Fortunately, my darling toddler doesn’t get too picky about what she’ll try. In fact, on her first birthday I thought she might like to try a piece of lime and she even tried to eat the rind. She’s already got her culinarily adventurous. That makes my job preparing her lunches a little easier, but I still want to make sure she’s going to enjoy her food and get a well-balanced meal when she sits down.
The daycare she attends actually supplies lunch, but they tend to offer a single item, like lentil soup or beef stroganoff. It’s hearty and I know she’ll never go hungry there, but if I want her to get some fruits and vegetables in the same sitting, I know I’d better make sure her options are there for her, myself. I like to include very small portions of many different things, much like a bento box.
The right supplies
The first thing I did was pick up a tupperware combination pack. There are three separate compartments in the same dish, then I grabbed a few other small containers that are appropriate for dipping sauces or other very small servings. I also cheat a little and buy single-serving yogurts and age-appropriate applesauces (she loves the banana-apple mix).
Vegetables and fruits
My daughter loves peas. She thinks they’re some sort of candy. Green beans are the same. Broccoli is a little more of a challenge, but zucchini is wonderful. I usually add some fresh fruit in her lunch, just so she’s getting a lot of vitamins. I want her to eat carrots, but I don’t want to even worry about choking hazards like fresh baby carrots, so I buy small cans of cooked carrots and let her have those.
I know there are health issues going on with tuna and mercury. We also don’t eat a lot of red meat, but I still want to make sure my daughter is getting enough protein. I buy pre-made chicken pieces or schnitzel and cut it into finger-food. She also usually gets a small slice of cheese but I change the type often. Her favorite is cheddar, but she also really likes provolone and mozzarella. Swiss is something we’re working on, but I think once she starts to enjoy swiss cheese with turkey, that’ll be one of her favorites.
Bread and grain
For a while, I was usually making her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole-grain bread. Now that I’ve started changing it up to keep her lunches interesting, I’ve included crackers, English muffins, bagels, and toast with a little butter on it. There are also crackers that have been fortified with vitamins that can be found in the little kid section of grocery stores. She enjoys those a lot.
I don’t like to use food as a reward or punishment so a daily dessert is pretty consistent. I include five or six gummy bears or a couple of butter cookies. Chocolate pudding that’s toddler-safe is also one of her favorites. Dried cherries or raisins also make a great addition to a gummy bear mix or a topping for the pudding.
Here’s an example schedule, but I often change up the fruits or vegetables, and the bread products change often because we’re lucky enough to live close to a bakery.
Monday: a quarter of an apple, cut into wedges, three of four small canned carrots, a rice waffle, small yogurt, scrambled eggs with a little cheddar cheese, chocolate pudding and dried cherries
Tuesday: five grapes, three broccoli trees, a quarter of an english muffin (lightly buttered), a small piece of provolone cheese, half a hard-boiled egg (not too much yolk), and few gummy bears
Wednesday: half a banana, green beans, small slice of toast, 2 turkey slices, swiss cheese, small yogurt, and two butter cookies
Thursday: three or four mandarin orange segments, three cauliflower trees, a corn waffle, three or four pieces of chicken schnitzel, some mozzarella cheese, a small yogurt and some gummy bears
Friday: a handful of raisins, some celery (if I can, I try to pull off the stringy part), three ritz crackers, some cream cheese, a small slice of toast, three or four mini-sausages, and two butter cookies
How about you? Does your toddler have favorite meals at daycare? What’s your favorite thing to prepare?