The school year has begun and parents everywhere are trying to figure out what to pack in their kiddos’ lunches. Different age groups require different considerations. When it comes to daycare- and preschool-aged kids, you want to make sure you’re sending them with snacks and lunches packed with nutritional foods to keep them full and energized throughout the day—and, of course, foods they may actually eat. To help us help you, we spoke with Pediatric Dietitian Kacie Barnes, MCN, RDN, LD.
Stick With What's Familiar
Did you know that some kids eat better at school than they do at home? Barnes explains this is because eating with peers can encourage greater acceptance of foods. However, some kids may eat better at home. “I try to pack foods that I know my kids like,” Barnes says, “so, they aren’t having to figure out accepting new or previously unliked foods in a new setting.”
Size Up Your Servings
Barnes suggests packing a little bit larger servings for snacks and lunches. This is because you obviously won’t be there to give them seconds of something if they are really hungry during the day.
Be Mindful of Allergens
While peanut butter is often a dependable source of protein for your little one, many schools (daycares included) are nut-free. That means parents have to get creative when it comes to providing protein/fat. Barnes recommends nut butter alternatives like sunflower seed butter for sandwiches, and proteins like beans, peas, or chickpeas.
Lunch Formula + Ideas*
To ensure you’re hitting the important nutritional categories, and to help simplify the packing process, Barnes has a helpful formula. Aim to include a protein source to keep them full, a starch for energy, and a fruit or a veggie to get some vitamins/minerals and fiber. “As long as you’re offering a variety and keeping in mind that a combination of protein/carbs/fat are going to keep them the most satisfied,” she says, “you’re doing a great job packing lunches.” Some ideas:
- Sunflower seed butter sandwich, string cheese, and blueberries
- Turkey and cheese roll up, whole wheat crackers, and strawberries
- Cold pasta salad, cottage cheese, and half a banana
- Bean salad, pita bread, and apple slices
- Once Upon a Farm frozen Plant-Rich Meals (Note: Be sure to cook these ahead of time and store/pack appropriately.)
Snack Formula + Ideas*
“For snacks,” Barnes says, “I like to ideally see a couple grams of protein and fiber—one or the other, but ideally both!” These keep your little one full and satisfied versus snacks that are purely carbs that only offer a quick spike of energy. Some ideas:
- Mini whole wheat tortilla rolled up with cinnamon and seed butter
- Small pieces of cheese and orange slices or freeze-dried fruit
- DIY trail mix with cereal and raisins
Once Upon a Farm Dairy-Free Smoothie or another blend
*Note: Lunch and snack suggestions are not appropriate for all age groups. Be sure that your child is ready for these snacks. Be mindful of food size and texture and cut into age-appropriate pieces to minimize choking risk as needed. Only feed your child when they are seated and supervised. More info on choking hazards here.