Healthy Lunches for Preschoolers

Updated on August 1, 2019
rebekahELLE profile image

I have 16 years experience (and degree) in the field of early childhood education.

Feed Your Children Real Food

Many preschoolers bring a packed lunch to school. Most parents want to pack a healthy lunch their child will eat but don’t always know what constitutes healthy eating for a four year old. At the beginning of a new school year, I send home a print-out of ideas for healthy preschool lunches and a copy of the food pyramid for young children. Every year, I am surprised at how many parents don't seem to read this information after seeing the kinds of foods the children bring to school. It’s easy to feed your children when you have some great ideas for lunch menus. I’m including the young children's food pyramid for ease in selection.

Preschoolers are growing at a rapid rate and go through different growth spurts throughout the duration of their preschool years. Food is what sustains growth. Healthy food in proper serving proportions will provide the necessary calories and nutrients and vitamins your child needs to grow and remain healthy and disease resistant. A diet lacking the necessary nutrients, full of high calories and high fat will weaken the immune system.

The average American diet for young children is high in fat, high in calories, and lacking in grains, fruits, and veggies. Sorry, but fruit gummies are not a healthy serving from the fruits group! Do not be deceived by the labels. There is an increased risk of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity with these high-fat, high-calorie foods parents are feeding their children. Lunchables may be convenient, but they need to be left on the store shelves. Feed your children real food.

Most children establish their food likes and dislikes before they enter kindergarten. The food you serve your child can dramatically affect their ability and capacity to learn and grow cognitively. Let’s give our kids the best start we can. 1/4 to 1/3 of the nutrients your child needs daily are consumed at lunch.

Sample Preschool Lunch Menus

Option one

  • ½ turkey and cheese sandwich
  • Celery sticks (optional peanut butter)
  • 100% orange juice

Option two

  • Peanut butter on graham crackers
  • Baby carrots
  • Pineapple tidbits
  • Low-fat milk

Option three

  • One cup bow-tie pasta salad with veggies
  • One cup baby greens salad with tbs. low-fat dressing
  • ¾ cup watermelon
  • 2 fig cookies
  • Low-fat milk

Option four

  • Tuna sandwich with lettuce on 100% whole wheat bread
  • ¼ cup whole grain goldfish crackers
  • 1 plum or ½ apple slices
  • Low-fat milk

Option five

  • Hard boiled egg sliced and 2 mini whole grain waffles
  • Bell pepper strips
  • Sliced kiwi with blueberries
  • 1 mini corn muffin
  • Low-fat milk

Option six

  • String cheese stick
  • A handful of whole wheat crackers
  • 1 cup broccoli and cauliflower florets with 2 tbls. low fat dressing
  • ½ cup blueberries or blackberries
  • A slice of banana or pumpkin bread
  • Low-fat milk

Option seven

  • 1 cup bean salad
  • ½ cup melon wedges or balls
  • A handful of grain tortilla chips with 2 tbs. salsa
  • 8 cubes of reduced fat cheese
  • 100% orange juice

Option eight

  • Peanut butter and jelly on a whole wheat bagel (sliced)
  • ¾ cup cherry tomatoes with 2 tbs. Caesar dressing
  • ½ cup pineapple chunks
  • Low-fat milk

Option nine

  • Mini pita with hummus and lettuce
  • Orange wedges
  • A small handful of animal crackers
  • Low-fat milk

Option ten

  • Baked or broiled chicken thigh
  • Cherry tomatoes (sliced)
  • ½ cup low fat cottage cheese
  • Kiwi slices
  • Mini bran muffin
  • Low-fat milk

The Bento style lunchbox is perfect for both young children and adults. They are made with two-tiered levels of small size compartments. The Kotobuki Bento lunchbox is made with safe, durable plastic containers and comes with adorable panda, frog and pig designs. These are very big hits with the preschool set and reduce a lot of waste.

Allow Your Child to Help

Preschoolers enjoy eating with their friends and teachers at school. Let them choose their lunch bag and allow them to help you prepare their lunches the night before. Most teachers do sit with the children and often eat at the same time. If you want the teacher to put any uneaten food back in the bag, make sure your child knows this also. Unfortunately there is a lot of wasted food in a school setting. Only pack what you know your child will eat.

