Help me feed my kid!
August 25, 2011 6:40 AM   Subscribe

What to send as a daycare lunch for a one year old?

So I've read some similar AskMe threads, but they either skew towards slightly older kids or involve special restrictions that we don't have.

Our son is just about done with being spoon fed from the Stage 3 jars of baby food, one of our daycare ladies suggested that I start packing finger foods for his lunch. I... have not much of a clue what that should involve, and she had a couple of suggestions (mac & cheese, chicken nuggets), but I'm hoping for more ideas. He stole a chicken nugget from the daycare lady's own lunch yesterday, so I guess we know that he'll eat those.

He's one (almost 13 months, so on the younger side of one), and daycare provides snacks. Snacks are usually graham crackers, goldfish, cheese crackers, yogurt, Cheerios, and raisins... heavier on the carb/processed food side of things than I'd prefer, but with the blessing of our pediatrician, not worth making a fuss about. So I'm looking for lunch ideas that lean more on veggies and proteins.

Parameters: Lunch items need to be lunchbox-packable and easy for a one year old with 8 teeth to eat (no choking hazards, please). He has no allergies that we're aware of, but peanut butter is not yet allowed in daycare until one of the other kids has tried it and is declared allergy free. We're omnivores. Daycare has a microwave but no other way to cook food. I'm willing to do a bit of cooking the night before, but would prefer to keep it easy because I work all day and would rather have the evening time to hang with the little dude and husband. If there's something I can make on a Sunday night that would last for a few days' worth of lunches I'm totally open to that.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here's what we did (and we don't eat meat):

Send in a lunchbox with a freezer pack:


- 1 YoBaby yogurt
- fruit cut up

- pasta with sauce
- cut up smart dogs
- sandwiches (soy butter - PB allergies are possible in the class)
- quesedillas
- hummus and pita
posted by k8t at 6:50 AM on August 25, 2011

Some things my 2 y.o. eats: whole wheat pasta, brown rice, peas, corn, celery/carrot sticks, cottage cheese, chunks of cheese, hunks of turkey, chicken or ham. tuna salad or chicken salad. Berries, chunks of pineapple. Slivered almonds.
posted by gnutron at 6:51 AM on August 25, 2011

At that age, they'll generally try about anything. Think finger foods you can cut in small enough pieces that they are not choking hazards and that can be gummed rather than chewed, though with 8 teeth he'll probably be a decent chewer. Things like little pieces of chicken or fish if you're not vegetarian are easy to make and you can even freeze them and take out as needed and tofu is also a good protein source as are eggs. Smaller pieces of pasta (i.e., little bow tie, ravioli or broken spaghetti), rice and beans, soft fruits cut in little bits (banana, kiwi, grapes, berries), soft or cooked veggies (peas, carrots, tomato pieces, avocado, spinach etc.), cereal (Cheerios are a huge hit!), little pieces of cheese, yogurt...the list is really pretty endless. Your leftovers are also a great thing to send along (in finger sized pieces, of course). The goal is to introduce a wide variety of foods, but give him some choices and see what he likes.

There are a ton of really great resources online, with ideas about what foods to try. Here's one, here's another one.
posted by goggie at 6:53 AM on August 25, 2011

Your baby should be able to eat anything you eat, just chopped smaller. We usually sent in dinner leftovers with one our little ones. We were cooking for three toddlers at the time, so dinner was kid friendly by default.

Every once in awhile, we would send in the prepackaged kid foods; Gerber makes toddler meals that are heat and serve. We also sent in a supply of fruit that was easily peeled, think clementines and the like. Sandwich fixings, like lunchmeat to be chopped and some bread to be torn up seemed to work well. Boiled eggs are great for protein and easy for the staff to chop up. Cucumbers keep nicely after being chopped.

The prechopped frozen veggie blend worked well for friends of ours, but our little one never got into them.
posted by wg at 6:54 AM on August 25, 2011

When my son was that age he was in a daycare where I needed to send his own lunch. I was and am a big fan of packing leftovers for lunch, so his lunch usually consisted of leftovers from whatever his/our dinner was the night before--things like chopped-up spaghetti, beans, shredded cooked chicken, peas, green beans, scrambled eggs, bite-sized bits of hamburger, etc., in one small bowl with a lid, and a small cup with some kind of fruit, like banana or applesauce or fruit cocktail.
posted by drlith at 6:57 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: Things my 10-month-old eats: Steamed veggies of any sort, rice, pasta, lunchmeats (ham, turkey, chicken), melba toast crackers, cheese, yogurt, soft fruits (bananas, mango, peaches, blueberries, etc). Black olives and dill pickles are a big hit too. The only thing we spoon feed him are things that have to be spoonfed anyway, like refried beans, applesauce and yogurt. Otherwise, we give him stuff on his high chair tray and he picks it up and eats it on his own.

