Vegan Kids and Lunch at School: Helping your Child Fit In
I’d like to share some thoughts on packing vegan lunches, in celebration of the release of my new cookbook Vegan Lunch Box.* The book features complete, well-balanced lunch menus that you can put together and pack for kids and for grownups. The menus range from easy, familiar, Western-style cuisine, to adventurous gourmet meals with dishes from around the world, like tamales, Greek phyllo triangles, Ethiopian injera bread, spring rolls, and more.
I get very excited about trying these new dishes from all around the world, and I’m sure a lot of you do, too. But not everyone does. So what I’d like to talk about today is the idea of “fitting in,” or peer pressure.
If you’re packing lunch for yourself or for perhaps an older child or teen who has chosen to go vegan, chances are they’re going to feel a bit more adventurous and excited about what they eat for lunch. I mean, packing a spectacular vegan lunch that fills your coworkers or friends with envy is great fun – it’s great to see the look on their faces when they realize that your wonderful-looking, wonderful-smelling, incredible food is all cruelty-free and vegan — and it tastes great! So much for the image of vegan deprivation and suffering that they had!
But what if you’re the parent of a younger child that’s going to school? I think there are two basic attitudes school kids can take towards their lunches. Well, probably each individual has a bit of both attitudes in them, depending on the mood and day.
Some vegan kids don’t care what anyone else at school is eating. In fact, if they’re life-long vegans, they might even feel repulsed by what the other kids are eating!! They know that what their parents have packed them is out-of-this-world tasty, it’s kind to animals, it’s good for them, and they’re going to enjoy it no matter what. On my son’s first day of school, he asked for sushi in his lunch box. At the end of the school year, he voted Chinese stir-fried tofu and green beans with rice and a sweet bean dumpling as his very favorite meal of the year!
But for most of us most of the time, peer pressure can have a significant impact on what our kids want to eat at school. In my experience, many younger children attending public school want nothing more than to just fit in. They might be embarrassed to eat the foods they eat happily at home when they’re in a school setting. One of my friends reports that her son loves V8 juice at home, but won’t even go near it at school, afraid of what his friends might say.
In those cases, I would recommend going “undercover vegan”. There are so many lunches that you can pack that mimic traditional kids’ food, while being healthier and cruelty-free. For example, one of my son’s favorite meals is pepperoni pizza. Now, our version of pepperoni pizza is made on a multigrain whole wheat crust, topped with a homemade tomato sauce that I make with fresh tomatoes, basil, cooked kale and carrots (it’s blended together smooth so you would never guess those extra healthy vegetables are in there). I top it with some vegan cheese and pepperoni. Now I know that veggie pepperoni and vegan cheese are more processed and higher in sodium than I would like, but they still have no cholesterol and less fat than regular pepperoni and cheese, and I consider it an acceptable compromise. He’s got the same type of pizza that all his friends eat, only healthier and cruelty-free, so he’s fitting in and not feeling left out. There are all kinds of foods that are perfect for going into stealth vegan mode like this — vegan chicken nuggets, deli slices, soy yogurt, you name it. I like to say, “Anything you can do, I can do vegan.”
At school, sometimes it’s really all about fitting in. Someone on a discussion board I read once described witnessing a vegan kid in their child’s class. “We have a vegan kid at our school, and his mother not only doesn’t allow meat or meat products, but she also doesn’t allow the child to have milk or any dairy products at all. Whenever there is a birthday party for another child, poor thing behaves like a raccoon on a camping trip, grabbing cake out of other children’s hands and scuttling off into a corner to eat it like a wild animal before one of the teachers takes it away from him. It’s really a spectacle to watch.”
Okay. Obviously, this person doesn’t know much about veganism, so this has been really their first exposure to the concept of no meat or dairy. It’s not a pretty picture, is it? No one wants this to be their child. As a vegan parent, you want the best for your kids. You don’t want them to feel left out or deprived, or that being vegan is a punishment or a hardship. You certainly don’t want them scuttling around like raccoons!
So this is where as vegan moms and dads, it’s our job to look out for our children. Pay attention to what’s happening in your kid’s classroom, and be ready with vegan alternatives when it’s time for those birthday cupcakes and candy bars!! Bake a batch of vegan cookies or cupcakes and freeze them in individual plastic bags. That way you’ll always have something on hand to send to school or to parties. Or give your child’s teacher a special stash of his or her favorite vegan cookies or candies to hand out to them at treat time.
Now, there is just one more thought I’d like to add to this, in case after all this you’re feeling worried that your vegan son or daughter won’t fit in and feel “normal” at school. And that is, how normal do you want to be? When you look around at what we as a society are feeding our children, it’s shocking. A normal school lunch can be overflowing with transfats, high fat dairy, processed meats, high fructose corn syrup, sodium, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. I mean, we’ve all seen it – a pudding cup, a soda pop, meat “nuggets” and fries cooked in transfats, and maybe some candy for dessert. That’s lunch for a lot of American children every day! So in this climate of unhealthy eating, how normal do you want to be? People are just starting to wake up to what we’re doing to our selves and our children with our unhealthy eating habits. The obesity rate is growing, and it’s going to take health-conscious parents standing up for our children’s health in order for things to change. In other words, if eating fresh vegetables is wrong, Lord, I don’t want to be right!
- Make sure to explore the entire Veg Kids and Teens page on VegKitchen for lots of easy, healthy recipes for vegetarian and vegan kids and teens.
- Here are lots more ideas for healthy school lunches for vegetarian and vegan kids and teens.
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