Today I’m sharing a variety of vegan lunchbox ideas for school (daycare in particular) by showing 20 actual lunchboxes I’ve put together for my own toddler in the past few months. If you’re looking for plant-based lunch box ideas to pack for your own vegan kids, you’ve come to the right place!
My almost 3 year-old daughter baby J (as I call her on the interwebs) has been going to daycare since she was 12 months old. We started with two half-days, and eventually moved to three full days a week.
Before she started attending her daycare, I was a bit puzzled when I found out that she was supposed to bring her own lunch (the daycare does provide snacks twice a day).
I didn’t have a problem coming up with ideas for her lunch at home (see 7 plant-based baby food recipes I’ve been making for her since she was 6 months old – a lot of those I make to this day). But daycare lunches were a whole new territory.
A lot of things that we have to do in life may at first seem scary, but then we start doing them and realize that they weren’t a big deal. That’s exactly what happened when I started putting together baby J’s vegan daycare lunches.
A few months into our daycare experience, I no more had any issues coming up with vegan lunchbox ideas for school. This is why today I decided to share 20 examples of her actual lunchboxes that I photographed over the past few months (with a 3-month break when her daycare was closed).
In addition to that, I’m going the share a few helpful tips for how I make it all work.
By the way, if you’re wondering what my (almost) 3 year-old’s average day of meals and snacks looks like, see my post with my vegan toddler’s menu on a typical day.
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Rules I Follow When Making My Toddler’s Vegan Daycare Lunchboxes
I have a few general guidelines that I try to stick to when putting together baby J’s vegan daycare lunchbox. But I don’t really stress much over this process, even if I miss any of those guidelines.
1. I make sure there’s a variety of foods. Usually it’s an entree that we ate the night before, one or two veggie sides, and fruit. If any of those aren’t available, I just wing it (see #5 below).
2. I try to include nutrient-rich plant-based foods with protein, good carbohydrates, and fat that little humans need for healthy growth. Once again, I don’t stress too much if I sometimes miss a micro- or a macronutrient.
3. I try to keep things healthy but don’t shy away from not-so-healthy options every now and then (especially when my food options are limited at home). Things like vegan “chicken” nuggets, sliced vegan sausage, cookies, crackers, etc. work just fine if I can’t think of anything else.
4. I try to plan our pre-daycare night dinners around foods that would make good options for her lunchbox. Leftovers rule!
5. I have a few foods that I can always rely on if I don’t have much else available. Canned chickpeas, frozen vegan “chicken” tenders or nuggets (she likes Gardein brand), blanched broccoli* and lentil dahl*, leftover rice all make reliable options.
6. I always pack my vegan toddler’s lunch in the evening right after dinnertime. It only takes a few minutes, but saves a ton of stress that I know I would otherwise have if I did it the following morning. If you take away just one tip from this post, I highly recommend following this one!
If the subject of vegan nutrition for kids puzzles you, see this guide on feeding vegan kids by Reed Mangels, PhD, RD.
Vegan Lunchbox Ideas: Questions and Answers
I can sense that you’ll probably have questions, so I’ll try to answer some of them. If you’d like to ask about something I haven’t mentioned, just leave a comment after this post, and I’ll reply ASAP.
How do you come up with vegan lunchbox ideas for school?
I try to keep things simple. As you’ll see below, I use leftovers quite a lot, but when I don’t have much available (for example, if our dinner was something she wasn’t a fan of, or if we didn’t have any leftovers), I resort to simple staples like cooked chickpeas, homemade or store-bought vegan chicken nuggets, fruit, crackers, etc.
Foods like blanched broccoli* and lentil dahl* are also useful and quick to make – see recipes in the post linked up below in Note 2.
I know that for a lot of parents the idea of a daycare or school lunch box goes hand-in-hand with cutesy sandwich and fruit/veggie cutouts made with nifty sandwich or cookie cutters. Those are lovely of course, but I personally don’t use them (saves a lot of time and effort!).
If you’ve got a picky eater on your hands though, using those could be worth a try. Just don’t get to wrapped up in it, or you might feel that putting school lunchboxes together is way harder than it has to be.
Why do you use a lot of foods that would have to be reheated before lunch?
There are two reasons for that. First: my daughter has gotten so used to hot meals at home that she wouldn’t even eat a PB & J sandwich, let alone other kinds of sandwiches and cold foods.
(I know, we’ll really have to address that before she starts preschool.)
Second: It’s convenient for me because most of the time I can just use leftovers from our dinner the night before.
