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Tips and Plant-Based Lunch Ideas for Back to School

We weren’t sure what to send in our little one’s lunch bag when he first started going to school. We have experimented with different foods, and have found many things that he enjoys. We have found that keeping it simple, nourishing, and delicious is the way to go!

Whether you’re a fully plant-based eater, or are looking to incorporate more plants into your child’s diet, we hope that these tips and recipes will help!

TIPS

Gradual change is ok!

  • If you try to overhaul the entire lunchbox all at once, they may not take to it very well. Start by incorporating fruit and vegetables that your child is familiar with and already enjoys! 
  • If they are accustomed to eating packaged foods, slowly reduce the quantity in their lunches until they are eliminated (or at a level you’re comfortable with). 
  • Remember that making small changes step-by-step over time will add up to a big change

Involve your child in the decision-making

  • Have your child offer healthy suggestions for what they would like in their lunch – guide the conversation as needed, and be open to their ideas. 
  • Have them help you make a shopping list or have them shop with you.
  • Offer options so your child can make some decisions (ex. would you like apple slices or orange slices today?)

Make changes before school begins (if possible)

  • Encourage your child to eat more plants by incorporating more plants into your own meals as well. Modelling the behaviour you want to see in your child is a powerful way to influence them to make positive changes.
  • Try to slowly introduce your child to structured meal times that match to the school schedule. Shifting their expectations for meal times will help with the transition. Do a dry run to practice the routine.

Involve your child in the preparation

  • If possible, allow for a bit of extra time for your child to help you prepare foods or put the items in their lunchbox in the morning (or the night before). 
  • Choose age-appropriate ways for your child to help. Here are some ideas. Feel free to use some or all of these suggestions as appropriate for your child and your household routines:
    • get food out of the fridge
    • wash and dry foods
    • help with chopping 
    • open and close lunchbox 
    • put already prepared foods into lunchbox
    • scooping or squeezing sauces into lunchbox
    • filling water bottle
    • retrieving any additional items needed (ex. spoon, fork, napkin etc..)
    • putting everything into lunch bag or backpack

Keep in mind that it will likely take longer to get your child’s lunch together when they help. There is also more potential for spills or messes. That’s ok! They are learning and once you build a routine, it will go more smoothly. We have found that the more involved our kiddo can be in the process, the more interested he is in the food.

Sometimes Doesn’t Finish Lunch?

  • Initially, I was a bit concerned when he didn’t finish all of his food, but those days he would often come home hungry, and finish his lunch as a snack when he got home from school.
  • Kids are smart; they may need reminders to eat  (especially when engaged in a fun activity), but they won’t starve! In most cases, kids will eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. Some days they may eat a ton and other days will be lighter. That’s ok!

MOST IMPORTANT TIPS: 

  • Do what works for you and your family! These are ideas based on what has worked for us, but use your own judgement of what will work for you and yours! 
  • Start with one change. Begin with one simple food swap (ex. their favourite fruit or dried fruit instead of a packaged treat) or give your child one very important job (ex. putting their lunchbox into their backpack). 

FOOD

Remember to be mindful of your school’s particular rules about allergies and rules surrounding what is permitted at school. Be sure to read labels carefully to ensure that you’re following the rules set out by the school.

At our son’s school, lunches need to be completely nut free and also sesame seed free. His school schedule includes two “nutrition breaks.” So, we usually send a lunchbox along with a thermos. Here are our simple suggestions for both:

LUNCH BOX

Raw vegetables and fruit

The easiest “fast food”

  • carrot sticks
  • celery sticks
  • cucumber rounds
  • sugar snap peas
  • snow peas
  • cherry or plum tomatoes
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • bell pepper slices
  • apple (whole or slices) *you can add lemon juice and/or a sprinkle of cinnamon to slices
  • orange
  • banana
  • grapes
  • berries
  • dried fruit: raisins, dates, figs, apricots etc…
  • any other fruit or veggie your child enjoys!

Cooked vegetables and legumes

  • roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes (cut into fries, homefries, or rounds) we bake at 425 F for 20 minutes, flip, and bake another 15-20 minutes or so
  • steamed broccoli or cauliflower
  • roasted chickpeas
  • spicy crispy baked tofu
  • smoked tofu

Sauces

*remember to check labels for possible allergens

  • hummus + hummus-based dressings
  • guacamole
  • seed butters (try to find one without added oils, salt, or sugar – our kiddo enjoys Sunflower Seed Butter)
  • ketchup
  • bbq sauce
  • salsa

THERMOS

Most often, we fill the thermos with leftovers from the night before or oatmeal! Here are some of our kiddo’s favourites:

We also send him to school with a water bottle.

Starting the school year can be a stressful time, especially going back to school during the pandemic. Take a deep breath and be kind to yourself and your kiddo during this challenging time. Making one small change at a time can be easy and fun. Remember that every child and every family’s situation is different, so do what works for you and your family!

Leave us a comment letting us know if you’ve tried any of the tips or recipes we’ve suggested; or if you have any additional ideas that may be helpful to us and other readers of the website.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy school year!

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