Vegan Lunch Box

130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love!


By Jennifer McCann

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 5, 2008. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Quick and easy plant-based recipes and menus — with allergen information and allergen-free options — for feeding happy, healthy kids.

If you think vegan lunchtime means peanut butter and jelly day after day, think again! Based on the wildly popular blog of the same name, Vegan Lunch Box offers an amazing array of meat-free, egg-free, and dairy-free meals and snacks. All the recipes are organized into menus to help parents pack quick, nutritious, and irresistible vegan meals. Ideal for everyday and special occasions, Vegan Lunch Box features tips for feeding even the most finicky kids. It includes handy allergen-free indexes identifying wheat-free, gluten-free, soy-free, and nut-free recipes, and product recommendations that make shopping a breeze.


"Jennifer McCann's cookbook makes vegan cooking accessible and fun. It's informative but not stuffy, detailed yet concise, and the recipes are creative without being difficult. There are so many delicious, well put together options here, it's not only perfect for kids but for anyone who ever eats lunch!"
—Isa Chandra Moskowitz, author of VEGANOMICON
"Being a vegan kid just got a lot easier! The menus in Vegan Lunch Box make it easy to plan a balanced and nutritious lunch for your kids (or yourself!). The variety alone makes it worth having."
—Erin Pavlina, author of
"Destined to become a classic, this is the book vegan parents have been waiting for. And who knew? A vegan mom started a blog describing the lunches she made for her son for one school year, and it won the 2006 Bloggie Award for "Best Food Blog" (NOT "best VEGETARIAN food blog," but "Best Food Blog," period!). It inspired, delighted, and motivated not only vegan parents, but omnivores bored with their own lackluster lunches. This book will continue delighting with recipes that are as innovative, kid-pleasing, and healthful as they are delicious."
—Bryanna Clark Grogan, author of NONNA'S ITALIAN KITCHEN

"Give children a healthy dose of the truth, and I believe most of them will hop, skip, and jump over to the side of the angels and never look back."
Howard Lyman, NO MORE BULL!

Foreword by Erik Marcus
No matter how good a mother's intentions, it will often seem that the world doesn't want children to be vegan. From birthday parties to day camp outings, being a child in America means being offered animal products dozens of times each year. And of all the hazards facing the vegan child, none compares to what happens every day during the school lunch period.
School cafeterias are enemy territory to vegetarian and vegan kids. Nearly all these cafeterias serve as the dumping grounds for the commodity meat and dairy products purchased by the USDA's price support program. What's worse, meat industry lobbyists have succeeded in shaping the National School Lunch Program's nutritional guidelines, so that protein requirements and saturated fat allowances are kept unreasonably high. In consequence, most school cafeterias serve meals that resemble some Frankensteinian mishmash of all the worst foods McDonald's, Taco Bell, and Long John Silver's have to offer. Breaded nuggets and french fries, anyone?
This insanely unhealthy system seems destined to crumble within the next generation, but that's little comfort to vegan mothers whose children are starting school today. It was in exactly this situation that Jennifer McCann found herself back in 2005. Her seven-year-old son, James, was starting the first grade. Soon, every afternoon, he would find himself in the school cafeteria watching his friends and classmates devour cheeseburgers, pizza, and fried chicken. What could Jennifer send her son to school with each day that would ensure he wouldn't feel tempted to eat like the other kids?
The answer: give James a lunch that is better—much better—than anything served to his classmates. And by better, I don't simply mean healthier—I mean better in every respect. Every school day, Jennifer cooks up a miniature four-course meal that trumps the cafeteria's offerings in terms of flavor, color, texture, creativity, and especially love. She packages these meals in snazzy, Japanese-style bento lunch-boxes and also frequently relies on a Thermos for soups, sauces, and cold drinks.
Every mother must worry that, by not eating like other kids, their children will be isolated and even ridiculed for their diet. But James's lunches have made him anything but a pariah. His classmates know great-looking food when they see it, and so his lunches have made James the envy of his school.
Appreciation for James's lunches extends well beyond the walls of his cafeteria. In 2005, Jennifer started her blog at veganlunchbox .com. And with that, James has become not just the envy of his fellow first graders but the poster boy for an international audience of thousands of kids, parents, and other lovers of great food. Each school day, Jennifer posts a photo of her latest offering, complete with write-up, cooking summary, and notes on what James ate, didn't eat, loved, hated, or merely tolerated. Based on James's evaluations, Jennifer awards each meal from one to five stars. Every recipe in this book has been rated five stars—certification of absolute James approval.
If it sounds like, over the course of each school year, James samples hundreds of different foods, well, that's absolutely correct. Where a typical seven-year-old might think a corn dog exemplifies gourmet creativity, little James has already experienced vastly more foods than a typical American eats in an entire lifetime. He's dined on Mexican flautas, Japanese vegan sushi, Irish stew, and a seemingly unending variety of other foods. As you can see, James has absolutely no cause to feel left out when the lunch bell rings each day—rather, it's his classmates who are envious.
James's lunches help to illustrate exactly what's gone wrong with the National School Lunch Program, and how this dire situation could quickly be remedied. We would never tolerate an elementary school that failed to teach its students to read, to add and subtract, and to know something of history and geography. But in most American schools, the learning stops when the lunch bell rings. Upon shuffling into the cafeteria, students are expected to eat a limited selection of unimaginative foods day after day after day. Probably the most pernicious aspect of the National School Lunch Program isn't the myriad shortcomings of the food, but rather its uncanny knack for pushing even the brightest and most curious students into accepting, and then expecting, repetitive and uncreative meals.
By the time I finished high school, there were scarcely two dozen foods I regularly ate—and nearly all these foods were loaded with meat and dairy products. Jennifer was not going to let this happen to her son, and the daily lunches she fixes have made all the difference. Say words like "falafel," "roti," "penne," or "pad thai" to most seven-year-olds, and you'll be asked what language you're speaking. But to James, foods like these are all in a day's eating.
If you're a regular visitor to, you know what it's like to continually wish you could reach into your computer display and pull out the day's featured meal. This book goes a step further, giving you the keys to James's lunchtime kingdom—complete recipes for dozens of his very favorite five-star meals. Make any one of these meals and you're bound to agree that these are all recipes worth going to school for.
Erik Marcus is the host of the podcast and the author of Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money.

