By Dreena Burton of Plant-Powered Kitchen
Looking for some easy ways to amp-up your kids’ plant-based lunches? Here are some tips for turning a boring school lunch into an even more nutritious and mouthwatering lunch! Be sure to read to the bottom and enter for your chance to win a Plant-Powered Families cookbook and Blendtec Designer 625!
Substitute white sandwich breads with whole-grain and sprouted breads. Similarly, choose whole-grain pita breads and tortilla wraps instead of their white flour counterparts. Read the ingredient lists. Often breads are labeled “multigrain” when they use white flour and often many additives. Look for 100% whole-wheat or whole-grain bread products.
Peanut butter is not permitted in many schools, and most schools don’t allow nut butters. Your child can still enjoy their favorite sandwich, though, with alternatives like sunflower butter, pumpkin seed butter, or soy-nut butters. Seed butters like sunflower and pumpkin are naturally bitter, so try stirring in some cinnamon and a touch of stevia or maple syrup to sweeten. Also consider switching up the jam occasionally with dried fruit (raisins, sliced dates) or sliced fresh fruit.
Wraps make excellent school lunches. They’re easy to eat and can be filled with some of your child’s favorite ingredients. Think of using leftover grains, bean spreads and dips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, chopped or grated veggies, nutritional yeast, refried beans or baked beans, and cubed tofu or tempeh. Use whole-grain tortillas, nori sheets, or large lettuce leaves as the wraps!
Make More Hummus
Make it yourself and make large batches. Not only is it less expensive, but it also tastes far better! Refrigerate a portion, then freeze the remaining hummus in portioned containers (hummus freezes and thaws splendidly). Also, think beyond using hummus as merely a dip with raw veggies. Make it a meal for lunch with some of these ideas:
- Use as a sandwich spread in place of mayo, or try “grilled hummus sandwiches.”
- Use in whole-grain or green wraps in place of cream cheese.
- Use as a base layer on pizzas.
- Mix it into a lunch bowl with rice or pasta.
- Use it to fill pitted dates or potato skins.
Try this Red Lentil Hummus as an alternative to standard chickpea hummus. Kids love it!
Make a ‘Buddha bowl’ at home and pack for your kid’s lunch. Start with a whole grain like quinoa or brown rice, add some favorite veggies (or even fruits like chopped grapes or berries) along with any other nutrient-dense add-ins like pumpkin seeds, beans, etc. Add a zippy sauce and pack in a thermos or an airtight container with a fork or spoon.
Soups That Make a Meal
If your kids enjoy soups at school, cook a batch or two every week that can be worked into lunches. If you don’t have time to make soups, there are some healthy store-bought varieties. When I use store-bought soups, I always add extra beans, pasta, tofu, grains, or vegetables. They make the soup more satisfying and nutritious, and also stretch one can over several kiddos.
Kids love to dip and dunk, so pack small containers filled with some of their favorite sauces and dips. Sauces can also be used to mix into whole grains or pasta, along with veggies, beans, cubed tofu, or seeds. A sauce can turn something fairly ordinary into something extraordinary, so have a few in your arsenal.
Breakfast for Lunch
Some children love to have some breakfast foods like pancakes or French toast in their lunches. Prepare a double batch on the weekend so you have extras for packing in lunches.
Healthy Muffins and Snack Bars
Anything you bake at home will be healthier than store-bought equivalent. You can control the sweeteners and also keep them nut-free for school lunches. I have many muffins on my blog, and these Oatmeal Banana Bites are a reader favorite from Plant-Powered Families. Bake up a double batch on the weekend so you’re well stocked for the school week!
If mornings are hectic, one of the easiest ways to pack in some morning nutrition is through a delicious smoothie. Or, prep the smoothie for an afternoon snack to keep your kiddos going until dinner hour. This Chunky Monkey Smoothie from Plant-Powered Families will go over brilliantly with the little ones.
Chunky Monkey Smoothie
2 cups plain or vanilla nondairy milk
2 cups frozen ripe or overripe banana slices
¾–1 loosely packed cup baby spinach leaves (optional; see note)
3–4 tbsp almond butter (see note)
3–3½ tbsp Vega Choc-a-lot Protein Smoothie powder (see note)
3 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Add the milk, banana, spinach, almond butter, Vega powder, coconut, and cocoa powder to a blender and puree until very smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.
Spinach Note: Our girls don’t notice the spinach in this smoothie, so it’s a good way to gradually increase more greens in their diets. Any more than 1 cup, however, and it does change the color of the smoothie enough that kiddos might notice it. So start with less and see how it goes!
Almond Butter Note: Roasted almond butter tastes great! You can substitute other nut butters like cashew butter or peanut butter.
Protein Powder Note: Other chocolate protein powders can be substituted. They may differ in taste and chocolaty depth of flavor, so you can adjust the cocoa and add sweetener if needed. If you don’t want to use any, feel free to omit it. You can add another tablespoon of cocoa powder in its place. Since the Vega powder does have stevia, it adds sweetness to the smoothie. Without the Vega chocolate powder, you may want to add a few pitted dates or a touch of maple syrup to sweeten to taste.
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