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. Nava Post author

    Hello Rhy — that’s how I got into writing cookbooks. At age 17, I became a vegetarian (this was decades ago!) and was told by my parents that I’d have to cook for myself. Soon everyone wanted what I was having, and I had the last laugh. If you believe in it, stick with your convictions and enjoy your healthy meals!

  2. Sabrina

    Thank you so much for making this site! I’m 15 and really interested in becoming a vegetarian, maybe even vegan at some point! I’m already lactose intolerant so I’d like to think that one day that transition might not be too hard, I was wondering though; is almond milk a good enough substitute for dairy, or should I switch to soy? Any help you could offer in this would be greatly appreciated! ^_^

  3. Nava Post author

    Hi Sabrina — thanks for your very good question. I’m about to go out for the evening, so I’ll answer at greater length tomorrow!

  4. amanda

    I gave up meat for lent and this site has very great ideas for lunches! thanks so much I didn’t know not being able to have meat was so easy!!

  5. Nava Post author

    That’s very gratifying to hear, Amanda! Perhaps you’ll continue to incorporate some of these after Lent as well.

  6. amanda

    The only thing is that I don’t like peanuts, or peanut butter, or most nuts so that makes it kinda hard when I’m in a rush and peole are just like “grab the peanut butter and a spoon” or whatever… :/ so yea, its hard to be in a rush and just make a PBJ sandwich.. thanks and send me more ideas if you can!!

  7. Jenna

    To the commenter above, I use sunbutter (sunflower butter) as an alternative to nut butters. It’s got a whole different mineral profile to nuts & it’s is great for kids to take to schools that are nut-free. Just an idea. 🙂

  8. Sienna

    I would really like to try and be a vegan for 30 days so please could you send me some stuff to eat as my parents need ideas for my lunch box so it would help If you could send me some ideas thank you from sienna smith xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  9. Fiya

    Thank you so much! This site helped a lot as I am only 12 I didn’t have a clue what things I could eat for lunch at school or even at home but this site helped a lot.

  10. Ally

    Thanks so much! I’m 14 and really want to become a vegetarian, so these lunch ideas really helped.

  11. Brenna

    Thank you so much for these recipes! I’m 14 and I’ve been a vegan for a year, and a vegetarian for two years. I’m almost always packing either hummus and carrots, or a tofurkey sandwich, or almond butter sandwich. I also make sure what I’m eating is healthy so this is perfect for when I run out of ideas for lunch.

  12. Nava Post author

    And thank you so much for your comment, Brenna. I admire you for taking matters into your own hand where school lunch is concerned. I wish my kids had done that! Best of luck on you continued journey as a vegan.

  13. Teau

    This website actually helps. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE TIPS. I was forced to be vegetarian when I was 11 and I reluctantly adapted to the change but cheated secretly for the past 4 years. But as the years passed, I’ve noticed the benefits of the lifestyle AND the potential consequences so now at 16 I’m willing to be a faithful vegan especially in high school WHERE EVERYTHING IS TEMPTING. Anywho, this site is a major help thank you so much for the tips.

  14. AP

    Hi Nava, i have four picky eater and i’m trying to transition them into a vegetarian diet but i find it hard to come up with easy making meals, and i have a history of anemia in my family. i would love some tips on some menu that will be both satisfying in taste and provide the right minerals to ensure healthy growth. Help me

  15. Nava Post author

    There are a number of posts on VK that address the needs of picky eaters. Here are a few that you might find helpful:

    In addition, one of my books, The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, is a comprehensive guide to every meal of the day, with tips for picky eaters and ways to complete menus, plus snacks, healthy desserts, and more. It came out in 2004, so it’s not a very pretty book (illustrations but no photos!), but as far as a resource, it has stood the test of time!

    I hope this helps!

  16. Nava Post author

    Sorry for the delayed response, Teau — I’m so glad this site has helped you and good for you for going vegan! I wish you the best of luck going forward on your journey.

  17. layla

    i really want to beome vegetarian cuz i always hated the way animals are treated and eaten like they are nothing but objects. the problem is i dont know how and a few years ago i had health problems. so if i start become unhealthy again my mom will force me to eat meat. and i live in an arab country so i have pretty limited fruits. i can afford anything but my morning rush hour for snacks is like 10 mins so i cants do fancy stuff like dips and so on. i really need help.

  18. Nava Post author

    HI Layla — it’s great that you want to go vegetarian and to maintain your health, which can absolutely be done! First of all, you might find this article on Veg/Vegan Nutrition for Teens helpful: and here are some easy healthy snacks:

    You’ll find lots of articles and recipes aimed at kids and teens on this page: — hopefully there will be lots of ideas and resources for you on these pages. Good luck!

  19. Susie Creel

    Hi Nava,

    Thanks for your article. I dont know if you still answer in this but it was very helpful to me. Currently, I usually eat vegetarian food every weekdays. I feel that my health is getting better (I also had some digestive problems before). After a few months finding out the effectiveness of vegetarianism, i now want to become a vegan. And my family are also want to apply this vegetarian menu, especially my 4 year old son. However, i’m not sure that the age of my child is consistent with the vegetarian? Can you give me some suggestions, like some vegetarian menus for children?

    Thank you!!

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