Looking for healthy plant-based options for packed school lunches? This handy guide is full of recipes and snack ideas that will help keep kids nourished, energised and satisfied throughout the school day!
More and more frequently, I get questions from parents who are moving towards a whole food plant-based diet, and are trying to figure out what foods they can pack for their children to take to school. I know from experience that lunch box items need to be convenient, tasty, easy-to-eat, and edible cold or at room temperature. Fortunately, there are plenty of wholesome plant-based options that tick all of the above categories, so you're sure to find something your kids will enjoy eating regularly.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when planning a packed school lunch. For starters, although it is important for kids to eat a variety of foods, it's usually best to stick with a steady rotation of lunches that you know your child is likely to eat. If something is new to them, or they're not comfortable eating it at school, it can end up going to waste (while they end up going hungry half way through the day!) Because every child has different food preferences - which sometimes even change from week to week - it can be helpful to ask which of the available options they like best, and which options do or do not keep well after sitting in their school bag for a few hours.
Another important point to remember is that most children only have about 15 minutes to eat their lunch. For this reason, it's a good idea to pack foods they can eat reasonably quickly, or snacks that can be hand-held and eaten while walking around the school yard.
When it comes to specific foods and recipes, these are some of my favourite lunch-box options for kids:
- Whole wheat sandwiches, wraps or pita bread with simple fillings, such as 100% fruit spreads, natural nut butters (if permitted at your child's school), avocado, or sliced banana with tahini.
- Whole wheat sandwiches, wraps or pita bread filled with lettuce, cucumber and/or shredded carrot, plus one of the following dips:
- Whole wheat tortillas or wraps filled with refried beans, brown rice and lettuce.
- A leftover Lentil Burger on a whole grain bun (or in a whole wheat pita bread) with lettuce, grated carrot, and homemade ketchup.
- Simple Sushi with veggie fillings like cucumber, carrot, avocado or marinated tofu.
- Curried Chickpea & Millet Croquettes
- Raw veggies with Healthy Hummus for dipping.
- Cold baked potato or sweet potato chunks with ketchup or barbecue sauce for dipping.
- Cold cooked corn on the cob (cut into thirds so it's easier to handle!)
- For older kids, salads are also a great option. Grain or legume-based salads are best, as they will provide more sustenance. Our Hearty Bean Salad and Millet and Black Bean Salad are two good options.
In order to save time, it's a good idea to make items like hummus, veggie burgers and baked potatoes in big batches. If you batch cook over the weekend, you'll have healthy options on hand for school lunches throughout the week.
Packing a small bottle of frozen water next to your child's lunch will help to keep items slightly chilled in warmer months.
In addition to a main lunch meal, you'll usually need to pack a snack or two for kids to eat during the morning break. Some convenient, healthy options include:
- Fresh whole fruits, such as pears, apples, bananas, kiwis, strawberries or grapes
- Sliced chunks of mango, melon or pineapple
- Plain air-popped popcorn
- Dried apples, apricots, dates or raisins
- Cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds (if permitted at your child's school)
- Whole grain crackers or rice cakes
- Cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, or sugar snap peas
Healthy Home-Baked Treats
While junk-food items may be off the menu, plant-based baked goods are a healthy alternative that your kids will love! These items are also great for providing an energy boost during the busy school day. Most of the recipes in PlantPlate's baking section can be made in batches, frozen, and thawed overnight for the next day. The following recipes are ones that I think are ideal for lunch boxeshey're made with whole grains and whole grain flours, and are free from added oils:
If you'd like to learn more about healthy plant-based eating for kids, be sure to check out these related articles:
The information on this website is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice or care.