Sending milk and snacks to daycare is one of those dilemmas many new working parents find daunting. Yes, some daycares provide snacks and/or lunch, but many do not. And in the case of a baby, it’s of course up to the parents to send milk every day.
A listserv I’m on recently had a great discussion about daycare snacks and meals, with lots of creative ideas and tips I’ve consolidated here. It’s intimidating learning how to nourish a growing, ever-evolving human being. Learning from other parents and childcare professionals about how they’ve navigated this subject absolutely helps.
If you have an infant, it’s important to have ongoing conversations with your childcare provider about how much milk your baby is drinking, and you’ll need to make adjustments as necessary.
If you have a toddler, consider spending lunchtime with them at daycare one day – simply so you can check out the lunch scene! I love looking at other kiddos’ plates, to inspire what goes into my own child’s daycare meals. For example, I recently saw another child whose parents had simply cut an avocado in half and sent it in a baggie, and she was sitting there eating it with a spoon. And LOTS of kids were eating dinner leftovers from the night before.
Here are some milk and daycare snack survival tips for sending milk and food to daycare and resources to get your creative nourishment juices flowing!
Cool Food Transport…Ice, Ice Baby
- We’ve always sent a relatively large cooler bag like this one filled with daycare snacks. The Camelbak Kids water bottle fits nicely in the side mesh pocket.
- Inside the cooler bag, we put one of these big ice packs to keep everything cold all day.
- There are any number of great options for packing the actual food. We use these little Rubbermaid containers with green lids, which I love because they come in different sizes, stack on top of one another nicely, and have held up for years. I’ve also heard good things about the Bentgo Box, which has lots of different compartments.
Cows Go Moo: What to Do About Milk
- When my babies were tiny and I was breastfeeding, I remember being mystified by how much breastmilk they would need at daycare. I definitely turned to resources like this fantastic breastmilk calculator by KellyMom to help me figure out how much milk to send for daycare meals. I also talked to the teachers in our daycare’s infant room, who advised me to start out with 3 bottles of 3-4 ounces each, for my 3 ½ month old. We went up from there and figured it out over time. (If you are using formula, you probably already have a good idea of how many ounces your baby drinks in a given period.)
- When my boys grew into toddlers, we faced the inevitable sippy cup challenge. Though we’ve tried bazillions of different kinds, the ones that have lasted the longest for us have been the Nuby No Spill Super Spout Easy Grip. We’ve used them for years and occasionally have to replace the silicone spouts (when they get chewed through).
- When my oldest graduated from the sippy cup, we started sending him to school with the Horizon milk boxes, which are great as daycare snacks, because you can buy them in bulk without having to refrigerate them.
- I’ve also heard good things about the Foogo thermos for sending milk to school.
Daily Dining Dilemmas…What Will My Child Agree to Eat TODAY?
Kid food preferences seem to change by the minute. When our babies were little, we were huge fans of making purées using the wonderful guidance of Chef Geoff and Nora O’Donnell’s Baby Love cook book. One evening a week, we’d puree up a big batch of food and freeze it in ice cube trays.
When you graduate from purée land, here are some other ideas for daycare lunches:
- Cut-up dinner leftovers
- Pasta, mac & cheese
- Chicken tenders
- Hummus + carrot sticks
- Cut-up chickpeas
- Cut-up fruit/veg (for us, it’s usually strawberries, baby carrots, cut up cucumber, grapes cut in half)
- A banana
- Black beans (We used to take a can of them, drain it, and put the beans in a zip-lock baggie in the freezer. Then we’d pop a few into a plastic container for lunch each day.)
- ½ sandwich (bread, some cheese slices, and a few slices of deli meat)
- Squeeze yogurt
- Squeeze applesauce
- Nutrigrain or other cereal or granola bar
- The folks who make the Bentgo Box put together a PDF of awesome lunch options for kids – check it out here.
- I also love Dr. Steve Silvestro’s post called “Thinking Outside the Lunchbox” for some great ideas.
If you need to provide daycare snacks, some good, easy, go-to foods include:
- Anything from the lunch list (cut up fruit/veg, squeeze applesauce, cereal bars)
- Cut up apples
- Animal crackers
- Babybel cheese
- Goldfish crackers
- Yogurt pretzels
- Veggie straws
And if you need to send breakfast, consider:
- Scrambled egg with cheese or veggies
Bon appetite! If you have other ideas of things that pack well and your babies and kids love, please leave them below in comments! Sending milk and snacks to daycare need not be so stressful!
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.
The kind of cooler you posted is what we used too. It was perfect for a long time because it let us send milk, then milk plus food in the little lid pocket, then a full day of daycare breakfast/lunch/snacks! We only switched once our toddler became determined to carry it herself and it was too big 🙂
My kid eats beans and rice, and alphabet pasta with pesto (Classico is nut-free!) and thawed frozen peas for probably 80% of her school lunches. She also likes quesadilla, pizza, or grilled cheese cut into bites, even if they aren’t warmed up. Because toddlers are weird, she eats all of these at room temp. We use the Sistema small two-section containers for her lunch.
For breakfast, we’ve recently discovered that you can bake pancake batter in mini-muffin tins (12-15 min at 400F; use silicone pans for easy clean up), which makes it easy to make a ton at once without standing over the stove and freeze extras. My kiddo also likes baked oatmeal (we use the Lottie and Doof recipe with any fruit or none and no nuts) and pretty much any kind of muffin. We bought a snack-size Stasher silicone bag and use that to send Pirate Booty (which otherwise gets crushed or stale fast) for snacks sometimes, and she also was able to eat both the Clif Kid ZBars and the Nature’s Valley Soft-Baked granola bars pretty early on.
Great suggestions, Sarah – thanks for sharing!