Guide to Toddler Lunchboxes

Judy More, Paediatric Dietitian and Registered Nutritionist


September means the end of the summer holidays and a return to nursery or preschool. If you send your toddler in with a lunchbox, making sure that this is varied and balanced can feel like a challenge. Our Guide to Toddler Lunchboxes is here to help, with our top tips and suggestions.

  • Pack two courses: Offering toddlers two courses at their main meals is a good way to make sure they are eating a wide range of nutrients. A savoury course such as a sandwich with vegetable sticks, followed by yogurt and fruit, is a good option. This will also ensure that toddlers consume enough energy, as their daily energy requirement is actually twice that of an adult (toddlers require 72 calories per kilogramme (kg) of body weight compared to 30-35 kcals per kg of body weight for adults)!
  • Don’t be too adventurous: It is fine to offer your toddler foods in their lunchbox that you know they will eat! Toddlers are likely to refuse new foods on sight, without even tasting them, so it is best to offer new foods at home first to check they are eaten before putting them in the lunchbox Offer new foods in very small portions, and on a separate plate from the main food they are eating. Remember that all children are individuals. Some toddlers are happy with foods mixed together, whilst others prefer to eat dry foods without sauces. Some toddlers even prefer each of the foods to be kept separate and not touching the other foods. Fussy eating will usually resolve in time, and is a normal part of development. For more information see our Guidance & Tips.
  • Keep portion sizes in mind: Did you know that the majority of parents normally offer portions to pre-schoolers which are larger than the recommended size? Many of us tend to eat more than we need these days, so it’s no surprise that this extends to some toddlers as well! Our portion size guide is here to help, with a range of portions for many foods. The amount of food that young children eats varies from day to day and meal to meal, so use our guide on how much to offer in your toddlers’ lunchbox, and then allow children to eat to their appetite.
  • Avoid sugary foods: There is no need to cut out all foods which contain sugar from a toddler’s diet, but some foods are so high in sugar that they should be limited to either once per day or per week. It’s best to limit cakes, biscuits or puddings, and sweet spreads, such as jam or honey to one item per day at the most, so don’t include them for dinner if your toddler has had any for lunch! Tap water is a good choice for a drink, although milk can also be offered at some meals as it contributes towards the three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt per day. Sweet drinks, such as fruit juices and smoothies, should be limited to once a week at the most.
  • Get your toddler involved: Including toddlers in food shopping and preparation of their lunchbox will encourage them to have a positive attitude to food. You can even ask them to help in the preparation of your own lunch if you have the time – the opportunity to handle and touch new foods without pressure to eat them will help your toddler become familiar with new foods, and as a result more likely to try them. Putting together a lunchbox is a great chance to get your toddler engaged with food!

If you’ve found this Guide to Toddler Lunchboxes helpful, why not share with your friends? And be sure to check out our previous blogs.

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Further Reading

  • By Melanie Pilcher and Dr. Gillian Harris Establishing bedtime routines for toddlers and young children
  • By Dr. Gillian Harris, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Applied Developmental Psychology at the University of Birmingham and ITF member Most parents will struggle at some point to get their toddlers to eat certain foods. Is toddler food refusal a sign of an eating disorder. or is it merely a phase? In the run up to Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Gill Harris provides practical advice to help parents tackle fussy eating in toddlers.  
  • By Lucy Upton, on behalf of the Infant and Toddler Forum On behalf of the members of the Infant and Toddler Forum, I am proud to announce the launch of a new infant feeding educational programme, which includes practical resources for frontline healthcare professionals (HCPs) working with parents and infants.