Tiny Tummies – Lunches for Toddlers


Tiny Tummies is an occasional feature here at Joyful Abode. If you remember the last one you'll laugh and understand how literally I mean the term “occasional.” Basically, I just take a quick picture of lunches I make for the kids, and save them up. Then, I will do a round-up here now and then. My hope is that it'll give you all inspiration for mixing up your kids' lunches, whether they eat at home or you pack boxes for them to take to school.

A lot of times, I read School Lunch Tips type posts and am a little horrified… because they say the easy way to pack a lunch for your kids is to choose:

  • A sandwich
  • A side (applesauce, yogurt pouch, fruit cup – usually pre-packaged)
  • Chips or snack (pretzels, goldfish, etc – also usually pre-packaged)
  • A drink (juice box or pouch, chocolate milk, snapple, and so forth)
  • A dessert (little Debbie cake, a piece of candy if school allows it, a homemade brownie)

When I read this, I think to myself:

A sandwich. So meat on bread. Protein, maybe a veggie if you're lucky, carbs/sugar. A side… those all look like carbs/sugar. Chips or snack. Processed carbs/sugar. Sugary drink. A dessert. LOTS of (often processed) carbs/sugar. This sounds (not) super balanced to me.

I can't help thinking it. It's so obviously true. I have a much simpler way of thinking about my kids' lunches. What ends up on their plates isn't always balanced (see my note below about daily balance versus per-meal balance), but I do try to keep it in mind.

  • Protein – I try to include protein with every meal. That doesn't always mean meat. Sometimes it's eggs, or nut butter, plain whole yogurt, or cheese (we do full-fat dairy).
  • Fat – Think of this as the main source of fuel and calories (which we NEED, especially growing active children). If I included full-fat dairy or nut butter as the protein, there is some fat there too. I try to make sure there is a fat on any cooked vegetables – olive oil, butter, coconut oil, or ghee. I also cook eggs in a healthy fat, and sometimes drizzle a little extra oil or butter on meat. Sometimes this means I include a fatty dip of some sort – guacamole, sour cream -, nut butter -, or yogurt-based dips.
  • Nutrient Density and Tummy Filling – I could say “carbs,” since it's the other macronutrient… but once you have your protein and healthy fat, the other factor you really want to include is nutrient-density, plus enough bulk to make it a pleasurable and satisfying meal. Yes, you could send your child with 3-4 ounces of chicken and 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, but that wouldn't be much of a lunch… We're looking for more than that. This tends to mean vegetables and fruits, which are packed with vitamins, interesting textures, and bulk. Yes, this is carbs. Carbs are great. But there is a choice here: Would you rather have your child fill up on sugar snap peas and blueberries, or on pretzel sticks? You decide. I choose the nutrient-dense option.


Sometimes these lunches are big. Sometimes they’re little. It depends on the kids' appetites that day. Sometimes they might not seem balanced, but I go for all-day balance… so if the kids ate nothing but fruit for breakfast, I’ll try to make their lunches pretty protein-heavy. So don’t take these out of context, and use your judgment when deciding what to put together for your Tiny Tummies.


Also, now and then there might be a “less healthy” food. Because we are human and certainly not perfect.


Usually these lunches are simple foods, not fancy recipes, rarely “bento-fied” or kawaii. But I do try to arrange them in a pleasing way, because we all like food that looks good better than food that looks like cafeteria slop. Toddlers included.

tiny tummies

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Toddler Lunch 1

  • Pear slices
  • Grilled chicken with coconut oil and lemon pepper
  • Cold steamed broccoli with olive oil and a little sea salt

Toddler Lunch 2

  • Orange slices
  • Sharp cheddar cheese
  • Frozen peas (my kids like them still frozen!)
  • Turkey

Toddler Lunch 3

  • Turkey roll-ups
  • Red grapes (Why are they called red when they're really purple?)
  • Raw broccoli
  • Sour cream for dipping

Toddler Lunch 4

  • Sliced banana. Leaving the peel on also gives kids a fine-motor activity at lunch time – to remove the skin from each piece.
  • Red grapes
  • Scrambled eggs cooked in ghee, with garlic and parsley

Toddler Lunch 5

  • Baked chicken leg
  • Mandarin oranges – the ones in juice, not syrup
  • Baked sweet potato tossed in butter
  • Kale. My daughter thinks it's really fun to eat “big leaves”!

Toddler Lunch 6

  • Squares of paleo bread
  • Watermelon
  • Frozen peas
  • Roast beef


What ideas did you like from this Tiny Tummies post?

What obstacles do you have when making your kids' lunches?

What is your favorite thing to include in lunches for your little ones?


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SAHM & Navy Wife blogging grain-free real-food recipes, cloth diapering, babywearing, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, crafts, decor, & more.


  1. Phillippa
    Jan 18, 2015 @ 15:59:58

    this was a GREAT post. My son starts school this fall (boohoo!!) and this is certainly helpful for me to get ideas for his lunches. Thanks!!!


    • Emily Chapelle
      Jan 25, 2015 @ 00:28:47

      Aw, so glad it was helpful to you! You’re very welcome.


  2. Shawna
    Dec 06, 2014 @ 23:29:52

    Emily, what’s your favorite paleo bread recipe? I see you have some included in one of the lunches here and I’m looking for a new one to try.


    • Emily Chapelle
      Jan 25, 2015 @ 00:49:24

      I have a few I like… not one go-to. But if you have the Against All Grain book, she has one with cashew butter in it that’s pretty fantastic.


  3. Esther
    Dec 05, 2014 @ 08:02:35

    Thanks for the great ideas! I’ve been feeding my little man (11 months) similarly and he eats everything I feed him. The first day of a new food he normally spits out but I keep trying several days in a row. Normal by the second or third day he’s a fan :)


    • Emily Chapelle
      Jan 25, 2015 @ 00:50:25

      That’s so great! It’s sad that a lot of parents won’t keep trying after that original “rejection.” Think of all the delicious and healthy foods those kids miss out on! Kudos for being a great example and giving your kiddo a great start.


  4. Amber
    Apr 10, 2014 @ 23:14:40

    I love these ideas! My question is how do you get your kids to eat such a wonderful variety? My biggest challenge is getting my kids to try (and like) new and healthy foods.


  5. Sam
    Sep 18, 2013 @ 01:59:49

    Love the idea of giving toddlers banana slices with the skin still on, am definitely going to try that one!


  6. Marcy
    Sep 11, 2013 @ 10:53:45

    I love that you make pinterest friendly images for posts like these. Thank you!


  7. Shelley delayne
    Sep 09, 2013 @ 12:51:06

    My daughter thinks that kale is poison, by her reaction to it. I’ll keep trying, though. I mean, she likes to attempt to eat oak leaves from the yard. Why kale on a plate would be suspect is only logical to a toddler!

    And I love the “sliced banana with the peels still on” idea — will have to try that! I think she’d find the peeling fun.


    Sep 06, 2013 @ 06:50:09

    I actually sent this link to my husband, because frankly, we both need a lunch re-boot. I loved making “non-traditional” lunches for the little girl I used to nanny, and I plan on continuing with my daughter.
    I didn’t realize that cheese was Paleo friendly. I thought it was generally dairy free, except for ghee. I’m actually allergic to dairy (and really just eat small amounts of cheese), and have oral allergies to most tree nuts, and am…well pregnant. I’d love to go paleo, but my allergies keep preventing me. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. We’re slowly changing our diet, but it’s very slow.


    • Shelley delayne
      Sep 09, 2013 @ 12:48:17

      Eileen, “paleo” means somewhat different things to different people. I am currently doing the “Whole30″ plan, with no dairy at all and no nuts. It’s totally doable. (And the Whole30 site makes it really easy, with a shopping list and recipes and so on. It requires a commitment and an adjustment to meal-planning and shopping, but t hasn’t been nearly as hard as I anticipated.) :)


      • Emily Chapelle
        Sep 09, 2013 @ 14:17:27

        Cheese and all dairy is NOT paleo. This isn’t a “paleo blog” though I love me some paleo recipes. We do eat full fat dairy in my family though.

        Dairy and tree nut allergies are NO problem on a paleo diet. The way of eating is based on veggies, meat, and healthy fats.


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