School lunches can also be a terrible time of wasting plastic wrap, baggies, etc. Now they have convenient reusable sandwich containers and colorful plastic containers designed specifically for young children. Milk can be bought in small cartons or poured into a small thermos. Ice packs should be included! Teach your young child to help take care of the environment. Some parents like to include a fun note or a fun napkin. I am including links to other helpful sites about healthy foods for preschool children. Happy eating!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Thank you for reading and please feel free to leave a comment.

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    • peachpurple profile image


      5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      i like your no 6 and 8 ideas, very healthy for kids who are going now. thanks

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Some kids are very picky. You're fortunate that he does like fruits and veggies, a lot of preschoolers don't. I would continue to focus on expanding his food likes and get protein in his diet however you can. Protein foods are essential building blocks with a child at this age. Perhaps let your child make a list of foods he would like to try. I know sometimes it's hard for a young child to understand the importance of healthy food, but it doesn't hurt to talk about the benefits of having a healthy diet at this age. Four year olds are very curious about why, what, where, and how things apply to them. Good luck!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      These are wonderful ideas in theory but my four year old son is not going to eat most of these lunches. I do want my son to eat healthy but I have no idea how to do it. He really just won't eat can't say I blame him too much cause I am not going to eat something I don't like. Luckily my son isn't a sweets person he loves fruits and most veggies. It's meats that I have problems with. I know everyone says feed them what your eating but he won't eat so I do make him separate meals. He will try pretty much anything too but doesn't like much. Any ideas on a way to get him to eat more.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I enjoy reading article. Hope i can find more articles like this one. Thanks for posting.

    • Betty Reid profile image

      Betty Reid 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Suggestion number 5 sounds tempting. My mom use to pack bell peppers for my school lunches. As for the peanut butter, I still eat that pretty often, but only the all-natural brands.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      8 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Terrific Hub with lots of great ideas that I will share with my daughters-in-law to use in my grandchildren's lunches. I will be tactful about it. :)

    • mathira profile image


      8 years ago from chennai

      Good hints for mothers.

    • Cheryl J. profile image

      Cheryl J. 

      8 years ago from Houston, TX

      Great information and suggestions. Healthy children are our future.

    • xtinak profile image


      8 years ago from LA LA Land

      just found this hub! thanks for the great ideas!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Hi Connie, I'm happy to see you here, and hope things are going well for your little ones. I don't think Doritoes are the healthiest choice! I'm surprised a director let that go out the door to parents! I believe it's important that we feed our little ones the vest best that we can. And there are a lot of healthy choices. Best wishes to you and your family. xo

    • Connie Smith profile image

      Connie Smith 

      8 years ago from Tampa Bay, Florida

      I should have read this a few months ago, Rebekkah. Most of these suggestions were not in either of my grandsons' lunch boxes this summer. It was more like the PB & J sandwich with Doritos and a snack cake. I do have to say that, on occasion, we packed fruit and carrots with a dip of ranch dressing -- just not often enough. I'm going to have my daughters read this. Thanks for looking out for the children!

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Tampa Bay

      Thanks for reading, Eiddwen and I appreciate the comment. I also hope others find it helpful. I see many parents trying to feed their children the best they can, but I still see kids eating too much junk. It makes a difference.

    • Eiddwen profile image


      8 years ago from Wales

      Very useful hub which I am sure will benefit many .

      Thank you for sharing.

      Take care


    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great ideas. If everybody use these type of ideas then its really good for the health of the children.

    • profile image

      Teresa Speer 

      9 years ago

      I enjoyed reading this article. My son is 21 now, but getting him to eat right was tough. Your article provides good information for parents to follow. Have you heard of a program that distributes food for children to take home over the weekends? I believe it is the backpack program. I was amazed to learn that 1 in 6 children go hungry over the weekend. That is unbelievable. Children are truly second class citizens in this country and many adults treat their pets better. I guess we have forgotten that children are the future of America. Thanks for a great read.


