You should consider meal prepping for daycare if:
- You looking for ideas for easy toddler meals
- You need some new toddler lunch ideas
- You need help packing lunches for daycare
I have been there mommas! So, I am so excited to share this post on how I do my toddler meal planning for my son for daycare each week.
This is a step-by-step guide to creating healthy lunches for toddlers in just a few minutes each week.
To help you with your meal planning, I have created an AMAZING FREE Daycare Meal Prepping Planner.
Pro Tip: Want to give your child nutritious, wholesome, balanced meals without any of the work? Believe it or not, there are baby food delivery services like Little Spoon that will deliver prepared meals (plates included) right to your door.
P.S. If your child isn’t eating solids at daycare yet, you can visit my page on how to make DIY stage 1, 2 & 3 homemade baby food until your child is ready for full meals!
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Jump Ahead To:
Saving Time and Money
Meal planning is something I started when my husband and I first got married as a way to save money from eating out at lunch.
When our son started eating solid foods, it seemed like the natural progression to also meal prep his lunches at the same time.
I find that meal prepping once on Sundays for the whole week saves me so much time and energy on busy school mornings. Meal prepping has to be one of the best mom hacks out there!
Successful Toddler Meal Planning
After a little trial and error, I have come up with successful strategies for meal prepping for daycare that I want to share with all busy parents.
In a nutshell, these strategies are:
I will go into more detail for each of these keys below!
I will also go Step-By-Step over how I cook, prep, and package my son’s lunches in 30 minutes each week.
The key to toddler meal planning: variety.
The bane of my existence for toddler meal planning: variety.
My first stab at meal prep for my son ended in my daycare teacher having to request new meals for my son partway through the week because he was refusing to eat.
At first, he loved the meal, but after three days of eating the same foods, he refused to keep eating them.
My husband and I are quite happy to eat the same meal each day of the week, but I had to adapt my strategy to meal prepping for a toddler to include more variety of foods.
Now that I have introduced variety to my son’s meals, he eats really well at daycare. In fact, the daycare teachers always rave about how good of an eater my son is.
If only he were like this at home 🙃… But that is a problem for another day!
Pro-Tip: Even if your toddler is an extremely picky eater, and only likes a dozen different foods, you can still use my strategies. The key would be offering each of the different foods once or twice a week.
The key to my sanity when meal prepping for a toddler is using shortcuts.
I pair weekly fresh ingredients with ‘shortcut’ foods that I buy in bulk and have on hand in the pantry or freezer.
I’m sure that most moms can relate to wanting to limit the number of processed foods that we give our kids. For this reason, I am giving shortcuts to foods that are minimally processed. I also opt for low-sodium whenever I can.
I also pack a bib that is suitable for his meals in his lunch box (the ones that my daycare provides aren’t always tough enough for baby-led weaning messes).
- Yogurt bites
- No sugar added fruit cups (we love the Dole variety pack from Walmart)
- Unsweetened fruit pouches (favorites include apples and prunes)
- Frozen peas
- Frozen peas and carrots
- Frozen vegetable medley (make sure they are all bite-sized pieces)
- Frozen corn
- Frozen cut green beans
- Microwave rice pouches (opt for lower sodium options like plain white or brown rice)
- Microwave pasta pouches
- Canned beans (your favorite variety)
- Frozen sausages (opt for healthier and lower sodium options like turkey breakfast sausage). Note: these MUST be cut into bite-size pieces.
- Yogurt pouches
- Cheese sticks
- String cheese
- Sliced cheese
- Shredded cheese
- Sliced strawberries
- Sliced blueberries
- Sliced raspberries
- Sliced blackberries
- Sliced melon
- Sliced kiwi
- Sliced mango
- Sliced peaches or other stone fruit (very ripe)
- Any cooked and sliced vegetables
- Sliced cucumber
- Ditalini or macaroni
- With cheese sauce
- Spaghetti sauce
- Pesto sauce
- Alfredo sauce
- Cooked rice
- Cooked and sliced potatoes
- Unsalted crackers
- Chunks of bread or bread and butter
- Cooked and chopped chicken (Pro Tip: Use rotisserie chicken for an even faster prep!)
- Cooked and chopped Deli meats (again, lower-sodium options are best)
- Pre-cooked hard-boiled eggs
- Cooked beans or lentils
- Scrambled eggs
- Chopped up omelet
Note: these are all lists just to get you started. You can add or subtract from this list by downloading my FREE Daycare Meal Prepping Planner.
Choosing your menu in advance will save you a lot of time.
I try to pick only one food per category per lunch.
I pack four items per lunch.
Sometimes I can get all 5 food groups in if I have a multi-tasker, for example, mac and cheese is dairy and starch.
Making sure there is variety by never creating the exact same meal twice a week is important for my toddler.
I keep this in mind when choosing my menu and pick:
- 2 different fruits
- 2 different vegetables
- 1-2 proteins
- 1-2 dairy items
- 1-2 starches
Pro Tip: Experiment with your toddler. If they LIKE having the same foods every day, that is a HUGE WIN for you momma!!
Use my Daycare Meal Prepping Planner to get lists of fresh food and shortcut food ideas, build your own lists, and get one month of free menus.
You can use this planner over and over by swapping out one ingredient here and thereafter you have gone through the whole month.
BONUS: I have included blank templates to make creating your own menus easier!
Having the right equipment for meal planning for toddlers is going to save you so much time.
The only thing equipment that you must have is 5 plastic containers that are clean and dedicated for meal prepping (these are the ones I use… I have had them for years with no problems).
There is nothing more frustrating when I am ready to start packing lunches on Sunday than to find there aren’t enough containers for the job.
For this reason, I purchased these containers many years ago for my husband and me. Now I have repurposed them for my son’s lunches.
Keeping The Food Separate
Keeping the food separate is key to ensuring your meals stay fresh all week long. You can do this in two ways. I much prefer the second method and I will tell you why.
- Purchase containers with 4 compartments.
- Purchase silicone baking liners to go in your compartments.
The reason I decided to use silicone baking liners for keeping the food separate is for the convenience of my son’s daycare team.
It is much easier to separate food that should/shouldn’t be heated when they are in their own containers.
The caretakers can take out the silicone cups that don’t belong in the microwave and give them to my son, while the other cups that do go in the microwave are heated.
That being said, no one has time to wash and pack 20 different containers each week. I will show you step-by-step below how I use the silicone baking liners (these are the exact ones pictured that I use… I love the different shapes for different types of ingredients).
Pro Tip: Are you struggling to get your toddler to sit and eat their meals? I switched my son’s booster seat and it made all of the difference. Read about the switch here.
Step-By-Step Meal Prepping
Cook, Wash, Chop
- Get out your 5 containers. Optional: place 4 silicone baking liners in each container.
- Start cooking any ingredients if they need to be cooked.
- While your ingredients are cooking, wash and chop any fresh produce.
- Take your cooked ingredients off of the stove and allow them to cool.
- Chop up any other ingredients that will be going in the lunches.
Side note: Am I the only one who feels like I spend a ridiculous amount of time chopping tiny foods into even tinier pieces?!
This is the most satisfying part! Getting to see all of your hard work come together in bright, healthy, and nutritious meals.
- Put one portion (note: portion size may vary depending on the age/appetite of your child) in each silicone liner.
- Aim to have 4 different food groups per meal.
- Avoid having any two meals that are the exact same. (Pro Tip: If you are using silicone baking liners, and you realize you have created two meals that are the same, you can easily re-arrange the liners with the other containers!
Free Daycare Meal Prepping Planner
Download my Free Daycare Meal Prepping Planner below and access grocery lists, sample menus, templates, and more!