If you are looking for vegetarian lunch ideas for kids, we are guessing that you are either vegetarian, trying to eat less meat, or simply looking for more variety – all things that we support! We know the challenges of packing a healthy lunch everyday for your kid, so hopefully this article can give you some ideas to make it a little easier. If you are stuck in a PB&J rut and need some help out, keep reading!
Why Pack a Vegetarian Lunch?
Reduces Meat Consumption
Most Americans eat a lot of meat. Limiting meat consumption from just one meal a day could positively impact physical and environmental health. Plus, packing a well-balanced vegetarian lunch increases foods that many kids don’t eat enough of – fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (1, 2, 3).
Supports a Plant Forward Eating Approach
At To Taste, we promote a plant forward way of eating, which in a nutshell means making plant foods the focus of your meals, but not necessarily eliminating meat. Increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats has many health benefits for adults and children (4).
Variety is the spice of life! Packing a vegetarian lunch beyond a basic PB&J can help make lunchtime a little more exciting for kids. Of course, we know that there are kids that want the exact same foods everyday, and that’s okay! Just nudge them over time to try new foods using baby steps. Change out a few sides or add a sampling of a new food before replacing an entire entree. If changing their lunchtime routine is a losing battle, just focus on variety at other meals, and leave lunch alone. You can always try again at another time; kids don’t learn well on an empty stomach.
When to Pack Lunch
There is not a right or wrong time to pack your kid’s lunch; it’s all about what works best with your schedule. Some people like to pack lunch the night before, while others throw everything together in the morning!
Here are some ideas that can make packing your child’s lunch easier:
- Prep some items on Sunday: wash produce (except berries), portion out dips or sauces, cook grains – basically anything that will make packing during the week easier.
- Start packing lunches when preparing dinner the night before. That might sound a little crazy, but depending on what you are making, it could make good sense. If you are already slicing and dicing vegetables, pull some aside. Since you already have the cutting board out, prep any fruit or other ingredients that need to be cut, sliced, or diced. Or consider how you can recreate leftovers into an enticing meal for your child the next day, and set some of those ingredients aside.
- Consider packing lunches with your kids, even Pre-K students! When they help you make it, they will probably be more likely to eat it. Plus, this is quality time you get to spend with your kids doing something productive.
How to Pack it
There are so many options when it comes to lunchboxes for kids. We are fans of bento boxes, which include compartments for 3-5 different food items. If you don’t want to buy a new container, you can always just place portioned food items in a lunch sack or box! Either way, be sure to include an ice pack when foods need to be kept cold.
What to Pack: Vegetarian Recipes for Kids’ Lunch Boxes
We have discussed why to pack a vegetarian lunch, when to pack it, and how to pack it, so now let’s focus on what to pack! Build a meal that resembles MyPlate; half the meal should be fruits and vegetables. Luckily, vegetarian meals make it easier to meet that recommendation. We have included a list of ideas below, some with links to recipes and others with descriptions, as they don’t really require a recipe. We like to keep lunches simple! If you are looking for vegan lunch box ideas for school, many of the suggestions below are naturally vegan or can be made vegan.
Sandwiches and Wraps
- Upgraded PB&J: any whole grain bread, nut butter, banana/raspberries/strawberries
- Nut Butter Banana Wrap: whole wheat tortilla, nut butter, whole banana; roll up and slice into pinwheels or leave whole
- Veggie Wrap: whole wheat tortilla, any spread, any veggies, cheese (optional); roll up and slice into pinwheels or leave whole
- Spread: hummus, pesto, salad dressing, guacamole, cream cheese
- Veggies: spinach, shredded carrots, diced tomatoes, diced bell peppers, chopped broccoli, avocado
- Cheese: shredded, sliced, or crumbled
- Hummus sandwich: whole grain bread, hummus, any veggies
Kids love the ability to personalize their own meals, so consider packing the components of a dish and then letting them assemble it. Bonus! This helps cut down on your prep time because you don’t have to do the assembly!
- Yogurt Parfait: fresh fruit, yogurt, granola or granola clusters
- Tacos: tortillas, beans, shredded cheese, veggies, salsa
- Pizza: whole grain English muffin, marinara, shredded cheese
- Deconstructed Pasta Salad: whole grain pasta, mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, dressing
- Traditional Green Salad: any leafy green, chopped or shredded veggies, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, cheese, dressing on the side
- Grain Salads: cooked whole grain, beans, chopped vegetables, toasted nuts, cheese, fresh herbs, vinaigrette
- Pasta Salad: whole grain pasta, veggies, cheese, sauce or extra virgin olive oil
- Whole Grain Pasta: penne, rotini, orzo, macaroni
- Veggies: cherry tomatoes, bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, olives
- Sauce: marinara, pesto, vinaigrette, extra virgin olive oil
- Cheese: mini mozzarella balls, shredded cheese, crumbled cheese
Build a meal of an assortment of finger foods! Bento boxes work great for these meals. Consider including the following:
- Cheese: cubed, string, or slices
- Hard Boiled Eggs
- Fruit: fresh or dried
- Veggies: cooked, fresh, orbeans
- Baked Goods: muffins, bars, oatmeal cups
- Energy Bites
- Dips: nut butter, hummus, sauces, salsa
- Whole grain foods: crackers, pretzels, rice cakes, or tortilla chips
For guidance on best ingredients to purchase and include, check out our ingredient guide.
If your kid will eat cold leftovers or a microwave is available, then pack them! Some potentially acceptable items:
- One Pan Mexican Quinoa Skillet
Don’t forget the sides! Make sure to include fruit and vegetables if they aren’t already a major part of the entree.
- Fresh and/or dried fruit: grapes, blueberries, clementines, apple slices
- Fresh vegetables: sliced cucumbers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, sliced bell peppers
- Black Bean Corn Salad
- Cheese: shredded, sliced, string
- Nuts or seeds (if allowed)
Hopefully you find some of these vegetarian lunch ideas for kids helpful! What are some of your favorite vegetarian meals to pack for your kids? Let us know in the comments! Happy school year!
To YOUR Taste!