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May 6, 2013 07:40 AM

Easy, no refrigeration, lunch on-the-go ideas for a toddler

Now that the weather's finally getting nice here, we're getting out more to places like the zoo, the kiddie amusement park, etc. and eventually the community pool and so on. It seems that the only food available at these kinds of places are hot dogs, burgers, pizza and chicken nuggets. With fries. Blech. Junk at high prices.

Can you help me think of some lunch-on-the-go ideas I can bring along so I can avoid paying crazy prices?

I say easy because we seem to do these outings spontaneously and I only have a few minutes to cram everything in my bag and get out the door.

I say "no refrigeration" because I don't want to carry a heavy cooler or ice packs with me because I like to pack light, but it does get pretty hot here in summer. (Hard to believe but, yes, even up in the low 90's). I'm guessing this stuff would have to stay in my bag for about 2 hours max.

So far I was thinking:

-Pizza-in-a-pita that I can slap together and put in the toaster oven before running out.
-Fresh fruit, raisins, applesauce
-Maybe some ham and cheddar corn muffins I can bake in advance and keep the in the freezer for a grab-and-go scenario?
-cheese sandwiches

He doesn't have his full set of molars yet so we have to go easy on super hard, crunchy vegetables like carrots and celery... Also, no popcorn or nuts yet.

What else? As always, thank you in advance!


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  1. These aren't good to make right before, but I make spinach fritters (big bunch of spinach, garlic and feta in a blender, add some panko and egg, form into patties and lightly fry them 'til they're browned on each side) in advance and keep them in the fridge. They're great to grab and go and you could do them with lots of different vegetables.

    My son does not like hot food, which works in our favor, in that I can grab something like veggie burgers from the freezer, throw them in a bag, take them to the park and by the time he's ready to eat them, they've thawed. Not something I'd enjoy, but he's good with it.

    I've also had good luck with the Ella's Kitchen squeeze packs. They're organic and have fruits and vegetables so there's some nutritious content in there. Also the all natural no sugar added cereal bars work well.

    I've also made zucchini and banana muffins and freeze them. Pop them out of the freezer and take them with and they're thawed by the time it's lunchtime.

    Oh and just to share- we're lucky in that no one in our family has any food allergies, but I just read an op-ed by a mom of a kid who is deathly allergic to nuts and another who is allergic to dairy. She wrote a piece asking other parents not to bring peanut butter or dairy products to public places and/or to make sure that your child is sanitized before they touch the park equipment with peanut butter hands. I had occasionally been taking pbjs with me, but I'm going to stop doing that now.

    14 Replies
    1. re: hyacinthgirl

      I was going to mention the peanut hazard too. A little kid wouldn't notice if you used sunflower butter instead, though.

      1. re: hyacinthgirl

        Wow. I did a little googling hoping to find the op-ed piece you were referring to (didn't find it, I don't think) and I realize I'm going to have to be more sensitive about the allergies. We haven't had to deal with this issue yet, though we do have to worry about strawberries in one class we attend.

        Do you have to be as careful with cheese as you do with peanut butter?


        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          Here's the piece:

          I don't know the ins and outs of allergen safety, but it's definitely something I'll now be more conscious of when feeding my son at parks and public places. Her daughter seems to have a contact allergy to dairy.

          1. re: hyacinthgirl

            Thank you for posting that. Erp (reading the article) goldfish crackers are a worry? Who knew they even had enough cheese in them to trigger a contact-dairy-allergy-reaction? I hate to say it, but I have a fine dust of goldfish crackers at the bottom of my purse from the occasional escapee crackers and everything I pull out of my purse, my hairbrush, my wallet, my keys, the spare sippy cup I carry, the packet of squeezie applesauce I carry for snacks, etc. is coated in this dust. She may need to worry about me more than my kid!


            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              My purse has become basically a starter shake n bake of ground randomness. If there wasn't also undoubtedly some ground blusher mixed into it, it would probably make a delicious chicken coating.

              1. re: hyacinthgirl

                I'm glad to know I am not alone in this.


                1. re: hyacinthgirl

                  Ha. Ha. I told the chowweasel she couldn't store rocks in my purse yesterday because they would get dirty. And it was true.

                    1. re: Kris in Beijing

                      It would have to be someone more organized than I am. I have little compartments and pockets but when I'm trying to get out the door quickly, I never use any of them, everything just gets shoved in.

                      1. re: Kris in Beijing

                        Oh neat! More places the cracker crumbs can burrow!


                2. re: The Dairy Queen

                  European cheese shops don't always refrigerate their cheeses.

                3. re: hyacinthgirl

                  If the child has a contact allergy, gloves and protective clothing for the child are a more realistic solution than any request for food restrictions or cleanups by other parents.

                  1. re: MidwesternerTT

                    I'm sure parents of children with allergies take whatever measures they need to keep their children safe. As a lucky parent who doesn't have to worry about that for my child's sake, I appreciate being conscious of the reasonable efforts I can take to keep the environment safer for everone.

                    1. re: MidwesternerTT

                      gloves and protective clothing will not protect the child with the allergies bc the said allergen will still be on their protective clothes. so it's just best to clean your kid up with a wipe after eating. it's that simple. you take a wipe and clean their hands and mouth. and if you spill your food just pick up after yourself and put it in the garbage. i do that anyway bc i'm not into littering. my child has food allergies and we have playdates with friends who bring PBJ's. we are all ok with this. the child gets wiped afterwards and it takes about a second. we like this bc it's teaching my child how to protect himself and understand his disability. i never wanted to say it's a "disability" bc he's fine otherwise but inorder for people to understand that my kid can go into anaphylaxis with one bite i've had to explain it that way.

                      we make onigiri or rice balls as our non refrigerated picnic food. salt the hot rice and stuff it with salmon, egg, or whatever you want. bring the nori with you so it doesn't get soggy. we use the seasoned seaweed from Trader Joes for a little flavor.

                  2. Hummus and pita
                    Smoothies in a sippy or straw cup
                    Snack box with assorted raisins, pretzels, pirate's booty. Throw a couple M&Ms in for fun too
                    Those ready to serve tuna/chicken salad with cracker kits

                    I used to freeze grapes in a ziplock and use that for an ice pack, then we'd eat the grapes for our afternoon snack. Saved me from carrying a reusable ice pack for the entire day. That way I was able to take along string cheese and keep cut up fruit cold too.

                    1. You mention buying chicken nuggets (or not buying them) but I make my own chicken fingers or cutlets and slice them into strips. I make them the day before and wrapped in foil and stuck in your bag when they are cold, they will hold up well for lunch time. My kids are fine eating them at room temp.

                      I also buy "fish nuggets" from Trader Joe's and the same goes for them. Cooked and refrigerated the day before, they will keep in your bag. My son will also eat these at room temp.

                      1. Not really answering your question since the other posters covered my ideas, but what about getting a small insulated pack that you can throw in your regular bag, like this?

                        It's meant mostly for folks who have to carry insulin I think but the small size would be perfect for a few snacks that have to be kept cold, like yogurt or cheese.

                        1. kebabs made with pretzel sticks i.e.

                          cheese cubes and grapes

                          cooked chicken and cherry tomatoes

                          carry items and spear when serving, my kids loved these

                          frozen water in container makes great ice water for lunch