Note Find more vegan school lunch recipes in Plant-Powered Families, plus an entire chapter on 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 key vegan school lunch recipes. Ones that are easy, quick, that my kids love, and that pack well for school lunches.
Today I’m sharing my top 10 vegan school lunch recipes, 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.
Your kids will love nibbling on these tasty chickpeas warm out of the oven, or cooled for lunches and snacks.
- 2 14 / 15 oz cans chickpeas rinsed and drained
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 tbsp tamari
- 1 - 1 1/2 tsp pure maple syrup
Preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Toss all ingredients together and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes, tossing chickpeas once or twice during baking, until marinade is absorbed but chickpeas are still a little moist (not dried out).
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, other kids may also want them. I’ve had requests. 🙂
2. Hummus #hummusisafoodgroup
Hummus must be in your arsenal of vegan school lunch recipes!
Now that the hummus food group movement has officially begun, get started with my Hummus 101 from Plant-Powered Families (page 84)! If you don’t have PPF, try one of these recipes.
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 difficult to choose just one vegan school lunch recipe here! Some of my favorites are Best Banana Bread, Oatmeal Banana Bites, Apple Hemp Muffins, and Pumpkin Snackles. You can find most of those recipes here. Put 4-5 recipes in rotation, double-batch and freeze some if needed.
4. Simple Tofu Recipes
Vegans don’t have to eat tofu. But, yes, vegans often do enjoy tofu! For back-to-school recipes, keep your tofu recipes very easy and with a versatile seasoning. Try my “Lemon Herb Tofu” (from Vive le Vegan) FIX!!!!!!!!!! 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).
6. Energy Balls
These Cocoa Cookie Dough Balls are sweet enough to be in the cookie category (see 10). Still, I think Energy Balls or squares need their own category. These are so nutrient-dense and pack a nice burst of energy while sneaking in good stuff like seeds, dried fruit, and oats. A win-win for us and the kids! The recipe for these Cocoa Cookie Dough Balls follows, but also see the squares linked above and the Protein Power Balls in PPF.
image credit: www.ucdintegrativemedicine.com
Cocoa Cookie Dough Balls
Psst, these are really health. No need to tell the kids, or anyone else, for that matter; just eat them up knowing they are filled with almonds (nut-free option included) and oats, and sweetened only with dates and raisins!
- 1/2 cup raw almonds see note for nut-free option
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp rolled oats
- A few pinches of sea salt about a scant 1/8 tsp
- 1 cup pitted dates
- 1/4 cup raisins or more dates
- 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp nondairy chocolate chips or cocoa nibs optional
- A few teaspoons of unsweetened cocoa powder unrefined sugar, or a combination of both, for dusting/rolling (optional)
- In a food processor, process the almods until fine and crumbly. Then add remaining ingredients and (except the optional chocolate chips) pulse or process. Once the mixture starts to become crumbly, process fully for a minute or two. It will appear as if nothing is happening at first, that the mixture is just whirring around in crumbs, but soon it will start to become sticky. When you see it start to become a little sticky, add the chocolate chips and process again. Continue to process until it forms a ball on the blade. Stop the machine and remove the dough. Take small coops of the dough (1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons in size) and roll in your hand. Repeat until you have rolled all of the dough. Toss or roll the balls in the coating, if using,, and refrigerate. Eat and repeat often.
- Allergy-Free or Bust!: For a nut-free version, replace the almonds with just 1/4 cup of raw pumkin seeds, and add another 1/4 cup of rolled oats.
- If This Apron Could Talk: Make a double batch and freeze half. They thaw very well.
- Kid-Friendly: These are excellent to pack in school lunches, with a nut-free option for you if nuts aren’t permitted in your school. For a nut-free version, replace the almonds with just 1⁄4 cup of raw pumpkin seeds, and add another 1⁄4 cup of rolled oats.
- Savvy Subs and Adds: Replace vanilla with 1/2 teaspoon almond extract or orange oil.
7. Nutritious Soups
Admittedly, soups don’t top my personal list of back-to-school recipes. But I know that so many of you love to pack nutritious, hearty soups so I must include a few. Sniffle Soup (below) is one of our girls’ favorites, and I hear it’s popular with your families too! Make it for dinner one evening (keep on thicker side), and send it to school in a thermos for the kiddos another day. Some other soups my girls love include this Sweet Potato Bisque, Tomato Lentil Soup, and this Smoky Bean 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 Chia Puddings posted, and a few more puddings.
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.
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!
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?