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What's In Your (Vegan) Lunchbox?

Here are some lunch ideas if you're a parent of a vegan child.

With schools back in session, every (vegan) parent is thinking about the same dilemma: what to pack for lunch.

I can’t really imagine being a vegan child—my daily roll-with-butter lunch wouldn’t have made the cut. Or my turkey and provolone, chicken noodle soup or slice of pizza.

As I rode the train home on Sunday, I mentioned this column to a friend. “What would you send your kid to school with? What’s an acceptable vegan lunch?” I asked. Before she had a chance to answer, the woman across from us piped in.

“Nothing with nuts,” she said.

“Don’t try sending tofu, no matter what you do,” added another.

“It’s got to be a sandwich. Don’t try sending anything else,” the comments just kept coming.

“Wait, you have kids?! No way!”

No, I don’t have kids. But plenty of our readers do, so I’m curious—what do you send your kids to school with? What’s a vegan parent to pack in the lunchbox?

Beyond nutrition, there’s the social stigma to worry about. Thinking back to middle school, I remember how we all reacted when my friend Tina brought in seaweed. It was not kind, to say the least. Kids can be totally brutal, and no parent wants to invite teasing on their child. Of course, I can say that you should teach your kids to be proud and to take on the bullies, but that is easier said than done.

It’s not just the meal I worry about. What about the snacks? One of the moms on the train, a mother of four, pulled a packet of Matt’s Munchies out of her purse. “I’m the snack maven,” she said. “These are healthy, but still sweet. Kids love them.”

Matt’s Munchies are similar to Fruit Roll-ups, minus all the sugar and preservatives. She went on to say that maybe you should just skip the snack altogether.

“Moms get so sick of hearing about snacks. When will everyone realize that you don’t need a snack every five minutes, or with every meal?”

I couldn’t agree with her more. So if you’re wondering what snacks to add to these meals, consider skipping the snack altogether. A healthy meal is complete in and of itself.

Not a parent myself, I offer these suggestions based on research, my conversation on the train and personal memories.

If nuts are OK:

  • Sliced apple and chunky almond butter on multigrain or hemp bread
  • Sliced banana, peanut butter on hearty hemp bread

Nut-free

  • Sliced avocado, cucumber, tomato, sprouts and hummus on multigrain bread
  • Broiled tempeh, avocado, sprouts and hummus on a multigrain roll (as long as the tempeh is hidden among the veggies, other kids shouldn’t notice it)
  • Pasta salad—any combination of fresh veggies and whole wheat or gluten-free pasta. Kid favorites seem to be spirals, with olive-oil-based dressing.
  • Burritos with brown rice, avocado, black or pinto beans, lettuce, corn and cucumbers on whole-wheat or gluten-free tortillas
  • Flat-bread "pizza"—pizza dough from a local pizza shop, topped with roasted veggies or non-dairy cheese 

If you do feel the need to pack a snack, how about almonds, carrots and hummus or fresh fruit? Those were among my favorites, long before I started foregoing meat and dairy.

Whatever you choose to send, remember to limit all the packaging. Use a reusable lunch box, rather than brown paper bags, and reusable sandwich baggies. Most importantly, remind your child that they’re one (or 100) times ahead of their peers by sticking to all these tasty lunches!

LCB@home September 12, 2011 at 03:42 PM
My kids aren't vegans, but they do enjoy hummus and flat bread on a weekly basis for lunch. They love fruit salad and soy yogurt (with flax sprinkled on top!), fresh salads with tomato, cucumber etc., and also warm pasta (thermos). This is in addition to the PBJ's that are a staple. I also give them almonds or walnuts or peanuts for a snack, which they can eat in the lunchroom away from the peanut free table. Great calcium and omega 3's! There are so many options - vegan or not.
Frau September 12, 2011 at 11:20 PM
My stepson isnt vegan but a senior in high school who is being picked on by a teacher because hes always snacking on fresh fruit. Is no one free to eat healthy these days?
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) September 13, 2011 at 02:12 AM
It is interesting the number of people (myself included) who don't consider themselves vegan (or vegetarian) but like to have "vegan" or "meat-free" days. Do you tap into health food stores for recipes/meals? Or do you just improvise?
LCB@home September 13, 2011 at 12:47 PM
I get a great deal of info on health and nutrition, including recipes and product recommendations, from the Nutrition Action Health Letter, put out by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. I have been getting that for 25 years! Also, Organic Gardening magazine has recipes. Mostly with my kids I feed them what I like to eat and what is nutritionally balanced, without labeling it as a 'food style', although I have been a non red meat, poultry and pork eater since 1985.....it is just a better way to go, for us and for the earth :)
TJ September 13, 2011 at 12:49 PM
hmm... I wonder if the teacher is trying to be playful or relate to him but maybe it's coming off the wrong way? Given that he's a senior I'm assuming he's around 17 years old. Has he spoken with the teacher one on one? Or maybe even just an email from him to his teacher would take care of it? Good for your stepson for having healthy habits.
TJ September 13, 2011 at 12:50 PM
those are great ideas. when i pack hummus my kids will not eat it but they gobble it up at home. not sure why.
TJ September 13, 2011 at 12:50 PM
i'd love hear what stores or markets people frequent.
Danielle Elliot September 14, 2011 at 02:38 PM
picked on by a teacher - that is just plain awful. As if kids don't have enough to deal with, to have to deal with a teacher, that's just wrong!
bruth November 10, 2011 at 12:35 AM
Maybe he shouldn't be eating during class? Picked on ? Really? Do you believe everything your kid says is actually true?
bruth November 10, 2011 at 12:37 AM
Danielle - "have to deal with a teacher?" What does that mean? As if I dont have enough to worry about all day I have to read some stupid comment from a vegan writer?
Danielle Elliot November 10, 2011 at 11:46 PM
The comment was meant in regards to being picked on. I believe students should not have to deal with being picked on by teachers. I hope you did not take it out of context, as I have nothing against teachers and am grateful for their work.

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