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.
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!)
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
- Frozen peas
- Roast beef