Finding ideas for vegan kids lunches can be challenging! I’m always on the hunt for new and exciting things to pack in my kids’ school lunches or just snacks to take on the go.
What I have learned from 10 years of packing vegan kids lunches...
- Your kids will get asked lots of questions about their food.
- They may be teased or criticized about their eating choices at times.
- There's a very short time that kids are actually sitting and eating.
- This meal will have to last them up to 4-5 more hours before they get home.
- Other kids are getting hot foods like pizza and chicken nuggets. Give your vegan kid something hot too!
When your kids are the only vegans at school…
My kids are 10 and 13 now and are about to start 5th and 8th grade. They have been vegan since birth, and although they go to a big public school, they've been the only vegans in their school for years. They get a lot of questions over the years about what they are eating and why. Only recently, now that my oldest is in middle school, other students are starting to make a choice of their own to go vegetarian or vegan, and the curiosity with their lunches is dying down a little.
My boys are confident in our family's eating choices and have a deep understating of why we are vegan, so they have been able to respond appropriately in the lunchroom.
Common things that my kids hear about their vegan lunches are...
- Why don't you eat eggs or drink milk, that doesn't hurt animals?
- It doesn't hurt cows to get their milk, so why don't you drink it?
- You are going to get sick if you don't drink milk or eat animals.
- Do you eat animal crackers? (Surprisingly, this is one of the most common questions).
Here are some things that you can do to help your child prepare for this...
- Make sure to talk to your kids about your family's eating choices and why you have chosen to be vegan.
- Practice answering common questions that they may get.
- Help them come up with a few responses that they can use when the questions come.
- Visit a farm sanctuary to help your child form a connection with farm animals and understand veganism at a deeper level.
- Watch some vegan documentary with your older vegan kids so they can see the living conditions of farmed animals. (make sure to watch the movies first and be sure that it is suitable for your child).
How can I help my kids feel “normal” when packing vegan lunches?
My kids have spent years being questioned about their vegan food and at this point, they are sick of it. They just want to eat their lunch in peace. So, to help them with this, I want to give them as much “normal” looking food as possible in their lunches.
- This reduces questions and harassment.
- Makes them feel “normal.”
- Moves the conversation on to other things instead of focusing on their food choices.
- It makes other kids realize that a lot of foods they eat are vegan too.
How can I make sure that my vegan kid's lunches are balanced and healthy?
I know that they get tons of fruits and veggies for breakfast, snacks, and dinner, so I have decided to let the health food go for the school lunches in the name of:
- eating “normal” food
- ...and filling them up.
I still want to make sure that I’m not giving them pure junk and that they will have enough calories to get through the day without being hungry.
To make sure their lunches are filling yet balanced I follow this guide…
- main dish with a protein source - sandwiches, wraps, pasta, soups, nuts, tofu, bean salads, vegan jerky, beans, or protein bars
- carb – popcorn, potato chips, corn chips, pretzels
- fruit – apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, pears, plums, berries, fruit cups
- vegetable – carrot sticks, broccoli, snap peas, cherry tomatoes, celery sticks
- sweet – cookies, fruit snacks, granola bars, dried fruit
How can I make sure my vegan teens and older kids are full?
Packing vegan lunches seems easier for younger children. Once they get a little older, there are no longer snack times at school. Depending on the school’s schedule, they may go 4-5 hours without any food. Older children and teens may also have after school activities and sports, so their lunches need to be FILLING!
Make a vegan lunch with enough calorie-dense foods that your kids can fill up quickly!
At our school, kids only have about 15-20 minutes of actual eating time. The lunch period is 30 minutes, but with all of the transition time and clean up, there is actually very little time to eat. I must pack things that are high in protein and calories to fill them up quickly and power them through the rest of the day.
What to pack in your vegan kids' lunches...
- Sandwiches -
- Roll-ups or wraps - anything you would put in a sandwich, just rolled in a tortilla. (Great for gluten-free kids)!
- Hot or cold foods in a thermos-
- Protein-Packed Foods-
- Luna bars
- Cliff bars
- Builder bars
- Smart dogs
- vegan jerky
- Chips – potato chips, corn chips, popcorn, crackers, pretzels,
- Dips - hummus cups, guacamole cups, salsa, ranch dip
- Vegan cheese - my homemade vegan cheese, or store-bought slices
- granola bars, nuts, trail mix, fruit cups, fruit snacks, olives
- Fruits -Apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, berries, etc…
- Veggies - carrot sticks, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, pickles, etc…
Tons of everyday snack foods are vegan. You may be surprised by the number of common items that you can find at any store. PETA has a great list of accidentally vegan items to help you out.
Other things that I like to make ahead for vegan kids lunches or grab and go snacks:
- Vegan Jerky
- Deviled potatoes
- Healthy vegan muffins
- Cookie Dough Breakfast Bites
- Spinach Balls
- Polenta Pizzas
- Chickpea Bread - A high protein cross between quiche and cornbread
What containers are helpful when packing vegan school lunches?
I’ve purchased a few different types of lunch boxes and containers for my kids’ lunches.
The Bentgo boxes are great for younger kids and really cute and fun but won’t hold enough for my hungry older boys.
The stainless-steel Planet Boxes also seem great, yet my kids lose their lunch boxes constantly, so I have never splurged on anything so nice for my forgetful boys.
I have found that a few bento box type boxes or something like these Sistema brand containers (that I found for just a few dollars each at Home Goods and Marshall's) work great for fruits, veggies, crackers, dips, or things like olives and pickles.
I even found this cute little Sistema container with a sealed area to hold dips and spreads. It’s great for veggies with some vegan ranch, apple slices with peanut butter, or crackers with hummus.
I also always make sure to buy a good quality thermos for soups, pasta, or rice dishes. This way I can heat up something in the morning, and they have a hot lunch at school. These thermoses also work great for holding cold pasta salad or bean salads. Chickpea salad is one of my kids’ favorite lunch foods! Finding thermoses for older kids' without babyish looking cartoons is hard, I had to order my plain ones on Amazon.
Vegan and Gluten-Free Lunch Ideas For Kids:
Vegan lunch ideas for kids can seem difficult and when you are vegan and gluten-free, it can feel impossible!
My kids have been vegan their whole lives and gluten-free for the last 6 years. Vegan lunches were pretty easy and a non-issue, but when we needed to go gluten-free as well, we all wanted to cry!
All of the lunch options that I listed above are actually both vegan and gluten-free if you use gluten-free bread, wraps, and pasta.
Gluten-free vegan bread - There really aren't any good major brands of gluten-free vegan bread that you can find consistently. There may be some great ones locally in your area, so see what you can find. We like Sami's bread and you can order online, however, although it has no gluten ingredients, it is not made at a gluten-free facility. I would recommend that you make gluten-free wraps instead of sandwiches if you don't have a good source of GF bread.
Gluten-free wraps - Gluten-free tortillas are much easier to find and are generally better tasting in our opinion than the gluten-free bread. Aldi's G-free brand has a gluten-free wrap in plain and spinach that is very good and reasonably priced.