Inside: Easy and nutritious preschool lunchbox ideas for your toddler’s lunch! Warm lunches, bento boxes, and store-bought snack ideas – all in one place!
Last week I shared my stress-free routine for preschool mornings. We discussed several “hacks” I use to get myself, my toddler and my baby out of the door on time every morning (you can click the picture below to read the post!).
One major component of getting out of the house on time is having lunch items prepped and ready to go the night before.
6 AM is decidedly not the appropriate time to be cooking lunch from scratch or what-have-you. I personally have dedicated that time to downing coffee and splashing my face with cold water.
In order to have time in the morning to get everyone ready and warm up or cook breakfast, I spent several hours (spread out over the last couple of weeks) prepping various foods in advance that I could stock my freezer with.
The next step was to create a rotating meal plan that incorporated all of the foods I prepared in advance.
The great thing about toddlers is that they are purely creatures of habit and my 3 year old could actually eat rice and beans every day and be happy.
On Sunday night, I sit down with my Printable Toddler Meals Cheat Sheet and plan out our family’s dinners for the week. Then, based on what we’re having for dinner that night, I’ll decide what to pack my toddler for lunch at preschool.
The secret to keeping this task simple is to choose from a limited set of ideas. I spent some time scrolling through my Toddler Snack & Meal Ideas board on Pinterest, and then I narrowed down all of the amazing ideas I found to just a few.
So rather than filtering through 1,083 lunch ideas, I can choose from a set of 10 basic ideas I know my toddler will like.
- The M-F notepad shown above is from the $1 bin at Target and the planner underneath it is The Happy Planner from Michaels. You can also get one here on Amazon.
- When I’m all out of my Target notepad I plan to use my Weekly Meal Planner, which you can grab in the shop as part of our Printable Meal Planning Bundle.
Easy Preschool Lunchbox Ideas
For lunch, I pack the Yumbox (ideas shown in next section) as well as a Thermos since my daughter likes to have something warm for lunch as well as a snacking box of sorts with lots of different things to eat.
- Based on my rotating meal plan, I’ll defrost the next day’s lunch overnight in the fridge
- Then in the morning I’ll warm it up in the toaster or microwave and then wrap in foil.
- For foods such as quesadillas, I’ll slice into strips, wrap in foil, and then place inside the Thermos to keep the food warm until lunch.
P.S. – You’ll find even MORE preschool lunchbox ideas in the Ultimate Guide to Toddler Lunchboxes
Here are some of the foods I prepped in advance and froze:
- Black Bean & Cheese Quesadillas (I assemble and bake on a sheet pan in the oven so I can make several at a time. Then I wrap in foil and store in the freezer)
- Pinto Beans (I made dried pinto beans in the slow cooker. Then I separated into toddler-sized lunch portions in glass containers and froze!)
- Pizza Bagels or English Muffins (Dave’s Killer Plain Awesome Bagel or Rudi’s Organic English Muffin, Newman’s Marinara, Organic Valley Mozzarella Cheese. Bake, cool, wrap in Saran Wrap, then foil, freeze)
- Macaroni & Cheese (Use Annie’s for a shortcut or make from scratch. Portion into toddler-sized lunch portions in glass containers and freeze)
Related: Healthy Meal Ideas for a Baby & Toddler (What I Fed My Kids This Week)
Here is a sample weekly warm lunch meal plan:
- M: Rice & Beans
- T: Mac & Cheese
- W: Pizza Bagel Bites
- TH: Rice & Beans
- F: Bean & Cheese Quesadilla
More Warm Lunch Ideas:
- Shredded chicken (from a rotisserie chicken) and rice
- Ditalini pasta and cooked white beans
- Oatmeal (why not?)
- Mini penne pasta with red sauce or pesto (add chicken or white beans)
Easy Preschool Lunchbox Ideas
Bento Box Lunches
The Yumbox has been a big hit with my 3 year old since she started preschool. I also love it because it is easy to clean and the tray is all one piece.
