Healthy School Lunch Recipes and Tips

Lunch box pasta salad

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 of ideas and tips, 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. 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.*

Also available on Amazon in paperback  and in full color on Kindle.

Healthy School Lunch cover

In addition to the ideas in this article, others you can explore on VegKitchen for school lunch ideas include:

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.

Macaroni confetti salad

4. Consider thermos fare. Dishes that taste just as good warm or at room temperature are more successful 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.

Lunch box fruit salad

5. Make fruit appealing. Fruit packed into lunch boxes can come home uneaten unless you try 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 you supply a tiny container of peanut butter to dip them into.

Hummus, pita, and veggies

6. Raw vegetables become more of a draw when you supply a dip. When sending carrots (or baby carrots), celery, bell peppers, etc., cut into strips, add a tiny container of the kind of dip your child likes. Natural store-bought or homemade hummus is a great choice! Add wedges of pita bread, too.

Granola for lunch

7. Cereal for breakfast 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.

Crunchy Granola Muffins recipe

8. Make wholesome homemade muffins for a change of pace. See recipes for Zucchini-Raisin Muffins and others in Muffin Mania. Bake them in the evening as a welcome alternative to sandwiches. Pack a wedge of vegan cheese or a container of coconut yogurt, plus fresh fruit to go along with them.

9. Salads in pita bread or in wraps appeal to kids with more adventurous palates. Augment simple salads of lettuce, tomato, peppers, and cucumbers with chickpeas, chunks of baked tofu and/or grated nondairy cheese. Keep pita sandwiches fresh by wrapping first in foil, then in sandwich bags.

10. Expand your PB & J options. Try cashew, almond, or sunflower butters, and no-sugar added fruit spreads or apple butter.

Vegan veggie burger emergency dinner

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. Faux meats can be a boon for expanding lunch box variety, but use brands like Tofurky, which don’t rely on soy protein isolate. Vegan deli slices might especially appeal to teens. “Chicken” or “turkey”-style slices on soft whole grain bread appeal to tastes of any age.

"Tofuna" - tuna-style tofu sandwich spread recipe
13. Vegan “Tuna”or “egg” salads are super appealing
stuffed into pitas or in sandwiches (see recipes for “Tofuna” Salad Sandwich Spread; Tofu Eggless “Egg” Salad; and Sharon’s Chickpea Salad or Sandwich Spread).

13. Pasta salad is an appealing lunch option. Use small shapes such as elbows, wagon wheels, shells, or tiny tubes, which pack well into containers. Add your child’s favorite veggies—steamed broccoli, peas, corn and carrots, plus olives and their favorite dressing can add up to nice lunch box fare. See the photo at the top of this post, and the recipe for Lunch Box Pasta Salad.

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

*This post contains affiliate links. If the product is purchased by linking through this review, VegKitchen receives a modest commission, which helps maintain our site and helps it to continue growing!

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85 comments on “Healthy School Lunch Recipes and Tips

  1. BD

    Definitely post more ideas , I am a Dad with a teenage daughter who recently became vegetarian (like Dad)but need more ideas for lunches, she is not a fan of the fake meat so I need to be creative,

  2. Nava Post author

    Hey BD — I’m working on a topic covering brown bag lunches for teens. It will be up soon, maybe next week, so stay tuned!

  3. Tammy

    Loving this site! 11 year old daughter became veg 2 years ago & always looking for ideas! I am always surprised how supportive her friends and their families are.

  4. Laura

    Love this site. I am a nanny to two young boys who have many food allergies. The parents and I have transitioned everyone in the home to a vegan diet (like mine, due to food allergies). Thanks for the great tips and recipes.

  5. Nava Post author

    Thanks, Laura. Let me know if there is anything in particular that you’d like to see here. The site is always been updated and expanded, and reader input is so helpful.

  6. Amanda

    Thanks for the great ideas! The fresh fruit and veg is constantly coming right back home uneaten here too. Do you add a little lemon juice to the apple slices to prevent browning? (On a side note, you have a beautiful name, Nava! My daughter Isabel was almost Nava after my husband’s grandmother’s maiden name!)

  7. Nava Post author

    Amanda, I never tried lemon juice, but it’s worth a shot. Still, as you see, even cut-up fruit doesn’t always get eaten until you take further measures. Try the short skewer tip, or a dip for the fruit. It’s true, Nava is a fairly common Hispanic surname. Mine, though, is a Biblical Hebrew name.

