Updated: May 27, 2020
It's that time of year again...school lunches, the bain of my existence! Actually, they used to be before I had this plant-based thing figured out. Now, I feel like I've got an arsenal of good options. Some people have contacted me lately asking for school plant-based lunch tips and options so I thought I'd better put up a post.
Pre plant-based I would pack the traditional deli meat on a sandwich but I don't buy deli meat anymore. I would encourage you to watch What the Health (www.whatthehealthfilm.com) and stop buying it too. In that documentary, I was shocked (and mortified!) to find out that deli meats are labelled as carcinogens by the World Health Organization. In the same category as asbestos!
Here's a list of my go-to plant-based lunches:
Chickpea salad (*recipe below)
Vegetable sushi rolls
Quinoa pasta with marinara sauce and veggie parmesan
Smoked tofu sandwich. I just slice, saute and add to a tomato and lettuce sandwich. It's delicious and is a plant-based version of a BLT.
Quinoa bites (kind of a veggie version of meatballs). My oldest likes these on a sub bun with some tomato sauce and veggie parmesan
Nut butter sandwiches (wowbutter or sunbutter for nut-free option)
Veggie sandwiches (eg. hummus, spinach and your kid's favourite veggies)
Pasta salad with veggies
Crackers, veggies and hummus/guacamole
Banana crepes with jam or fresh berries rolled up
Vegan cream cheese on a bagel. For those of you living in the U.S, my absolute favourite is Kitehill brand original or chive. I was so disappointed when we moved back to Canada and couldn't buy it here. I actually contacted the company to find out if they could bring it to Canada. It is almond-based though so only good for those U.S. schools that allow nuts.
My kids generally don't like leftovers (I wish!). My oldest likes something he can just grab and eat on the go so no thermos meals for him. My kids don't want to stand out too much from their classmates which is why I pack things like the sub, tofu BLT or pasta. Unless someone were to inspect it up close, they wouldn't know it was vegan. I am encouraging them though to be proud of their lunches and answer questions another child might have. Generally, lunchtime is too quick and busy for anyone to really take notice. One huge positive that has come out of this is that my kids notice the unhealthy lunch options other kids are bringing in (without naming names, you know those pre-packaged deli meat, cracker, chocolate bar boxes?). I want them to recognize good choices from not-so-good choices.
I try to find 2-3 things each child likes and rotate them. I'll be honest, I am sometimes making 3 different lunches which I know is not easy for folks trying to get out the door in the morning. However, I find that if I don't pack what they like, it just comes back uneaten and all of my effort goes to waste.
If you're transitioning your kids or simply trying to introduce some plant-based lunches, you could start by picking 1 or 2 options and subbing them into your weekly rotation. My kids were resistant to change at first and might have been overwhelmed if I did a complete overhaul.
Finally, let's talk snacks. I'm sure you already have your own go-to snacks but here are some of mine:
Roasted chickpeas (or plain from the can if you're my 12 year old, rinsed of course). You can easily roast and season yourself. Simply take a can of chickpeas, rinse, place on a baking tray with parchment paper and season to your kids' liking. Roast at 400 degrees for about 25-30 mins. There are also many store-bought options out there.
Granola bars (I like the Made Good ones that pack some veggies)
Applesauce (cup or squeezable)
Dried apple rings
Corn chips and salsa
Pretzels/pita and hummus
Cut-up fruit and veggies. I always pack a fruit and veggie option in every lunch. My 9 year old likes it when I put them on a skewer. It's a little more fun for her to eat. I don't know why but any time I put food on sticks, kids are more inclined to eat them!
My own quick trail mix. For a nut-free version, I usually do some sort of nut-free dry cereal, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), raisins and dairy-free chipits.
Dried fruit (mango, coconut are the faves in our house). Avoid ones with added sugars though. Dried fruit already has a naturally high sugar content.
I feel your pain with the days upon days of packing school lunches so I sincerely hope this helps!
Recipe for chickpea salad:
(serve on sandwich)
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and mashed (Leave some unmashed chickpeas in there)
2-3 tbsp plant-based mayo (or mashed avocado for healthier fat option)
1 tbsp mustard (dijon or regular)
2 dill pickles, diced
2 celery stalks, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Option: add some chopped apple