Healthy School Lunch Recipes and Tips (Vegetarian, Vegan, and Everyone Else!)
The key to successful school lunches is variety. Finding healthy school lunch recipes and ideas for vegan and vegetarian kids adds to the challenge. Here you’ll find lots, along with links to other VegKitchen posts on creating easy, tasty school lunches. Many of the recipes and tips in this article have been adapted from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook.*
If you like the idea of having your school lunch info in one neat package, you might enjoy VegKitchen’s affordable, 47-page pdf e-book, Healthy School Lunches: Recipes and Ideas. This little e-book’s recipes and ideas (more than 50 in total) will make the task of making school lunch for kids who are vegetarian or vegan a bit easier and even more fun. The recipes here will also be useful for those following dairy-free diets due to allergy or intolerance. For more information,
go to Healthy School Lunches: Recipes and Ideas.*
Though my kids are now well past the school lunch phase (whew!), it did last me all through their school days, as they never wanted to buy lunch at school. Be sure to scroll all the way down this post past the tips, as there are a few recipes you wont want to miss: Lunch Box Pasta Salad, Soy Deli Hero, Pita Salad Sandwiches, and Zucchini-Raisin Muffins. Aside from these recipes, other articles you can explore on VegKitchen for school lunch ideas include:
- Sandwiches and Wraps—Easy Ideas for Vegetarians and Vegans
- Making Lunch? Make it Nutritious! Make it Waste-Free!
- Leftover Heaven: Ideas for School and Brown Bag Lunches
- School Lunch in a Bento Box: Fun, Colorful, and Earth-Friendly
Here are some of the tips that kept me sane for all those mornings of lunch-making:
1. Keep your lunch-making supplies together in one place to make the process more efficient during morning “rush hour.” In one cabinet, you can store the lunch boxes, sandwich bags, thermoses, plastic spoons and forks, toothpicks, and small plastic storage containers.
2. Put flat dry ice containers in your child’s lunch box during warm weather, or any time you are sending perishable foods. These are available wherever lunch boxes or camping supplies are sold.
3. Vary the types of bread used for sandwiches. Bagels, rolls, pita pockets, English muffins, raisin bread, and even fresh flour tortillas or “wraps” can add interest to standard sandwich fare.
4. Dishes that taste just as good at room temperature are more successful thermos dishes than those that need to stay hot (but usually don’t). If your child’s school has a microwave available, your thermos offerings can include macaroni and cheese, soups, and leftover casseroles. Make sure to explore the entire Veg Kids and Teens page on VegKitchen for easy, appealing ideas.
4. I always pack fruit into lunch boxes, but it often came home uneaten until I resorted to some simple tricks. Small chunks of fruit, such as strawberries, grapes, melon, tiny seedless orange sections, and such, served on a skewer (long cocktail toothpicks are perfect), are always eaten; similarly, apple slices are more likely to be eaten if I supply a tiny container of peanut butter to dip them into.
5. Similarly, raw vegetables become more of a draw when you supply a dip; When sending carrot stocks (or baby carrots), celery, or bell pepper strips, add a tiny container of the kind of dip your child likes.
6. For very young children—preschoolers, especially—a sandwich becomes more appealing when cut into shapes with a cookie cutter.
7. Cereal for breakfast is standard fare, but is an unexpected treat when served for lunch. Pack some nutritious cereal in a lidded bowl-shaped container, and your child can add his or her favorite nondairy milk to it (vanilla almond milk is particularly good with cereal) when it’s time to eat. Teamed with a banana, this makes a filling meal.
8. Wholesome homemade muffins (see recipe for Zucchini-Raisin Muffins, following or others in Muffin Mania)—made in the evening can be a welcome change-of-pace from sandwiches. Pack a wedge of vegan cheese or a container of coconut yogurt, plus fresh fruit to go along.
9. Salads in pita bread appeal to kids with more adventurous palates. Augment these salads with chickpeas, chunks of baked marinated tofu, or grated nondairy cheese (see recipe for Salad Pitas, following) Keep pita sandwiches fresh by wrapping first in foil, then in sandwich bags.
10. Expand your PBJ horizons by exploring other nut butters (such as cashew or almond) and no-sugar added fruit spreads or apple butter.
11. A warmed veggie burger (either homemade or one of the excellent prepared varieties) on a whole grain roll or English muffin, with favorite condiments, makes an easy and hearty option.
12. Soy-based faux meats can be a boon for expanding lunch box variety. Soy deli slices might especially appeal to teens (see recipe for Soy Deli Hero, following). “Chicken” or “turkey”-style slices on soft whole grain bread appeal to tastes of any age. Baked marinated tofu can be served sliced on bread or mashed, “tuna”-style and served in a pita (see recipe for “Tofuna” Salad Sandwich Spread).
13. Pasta salad is an appealing lunch option. Use fun shapes such as wagon wheels, small shells, or tiny tubes. Small shapes pack best into containers. Add your child’s favorite veggies—mine like steamed broccoli, black olives, and carrots (see recipe for Lunch Box Pasta Salad, following).
14. If you like to bake, put some extra love in the lunch box with homemade Vegan Cookies and Bars.
Snacks packed for school, whether for snack time or as an extra treat for the lunch box, should be simple and neat. Explore natural foods stores for other simple snack ideas. Their cookies, cereals, fruit bars, and such, are often naturally sweetened and low in fat. Similarly, natural chips, rice puffs or crisps, and other crunchy snacks have less salt and fat than their supermarket counterparts. Prices can sometimes (but not always) be a little higher, but you’re getting more value for your money. Here are some suggestions for school snacks:
- Natural fruit leathers
- Low-fat fruit and cereal bars
- Granola bars
- Good-quality, non-frosted toaster tarts
- Dried fruit, such as apple rings or apricots
- Trail mix (dried fruits with nuts and seeds)
- Rice cakes or mini-rice cakes
- Individual containers applesauce or fruit cup
- Naturally sweetened cereal
- Graham crackers
- Sesame breadsticks
- Fruit-sweetened cookies
- Bagel crisps
- Baby bananas
- Small seedless oranges
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