Some back-to-school lunch ideas, vegan included

Avery and Alden eating vegan ice cream

Avery and Alden enjoying some vegan ice cream made with cashews and coconut milk

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer and a vegan. She’s also the mother of 4-year-old Alden, who is now in nursery school. When it comes to sending him off to school with a healthy lunch, she has several vegan lunch box go-tos.

  • Hummus & whole grain bread
  • Cut veggies
  • Peas (frozen ones thaw by lunch time)
  • PB&J
  • Black bean dip
  • Salsa & corn chips or corn tortillas
  • Cut fruit
  • Homemade trail mix

Because of the risk of peanut allergies, many schools, including Alden’s, now serve alternatives to peanut butter — sun butter (sunflower seed butter), for instance. Avery says she uses peanut butter (the grind your own kind at her local Co-op) at home but also likes to make raw treats with other nuts and seeds. She graciously shared one of her recipes with us.

Salted caramel crunch bar

Source: Avery Yale Kamila

Salted Caramel Cookie Crunch Bites

This super-simple recipe is great for making with young kitchen helpers. All you need is a food processor and a baking pan, but you don’t need an oven. The best part is that while the bites taste like cookies, they contain no added sugar and are bursting with vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Makes roughly 24 bite-sized pieces

CRUNCH BARS

Ingredients

  • 1 cup salted roasted cashews
  • 2 cups salted pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup tightly packed dates, pitted
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed dried figs, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup dried plums

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients to a food processor and process until it forms a clumpy dough. Bits of nuts and fruit should still be distinct.
  2. Using your hands, press into a 10-inch by 10-inch baking pan. Set aside.

CARAMEL COOKIES

Ingredients

  • 2 cups salted cashews
  • 3 cups tightly packed dates, pitted

Instructions

  1. Add cashews to a food processor and pulse until cashews form a coarse meal.
  2. Add the dates and process. It will start to clump together into a very sticky dough. Keep processing until it has a smooth texture.
  3. Scrape this mixture on top of the crunch bars and press down until it covers the bars in a thin, relatively even layer.
  4. Chill for at least 3 hours.
  5. Use a knife to slice into bite-sized pieces and serve. Store in the refrigerator where they will keep for a week or more.
Ramona holding her Lovables school lunch

Source: Jen Boggs

Jen Boggs (my Catching Health editorial accomplice) is not a vegan. Neither is her 7-year-old daughter Ramona, who just started second grade. But coming up with a variety of lunch ideas for Ramona is still a challenge. One she met quite successfully when she invented Lovables.

“It’s a ‘deconstructed sandwich’ that mimics those Lunchables from the grocery store,” she told me. “I take a sandwich-sized plastic container and put in a dinner roll OR 4 or 5 Ritz crackers, a piece of ham OR turkey and a piece of cheese, both cut (or torn) into cracker-size pieces, then I throw in some baby carrots. It takes the same amount of time (or less) than it takes to make an actual sandwich, and my daughter thinks it’s fun.”

Jen says Ramona loves it because it’s the only time she gets a sweet treat in her lunch, usually a small cookie or a mini candy bar. Ramona says it’s not just about the sweet treat. “I love Lovables because they’re a healthier version of Lunchables, but still very tasty!”
Good for you, Ramona!
How about you? What do you pack in your child’s lunch box?
Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.