5 Simple Preschool Lunch Ideas for Parents
The New Year offers opportunities to kick-start healthy eating habits for the whole family, including your preschooler! Forming well-balanced eating habits early on is crucial to promote growth and healthy brain development in your child, and is a key principle set forth by Kids’ Care Club and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Most nutrition habits and patterns are formed during the first few years of life, and it’s never too early to have conversations about good nutrition. Let’s consider some important points before laying out the key essentials for all potential preschool lunch ideas.
Make Grocery Shopping Fun!
Per the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, everyone aged 2 years or older should have a diet rich in various fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, a variety of protein foods, and oils. Luckily, each of these food categories have countless options. Who says grocery shopping and trying out food can’t be fun too?
- Play games! When you’re shopping, consider playing games with your preschooler to help them begin making healthy choices on their own. Plus, they’ll love the opportunity to hone in their choice-making skills! One option is to challenge your preschooler to find the healthiest thing in each aisle. Carefully look at the choices that they present as potential lunch candidates. If they were right, reward them with the opportunity to try it out at home. If they chose incorrectly, consider this as a learning opportunity and look for better alternatives together.
- Mix and Match! Fruit and vegetables come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Before heading to the grocery store, come up with a couple of favorite colors and make the trip into a scavenger hunt to find fresh, whole foods that match the colors you set out for. Try these new foods together!
- Consider going organic. By eating organic fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, your family can greatly reduce their exposure to various chemicals and hormones that find their way into the foods we eat everyday. While organic foods can be significantly more expensive, any step in the right direction is beneficial. The Dirty Dozen, an annual list of fruits and vegetables with a great amount of pesticides, are good foods to start considering switching to organic. Want to take it a step further? Switch up the grocery store experience and visit your local San Diego farmers market for local and seasonal options. There’s one somewhere almost any given day.
Address Picky Eating
Picky eating can often be the norm for preschool-aged children. Development of individual food preferences and shifting appetite levels are typical child behaviors, and abundant healthy food choices to choose from can help as these behaviors level out.
- Let Them Help! When you’re preparing your preschooler’s lunch, let them help out! Involving your preschooler in the meal planning process can put your child’s interest in making autonomous decisions to good use. Let your little one choose which fruit, vegetable, or protein they’d like to include for lunchtime, and allow them to taste these various different foods when they’re involved in the preparation process. This can help ease any concerns they may have come lunch time during the week.
- Serve New Food Alongside Familiar Food. It can take up to a dozen times for a preschooler to accept a new food. If your preschooler is unwilling, place it alongside a familiar food to encourage them! Once certain ingredients are accepted by your preschooler, introducing others alongside that have similar color, flavor and texture can help expand the variety of ingredients your child is interested in.
- Let them Listen to their Bodies: Encourage your preschooler to listen to their bodies and use their own hunger as a guide to continue eating or not. If they ate a larger breakfast, eating a large lunch might be unappetizing. Pressuring your child to eat can result in your child disliking the foods that they may have naturally found themselves enjoying. If you have any concerns about your child’s diet, make sure to talk with your pediatrician to ensure that your child is receiving all of the necessary nutrients for proper development.
When brainstorming preschool lunch ideas, the safety of your child’s food is of most importance. When trying new foods, be sure that there are no allergy/choking concerns. Due to choking hazards, Kids’ Care Club does not allow any hot dogs, popcorn, hard pretzels, raw peas, and raw carrots. In addition, grapes and cherry tomatoes should be cut in half. To avoid allergic reactions, no nuts are allowed, and any sandwiches that are made with sunflower or soy nut butter must be labeled. These foods will be left in your child’s cubby if brought to school or left unlabeled, and your child’s lunch will be supplemented with other food.
We thank you for placing the safety of your preschooler and the Kids’ Care Club community above all else.
Packing a Healthy Lunchbox
With these considerations in mind, let’s review what composes a nourishing lunch that will greatly benefit your preschooler.
- Fresh Fruit and Vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are abundant in nutrients and vitamins that are so crucial to your preschooler’s health, growth, and development. Implementing more fruit into your own diet sets a great example, and enjoying them as a family all together is even better. Our favorites are Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Peaches, Pears, and Avocados (yes, they’re a fruit!). Enjoy them thinly sliced or mashed, and learn with your preschooler about each one’s health benefits. Slowly implementing vegetables into your child’s diet one lunch at a time can curb the bad reputation they typically get. Try out sweet bell peppers (in all colors!) sliced into strips, steamed broccoli florets with some parmesan cheese (helps to balance any off putting bitterness!), or make sweet potato oven-baked fries together!
- Meat or Protein. Protein is necessary for child growth and development, and is a crucial macronutrient necessary for building, maintaining, and repairing the tissues in our body. Our favorite protein sources for lunchtime are scrambled or hard-boiled eggs, hummus, beans, sliced or cooked meats. As long as they are stored properly, leftover protein from dinner is a great option to consider.
- Dairy or Alternate Source of Calcium. Calcium is crucial for development and maintenance of strong bones and teeth. Dairy, such as milk, cheese, and greek yogurt, serve as rich sources of this essential vitamin. Non-dairy alternatives that also contain calcium are leafy green vegetables, fish, and calcium-fortified dairy alternatives such as soy milk and tofu.
- A Starchy Food. Starchy foods are an essential source of carbohydrates, providing your preschoolers with adequate energy and nutrients. Good options to include in your preschooler’s lunch include whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, rice, potatoes, and whole grain cereals.
5 Simple Preschool Lunch Ideas
Alas, we’ve made it to the final five recommendations to kickstart your lunchtime creativity. Here are 5 easy lunch choices that you can begin incorporating into your child’s lunch immediately:
- Hummus and Cucumber Sandwich: Take two slices of your favorite whole-wheat bread and spread each side with your favorite hummus and top with sliced cucumbers. Serve alongside one serving of fruit and one serving of veggie, picked by either you or your preschooler. Want extra protein? Feel free to add a serving of meat to your sandwich.
- Veggie Quesadillas: Grab whole-wheat tortillas and mix your favorite shredded cheese (such as Cheddar) with chopped spinach and diced tomatoes. Serve alongside one serving of fruit and one serving of veggies, picked by either you or your preschooler. Meat can be added to your quesadillas for added protein.
- Homemade “Lunchables”: Bento Boxes are great options to organize your preschoolers lunch. Pack it with hard-boiled eggs, a cheese stick, your child’s favorite steamed vegetables (such as broccoli and carrots) tossed with olive oil and salt, and crackers with hummus for dipping on the side.
- Veggie Pasta: Use whole wheat pasta and toss with sautéed vegetables that your child enjoys (carrots, bell peppers, spinach, mushrooms), and either pesto or red sauce. This is a great option for any leftovers that you may have cooked during the week.
- Pita Pizza: Make Pita Pizza as a family in advance and have it for lunch the next day! Your preschooler will be so excited to eat the lunch they made themself. Pair alongside your favorite sliced fruits and veggies.
Eating healthy doesn’t happen overnight. By involving your child with the various steps and considerations it takes to make their lunch, they are building healthy habits that lay the foundation for years to come. For all things lunch related, head on over to the Kids’ Care Club Pinterest for endless preschool lunch ideas, as well as kid-friendly recipes to encourage the collaboration at home too. Happy eating!