Let's set the scene. Cool kid sits down at cool table at lunch, surrounded by cool friends and unzips cool lunch box revealing a mountain of...SCARY TOWN inside. Colorful packaging of cookies, candy, energy drinks and snack packs cleverly graffitied with the latest marketing craze. Having worked in our schools, I see it all the time. Our kids are up against it all in the school cafeteria, let me tell you.
Let's be honest. I fight a sometimes winning and sometimes losing battle with this one. It can be daunting to pack a healthy, energy sustaining, nutritious lunch that will win over our kids' taste buds yet not make them feel like all they’re missing is a sign taped to their back that says “kick me”.
I find having a stocked pantry, the right hardware and some good preparation help me stay on the winning team of packing healthy lunches. It might help empower your kiddos to seek their help with lunch packing. If you’re struggling with what to pack, I’ve scoured the internet and come up with some ideas that might help you out...see if they can pick out a few things to try from the list below.
Pancakes and maple syrup
Crepes with their favorite nut butter- check out regular, whole wheat & gluten-free from thevegancorner.com
Chocolate Peanut butter Overnight Oats- see recipe below
Mock Tuna Sandwiches
Noodle Bowl- whisk soy sauce with rice or apple cider vinegar and maple syrup to taste and add to hot noodles
PB & J Donut Sandwiches- like these from Fork & Beans
Bagels and vegan cream cheese with optional sliced cucumber
Vegetable Sushi -I’ve done my homework and found this is all the new rave at the lunch table, even in elementary school. Watch Cristy's video on how to make you're own!
Soups in a good thermos & crackers
Catsadillas- Check out a cute creation from Fork & Beans
Ramen noodles such as Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods or Lotus Foods
Beans & rice (or quinoa)
Pasta and marinara sauce
Vegan cheese/veggie quesadilla
Vegan grilled cheese
Cucumber & hummus sandwich
Apple & Nut butter sandwich
Nut butter banana rolls- Spread nut butter on tortilla, add thinly sliced banana, roll up and cut like sushi
Veggie Pinwheels- Spread vegan cream cheese on tortilla, add small diced vegetables, roll up and cut into pinwheels. Alternatively, add layer of salsa for a Mexican kick.
Bean burritos- or try this one with an Italian twist from veggiesdontbite.com
Bagel sandwich- load up with your favorite fillings such as vegan cream cheese and vegetables, guacamole or avocado, lettuce, tomato and vegan mayo, hummus and veg, precooked pizza toppings or your favorite nut butter and jam
Breadsticks & marinara for dipping
Wraps- load up with fillings such as shredded vegetables, baked beans, refried beans, lentils, chickpeas, corn, whole grains, roasted potatoes, hummus, guacamole, vegan ranch, cherry tomatoes, tahini, ect.
Fresh cut veggies and hummus
Salad on a stick- favorite veggies cut and threaded on skewer; serve with vegan ranch or favorite dressing
Easy to eat fruit (grapes, berries, pre-cut & peeled fruit) and non dairy yogurt for dipping
Muffins- try these blueberry oatmeal Muffins from Happy Herbivore!
Wholly guacamole minis
Individual hummus containers
Snack bars- Lara, Clif bars, Luna, Kind (check labels to be sure they don't contain dairy)
Roasted chickpeas - try these from Dreena Burton's Plant Powered Kitchen
Pretzels and nut butter
Homemade trail mix- dried fruit, nuts & seeds, granola, Oh’s cereal, coconut flakes, chocolate chips, pretzels
BPA free water bottles
Bento boxes, planet box, tiffin boxes or other safe reusable lunch box with small compartments
Thermos containers usually around $15
An assortment of packing containers
Smaller containers for dips and sauces
Wax paper sandwich bags, reusable snack bags or other collapsible snack bags
3 TIPS FOR LUNCH PACKING SUCCESS
A slightly edited re-post for your plant-based travel pleasure :)
I’ve been going back and forth to Connecticut recently and also have some upcoming travel plans this spring (Halleluja! praying hands emoji!). I LOVE to travel and explore new places. But for me, adventuring can create lapses in judgement resulting in poor decision making in eating unhealthy foods, overeating out of boredom and overspending at restaurants. Staying plant-based and budget conscious while traveling can be tricky, but hardly impossible. And once you know a few tricks of the trade and have a rough game plan, you will even have some fun with it! Here are some recommendations for staying the course, allowing you to fully enjoy yourself on your next trip while keeping the damage to a minimum.
Pack your own food. If you have a stash of healthy options with you it will make stopping at the next convenience store or restaurant less likely. Here are some ideas on what to pack based on my experience: fruit, whole-grain pretzels, water (if I’m road tripping I like to keep a case of water in the car), Belvita snacks, Lara bars, That’s It fruit bars, applesauce, quick wrap ingredients of tortillas, hummus and mixed greens, overnight oats and loads of cooked potatoes with my horseradish mustard (omg so good). I also pack foods that create a meal just by adding hot water, say, at a hotel or convenience store, such as oatmeal packets and Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods. It’s also useful to pack cans of low-sodium beans (don’t forget the can opener) and shelf stable pre-cooked rice and quinoa that you can eat at room temp or heat easily in the microwave when you reach your destination. Oh! And I ALWAYS carry a container of condiments that I can add to any of the above. I have an ongoing “collection” from hotel stays (peanut butter, jelly- simply stir into a packet of plain oatmeal and hot water for some quick pb & j oats) or truck stops... an amazing opportunity for creating your first condiment cache- ketchup, mustard, soy sauces, hot sauces, honey mustard, etc).