I first became vegetarian at age fifteen after reading my mother's old, worn copy of the cookbook Laurel's Kitchen. I made the change for myself, for the earth, and for that "glossy black calf on its way to the slaughterhouse" that the book was so touchingly dedicated to.
After carefully studying their nutrition guidelines, I transformed myself from a teenager whose idea of a good lunch was a package of chocolate cupcakes and a jumbo cola (really), into someone who begged mom for special trips to the health food store. I tried my hand in the kitchen with mixed results (my first experience with tofu was less than stellar). I started baking 100 percent whole wheat bread—wrinkled, fragrant loaves that had the density and heft of wholegrain bricks.
But now that I was a vegetarian, I had to start packing my own lunch. Into my brown paper bag went a peanut butter and honey sandwich on inch-thick slices of extremely heavy whole wheat, an apple, and some carrot sticks. That was it—my lunch every afternoon for an entire school year.
Sure, it was a bit monotonous, even a bit grim at times. But I was determined that if this was what I had to do to save the animals, I would do it. I chewed away stoically on my sandwich, unaware of the world of bright and exciting vegetarian foods that awaited me in the future.
Over the years, I moved gradually from vegetarian to vegan. My love of the kitchen grew stronger and more passionate, and my cooking repertoire expanded considerably. Happily, my baking skills also improved (see page 220 for the bread that won me the coveted "Superintendent's Choice" award at our local county fair).
The summer my son turned seven and started preparing for first grade, I revisited the idea of packed lunches. I looked back on those peanut butter, carrot, and apple lunch bags, then down at my young son's head. There was no way he was going to put up with nothing but PB&J every afternoon for the next twelve years! There had to be more out there for vegan school kids.
I looked in every kid-friendly cookbook I could get my hands on. Some of the suggestions were great, but most of the "healthy" lunch ideas involved meat, cheese sticks, and hard-boiled eggs. That wasn't going to cut it for us.
Running out of inspiration there, I turned to the expert. "What do you want in your lunch on the first day of school?" I asked my son.
"Sushi!" he said.
I was both startled and thrilled. Sushi!?! How cool! It was light-years ahead of my own ideas.
From then on, I started keeping notes on various well-balanced lunch menus as they occurred to me. Soon I realized that not only did I have enough ideas to keep his meals healthy, well-balanced, and fun, but perhaps other vegan parents (or anyone trying to pack interesting, healthy lunches for themselves and their families) would also benefit from exploring these possibilities with me.
Thus, Vegan Lunch Box was born!
This book is filled with menus, recipes, suggestions, and ideas I have put to the test over the course of my son's first school year and on my Vegan Lunch Box blog. It has been shaped by my successes and even more importantly by my mistakes and by the many friends, blog readers, and fellow parents who shared their ideas and lunchtime tales with me.
It is my hope that this book will inspire you to create fabulous, healthy, well-balanced meals for your children. These menus are the perfect place to start building your own repertoire of school lunches your kids love. Knowing that you have packed them a lunch filled with the best in nutrition and with foods that they really enjoy will give you peace of mind during those long hours while they are away from home.
All the foods you will find in this book are 100 percent vegan. That means they contain no animal products of any kind—no meat, no dairy, no fish, no eggs, and no honey. This makes every lunch suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and for those with food allergies to fish, shellfish, dairy, or eggs. Many of the recipes are also free of other common allergens, such as soy, wheat, gluten, peanuts, and tree nuts (see the Allergen-Free Index on page 265).
Finally, don't forget the grown-ups in your life, including you! These menus are perfect for any adult who must eat away from home each day. Most parents also work outside the home, and dining out each afternoon can be expensive. When packing your child's lunch, make another one for yourself. You'll be saving money and time while eating a wonderful meal and will share a special connection to your child during the workday, when you both pull out your amazing vegan lunch boxes.
Happy eating!
P.S. Don't forget to check out the archives at the Vegan Lunch Box blog ( for even more lunch ideas. You'll find a picture of every lunch I packed for my son during his first year of school (including pictures for most of the menus listed here). Each lunch includes a description, commentary, and success rating, along with helpful suggestions, occasional recipes, cookbook recommendations, and comments from readers. Don't miss it!

