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Packable Lunch Ideas for Daycare and Preschool

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Inspiration for packed lunches your toddler or preschooler will actually love, that will keep them fueled throughout the day.

Here’s the truth about packing tiny lunches in those bento box lunch containers: the first few weeks is pretty fun. It’s satisfying to see tiny, organized, colorful meals. But after those first few weeks… yeah, packing lunches is a job.

Figuring out how to pack a healthy and delicious lunch for your little one can be a challenge, but we’re here to help. With a little planning and creativity, you can create lunches your child will love—and that will keep them fueled throughout the day.

Wondering where to start?

If you’ve never packed a meal for your child, these basics will help you wrap your brain around what actually needs to be included in their lunch box.

  • Think about food groups. Choose a variety of foods from all food groups to help ensure your child is getting the nutrients they need to keep them going through their busy day.
  • Think about ease. Pack foods that are easy for your child to eat. Instead of packing leftover pasta from the night before, think about choosing foods that can be eaten quickly and easily, like wraps or finger foods. While lunchtime is a fun time to experiment with utensils, items that require a fork or spoon can also be frustrating for your hungry little one.
  • Think about temperature. It’s likely that your child’s care facility will not allow for heating of packed lunches. Whether it’s because of time constraints or just not having the capability of reheating, you’ll want to keep it simple and pack foods that do not need to be reheated. If you are packing something that needs to stay warm, check the label on your lunchbox to ensure it’s actually temperature controlling.
  • Think kid-friendly. Pack foods that are kid-friendly. If your child can’t open a bag of fruit gummies, open it ahead of time or don’t pack it. Give your child independence by packing foods they can open and eat on their own.
  • Think about color. Put on your food artist hat and make sure your child has something bright and colorful to open their lunchbox to. A whole lunchbox of brown-ish foods (crackers, bread, tofu, chicken, etc) isn’t that exciting. Try packing a colorful rainbow, or going all in on a colored theme!
  • Think about safety. Consider food safety and choking hazards when packing lunch for your young child. Make sure you pack foods that you have already tried at home with your child, so you know they’re able to eat them safely. Avoid choking hazards by cooking and chopping foods to the texture and size that is best for your child’s age range. You should always check your child care facility’s handbook for lunch-safe foods; even if your own child is comfortable with that pretzel, it might not be appropriate (or safe) for their lunchtime neighbor.

Now that you know what you need (foods from a variety of food groups that your child can easily open and eat on their own), we can talk about what those foods are actually going to be. We like to think of it as a “main dish” and “sides” situation. Main dishes keep them fuelled, while the playful side dishes make them happy!

Our favorite main dishes:

  • Sandwiches. Peanut butter & jelly, turkey & cheese, ham & cheese, grilled cheese. (Make sure nut butters are allowed at your child care facility before sending!)
  • Wraps. Slightly healthier option than white bread, use a wrap to make your child tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, or, yep, you can even put pb&j in a wrap.
  • Finger Foods. Chicken nuggets, hard boiled eggs, tofu, salami. Because not everything fits in a sandwich. Fill the largest container in your child’s lunch box with high-in-protein finger foods to fuel their day.

Our favorite side dishes:

  • Fruit. Fruit is a given, but make sure you think about how you incorporate it into lunches for little ones. Grapes still need to be cut in half, oranges will likely need peeled, avocado will need sliced up. Fruit is an easy addition to your lunchbox routine because it doesn’t need to be cooked.
  • Veggies. Provide solid veggie options that you already know your child likes. Broccoli, sliced green pepper, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes. You can also send a little sealable container of dipping sauce or humus to encourage more veggie eating!
  • Carbs. Lean into the power of carbs if you need to keep your little one full while they’re at daycare. Goldfish, cheese sandwich crackers, and even cheerios are a few favorites.
  • Treats. What’s a meal without a little treat? Use one container for something special like yogurt drops, graham crackers or fruity Fig Newtons.

