feeding our family: real food snacks and lunches for daycare

my most recent batch of mini muffins: pumpkin/apple/craisin

I wrote a few weeks ago about feeding our family a mostly real/whole food diet.

Since Evy goes to daycare three days a week, I also need to think about real food that I can pack in her lunchbox.  She eats a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack at school. The childcare center provides snacks, but we’ve asked them not to give those to Evy and to instead give her the snacks we’ve sent. There’s nothing wrong with the center’s snacks (and I know it isn’t easy to provide allergy-friendly food to dozens of kids, and to prepare it in a very small kitchen!), but I don’t get a lot of information about the snacks and some just don’t fit in with what we feed our family.

By opting out of the provided snacks we create a little more work for ourselves, but since we already pack a lunch it’s pretty easy to add a few snack items. And, I admit, I have fun coming up with new snack and lunch ideas.

Obviously packing food for a toddler is different than packing lunch for a grade schooler. The food has to be something she can eat on her own, using her still-developing utensil skills or fingers.  I’m careful to cut food into bite size pieces. I don’t send anything too too messy. And I try not to make things too challenging for her teachers, who are helping several toddlers eat at the same time (bless them).

Thanks to the recommendations on 100 Days of Real Food I’ve been packing Evy’s food in an insulated Lands End lunch bag (scored for $7.50 plus free shipping with various coupon codes!) and I use a Thermos food jar to pack hot food. In addition to plastic containers I have some stainless steel LunchBots containers and some fabric zip pouches that I use to pack food. The Lands End lunch bag has plenty of space for several reusable containers.

My biggest struggle with packing snacks and lunch is deciding how much food to send. Some days Evy eats everything in sight, and some days she picks at a few things here and there. It’s tough to know how much to send so that she has enough to eat and food doesn’t get wasted. And Evy is not a meat eater (she just doesn’t like it, although we keep offering) so I’m always trying to find some sources of protein that she’ll eat (beans are almost always a hit, luckily).
Avoiding processed food in daycare snacks and lunches takes a bit of extra time and sometimes a little more effort in advance, but overall it hasn’t been a hard thing to do. Baking big batches of muffins, pancakes, crackers, etc and freezing in advance definitely helps, so setting aside some time for that on the weekend or on my Fridays off is important. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s a lot more effort than packing Lunchables or a package of chips, especially once you have a few go-to foods that you can rotate through. 

Right now, here are some of the things we pack for our toddler’s ‘real food’ snacks and lunches at daycare:


  • Homemade mini muffins (I make a veggie-filled variation on the Weelicious muffins a couple times a month and always have plenty in the freezer). Sometimes I send them plain, sometimes I cut them in half and make cream cheese muffin sandwiches for a little added protein.
  •  Rice cakes (Trader Joe’s rice cakes are amazing.) Sometimes plain, sometimes spread with sunflower butter (daycare is peanut/treenut free)
  • Grapes
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Strawberries
  • Banana
  • Clementine segments
  • Cheese stick (one of the packaged foods I’m ok with – basic, just cheese, and easy. I buy the natural/low sodium varieties)
  • Apple sauce (I have intentions of making my own soon, but I sometimes send the individual packaged cups that contain only apples and water- organic/no sugar added. Hannaford has a good generic version.)
  • Freeze dried fruit (again, Trader Joe’s). E likes the bananas, strawberries, mangoes and raspberries. The blueberries are still a bit tough for her to chew up at this point.
  • Edamame (shelled, sent warm or cold)
  • Yogurt (plain with some jam or honey mixed in- enjoying Greek yogurt lately)
  • Hard boiled egg
  • Dried seaweed (yup, TJ’s. She loves this, but everyone at school probably thinks this is extra weird)
  • Homemade cheese crackers (so easy! so tasty!)
  • Homemade sweet potato chips or ‘fries’
  • Lots of other great ideas here.


  • Whole wheat mini pitas with cream cheese + jam or sunflower seed butter + honey or tuna (TJ’s for the mini-pitas — they are a big hit in our house)
  • Leftover veggie quesadillas with plain yogurt for dipping (E will eat quesadillas with spinach, so this is a go-to when I’m worried that she hasn’t been eating enough veggies)
  • Beans + grain (black beans and brown rice or quinoa, chickpeas with cous cous, etc)
  • Sweet potato with beans or cheese
  • Scrambled eggs, plain or with cheese and spinach
  • Whole wheat pasta or soba noodles (with pesto or red sauce or just a little butter) mixed with peas or corn or beans
  • Soup (I was shocked when a veggie-filled soup was a hit)
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Brown rice/bean/corn/spinach/cheese/whatever burrito
  • Leftover homemade pizza (again, she will eat spinach this way, hooray!)
  • Sunflower butter and jam on whole wheat bread
  • Pita with hummus or pesto or bean dip and cheese 
  • Waffle sandwiches (make and freeze the waffles in advance) – with cream cheese and/or jam or sunflower butter and/or honey.
  • Pancakes (we freeze the extras when we have pancakes on the weekend – extra points for getting some fruit in there – apples or blueberries or bananas)


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7 responses to “feeding our family: real food snacks and lunches for daycare

  1. Love the list of foods you rotate through. Do you ever run into a conflict of her wanting what the other kids are eating for snack instead of her snack?

  2. You are amazing. does she really know how to dip quesadillas in yogurt? brilliant mother, brilliant child.

  3. Oh yes, she's big on dipping. It starts out well, but often ends up in a bit of yogurt finger painting. She just can't resist.

  4. @Meg, I'm not really sure about how she reacts to the food the other kids eat. The teachers have never said that it's a problem, so I just assume it's fine – better to let myself think that, anyway 🙂
    Actually, there's really nothing she'd rather eat than one of those mini-muffins. So at least when I send those I'm sure it's not a problem.

    I have witnessed other toddlers eating Cheetos at daycare…

  5. I really got a lot out of this post – thanks for sharing, it's good encouragement/inspiration for us as we have a 6 month old in day care and are starting to make decisions about what we feed her, how much of the day care menu we are OK w/ her eating from, etc. I found you some time back via All Over Albany and pop in here and there (on Google Reader now too). Glad to see you posting more often.

  6. Ashley

    How do you send things like scrambled eggs for lunch? Does she eat them cold? I have the hardest time coming up with things that I can pack safely!

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