Restaurants: Even though I don’t want to and probably can’t afford to eat out EVERY meal while on the road, I really do enjoy eating in a restaurant once in awhile or even once a day while traveling. You will find that Asian, Mexican, Italian and, believe it or not, Steak houses are great choices to ensure getting a plant-based meal.
Asian restaurants offer rice, steamed veggies with soy sauce or teriyaki, vegetable sushi, tofu curries and fresh spring rolls with dipping sauce. Mexican is great for having rice and beans with salsa, guacamole and I always ask for an order of their corn tortillas. You can also order fajitas and ask if they will “dry” fry, steam or saute the vegetables in water for oil free option. Order a salad and you could have any of the above as a salad, burrito, tacos or a bowl. When I go to an Italian place I usually order pasta with marinara sauce, salad with balsamic vinegar or lemon wedges and fresh bread or veggie pizza without cheese topped with crushed red pepper. (I’m getting hungry). Steak houses are wonderful in that you can always get a plain baked or sweet potato, steamed vegetables, and a fresh salad. Personally I like to put this all together with some BBQ sauce as a dressing (many are made without oil). Breakfast spots and coffee shops/cafes almost always offer bagels with jelly or peanut butter, sometimes hummus with fresh vegetables, oatmeal made with water or nondairy milk, fresh fruit, and nuts... if I notice that they serve avocado on the menu, I will order it with whole grain toast, slice of tomato and red pepper flakes or hot sauce to re-create a fabulous avocado toast I first had in NYC. Mmmmmm…. @thebutchersdaughter_official
Photo Credit The Butcher's Daughter
Gas stations and grocery stores: Don’t forget these little gems. The grocery store produce sections are filled with pre-washed/cut fruits and vegetables...the meal doesn’t get any quicker than that! Look for low-sodium canned beans (be sure to pack your can opener or pick up a cheap one at the dollar store), shelf stable rice and quinoa, and often there are vegetarian canned soups such as Annie’s Organics Soups (check the ingredients list for dairy) available to heat when you get to your destination. Also the freezer section has quite the bounty with microwaveable pre-cooked frozen rice, mixed vegetables, herbs, riced cauliflower and frozen fruit (frozen cherries are currently my favorite snack). You can also pick up a bag of potatoes to microwave in your hotel room and many grocery stores now have fresh salads and olive bars. For a quick breakfast you can pick up cereal and nondairy milk, nondairy yogurt or plain bagels (no need to buy condiments if you’ve brought along your own or pick up when you get to the hotel). Check out the videos in the resources guide for the field trip the girls and I took to our local Walmart Superstore for some other ideas!
Gas stations are getting better and better offering fresh fruit, hummus packs, That’s It fruit bars, Clif Bars (check ingredients list), whole grain pretzels and unsalted nuts. Many convenience stores offering made-to-order meals have rice and beans for wrap options...just add salsa and load up with veggies and guac.
Get creative. Look at the menu and notice all the components in each offering and check out the listed sides. Often the sides will offer baked plain or sweet potatoes, steamed veggies, applesauce, and fresh fruit. These combined with a house salad can make a meal. Once, I noticed portobello mushrooms from one entree and avocado from another...and I put it atop my baked potato and steamed veggies to create a potato bowl.
It doesn’t hurt to ask for what you want. You are a patron of the restaurant and are entitled to ask for and get something you can eat. You are deserving and you should not feel as though you’re being ‘difficult’. That said, most often I am met with chefs and servers who are eager to come up with something I can eat. With all the many dietary restrictions and food sensitivities these days, it’s not that unusual to have a special request. I’ve even had chefs (many times, actually) come out to see how I liked the meal they created for me (Disney World has THE most accommodating eateries on the planet!). These people are talented in their own right and are usually pleased to create something different from what’s on the daily menu. Be gracious and thank them personally, if you can, and tip them generously for their efforts.
It doesn’t always go the way you hoped it would. The most common mistake I make is forgetting to ask for “no cheese”. Especially remember to request “no cheese” when ordering a house salad or a plate of pasta. It almost always comes with cheese even if it doesn’t say so in the menu description. No-Oil salad dressings can also present a problem. Most often restaurants will have balsamic vinegar, fresh lemon wedges, fat free dressings, salsa or hummus...but sometimes they don’t. For master troubleshooting I have been known to smuggle in an avocado and lemon wedges (makes an awesome hearty dressing- smash with fork, squeeze lemon with a pinch of salt- you can put it together discreetly right in the salad) or one of my homemade favorites , tahini or fat-free balsamic dressings. If possible, check the online menu before arriving. It helps to have a rough game plan to avoid feeling put on the spot and caving in to one of your traditional dairy or oil-laden go-tos. You are in the driver’s seat here...stick to the plan!!
