces of fruit
  • Including milk, cheese or yogurt is good for a source of calcium for strong bones and teeth. You can add this in the lunch box unless your toddler has a lot of these foods at home. You could include milk as a drink; or a yogurt or custard or another milk pudding as a dessert; or some cubes of cheese.
  • Toddlers do not need confectionery, chocolate or cereal bars or crisps so do not include these.
  • Once a day a small piece of cake, biscuit or pudding is acceptable for a toddler so you can choose to give this in the packed lunch or at home with the evening meal.
  • For guidance on the right size portion for your toddler, visit the ITF’s helpful resource on Portion Sizes

Prepare and pack the food the way your toddler prefers

Some toddlers are happy to eat sandwiches, rolls or pitta bread with a filling. Those less keen on bread may prefer a little pot of rice, pasta or potato salad with vegetables and meat/fish/eggs/pulses mixed in. However some toddlers do not like foods mixed together in that way and prefer all their foods kept separate. They might prefer plain bread, crackers or cooked pasta pieces in one compartment, some vegetables sticks in another, pieces of cold meat, falafel  or boiled egg in yet another compartment and finally fruit pieces wrapped to keep them separate as well.

Suggestions of packed lunches:

  • Ham sandwich, cucumber and courgette sticks, apple slices and cubes of cheese. Drink: water
  • Pasta salad with tuna, tomatoes, sweetcorn and mayonnaise, Pear slices and yogurt. Drink: water
  • Hummus with bread sticks, vegetable sticks, tangerine segments. Drink: milk or water.
  • Pieces of quiche or pizza, green or red pepper sticks, packet of raisins. Drink: water

For toddlers who like their foods kept separate:

  • Pasta pieces, pieces of ham, celery sticks, cubes of cheese, small banana Drink: water
  • Pieces of falafel, crackers, green pepper sticks, cherry tomatoes cut in half, orange segments, small pot of custard. Drink: water
  • Pieces of cold chicken, carrot sticks, cucumber sticks and a slice of buttered bread. Strawberries. Drink: milk or water

Drinks

Offer a drink to toddlers at each meal and snack – about 100-120ml or 3-4oz is adequate. Milk does not damage teeth but should be limited to three drinks a day or less if toddlers are also eating yogurt and cheese. Avoid fruit juices as they contain the same amount of sugar as sweetened squashes and fizzy drinks. If your toddler will not drink water then offer a well diluted fruit juice – about 1 part juice to 6-10 parts water.

Snacks

Most nurseries offer fruit at snack time but if you have to send a snack with your toddler try these:

  • Vegetable sticks, e.g. carrot, cucumber, pepper, baby corn with hummus or a dip based on   yogurt or cream cheese
  • Cheese cubes and crackers/breadsticks or chapatti
  • A small sandwich, bread roll or pitta bread plain or with a filling
  • Vegetable bhajis
  • Scone or tea bread
  • Fruit pieces and a cracker or rice cake

Healthy snacks that you can offer at home include:

  • Breakfast cereal and milk – choose wholegrain, low sugar cereals such as Weetabix or Cheerios
  • Toast, bread or crackers with nut butters such as peanut butter

Snacks to avoid:

There are a lot of snack foods marketed for children that are not suitable.

  • Snack bars such as cereal bars are often very high in fat and sugar.
  • Dried fruit bars contain very processed fruit and are high in sugar.
  • Crisps, hula hoops and other packet snacks have a lot of fat but very few nutrients.

Shopping for nutritious packed lunches

Remember you can save money by just buying the foods for nutritious meals and snacks in your menu plan. Buy fresh seasonal fruit, vegetables, meat and fish which are usually cheaper than those out of season.

Beware of food marketed at children- don’t let the cartoons fool you! We advise you to check the labels for the amount of added sugar and compare it with that in an adult equivalent product.

For further guidance on healthy eating for toddlers , visit www.infantandtoddlerforum.org.

The Infant & Toddler Forum is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Danone  Nutrition. The views and outputs of the group, however, remain independent of Danone Nutricia Early Life Nutrition and its commercial interests.