    All I can say is that my sons never wanted to buy lunch at school, which is a good thing, I suppose, but I’m very happy not to have to make two lunches every morning in addition to breakfasts. Now they’re almost grown up…

  8. Taylor

    I’m just starting to look into going vegetarian, I am a teenager and really love vegetables. Your ideas are so helpful! Is there anything I need to know before going full veg?

  9. Nava Post author

    Taylor, I’m so sorry I missed your comment. The last few weeks have been crazy and it got buried…loving vegetables is a great start to being a healthy vegetarian. Make sure you get plenty of veggies, fruits, beans, grains, nuts, nut butters, and seeds in your diet. You can add tofu and tempeh as well if you like them. It’s easy to convert your favorite dishes to meatless version.

    I would also suggest trying one or two new easy, healthy recipes per week and sharing them with your family so they can share the experience along with you. If you have questions on nutrition for veg teens, see this brief yet informative article on VegKitchen, Vegetarian / Vegan Niutriton for Teenagers:

    And of course come back to for more recipes and tips!

  10. Luci

    Lemon juice is great on apples and in preventing guacamole [great for dipping veggies or on crackers] from browning as well.

    A particular sandwich that my children love includes avocado and tomato slices, sprouts and a tiny bit of peanut sauce. Coconut milk yogurt with just about any type of fruit is also very popular with my kids. I send some grapenuts [granola would work too] on the side to top the yogurt during lunch.

    Steamed corn, squash, tomato, and onions topped with vegetarian cheese is also a hit :)!

  11. Nava Post author

    These are wonderful ideas and tips, Luci. Sounds like you have great kids with adventurous palates!

  12. Sydney

    Nava, thank you so much for these recipes! I’m going into high school and I really wanted to become a full-out vegan after seeing the documentaries Food, INC and SuperSize Me. It’s a choice based on animal cruelty and the total corruption of our food system. Thank you so so much for having a place to turn to when you don’t know anybody else that is like that.

  13. Nava Post author

    Thank you for your kind comment, Sydney. Good luck on the veg/vegan path. I hope you’ll continue to find VegKitchen to be a useful resource!

  14. sbrownrobie

    you might also want to look into bento box accessories. they have cutters that make soydogs into octopus and molds that can transform boiled eggs into car and fish shapes. rice molds are also great. there is lots of stuff on the web!

  15. Evelyne

    I’m a teen going into high school that has been contemplating going vegan/vegetarian since I have seen our corrupt meat system as well. It’s really hard though, because I live in a small town, and don’t have a lot of options, as it seems. Any suggestions? (I have a very wide palate, anything that’s not meat, I will eat).

  16. Nava Post author

    Hi Evelyne–it’s great the you’re thinking about going veg/vegan. I would say go vegetarian first, then if you feel ready, make the transition. I went vegetarian many years ago at age 17, I believe I was a junior in HS. My mom told me that if I refused to eat meat, I’d have to cook for myself, and really, that’s how I discovered my love for cooking. We lived in a tiny suburb and there were also few options. It certainly wasn’t the world of great dairy and meat substitutes that there are in most supermarkets today! But I managed with what there was, mainly brown rice, dried lentils, frozen spinach, and wheat germ. Thank goodness that the choices have expanded.

    I would say to start in your nearest supermarket. You’d be surprised how may useful foods you’ll find on the perimeters of the store–the produce section, primarily. All markets have canned beans and raw grains as well. Your diet should be built on a foundation of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and soy products. If you continue to use dairy and eggs, at least make sure to use organic. From what I just mentioned you can make a vast array of dishes—salads, wraps, sandwiches, soups, stews, stir-fries, chili, etc.

    If all else fails, there are online sources for ordering natural foods.

    If you’ll indulge me a bit of a commercial, those just going veg or vegan have said that my books, the Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet, and The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, have been most useful. For the how-to on transitioning to a heathy veg or vegan diet, Becoming Vegetarian by Brenda Davis, et al, and then Becoming Vegan, are excellent books. All these books you may be able to get from a library, esp. one with an interlibrary loan system.

    Please come back and explore VegKitchen’s many easy recipes. And best of luck on the veg path!

  17. Victoria

    Hi, I’m 12 years old and I have recently became a vegetarian. I was doing my “homework” for packing a vegetarian lunch for when school started when I checked this out. The recipes look really simple and I’m going to have a much easier time packing a healthy, vegetarian lunch. I’m hoping you will post more recipes!

