Make lunch a fun, anticipated adventure for your little one by turning ordinary lunch recipes into whimsical, colorful, and delicious midday dishes. Be creative with ingredients, serve meals with fun shapes, and let lunch be a tasty, educational experience by pointing out the different shapes and colors. These four easy to prepare lunch ideas for your toddler have many nutritious and mouthwatering variations.
Makes 16 little pancakes
Colorful food is fun food for toddlers. Your kiddos may not eat a green veggie but when you turn a favorite food like pancakes, which are usually bland-colored, into a surprising shade of green, your kids will find them hard to resist. Best yet, these green pancakes are easy to prepare and offer a healthy dose of vegetarian protein. Edamame are fresh soybeans, which can be found in the supermarket produce or freezer aisle.
1-3/4 cups shelled edamame beans (fresh soy beans), thawed if frozen
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch of baking powder
Pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sour cream or Greek yogurt
Dash of sweet paprika
1. In a the bowl of a food processor, combine edamame, olive oil, egg, and baking powder. Pulse a few times to break down the edamame. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to pulse until mixture is a coarse mash.
2. Pour vegetable oil into a large skillet to coat the bottom. Turn heat to medium. When oil is hot, drop heaping tablespoonfuls of edamame onto skillet, pressing gently with the back of a spoon to flatten.
3. Cover skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Flip pancakes and cook, covered, for 1 to 2 minutes more or until both sides are lightly browned. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt and a dash of paprika for color.
Variations: Instead of edamame, substitute peas, corn, cauliflower, zucchini, sweet potatoes or beans. Be sure to blanch firm vegetables until just tender.
Shrimp and Rice Balls
Makes 12 to 16 balls
Leftover rice and cooked shrimp make this toddler lunch a quick to fix treat. Your little ones will love these nutritious bites because of the fun round shape as well as the easy to chew texture and yummy taste.
2 cups cooked brown rice (short or long-grain), warm or at room temperature
1 cup chopped cooked shrimp
1/2 cup minced cooked carrots
1 tablespoon honey or agave
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1. In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients until well combined. Mixture should be sticky. If it isn’t, add a bit more yogurt until mixture holds together when formed into a ball.
2. Form mixture into 12 to 16 evenly sized balls. Serve immediately or place in an airtight container and refrigerate. Serve cold, room temperature or even warm; just be sure to eat them within 24 hours.
Variations: Any type of rice can be used in place of the brown rice. For a change, try cooked quinoa or barley. Instead of shrimp, use another finely chopped seafood, chicken, beans, peas or even tofu.
Grilled Waffle Sandwich
Makes 4 mini-sandwiches
Waffle sandwiches are a welcome change from the ordinary. Ooey, gooey cheddar cheese and tender, juicy apples nestled in a waffle instead of bread becomes a lunch your toddler will hungrily anticipate. Try different varieties or cheese and any fruit that is in season to keep this lunch interesting.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 whole wheat toaster waffles, lightly toasted, warm
4 thin slices cheddar cheese
1 apple thinly sliced
Dash of ground cinnamon
1. Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place one slice of cheese on each of two waffles. Cover with a few slices of apple and a dash of ground cinnamon. Top each with remaining cheese slices and toaster waffles.
2. Place waffles in skillet and cover. Cook for 2 minutes or until cheese begins to melt. Carefully flip and cook, covered, for another 2 minutes or until both sides are lightly browned.
3. Transfer to a cutting board and slice each waffle sandwich at a diagonal, making 4 mini-sandwiches. Let cool until cool enough to handle and serve with remaining apple slices.
Variations: Try a variety of cheeses, fruit, thinly sliced veggies, or deli meats for this whimsical lunch dish.
Makes 2 fruit dogs
Forgo the high-sodium, high-calorie and often unhealthy meat-based dogs and serve your toddler a nutritious almond butter and fruit-filled bun.
3 tablespoons smooth almond butter
2 whole wheat hot dog buns
1 banana, peeled, halved lengthwise
Small handful of fresh blueberries or another fresh berry of your choice
Berry jelly of your choice
1. Spread almond butter inside hot dog buns. Place half a banana in each bun. Dollop yogurt over banana and sprinkle with a few berries.
2. Place jelly in a small zip lock bag and seal, removing as much air as possible. Snip off one corner of bag and then squeeze the jelly over berries and yogurt in a zig-zag, much like you would ketchup or mustard in a squeeze bottle.
Variations: Substitute any nut or seed butter for the almond butter. Try different flavors of yogurt and jelly. Add shredded coconut or even miniature chocolate chips.