Summer is packing its bags and getting ready for a vacay of its own. Fall is right around the corner and that means pumpkins and cobwebs line all the grocery stores and people are dusting off their Chelsea boots. But before we commit ourselves to all things spooky, one this has to happen first: going back to school. I’m sure most of you are aware, but in case you didn’t know: school lunches and childhood obesity are in a state of emergency. I wanted to showcase some kid-friendly back to school vegan lunch ideas that you can prepare instead of trusting your kid’s wellbeing to their school’s sketchy mystery meat.
Growing up in American public schools, I ate meat like most people. I ate the canned fruit covered in syrup, the cardboard crusted pizza, and the bland mashed potatoes on a flimsy styrofoam lunch tray like everyone else. Back then, I didn’t think it was anything other than normal, and sadly, I probably enjoyed some of the meals. Little did I know, that the styrofoam plate that my food was on probably had more nutritional value than the ‘food’ that was on it.
And therein lies one of the many cogs in the wheel of obesity and heart disease that rolls across the entire United States. Childhood obesity rates have remained at around 17 percent for the past decade. Approximately 14 percent of children (ages 2 to 5) enrolled in WIC were obese. Nearly one-third (31.3 percent) of children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese. And 13.9 percent of high school students are obese (source). These statistics are from 2016, everyone.
Approximately 22 million children under 5 years of age are overweight across the world. In the United States, the number of overweight children and adolescents has doubled in the last two to three decades, and similar doubling rates are being observed worldwide (source).
But you know what? I can show you better than tell you how bleak it is.
I feel like we need to take a moment of silence for those atrocious facts and those photos. These were taken at various schools throughout the U.S. So depressing.
If you’re not afraid to learn the truth about how schools in the U.S. torture kids in the lunch room, I’ve linked some great studies and articles below.
I say all of this to say that I decided to put together some vegan lunch box ideas for everyone from ages 1 to 92. Whether you’re packing up your lunch for school or for work, these are all fairly simple recipes that can be mixed and matched however you see fit. It may seem pretty bleak right now, but if we just take a little time to look after ourselves and each other, we can turn this ship around before it completely capsizes. If you stir up a desire and a passion for health inside yourself and support that desire with a solid foundation of general nutritional knowledge, you can change the entire trajectory of your health, your kid’s health, and the health of your kids’ kids.
Check out my recipes after the jump!
Disclaimer: I am splitting up the recipes by listing the main courses first, and the sweet and savory sides separately. That way, you can easily mix and match dishes without reading about ones you may not be interested in.
First up is one of my favorite go-to recipes of all time. My mom used to make a mean tuna salad so I decided to put a vegan twist on her recipe. I used shell pasta, throw a package of tofu on the skillet, chop up some veggies, toss in mayo and mustard, and one ‘secret’ ingredient: pickle juice. I know, I know, pickles can be very divisive. You either love them to the point you can drink straight pickle juice or you adamantly against them. For my pickle lovers: respect. For my readers who can’t stand them, you can use rice vinegar instead or omit that step entirely. The choice is yours. The bottom line is that this recipe is perfect if you’re in a bind and need to get at least 6 serving out of a dish.
This pasta salad works as a cold dish or a semi-warm dish (not hot) so it is perfect to travel with, whether it’s for school or for work. The tofu is also optional for those that are adverse to tofu.
Vegan Pasta Salad
- 1 box pasta shells (approx 1 lb)
- 1 large tomato (diced)
- 3 dill pickles (diced)
- 2 celery stalks (diced)
- 1/2 cup chopped red onions
- 1 package tofu (optional)
- 6 tbsp vegan mayo
- 2 tbsp dijon mustard
- 3 tbsp pickle juice (can sub rice vinegar)
- 1 tbsp salt
Season and sautee tofu in a skillet.
Dice all veggies while tofu and pasta are cooking. Place the celery in a small saucepan and cover with enough water just to cover the pieces. Boil for 3-4 minutes and then strain.
Drain and rinse pasta and place in a large bowl. Add vegan mayo, dijon mustard, pickle juice or rice vinegar, and salt and stir well. Add chopped veggies (including celery).
