Five Vegan Lunch Ideas for Kids
By: Molly Hembree, MS, RD, LD
Looking for a creative and appealing way to fuel your kids for all their work and play? Try upping your lunch game. We couldn’t agree more with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that “improving access to healthy foods is linked to healthier students whom are also better learners” and “lack of adequate consumption of specific foods, such as fruits or vegetables, is associated with lower grades among students.”
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as other professional organizations like the Italian Society of Human Nutrition, agree that a properly planned vegetarian or vegan diet can meet all nutrition needs for every part of the lifecycle: from pregnancy to infancy to older adulthood. A dietary pattern with carefully curated plant foods may reduce risk of chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers. Bonus: it helps keep weight in check, which is important to establish at an early age.
Here are our top picks for fun, nutritious vegan lunches the kids can help prepare:
1. Bento Box:
This Japanese-style container is a rousing display of single-portioned lunchtime basics. Bento box fanatics sometimes even shape food into animals or shapes for a midday surprise. How neat would it be for your son to open up his lunchbox and see grizzly bears made from crackers + almond butter + blueberries + Cheerios or a butterfly made from a bag stuffed with grapes + trail mix and clipped off with a clothespin? Or keep it simple: we won’t judge if this means adding last night’s leftover dinner ingredients to individual compartments in the box to have your child fork through it as they please.
2. Buddha Bowl:
What’s better than a plant-based bowl with a little bit of all your child’s favorites? Not much. Buddha Bowls offer room for creativity through combining a grain + veggie + protein + sauce. Maybe your daughter doesn’t care for black beans but gets hyped about tofu? Or perhaps your little boy isn’t into rice and broccoli, but digs noodles and carrots? Make it their way then drizzle a little tahini dressing or cashew sauce on top to make it fancy.
3. Pita Pizza:
Grab a whole-wheat pita, smear on tomato sauce and add chopped onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, meatless crumbles and nutritional yeast. Cool parent award: place each of the toppings in their own container for kiddo to layer at his discretion! Add a fruit bowl on the side to check-off every food group with this meal.
4. Chickpea Salad Sandwich:
Drain canned chickpeas (OptUP score: 88) and smash with diced celery, onion, pickles and even sunflower seeds if you’re feeling crazy. Combine this with a light mixture of vegan mayo + dill (OptUP score: 80) + mustard. Sandwich this mixture to make, um, a sandwich, between two slices of hearty whole-grain toast!
5. Peanut Butter Banana Pinwheels:
Lay out a whole-grain tortilla and spread on some peanut butter. Add sliced bananas, granola, chopped walnuts (OptUP score: 82) and a pinch or two or three of cinnamon (OptUP score: 76). Roll it and cut into 1-inch pieces that resemble sushi!