5 Healthy Lunch Ideas Kids Will Actually Eat, From a Nutritionist

As a nutritionist and parent of two very picky eaters, I know first-hand the struggle of getting kids to eat more healthy foods (let alone a diverse range of whole plant foods). When people find out my family is plant-based and both of my kids eat vegan, the first question I’m often asked is, “Is that healthy for your children?” The second is, “Most kids hate vegetables! What meals do you make for them that they actually like?” How do you get kids to eat vegetables? With a little planning, it’s easy to make healthy school lunches with plenty of vegetables your kids will love.

These questions gave me pause the first few times I heard them because, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure of the answers. I had read the books, watched the documentaries, and listened to the podcasts, but I didn’t know exactly which foods were healthy for my kids or why. And raising my kids plant-based, I needed to make sure they were getting a balanced diet, with all the nutrition they needed to grow and thrive.

So I decided to do my own research, go back to school, and became a nutritionist. It seemed like the logical way to take control of my children’s nutrition and health. No more uncertainty. If what I was feeding them was healthy or not, at least I would know that the facts I was using to make that determination were backed by scientific evidence. So now I can answer these questions with confidence, and also make the right decisions for my kids until they are old enough to make these determinations for themselves.

How to Make Healthy Recipes Kids Love

First and foremost, when it comes to diet and nutrition, I want my kids to have a healthy relationship with food. Even if that means they choose to not eat a 100 percent plant-based diet or they decide to explore animal products on their own. All we can do as parents is model healthy behaviors and feed our kids the most nutritious and delicious meals we can provide.

This sentiment is explained well by Dr. Dana Ellis Hunnes, Ph.D., senior dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of Recipe For Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life, “As a plant-based Mom, I think it’s incredibly important to have a healthy relationship with food and not force kids to eat things they have tried and definitely do not like, but also work with them on finding ways they might like it.”

So how can you find new ways to get your kids to try foods they dislike? Dr. Ellis Hunnes uses her son as an example. “For example, my son is not a fan of steamed vegetables, but he loves roasted cauliflower. So, finding different ways of preparing foods that make them more flavorful can make a huge difference.”

The recipes below are 100 percent plant-based and contain only whole food ingredients. These are highly nutritious meals that provide a healthy balance of plant proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats (along with vitamins and minerals) to help ensure your kids are energized, fueled, and ready to take on the world.

5 Plant-Based Lunch Recipes Kids Will Love

attachment-Yam Quesadillas

1. Mashed Yam Quesadillas

Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 organic whole wheat wraps (we use organic spinach wraps)
  • 1 medium yam, skinned
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • ½ cup frozen whole kernel corn
  • 6 tbsp organic mild salsa
  • 1 cup non-dairy vegan cheese, shredded (we use Daiya shredded cheddar cheese)

Instructions

  1. Fill a medium-size pot half full of water and bring to a boil.
    While water is boiling, peel and chop the yam into large chunks.
  2. Place the chopped yam in the boiling water. Reduce to medium heat and cook covered for 15 to 20 minutes until the potato is soft. Once the yam is cooked, drain the water and mash the potato.
  3. While the yam is cooking, preheat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Drizzle on a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil to slick the pan.
  4. Layout the wraps on a large cutting board. Cut a vertical line in the center and along the bottom half of each wrap.
  5. For layering the ingredients, imagine each wrap is divided into four quadrants. It’ll probably be helpful to refer to the images below.)
  6. In the bottom right quadrant and top left quadrant of each wrap, evenly spread 1.5 tbsp of salsa. In the top right quadrant and bottom left quadrant of each wrap, evenly spread about ⅛ of the mashed yam. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the shredded non-dairy cheese on top of each yam quadrant.
  7. Now for the tricky part: the folding of the quesadillas. Fold the bottom right quadrant up to the top right and press down to compact the ingredients. Then, fold the top right to the top left quadrant. Press down again. Then fold the top left to the bottom left, creating a large triangular-shaped quesadilla.
  8. Place each quesadilla on the pan. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until the wrap is browned.
    Using a large spatula, flip the quesadilla. Cook for another 5 to 7 minutes until browned.
  9. Transfer the quesadillas to the cutting board and cut them into 3 or 4 slices for the kids to eat with their hands. Enjoy!

attachment-Tofu Scramble 1

2. Tofu Scramble with Brown Rice and Veggies

Servings: 2 to 3

Ingredients

  • 1 block of organic tofu, firm or extra firm
  • ½ cup of dry whole grain brown rice
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes – 14 ounces
  • ¼ cup frozen whole kernel corn
  • ¼ cup of frozen green peas
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 3 tbsp of nutritional yeast
  • ¼ tsp of sea salt
  • Dash of black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Drizzle on a tablespoon or two of extra virgin olive oil or water.
  2. Add the dry brown rice to a small pot along with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the brown rice is cooked and has absorbed all the water.
  3. While the brown rice is cooking, add the block of tofu to a medium-sized mixing bowl. Crumble it with your hands or use a masher to break it down into a crumble.
  4. Add the nutritional yeast, sea salt, and black pepper to the mixing bowl and combine with the crumbled tofu.
  5. Add the tofu mixture, red bell pepper, diced tomatoes, corn and green peas to the saucepan and stir well.
  6. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Be sure to stir every few minutes. Turn off the heat and add the brown rice to the tofu scramble.
  7. Dish out the tofu scramble into bowls and top with avocado. Ready to eat!

