Daycare Food Ideas: Lunch Ideas for Your Baby or Toddler
Daycare Food Ideas: What to Pack for Lunch
For many parents and caregivers, the school year has started and is filled with busy schedules. It also means back to the inevitable: packing daycare lunches! If you're one of the parents totally stumped on what food to pack your baby or toddler for daycare day after day (after day) -- you're in luck!
Here you'll find a ton of tips and tricks on packing lunches for picky eaters and how to help build their palate and develop into an adventurous foodie at school.
Daycare Food Ideas: Starting Solids
Up until about 6 months of age, infants rely solely on breastmilk or infant formula (or both) for all their nutritional needs. Depending on each infant and their readiness to start solids, infants are typically ready for nutrient-dense foods starting around 4-6 months of age.
While solids are viewed as a complement to human milk and/or infant formula feedings, it is equally important to ensure your babe is offered nutrient-dense foods as well as repeated exposures to different flavors, textures, and types of foods to build a diverse palate (and prevent a picky eater!).
In fact, new research shows that between 4-7 months of age, infants appear highly receptive to new flavors and textures and generally require fewer exposures than older children to increase acceptance and prevent picky eating down the line.
Whether your babe is starting solids or chewing food, it can be overwhelming - especially while your baby or toddler is at daycare! Our team of Registered Dietitians are here to help you along the way! If you're unsure if your baby is ready to start solids, first check out our blog post here!
If your babe has already started eating solids, continue on reading.
What to Consider When Packing Daycare Lunches
Thinking about daycare food ideas? Whether you are packing a lunch for your baby or toddler, there are a few things to remember to set them (and you!) up for success.
Pack a lunch with age-appropriate sizes and portions. Too much food can be overwhelming and lead to food waste while too little food can lead to a hangry tantrum. Try to pack accordingly. That includes foods that are easy-to-eat, offer a variety of textures, and for the older kids, easy to open.
For your infants up to 12 months of age, Square Baby offers pureed meals that offer 100% Daily Nutrition with a variety of textures from thin to thick and smooth and chunky to help broaden their palate and get them ready for table foods. For toddlers 12 months and up, you can use Square Meals as a dip, sauce, spread, or snack!
You should also prepare foods in a way that minimizes any potential choking hazard such as halved or quartered grapes, cut-up meat, or even softened veggies.
100% Daily Nutrition
Your babe's growth and development are dependent on nutrient-dense foods! That includes premium proteins, fruits, veggies, and whole grains to keep them full and nourished throughout the day and to meet their body's high energy demands.
For parents of babies and toddlers, this can be challenging, yet not impossible. Square Baby offers 100% Daily Nutrition, meaning any 2-3 Square Meals (depending on age) per day offers 100% of baby's daily recommended servings of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein based on USDA's "Birth to 24 months" guidelines. Square Baby is a stress-free solution for your little one to eat the rainbow and get the nourishment they need for proper brain development and growth!
With food allergies on the rise, new research suggests introducing allergens to babies early (4-6 months) and often. USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest introducing “infants to potentially allergenic foods. Potentially allergenic foods (peanuts, egg, tree nuts, shellfish, fish, sesame, wheat, soy, and milk) should be introduced when other complementary foods are introduced to an infant’s diet."
Check with your daycare to see if they are a "peanut-free" or "nut-free" school. There are other ways to introduce allergens early and often in school such as packing allergens that are acceptable to bring such as dairy/cow's milk, soy, sesame, wheat, egg, shellfish, and fish.
Even if your school approves other allergens, check with your individual classroom to ensure other allergens are safe to bring. And if your school doesn't allow peanuts or tree-nuts, remember to continue introducing peanuts and tree-nuts early and often when at home.
Our Favorite Allergen Introduction Meals:
Before introducing allergens, consult with your pediatrician for specific dietary recommendations based on your baby and toddler's age and development!
How to Pack a Balanced Lunch Your Kid Will Love!
Whether your babe is practicing baby led weaning (BLW) or starting with purees (or doing a little bit of both!), it's vital to pack a balanced meal that includes all the nutrients and minerals to fuel your babe's day. These include each of the main food groups: protein, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and dairy.
Choose a Protein
Choose a premium protein. Animal proteins include meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood. Plant based proteins include nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and soy foods such as tofu. Protein-rich foods are important sources of nutrients such as iron, zinc, protein, choline, and healthy fats called long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.
If your family does not have any dietary restrictions, we recommend alternating between animal and plant based protein sources to offer a variety of nutritional benefits that are vital for growth and development.
Nutrition Tip: Depending on the age of your baby or feeding style, try cooked, cut-up or pureed meat. Meat is a nutritious first-food for babies 6 months and up and rich in iron and zinc, which is needed for proper brain development, growth, and to make red blood cells.
If you have a toddler or are practicing BLW, pack large chunks of meat, poultry, or fish. For babies practicing BLW, pieces of meat should be large enough that it can't all fit in baby's mouth, but small enough to grab. For older kiddos, it's recommended to slice or dice meat in small sizes to reduce the potential of a choking hazard.
Our Favorite Animal-Protein "C" Square Meals:
Our Favorite Plant-Based Protein "B" Square Meals:
Choose a Fruit and/or Veggie
Choose from a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, especially those rich in vitamin D, vitamin A, and vitamin C. For example, cauliflower is high in vitamin C and can be prepared mashed or pureed, cut-up, roasted or steamed.
Depending on the age of your babe or feeding stage they're in, some may successfully take to finger foods or self-feeding quicker than others, while other babies may opt for purees. What matters most is variety and texture.
Try a few of these fruit combos: yogurt parfait, fruit salad, fruit and oatmeal, fruit and cottage cheese, or fruit and whole grain toast. Our Square Meals pair perfectly as a extra boost in nutrition to your dish.
Choose a Whole Grain
Whenever possible, opt for whole grains. Whole grains are more nutritious and provide essential nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which are all important for your baby and toddler's growth and development. (Iron-fortified cereals are also recommended if your little one is iron-deficient.)
Choose unprocessed whole grains rich in iron such as quinoa, oats, teff, bulgar, or barley. Texture requirements may vary with your baby's age and development. For infants, opt for finely ground grains into a smooth, thin consistency using human milk and/or infant formula for your desired consistency.
When packing your baby's lunch, choose ready-to-serve, purees with whole grains such as Apple Curry Chicken (quinoa) or Harvest Feast (barley) for 100% Daily Nutrition. Or, try other whole grain combos including whole grain pancakes, toast, whole wheat pasta, or oatmeal.
For toddlers, pack a mini sandwich using soft, whole wheat bread cut into small, bite sized pieces. In addition, homemade mini muffins with healthy ingredients such as whole grains, mashed fruits or vegetables are an easy, no mess food to pack in your little one's lunch. Additionally, choose an iron-rich meal such as oatmeal with added Beet Berry Square Meal for a thicker texture and palate development.
For infants younger than 12 months of age, breastmilk and/or infant formula will be the main source of nutrition and infants should not consume cow's milk (as a beverage) until 12 months of age or older.
For families introducing dairy as an allergen for infants 4-12 months, choose dairy-rich sources such as yogurt and cheese. Always opt for full-fat plain yogurt and pasteurized cheese that is low in salt such as fresh mozzarella or Swiss cheese. Packing yogurt in your baby's lunch can be messy, but mess is a good thing and promotes fine motor skills and helps children learn about food.
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~ Katie & Kendall, Cofounders and Chief Mamas
This blog post is for information purposes only and shouldn’t be used as personal, health, nutritional, or medical advice. Always consult with your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child's health or readiness for various foods.
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