You simply snap the tray into the box and close. To clean, I just rinse off the outer box and put the plastic Bento tray into the dishwasher!
As I mentioned above, I follow a rotating meal plan for the warm portion of her lunch. I try to follow the same plan with the Bento box. My goal is to fill it with food I know she likes, as well as food that’s nutritious and easy to eat.
When it comes to packing the Yumbox, I don’t try to reinvent the wheel or let #pinterestgoals take over. I keep it simple, seasonal, and most of all – easy.
Here’s what I’ll typically include in the Bento Box:
I’ve included lot’s of variations below and I usually choose one or two options from each category. In our Ultimate Guide to Toddler Lunchboxes we also provide a Printable Bento Box Cheat Sheet with tons of options to choose from in each category AKA lunches made simple!
- Fruit: blueberries, diced plums, diced peaches, halved grapes (It’s August now, but in the fall I plan to include sliced apples and segmented Mandarin oranges)
- Veggie: Crinkle-cut carrot chips, sliced cucumbers, steamed green beans (cut into pieces), steamed peas, bell pepper strips
- Dairy: Cheese stick, cubed cheese, yogurt pouch, cream cheese roll-up (cream cheese spread on a tortilla)
- Protein: Hummus, chopped avocado (with a little lemon juice), roasted chickpeas, sliced hard-boiled egg
- Snack: Pretzels, Peas Please Pea Puffs (see below), Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies, Late July Crackers or Tortilla Chips
Follow Marla on Instagram for more toddler lunchbox inspiration.
Easy Preschool Lunchbox Ideas
Nutritious Store-Bought Snacks
I love to make food from scratch. But in this busy season of life, I need all the (store-bought) help I can get.
This is where I really have to decide what to make versus what to buy.
Certain foods I like to make from scratch such as muffins, special treats, as well as the lunch foods mentioned above. Most store-bought options will contain a lot of added sugar or processed ingredients, so those foods I’ll make at home.
However, when it comes to snacks, I find it’s easier to keep ready-to-go, pre-portioned packages on hand that I can just grab-and-go.
My toddler’s preschool has a nut-free policy, so all of the snacks listed here are nut-free, except for the Simple Mills crackers which are made with almond flour. I like to keep these in my bag for the ride home in case she’s still hungry.
I keep a “snack drawer” in my fridge for easy lunchbox packing
These are some of my favorite store-bought snacks:
- Sabra Hummus packs (for days when I don’t use the Yumbox)
- Sargento or Organic Valley cheese sticks
- Stonyfield Organic yogurt pouches or cups (I freeze the yogurt pouch overnight and then place the pouch and an ice pack on top of the Yumbox to keep it cold)
- Unsweetened applesauce cups or pouches (Gogo Squeez, Peter Rabbit Organics, Ella’s Kitchen Organic, Once Upon a Farm Organic or Sprout Organics)
- Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies
- Simple Mills Crackers (not nut-free)
Related: 40+ Store-Bought Preschool Snack Ideas
- That’s It Fruit Bar
- Made Good Granola Bites
- Peas Please Crunchy Pea Snacks
Favorite Preschool Lunch Gear
1. Lone Cone Kids’ Insulated Lunchbox – We also have the matching backpack
2. Skip Hop Thermos – I bought this at Carter’s using Rewards points #moneysavingmom
3. Fit & Fresh Slim Reusable Ice Packs – these fit perfectly in the lunchbox and sit right on top of the bento box to keep the food cold
4. Yumbox Leakproof Bento Box – I like to pack this with snacky food and then also send a warm lunch, like rice & beans in her thermos (this Bento box fits perfectly in the Lone Cone lunchbox)
5. Thermos Funtainer Insulated Straw Bottle – I fill this with milk and use a Yetti Tumbler for water
More Back-to-School Resources
♥ Healthy Lunchbox Ideas for Picky Eaters
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