Mix and Match Preschool Lunch

Hello again Busy Moms! School is starting soon, if it hasn’t already where you are, and it’s time to think about what to do for lunch. Whether you’re preparing lunch for your little one at home or packing one for preschool here are some tips to make it healthy and fun!

Preschool lunch tips - mix and match one from each category!
When my son started preschool last year his teachers had a few requests:

1. All lunch containers should be easy to open. Ideally, your preschooler will be able to open the containers themselves or work towards that goal. So test the containers you have and practice with your preschooler at home before school starts. I love stainless steel containers like the ones below. That way I don’t have to worry about anything leaching from plastic. I also use silicone cupcake liners as extra inserts.

2. Any chokeable food should be cut into halves or quarters. Foods like grapes, carrots, hot dogs, cherry tomatoes– or any hard fruit or vegetables should be cut up. I don’t necessarily always do this at home– my son eats whole grapes often. However, at preschool when he’s talking and laughing with several other children I can see how chewing becomes optional(!) I play it safe and cut up food into smaller pieces when I pack his lunch.

Preschool lunch tips - mix and match one from each category!

Items pictured here:

LunchBots Trio Stainless Steel Food Container, Stainless Steel

Olive Kids Trains, Planes & Trucks Lunch Box

Thermos Foogo Leak-Proof Stainless Steel Food Jar, 10 Ounce – 2 Pack (Blue)

Freshware CB-306SC 12-Pack Silicone Square Reusable Cupcake and Muffin Baking Cup, Six Vibrant Colors

Planet Wise Zipper Bag, Monkey Fun

There was a study released last year showing that school lunches were overall more nutritious than the average packed lunch. Of course there was a great variety in home packed lunches, some of which were very healthy. But overall, home packed lunches skimped on protein, vegetables and fruits in favor of sugary drinks, chips and crackers.

I think finding proteins and veggies kids will eat and that are packable is definitely challenging. Alot of the time I’ll use leftovers—especially chicken and vegetables. I also don’t spend alot of time looking for complicated recipes for lunch. Most preschoolers like food that they can clearly identify, including my son– he wouldn’t appreciate a mini quiche or a meatloaf cupcake. So I tend to keep it really simple. A typical lunch I would pack would include grilled chicken (leftover), a rolled up piece of cheese, whole grain pasta with a little olive oil, and some grapes.

The general rule I have is to include a protein, a grain, a vegetable, fruit and dairy. I’m not a nutritionist, so I’m not going to comment on amounts. I do know it can vary a lot from child to child. I have a high-energy boy who eats a full lunch at preschool and usually has a large snack when he comes home!

Here are some ideas organized by food group. Choose one from each category and you are set to go! I do tend to choose two from the veggie section, but in small amounts. I find most young children love variety and I’ll get a few more veggies in if I have more than one. So, I’ll include 3-4 small broccoli florets and 3 strips of bell pepper in a lunch. That counts as one vegetable serving.

Preschool lunch tips - mix and match one from each category!

Mix and Match Preschool Lunch

Proteins (choose one)

Grilled or breaded leftover chicken
Chicken nuggets (here’s a great way to keep them from getting soggy and here’s my favorite recipe)
Chicken Noodle Soup
Turkey Meatballs
Hard boiled egg
Hummus
Lunch Meats (ham, turkey)
Beans

Whole Grains (choose one)

Pastas in fun shapes (we love alphabet and wagon wheels!)
Bread
Crackers
Orzo
Bagel
Pita
Tortillas

Dairy (choose one)

Yogurt
Cheese
Cream cheese

Packable Veggies (choose one or two)

Red, orange or yellow bell peppers sliced in strips
Steamed broccoli
Sugar snap peas
Steamed green beans
Diced roasted sweet potatoes
Peas
Sliced cucumbers
Shredded carrots or baby carrots
Cherry tomatoes
Cabbage

Packable Fruit (choose one)

Grapes halved or quartered
Berries
Melon
Banana
Apples cut up and sprinkled with soda water to prevent browning
Dried cranberries

Preschool lunch tips - mix and match one from each category!

Meal Ideas

  1. Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread with red pepper slices, broccoli, blueberries, and a yogurt.
  1. Whole grain bagel with cream cheese and ham, melon, sugar snap peas, carrots, and yogurt.
  1. Grilled chicken or meatballs with whole grain rotini, grapes, sliced cheese and broccoli.
  1. White beans, whole grain pasta with olive oil, cherry tomatoes, shredded cheese (which he can add to the pasta if he wants), and apple.
  1. Whole grain tortilla with ham and cheese rolled up and sliced into pinwheels, cucumbers, dried cranberries, and yogurt.

Thanks for reading! For more healthy & lunch ideas follow me on Pinterest!

Visit Ashley @ Nurture and Thrive’s profile on Pinterest.

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Hi I’m Ashley! I'm a mom and a child development psychologist. Once I became a parent, I had so many more questions! I realized we have so much yet to learn. I write about issues that affect us all as parents, drawing from research and experts in my field. Please email me topics or questions you'd like to see discussed as well!

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