11 April 2012

Brown-bagging it, vegan-style: Ideas for school lunches

Now more than ever, the public is becoming more aware and more concerned with the quality of public school lunches. From the candy machines to the now infamous “pink slime,” concerned parents and caregivers are leaning toward brown bagging it for their children. Naturally, vegan lunches are a perfectly healthy option for everyone, but kids can have a more challenging palate to please. Here are some kid-friendly lunch ideas to keep children satisfied and healthy.

- Hummus is yummus! Hummus is a delicious, fun dip for raw veggies (carrots, celery, cucumber, radishes, etc.) or crackers and pita chips. Mix up the flavors of the hummus for variety: plain, roasted garlic, roasted red pepper, cilantro… there are many flavors for your children to try. Make hummus at home with your children and have them mix and match flavors.

- Wraps and sandwiches are a classic option. From PB&J to a veggie-filled wrap, there are many options to explore in the art of sandwiches. Try out some vegan “meats,” like Tofurky or Field Roast, to add some heartiness. Make egg-less salad with tofu or not-tuna salad with chickpeas. Try whole grain bread, hearty rolls, multigrain wraps and tortillas, and pita pockets. For spreads, use hummus, Vegenaise or Mindful Mayo, refried beans, or mustard.

- Bring the Thermos back. Soups and stews can stay pretty warm from morning until lunchtime in a Thermos. Again, there are many different soups and stews to keep the menu changing for your child. No-Chicken Noodle, tomato and rice, bean chili… Check out Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow-Cooker or The Vegan Slow Cooker for lots of ideas that can be prepped quickly, cooked overnight, and are ready in the morning, just in time for school. It doesn’t get much easier than that!

- Salads may sound like a boring lunch idea for children, but salads can be spruced up pretty easily. If your child isn’t a fan of green salads, explore other salad ideas. Bean salads, quinoa salads, and fruit salads add a variety of flavors, colors, and nutrition to your child’s lunch box.

- In addition to your sandwich, soup, or salad, adding some snacks or “sides” can truly complement a balanced meal. Try kale chips, homemade vegan baked goods (muffins, brownies, cookies, etc.), smoothies or natural juice or non-dairy milk boxes, pretzels, chips and salsa or bean dip, fresh fruit and veggies with dips, fruit leather or Larabars, granola… whatever your child loves!

Keep a variety of options for your child’s lunch to prevent boredom and enhance their nutritional intake. Try to provide a “rainbow” for your child to eat every day, and remember to include plenty of water to keep them hydrated throughout the day. Coconut water is another refreshing drink full of electrolytes to keep them hydrated. Adding color and variety to your child’s lunches will keep them healthy, and may even inspire their lunchmates to eat healthier, too!

Also check out the Vegan Lunch Box books by Jennifer McCann or the Healthy Happy Life’s Lunch Box Bunch blog for inspiration and recipes. Talk to other moms and talk to your child’s school about providing healthier options in the cafeteria. Encourage nutritional education in schools, but also educate your children at home about healthy eating.

Amanda Just | Blog | Facebook
Tampa Bay, FL Amanda stopped eating meat in 1995, the moment she learned what meat was: dead animals. She was 11 years old. Her passion for vegetarianism and animals grew as she did and she eventually went vegan in 2004. Amanda blogs at Hungry Vegan Traveler, posting about vegan eats she encounters everywhere she goes, near and far. Amanda currently resides in the Tampa Bay, Florida area. She works full-time with at-risk youth and is also an active volunteer for animal and human causes.

Photo credit: Ashley Paige