Just this morning he stole part of my bagel with cream cheese. :) And he only has 4 teeth that are just now coming in, so he mostly gums everything, but this is how he's been eating since we started solids, so he's well-practiced. If you've been doing mushy purees only so far, it may take him a bit to work out how to eat more solid foods without choking.
posted by chiababe at 7:02 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: How about little pieces of steamed vegetables, one or two kinds at a time? Like little cubies of zucchini and little sticks of sweet potato. In fact, now that I think about it, sweet potato played a pretty big role in our culinary repertoire when my child was that age. So easy to throw a few whole ones in the oven once a week, and then use as needed through the week. I'd say have a rotation of like ten different vegetables that over a two month time you rotate through. I'm a big believer in normalizing vegetables as a given for children's meals.

For protein, since you're omnivores, you could go for little bits of fully cooked hot dog, chicken, turkey, string cheese. If it were me, with a child that age, I would always be mindful of the size of the trachea when cutting things to size, and quarter hot dogs lengthwise. Spoon/dip foods could include lentil veggie soup that you make once and then freeze in small containers, hummus, refried beans, oatmeal (to this day my child and I both love cold oatmeal as a portable snack, and why not - it's yummy with cinnamon, raisins, and a bit of brown sugar), brown rice with cheese melted in. Some processed carbs that we use (we minimize wheat) are crackers made of rice, corn tortilla chips, Pop Chips, Smart Puffs, Pirate's Booty. So to recap, for us, there is always a protein, always one or two vegetables, usually a fruit, and sometimes a carb. They can be separate, or mixed together.
posted by Ellemeno at 7:13 AM on August 25, 2011

Other alternatives to peanut butter include sunflower seed butter and almond butter (I should know -- my son is allergic to peanuts). Sunflower seed butter is the least allergenic of all the alternatives (and good if tree nuts are also on probation in your room). 365 Organic makes a tasty sunflower seed butter that is cheaper than other brands.

All the above suggestions for main dishes are good but I want to add one -- if you're in a hurry, cheese and crackers can make a good quick lunch. To make it more nutritious just choose whole wheat crackers, like Wheat Thins, rather than butter crackers or Saltines.

Also, if you are going to cut up fruit the night before, and it's something that tends to turn brown like bananas or pears, try splashing your cut fruit with a tiny bit of lemon juice -- this will delay oxidation.

Grapes are rendered much less chokeable if you cut them in half.

Dried fruit keeps very well and can be less of a choking hazard than the fresh kind -- consider dried apples, dried blueberries, etc.
posted by BlueJae at 7:17 AM on August 25, 2011

Much of the above. A big hit when my kid was getting into finger food was cut up ham, tomatoes and cucumbers.
posted by gaspode at 7:41 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: This is what my 8.5-month-old is feeding himself:

Avocado slices
Slices of bread/toast
Pieces of fruit (strawberry, blueberry, peach/nectarine, banana, etc.)
Clumps of sticky rice or mashed potatoes
Pot roast (chunks of soft beef, carrot, potato)
Pasta dishes (mac n cheese, shells with meat sauce)
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:32 AM on August 25, 2011

Oh! and also pieces of cheese, and peas and beans
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:35 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: Protein: beans, tuna, cheese, boiled egg, shredded meat, peanut butter

Starch: whole wheat bread or pasta, corn, potato, sweet potato, tortillas

Veggie & fruit: sliced apple, pear, grapes, avocado, banana, steamed frozen veggies, berries, oranges, etc.

Avoid, for hippie moms: white bread, lunchables, lunch meat & hot dogs, sugary or low fat yogurts, juice (or cut with water), French fries, fast food, candy
posted by bq at 8:52 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: My 9.5 month old decided he was Totally Over purees recently; here's what we've been sending. We're vegetarian and daycare is nut-free but we have no other restrictions, and our tendency is to do one more-sweet and one more-savory meal per day.

Involving almost no extra prep:
-soft fruits (banana, plums, peaches, strawberries, blueberries, melon) cut as needed. Some fresh, some frozen. Going to start trying some canned mandarin segments the next time we go to the store.
-tortilla or pita or bread, with cream cheese or hummus or apple butter or jelly or avocado smeared on it. (He sometimes eats the topping off and leaves the bread. C'est la vie.) We cut it into finger-sized pieces ourselves but some parents have the daycare staff do this.
-Bits of cheese or tofu
-At one, yours might have the dexterity for dips--hummus, cream cheese, sour-cream based things.

Involving slightly more prep:
-cooked veggies, cut as needed. We keep a bag or two of frozen veggies in the freezer as-needed (broccoli, green beans, corn, peas) or we cut fresh veggies (carrots, bell pepper, mushrooms, potatoes) and sautee or steam in the microwave. Sometimes it's stuff that I sauteed for dinner the night before and reserved on the side before I added tomato sauce or curry or whatever-we-were-having that night.
-pasta, often including veggies as above. Noodles he can grab like elbows and bowties.
-baked or stir-fried tofu (usually left over from dinner)

Things that didn't work so well:
-Rice and couscous. Too messy, and he really doesn't have the dexterity yet.
-Beans: He loves them, they don't love him back.
-Yogurt: same problem as purees, he can't operate a spoon yet but really wants to. Result's a big mess.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:36 AM on August 25, 2011

