Mini whole wheat bagel spread with vegan mayo, red bell pepper hummus and vegan cream cheese, layered with chopped greens, bell peppers and a sprinkling of himalayan sea salt and garlic powder, black olives and fresh organic strawberries.
Lunchbox Packing Tips & Tricks:
-If your kids are old enough, allow them to help choose what goes into their lunch and let them help you with the process. They will be much more likely to actually eat the contents if they have a say!
-Pack a rolled up wash cloth in their lunch to use as a napkin. Instead of adding to the landfills, they’ll bring it home to wash. And if they accidentally don’t bring it home, no sweat-I buy the cheap white washcloths in bulk for next to nothing.
A good rule to go by when packing lunch is to include:
-a carb/protein item (sometimes you can combine the two, other times it’s trickier)
-a fruit, preferably raw
-a vegetable, preferably raw
-an occasional healthy sweet item
Carbohydrates and Proteins:
Some great ideas for this category include:
–Nut butter or seed butter sandwiches on 100% whole grain bread. Have fun with it by experimenting with various combinations, like peanut butter and pickles, almond butter and bananas, tahini and apple slices. Also switch up the bread from time to time-try hamburger buns, mini slider buns, pita pockets or tortillas.
–Hummus or vegan cream cheese with veggies on a whole wheat bagel. Not a fan of hummus? There are many varieties you can buy and make so before you give it up, try a new flavor. My favorite is roasted red bell pepper hummus. If you’re certain your kid won’t eat the hummus, just add a little bit mixed in with vegan mayo. You’ll be adding protein and flavor in disguise! My kids love to make their own Veggie Subway Sandwiches, jam packed with shredded lettuce, pickles, peppers and mashed avocados. Spread on a touch of that hummus and you’ve got a healthy and filling lunch.
–Pasta salad. 100% whole wheat corkscrew type pasta works best for an easy to pack, cold pasta salad. Throw in olives, chopped zucchini, cherry tomatoes, chick peas, corn or whatever those taste buds approve of. The best part it, if you use a vegan mayonnaise dressing, you don’t need to worry about it spoiling from being unrefrigerated! (Plus, it’s cholesterol-free!!) Colorful Pasta Salad recipe.
–Faux chicken salad with raisins, walnuts and a touch of mayo, rolled up in a tortilla, piled on a slice of bread, stuffed in a pita pocket or simply eaten with a fork. You could even finely chop some fresh spinach and stir it into the “chicken” salad for added color and nutrients. Creamy Chicken Salad recipe.
–Veggie Sushi. This is a favorite in my house! Grab a sheet of nori, spread on the chilled or room temperature brown rice, layer in strips of avocados, carrots, cucumber and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Wet the end and roll up with a bamboo roller. Slice into bite sized pieces. Sushi recipe.
–Burritos. Pack in the protein with a legume filled burrito rolled up in a heart-healthy whole wheat tortilla. Top with diced tomatoes, chopped greens and vegan shredded cheese. Easy Burrito recipe.
Fruits & Veggies:
This category is pretty self-explanatory but if you’re like me, you get stuck rotating the same 3-4 fruits and vegetables all the time. For the freshest, best tasting produce be sure to purchase what’s in season. And if you’re not already hip to the organic craze-jump onboard! Paying a bit more (although not in all cases) for organic is always worth the price of keeping icky pesticides, herbicides and fungicides out of your body. Even if you can’t see it, it’s there! Here’s a list of The Dirty Dozen in reference to which produce to never buy non-organic.
If you’re packing fresh veggie sticks such as carrots, bell peppers, or celery, try a few different dips to make it more fun. Of course, hummus is a great veggie dip as is tahini dip: blend together tahini, soy sauce, fresh lemon juice, garlic and water. You could also try vegan “ranch” dressing Vegan Ranch Dip recipe. Cruciferous vegetables pair well with this dip (broccoli, cauliflower).
So you probably already know the more often you pack desserts, the more often the kids will expect desserts. Aim for only occasionally packing sweet treats and please, please, please make them healthy…okay, healthier…desserts. Here are some good ones:
–Granola Bars. Homemade granola bars can be far cheaper and healthier than the store-bought alternatives. Most boxed bars contain way more sugar, sodium and fat than I’d like. Baking your own bars is actually pretty easy! Throw in some nuts, seeds, raisins and maybe even chocolate chips. Granola Bar recipe.
–Vegan Peanut Butter Cups. I think I make these at least once a week, no joke. You can easily kick up the nutrition notch by adding a tablespoon of ground flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds or wheat germ into the crust. It goes undetected every time! Vegan Peanut Butter Cups recipe.
–Crispy Balls. Don’t let the name fool you, my then 5-year old named this recipe! Similar to Rice Krispy treats, this sweet treat is much healthier and almost raw. Crispy Balls recipe.
–Cookie Dough Bites. These can be made in a variety of ways and are a breeze to whip up. You could make peanut butter cookie dough bites, chocolate cookie dough bites or oatmeal cookie dough bites, depending on what you fancy. Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites recipe.
Step 1: Menu plan. Yes, it requires a bit of time upfront, but it’s worth it. I promise. Create a week’s worth of lunch box ideas with your kiddos, if they’re old enough to help. There’s nothing worse than packing a lunch you know your kids aren’t really going to eat and having it come home at the end of the day untouched.
When it comes to non-food items, select easy to open lunch boxes and containers. There are so many cool ones out there now. Test it out on your kids before you send them to school to make sure their little hands can actually open them. As a teacher, I can tell you that lunch helpers don’t enjoy opening your kids’ containers.
Step 2: Jot down a quick grocery list coordinating with your meal plan. Be sure not to leave anything out so you don’t have to make extra trips to the grocery store during the middle of the week (that’s what I usually end up doing!). Include drinks (although packing a reusable water bottle is ideal), fresh fruits, fresh vegetables that are easily eaten raw, a carbohydrate and a protein. And don’t forget the occasional little sweet treat and maybe a note.
Step 3: Organize your kitchen’s pantry and ‘fridge to accommodate easy lunch box packing. Designate a space in your cupboard or countertop for assembly line style packing. This will help you see when you need to replenish your supply for the following weeks.
Step 4: Prepare. Cut up any vegetables that need chopping (think carrots, celery, zucchini, bell peppers) and keep them in a tupperware container in the ‘fridge. These are also great to have on hand for easy after school snacks. Pre-make any homemade dipping sauces like hummus, or any trail mixes (raisins, seeds, nuts, mini chocolate chips). Keep a week’s worth of these items stocked for the week so that during the weekdays you save time.
Step 5: Get started! Figure out when you’ll have adequate time to pack; either the night before or the morning of. I usually do a mixture of both, packing the non-refrigerated items the night before and teh rest the morning of. I recommend packing a fresh fruit item (think easy to eat like a small apple, easy-to-peel orange, or a cut up mango or kiwi fruit), fresh vegetable item (veggie sticks that can be eaten raw are ideal), a carbohydrate like sandwich bread (so many to choose from-think outside the bread box) or whole wheat crackers and pretzels, or cold pasta salad, a protein (think hummus, nut and seed butters, nuts and seeds for trail mix) and a small treat. For the small treat I love to make healthy mini muffins or cookies so that I control what ingredients go into them. A quick hand-written note is a nice touch too!