  18. Nava Post author

    Hi Victoria– thanks for leaving such a nice comment. I will be posting more school lunch recipes in August, including a feature on packing lunches in those cool bento-style lunch boxes. So do check back, and if you’d like, subscribe to VegKitchen’s Recipe of the Week newsletter (subscription box in the upper right of each page), which is where new content is announced. And best of luck on the veg path– good for you!!

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  20. Leslie

    Thank u so very much! My 5 year old finally reached kinder and doesn’t care for most meat items but prefers veggies and fruits. She’s too small to heat things so this is a lifesaver for lunch at school! I was at a complete loss since i’m a huge meat eater. Thanks again because I hated the idea of forcing her to eat meat when veggies and alternatives she enjoys could be used to suppliment the nutrition loss. 🙂

  21. Maria Munoz

    Hello…Thank you for this site. I have 2 kids(6&7) and trying to change their taste buds to healthy eating..I need help in all areas to achieve this goal. We made an error in not teaching them healthy eating but I think it is not too late. My daughter is more open to the idea than my son. He likes nuggets and ketchup(a lot) and it’s going to take more time with him. Any tips, ideas, and recipes you can help me will be wonderful.

  22. Gabbie

    Hi, I became a vegetarian about a year ago when I was 13, and the rest of my family eats meat, so i have to cook for myself. I also am very busy with school and other activities and don’t have a lot of time to cook nutritional balanced dinners, do you have any quick and easy dinner recipes?

  23. Nava Post author

    Gabbie, that’s really admirable that you became a vegetarian on your own at 13. I did the same many moons ago, without family support, but didn’t make the transition fully until I was 17. My mom told me that if I wanted to eat different food than everyone else, I’d have to cook for myself, so I did. I discovered that I loved cooking, and became a cookbook author!

    VegKitchen’s dinner recipes are neatly organized here:

    3-Ingredient Entrees:

    Easy Vegan Main Dishes:

    Nearly-Instant Meals:

    But if you want to have a ton of super-easy dinner ideas right at hand at all times you might consider getting my book, The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet or The Vegetarian Family Cookbook. It’s very likely that your library can access them for you.

    Good luck! And if you make some really nice plant-based dinners, your family might be tempted to join you, as mine did, all those years ago.

  24. Sydney

    Hi! I’m turning 13 on the 23rd and i’m a vegan, & without a lot of support(My mom used to be a vegetarian, but my dad’s a full on carnivore), this really helps, I’m always looking for lunch recipes to make! Thanks


  25. Nava Post author

    Sydney, I’m always in awe of teens who go veg or vegan without family support. I guess I did that too, millions of years ago, at age 17, but I was already able to drive and get my own ingredients. Good luck! Stay healthy and I’m so glad this article was helpful to you.

  26. Roxxie

    this helped so much i am a teen who recently went veg and i have to make my own food since im the only veg in the family. thankyou

  27. Emily

    Im 14 and i just became a vegetarian a few weeks ago. when i first told my parents they were very mad and didn’t support me. they didn’t want me living with them anymore so i moved into my aunt and uncles house. is be a vegetarian that bad ? but anyways thanks for the great recipes.

  28. Nava Post author

    Emily, I’m sorry your parents had such a negative reaction to your becoming vegetarian. Sometimes people fear what they don’t understand. there is nothing “bad” at all about being a vegetarian, otherwise I’d be out of business! It’s actually quite good, not only for your health, but for the earth. A few articles you might share with your parents: (the article now reads Great Reasons to go Vegan, but it’s pretty similar to going vegetarian, at least as a stepping stone. – veg nutrition for teenagers

    And you may want to see if your local library can get you the book Becoming Vegetarian. It’s a great resource. Show your parents that you’re doing the research, and offer to make a yummy meal for them. I hope you can mend your rift. You sound like a brave young lady.

  29. Molly

    Thanks a ton, Nava… I’ve been lacto-ovo vegetarian for about two and a half years now, and I finally decided to get my lazy butt goin’ and at least go without eggs (I try to avoid dairy too when I can; but it’s hard in a house full of “real” food lovers). And all this time I’ve been eating the lunch served at my school, just usually avoiding the main food. Sometimes this only left me with sweet corn and a roll! I’m definitely going to try these out. Goal: pack 3 lunches a week. (I’m lazy xD)

    Thanks again! x

  30. Nava Post author

    You’re welcome, Molly. You sound like a mature young lady and it’s really admirable that you’re going to take making your own lunches in hand. Make sure to link to the other four articles at the top for more ideas, once you’ve explored the ones in this article. Leftovers, for example, make great lunches, and hardly take any work other than the packing. Good luck!

