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Pack a Lunch With Punch!

Back-to-School Veggie Style: Healthy Lunches That Kids Will Love!

Moms and dads, you know the drill: It’s back-to-school time, and that means packing healthy lunches that your kids will actually want to eat—all before dashing out the door yourself. Here’s one quick tip: Leave the deli slices, cheese, milk, and other animal foods on the supermarket shelf, and replace them with good-for-you vegetarian alternatives, such as soy milk and mock meats. Kids raised on a vegetarian diet have a tremendous advantage: a lower risk of the obesity, cancer, heart disease, and other health problems that will plague their meat-eating peers as they grow older.

Another tip: Think outside the (lunch)box. We love PB&J, but many other options are just as easy—and a welcome change. With the help of Jennifer McCann, who runs the Vegan Lunch Box blog, we put together tasty lunchtime treats that your kids are sure to enjoy. Try bagels with Tofutti’s Better Than Cream Cheese, mini English-muffin pizzas, Tuno salad, a thermos packed with veggie beans and franks, or heat-and-eat vegetarian chili. With a little imagination, it’s easy to pack a lunch that your kids will love! Here are a few of our favorite ideas to get you started.

Veggielicious Lunchbox Dishes

  • Spread some veggie ham with vegan cream cheese and roll up for a fun and easy-to-eat lunch box treat.
  • Make a veggie dog in a blanket—wrap a veggie dog in a crescent roll and bake. Pack ketchup for dipping.
  • Create crunchy triple-decker PB&Js: Cut rice or corn cakes in half with a sharp knife and spread on jam and a nut butter, and then top with the other half.
  • Spread bread with eggless mayonnaise (try Nayonaise or Vegenaise) and pile on veggie deli slices—such as faux ham, faux turkey, or “phony baloney”—and Tofutti American soy cheese slices. Cut into triangles or fun shapes using cookie cutters.
  • Make a mock chicken-salad sandwich with Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chik’n Strips available at health-food stores.
  • Pack P.B. Slices, individually wrapped slices of peanut butter, with bread or crackers; kids can combine them at lunchtime.
  • On those hectic mornings, toss a Smucker’s frozen PB&J sandwich in your child’s lunchbox; it will be thawed and ready to eat by lunchtime.
  • Make burrito roll-ups by spreading tortillas with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese; add olives or diced veggies, roll up, and cut into bite-size pieces. Olé!
  • Make your own “good lunch” by packing meat-free Smart Deli Pepperoni slices, soy cheese slices, and crackers.
  • Spread a bagel with Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese, top with veggie pepperoni, and cut into halves or quarters.
  • Make a mock tuna-salad sandwich by substituting Worthington’s Tuno (Available at health-food stores) for tuna in your favorite recipe.
  • For a healthy alternative to egg-salad sandwiches, try eggless “egg” salad: Mash together tofu, soy mayo, turmeric, salt, and spices.
  • Pair veggie kebabs (try cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, sweet peppers, and baked tofu cubes) with “ranch” dip (combine Tofutti Sour Supreme with McCormick Spring Onion Dip Mix—it’s vegan!).
  • Cut mini-pitas in half, and stuff them with hummus and chopped tomatoes, falafel, or your favorite sandwich filling.
  • Prepare an easy pasta salad by combining cooked spiral pasta with diced cucumbers, tomatoes, and/or peppers and chunks of baked tofu, veggie Canadian bacon, or Morningstar Farms Meal Starters “chicken” or “steak” strips; mix with your favorite vinaigrette.
  • “Shake ‘N Bake” mock chicken chunks instead of the real thing. Several Shake ‘N Bake flavors are vegan—just use chopped mock chicken, Morningstar Farms Meal Starters Chik’n Strips are great hot or cold.
  • Pack hard breadsticks with dip, such as pizza sauce, peanut butter, or hummus.
  • Make a mini pizza by topping toasted English muffins (Wonder Bread-brand muffins are vegan) with a dollop of pizza sauce, a slice of soy cheese, and veggie pepperoni.

