Eating habits begin in early childhood. Plant-based meals provide excellent nutrition—they are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that boost kids’ health. Children who are raised on healthful vegan diets have a reduced risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other conditions. Adolescents raised on a plant-based diet often find they have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. They also have fewer problems with acne, asthma, and gastrointestinal problems than their friends who eat animal products.
Projections from the CDC show that 1 in 3 children will develop type 2 diabetes during their lifetime. More and more children are gaining excess weight, paving the way for health problems later in life. Twenty-five percent of children ages 5 to 10 years have high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, or other early warning signs of heart disease. In fact, American children often have cholesterol plaque in their arteries before they finish high school. Plant-based meals promote health, because they are free of cholesterol, low in saturated fat, and full of fiber.
If children were going back to school in person, we’d be encouraging schools to provide healthy school lunches based around nutritious plant-based foods as much as possible. But this year, it looks like most kids will be eating lunch at home, so it’s important to make sure you always have nutritious snacks and lunch ideas ready to go, while cutting back on purchasing junk food items that may be all-too-tempting.
The best foods to have ready for snacking are always going to be fruits and vegetables, with nutritious dips to have along with them. Here are some ideas:
- Serve easy-to-eat vegetables along with hummus, guacamole, pesto, or a black bean dip.
- Baby carrots
- Snap peas
- Prepared celery sticks
- Cherry tomatoes
- Red pepper sticks
- Roasted cauliflower florets
- Mock tuna spread is great as a sandwich filler served on rye crackers or toasted whole wheat bread – see recipe.
- Roasted or grilled veggie strips such as zucchini, eggplant or red pepper strips are delicious in sandwiches, with hummus, baked tofu, or meat substitute products.
- Whole wheat wraps, with hummus, lettuce, grated carrot, and red pepper sticks, can be rolled up and sliced into child sized roll-ups.
- Of course, remember that the classic favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are plant-based. Just choose a whole wheat bread, a brand of peanut butter without lots of additives, and a low sugar jelly or jam.
- Crackers can be served with a cheese substitute product.
- As the weather moves towards the colder months, prepared soups (such as Imagine Foods brand) or instant soup pots can be the basis of a nutritious lunch.
- And of course if you’ve had a healthy meal for dinner the night before, heated up leftovers make a great lunch!
- Having fruit prepared and easy to grab, such as grapes, melon slices, strawberries, and plums or other stone fruits, is a good way to encourage these choices to round out a healthy lunch, rather than chocolate or cookies.
With a little planning and intentional shopping, you can keep the fridge well stocked with foods to make easy lunches, and prevent the temptation to rely on snack bars and cookies for meals and snacks.