Oh, and we also use plastic jars like this to hold the food. (I think ours are 4 ounces, but same idea). They're small and they don't leak and they stack. I often prepare 2 or 3 days of food and have it all sitting in jars in the fridge, much easier! I feel like that's a key thing for the lunch prep, having containers that work well.
posted by tchemgrrl at 10:02 AM on August 25, 2011

2nding the "special containers" idea. I tend to buy lunch boxes that make it easy for me to pack things. For example: this Sassy bento-box-like thingy (I did NOT have it in pink, it comes in other colors). You can put a half sandwich in one side, some applesauce and steamed broccoli in the other sections. My kids like pita and hummus, mac-n-cheese in a thermos, etc. My son can't have peanut butter in his elementary school, so we send him soynut butter sandwiches instead.
posted by hms71 at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2011

Forty years ago, my guys chomped up meatloaf (easy to make extra on Sunday, feeds 'em all week), bacon (easy to make extra on Sunday, feeds 'em all week), cornbread (easy to make extra on Sunday, feeds 'em all week), fried grits (easy to make extra on Sunday, feeds 'em all week), and white or yellow cake, 'nilla wafers, captian's crackers, egg salad, tuna fish (straight or in tuna fish salad), chopped hot dogs, minced ham, chicken, turkey, rabbit, venison, squirrel, quail, pheasant, catfish, bass, and cheap vanilla ice cream and ice cream sandwiches. The older one was also crazy for any kind of boxed cereal, and the younger one was tremendously fond of cheese, in any form.

And they both, still, eat from that menu, more than is good for them.
posted by paulsc at 5:28 PM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: They serve crackers, they suggest mac & cheese and nuggets? Ooh. Don't fall too far down that path; beware of cultivating a taste for bland and starchy...

You can teach him to use a spoon and fork by doing it as a sink-or-swim thing; keep presenting bowls of high-reward, low-frustration spoonables; think oatmeal, refried beans, yoghurt thickened with wheat germ, teeny pasta in a sauce, and do not offer any help. I did not do any spoon-feeding at all and spoon competence came at 9mo; at a year I had a pro who could wield a fork with ease. Totally within the grasp of even the youngest toddler.

Once you have that sorted the field is wide open; I did a lot of "salads" which were lettuce-free (lettuce is tricky, doesn't do so well when rendered into tiny mince, but sticks in the throat and makes you gag if not chewed), very finely chopped cucumber/peppers/tomatoes with a bit of black olive and feta and dressing for a baby Greek salad, and fruit variations; finely diced = easy to spoon, and they will keep for a few days.

Hummus and tzatziki are easy to make and will improve a stack of very lightly steamed/raw veg. They do not have to be in tiny dice; there are many arguments for the idea that a large piece is better as the kid is then forced to gnaw off a suitably-sized bit and in doing so learn more about chewing, particularly useful if he is too accustomed to processed foods. Lots of gagging happens when they try to swallow diced stuff; having to bite first makes straight-to-swallowing less likely. Steamed asparagus and broccoli are good, easy to pick up.

If the day care will heat stuff -- I went through tonnes of "pizzas" of whole wheat mini pitas topped with pesto (less messy and less likely to be burning hot than tomato sauce), a mess of chopped veg, and enough cheese to glue it all together. You can bake them half-way, wrap individually, freeze, and toaster-oven them as needed.

(Wheat Thins are not "whole wheat crackers" -- some ww flour in there, but then UNBLEACHED ENRICHED FLOUR, SOYBEAN OIL, SUGAR, CORNSTARCH, MALT SYRUP (FROM BARLEY AND CORN), SALT, INVERT SUGAR. Oatcakes are a good toddler convenience food; most brands are mostly oats, little else and nothing unpronounceable. I am surprised at the pediatrician; you'd think s/he would've had a fill of "Help, my toddler will only eat nuggets and crackers." Do not leave out flavourings...)
posted by kmennie at 2:50 AM on August 26, 2011

I have an 18 month old, and this is how I have fed him since he was 6 months old: I give him a portion of whatever I make for myself. This idea that kids need special kid foods is a construct of the very well marketed kid food industry.... And it is, in a word: dumb. What did our ancestors do? How about people in third world countries? My kid has never had fish sticks or chicken nuggets because I never, ever eat those things myself. Why wouldnt we just start out giving our kids the things we want them to eat, rather than starting them off on processed canned junk and then trying to retrain their palates later? My kid eats stuff like tofu vegetable curry (I make it mild and add spiciness to my own plate), fried rice with veggies, pasta with veggies, a mix of sweet potatoes, quinoa, and black beans with kale (and onions and garlic), etc, etc. All home made, all super simple to make. Snacks are exclusively fruits.

You might look up "Baby-Led Weaning" if you are interested in more information.

So, do you make yourself a lunch every day? Have leftovers from dinner? Make the same thing in a smaller portion for your kid.
posted by LyndsayMW at 1:54 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older "Ladies and gentlemen, let's get this over with!"   |   How can I become an archivist? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.