Toss in seasoned and chopped tofu and mix well. Can be served immediately or chilled for a few hours or overnight.
Next up is a merger that will please moms and kids alike. Macaroni and cheese: check. A way to incorporate a vegetable that kids sometimes despise but is super healthy?: check. Macaroni and Brussels Sprouts go together like…Well I’m not exactly sure, but this recipe is a delicious way to trick kids into eating Brussels Sprouts if they need convincing. Properly seasoning potent veggies and careful preparation can turn any kid into a veggieholic.
Now that I think of it, I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t like rice. Surprisingly, I’ve met kids who don’t like macaroni, vegan or not vegan. So if your kids are among the latter, you can try out the easiest of all these main dishes: vegan fried rice. I popped 3 cups of brown rice into a rice cooker, sauteed the cooked rice in olive oil, added Bragg’s liquid aminos and sriracha, tossed in some veggies, and voila! Dinner or lunch is served. You can definitely alter this recipe to suit whatever cravings/tastes you prefer. For example, you can replace the olive oil with coconut oil, brown rice with jasmine rice, and the carrots and edamame with chilis and tomatoes and now you have Thai fried rice. More than half of the cook time is waiting for the rice to cook, change whatever you’d like!
Easy Vegan Fried Rice
- 3 cups brown rice
- 1 1/4 cup edamame (seeds only)
- 1/2 cup julienne carrots
- olive oil
- 1 1/2 tbsp sriracha (add to taste)
- 2 tbsp Bragg's liquid aminos (add to taste)
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions (optional)
Add cooked rice to a skillet prepped with olive oil. Add sriracha and Bragg's liquid aminos. Cook, covered on medium low heat for 10 minutes. Add carrots and edamame. Cook for another 10-15 minutes. Serve.
Ever heard of kelp noodles? Hint: they are not green and they are not slimy. They’re actually firm, clear noodles that are meant to be eaten raw. Kelp noodles don’t have chlolesterol, gluten, wheat or sugar and they provide 15% of your daily calcium needs and 4% of your daily iron needs. Kelp noodles can be served raw (merely soak them in room temperature water to ‘cook’) or they can be added to a saucy dish toward the end of cooking. They are an easy way for people adverse to gluten to quickly throw together a pasta dish that wont hurt their stomach. I’ve included a Pad Thai kelp noodle recipe, but you can also try a pesto kelp noodle dish or kelp noodles with a vegan alfredo sauce. There are so many different options to test out!
Pad Thai Kelp Noodles
- 1 package kelp noodles (12 oz.)
- 3 tbsp almond butter
- 2 tbps Bragg's liquid aminos
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tsp chili pepper flakes
- julienne carrots (for garnish)
- 1/4 cup cilantro (for garnish)
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds (for garnish)
- 1/4 cup diced green onions (for garnish)
In a food processor, combine almond butter, Bragg's liquid aminos, garlic, onions, lime juice, chili pepper flakes.
Soak the kelp noodles in room temperature water for 10-20 minutes. Pull apart the noodles to separate.
Pour sauce over noodles and garnish with julienne carrots, sesame seeds, cilantro and green onions.
These oatmeal raisin cookies were so rich and had the perfect texture. Nutmeg, maple syrup and shredded coconut make this staple cookie next level.
Vegan Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
- 2 tbsp almond milk
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 cup flour
- 6 tbsp Earth Balance
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp vegan powdered sugar
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 4 tbsp shredded coconut (optional)
Combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda in a bowl.
Mix sugars, Earth Balance, vanilla extract, almond milk, maple syrup in a separate bowl.
Add flour mixture to sugar mixture. Mix well. Fold in rolled oats and shredded coconut oil.
Bake at 350 for 9-10 minutes. I used a baking pan lined with a silicone baking pad. I greased the pad with coconut oil. I would not suggest cooking longer than 10 minuted to get a crunchier cookie because they will harden a bit when they sit out.
This banana chia pudding recipe has its own blog post here.
