Here’s a quick collection of healthy school lunch ideas for packed lunches from home to send with your child or teen. While they can appeal to everyone (even picky eaters), they’re especially useful for vegetarian, vegan, and dairy-free kids.
If you’re fresh out of ideas for the lunch box, these ideas may help ease the daily dilemma of what to send to school that won’t come home uneaten!
1. Vary the types of bread used for sandwiches. Bagels, rolls, pita pockets, English muffins, purchased or homemade raisin bread, and even fresh flour tortillas or wraps can add interest to standard sandwich fare. Getting your children accustomed to whole grain breads is always a good thing.
2. Fruit presentations: I always packed fruit into lunch boxes, but it often came home uneaten until I resorted to some simple tricks. Small chunks of fruit, such as strawberries, grapes, melon, tiny seedless orange sections, and such, served on a skewer (long cocktail toothpicks are perfect), were always eaten; similarly, apple slices are more likely to be eaten if you supply a tiny container of peanut butter to dip them into.
3. Vegetables with dip: Similarly, raw vegetables become more of a draw when you supply a dip; When sending carrot stocks (or baby carrots), celery, or bell pepper strips, add a tiny container of the kind of dip your child likes. Try hummus (homemade or purchased) or ranch (similarly, homemade or purchased)
4. Cereal for lunch: Breakfast cereal is standard fare, but is an unexpected treat when served for lunch. Pack good-quality cereal or granola in a lidded bowl-shaped container, and your child can add his or her favorite plant-based milk to it (vanilla is particularly good with cereal) when it’s time to eat. Teamed with a banana, this makes a filling meal.
5. Salads in pita bread appeal to kids with more adventurous palates. Augment simple lettuce, tomato, and carrot salads with chickpeas, chunks of baked tofu, and/or vegan cheese. Keep pita sandwiches fresh by wrapping first in foil, then in sandwich bags. Older kids and teens may enjoy Barbecue-Flavored Chickpea Pita Sandwich.
6. Bean Dip: A tasty, high-protein bean dip packed into a container to keep it warm, along with good-quality tortilla chips makes a welcome, offbeat lunch. Try our Crazy-Easy Hot Bean Dip.
7. A warm veggie burger (either homemade or one of the excellent prepared varieties) on a whole grain roll or English muffin, with favorite condiments, makes an easy and hearty option. Younger kids may enjoy sliders — cute little burgers for little hands. Either way, wrap the whole sandwich in foil to keep warm as long as possible in the lunchbox.
8. Crazy-Easy “Tofuna” Sandwiches: Lose the tuna (the fishing of which is terrible for the ocean and harmful to dolphins) and make this super-easy “tofuna” with baked tofu instead. Only 3 essential ingredients (and 2 optional ones), everyone loves it!
9. Bento-style lunches: Add more fun and variety with bento-style lunchbox for your child or teen. Presenting a small amount of a variety of foods is visually appealing and more likely to be eaten with enthusiasm, from pre-K through senior year! Adults love bento box lunches for the office, too.
10. Pasta salad is an appealing lunch option. Use fun shapes such as wagon wheels, small shells, or tiny tubes. Small shapes pack best into containers. Add a couple of your child’s favorite veggies like lightly steamed broccoli, carrots, green peas, and corn. See our simple Lunch Box Pasta Salad which includes a GF option.
11. Wholesome baked goods: Put some extra love in the lunch box with their favorite kind of wholesome homemade baked goods. Muffins are always welcome, and can even replace sandwiches and wraps. My kids loved finding Zucchini Muffins or Apple Muffins in their lunch box. As they got older, two muffins instead of a sandwich always got raves.
If you enjoyed these healthy school lunch ideas for vegetarians, vegans and beyond, explore more …