Most 3-year-olds have enough teeth to chew a wide variety of foods, which opens up a range of options at lunchtime. Of course, toddlers are notoriously picky, often preferring only a certain color of food or agreeing to eat just one or two meals a day. Offering your child a variety of foods helps broaden his tastes and ensures adequate nutrient intake. Being creative when preparing healthy lunchtime meals for your 3-year-old will help entice him to eat what's on his plate.
Pasta is versatile and mild in taste, making it ideal for young children. Many pasta shapes are perfect for little hands and toddler-sized utensils. Rotini, wheels, shells and macaroni are good choices. Add steamed peas, corn or carrots and shredded chicken or fish to the pasta to enhance its nutritional content. Or, top cooked pasta with tomato sauce, turkey meatballs and shredded mozzarella cheese.
There is just something about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that draws 3-year-old children to the table. Nut butters are a good source of protein and healthy fats, and spreading it on whole-wheat bread increases your child's intake of fiber, complex carbohydrates and iron. Spread nut butter thinly to prevent choking. To change things up at lunchtime, try substituting sliced bananas for jelly. Another tasty sandwich that is easy for toddlers to eat is lean turkey and cheese with sliced avocados on whole-wheat bread. Cut sandwiches into small strips or squares to make them easier to eat. Use cookie cutters to create sandwiches in a variety of fun shapes, such as stars or even your child's initials.
Three-year-olds generally eat very small bites of food, making a nibble tray a fun way to serve several foods at one time. Place sliced fruits and vegetables on a plate with cheese slices and crackers. Choose soft fruits and vegetables, such as mango, sliced grapes, cucumbers, bell peppers, pears and strawberries, to prevent choking. Offer low-fat yogurt to dip fruit in and ranch dressing or hummus for vegetables. Young children love to dip and may be more willing to try new foods if they can smear them first. Offering tiny amounts of several types of foods allows you to increase the overall nutritional value of your child's meal.
Eggs are quick and simple to prepare and easy for 3-year-olds to chew. They also contain a good amount of protein. Serve scrambled eggs with whole-wheat toast and sliced fruit for a well-balanced and satisfying lunchtime meal. Add chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, mushrooms or shredded cheese to the eggs to increase their nutritional value while also adding flavor. You can also slice a hard-boiled egg for your toddler to eat with her fingers -- finger foods always make mealtimes more fun.