Any parent knows that packing school lunches can be a challenge. I remember looking longingly at my classmates Zebra Cakes and Capri Suns when I was forced to eat bananas and 100% juice. I am eternally grateful for my mother’s healthy choices now and know that, if I ever have children, they will be forced to down unpopular but healthy items when it comes to their lunchbox. Most children do not have the refined palates we (sometimes) do as adults and I can imagine that vegan and vegetarian school-aged youngsters have a tougher time than most.
According to a 2010 study, only 3% of youngsters claim to be vegetarian with a slim 1% classified as vegans. While the sample size may have been varied and small, these numbers seem slim and probable. Mealtime can be challenging for any family but if there is a vegan or vegetarian in your meat-eating bunch, it may pose as more of a test. A close friend of mine, vegetarian since pre-teen years, told me that her family supported her decision to be vegan but would not make separate foods for her and most of the time she was left to fend for herself when it came to making meals and snacks. While this tactic makes cooking and planning meals absolutely essential and is beneficial, let’s face it, most people my age still don’t know how to cook; it can leave a youngster feeling a little helpless and turn to the not-so-healthy part of not eating meat.
Seeing as how the alarm is going to ring at 6am and force millions back to school any minute, I wanted to explore ways that vegans and vegetarians can make their lunches fun, creative, healthy and cruelty-free. Any parent and child can get together and make packing lunch and cooking in general, not only a learning experience, but fun for the whole family. There is no greater way to bond than to do it over food, and just because Mom, Dad and Bro want lamb chops and steak as their entrée, doesn’t mean the whole family can’t enjoy three-bean salad or polenta together. It is important to get the whole clan involved when it comes to eating animal-free and who knows, other family members might just be shocked to learn what they like.
When it comes to packing lunch, planning is key. Scrounge the cabinets and see what you can find for school lunches before hitting the supermarkets. Shop around, see what has the best deals; you can find staples like canned beans and whole wheat bread at a low cost at discount stores like Wal-Mart or Big Lots. Veggie students can take a few hours at the library and look over vegetarian recipes in cookbooks and see what catches their eye. Write down the recipes in a notebook, your phone, ipod or any other recording device so you’ll have a plan of attack at the grocery store. Be sure when you are planning meals to take into account that you’ll want some type of protein and snack to keep you full and help you avoid hitting the vending machine for Oreos and Lays later on in the day. Make sure your meals are well rounded and sufficient to keep you satisfied until your after school snack time arrives.
Any grade school student can tell you sandwiches are a big part of the lunch menu. Luckily, many vegan brands make fake meat that looks like the real thing. Gardein makes many fake meat products like chicken wings that might not do so well in the lunchbox but may work great at home. Getting back to school, blocks of tempeh would be easy to pack, as well as sliced soy “turkey,” making for super simple sandwich options. Pair the soy products with arugula, tomato and cucumbers on a whole wheat bagel and, unless they’re looking really close, no one will know the difference.
Cooking food in advance is perfect for anyone, not just vegans and vegetarians and can limit your stress, especially when it comes to packing school lunches. Vegetarian chilis and soups can be made in batches and refrigerated for a quick and easy pack. Also, don’t feel that you have to limit your meals to standard lunch food faire. Fruit salads, hummus and pita, pretzels, beans, and rice all work great as options when it comes to the midday meal time.
School lunches can sometimes feel like a burden and most of the time it may be easier to hand little Joey a $10 bill and tell him to munch on cheese pizza and fries. If you can move past the challenge of packing school lunches, with a little planning and creativity, you can make it fun for the whole family and Joey just might earn a few cool points when he explains to other students just what quinoa is.