Categories: FoodGrain FreeRecipesTiny Tummies

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.

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?

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

View Comments (25)

  • 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 :)

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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!!!

  • Hey Emily THANK YOU for your post!!
    Im TRYING to learn healthy alternatives for my kids-in particular my son who has a full slate of severe food allergies. he's getting to an age where he feels deprived when he "cant eat that!"
    With nut & egg allergies as well as diary sensitivity its really difficult to find protein alternatives. SO grateful that he loves whole foods-at least its easy to get him to eat fruits and veggies.
    Thanks for your time in your posting these ideas!!

  • Recommendation: When leaving banana peels on, make sure to buy organic bananas and wash the skin clean. Great ideas!

  • My daughter loves frozen peas too! My biggest struggle with her (she's almost 22 months) is she doesn't like to eat much meat. I don't get it. I get her protein other ways, but I feel like it really limits my options. Any ideas?


  • Emily, is your turkey and roast beef from meat you cooked or lunch meat? If the latter what's the healthiest in your opinion? Ty! Love your ideas.

    • It's deli meat. We buy dietz and watson brand, which is gluten free... Boar's Head and Applegate are great brands, too, but our stores don't carry them.
      Getting the people in the deli to cut it, there are fewer gross ingredients than the pre-packaged stuff from the same brands, which is weird... but true.

  • Hello,

    What a great post! I have a kid with allergies and a couple of super-picky eaters. I wouldn't have any success with the beautiful lunches you've put together. It's been a real problem for me. I refuse to buy all the processed stuff. Anything of any quality is really expensive, and most of it has nut warnings. My kids refuse all meats. I've spent a great deal of time trying to come up with a good solution. Mine isn't perfect, but I thought I'd post it in case anyone else has my issues.

    I sat down before school started this year (I have a first, a kinder, and a preschooler) and made a list of items I could be comfortable with: mini Dutch baby, homemade granola bars, protein cookies, etc. These items are made with lots of eggs, seeds, healthy oils, and minimal sweeteners. I make them in bulk and freeze them. I pack up two of these items, a couple of fruit or vegetable items, a full fat dairy, and a fun item (usually air popped popcorn with olive oil, but only for the big kids).

    It takes time to bake the items, but I picked only four recipes and make one doubled each time I'm in the kitchen and can fit it in. I also have my kids cook with me, rotating whose turn it is. They make one of their lunch items along with whatever we're having for dinner. I have found that this is manageable and allows me to pack lunches that satisfy me on nutrition, satisfy my vegetarian picky eaters, and are completely nut free.

    I should mention that I rely heavily on smoothies too, usually with spinach or kale. My best recipes come from simple green smoothies and oh she glows.

    It's taken a long time, but I finally feel that my kids are getting a relatively healthy diet and we aren't engaged in any stressful power struggles.

    I didn't realize when I started that I'd be posting such a long comment! I hope it's helpful for someone.

    Thanks again for your post and all it's great ideas! I'm going to try the skin-on bananas, and the frozen peas. :)


    • Thank you for sharing your system! Sounds like it works great for your family. Having a list of "acceptable" items is always a good idea.

  • I absolutely loved the tiny tummies toddler lunches and would love it if you made another blog for toddler lunches/dinners/ breakfast and maybe add to one of them beets and/or quinoa, brown rice, couscous etc.