Meal Prep Examples

Maybe you’ve read all of this and have a dozen ideas for your best packed lunches ever. And maybe you’ve read all this and feel just as confused as you did at the beginning. To help you get started, we put together a few easy lunch examples for each age group.


Your baby still mostly relies on milk for nutrition, but you can send purees and infant finger foods to help your child get more familiar with solids. Lunches for this stage can also include something that will help them practice their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills (that pincer grasp) when picking up little snacks. Please note: check with your doctor for the right time to introduce solids to your infant.

  • Formula or breastmilk, apple or veggie puree, yogurt drops
  • Formula or breastmilk, apple or veggie puree, sliced banana
  • Formula or breastmilk, apple or veggie puree, puffs


The toddler age range, one to three years, is perfect for food adventuring. Everything is fun and new and exciting. And now that your child is becoming a more proficient eater, they can handle a wider variety of textures and sizes.

  • Tofu, oat muffin, blueberries, cucumbers, goldfish. Depending on your child’s taste preference, tofu can be cubed plain, or tossed in a pan with a seasoning of choice (ponzu?). Keep a container ready to use throughout the week. Prep notes: Make sure you cube to a safe size for your child. Cut muffin into bite-sized pieces if necessary. Slice cucumbers.
  • Peanut butter & banana sandwich, black beans, pea crisps, sliced grapes, cookie. Prep notes: Half of a pb&b should be plenty at this age. Rinse beans, toss in extra virgin olive oil and salt. Slice grapes in half.
  • Chickpeas, cooked green beans, apple slices, mellon, crackers. Prep notes: Rinse beans, toss in extra virgin olive oil and salt. Pan fry green beans to desired consistency. Peel apples before slicing.


Preparing lunch for a preschooler requires less accommodations, but you still want to make sure you provide enough protein to fuel their play time! Your preschooler is more interested in how things look at this stage, so try one of our color-themed lunches for a fun way to infuse art and visual excitement into their day!

  • RED LUNCH: Chicken nuggets + ketchup, tomatoes, sliced red peppers, strawberries. Make your own or just cook freezer style chicken nuggets (no judgement!) as directed and pack. Prep notes: Pre-slice tomatoes if your child needs.
  • GREEN LUNCH: Cold noodles with pesto, cucumber, green grapes, matcha cookie. Up the protein by adding chicken breast or tofu to the cold noodle salad. Prep note: Slice cucumbers and green grapes as your child needs.
  • PURPLE LUNCH: Purple yam, purple carrot sticks, purple grapes, plum. Bake purple yam ahead of time and for family dinner, and save a few cubes for lunch. Prep notes: Slice matchsticks from purple carrots. Slice grapes as necessary. Remove pit from the plum.

Our Favorite Lunch Tools

Now that you know what to pack, how are you going to pack it?

Lunch box options range wildly in price, in material and in capacity—with options for mealtime preferences. Then there are the accoutrement: the ice-packs, the utensils, the make-your-own-Uncrustable-cutters (yes, those are a thing!)

Our Vivvi team has spent years looking at every lunch box and tool on the market. We’ve rounded up a few favorites that’ll help keep your child engaged at meal time.

Our Favorite Pre-made Lunch Kits

If making lunches isn’t your thing, we get it! These are some of our favorite pre-packaged lunch options. Leaning into these pre-made meals lets you take something off your plate during a particularly busy week.

  • The Superhero Box lunch delivery. These ready-to-serve child-friendly lunches can be delivered daily—right to your child’s daycare! Vivvi offers optional Superhero Box delivery at most of our campuses, check with your head of school to learn more.
  • Nurture Life. This lunch delivery kit is ready to eat in one minute and we won’t blame you if you sneak one for yourself. Nurture Life meals are high end and highly nutritious, but do require a microwave.
  • Little Spoon. From adventurous baby blends to healthy toddler meals, our friends at Little Spoon have every nutritional stage covered with ready-to-eat meals.

READ MORE: Wondering about transitioning your child from eating at home, to eating in a childcare facility? We share our experience and tips for feeding transitions for your child.

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