Packing healthy lunches for your children can be a challenge, whether they are 5 or 15. You may have the best of intentions, carefully packing nutritious homemade lunches, only to find them coming home uneaten. Or, you may be so busy with kids, work and household chores that the thought of making healthy homemade lunches just seems like too much. I understand. My son, William, is now in 4th grade and I’ve been packing him healthy lunches since preschool.
Sometimes lunches are simple, like a nut butter sandwich, with veggies, fruit and a store-bought (OMG!) cookie. Other times, I get fancier, making pinwheels, eggless tofu salad sandwiches or even brown rice vegetable sushi!
Many kids today have short lunch periods followed by recess. Many (including William) sometimes scarf down half their lunch because they would rather play than eat. Below, I’ve listed the strategies we have employed to help William love healthy plant-based food, despite his busy schedule, while enjoying being vegan.
- Choose Yummy, Healthy, Plant-Based Sandwich Fillings
- Instead of meat or eggs, make sandwiches like Eggless Tofu Salad Sandwich or TLTAs (Tempeh, Lettuce, Tomato & Avocado). For more familiar flavors, look for plant-based meat like Tofurky.
- Nut butters like all-natural peanut butter, raw almond butter or cashew butter are great, but only if your school allows nuts. If not, look for sunbutter.
- Instead of mayo, use my homemade Dreamy Oil-free Vegan Mayo. If you don’t want to make homemade, look for Reduced Fat Vegenaise.
- Opt for entirely veggie-based sandwiches, like my Vegan Veggie Cream Cheese Pinwheels.
- Hummus! Make your own or look for all-natural oil-free varieties. Spread on wraps, pinwheels and sandwiches or serve on the side for dipping veggies.
- Kite Hill Cream Cheese or The Cultured Kitchen Cashew Reserve. These spreads are whole food, plant-based and make great pinwheel sandwiches.
- Use Different Breads for Sandwiches, Wraps & Pinwheels
Some kids love the predictability of the same food day after day, but others abhor monotony and love variety. If you have a picky kid or one with gourmet tastes like mine, try mixing it up by modifying sandwiches by simply switching up the presentation. For instance, a PB&J might get boring and go eaten day after day served on the usual whole wheat bread, but almond or cashew butter and jelly served on an English Muffin might just do the trick. Novelty is exciting! Here are some fun ideas for mixing up your sandwiches:
- Marble rye – this swirly bread is my son’s #1 favorite and is delicious with any savory sandwich filling. We love it with Save the Oceans Salad Sandwich.
- Pumpernickel – the name just sounds funny, doesn’t it?
- Whole grain English muffins or sandwich thins – handy for any sandwich swap-out, easy to eat and fit perfectly into bento boxes.
- Wraps – Choose whole grain and be sure to read labels to avoid additives and preservatives. We love the organic whole grain wraps from Trader Joe’s. Use as wraps or cut into pinwheels. Most sandwiches can be modified to be a wrap or a pinwheel. Pinwheels are fun and easy to eat for busy kids with limited time for lunch.
- Whole wheat hot dog buns – these are fun for all kinds of sandwich fillings.
- Think Outside the Sandwich
Instead of the usual sandwich, think about finger foods that are easy for busy kids grab. William loves it when I pack Ants on a Log, Sweet Potato, Avocado & Brown Rice Sushi or Falafel in his Planet Box.
- Pack a Variety of Fresh, Raw, Fruits and Veggies
Kids can get sick of the usual baby carrots and an apple, even if they like them. Mix it up by packing different fruits and veggies and choose those that are in season for the freshest, sweetest taste. My son won’t eat grapes unless they are firm and won’t eat berries at school because they get banged around in his lunch box. So, be sure to think about how fresh foods will hold up. Add hummus for dipping veggies.
- Cut up apple
- Mandarin orange segments
- Carrot sticks
- Cucumber coins
- Celery sticks
- Grape tomatoes
- Sweet red pepper strips
- Stringless sugar snap peas
- Pack Other Healthy Sides
Raw veggies and fruits as the only sides can get a little boring. Mix it up by trying some of these ideas:
- Beet Chips (Look for brands that are just dehydrated beets, no oil.)
- Kale Chips (Again, look for brands that are dehydrated kale with only nutritional yeast and nuts added; no oil. Not corn chips with kale added to seem “healthy”.)
- Seaweed Snacks
- Whole grain pretzels
- Healthy Cheese & Crackers – Mary’s Gone Crackers with Miyoko’s Creamery Rustic Alpine nut cheese
- Tofu cubes
- Tempeh strips
- Roasted chickpeas
- Roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes (No oil necessary; just roast cubes on parchment at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.)
- Boiled marble potatoes (Look for tiny organic potatoes in yellow, red and purple! Eat for dinner, then pack leftovers in lunchboxes.)
- Plain popcorn
- Pack a Healthier Sweet Treat
Every kid wants cookies, candy or brownies in their lunchboxes. While most desserts can’t really be considered healthy, when giving our kids sweets, we can minimize our consumption of the worst offenders – animal products, artificial colors and flavors, additives and preservatives and hydrogenated vegetable oil. I don’t always have time to bake, but when I do, here are a couple treats I’ll make:
- Wonderful Fat-free Chocolate Black Bean Brownies
- Secret Peanut Butter Cookies
- Oil-free Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
When I can’t make my own, I look for Sunflower Baking Company’s cookies. They are small and prewrapped – perfect for lunchboxes. William especially likes the Mint Chocolate Chip and the Snickerdoodle varieties. Barbara’s brand animal crackers are fun too.
I hope this post has given you a few ideas for your own kids. I’ll continue to post healthy plant-based lunchbox recipes and ideas, so be sure to sign up here and follow me on social media for updates!