Hot Ideas for the Thermos

  • Make some homemade “sausage” gravy and pack some biscuits for a comforting cold-weather meal.
  • Fill the thermo with veggie meatballs in tomato sauce. Pack it with a roll to make a veggie meatball sub.
  • Spice up lunchtime by filling your kids’ thermos with vegan taco meat or refried beans. Pack taco shells and their favorite taco toppings. Try Tofutti Sour Supreme and salsa.
  • Warm your kids up on cold winter days by heating Hormel canned vegetarian chili and packing it in a thermos. Pack a baked potato so they can top their spuds.
  • For another easy heat-and-eat treat, try Campbell’s tomato or vegetable soup. (Please be sure to check labels—some soups contain beef or chicken broth.)
  • When you have a little more time, make alphabet soup using vegetable or faux-chicken broth instead of chicken stock and diced mock chicken. Make a pot over the weekend, then reheat it on Monday morning to start your kids’ week off right.
  • Make a better “beefaroni” by mixing macaroni, Morningstar Farms veggie burger crumbles, and tomato sauce.
  • Combine Vegetarian Baked Beans and veggie dogs for the classic kids’ favorite “beanie weenies.”

Don’t forget to include a sweet treat, healthy drink, and afternoon snack.

Sweet Treats

  • Fresh fruit, such as a sliced apple, grapes, or a peeled and separated orange—or try fruit kebabs
  • Fruit roll-ups or fruit leather
  • Soy yogurt cups (try Stonyfield Farm’s O’Soy, WholeSoy, or Silk brands)
  • ZenDon soy pudding cups
  • Raisin boxes or other dried fruit
  • Unfrosted strawberry or blueberry Pop Tarts
  • Vegan cookies (for a list of brands, click here)
  • Graham crackers, with or without chocolate frosting filling
  • Clif or Luna bars


  • Juice boxes
  • Canned vegetable juice
  • Bottled water
  • Chocolate or vanilla Silk soy milk singles


  • Pretzel sticks, mini bagel chips, or potato sticks or chips
  • Mini cereal boxes
  • Individual bags of bite-size carrots or celery
  • Nuts
  • Trail mix

Kid-Tested Lunchtime Tips

  • Make food fun by cutting sandwiches into different shapes. Cookie cutters are great for this.
  • In hot weather, keep foods cool by including a carton or plastic container of juice, frozen overnight, in the lunchbox. The juice will be thawed by lunchtime.
  • Pack “kid-size” foods like cherry tomatoes, baby bananas, and mini boxes of raisins.
  • You can control what goes into your child’s lunchbox, but you can’t control what goes into your child. Send your kids to school with a lunch they like—and one they’ve helped prepare and pack—and they’ll be less likely to toss or trade it.
  • Rely less on processed, packaged foods—replace them with fresh foods whenever possible.
  • Remember that kids can be influenced by peer pressure—foods they love at home might be not-so-cool at school. Ask them what types of foods their friends bring for lunch—whatever it is, you can probably find a vegetarian version.
  • Most kids will skip foods that take a lot of effort to eat. A little prep work can make almost anything more kid-friendly. For example, peel clementines and oranges, then cover them with plastic wrap before packing them, or cut kiwi fruit in half and let kids scoop out the flesh with a teaspoon.
  • It’s a good idea to buy a small, reusable ice pack that can be frozen overnight and placed in the lunchbox—this helps keep perishable foods fresh.

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  • Me too says:

    Smuckers is not owned by a larger corporation and they actually have quite ethical practices. Uncrustables are a great idea for a kid’s vegan lunch in my opinion.

