In our previous post of the daycare series, we talked about healthy daycare meal ideas for babies under one year. Now since breast milk was still a major component of their diet then, things were easier. However, as your little one crosses her first birthday, she is now a big girl, and a good part of her diet is now what the rest of the family is eating. Add to that behavioral changes like fussiness, and it can drive you crazy! But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered, with our list of healthy daycare meal ideas for toddlers – which includes both lunch and snack ideas!
Tips to Keep in Mind when Planning your Toddler’s Daycare Menu:
- Stay Safe – Make sure you include at least one dish that your toddler is sure to eat, whatever dietary phase she may be going through right now.
- Plan ahead – Have at least 4 weeks worth of meals and snacks planned in advance so you’re not scratching your head about what to pack every day.
- Keep it simple – Too much variety or complicated dishes can overwhelm toddlers so stick to basics. Familiar foods that he’s used to at home are safe.
- Don’t send too much – It can be tempting to pack in a lot of food since you don’t want your tot to go hungry, but many Moms tend to over do it and end up wasting food.
- Consider your toddler – You know your toddler best, so pack his meals accordingly. Take into consideration his container preferences, the way he wants his bread cut, the kinds of meat he’ll eat etc.
- Pack well – Make it easy for your toddler to eat. Divided lunchboxes or little silicone cups are easy and avoid foods from touching each other.
20 Healthy Daycare Meal Ideas for Toddlers
When packing your toddler’s lunch, make sure you have a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and vegetables of different colors. Rather than focusing on each day, try to see that your child’s diet is balanced over the course of a week. You can mix and match the ideas below to create the perfect combination that works for your toddler. For example, you can try a vegetable rice with chicken nuggets or a vegetable pasta with boiled eggs. Make it work!
10 Lunch Box Ideas for Toddlers
These are probably the easiest thing to pack and for toddlers to eat! Just make sure the filling is something that won’t fall out, cause then the mess might discourage him from eating any further. A paneer sandwich or sandwiches stuffed with chutney are good picks, as are simple egg or cheese sandwiches. Cut them into triangles or rectangles for easier handling.
2. Boiled Eggs
Boiled eggs are another easy lunchbox option and are perfect to add to a light vegetable sandwich for some good quality protein. Make sure the egg is completely hard boiled and not runny at all. Some kids don’t like the yolks, so consider your toddler’s preferences when packing it. Slice the egg to make it easier for your child to eat by himself.
Most kids love pasta, especially when they’re in fun squiggly shapes! You can choose from macaroni, fusili, penne or the various other shapes. You can either pack it as a dry pasta salad, or pour in some sauce, depending upon your child’s taste. For younger toddlers, a drier pasta might be easier to handle and of course, less messier! You can sneak in meat or veggies in the pasta, so you don’t have to send anything else with it.
This Indian staple is ideal for the lunchbox for many reasons. It’s pretty easy to make and customizable – you can stuff with potato, cauliflower, paneer or even egg. They can be made thin and rolled up, or made thick and cut up into pieces. All you need is some simple chutney or curd to go with it too. You can also experiment with different grains besides wheat to ensure maximum nutrients get in.
Another alternative to sandwiches, simple wheat rotis or corn tortillas can be rolled up with a variety of stuffings. Just make sure that the stuffing is secure and doesn’t fall out the other end. You can prevent this by sealing one end with aluminium foil, so your toddler can take it off once he’s eaten the rest. Another toddler friendly tip – make the roll, and then cut it up into pieces for sushi bites – easy peasy!
6. Vegetable Sticks with Hummus
If you’re sending a sandwich or roll with protein as stuffing, you need some veggies to balance the meal. Vegetable sticks with hummus as a dip is perfect, and you can use vegetables of your child’s liking. For younger toddlers, it might help to steam the veggies first, so they’re easier to eat. You can try carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, cucumber, celery and many more!
7. Chicken Nuggets
Is there any kid out there who doesn’t like chicken nuggets? Of course, we don’t recommend the store bought ones, but the homemade ones are easy enough to make! These go great with a rice dish or a vegetable paratha, adding the required amount of protein. If you’d like a vegetarian version, try Soya cutlets or paneer tikka instead.
8. Mixed Rice
If your toddler is comfortable enough handling a spoon without too much trouble, then a rice dish is perfect for the lunchbox. You can try all kinds of dishes like ghee rice, coconut rice or egg rice. And if it’s a mixed dish like a Soya chunks and vegetable rice, you don’t have to pack anything else!
9. Savory Pancakes
Pancakes are an evergreen favorite at daycare centers and with good reason! They’re mess free, nutritious and super easy for little hands to manage. You can try all kinds of dosas – Sathumaavu, jowar, ragi, multigrain or sweet potato. You can also try pancakes made of oats, barnyard millet or maize flour.
10. Creative Leftovers
If you’re really running out of ideas for your toddler’s lunchbox, then don’t worry – some creativity will solve your troubles! Use leftover rotis to make roti noodles, or mini idlis to make a masala idli stir fry. And of course, leftover rice is perfect for a quick fried rice or tawa pulao. Just add veggies, egg or chicken and you’re done!
10 Snack Box Ideas for Toddlers
Most daycare centers require you to send in one lunch box and two snack boxes. We have included a mix of sweet and savory options for snack boxes, and you can choose one depending upon what you’re packing for lunch. A masala macaroni might be better balanced with a sweeter option like a laddu. Or if lunch is a light sandwich, you can give a heavier snack like an energy bar.
1. Energy Balls
Energy balls are popular with toddlers, maybe because of their fun size! These are excellent ways to ensure toddlers eat things like dry fruits, ragi, corn or puffed rice, which they might otherwise refuse.
2. Healthy Laddus
Laddus don’t have to be unhealthy or restricted to festivals. There are a variety of laddus that can be made with healthy ingredients like poha, sathumaavu, dates, sesame, coconut or besan. Consider choking hazards when packing these.
Muffins are super easy to make, involving mixing dry ingredients with wet. You can send heavier muffins as part of the main meal, but if sending as a snack, go for mini muffins like strawberry yogurt, sathumaavu banana, carrot walnut or apple muffins.
4. Vegetable Fries
Yes, kids love French fries, but we know they’re not exactly healthy! You can offer baked version instead, like sweet potato fries or fries made from other veggies. Kids won’t know the difference!
5. Healthy Cookies
A cookie is the ultimate comfort food for a toddler, who’d love to spend all day munching on it! Try making your own cookies at home with healthy materials like pistachio, almonds, oats, ragi or pumpkin.
6. Banana Bread
Banana bread isn’t just great for breakfast, it also works well as a snack for cake-loving toddlers! Cut the bread into little slices so your toddler doesn’t go overboard. You can make banana bread out of whole wheat flour or other grains like barnyard millet.
7. Flavored Bites
Our traditional snacks are good to send to daycare too! Paniyarams, kozhukattai or fritters made from healthy ingredients like sorghum, Sathumaavu or Kerala Banana. These can be heavy, so just one or two pieces will suffice.
9. Energy Bars
If your little bundle of mischief spends all day jumping up and down, then he’ll need something good to refuel! Energy bars are a good choice, whether made of dry fruit or oats. You can add your toddler’s favorite ingredients to customize them too!
With so many options for healthy daycare meal ideas for toddlers, I’m sure you won’t have any more trouble deciding what to make! Remember that you might still get lunch boxes and snack boxes that aren’t eaten, but then toddlers will be toddlers! Take it in your stride and you’ll soon become a whiz at packing meals for your kids!