attachment-Toasted Sweet Potato w PB&J 2

3. Toasted Sweet Potato with Peanut Butter & Jam

Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 4 slices of sweet potato (approximately 1/4″ thick and long enough to fit in toaster)
  • 4 tbsp of natural peanut butter
  • 1 cup of organic raspberries
  • 1 whole banana, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp of chia seeds
  • 2 tbsp of hemp hearts
  • 2 tbsp of flaxseed
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Maple syrup or agave nectar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cut a sweet potato lengthwise into approximately 1/4″ thick slices. Length should be long enough to just fit inside your toaster.
  2. Toast for a total of 12 to 15 minutes until the sweet potato is soft. This will require multiple toastings. We usually set the toasting time for 5 minutes and repeat 3 times.
  3. Allow slices to cool for 5 minutes after toasting.
  4. While the sweet potato is toasting, prepare a homemade jam with the raspberries, chia seeds, flaxseed, and hemp hearts by blending them together. Add a splash of plant milk if necessary.
  5. Transfer the blended mixture to a pan and heat over medium heat for 5 until it forms a sticky jam texture. Remove from heat.
  6. Spread the peanut butter and jam on the cooled potato slices.
  7. Top with sliced banana and cinnamon. Drizzle on maple syrup or agave nectar for some added sweetness!

attachment-Mashed Cauliflower and Roasted Chickpeas

4. Mashed Cauliflower and Potato with Roasted Chickpeas

Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • ½ of one large cauliflower head, chopped
  • 6 whole russet potatoes, skinned and halved
  • ½ cup of carrots, chopped and steamed
  • ½ cup frozen corn or green peas
  • 1 cup of organic, no-salt-added, or low sodium canned chickpeas (drained and rinsed)
  • 2 tbsp of unsweetened organic soy milk
  • 3 tbsp of nutritional yeast
  • ½ tsp of roasted garlic & red pepper seasoning
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Dash of black pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    Drain and rinse the canned chickpeas. Pat them dry with paper towel then add to a mixing bowl.
  2. Season chickpeas with roasted garlic & red pepper seasoning and sea salt. Combine well then transfer to baking sheet.
  3. Cook chickpeas in the oven for 30 minutes.
  4. While chickpeas are cooking, chop the carrots and steam them for 5 to 10 minutes until soft. Fill a large pot half full with water and bring to a boil. While water is boiling, chop the cauliflower head and russet potatoes then add to the boiling water. Reduce to medium heat and cook covered for 15 to 20 minutes until the cauliflower and potatoes are soft.
  5. Once cauliflower and potatoes are cooked, mash them with a masher or large fork if you don’t have a masher.
  6. Add the steamed carrots, unsweetened organic soy milk, nutritional yeast, sea salt and black pepper to the mashed cauliflower and potato. Combine all ingredients well.
  7. Remove roasted chickpeas from often and add to the mash.
  8. Serve in bowls for kids to eat with spoons. Just make sure it’s cooled first!

attachment-Epic Smoothie Bowl

5. Epic Smoothie Bowl

Servings: 2

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of unsweetened organic plant milk of choice (soy, almond, oat, cashew)
  • 1 cup of frozen mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries)
  • ½ cup of frozen mango
  • ½ cup of frozen kale or spinach
  • ¼ cup of frozen green peas
  • ¼ cup of frozen riced cauliflower
  • ¼ cup of frozen sliced beets
  • 1 whole banana
  • 1 medjool date, pitted
  • 2 tbsp of hemp hearts
  • 2 tbsp of flaxseed
  • 1 tsp of cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp of ground turmeric
  • Dash of black pepper
  • 1 tbsp of raw, unsalted walnuts
  • 1 tbsp of raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tbsp of cacao nibs
  • 2 tbsp of organic raisins

Instructions

  1. Add the ingredients to a large high-power blender in the order listed above.
  2. Blend thoroughly until ingredients are combined into a nice, thick ice cream consistency. Add water as required to achieve desired consistency.
  3. Scrape out into a bowl. Be sure to get everything from the sides of the blender!
  4. Add toppings as listed. Feel free to add whatever toppings you like, or omit them entirely!

Bottom Line: Making plant-based meals your kids will love is easier than you think.

First, this is not a one-way dialogue. Talk to your kids and ask them what they like to eat. Get them to pick out fresh produce when you’re shopping at the grocery store, and then have them prepare it with you. Kids generally love to taste their own creations. Keep it fun.

Most importantly, don’t force them to eat foods they don’t like. Developing a healthy relationship with food is the top priority! If you take the emotion out of it, chances are they will taste it on their own and start to like broccoli, spinach, and other healthy greens and vegetables, without your having to work at it. Just keep serving healthy food, They will eat it.