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As summer winds down and school time approaches it means, for most families, life goes back to our standard weekday routines which include prepping and packing our kids lunchboxes.

This can sometimes feel like a daunting project for a busy parent! Perhaps we run out of ideas on what to pack, perhaps our kids don’t want the food we had planned for, perhaps we struggle with time in the morning, or perhaps we had good intentions to prep the lunchbox the night before but simply forgot to do it, and we end up standing there by the door in the morning ready to leave just to realize the lunchbox is empty! On top of that comes peer pressure to always offer healthy, nourishing meals for our kids. We’ve all been there, or felt this way at some point.

Luckily, there are many things you can do as parents to simplify this routine and make it more enjoyable, while ensuring your kids gets healthy and nourishing lunches every day. Here are my top tips on how to easily and quickly pack varied plant-based lunches for your kids!

A Little Bit {Of Each Group} Goes A Long Way…

When it is time to prep your child’s lunch box, it helps to have an idea about where to start and to know what’s actually good to have in it. An easy way to get a nutritionally balanced whole food plant-based meal is to include at least one food from each of the four groups below. 

  • A Starchy Food
    This could be a starchy veggie such as potato or sweet potato, or a grain such as rice, bulgur, quinoa or a pasta or bread.

Tip: Always cook extra grains and pasta or bake potatoes when you can, this way you can use the leftovers for lunchboxes during the week. A good idea is also to keep a couple of different healthy breads in the freezer so you can quickly defrost them when needed.

  • A Protein Rich Food
    This includes beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, whole nuts, nut butters or seeds.

Tip: Always keep canned legumes at home (unless you like batch cooking them), as well as your child’s favorite nuts and seeds. Having a ready made trail mix is also smart as this can be a perfect extra energy boost to add to your child’s lunch box. Ready baked tofu is also a hit when time is limited!

  • A Vegetable
    Include at least one vegetable every day. Easy ones are carrot sticks, bell peppers, cucumber, whole baby tomatoes, green peas, sweet corn or half an avocado.

Tip: Green peas and sweet corn are easy to always keep in the freezer, and carrots last a long time in the refrigerator!

  • A Fruit Or Berry
    The simplest option is to pack a whole apple, pear, banana or clementine on the side, or add a few grapes or berries to the box. You can also quickly slice a melon, pack a few orange wedges, or simply put a few pieces of dried apricots, raisins or figs in the box if you run out of fresh produce.

Tip: Fresh berries work best in lunch boxes, but otherwise frozen berries work just as well. Frozen berries last much longer and are less expensive so use them in smoothies and desserts etc. Dried fruit is always good to have at home as well.

Depending on the type of food you are packing, the meal can be served in different parts, “taco style”, or somewhat mixed. There are many practical lunchboxes to buy today that come with separated (bento) sections. It may be worth investing in one of those.

The plant-based lunch box guide below can help you with ideas. Pick and choose at least one food from each column and mix and match the foods as you like!

 

 

The Plant-Based Lunch Box Guide

A Weekly Menu

Sometimes it can be even more helpful to plan for a weekly menu. If you like that idea, below are some examples of plant-based lunchboxes that are easy to prepare the night before! As you will see, I am a huge fan of batch cooking and using leftovers.

Monday: Leftovers!

Take advantage of the weekend’s leftovers. Always cook a little extra of what you are making over the weekend, especially if it’s one of your kid’s favorite meals, as this can save you a lot of time during the week. Then, hopefully all you need to add is a little fresh fruit, such as berries, or some veggies on the side.

Here are some ideas you may already have ingredients for in your fridge or pantry:

  • Pasta with a pasta sauce, e.g. spaghetti with veggies or lentil bolognese
  • Veggie burger with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, ketchup, mustard, pickles
  • A pizza slice with coleslaw, veggie sticks and fruit on the side
  • Falafels with rice, or in a pita bread and some veggies
  • Pancakes with berries and plant-based yogurt, veggie sticks on the side

Tuesday: Leftovers!

