Post Update: If you have Plant-Powered Families, these tips and MORE are now in the packing lunches section. Flip to page 233… and breathe easy!
Does the thought of packing school lunches again make you cringe? It can be frustrating to plan and pack school lunches, and that can feel even more overwhelming when eating vegan or plant-strong, especially now that most schools require nut-free lunches.
I’m here to take some of that stress away today. I’ve been packing lunches for our girls (and my hubby) for about ten years now, so I’ve learned some tricks and definitely have a school-year system.
One of my tricks is to rely on some key recipes. Ones that are easy, quick, that my kids love, and that pack well for school lunches. I’m sharing them with you today, along with some other tips for school-lunch success.
Ready to take notes? Class begins, now:
I would be lost without our Chickpea Nibbles. For years I made Tamari Roasted Chickpeas (from ed&bv), and then I needed a recipe even easier. Enter Chickpea Nibbles from PPF. I make double and triple batches of these. Seriously, my kiddos eat one batch in one sitting – easily. Sometimes I hide away extra for lunches in the fridge, just so they won’t eat them all straight away. #meanmama What to do with them beyond snacking? Add them as a side snack in lunches, or mix into pasta, or rice/quinoa. Mash into a sandwich with your kiddos’ fave condiments. FYI, the school kids may also want them. I’ve had requests. 🙂
It’s official, #hummusisafoodgroup.
Now that the hummus food group movement has officially begun (thank you Simple Reminders), get started with my Creamy Hummus! But don’t stop there. Try these other varieties. And, you know you can FREEZE hummus, right? Yes, double or triple batch, then freeze in about 2-cup portions. It thaws beautifully, take it out the night before and pop in the fridge. How to use? In sandwiches, slathered in wraps, as a dip for veg and rice crackers or pitas, on pizzas, as a spread for bagels or on pizzas, thinned out and mixed into pasta!
It’s just impossible for me to narrow this down to one recipe. But, I can narrow it down to 5 or so recipes that I make every week through the school year. These recipes are staples to pack in lunches for recess, and also for hubby’s lunch: (1) Maple Banana Bread, (2) Pumpkin Seed and Chocolate Chip Oat Bars (now 25% off my ebook with code PP15school), (3) Banana Oat Bundles, (4) Snackles (original and pumpkin!), (5) Apple-Hemp Muffins. Put those 5-6 baked goods in rotation, double-batch and freeze some if needed. Your kids will thank you. Then you can thank me. 😉
Or, Balsamic-Tamari Tofu (read on). This recipe originates from Vive le Vegan, and has been a staple recipe for me – and many of my readers – for years. I used to make it with the herbs all the time, but noticed once we had the girls, they were a little fussy about all that herb-age! So, now, I do a most simplified marinade of tamari and either lemon juice or balsamic (usually balsamic because it is quicker) and a touch of maple syrup. Those modifications are in the recipe, which I’ve just posted. How to use it in lunches? Keep sliced for sandwiches, crumble and use in wraps, cut in squares and mix into quinoa or leftover pasta, add to soup, or let them eat it on the side with a sandwich. Many possibilities with this recipe, and lunch prep will be easy-breezy!
Either before school or after school, they are a brilliant way to nourish and sustain your kiddos in a nutrient-dense drink. Don’t just fill them up with fruit, balance with some greens and veggies if you can, and also add nutrient-rich hemp seeds, chia seeds, goji berries, or nut butters. Our eldest now loves green smoothies, and the trick for me was adding frozen pineapple. I’d used it before in green smoothies, but didn’t always want it myself. Yet, it is one of the best tricks for balancing any ‘green’ flavor tones. You can get the full green smoothie tutorial here. Also try the Acai Antioxidant Smoothie and Strawberry Goji Smoothies (in first smoothie link).
Make ’em soon, and make ’em often! There is a nut-free option in the recipe, so you can make these for school lunches. If you don’t want to roll into balls, you can also press into a small pan and cut into squares. I often double the batch (you need a larger processor to do so), and freeze half. They pack perfectly for lunches, and school parties (being nut-free, dairy-free, and also gluten-free) and also terrific when running out to activities.
This is one of our girls’ favorite soups. The recipe is in eat, drink & be vegan, but I have just posted it for you. Make it for dinner one evening, and send it to school in a thermos for the kiddos another day. Or, just keep the leftovers for a quick dinner another night. Some other soups my girls love include this White Bean Soup and Sweet Potato Lentil Chili.
This unassuming little recipe with nutritional yeast transforms many of our school lunches from drab to fab. I add it to pasta, and “ta-dah!”, kiddos love it. Sometimes I’ll use a basic marinara sauce, but more often I’ll do a simple slurry of apple cider vinegar, tamari, and maple syrup (just a touch) – mix it up to taste, toss into pasta, then mix in the cheesy sprinkle. Kids LOVE this for lunch. Add in some veg or beans (there’s those tamari roasted chickpeas again!), cubed tofu or tempeh, and it’s a very satisfying lunch. I also sprinkle it into wraps for the girls, with things like cubed potatoes and hummus, and into quinoa bowls. Many possibilities! Note that the original version is nut-based, but I offer a nut-free alternative in the recipe. This is the one I use for school lunches, and the girls really haven’t noticed the difference.