  31. Angelina

    Hi, my husband and I have recently agreed to go vegan and to eat more whole foods our oldest daughter (9) is extremely picky my younger (6) not so much , I am slowly making the transition within the past week and was wondering which breads you recommend, I am aware now the ones we were eating are highly processesd also was curious if you have money saving tips, all of the health food stores and organic products are so expensive, how do you know if they are truely organic? I recently bought a bag of organic apples and later discovered they were from Mexico? (guessing not so fresh with the travel) thanks so much this website has been very helpful

  32. Nava Post author

    Hi Angelina — I recommend Rudi’s bakery breads; there are some nice varieties that are whole grain and natural but not too challenging for the younger palates.

    As for money-saving tips, that’s a tough one. We are four people in our home, two adults and two young adults and food is just out-of-this-world expensive these days. My suggestions are to buy in bulk whenever you can (things such as grains, beans, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds), and base your meals around beans (even canned beans are very economical), whole grains, and tofu, plus lots of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season.

    Depending on where you live, many supermarkets have natural foods and organic produce sections. These tend to be less expensive than the foods in natural foods stores. How do you know that organic produce is truly organic? Great question. It does need to say “certified organic,” but in general it is a leap of faith and even if something is organic, I like to wash it well. And you are right to imply that its best to get produce that’s domestic as much as possible.

    Not to do a commercial for myself here, but one of my books, The Vegetarian Cookbook (which is actually quite vegan friendly) has lots of ideas on family meals from breakfast to school lunches to everyday dinners, with tips on enticing picky eaters. Learn more about it here: — maybe check it out of the library first.

    Good luck to you and your family as you continue down the vegan path, please return to VegKitchen often for recipes and tips —

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  34. Angelina

    Nava thank you so very much for the tips they helped tremendously, I will definitely get your cookbook!

  35. ariannah

    hi i love everything on ur website iv been vegan for 5 years now im a teen and needing to find more ideas do u have any ideas for vegan taco soup or vegan taterto caserol

  36. Amy

    Wow! Loved this article! I have been scouring the internet in search of vegan lunchbox food to send to school with my 7 yo daughter and this was the best information I found. Thanks!

  37. Jen

    Nava, these are great tips! Thanks so much! I also enjoy this site and your cookbooks – I would have loved this info 20 years ago when I became a vegetarian. I currently have 3 little vegetarians (ages 6, 4, 2) and in lunches we use many of your tips.

    Due to school allergy restrictions, we use pea butter instead of nut butters which work well on homemade crackers and pitas. Falafels are also a hit. Faux sandwich sushi (wraps with rice or quinoa mixed with greek yogurt for stickiness and mango and avocado – sliced like sushi) is popular in our house too. We even get comments from the teachers who would like me to make their lunches too!

  38. Sangee

    I am a vegetarian and pack vegetarian lunch for my preschooler. She loves to eat sauteed veggies with pasta with a hint of garlic in olive oil. I give her lots of veggies but my only concern is the protein part. I am not sure how to incorporate some protein in her diet.Any tips or ideas will be helpful. I am not sure how to cook and send legumes to school .

  39. Nava Post author

    Hello Sangee, how great that your preschooler enjoys the healthy lunches you send with her. Adding a bit of protein to this formula should be easy. You can put chickpeas or beans right into the pasta dish itself (if you have no time to cook them from scratch, which I rarely do myself, your best choice is organic legumes from BPA-free cans). If she doesn’t particularly like that, you can make a creamy sauce from white beans or silken tofu.

    Other ways to boost protein: cubes of tasty baked tofu or really any kind of simple tofu preparation she enjoys; homemade cookies made of whole-grain flour like spelt than contain cashew butter and/or sesame seeds, or store-bought natural bars made of seeds. If you send any raw veggies, like carrot sticks, you can provide a little container of hummus. Or you can vary the pasta dish by sending a high-protein stew or chili made with veggies and beans.

    Sending lunch in a bento box makes the process more fun for both the child and easy to pack things you couldn’t put in a regular lunch box. See the article on bento box lunches here: — and best of luck to you!

  40. Rhy

    I just recently became a vegetarian and my parents arent liking the idea.. soo I have to pack my own lunches and make my own meals. This site is great! and a big help! Thanks soo Much!!

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