5 Easy Plant-Based School Lunches That Kids Love
Quick and easy sushi? No-bake granola bars? School lunches just got healthier and easier.
The demand for plant-based lunches has been heating up: from a bill introduced in the California State Assembly this past winter that, if passed, would expand access to plant-based meals in public schools, to OMD’s founder, Suzy’s, MUSE Schools going global, getting more healthy, plant-based foods on lunch menus is going mainstream.
You can get started now and feed your child a healthy lunch that also protects our wild living planet. Not sure where to start? We have some easy combos filled with simple recipes that you can make ahead — and that’s one less thing to do when you’re getting ready in the morning.
Since plain fruit and veggies aren’t always the most interesting to kids, we used cookie cutters to give them fun shapes. With just an extra minute or two, you can change your whole lunch game and make kids smile! Read on for school lunch recipe combos that kids of any age will enjoy.
*Note: We’ve omitted black pepper and other “hot” spices from these recipes; if you’re feeding a more adventurous palate, go ahead and add them as you usually would!
Lunch Combo One
- Veggie Burger Nuggets
- Zucchini Cut-Outs
- Ranch Dressing Dipping Sauce
- Apple Slices
This lunchbox combo is a two-for-one when it comes to dipping: both the veggie burger nuggets and the zucchini go perfectly with the ranch dressing.
Sweet Potato Veggie Burger Nuggets
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 16 nuggets
Nuggets: dunkable and easy for small hands to hold! For this, we repurposed one of our favorite burger recipes swapping butternut squash for sweet potato. Any root veggie would work, so long as they are thoroughly cooked and mashed.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Take a spoonful (about 2 tbsp) of the burger mix, and instead of flattening it into patties, form a small ball by rolling it in your hands. Press with your fingers until it resembles a cube.
3. Place burger nuggets on a lined baking sheet.
4. Bake for 20 minutes.
Ranch Dressing Dipping Sauce
For the ranch, we made it on the thicker side so it doesn’t drip; if you’d like a thinner dressing, just add extra plant-based milk, one tablespoon at a time, until the preferred texture is reached.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
- 1 cup vegan mayonnaise
- ¼ cup non-dairy milk
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp oregano
- ½ tsp dill
- ¼ tsp paprika
- ½ tsp salt
1. Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl until uniform in texture.
Lunch Combo Two
- Pasta & Bean Salad
- Mixed Nuts
- Melon Cut-Outs
Who doesn’t love pasta? This is an easy way to get some veggies and protein into your child’s lunch. Using a fun pasta shape (like bow-ties) that’s colorful doesn’t hurt, either! The simple vinaigrette requires no mixing beforehand blending itself nicely into the salad when all ingredients are tossed together. If you don’t have cooked pasta or vegetables on hand, save time by throwing the broccoli (or another vegetable of your choice) in with the pasta during the last minute or two of boiling. This pasta salad keeps well for days in the fridge, and the taste will only improve as it absorbs more of the dressing.
Pasta & Bean Salad
Prep Time: 5 minutes
- 2 cups cooked pasta
- 1 cup cooked broccoli, chopped into bite size pieces
- 1 ½ cups cooked mixed beans
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tbsp Italian herb
1. Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl; for best results, let marinate in refrigerator for at least one hour before eating.
Lunch Combo Three
- Mock-Tuna Sandwich Roll Up
- Nut/Seed Butter
Nori, the seaweed used to wrap sushi, packs a seafood flavor without the fish, and chickpeas have both the protein you want with a bonus of fiber. If you want to make sure your child is getting the omega-3 fats that would normally be found in oily fish, you can take care of that with a cracker and nut-butter snack. Omega-3-rich butters include walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, cashews or brazil nuts.
Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
- 1 ¾ cup chickpeas
- 1 sheet nori, torn into pieces
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp oil
- 3 tbsp veganaise
- 1 tbsp mustard
- ½ cup chopped celery
1. Add all ingredients except celery to a food processor and process until mixture is almost smooth, with small chunks of chickpea remaining.
2. Add celery and stir to incorporate.
3. To make the sandwich, spread ¼ – ½ cup mock tuna onto a wrap such as lavash or a tortilla, add lettuce or other greens if desired, and roll up.
Lunch Combo Four
- Avocado & Hummus Sandwich
- No-Bake Granola Bars
- Celery Sticks
Granola bars are tricky: they can sometimes be as unhealthy as cookies, often containing at least three or four types of sugars, or as healthy as a well-rounded home-cooked breakfast. It’s all a matter of what you use!
There’s no better way to serve up nutrient-rich food to your kids than to make it yourself, and with these bars you can do just that — in under 10 minutes. Feel free to swap out the nuts, seeds, and/or fruit for choices your family enjoys best. We do strongly suggest keeping the brown rice syrup or coconut nectar, as the mixture won’t stick together as well without a heavy syrup. These bars will easily keep for a week or longer, if refrigerated.
No-Bake Granola Bars
Prep Time: 5 minutes active, 4 hours inactive
- 2 cups rolled oats
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup coconut nectar or brown rice syrup
- ½ cup raisins
- ½ cup chopped nuts or seeds
- ½ cup nut or seed butter
- 1 small pinch salt
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp vanilla
1. Mix all ingredients together in a mixing bowl until nut butter and sweeteners are thoroughly incorporated.
2. Line an 8” x 8” baking dish with plastic wrap or parchment paper; pour mixture in and pat down well with a spatula.
3. Refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours, before cutting into bars.
Lunch Combo Five
- Inside-Out Veggie Sushi
- Crunchy Veggie Snacks
- Orange Slices
Here’s a surprising secret: making sushi rolls is actually a lot easier than you may have imagined. There’s one trick that saves time and simplifies the process: making it inside-out. What does that mean? Some of us are used to seeing sushi rolls with rice on the outside, nori near the center and the filling in the very middle, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Instead, place your fillings directly on the rice and roll up: no stickiness to contend with, no worry of rice falling off and getting everywhere, and it still looks beautiful.
It may take a couple tries, but once you’ve mastered this technique you’ll be whipping up sushi in a flash!
Inside Out Veggie Sushi
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes active, 30 minutes inactive
Servings: 3 rolls yielding 24 invididual pieces
- 1 cup sushi rice
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 tsp neutral oil such as grape seed or avocado
- 2 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- ½ cup steamed sweet potato slices
- ½ cup steamed asparagus spears
1. Add sushi rice and water to a small pot, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes; remove cover, take off of heat, and let cool.
3. Once cool enough to touch, stir in salt, sugar, and vinegar; use a fork to cut through as much rice as possible as you stir.
4. Place a sheet of nori onto a sushi mat, square of plastic wrap or cutting board.
5. Add enough rice to cover the bottom third of the nori sheet, pressing it into shape with a fork or moistened hands.
6. In the center of the rice, place a lengthwise layer each of sweet potato and asparagus.
7. Dampen the remaining nori just slightly by dipping your fingers into water and gently grazing them over the sheet.
8. Roll up the sushi starting from the bottom, using the sushi mat or plastic wrap for guidance if needed. Set aside.
9. Repeat the process for the remaining two rolls, then slice each roll: first, slice through the center, then cut each half in half, then each quarter in half again, so you have eight pieces for each roll.
Food styling by Ariane Resnick, C.N.C.