Packable School Lunch and Snack Ideas for Toddlers and Kids


Read time: 5 minutes

What to know about packing a lunch for your child:

  • Aim to provide a balanced and varied lunch

  • Keep it simple with basic meal components

  • Involve your child in the lunch packing process

Providing your child with nutritious, well-balanced meals and snacks throughout the day is important for proper growth and development.

This is true for school lunch as well.

But with so many Pinterest-worthy ideas out there, it can seem overwhelming if you’re not up for cutting sandwiches with cookie cutters or making rainbow fruit skewers (and if that’s your style, that’s great too!).

By following a basic balanced lunch model, such as the one below, you can help make sure your little one is filled with nutritious meals and snacks for busy days in the classroom and on the playground.

How much food does my child need?

You may want to load up your kiddo’s lunch box to ensure they’re satisfied, but many little ones have small stomachs, and an oversized meal could be overwhelming, not to mention wasteful.

You know your child best, so plan to pack amounts they’re used to eating at home, knowing their appetite may fluctuate when at school.

Your child’s age, growth, appetite, and activity level will influence what portion size is right for them.1,2

In general, a toddler may eat about one-quarter of an adult portion size, while a child in preschool and early elementary may need about half to three-quarters of an adult portion.1,2

Remember to honor your child’s hunger and fullness cues, as most of the time they innately know how much food their body needs at any given meal.11

Learn about:

Is my Toddler Eating Enough?

Understanding your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues: Responsive Eating

The Division of Responsibility: Helping Avoid Picky Eating

Curious about how much food your child needs? We can help! Chat with our team of registered dietitian nutritionists, fellow moms, and lactation specialists, available from Monday – Friday 8 am – 6 pm (ET). Chat now!

What should my child drink?

Plain water is great when it comes to hydration. Being well-hydrated can improve mood, memory, and attention in children.3 Plain milk is another option for hydration.4,8

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “To stay well hydrated, children ages 1-3 years need approximately 4 cups of beverages per day, including water or milk. This increases for older kids to around 5 cups for 4-8 year olds, and 7-8 cups for older children.”3

Read about:

What Type of Milk Should My Toddler Drink

What to Drink Instead of Sweetened Beverages

Tips for packing lunch for your child

  1. Make sure your little one can open any containers and bags of food on their own, unless they’ll have adult assistance during their school lunch.

  2. Pack lunch with an ice pack in an insulated lunch cooler to keep foods safe and fresh.5

  3. To make the packing process easier for you, consider meal prepping over the weekend. For example, chop fresh fruit and veggies, divide snacks into separate bags or containers, and make a batch of food, such as a pasta salad or crockpot shredded chicken that you’ll pack each day for the week.

  4. Add a splash of lemon or orange juice to chopped fruits such as apples and pears to help prevent browning.

Tips for packing snacks for your child

  1. Think of snacks as another opportunity for your little one to fuel up on nutritious, whole foods, versus high salt or foods filled with added sugar.

  2. Whole fruits and veggies, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, whole grain crackers, and yogurt all make nutritious snack choices.6

  3. Avoid choking hazards such as nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, and large amounts of sticky foods such as peanut butter for your younger toddler or child.6

  4. Additionally, be sure to prepare foods in the size and texture that your child can handle and eat well.

Additional snack ideas:

Nutritious Snacks for Babies and Toddlers

4 Tips for Making Easy Nutritious Snacks for Moms and Toddlers

Follow a balanced and nutritious lunch model

When planning lunches for your child, try to follow the basic model of including at least one serving of protein, complex carbohydrates, fruits/veggies, and a sprinkling of good-for-you fats. This ensures they’re getting a variety of food groups.7,8

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables, and fruits, are important to support your child’s energy. They also provide nutrients such as B vitamins and fiber.9

Try whole grains such as 100% whole grain bread, or cold grain salads with whole grain pasta, brown rice, or quinoa. You can even pack cooked diced sweet potatoes or potato salad.


This nutrient supports growing muscles.9

Easy lunch protein sources include cheese, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, tofu, beans, nut butters, and pre-cooked meat such as canned salmon and shredded chicken.10

Fruits and vegetables

Whether fresh, frozen, canned (unsweetened, packed in water), or dried, produce provides fiber, an important nutrient that’s under-consumed in the American diet for all ages.8 It also provides vitamins and minerals to help meet your child’s nutrient needs.

Fats & oils

Fat is an important nutrient to help support brain health. Additionally, getting the right types of oils and fat will help your child absorb fat-soluble vitamins as well as get enough essential fatty acids.12

Good-for-you fats and oils to incorporate at lunch include nut butters, canned or fresh cooked salmon, olive oil and other vegetable oils used in dressings and dips, and avocado.8

Limit added sugars

Added sugars (candy, sweetened drinks, sugar-sweetened yogurts, cookies, snack bars, etc.) should be avoided for the first two years of life and limited thereafter.8 This is because the nutrient requirements in little ones are high, but their stomachs are still small – every bite counts!

Naturally occurring sugars, such as those in fruit and milk, are not added sugars and these foods should not be avoided.

Learn more:

Types of Fat: What’s Best for You and Baby?

Protein: Getting Enough of the Best Sources

Lunch ideas to pack for your child

Below are some examples of packed lunches for toddlers and kids.

Tips: Alter the recipes and ideas as needed to provide foods in the size and texture your little one can handle. Additionally, pack more or less food as necessary depending on your child’s hunger and individual needs.

  • Pasta salad: 100% whole grain pasta with cooked shredded carrots, diced fresh cucumber, diced bell pepper, chickpeas, and Italian dressing; side of fresh fruit

  • Hummus, cream cheese, or turkey pinwheel wrap sandwiches with bell peppers; cut up fruit on the side

  • Three bean salad with whole grain crackers; cut up veggies and salad dressing dip

  • Avocado tuna salad in mini pita pockets; fresh berries on the side

  • Shredded chicken or salmon salad with whole grain crackers; apple slices with cinnamon

  • “Party Platter” with cheese cubes, whole grain crackers, cut veggies, hummus, hard-boiled egg, and fresh fruit

  • Nut or seed butter and banana slice sandwich on whole grain bread; sliced cucumbers and carrots on the side

  • French toast strips (pre-cooked and cooled French toast made with whole grain bread) with fruit salad

  • Broccoli and cheddar egg cups with roasted sweet potato cubes; fresh berries on the side

  • Yogurt parfait made with fresh or frozen berries, plain yogurt, and whole grain cereal (let your child add the cereal at lunchtime so it stays crunchy); sliced cucumbers on the side

  • Bean and cheese burrito on a whole grain tortilla; side of bell peppers

  • Cheesy peasy pasta; side of strawberry kiwi salad

  • Cottage cheese with fresh fruit; whole grain crackers

  • Whole grain cereal, cheese stick, cut up fruit and veggie slices with hummus or guacamole dip

  • Easy veggie fried rice; pear slices on the side

  • Cheese quesadilla triangles on a whole grain tortilla; side of chopped cucumber, tomato, olive salad

  • Mini pizza bagel with applesauce and sugar snap peas on the side

Let's Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

8 Tips for Simple, Quick, Healthy Cooking

Helping Your Child Learn to Love Healthy Foods

Meal Plan for 18 to 24 Months Old Toddlers

Picky Eater Meal Plan: Recipe and Snack Ideas