Brown Bag Lunch

When It Comes to Toddlers, Don't Mess with a Lunch That Works

September 18, 2015

Something inside me tells me I should change up lunch. Oh well. 

With food and toddlers, I have learned not to get too excited one way or another: One night everyone’s gobbling up the broccoli without protest, the next they’re eyeing it with disgust. One day they’re devouring dim sum in Chinatown, the next they’re refusing anything but plain buttered pasta. 

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Highs and lows last for five minutes. With these fickle little humans, nothing is a guarantee—with the exception, for the most part, of lunch. 

I have assembled the lunch pictured here approximately 1000 times, and while something inside me tells me I should change it up, I’m sticking with it: almond butter (MaraNatha no-stir maple almond is a new favorite) and jelly sandwiches, carrots, hummus, and granola bars, which I make twice a week because we all love them. In the summer, they often get berries; in the fall, apples. Sharp cheddar cheese with crackers is another staple. 

If my children (I have four: Ella, 5; Graham, 4; Wren, 2; and Tig, 6 months) had their way, they would eat like this at every meal, and more and more, I bring this lunch menu to the dinner table. Experts advise not to make special meals for children, but sometimes the dinner hour rolls around and a meal, special or otherwise, is nowhere in sight. When this happens, out come all of their favorite nibbles: nuts, berries, grapes, raisins, apples, peanut butter—whatever I can scrounge. 

When I’m feeling patient, I’ll let the kids make a mess peeling carrots at the table, which affords me time to slice up some peppers or pop a big pot of popcorn. Never are we all so happy, and never is the meal so much a success.

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


SB September 16, 2018
Finally, my 4 year old started pre-K this year. It's so bittersweet sending her off to school, but I find making her lunch exciting ( it's only been two weeks, so..)
This was a funny post and inspiring too.
Thank you
Alexandra S. September 17, 2018
So glad to hear :) :) :)
Andrea E. October 14, 2015
Thank you for the article, maybe I can give up some Mom guilt feeding my daughter waffles with peanut butter every morning :)
Alexandra S. October 14, 2015
Absolutely! I want waffles with peanut butter every morning :)
Cristina H. September 29, 2015
Where did you get those adorable cloth napkins?!
Alexandra S. September 29, 2015
One of the teachers at my kids' school makes them. They come as a placemat-napkin set — she finds the cutest patterns. I could mail you a set if you see a pattern you like!
Fresh T. September 21, 2015
Thank you Alexandra! You're always helpful and an inspiration.
Alexandra S. September 21, 2015
You are too kind. Thank you, Dana!
Masha B. September 21, 2015
Thank you! I was going crazy about these lunches. Now I won't. Sometimes a simple "it's okay" is such a powerful thing!
Alexandra S. September 21, 2015
So true!
LANIE September 21, 2015
Going to definitely try those granola bars out! Thanks for sharing!
Alexandra S. September 21, 2015
I hope you do!