This works for us because baby J’s daycare can reheat her lunch if needed. If your child doesn’t insist of hot food at lunchtime (or if your school doesn’t offer that option), by all means use foods that don’t need reheating: sandwiches, veggie wraps, etc.
What’s the lunchbox you’re using in these pictures?
I’ve been using this lunchbox that I bought on Amazon to pack all of her lunches from day one. It has five compartments, and I usually try to fill each of those except for the tiny one in the center.
I like that its lid has leak-proof sections that fit over each compartment. Plus, it’s BPA-free, and has a microwave-safe tray.
Also, I’ve noticed that a few other kids use this kind of lunchbox at baby J’s school. Great minds think alike, huh?
More on this subject: 20+ resources for vegan parents and their kids, from vegan parenting books and websites to nutrition guides, magazines, online forums, etc.
Isn’t this A LOT of food for a 2-3 year-old?
Yes, that’s quite a bit of food, and I never expect that my daughter would eat everything. I try to make sure that at least one or two foods in her lunchbox are a safe bet, and usually she’ll at least pick on whatever else I’ve included.
By the way, take a look at my post with 15 of my toddler’s favorite vegan recipes from the blog – I find those pretty useful when I’m blanking out on meal ideas for her lunchbox.
Does your daughter’s school keep her food refrigerated until lunchtime?
That used to be an option, but recently they stopped keeping lunchboxes in the fridge to reduce the possibility of cross-contamination with coronavirus if all lunchboxes were stored on top of each other.
Before the school reopened after a 3 month-long closure, all parents were informed of that, and were advised to bring lunch in an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack.
The lunchbox I mentioned above works well with this lunch bag and these ice packs (Amazon links), but I’ll admit that we haven’t used those so far – it just isn’t that hot here in the Pacific Northwest.
And now, the part you’ve been impatiently scrolling to – the actual lunchboxes!
My Toddler’s Vegan Daycare Lunchboxes: 20 Real-Life Examples
Note 1: Each box is shown below the description. Foods are named both in the description and on the pictures.
Note 2: You can find recipes for foods marked with asterisk (*) in my post about homemade vegan baby food recipes. I started making them for my daughter when she turned 6 months old, and she still eats a lot of those today.
Lunchbox #1 : vegetable pasta with tomato sauce, chickpeas, avocado, sliced tomatoes.
Lunchbox #2: veggie and bean burrito, roasted plantains, avocado, apple slices.
Lunchbox #3: veggie and tofu stir-fry, brown rice, cubed polenta*, avocado, halved yellow cherry tomatoes.
Lunchbox #4: penne pasta with tomato sauce and chickpeas, cubed polenta*, avocado, blueberries. This box was also featured in my post about my vegan toddler’s sample daily menu.
Lunchbox #5: sliced Beyond Sausage, mashed potatoes, plantain chips, apple slices, grapes.
Lunchbox #6: veggie and tofu stir-fry, brown rice, chickpeas, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced strawberries.
Lunchbox #7: vegan jambalaya with sausage, chickpeas, blueberries, halved and pitted cherries.
Lunchbox #8: seasoned fried tofu, mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower, satsuma slices.
Lunchbox #9: Gardein vegan chicken tenders, white rice, blanched broccoli*, grapes.
Lunchbox #10: chickpeas, wild rice blend, dried apricots, halved pitted cherries.
Lunchbox #12: Gardein fishless filet, roasted cubed sweet potatoes, lentil dahl*, sliced kiwi.
Lunchbox #13: pasta with vegan butter, black-eyed peas, Triscuit crachers, halved pitted cherries.
Lunchbox #14: lentil dahl*, white rice, black-eyed peas, sliced apples.
Lunchbox #15: roasted sliced sweet potatoes, chickpeas, grapes, Nature’s Bakery fig bar.
Lunchbox #16: sliced Field Roast sausage, pasta with vegan butter, white rice, chickpeas, sliced strawberries.
Lunchbox #17: veggie and crumbled tofu burrito, lentil dahl*, aloo gobi (Indian-style stew with cauliflower and potatoes), sliced grapes.
Lunchbox #18: tofu scramble*, Gardein vegan chicken tenders, quinoa and veggie pilaf, sliced apples.
Lunchbox #19: spaghetti with vegetables and tomato sauce, lentil dahl*, blanched broccoli*, halved pitted cherries.
Lunchbox #20: pad thai with tofu and vegetables, chickpeas, homemade lemon poppyseed muffin, sliced apples.
I hope that now you have plenty of vegan lunchbox ideas for school, preschool or daycare. If you use any of these, please let me know!
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