How to Use This Book
This book is divided into two parts: part 1, "The Lunch Menus," and part 2, "The Recipes." Each lunch box menu has been designed to offer a complete, well-balanced meal. I've tried to incorporate each of the following into every menu:
Whole Grains. These are an excellent source of healthy complex carbohydrates, the perfect energy to fuel our bodies and get us through the day. This category includes not only whole wheat but also oats, barley, spelt, brown rice, quinoa, and even popcorn!
Protein. Good vegan sources of protein include beans and legumes, soy products such as tofu, tempeh, edamame, soymilk, and yogurt, meat analogues such as veggie burgers, deli slices, chicken-less nuggets, etc., nuts and seeds (also good sources of healthy fats); and wheat gluten (seitan). Of course, protein is present to some extent in almost every food we eat.
Fruit. Fresh, canned, dried, or thawed frozen fruit provide a wealth of vitamins and antioxidants.
Vegetables. Fresh, canned, or cooked frozen veggies are a great addition to every lunch box and every meal. Offer a rainbow of colors each day—red tomatoes, orange pumpkin, green broccoli, purple cabbage—to provide your family with an enormous variety of health-protecting vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Calcium. Fortified juices and nondairy milks, soy yogurt, calcium-set tofu, almonds, kale, collards, broccoli, quinoa, figs, blackstrap molasses, and beans are just some of the good vegan sources of calcium you'll find here.
Dessert! What kid doesn't appreciate just a bit of something sweet or fun to complete the meal? Throughout the book, you'll find recipes for homemade treats interspersed with examples of packaged vegan goodies available in grocery and health food stores. For more on dessert, see "Sweets and Treats" (page 231).
When trying these menus, feel free to make substitutions using what your children will eat or what you have on hand. If your children won't eat sweet potatoes, for example, substitute another orange vegetable like baby carrots. If they don't like kiwi fruit, how about some organic strawberries instead? Talk it over with your children and find out what they will eat.


Regarding beverages, don't forget to include lots of the best thirst-quencher of all: water. Bottles of water can even be frozen and used as ice packs in the lunch box; by lunchtime, they will have thawed enough to drink. Calcium-fortified nondairy milks and juices are also good choices.
The lunch box you see in the pictures (insert) is the Laptop Lunch System from Obentec in Santa Cruz, California. We love it! This fun, bento-inspired lunch box comes with removable containers in different sizes and colors and features a space for a fork and spoon. One of the larger containers has a lid to hold wet foods like applesauce or soy yogurt, and the set also come swith a tin lidded container for things like dressing and dip. The other containers simply go into the lunch box without lids and the cover of the lunch box acts as a lid to hold them in place. Usually this is enough, but if I'm packing something very small, like peas and corn, I will cover the inner container with plastic wrap or foil just to be safe.
The entire lunch box then slips into an insulated carrying case with room for a Beverage container and an ice pack.
The Laptop Lunch System is available at or by phone at (831) 457-0301.