This may not be something you pack into lunches – though you certainly could, they are both nut-free – but your kiddos will love coming home to it! I have Chocolate and Pumpkin Chia Puddings posted, and in my upcoming cookbook (details soon), I have an Apple Pie Chia Pudding (plus a Bananascotch Pudding and PB Pudding with Fresh Berry Swirl, it’s going to be a fun book)!
With the school year comes school parties. Halloween, Christmas, birthdays… someone lost a tooth, someone has a new baby sister, it’s “party day”! Yeah, I’m exaggerating. But not much, us parents know the school party scene. Always a reason for a party – and junky treats. Most of the treats we see going in and out of schools are pretty crummy. So, get a healthier – but DELICIOUS – dairy-free, egg-free chocolate chip cookie recipe in your arsenal! My Homestyle Chocolate Chip Cookies are a classic, and have almost 250K YouTube views. These are your go-to vegan cookie.
Other Tips for Smart and Plant-Powered Lunches
– Pack lunches the day before. There is already enough chaos in the morning, so pack the lunches during lunch the day before, or the evening before.
– Also fill water bottles! Have them ready in the fridge ready to tote.
– Cook things in batches through the week and weekend. Hummus, tamari roasted chickpeas, muffins, as mentioned above. But also batch-cook potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, beans, etc. All those staples can be used in wraps, sandwiches, added to soups, pastas, and more.
– Pack plenty of fresh fruit and make it EASY for them to eat. Yes, it feels a nuisance sometimes to peel those mandarins or cut oranges into bite-size pieces and pop into a container. Why not just pack the whole fruit? Because kids have very little time to eat in school, that’s why. So, make it easy for them to eat that fruit. Peel or slice or cut into small pieces and pack in a container along with a fork. They are far more likely to eat it.
– Pack occasional treats – seaweed snacks, baked chips, cookies, a few vegan gummy worms. They have very healthy lunches, let them find a treat once in a while!
– Have stock of different size containers (scroll down to ‘kitchen gear for kids and lunches). I have an entire cupboard with different sizes of containers. Some are ziploc, others are reused containers from nondairy yogurt or store-bought dips, etc. The smaller ones are great for fruit and snacky items, the larger ones for pasta, sandwiches, etc. One day I may reveal my crazy cupboard of containers and lids! If you prefer a bento box, this Planetbox gets top reviews.
– We all need shortcuts. You may not always get to making marinated tofu, making soup, or baking muffins. Get some Amy’s burgers or other veg burgers that you can easily heat and put in a sandwich, and pick up healthier granola bars or snack cookies. Try Amy’s baked beans in a wrap with rice (I always add about 1 cup or more of black or kidney beans to stretch it out) or Amy’s alphabet soup – amp up the nutritional profile by adding beans, cubed potatoes or sweet potatoes, or cubed tofu. Try a pre-marinated tofu which simply needs to be sliced or lightly heated. Keep some quick fixes on hand to avoid mama (or papa) food-prep burnout!
Next, here are some examples of lunches I’ve packed for our girls (photo quality not stellar, but sure to give you the idea):
Couple of news-y bits before I sign off:
First, PCRM has launched their September kickstart. I’ve been following PCRM from their early days, and am extremely proud to be partnered with them for this month’s kickstart. Not only are quite a few of my recipes in their 21-day plan, I am their “featured partner” for September. If you sign up and mention my name as the referral, you have the chance to win one of my books at the end of the program… plus you will be eligible to purchase the PP15 at a discounted rate. I don’t discount the Plant-Powered 15 ebook anywhere else, this is a special PCRM initiative. If you are new to the kickstart program, it is completely free to register. Every day you receive emails with recipe highlights, tips from celebrities, and more. There is also a community forum. In fact, I have met some very special readers here from the kickstart program! So, it’s a very cool way to network and also, obviously, get immersed in a healthy plant-strong dietary plan.
Second, I have just launched my Plant-Powered 15 on amazon. You can still order through my site, but now you have the option to order via amazon on your kindle. Since many of you already have the PP15, I am asking a wee favor: If you have and love this ebook, can you leave a short review on amazon? Would really help establish its presence. On the topic of reviews, I would also deeply appreciate extra reviews of LTEV. As I work to finish this next cookbook, it is helpful to build the reviews and profile on amazon. I sure appreciate any help. Thank you.
With that, I hope you enjoy these school lunch tips. PLEASE share some of your own! What recipes do you rely on regularly? And, what are your go-to snacks and meals to pack into lunches. Any terrific quick-fixes to share?