This Quick Guide To Packing Healthy Preschool Lunchboxes is a collaboration between Little Peeps Eats and Bambino Love. Lunchbox images are of the Yumbox Original (6 compartments) and Little Lunchbox Co Bento 5, which can both be purchased here.
Is your little peep about to start preschool or kinder? Whatever you might call it where you are, I’m referring to the year that kids do before they start school. The year of play that prepares them for big school. If you have to pack preschool lunches, you might be wondering what on earth you’re going to give them, how much they’ll need, and what a good sized lunchbox might be for the three to five year age group. I’ve had fun testing out two lunchboxes from Bambino Love lately with my preschool-aged kids (well, one of them’s not quite two years old, but he sometimes eats more than my 5 year-old!), and I’d love to share my quick guide to packing healthy preschool lunchboxes with you.
A Quick Guide to Packing Healthy Preschool Lunchboxes
Aside from park picnics, this is my first experience packing lunchboxes, so I want to show you some simple ideas that any lunchbox newbie can try. If this isn’t your first child in preschool, then you will probably have loads of ideas that you could add to this list. In fact, we’d LOVE it if you could come and join our support group, everyone’s always looking for more lunchbox inspo.
Just like you, I want to know that my kids have got a nutritious lunch to fuel their busy day, but I’m also busy with the kids and work so I want it to be quick to prepare — ideally the night before.
Let’s jump into our quick guide to healthy preschool lunchbox ideas!
The benefits of bento-style lunchboxes
There’s a dizzying number of lunchboxes on the market now, so trying to decide which one suits you and your child can be difficult. Probably the two best things about the bento-style lunchboxes, like the Yumbox 6 compartment and Little Lunchbox Co Bento 5 is that they’re both leak-proof and easy to open. That means that you can pack yoghurt next to crackers without worrying about any spills if the lunchbox gets dropped.
Being easy to open is also very important because kids are encouraged to be independent at preschool – we don’t want the poor teachers having to go around and open every lunchbox in the class. Your child needs to feel confident about accessing their lunch every day. They don’t need something to worry about when the transition to preschool may already be a bit overwhelming for them.
Pack the key food groups
I find that having the separate compartments in the bento-style lunchbox makes it easy to cover all the food groups. It looks fun and appealing to kids as well! Little growing bodies need a variety of foods to thrive. When you pack your lunchboxes, think about what will offer the most nourishment to get them through their day.
Here are some ideas for each food group:
Add quality sources of carbohydrates like:
- Pasta or rice salad: Cook extra pasta or rice for dinner, and then add some leftover dinner veggies (eg, peas, corn, broccoli, carrot, and a sprinkle of grated cheese) or with fresh salad pieces (eg, cherry tomatoes, corn, capsicum, rinsed chickpeas, cubed cheese)
- Muffin tin spaghetti nests: Use up any leftover pasta and sauce from dinner by mixing 1 egg for every three cups of pasta and sauce. Pack it tightly into a greased muffin tray and bake for about 5-8 minutes at 180 degrees until it goes golden and crunchy. Sprinkle on some grated cheese and bake until the cheese melts.
- Check out The Essential list of Kids’ Sandwich and Wrap Fillings
- Have a look at our ideas for unique ways to prepare sandwiches here
- Mini Wholemeal Pizzas
Food for strong bones
Add quality sources of calcium-rich foods:
- Cheese and crackers
- Yogurt and fruit (to eat with a spoon or as a dip). Have a look at our Seven Cool Recipes to Flavour Natural Yoghurt for Kids
- Cream or cottage cheese for dipping
Food to refuel
Add snacks made from wholegrains, fruits and veggies:
- Popcorn (the recommendation is for kids over 4-5 years as it’s a high-risk choking hazard)
- Sunflower and pumpkin seeds
- Wholesome bars like our Blueberry and Honey Bars
- Bliss balls – why don’t you try our Apricot, Chia and Coconut Bliss Balls
- Mini savoury or sweet pancakes like the ones in this post
- Simple Oatmeal Cookies
Try to add fruit and vegetables to each lunch:
- Cooked veggie leftovers, such as roasted pumpkin or capsicum, steamed broccoli, cauliflower,and carrot
- Raw vegetables either grated, spiralised, crinkle cut, on skewers, use cookie cutters, or in a colourful salad
- Get those veggies into wraps, sandwiches, and muffins
- Make a Healthy Vegetable Dip Your Kids Will Love, and add carrot and celery sticks for dipping
- Fruit could be stewed, in chunks, cubes, or as a fruit salad
Use protein-packed foods to help keep tummies fuller for longer and feed busy little muscles:
- Leftover cooked meat, such as pieces of roast chicken, sliced up sausages, or meatballs
- Boiled eggs, fritters, or egg cups
- Canned tuna, smoked salmon, or bacon
- Chickpeas, or mixed bean salad
- Falafel balls or lentil patties
Tips for making lunches fun for preschool kids
Kids eat with all five senses, so lunches need to not only be nutritious (that’s the part that only the parents need to be concerned about anyway), but they should be fun and appealing. Here are my top tips for encouraging even fussy eaters to try new foods:
- Kids are drawn to bright and colourful. Packing a rainbow of foods usually ticks that box, but you could always add colourful food picks like these outer space ones or silicone muffin moulds to hold different foods.
