I’m doing this post partially because this question comes up a lot on the mommy boards I frequent, and partially so that I don’t lose this information myself :)
When we first selected Littles’ preschool, I posed the following question in a number of different parenting forums:
My daughter will be starting preschool in June, just before her second birthday. Her preschool has no facility for refrigerating or reheating lunches. Anyone else in the same boat? Any suggestions for things that will keep well in a cooler bag with an ice pack, and then will taste good without being reheated?
I got lots of great responses, which I’ve compiled in a list below.
Be sure to cross-check this list against any rules at your preschool. For example, Littles’ preschool does not allow nut products, and they ask that we don’t send yogurt tubes, just regular yogurt in a cup. Also, if your preschool provides any snacks, you might want to figure out what types of snacks they usually serve. At Littles’ preschool, it’s almost all refined carbs (Goldfish, Cheerios, animal crackers, etc.). So we try to minimize those kinds of carbs in her lunch, because she gets plenty at snacktime.
One big tip that I got was to heat food at home and send it in a Thermos. We purchased two Foogo food jars, which can safely keep food hot for up to 5 hours. We pack her lunch at around 8 AM for her to eat at 11 AM, so we’re easily within that 5-hour window. (Tip: I found the cheapest prices on these food jars at Wal-mart. They only sell them online, but you can get free shipping using their Site to Store option.)
The full list of suggestions:
- Sandwich suggestions beyond the ordinary deli meat/cheese on bread:
- Waffle with cheese and thinly sliced ham
- Whole wheat bagels or mini bagels with cream cheese or Laughing Cow cheese
- Tortilla roll-up with chunks of chicken and cheese
- Hummus (I’m thinkin’ this would be good as a tortilla roll-up with some veggies, too!)
- Chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad – try it in a pita
- “Homemade Lunchables” – send your typical sandwich meat/cheese with crackers instead of bread
- Cream cheese and jelly
- Peanut butter and jelly, almond butter and jelly
- Main courses that can be served cold:
- Pasta salad – toss cooked pasta with veggies and Italian salad dressing and parmesan cheese, serve cold. Or try cold noodles with peas.
- Cut-up pieces of roasted chicken or turkey
- Tofu cubes
- Hard boiled eggs
- Search for “bento boxes” for tons of ideas. I found this blog by a mom of a preschooler that has lots of creative kid-friendly bento box ideas: http://lunchinabox.net/. She has a great post on lunchbox food safety, too, BTW: http://lunchinabox.net/2007/05/08/food-safety-for-packed-lunches-updated/
- Hot food in a Thermos:
- Mac and cheese
- Rice, noodles
- Soy chicken nuggets
- Mini corn dogs
- Leftover pasta, Spaghetti-o’s (one mom said her child likes these straight from the can!)
- Edamame tastes good cold.
- Cooked veggies – send warm in a Thermos (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, green beans)
- Some parents said that their kids don’t mind cooked veggies served cold, or canned veggies served cold.
- “Use frozen peas/corn/broccoli – they will thaw in time for lunch and are delicious cold! (I promise!)”
- Raw veggies: cucumbers, cherry or grape tomatoes, carrots/baby carrots/shredded carrots for younger kids, celery
- Send some sort of dip with veggies
- “If you want soft veggies – Walmart sells veggie cups (by the same makers of the fruit cups). It is veggies w/water. The carrots are perfect – they are small squares and are soft. My son loves them. They also have green beans, corn, and peas. I’ve only found them at Walmart, but wish they sold them elsewhere – they are perfect for young children.”
- Raw fresh fruit
- Apple sauce
- Fruit cup
- Canned peaches
- Mandarin oranges
- Apple slices
- Fruit bar
- Fruit leather
- Dried fruit
- String cheese, slices of cheese, cheese cubes
- Yogurt – try throwing in some granola or Cheerios on top. Or try GoGurts (yogurt tubes)
- Granola bar
- Fig Newtons
- Veggie Booty or Veggie Chips
- Tortilla chips
- Cashews or peanuts
- Goldfish crackers
- Raisins, yogurt-covered raisins
- Blueberry muffins, made with squash puree rather than oil
Unfortunately, right around the time that Littles entered preschool, she also entered a bit of a picky-eater phase. We’re now used to veggies coming home untouched, no matter how we prepare them, and she’s hit and miss on main courses too. Oh well! We’ll keep trying stuff.