    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Tampa Bay

      hey Kims, thanks for the A+!

      @Bilaras, you're too funny. but kids love those stars on their papers!!

      @izetti, thanks! I hope more parents will join the healthy lunches bandwagon! it's part of providing our children with a healthy approach to education.

      @cindyvine, please feel free to make copies if you wish. I think most parents simply need ideas. thanks for reading. :)

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      This is something I have to speak to the parents about at the Parents Evening tomorrow night!

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett-Irwin 

      9 years ago from The Great Northwest

      These are super ideas! My daughter is 3 and I started her out on Almond butter instead of peanut butter. I grew up on health food so I want my daughter to have the same approach to food also.

    • Bilaras profile image

      Edward Happer MSc 

      10 years ago

      Children are lucky they don't have me as their class teacher because i would have num numed their lunch every day.... Or trade one lunch box for a star sticker on cheek.

      I still remember my childhood we used to write 2000 word stories just to get 5 golden stars referred to as field marshal by our teacher.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Very well written with great ideas.A+

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Tampa Bay

      thanks for reading charanjeet and yes, you're so right. they're are so many healthy options for our children. With a little bit of time and effort, nutritious, affordable lunches are available.

      hi katiem, nice to see you here. I think after seeing so many unhealthy lunches at school, I feel this information needs to be accessible in an easy to do format. I understand many families are busy and rushed. thanks for reading. :)

    • katiem2 profile image

      Katie McMurray 

      10 years ago from Westerville

      Healthy foods are so important and building healthy habits while young is crucial. Great tips and guidance as to how to do just that. Thanks :)

    • charanjeet kaur profile image

      charanjeet kaur 

      10 years ago from Delhi

      It is interesting to see so many options that are healthy and nutritious. The kids will love the effort and color that goes in the meal. This is really helpful to mix match fruits and snacks to make it a full meal.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Tampa Bay

      thanks all for the comments and for coming by and reading. maggie, happy to hear this helps with your 4 year old. I know they can be picky! You can start slowly introducing new choices and make it fun. good luck! :)

    • MaggieKubicko profile image


      10 years ago

      Very helpful. My 4 year old is a very picky eater and we are working on more balanced meals. This gave me some good ideas for him.

    • marieryan profile image

      Marie Ryan 

      10 years ago from Andalusia, Spain

      I totally agree that we have to start them young!

      Get them eating healthily when you still have the control, then chances are they will (perhaps not continue,'cos of peer pressure, etc. but ) they will probably end up eating healthily in their future years1

    • BkCreative profile image


      10 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      What a great idea to send home healthy suggestions! And best of all - let children participate - that's how they will learn.

      I was so happy when my children went to school - there were actually real people in the kitchen preparing real food - it made a difference. Nutrition was discussed and menus were sent home to parents.

      Such a useful informative hub - thanks so much.

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 

      10 years ago from Texas

      Great hub, hopefully more of our school systems will begin to offer healthier meals for children. Rachael Ray, Shaq, and numerous other celebrities have adopted schools to improve kids diets, maybe they will be able to bring more awareness to the problem. Thanks for sharing!

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 

      10 years ago from Georgia

      Very good suggestions - We could all do with these reminders. If we start showing our children what healthy eating really looks like, than nine-times-out-of-ten, they will remain healthy eaters the older they get - and hopefully for the rest of their lives.

    • rebekahELLE profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Tampa Bay

      thanks Maita and lorlie. Yes, I think it's very important to teach them at a young age about caring for the environment.

      I think parents would be amazed to know how helpful children want to be, it helps them feel important as a young child. :)

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 

      10 years ago from Grizzly Flats, Ca

      My son-21 now-loved variety and color in his lunches. I am glad you touched on the wastefulness of baggies, etc., for my cousin decorated small reusable containers that he loved to fill with cherry tomatoes and the like.

      Fantastic hub that I will check back on when my boy makes me a grandma!

    • prettydarkhorse profile image


      10 years ago from US

      very nice suggestions Ms. Rebekkahelle. It is nice also to teach them about care for the environment, I agree with it.

      Have a good day, Maita


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