Healthy School Lunches, the Vegetarian Way
This past week my daughter, who will be five in September, started voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK). To make a long story short, the cut-off date to start kindergarten in Florida is September 1st. She misses it by a few weeks, therefore they want her to wait a year to start school. While she is attending this free 15-hour per week program this year, I am also homeschooling her for kindergarten. Like most vegetarian parents, one of my greatest concerns was what would happen come lunch time.
While I make every effort to pack healthy vegetarian lunches for my child, I shutter to think what others may pack for their kids. I spent a couple of years as a substitute teacher in another state and saw all the junk that students not only took to school, but that the school provided for sale to the students (everything from soda to fast food to candy).
When I went for orientation and met with the teacher I explained to her that we are vegetarian, as was noted on the paperwork. She asked me to make a list of things she couldn't have, to which I happily obliged, writing such things as marshmallows (unless the vegan variety), gummy candies, anything with gelatin, meat, etc. I read the paperwork from the school and they stated that lunches should be made up of healthy natural foods, so that pleased me.
One thing that still concerns me, however, is that they look for any reason to have a party and have snacks brought in. There are parties planned for each holiday, as well as every child's birthday. That's a lot of junk food and who knows what else will be brought to holiday parties.
When I picked my child up from her first day I asked her how it went. She said "good." I asked her what she did throughout the day, to which she replied "we ate lunch." I asked her if other kids had meat or junk food. Much to my surprise she had no idea what the other kids had for their lunch. She said everyone ate vegetarian food (which is highly doubtful, but the good news is she never noticed what they had), so it went well that day. But I still fear the parties, especially come Thanksgiving!
There are many healthy vegetarian food options you can pack for your child's lunch that won't take you hours to create. Consider these options:
- Low-fat vegan cream cheese and all-fruit spread whole wheat roll-up
- Hummus on a whole wheat pita
- Natural peanut butter and all-fruit spread on whole wheat
- Veggie burger in a pita
- Natural muffins made with whole grains
- Veggie roll-up on a whole wheat tortilla
- Vegan yogurt and fresh fruit
- Low-fat vegan cheese with wheat crackers
- Natural peanut butter with celery sticks
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Low-fat vegetable dip
- Graham crackers
- Whole wheat mini-bagel with low-fat vegan cream cheese
- Dinner leftovers
- Vegan cheese, avocado and sprouts in a whole wheat pita
- Cold pasta salad (whole wheat noodles, low-fat Italian dressing, kidney beans, raisins, chopped carrots)
- Baked chips
- Salad with fruit and a raspberry dressing
- Rice cakes
- Tofu salad sandwich or with crackers, or chick pea or kidney bean salad
- Water, fresh-brewed iced tea (not sweet tea), soy milk
- Homemade trail mix
The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine has a new campaign to get healthy school lunches across the country, something we all can benefit from whether homeschooling or not (it is believed that kids who eat better, behave better, and we all benefit from that). They also offer information on how you can get involved in getting healthier lunches in your school cafeteria. I'll let you know how the parties go as I cross that bridge. In the meantime, check out this article on school lunch nutrition, as well as this video for the healthy school lunch campaign: