Keen to start packing more plant-based food into your lunch boxes but not sure where to begin? This practical guide is for you!
We reached out to some fabulous vegan parents and asked them to lift the lid on how best to navigate preparing plant-based lunches.
Whether you’re preparing a meal for little ones, big ones, or yourself, these tried-and-tested tips and tricks have got you covered! They work just as well for kids as they do for adults.
Check if you need to follow any allergy guidelines
Many schools and workplaces are nut-free, so it’s best to figure out what requirements you’re working with before getting started.
Remember this rule of thumb
- 1 main
- 2 fruit, veggie, or salad-based sides
- 1-2 snacks
As long as you follow this general ‘recipe’ each time, you’ll always end up with a satisfying, balanced plant-based lunch.
Try to include a variety of nutrients
Covering a range of food groups will not only make the lunch box more nutritious, it’ll make it more interesting flavour-wise, too!
Remember to always add:
🌾 Whole grains: Whole grain bread, wraps, and brown rice provide essential carbs for long-lasting energy.
🌈 Fruits & vegetables: The more colours of the rainbow, the better! This is because each colour is associated with a different range of nutrients and health benefits.
🥑 Healthy fats: Like some avocado, a sprinkle of (school-approved) nuts and seeds, or a drizzle of olive oil.
For some helpful information about keeping kids nourished and healthy on a plant-based diet, check out Vegan Kids Nutrition.
Tinker with balance
This tip isn’t essential, but it does help make lunches – and indeed any meal – more satisfying.
Try to create balance by contrasting more dense comfort foods with lighter, refreshing sides, and run through a checklist of textures (like creamy, crunchy, firm, chewy, and juicy) to make sure you’ve got a good mix.
Write a list of go-to snacks & meals
Keep the list stuck on the fridge or in a note on your phone for easy access and inspiration. It’ll be a lifesaver on those mornings where your body is technically in the kitchen, but your mind still feels like it’s back in bed!
Need help with what to put on the list?
We’ve got loads of plant-based inspiration for you to browse through, including super simple recipes for sandwiches, wraps, rice paper rolls, burritos, salads, savoury snacks, treats, and more.
Remember to keep updating your list of go-tos when you discover new hits.
Don’t forget your leftovers
Last night’s dinner is the meal that keeps on giving! Easiest lunch box filler ever.
Tip: Prep ahead by popping your leftovers into a lunch box right after dinner. That way, you won’t have to do any portioning later, and can just grab it from the fridge in the morning.
And let’s rewind a step: Are you just beginning to explore plant-based cooking, and not sure what to make for dinner? Veg versions of comfort food classics are one of the best ways to get your family on board with plant-based eating, since they’re already familiar.
Keep it simple
Sure, some of those elaborate lunch boxes you see on social media might look amazing, but simplicity is key when it comes to establishing a solid, sustainable lunch box routine, especially if you’re still finding your feet in the world of plant-based eating.
The last thing you want is to burn yourself out trying to make finicky food decorations – which, let’s be real, are just going to be gobbled up in an instant anyway.
So, release yourself from any social-media-imposed pressure of trying to create a visual masterpiece every day. Being able to consistently put together a nourishing, tasty plant-based meal is far more important, whatever it looks like!
Prep ahead to make things easier for future-you
Immediately wash and chop veggies when you buy them, and store them in air-tight containers in the fridge. It can feel like an odd habit to get into, but will save you time, effort, and clean-up in the long run!
Similarly, pre-cooking a large amount of meal bases like rice, pasta, and beans to draw from throughout the week can help reduce prep time in the mornings (and increase your likelihood of a lie-in 😉).
Pre-portioning snacks into containers is another easy way to get ahead.
Basically, the easier everything is to grab, the better!
For picky eaters, build familiarity first
If you’re packing lunch boxes for little ones, it’s important to remember that foods they are happy to eat are very likely to be foods they’re already familiar with.
This isn’t to say you can never put anything new in the box – just that it can be a good idea to try out any new recipes or products a few times at home first.
That way, your kids can be introduced to new foods in a setting that they already feel comfortable in, rather than seeing them for the first time at school or daycare.
And if you’re in the process of switching to more plant-based foods, familiarity is key there too!
Try simply ‘veganising’ recipes your kids already like: Switch out the ham and cheese in their sandwich for plant-based ham and cheese, swap their favourite yoghurt for a soy or coconut-based alternative, or try an egg-free banana bread recipe instead of the usual.
Something you’ll quickly realise is that there is a vegan version of just about everything – so simply recreating meals and snacks your little ones already love can make plant-based food much more approachable.
Make things in batches – and enlist helpers
If you have time over the weekend, consider making a big batch of snacks or baked treats like fritters, savoury scrolls, pastries, or muffins so you’re stocked up for the week.
This is a fun activity to get kids involved in, especially if they’re the ones you’re baking for!
And the same goes for bigger meals you plan on making. Finding even a small way for little ones to help will give them a sense of ownership, and they’ll be much more likely to eat and enjoy the food as a result.
Create an assembly line for peak efficiency
If you’ve got a flock of kiddos, or if you like packing a week of your own lunches in one go, this is a simple but effective approach to shaving precious minutes off the process: When you’re ready to start packing, lay all your lunch boxes out in a row and pack them systematically (e.g. a banana in each one, followed by a sandwich in each one, and so on), making small changes as needed to accommodate individual food preferences.
You’ll be able to get into a much better flow than if you packed each lunch box fully, one by one.
Bulk it out with store-bought products
If you are able to make some meal elements using mostly whole foods at home, that’s brilliant, but don’t feel pressured to make everything from scratch. There are plenty of store-bought vegan products that are great in a pinch – and pretty wholesome, too!
Check out our list of plant-based lunch box items for heaps of convenient meal bases, snack packs, drinks, yoghurts, biscuits, and treats you can find at the supermarket.
Keep lunch box supplies separate from everyday snacks
The last thing you want is to find your supplies already depleted when you go to use them for lunches. Save yourself the heartbreak and keep them in a dedicated no-go zone of the fridge or pantry.
Little changes can help keep things fresh
There’s nothing wrong with packing the exact same lunch for a few days in a row (hey, if it works, it works!), but remember that even tiny changes to the formula can help create interest.
You could keep the mains the same and cycle through different fruits and snacks throughout the week, or you could experiment with changing up the mains a bit too.
For example, let’s say you’ve made a whole lot of the filling for these caesar salad and tofu ‘bacon’ wraps – you could put it in a wrap one day and include it as a side salad to something else the next. You could even pop it on a bagel or in a sandwich.
The possibilities are endless and easy to explore!
The usual food safety rules apply
Even though plant-based food doesn’t contain any of the usual suspects for food-borne illnesses – meat, eggs, and dairy – food safety is just as important as ever! Always wash your fresh produce, and use insulated containers and ice packs as required.
Ready to unpack how it all comes together?
We’ve used all the info covered here (as well as our lunch box recipe ideas and product recommendations) to put together 5 plant-based lunch boxes that are ridiculously easy to make, and packed with delicious, nutritious food.
Check out these ready-to-copy examples, complete with shopping lists, in our school-week meal plan here.
That Vegan Dad also has some great tips and ideas!
Feel free to share these pages with any other lunch-preppers you know who might find them helpful – they’re too good to keep a lid on 😉
Thank you to all the vegan parents who shared their tips, tricks, and wisdom with us for this article!