Use the same strategy as for Monday. Perhaps you serve a very similar meal, but just change the fruit or the veggies, or perhaps you have some extra pasta or grains that you can quickly swing together a meal with.

  • Pasta salad with tofu or chickpeas, whole fruit or berries on the side
  • Any grain with beans, baby tomatoes, sweet corn, avocado and a store bought salsa sauce

Wednesday: Sandwich!

Make a sandwich filling that you can use at least two days. Two ideas include hummus or a bean spread. Pair with tofu or tempeh for a delicious sandwich. All these options can be bought ready made too if you prefer.

  • Hummus with tomato and cucumber in a pita bread
  • Black bean spread (or refried beans) with guacemole, tomatoes, sweet corn in a tortilla bread
  • Non-tuna salad (made of mashed chickpeas etc.) with tomato, red onion and lettuce in a wholegrain sandwich
  • Flavoured tofu or tempeh strips with tomato, avocado, veg mayo in a whole grain bread (veg BLT )

Thursday: Use a frozen meal!

When you make curries, pasta sauces, veg casseroles or burgers, always make sure to make extra and freeze a couple of servings. This can quickly be defrosted and packed into a lunch box mid week. These frozen meals are especially useful the days you run out of fresh leftovers, or simply don’t have the time to cook something new, but still want your child to eat a home-cooked meal.

Friday: Sandwich!

Use the same filling you did on Wednesday, but change the sides or the bread if your child wants you too. If the child were happy with the meal as it was, just make the same-easy! Next week you can make another sandwich filling instead, so you keep it interesting.

As you can see, just by making small tweaks here and there, you can make a complete new meal out of an old favorite. Most kids don’t appreciate variation as much as adults do, so instead of stressing about getting the lunches varied, put your energy in finding healthy, whole foods that your child likes and you can pack on a regular basis. This helps you save both time and battles!

The Last Minute Box

If you only have a couple of minutes in the morning to swing together a lunch box, I always recommend using a filling rye bread or whole grain bread (this can be defrosted from frozen) and spread a layer of peanut butter on top (or any nut or seed butter). Then smash a few raspberries (can also be from frozen) or slice a banana and put in between the two. Think a healthy version of a PB&J sandwich! Serve this with a few carrot sticks, a fresh fruit and some trail-mix.

Picky Eaters

If your child is a picky eater, it’s always good to serve foods separated from each other. So not mixing or blending the foods together, instead serving many different components. Here the divided lunchboxes come in very handy! Serving foods separated will increase the chances that your child will at least like something in the box, if not all.

This can be applied to most meals, even sandwiches can be served this way, with the bread in one part of the box, the tofu or hummus in the other, the lettuce and avocado in the third, and the fruit in the forth, etc.

For picky eaters it is also good to make sure there is at least one thing in the lunchbox that you know the child likes and can eat himself or herself full of. You can practice with new foods at home or just pack something small that you know they’re not a big fan of. Sometimes children surprise us and eat things outside of the home, which they normally would reject at home, especially if there are other kids around liking that food.

Bottom Line

To make lunchbox prepping as easy and enjoyable as possible, it is really helpful to stock up with your child’s favorites foods beforehand, as well as take advantage of leftovers by cooking a little extra of your most appreciated meals. This will save you a lot of time and effort! 

By using the plant-based lunch box guide you can rest assured your child will get a well balanced meal. Even if every single lunchbox doesn’t become as “perfect” as you’d like, you can be confident your child already has a huge advantage when it comes to having a healthy nourishing diet by simply serving whole-food plant-based meals at home! 

Karin Gibson

Karin Gibson

Certified Plant-Based Dietician

A registered dietitian in Sweden currently living in New York City working as a Plant-Based Nutrition Coach. Karin earned her Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from the University of Gothenburg, and is also certified in Plant-Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.  Learn more about Karin at https://www.grazinggreens.com/