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 printout 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.
Why a Healthy Diet Is Important for Kids
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. One-quarter to one-third of the nutrients your child needs daily are consumed at lunch.
10 Preschool Lunch Menu Ideas
- ½ turkey and cheese sandwich
- Celery sticks (with optional peanut butter)
- 100% orange juice
- Peanut butter on graham crackers
- Baby carrots
- Pineapple tidbits
- Low-fat milk
- 1 cup bow-tie pasta salad with veggies
- 1 cup baby greens salad with 2 tablespoons low-fat dressing
- ¾ cup watermelon
- 2 fig cookies
- Low-fat milk
- Tuna sandwich with lettuce on 100% whole wheat bread
- ¼ cup whole grain goldfish crackers
- 1 plum or ½ apple slices
- Low-fat milk
- 1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
- 2 mini whole-grain waffles
- Bell pepper strips
- 1 sliced kiwi with blueberries
- 1 mini corn muffin
- Low-fat milk
- 1 string cheese stick
- Handful whole wheat crackers
- 1 cup broccoli and cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons low-fat dressing
- ½ cup blueberries or blackberries
- 1 slice banana or pumpkin bread
- Low-fat milk
- 1 cup bean salad
- ½ cup melon wedges or balls
- Handful grain tortilla chips with 2 tablespoons salsa
- 8 cubes reduced-fat cheese
- 100% orange juice
- Peanut butter and jelly on a whole wheat bagel (sliced)
- ¾ cup cherry tomatoes with 2 tablespoons Caesar dressing
- ½ cup pineapple chunks
- Low-fat milk
- Mini pita with hummus and lettuce
- Orange wedges
- Small handful animal crackers
- Low-fat milk
- Baked or broiled chicken thigh
- Cherry tomatoes, sliced
- ½ cup low fat cottage cheese
- 1 kiwi, sliced
- 1 mini bran muffin
- Low-fat milk
A 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.
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.
peachy from Home Sweet Home on April 07, 2015:
i like your no 6 and 8 ideas, very healthy for kids who are going now. thanks
rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on June 06, 2013:
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!
Heather on June 05, 2013:
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.
fcovoecgbu on May 11, 2013:
I enjoy reading article. Hope i can find more articles like this one. Thanks for posting.
Betty Reid from Texas on June 16, 2012:
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.
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on March 04, 2012:
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 from chennai on January 11, 2012:
Good hints for mothers.
Cheryl J. from Houston, TX on November 08, 2011:
Great information and suggestions. Healthy children are our future.
xtinak from LA LA Land on October 10, 2011:
just found this hub! thanks for the great ideas!
rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on August 15, 2011:
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 from Tampa Bay, Florida on August 15, 2011:
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 (author) from Tampa Bay on August 11, 2011:
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 from Wales on August 11, 2011:
Very useful hub which I am sure will benefit many .
Thank you for sharing.
Meenakshi on April 01, 2011:
Great ideas. If everybody use these type of ideas then its really good for the health of the children.
Teresa Speer on September 05, 2010:
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 (author) from Tampa Bay on August 17, 2010:
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. :)
Cindy Vine from Cape Town on August 17, 2010:
This is something I have to speak to the parents about at the Parents Evening tomorrow night!
L Izett from The Great Northwest on August 06, 2010:
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.
Edward Happer MSc on July 14, 2010:
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.
kims3003 on June 28, 2010:
Very well written with great ideas.A+
rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on June 09, 2010:
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. :)
Katie McMurray from Ohio on June 09, 2010:
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 from Delhi on May 21, 2010:
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 (author) from Tampa Bay on March 01, 2010:
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 on March 01, 2010:
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.
Marie Ryan from Andalusia, Spain on January 30, 2010:
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 from Brooklyn, New York City on January 08, 2010:
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 from Texas on December 16, 2009:
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 from Georgia on December 11, 2009:
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 (author) from Tampa Bay on December 11, 2009:
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. :)
Laurel Rogers from Bishop, Ca on December 11, 2009:
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 from US on December 11, 2009:
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