Part One

Let's start with menus that are fast and simple! This chapter is a great place to go if you are just learning to cook or don't have much time in the morning. Suggestions are included for convenient, store-bought snacks that can be easily tossed into the lunch box. If prepackaged isn't your thing, plan ahead to have individual serving-size bags of these cookies or muffins at the ready in your freezer.


Lunch Nibbles (see below)
Easy Potato Salad (page 96)
Back-to-School Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 232)
Beverage: Fortified nondairy milk
If you've been in an elementary school or mainstream supermarket lately, chances are you know all about this popular prepackaged lunch: processed cheese and deli meat are cut into little circles and served up on a plastic tray with just enough crackers to make a perfectly matched set of little cracker sandwiches. It's a great marketing concept with a lot of kid appeal, but you know from looking at the ingredients that there is nothing in this little lunch that you want children putting in their mouths!
So stick it to the man and make your own healthy vegan version, Lunch Nibbles: Cut circular shapes out of vegan deli slices (bologna, turkey, ham, salami, and so on) and/or vegan cheese slices using cookie cutters. Pair them with some savory rice crackers (smoked almond rice crackers are especially nice). Your child will be assembling cracker sandwiches with the best of them!
Save the scraps of deli slices and cheese left over after making Lunch Nibbles to dice and sprinkle on soup, salad, or noodles later.


Tortilla Roll-Ups (page 138)
Salsa for dipping
Jicama sticks
Apple slices
Beverage: Horchata (see below)
A Mexican-inspired menu with some fun foods that may be new to you:
Jicama (HE-kuh-muh) is a round, brown tuber that is available in the produce section. Peel off the outer skin and cut the sweet white
Some vegan kids don't care what others at school think about their lunch. They enjoy their meal regardless of what everyone else is eating (in fact, if they're lifelong vegans and healthy eaters they may even feel grossed out by what the other kids are eating). They're confident in the knowledge that what they're doing is right, kind, nutritious, and delicious, no matter what others may say.
For the rest of us mere mortals, however, peer pressure can have a significant impact on what our kids want to eat at school. Some children want nothing more than to fit in, look just like everyone else, and call absolutely no attention to themselves.That's where "fake meats" and many of the simple menus in this "Quick and Easy" chapter will help. Are all your child's peers eating nothing but turkey sandwiches and yogurt, and she or he desperately wants to join them? No problem—that's what vegan turkey slices and soy yogurt were born to do.
Matching what your child is eating to what is being served in the school cafeteria is another idea. See if you can get a copy of the cafeteria calendar. Is the school lunchroom serving hot dogs every Wednesday? Try sending Pups in Blankets (see page 167) or a veggie dog in a bun that day. Spaghetti and meatballs every Friday? Turn to page 159 for a recipe for pasta with Lentil-Rice Balls, a dish that will fit in quite nicely. You get the idea.
But perhaps your kid is the kind who enjoys a bit of attention, especially if that attention is in the form of the envy of their peers. Who can help but feel jealous when they see these amazing, colorful, well-balanced, exciting lunches, so obviously made by hand with great love? Check out the fun gourmet and exotic lunch menus in following chapters for the student who gets a kick out of showing off his or her vegan stuff.
Whatever your child's style, it's important to respect it. Communicate with them about what they want and pack them lunches in their style. Lunchtime should be something that they look forward to, both for the food and for the free time with their friends. And speaking of friends, sending a batch of Back-to-School Chocolate Chip Cookies (page 232 )or Triple Chocolate Cupcakes (page 253) for your child to share doesn't hurt, either!
flesh into slices or spears. Eaten raw, it tastes something like a cross between an apple and a potato. Look for smooth-skinned, small jicama; the smaller ones are usually the sweetest.
Horchata is a traditional Mexican beverage made from sweet cinnamon-flavored rice milk. Rice Dream has recently come out with an all-natural version that's available in aseptic containers in the nondairy section of natural food stores.
Place apple slices in a small bowl and cover them with orange juice or natural citrus soda. Let them soak briefly then lift the slices out and shake them off. Pack in an airtight container or plastic bag. The citrus will keep the apples from turning brown before lunchtime arrives!


Nut Butter and Jelly Cutouts (page 133)
A baby banana
Carrot and celery sticks
Easy Ranch Dip (page 106)
Beverage: Cultured soy smoothie
Put a fun new twist on good ol' PB&J with some cookie cutters! Add a mini banana and some veggie sticks with ranch dip, and you have a classic kid's lunch combination.
Baby bananas are becoming more widely available in American supermarkets and are a perfect fit for the lunch box. These pint-sized beauties are a natural banana variety that grows to about half the size of a regular banana. Look for them next to the regular bananas in the produce section. And here's an interesting tip: they peel best from the bottom.
Cultured soy smoothies (like Silk Live! and WholeSoy & Co.) are a sweet, easy way to boost your child's nutrition at lunchtime. They are fortified with calcium, rich in soy protein, and contain the live active cultures that make yogurt so good for your intestinal well-being.
Check with your children's school before sending them in with anything containing peanuts or peanut butter—some children are deathly allergic. If your child can't take peanuts to school, try replacing peanut butter with other butters such as cashew, almond, sunflower seed, or soy nut.


