In an ideal world, your toddler’s lunch would look something like this: A fruit, a veggie, some protein, a healthy complex carb and source of fat. In reality, it’s more like whatever they’ll consume without crying because the seedless watermelon has seeds, the hot dog is staring at them and the peanut butter and jelly isn’t cut diagonally. No worries, friend: Here are 41 toddler lunch ideas they’ll actually enjoy (hot dogs and PB&J included).
1. Peanut Butter and Banana Rollups Snack Box
God forbid those PB&B rollups touch that celery, right?
2. Baked Quinoa Chicken Nuggets
They might not be shaped like dinosaurs, but they’re just as easy to make and taste a lot better, too. The quinoa breading is crispy, the chicken is moist—they’re practically begging to be dipped in barbecue sauce.
3. Baked Mac-and-Cheese Bites
Macaroni and cheese is always a good idea, but when it comes in a portable, pre-portioned package, it’s even better. Since the leftovers store beautifully, you’ll even have lunch for a few days.
4. Baking Sheet Quesadillas
Instead of making a bunch of individual quesadillas, save time by making one big one and cutting it into manageable squares. (Bonus points if you can sneak in a veggie or two.)
5. Meal-Prep Creamy Pasta Salad with Broccoli and Raisins
Our advice? Make the raisins optional.
6. BLT Pasta Salad
What’s the secret to getting your kid to eat romaine? Toss it with lots of fun, ruffly noodles and a bunch of bacon, of course.
7. Turkey Spinach Pinwheels Meal Prep
Kiddo hates turkey? Swap in ham or chicken. No-go on the spinach? Skip it. These easy lunchboxes are endlessly adaptable—pick whatever fruit and veggie they like.
8. Crispy Cauliflower Tacos
Good news: Crispy cauliflower looks a lot like chicken nuggets. Start ’em on taco Tuesday early.
9. Homemade Healthy Fish Sticks
They’re even easier than the ones you buy from the freezer section.
10. Sandwich on a Stick
Cute? Check. Fun to eat? Check, check. We think all sandwiches should be served on a stick. (Thanks, Coterie member Maria Lichty.)
11. Veggie Sushi
This is just practice for when your kid graduates to the real thing (OK, maybe they’ll start with California rolls).
12. Mini Corn Dog Muffins
You didn’t think we’d forget your toddler’s favorite food group, did you? These hot dog bites come together in no time and keep well in the fridge. Don’t forget the ketchup, of course.
13. Healthy Mac and Cheese
Since every meal can’t possibly be smothered in cheese sauce (believe us, we’ve tried), this one has a secret: It’s made with butternut squash instead.
14. Crispy Baked Chicken Tenders
Wanna know a secret? There’s zero frying involved. We knew there was a reason you loved chicken tenders.
15. Peanut Butter Apple Cinnamon Sushi Rolls
His two favorite food groups in one fun-to-eat package.
16. Ham, Egg and Cheese Breakfast Quesadillas
If you can have breakfast for dinner, you can have breakfast for lunch. These ham and cheese quesadillas take only 30 minutes to make, and they even have a little broccoli snuck in there for good measure.
17. Roasted Broccoli Grilled Cheese
Maria Lichty does it again, this time with a kid-friendly (and healthy-ish) spin on grilled cheese.
18. Avocado and Black Bean Pasta Salad
Because even your three-year-old isn’t immune to the appeal of corkscrew-shaped pasta.
19. Mini Potato and Carrot Quiche Cups
Swap the traditional crust with a kid- and parent-approved potato exterior. (Psst: You could even use sweet potatoes if you want.) Thanks, Coterie member Ali Maffucci.
20. Chickpea Salad Lunch Box
Matchstick carrots, seedless grapes and a small side of naan make this easy chickpea salad a full meal.
21. Cheesy Chicken Quinoa Enchilada Meatloaf Muffins
Worried about spice level? There’s just one teaspoon of chili powder in this recipe, courtesy of Coterie member Monique Volz.
22. Chicken Parmesan Bites
Cheesy, crispy, bite-size and dippable. What’s not to love?
23. Chicken and Carrot Cups
The cheddar cheese is optional but encouraged.
24. Roasted Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese
Just like grandma’s…except with a sneaky serving of cauliflower.
25. Easy Parmesan Buttered Noodles
Plain noodles with Parm? Your kid has good taste.
26. Mini Quesadillas
Beans and cheese stuffed into pint-size wonton wrappers make for a delicious midday meal. So delicious we might sneak one for ourself.
27. Brown Butter Sausage Penne Pasta
We’ve found your new mantra: Peas, penne and Parmesan.
28. Sesame Noodles Meal Prep
A slightly sweet sauce and slurpable noodles are the key to expanding your kid’s palate.
29. Carrot Pigs in a Blanket
Will they believe you if you tell them it’s hot dogs?
30. Mini Deep Dish Pizzas
The trick to easy homemade pizza? Use flour tortillas as the crust.
31. Crispy Cauliflower Nuggets
If a salad and a chicken nugget had a baby.
32. Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad Stuffed Peppers
Junior might not eat the bell pepper boat, but he’ll gobble up what’s inside: A creamy, yogurt-y chicken salad that’s packed with hidden vegetables.
33. Potato Toast Dippers
Aside from being tasty, these potato “toasts” are great for gluten-sensitive tots. All you need now is her favorite toppings for dipping.
34. Mozzarella Meatball Frittata
So that spaghetti and meatballs you lovingly made last night went untouched. No worries: Repurpose those leftovers into a frittata, cut it into kid-size slices and watch them disappear.
35. Crispy Baked Cauliflower-Corn Nuggets
Admit it: You child could live entirely on things marketed as nuggets.
36. Chicken Sausage and Broccoli Pasta
Here’s proof that you don’t always need to hide the veggies to get them eaten.
37. Veggie Fried Rice
She’ll love that it looks like confetti; you’ll love that it takes only 20 minutes to whip up.
38. Sweet Potato Fritters with Avocado Dipping Sauce
Who needs French fries when you have sweet potato fritters? Make them even more toddler-friendly by scaling down the size.
39. Taco Pinwheels
Presenting the failsafe ingredient that will make your kid want to eat anything: cream cheese.
40. Broccoli and Cheddar Brown Rice Muffins
With whole grains, protein and veggies, these cheesy rice muffins are a complete package. Serve them with some sliced fruit, chef’s—er—toddler’s choice.
41. Almond Butter Stuffed Soft Pretzel Bites
Soft, salty and just sweet enough.