If you’re a parent or caregiver then the rush to get your children ready to head back to school is well underway. Clothes, school supplies, meeting teachers, books, backpacks and more structured routines are just some of the things on your minds. But have you begun thinking about food? This is a good time to do so because planning and preparation are the key elements involved in making sure your child continues to eat a tasty, healthy, vegan diet that will nourish his body as well as his brain. And as the parent or caregiver, having a routine in place will make it much easier for you too which ensures success for everyone.
When thinking through a food plan, we’re talking about more than just lunch time.
Here are some questions to consider:
How much time will your child have for each eating time (breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch and mid-afternoon)?
Will any of these eating times be en route between activities?
What are the lunch offerings at your child’s school? Are there healthy Vegan choices on a daily basis? What is the cost, etc.?
How much time do you have to plan, shop and prepare food for all the above meal and snack times?
Morning Nutrition: Still the Most Important Meal of the Day
Did you know that kids who skip breakfast have a higher incidence of tardiness and being absent from school compared to those who break their fast regularly? I’m sure you want avoid these two case scenario’s but there are other good reasons to make sure the whole family gets a good dose of morning nutrition(including you…and no, coffee and a banana isn’t a meal!). First of all, breakfast eaters tend to either maintain a healthy weight or have a better chance of shedding extra pounds than those who try to skip meals in order to save calories. Also, we need to consume most of the major nutrients first thing in the morning in order to turn our body systems back on after a long period of fasting while we sleep. No breakfast means entering your day in a state of semi-starvation. This will inevitably lead to physical, intellectual and behavioral problems, especially children attempting to meet the demands of a long day of learning and activity at school. Here are a few tips:
- If time is an issue, set the alarm 15 minutes earlier to make time for breakfast.
- As much as possible, breakfast should be a sit-down meal for the whole family.
- Plan and shop for your breakfast choices ahead of time and prep the night before such as overnight oatmeal, cut up fruit or other ingredients.
- Make a hearty muffin mix and then keep the batter well sealed in the fridge. Bake as many muffins as you want for that morning so it’s fresh and hot. Same goes for pancake batter!
- For younger kids, avoid the hassle of complaining and give them a maximum of two choices for breakfast (or none at all for that matter!)
- Breakfast should include some kind of whole grain, fruit and protein but I would also encourage you try and get a vegetable in as well. This is easily accomplished if you make a green smoothie or do scrambled tofu with pepper, mushrooms, etc.
- Have a plan in place for a to-go breakfast option when the inevitable happens!
- Don’t forget hydration! Make sure your child drinks some water before heading out or have a bottle within reach for the car ride or bus. This one is oftentimes neglected in the midst of all the hustle and bustle but dehydration will quickly lead to a lethargic, slow-thinking student.
Snack Time: Keep It Quick and Easy
Scheduled snack time at school is usually a very quick activity, lastly about 5-10 minutes. The easier you make the snack for your veg kid to eat, the more likely they are to get the whole thing in before moving on. Shop and/or prepare these items a week at a time. Here are some ideas:
- Trail Mix (but be mindful of kids in the school with allergies and make it peanut and tree nut free).
- Pita Chips, carrots, celery, tomato or jicama with hummus or guacamole(clean, cut and store carrots and celery in water in the fridge)
- Dried fruit
- Granola bars
- Sliced apples with cheddar flavored almond cheese
- Peeled orange or other whole fruit
- Small whole grain bagel with vegan cream cheese
- Whole grain crackers with sunflower butter.
- Soy or Coconut Yogurt with a side of granola
Lunch: Homespun Is Still Best
Again, time constraints are usually an issue but also the school lunch offerings might not be very vegan (beyond French fries, fruit, potato chips, etc.) so if this is the case then it’s better and even more economical to pack a lunch but this also means more time on your part. There are whole sites dedicated to great vegan lunch options that I have included in the resource list below but here are a few things to consider.
- Packaging: Doing our part for the environment when it comes to reducing the amount of disposable plastic bags has never been cheaper and more readily available for purchase. If you haven’t invested in reusable sandwich sacks and containers then now is the time to do it.
- PETA’s The Veggie Burger Project: PETA has put together a campaigning package to make it easy to advocate for vegan choices in your child’s school lunch program. Check it out here: http://features.peta2.com/Veggie-Burger-Project/
- Make it Fun, Creative and Loving: Think outside of the box with lunch time offerings. Invest in a small thermos for hot soups, give them all the ingredients to build their own burrito, let them have an opinion and eventually let them prepare and pack their own lunches to encourage responsibility. Also, don’t neglect to write little encouraging notes to tuck inside their lunch box. Food provision is an expression of nurturing and care but so is nourishing their vulnerable hearts.
Just like every other aspect of preparing for the school year, food needs to be at the top of the list. It might take a week or two into the start of school to iron things out so be patient and diligent as everyone adjusts. And if you’re reading this and want to share some of your own ideas/recipes/favorite vegan on-the-go foods with the rest of us then please do so. The more the better!
- PETA’s College Cookbook For Vegans http://features.peta2.com/cookbook/
- Veg Kitchen: Healthy School Lunch Recipes and Tips: http://www.vegkitchen.com/kid-friendly-recipes/school-lunch-recipes/
- The Vegan Lunch Box(blog): http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/
- PETA’s “Pack a Lunch with a Punch: http://www.peta.org/living/parenting/vegan-lunch-pack.aspx
- “Why Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal of the Day” WebMD http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/most-important-meal
- “Back to School: Veggie Lunch Ideas For Kids”: http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/most-important-meal
Photo credit: Sandralise via BigStock
by Melissa Sanborn of Nutritional Brands, PureVegan