Pups in Blankets (page 167)
Ketchup or mustard
Kiwi fruit
Cooked frozen vegetables
Two crème-filled sandwich cookies
Beverage: Fortified nondairy milk
A good choice for those days when your child's school cafeteria is featuring corn dogs. These soy pups are rolled and baked in a delicious blanket of dough—no pigs in here!
Cooked frozen vegetables like peas, carrots, and corn are a convenient way to add vegetables to your child's meals. Cook according to package directions, drain well, and pack in a sealed container. Don't worry about the temperature; most children adapt to eating cold veggies without complaint and may even prefer them (think of the cold peas and beans you find at salad bars).
On the side is a sweet kiwi fruit. Did you know that one kiwi fruit has over 100 percent of your vitamin C for the day? Peel off the fuzzy skin with a paring knife and cut it into wedges or slices, or try eating it a different way: Cut the kiwi in half without peeling and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
A surprising number of crème-filled sandwich cookies are vegan. Even several varieties of Oreos are now vegan! Look for organic varieties like Newman's Own in the health food section of the supermarket. Always check the ingredients on the label to be sure.


Mini bagels with vegan cream cheese
Green Beans and Carrots in a Tarragon Vinaigrette (page 98)
Red grapes
Animal crackers or alphabet cookies
Another simple, satisfying lunch that's easy to throw together on a hurried morning. But even though it's fast, it's still filled with fresh fruit, fresh green and orange vegetables, and healthy fats and proteins from nuts, seeds, and soy.
Mini bagels, available in most supermarkets, are the perfect size for little hands and mouths and fit nicely in a lunch box container. Younger children with smaller appetites may find one mini bagel suits them well. Throw in two or three for those with a bigger appetite.
Vegan cream cheese is available in the refrigerated section of most health food stores and many supermarkets. Tofutti "Better Than Cream Cheese" and WholeSoy are two common brands. Look for plain vegan cream cheese or flavors like chive, garlic, vegetable, or berry.
Several brands of animal crackers and alphabet cookies are vegan (always check the ingredients to make sure). Newman's Own Organic Chocolate Alphabet Cookies and Barbara's Bakery Snackimals are two to look for. If using alphabet cookies, sort through and find the letters of your child's name or some other special word for them to puzzle out at lunchtime.


Vegan Deli Slice Roll-Ups (page 139)
Corn Tires (see below)
Melon balls
Pumpkin Carob Chip Muffins (page 214)
Vegan Deli Slice Roll-Ups are a big hit in our household. They are filling, high in protein, and easy to eat with the fingers, making them ideal for kids with limited lunch time. Alongside the roll-ups, a whole-grain pumpkin muffin is both a treat and a clever way to sneak in a serving of orange vegetables and ground flaxseed.
Corn Tires are little circular slices of corn-on-the cob (thanks to Liam for teaching us their proper name). They make a fun finger food for the lunch box and are easy to prepare: cook frozen corn-on-the-cob according to package directions, then cut into "tires" with a very sharp, heavy kitchen knife. If using fresh corn, cut the slices first, then boil until tender.


  • "McCann's recipes are easy to follow."—Library Journal Xpress Review
  • "A fun new collection of vegan recipes that I will be turning to regularly this fall."—New York Daily, food editor's blog
  • "The recipes are fun to make as a family and good enough for Mom and Dad to enjoy as well."—Boston Metro
  • "McCann's book is great for children willing to try new foods, but who might be stuck in a lunchbox rut. As the title implies, the recipes are all vegan, but they still offer plenty of appeal."—Associated Press
  • "Chock full of uncomplicated recipes for clever noontime fare."—Mothering
  • "Even if you're not vegan, I would give this cookbook a look. It can be an inspiration."—Colorado Springs Gazette

On Sale
Aug 5, 2008
Page Count
304 pages

Jennifer McCann

About the Author

Jennifer McCann is the creator of the award-winning Vegan Lunch Box blog. She lives with her husband and eight-year-old son in Kennewick, Washington.

Learn more about this author