  • Yoga4mama says:

    My kids are not vegetarians but I would like to incorporate vegetarian meals into their lunch boxes. I am also looking to avoid processed meat substitutes, and terrible brands like Morningstar and Smuckers- all who use unethical practices, GMO’s & pesticides and are owned by larger nasty corporations, “greenwashing” I am hoping to find ideas for kids lunches that kids will actually eat.. beyond hummus and PBJ. ANde soy.. NOT A HEALTH FOOD— really bad for humans in this quantity. Any suggestions? I know there are lunch ideas out there.. HELP!

  • Stella says:

    I think you guys need to give up the anti faux meat thing. Kids are cruel and to send your kid to school will an all natural “hippy” lunch will cause them to get made fun of. Listen, I’m vegan and not eating animals for both health reasons and moral, but meat eaters get defensive around vegetarians, and so will their kids. Kids aren’t going to understand and they attack things they don’t understand. Giving them a healthy organic breakfast and dinner at home where they won’t be ridiculed for it makes up for a faux meat lunch. And PETA is right, kids aren’t gonna always eat what you pack for them, especially if it makes their school life uncomfortable.

  • brittany says:

    i am decideing to be a vegetarian. i got the idea from watching meet your meat video and am never eatting meat again!

  • Margo says:

    These are good suggestions! Vegetarians/vegans are still unusual in our community, so my son’s meat-free lunches draw comments and questions from his friends. He asks them why they are still eating dead animals — cool kid!

  • Skye says:

    School lunches don’t have to be all that much work. It is quite easy to make a salad wrap, and provide an apple or other fruit for a snack. You don’t need to add a sweet and a drink. Water is good for them.

    I thought part of the idea of going vegetarian or vegan was to become healthier, as well as to stop hurting animals for our food. Buying faux meats and veganised snacks isn’t going to help anyone to be healthier. In fact, it can be just as bad.

    Teaching children what is healthy and good to eat is part of a parents job, and that information will stay with a child for the rest of there life. If you teach them that pre-made and packaged foods are okay, even if they are vegan, you aren’t teaching them as well as you could.

    Show them what is in those foods, and help them to pick healthy food. Teach them to enjoy their fruits and veggies. This will help them for the rest of their lives. Go veggies!

  • Jennifer says:

    Very helpful, just what i was looking for! There are different reasons that different people follow a vegan diet and since mine is driven by treatment of animals i was fine with looking at suggestions from an animal loving website. if whole foods, plant based, unprocessed foods is your game because of health benefits then maybe find another website. This is PETA for goodness sake, not forks over knives…

  • Margot says:

    I found this website very helpful. I’m not attempting to criticize those who are against the meat substitutes, but there are some people who enjoy the flavors of meat, and feel guilty for eating an organism who had to forcefully give it’s life for the consumption of humans. The faux meat also has a high content of protein, giving you a healthy supplement of protein; it’s not all that bad. Yes it is processed, but so are most of the things you eat daily; such as granola bars, some cheeses, chips, crackers, cereals, some yogurts, etc…

  • Colette says:

    Too bad most of these suggestions are meat substitutes. Thought I would find some good whole food, soy free options here. Yep, too bad. My search continues.

  • Leon Sibson says:

    Why would a person eat fake flesh? The average individual routinely eats meat and enjoys it very much until they watch a video detailing the horrors an animal, such as a cow endures on its way to becoming food for humans. After ten minutes of watching such documentaries the eyes tear up and the thought enters the head “I’m never eating meat again”. It’s not as though the video has made them decide that pastrami tastes terrible. A person making a resolution not to eat meat does so as they do not want what they eat to involve the butchering of animals. Pastrami and cheese sandwiches of the past are remembered as tasting quite good and so the individual kindly resorts to purchasing faux flesh and fake cheese and paying a good deal more for it then the real deal knowing that no animal was harmed in the construction of their lunch.

  • Me says:

    The fake meat thing has got to go!!!! It kind of defeats the purpose.

  • Katnissa says:

    I would like to become a vegitarian, but I’m not sure if I can make the change… this website seems helpful, but I’m not sure if I’m willing to give up seafood :/

  • Courtney says:

    I think the list has a great variety for everyone’s taste buds!

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