Easy-to-eat lunch foods are often the easiest to prepare, but the benefits aren't just for busy, time-starved moms. Such foods are also great for toddlers because they help them to learn eating independence and improve their self-confidence. In just a few minutes, you can prepare a hearty, nutritious lunch that keeps your toddler full and happy all afternoon.
Toddlers have tiny tummies. For your child, a 1/2-cup serving of canned fruit — a quick and convenient alternative to fresh fruit, so long as you stay away from the stuff packed in sugary syrups — and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of yogurt typically comprises a full serving. The combination of protein-rich yogurt and fiber-rich fruit creates a fast-to-prepare lunch that keeps your toddler full and happy for a long time. Aim for fruit that's easy to dip into the yogurt, such as canned mandarin oranges or pineapple wedges.
"We all get stuck in sandwich ruts,'" says Lisa Cain, founder of Snack Girl and a mother of two. This is especially true when you're prepping a toddler's meal, because sandwiches are quick to make and easy to cut into toddler-sized pieces. If your kid's starting to tire of sandwiches, it's time to think outside the slice. "I like to use bread alternatives, such as crackers, tortillas or bagels, to mix it up a bit," says Cain. "Just changing the bread type can make a lunch much more fun." And as a parent, you know that toddlers love fun. For added nutrition, use whole-grain products to boost your child's fiber intake. Provide a dab of fat-free ranch dressing or hummus for dipping crackers into.
When packing your toddler's lunch for a playdate or preschool, you aren't restricted to using only plastic containers and bags. Get creative with thermoses, which expand your options for toddler-approved lunches. It's the perfect thing to keep kid-friendly meals, such as last night's leftover pasta, nice and warm. Other thermos lunch options include soups, hearty stews and broth. Or, in the summer, put your toddler's favorite lunchtime chilled snack -- such as gelatin cubes or cold, fresh fruit -- in the thermos to keep it cold all afternoon.
Breakfast for Lunch
Just because it's not morning doesn't mean your toddler can't enjoy breakfast foods, which are often comprised of dishes that kids absolutely love. Plus, breakfast foods are often very easy to amend to introduce healthier foods into your toddler's diet. For example, add mashed bananas to your pancake batter; add a handful of protein-rich nuts to cereal; and add some spinach or other dark, leafy vegetables to a breakfast smoothie.
- University of California; The Lunch Box: Appealing Lunches for Preschool Children; Shirley Peterson; 2009
- "Parenting"; 13 Toddler Lunch Ideas; Jennifer Saltiel
- Lisa Cain; Founder of Snack Girl; Amherst, Massachusetts
- James Woodson/Digital Vision/Getty Images