Winning Lunchbox Tips for Toddlers


Growing up, my mama made school lunches for all three of us girls. When I was in elementary school, lunch primarily consisted of a sandwich, canned fruit, Ruffles potato chips, a cookie, and a juice box. Sometimes, my mama would treat us to an additional dessert of Delmonte pudding. Oh joy! At the end of every day, my mama would ask us if we ate our lunch. Eighty percent of the time, it would be “yes,” but the twenty percent that it was a “no” always worried her. Why didn’t we eat?

Now, as a parent myself, I am asking my daughter, Ilse, the same question or at least looking into her lunchbox to find out what she ate that day. I knew that eating lunch out of lunchbox at preschool would be an adjustment for her, as she was accustomed to hot meals at daycare. Nevertheless, I’ve been determined to help her adjust to lunchbox eating, with a few fun tricks.

Here are my winning lunchbox tips:

Allow your child to pick out the lunchbox and accompanying dishware.

To get Ilse excited about eating a packed lunch, we allowed her to select the lunchbox and accompanying thermos. Lunch can be fun when a child’s lunchbox features his/her favorite cartoon. For Ilse, it was a Disney Frozen one. By permitting Ilse to select her own lunchbox and dishware, we gave her a sense of ownership and independence about eating from a lunchbox – she could feed herself versus be fed.

lunchbox ideas

Place lunch items in easy-to-open containers.

Toddlers need food storage containers that they can open themselves so they can feed themselves. If Ilse can open a container unassisted, she can eat as she pleases. We love our half cup snap lid containers. They are perfect for single servings, and two containers fit into her lunch box, next to her thermos. Further, they are great for the environment: reusable, dishwasher-safe, and leak-proof.

lunchbox ideasVary the snacks and always include favorites.

Ilse can easily tire of snacks, so we vary them but still keep her favorites.On weekends, we sample new crackers and fruit, if Ilse likes them, we incorporate them into her lunch. We pack two different savory snacks during the week. We always include berries or oranges for fruit because they are loaded with Vitamin C and easy to prep and eat. Berries and oranges also have the added advantage of having a long shelf life, even when prepared in advance.

Be okay with prepping the same lunches.

Unlike me, my daughter dislikes sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. She loves noodle soup with vegetables and meat or rice dishes. So, I stock up on dried noodles, chicken breast, and low-sodium chicken broth, which can easily be prepared the night before. Rice dishes are easy too, as we tend to eat rice a few times a week. A fried rice also gives me an opportunity to give her more vegetables. A child’s 10-oz thermos is the perfect lunch portion for her. Tip: I portion the noodles or rice in 10-oz plastic storage containers and reheat them in the morning. You can find my favorite fried rice recipe here.

Packing a lunchbox for my daughter Ilse has been an exciting parenting challenge. I am learning that flexibility and fun go a long way with Ilse. I always pack extra snacks, in case she doesn’t eat her main course, and if she is eating, then we are both winning.

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Jeanne is a married, full-time working mom with an MBA in Marketing from Golden Gate University and BA in Communications from San Francisco State University. She is an Associate Director of Sales for Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants and loves that her career enables her to promote the city she loves. Jeanne and her husband Daniel live in San Francisco with their two daughters, Ilse and Alice. When Jeanne is not working, writing, or volunteering at Ilse's school, she enjoys traveling, spending time with family, and cooking from her collection of cookbooks (70 and growing) while sipping Hudson Bay Bourbon. Follow her adventures on Instagram.


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