- Get your kids involved in the decision making. It can be as simple as letting them choose the sandwich fillings or a piece of fruit. Sometimes just having an input can make all the difference to whether kids decide to eat something or not!
- Cut fruits and vegetables into little bite-sized pieces or slices that are easy for little fingers to pick up. Kids are busy at preschool, and don’t want to spend too long eating their lunch when they could be doing something much more fun.
- Combine foods that you know they love with foods they’ve previously rejected or are new. Sometimes kids need to be exposed to foods up to 20 time before they even give it a try. Offering a variety of foods in their lunches keeps it interesting, and one day your picky eater might just surprise you.
- Prepare the foods in different ways. If you packed carrot sticks yesterday, grate it into your child’s wrap today. If they had chickpeas one day, the next day you could blend it into a hummus. Kids don’t want to see the same lunches day in and day out. They’ll quickly get bored and their lunches will come home untouched.
Tips for packing preschool lunchboxes with ease
There are plenty of things you can do to make lunchbox packing easy if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the task. Here are some great tips I’ve discovered on my recent lunchbox packing journey:
- Using a bento box keeps foods separate without any extra packaging. There’s no need to wrap sandwiches, or put yoghurt or dips in separate pots. This means that you’ll be reducing, reusing, and thereby saving money and the planet.
- Plan your lunchboxes for the week ahead, so you’ve got all the food groups covered, and you won’t have to stress during the manic mornings trying to get out the door on time.
- When making dinner, always make extra. Leftovers are perfect for lunchboxes and will cut your lunchbox packing time in half – I promise!
- Spend a little time each month by making sandwiches, muffins and scrolls ahead of time and freezing them. Then you simply pop them in the lunchbox and they’ll be defrosted by lunch time.
- If your mornings are chaotic or you just like to feel organised, pack at least some of the lunchbox the night before, so you can just grab it out of the fridge on the way out the door.
- Eat seasonally. If you choose fruit and vegetables when they’re in abundance, they’ll not only taste fresher but they’ll save you money.
Yumbox Original 6 Compartment
We’ve been loving testing out our Yumbox Original 6 Compartment (featured in this article), kindly sent to us from Bambino Love. The different bento compartments are illustrated and divided into five 1/2 cup portions, one for each key food group, plus a dip well! It makes it a breeze to pack a variety of colourful food to keep your kiddos interested. It’s the perfect size for younger children needing to take food to preschool or in the early years of primary school. It features a child-friendly latch, and is compact, lightweight, and easy to clean – making it an excellent choice for little ones!
You can purchase your own from Bambino Love, and remember to use code LOVELPE to save 10%!
Little Lunchbox Co Bento Five
My spiderman-loving (that’s the design we chose, but they come in all sorts of fun designs) kid was eager to use this lunchbox every day…even when we were at home for lunch! This lunchbox has been specifically designed for kids who love variety (like mine) or who are fussy eaters. With one compartment for each of the five food groups, it makes packing balanced meals with endless combinations incredibly easy. It’s a compact lunchbox but it holds a deceptively large amount of food. What I also loved is that it’s dishwasher safe, and has no removable parts to potentially get lost.
You can purchase your own from Bambino Love, and remember to use code LOVELPE to save 10%!
Kara Wilson is the Online Brand Manager of Little Peeps Eats. She is a parenting writer, editor, and Melbourne mum to two kids under 5.. After working with small kids for many years, she’s picked up a few tips and tricks to raising adventurous eaters. Little Peeps Eats helps families take the stress out of mealtimes by providing healthy, kid approved recipes, as well as fussy eating tips and tricks. Their website hosts a directory of nutritionists, resources and mealtime products to ensure that you have everything you need at your fingertips when it comes to feeding your family.