Banana Chia Pudding
- 2 bananas
- 1/4 cup almond milk
- 1 tbsp coconut yogurt
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup coconut yogurt
Mix banana mash ingredients together in a food processor. Add in the rest of the ingredients and chill overnight.
I topped the pudding with coco chip, totally optional but you can find the recipe here.
I can’t decide if the name of this recipe is lame or not, but it tastes amazing. This even doubles as a quick afternoon snack as long as chocolate almond butter is prepared beforehand. I guess I should mention that it’s a fried tortilla layered in homemade chocolate almond butter and wrapped around a banana, chilled. So. Freakin’. Good. You can also use pre-made chocolate almond butter if you’d rather not make your own.
Chocolate Monkey Wraps
- 1 flour tortilla
- 1 tbsp turbinado sugar (optional, for crunchiness)
- 1 banana
- chocolate almond butter (amount varies)
- 1 tsp Earth Balance
Melt Earth Balance in a skillet. Fry tortilla on both sides on med-low heat for 3-4 minutes. Don't let the tortilla harden you just want to lightly toast it. It should still be soft and malleable.
Spread chocolate almond butter (recipe is linked below) over toasted tortilla. Wrap banana in tortilla and slice.
Refrigerate at least 20 minutes before serving. Do not freeze, as the bananas will retain water and then make everything mushy.
Learn how to make chocolate almond butter: here.
This chocolatey spread is practically begging you to keep it as a main staple in your dessert recipes. I can’t wait to incorporate this chocolate almond butter in more recipes.
Vegan Chocolate Almond Butter
- 1 cup almond butter
- 1/2 cup dark chocolate or chocolate chips (vegan)
- 1 tbsp Earth Balance
- 1 tsp cocoa powder
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp maple syrup
- 3 tbsp almond milk
Melt dark chocolate or vegan chocolate chips over Earth Balance in a sauce pan on low heat. Stir frequently.
Mix melted chocolate, almond butter and other ingredients together in a food processor if possible. Add the almond milk last. Add more or less depending on desired consistency.
If you'd like to make homemade almond butter, just mix roasted, unsalted almonds in a Vitamix or another high powered blender.
It’s most likely illegal to start campfires at school, but you can definitely pack these yummy vegan smores skewers in your lunch box and play pretend. This recipe has its own blog post here.
Vegan Smores Skewers
- 2 tbsp chocolate almond butter
- 12 vegan marshmallows
- 1/4 cup cookie crumbs (or vegan graham cracker crumbs)
- 1/2-1 cup water
- cake pops sticks or skewers
Place marshmallows on cake pop sticks or on skewers. I broke my skewers into thirds.
Crush cookie crumbs or vegan graham crackers. If you can find any, most graham crackers have honey. I used Annie's Chocolate Chip Bunny Grahams. I crushed mine in a guacamole mortar you can use a ziploc baggie and your hands, or feet haha.
Add 1/2-1 cup water to a saucepan (depending on the size of the pan). Place a glass bowl over the pan so that it stays upright on its own and barely touches the water.
Add 2 tbsp of chocolate almond butter to the glass bowl and slowly bring to a boil.
Double boil chocolate almond butter for about 5 minutes. Do not over boil. Remove glass bowl from heat.
Dip marshmallow skewers into chocolate almond butter and then into cookie crumbs. Repeat until there is no more almond butter left.
Place pops on a parchment paper lined dish and freeze for 20 minutes. Keep refrigerated afterward.
As you saw in the photos from school lunches above, school cafeteria’s most prized cooking technique is cooking each vegetable in the most unappetizing way ever. The soggier and the blander, the better. Of course your child will think that they hate veggies when they’re served up like prison food. Each veggie can be cooked up at least four different ways. Explore your options and don’t be afraid of spices. I made cauliflower popcorn and roasted brussels sprouts this time around.
- 1 head cauliflower
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
Wash and cut cauliflower
In a bowl, mix cauliflower, oil, salt and garlic powder
Bake at 400 degrees for 30 mins. Let cool and cut into tiny pieces for a more ‘popcorn-like’ effect.
You basically use the same exact recipe for roasted brussels sprouts 🙂
Check out the videos split into two parts here: