Wondering what to pack for lunch now that your child is starting preschool? Well, so have I and in a moment of brilliance, I asked all my smart mommy friends who already have kids in school. Below is a list of their contributions. It’s especially helpful if you, like me, find that your kids aren’t interested in sandwiches yet.
Main Course (sandwich alternatives)
- Sandwich Roll-Ups – Flatten bread or tortillas, spread with whatever, roll and slice to show spirals. May freeze slightly to make slicing into wheels easier.
- Raisin Bread Fingers – spread with cream cheese, may add apple & dates.
- Graham Crackers – spread with cream cheese or peanut butter or topped with cheese, raisins & app
- Meat Spread – combine 1 c finely chopped cooked beef, chicken, turkey or chicken livers and 1 c chopped celery or onion in a bowl. Add 2-3T mayonnaise, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
We make “homemade” Lunchables. I use a biscuit cutter and cut out rounds of bologna, thick sliced ham or turkey. I also cut out rounds of cheese. I put these in round, small Tupperware containers and then put crackers in a separate container.
- Leftovers that are ok chilled or room temp – pasta/mac n cheese/ cut-up chicken and rice
- Hummus and lettuce sandwiches
- Egg salad, light cream cheese on wheat bread (sometimes with jelly)
- Cooked chicken nuggets or sliced hot dogs (only when past choking age) in a thermos with a side of ketchup
- Greek salad (grape leaves, olives, feta cheese with chopped lettuce
- Whole wheat pasta with chopped broccoli, olives, feta or parmesian cheese, touch of oliveoil
- Whole wheat pasta with chopped egg and a touch of mayo
- Lox, tomato and cream cheese on a whole wheat bagel or the english muffin;salmon salad on whole grain bread or on lettuce
- Ham or turkey and cheese, cubed, with wheat crackers
My youngest son loves cold pasta (after seeing my first child eating it I know a lot of kids started bringing it to preschool too)…I make wheat elbows or rotini and top it with a little parmesan cheese
- Mini whole wheat pitas or bagels filled with: – cream cheese and jelly- cream cheese and smoked salmon- cream cheese blended with raisins- peanut butter and banana- jam and banana- egg salad
- “Cracker sandwiches” with stone wheat crackers and turkey or peanut butter
- Breaded chicken cutlets (leftover from dinner) cut up and cold for lunch
- Small yogurts (the mousse kind by Danon sticks best to the spoon for less mess but only comes in vanilla)
In the winter I sometimes give them Chicken Noodle or Tomato soup in a Thermos (I didn’t start this until Kindergarten).
- Celery Sticks, Carrot Sticks, Bread Sticks, Pita Wedges or Rice Cakes spread with- peanut butter- cream cheese, raisins & sunflower seeds- cream cheese blended with apples and dates- a creamy dip or dressing- hummus
- 1/2 of a pitted avocado… I just squeeze a little lemon on it and send it in with a plastic spoon.
- Ants on a log: celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter or cream cheese, with a few raisins on top
- Cucumber sandwiches – sliced rounds with cream cheese in the middle
- Steamed broccoli or green beans (so they’re softer but still crisp) with Ranch or Caesar dressing or hummus
- String cheese, pretzels, goldfish, chewy granola bars, peanut butter crackers, yogurt or yogurt drinks (these can double as main course items if yours is picky like mine)!
- Sliced carrots/peppers with a side of Ranch dressing if they want it
- Graham sticks (Earth’s Best)
- Trader Joes rice and seaweed snacks and soy chips (high protein, low fat)
- Trader Joes dried apple rings or dry mango
- Veggie Booty, Pirate Booty
- Shelled edamame is a fun vegetable.
- Stonybrook Farm smaller sized yogurt smoothies
- Baby Bell cheese (cute and fun for them to unwrap the wax covering)
- Corn nuts, sesame sticks, yogurt covered raisins for fun snack
- Veggies fries or pita chips
- Cut up strawberries dusted with powdered sugar (they LOVE these), peeled apples with caramel (individual caramel sold in produce dept.- especially this time of year).
- Any kinds of berries in season
- Dried fruit: apricots, raisins—even prunes! I also pack cut up pears
I also find that any fresh fruit that is cubed and served with a toothpick for eating goes over well. It is the toothpick that is magical, I believe.
- Pudding snacks
- Rice crispy treats (pre-packed), sweet snack items
- Mini-packaged applesauce
- Cookies: Fig Newman’s, ginger snaps, chocolate chip cookies, Nilla wafers
- Mini muffins
- Homemade oatmeal cookies
- Fruit bites
- Small bottled water or low-sugar, high vitamin/calcium juice box/drinks
- Lemon or grapeade juice box (no sugar added)
- Apple or grape juice
- Chocolate milk (this always makes my daughter happy!)
June 11, 2008 at 9:38 am
THANK YOU! Thank you so much for this post – my 2yo daughter is just starting preschool next week and your post was one of the top sites to pop up on Google when I searched online.
Your list is great and I’m printing it out to help me with shopping for her lunches.
March 15, 2009 at 12:08 am
thanks……my 4 year old will appreciate this!
September 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm
Thank you I was in need of lunch ideas too I have really been struggling with ideas!!!!
March 23, 2011 at 12:35 pm
Thank you this is so helpful. My Mother gave me a 1/2 a peanut butter sandwich everyday for eight years, so I was at a complete loss when put to the challenge of making a lunch I could send to school in the new peanut butter free world we live in.
May 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm
My 2 preschoolers like mandarin oranges, “Stacey’s naked pita chips,” and roasted/salted soy nuts, cucumbers with ranch dip…
July 7, 2011 at 10:44 am
Thank you so much for this list! My son has been going to preschool for almost 2 years (he’s speech delayed and started at 3 yrs old) and I’ve been running out of ideas and he’s getting tired of lunchables!
I’m also a big fan of the sandwich cutters or cookie cutters to make his sandwiches into shapes. I also use uncooked spaghetti noodles cut smaller instead of toothpicks – I find they’re less sharp.
August 17, 2011 at 11:56 am
Wow! What a list! I wish my preschooler would eat half the things on this list. I think I’ll have to find a list for picky eaters. Thanks for the post though.
August 31, 2011 at 7:12 am
This was EXACTLY what I needed as I prep what to pack for tomorrow morning. My 2 and 4 yo are off to pre/preschool and preschool tomorrow and this is my first time prepping the lunches. Thanks Heather!
September 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm
Thanks for the ideas! My daughter just started at a new preschool and they have to bring their lunch. I was absolutely clueless what to pack. We’ve been having success with sending mac & cheese in a thermos (I make an easy mac packet in the morning before we leave), Homemade Chicken Nuggets (made from a recipe found here http://bit.ly/pFRTyf) and lunch meats with cheese (my daughter won’t eat a sandwich). I also send sliced fresh fruit, a yogurt and milk. Sometimes I’ll toss in a cookie or fruit snack, but it’s not a daily doing.
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January 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm
hello this may be a stupid question but I would love to send my son with cut up fruits but how do i keep the apples, pears and such from not turning brown??
July 22, 2012 at 11:04 am
What a great list- thank you for compiling this. We are sending our older son to preschool this fall and I wanted some ideas- this covered it all! Thank you so much! One suggestion I have is Stonyfield yogurts that come in the tube- you can freeze them and toss them in the lunchbox in the morning- they are great to use in place of an ice pack to keep the lunchbox cool and they are a yummy/healthy treat whether still frozen or thawed- my boys love them.
Also- with the issue of peanut allergies our preschool won’t allow us to send peanuts or peanut butter (a main staple for our older son) so we are going to try Sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds)- friends of ours use it and their kids love it so I’m hoping ours will, too.
An additional drink idea is the new 100% juice Capri Sun drink pouches.
Our son also loves fruit- so I am thinking I will make up batches of fruit salad for his lunches- with strawberries, grapes, blueberries and raspberries.
July 31, 2012 at 12:57 am
Thanks for the ideas. It’s always a problem for me to prepare anything for my son for his lunch pack. This truly helps in many ways.
August 31, 2012 at 3:36 pm
Fantastic ideas and such a comprehensive list. My 5 year old is starting kindergarten and my 3 year old is starting preschool, so this was just what I needed. I will bookmark and revisit every couple of months as their tastes change!
September 4, 2012 at 9:42 pm
Thanx..this would help.
September 7, 2012 at 12:38 am
Totally agree, this was the life saver I needed. Preschool started today and I went with mini pita sandwich before reading this. Grateful for more ideas. Thanks!
September 8, 2012 at 9:04 pm
Too many foods with peanut butter. My 2 boys are severely allergic, along with many other children today.