Sweet mercy, do you see that? It is what some children are eating every day at school. A lot of children eat lunch twice a day at school, because their family gets Food Stamps or is income eligible. These families probably feel that they cannot afford to feed their child three meals a day, but I’m here to add some tips and tricks for making a plant based healthy meal possible.
I started doing home lunches for my child since day one because she has a milk allergy. This was even before I ate mostly whole foods, and definitely before I went gluten free OR vegan. I packed the usual “health” foods, including little cups of dairy free pudding, applesauce, juice boxes, even “healthy” chips. Maybe it was more healthy than the fried school lunches, but it was by no means healthy.
One motivation that is often overlooked by people who are living hand to mouth is the amount of garbage created by school lunch (and biodegradable waste), and also by HOME lunches. All of those individually packaged items are usually not recyclable.
Innovative home lunch solutions are not only healthier, but they create less waste, and the child is more likely to eat because the food is familiar. Here at home, I’ve gotten a little crazy with the home lunches, so we actually have three approaches, all of which are affordable.
The first solution is HIGHLY affordable. Below you’ll see a thermos, two small leak-proof containers (Rubbermaid will do, but these are made from safe plastic by Green Spouts), and some reusable cloth bags, which can be thrown in the wash. This can be coupled with a water bottle made of stainless steal or safe plastic. All of these items are sold at both Target and Walmart. This setup is ideal for cold climates because the thermos is great for soups and casseroles, but can also be combined with a mix of hot finger foods such as potato wedges, veges, and tofu. When the child wants a salad, it too can go in there, or another small container. The cloth bags can be used for snacks of any sort, including fruit, and the small containers can hold homemade applesauce, pudding, or yogurt.
The second solution that I like is called a tiffin, which is an Indian type bento. They come in two and three tiers, and each come with a small container for dips or sauce. We got a larger container as well to fit inside when the small one isn’t big enough. There are sacks available to put them in, and they act as insulation for hot and cold for approximately four hours. What I like about the tiffin is it is the easiest to wash- there are not many small parts to fuss with. The sack has a side panel for silverware, and my daughter’s small water bottle has a clip that she attaches it to the strap. These are a little harder to find, but all parts are available on Amazon.com and at Whole Foods Markets.
And finally, my least favorite, most expensive, and most LOVED BY MY DAUGHTER (*eyeroll*) is this terrible thing called a Laptop Lunch. Why do I hate it? It’s tedious for one- washing the thing and all it’s nooks and crannies is so ridiculous that it is her new chore. I also dislike that the outside is very prone to water markings, so if it gets wet, it leaves a mark. Perhaps my least favorite part about it is that it is plastic. I don’t prefer plastics, even if they’re “safe” because they pollute the planet. This particular laptop lunch is in disrepair for a reason. I got it for $10 at my local sustainability shop because it had been crushed in shipping and the seam was fraying. I melted it in a hot pot and bent it into place with pliers, so now my daughter has one. The included book is ridiculous as well- they actually base their nutritional advice on the Food Pyramid (*bigger eyeroll*) and there are no photos. There is a vegan book for these things called “Vegan Laptop Lunch” and the author has her own blog. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a stainless steel version of this phenomenon called a Planet Box, which I love, but am concerned about the cost and the weight. Here’s what ours looks like:
There are a lot of fancy things you can do with bento if you’re feeling creative, but I have found these staples to help. We use a small Klean Kanteen water bottle with a clip, a small insulating cozy, some safe plastic frozen ice cubes (which come in metal and we LOVE them), and some silicone cupcake liners that we use to separate food. These are also available in places like Walmart, Target, and Whole Foods.
And so without further adieu, I present to you, my humble laptop lunches. Keep in mind that my daughter has special needs and will happily eat many of the same components day after day…
Many recipes featured here can be found in the previous post.