Apps and Websites: I enjoy a website called happycow.net which allows you to search a specific geographical area for veg friendly restaurants. They also have a free downloadable app to use while on the road. While it is super fun to check out the local vegan and vegetarian scene, their menu items are often loaded with fat and highly processed ingredients. I usually stick to and do the best at “regular” restaurants and can honestly say I’ve never been to a place that has not been able to come up with something to eat--even if it’s an unexciting mustard, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. I tell myself it’s just one meal...and I actually love MLT’s!! (Add banana peppers, red onion and avocado WHENEVER possible..delish.)
Just remember to do your best! For me, food has always been such a fun part of travel, but I have to remind myself of the many other fun aspects of the journey: meaningful conversation with my travel partner, listening to educational podcasts, stopping at a picturesque vista, listening to an audiobook, self-guided walking tours, meaningful visits with friends or family, a random hike to a waterfall or unexpected stop at a cool little town, people watching, stopping for a good cup of local coffee or taking in a tea-tasting (going to do this on my next trip to CT)...not to mention most of these are free or cost very little, yet add so much value and meaning to my adventuring.
I would love to hear about YOUR next get-a-way and what you might do differently this time to create the best experience with memories that will last a lifetime….without the guilt.
It feels good to hear about other people's struggles...wow, that sounds really sadistic!! I just like to know that other people have the same problems that I do! I'm not all alone in my struggles and neither are you. That makes us human. In this social media obsessed world it's hard to imagine that everyone but me doesn't have a perfect life. We are all human...we all want to share the good in our lives, but we also hide the bad...maybe because we think others don't have the bad?...that we are weirdos, failing at life? We ALL have the SAME struggles! Remind yourself of that when you are doubting your imperfect life while looking at those perfect pictures. We are all IMPERFECT.
Speaking of being imperfect...we all love junk food! Revolutionary, right? I'm trying to make a point here, stick with me. I'm trying to say that we are all human. Although, I was called a robot once. Again with the revelations...we are all human?...we all love junk food?...I promise I am going to get to the point. I love junk food...you love junk food...we all love junk food. Music notes are swirling around my head right now...this is probably why I am horribly inept at anything musical! Wanting junk food over healthy food makes you human and every other human feels the same way. If I found out that McDonald's food was the key to a life free of disease and illness, I'd be there...every-damn-day!! The important part of that sentence was the key to a life free of disease and illness...it's no secret that McDonald's food is bad and that fruits and vegetables are the most important things you can eat for a healthy life. The problem lies in decision making. How do you get yourself to make the right choices when junk food tastes so good? I.love.potato.chips...brownies...kettle corn drizzled with dark chocolate...bagels...cookies...you get it, right? I love the same things you do and so does everyone else. We are all in the same junk food boat floating through the oceans of processed crap. How do we make good decisions when bad stuff is everywhere tempting us with their whorish-goodness?
I deal with those junk food cravings by finding healthy alternatives that make me think I'm eating junk food. Before you can even get to that point though you have to make the decision that you are going to choose health over your taste buds. You WILL go through a transition. Your taste buds WILL change, I promise you, this is true. Me-ten-years-ago would laugh, really hard, at me-today. Sometimes I want to smack myself for saying things like “your taste buds will change” or “you'll crave a big salad”. But it really is true...ask anyone who changes their eating lifestyle. I say those things to give you hope not to make you want to punch me in the face. To give you even more hope, at the end of this post I have included my favorite brownie recipe! It is easy, CHOCOLATEY, ooey, gooey, sweet, amazing, fulfilling...promise me you're going to try it?! Do NOT judge the ingredients! Just make it. Try it! You can't say you don't like it if you've never even tried!! (The picture is sucking you in, right?!
Back to making the best decisions...moderation is damn hard, but we are in CONTROL of our choices. Each and every moment of our lives is due to a choice that we have made. They are not always easy choices, mostly hard, right? That's LIFE. Life is hard, but we are in control of things that can make it easier. One of the best decisions you can make in your life is making choices that keep you healthy.
The best first step is deciding that YOU are IMPORTANT and that focusing on your health is the best thing that you can do for you. Make your health priority number one and now, decision making just got a little easier. Because now you know each choice you make needs to answer yes to the question, “Will this make me HEALTHIER?” This question can be used in every aspect of your life! Will eating this bag of chips make me healthier? Will saying yes to everybody make me healthier? Will yelling at the car in front of me make me healthier?
What's stopping you from making better decisions? What's keeping you from reaching your goals? Share some of your answers in the comments and let's start a discussion! Let's share our struggles with others and maybe showing our imperfect life will inspire others and us along the way!!
Jeanmare and Cristy are creators and contributors of the Living Simply Nourished Blog. Grab a cup of tea (or coffee!), find a cozy spot, scroll around, read some stories, find some inspiration, and enjoy!
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