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Healthy School Lunch Recipes and Tips

Lunch box pasta salad

Summer always seems to disappear quickly, and back-to-school days find parents scrambling to get the kids ready. One thing you can check off your to-do list is finding  healthy school lunch recipes. If your child is vegan or vegetarian, that adds to the challenge. Don’t despair! With our handy list of recipes and ideas, creating easy, tasty school lunches will be a breeze.

And, 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.

Healthy School Lunch cover

Also available on Amazon in paperback  and on Kindle.

In addition to the ideas in this article, you can explore even more in these posts:

Here are some of the tips that will keep you sane from the first day of school to the last:

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.

Bread varieties

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.

BBQ Chickpea pita sandwich

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, chickpeas or other beans, and/or grated nondairy cheese. Keep pita sandwiches fresh by wrapping first in foil, then in sandwich bags.

Peanut Butter Dip for Apples or Veggies

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.

Veggie Deli Hero Sandwiches

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. Veggie Deli Heroes with Herb Mayonnaise will appeal to older kids and teens.

"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).

Lunch box pasta salad

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.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

14. Wholesome homemade cookies make a perfect after-school snack served with almond milk, and the next day, you can put some of this extra love in the lunch box. See our Vegan Cookies and Bars.

SCHOOL SNACKS
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, VegKitchen receives a modest commission, which helps maintain our site and helps it to continue growing!

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85 Comments

  • Reply
    Sabrina
    December 31, 2013 at 6:10 pm

    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! ^_^

    • Reply
      Nava
      December 31, 2013 at 6:12 pm

      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!

  • Reply
    Mish
    January 4, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    These are great! I am looking for recipes without Tofu of any kind. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Reply
      Nava
      April 10, 2014 at 5:20 pm

      Thanks, Mish. Glad you find these recipe useful!

  • Reply
    amanda
    April 10, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    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!!

    • Reply
      Nava
      April 10, 2014 at 5:21 pm

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

  • Reply
    amanda
    April 10, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    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!!

  • Reply
    Nava
    April 10, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Amanda, I also encourage people to make dishes for dinner that then become great leftovers to pack for lunches. Here are some ideas: http://www.vegkitchen.com/recipes/leftover-heaven-ideas-for-school-and-brown-bag-lunches/

  • Reply
    merirasoi786
    May 3, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Great reading! So many new ideas. Thanks for sharing and making it all look so easy. I can not wait for all the holiday cooking!

  • Reply
    Jenna
    September 10, 2014 at 10:58 am

    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. 🙂

  • Reply
    Sienna
    October 5, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    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

    • Reply
      Nava
      October 6, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      Hi Sienna — you came to the right post, there are lots of ideas here for people just like you. You might also explore more of the topics on our Veg Kids and Teens page: http://www.vegkitchen.com/kid-friendly-recipes/ — and there’s also our affordable pdf e-book, Healthy School Lunch: Recipes and Ideas. Good luck!

  • Reply
    Sakhi Tilak
    November 27, 2014 at 5:09 am

    I am vegan and this helped and I am only 8 year old

    • Reply
      Nava
      November 27, 2014 at 7:35 am

      Thanks so much Sakhi! I’m glad this was helpful.

  • Reply
    Akira
    December 29, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks for all the great tips I have just became a vegan

  • Reply
    Fiya
    January 11, 2015 at 4:08 am

    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.

    • Reply
      Nava
      January 12, 2015 at 9:46 pm

      Hey Fiya — I’m glad you find this site useful. I hope you’ll be a frequent visitor!

  • Reply
    Ranjitha
    May 12, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Hey I’m really thank to you for the great tips and i have just became a vegan…

  • Reply
    Ranjitha
    May 22, 2015 at 5:22 am

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and it look easy to make.

  • Reply
    Ally
    May 26, 2015 at 7:25 pm

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

    • Reply
      Nava
      May 26, 2015 at 7:32 pm

      I’m so happy to hear that, and good luck!

  • Reply
    Brenna
    June 2, 2015 at 2:21 pm

    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.

    • Reply
      Nava
      June 2, 2015 at 5:51 pm

      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.

  • Reply
    Teau
    June 21, 2015 at 8:56 pm

    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.

    • Reply
      Nava
      August 8, 2015 at 8:11 am

      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.

  • Reply
    AP
    August 8, 2015 at 12:45 am

    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

  • Reply
    Ann
    August 31, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Great options for real kids who have limited palate.

  • Reply
    layla
    September 15, 2016 at 3:08 am

    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.

  • Reply
    Susie Creel
    April 4, 2017 at 4:14 am

    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!!

    • Reply
      Nava
      April 4, 2017 at 9:56 am

      HI Susie, many studies have shown that it is perfectly safe to raise vegetarian (and vegan) children. A good resource is Raising Vegetarian Children by Vesanto Melina: http://amzn.to/2oy9s1S

      The Vegetarian Resource Group has lots of information as well: http://www.vrg.org/family/kidsindex.htm I hope this helps!

  • Reply
    Raja Mallik
    April 25, 2017 at 6:46 am

    pls give me a vegetable tiffin recipe.

    • Reply
      Nava
      April 25, 2017 at 9:04 am

      Not sure what you mean by tiffin?

  • Reply
    Nava
    February 18, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    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!

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