Vegetarian Lunches To-Go

Carrot Salsa is just one fun idea for a portable vegetarian lunch.
Carrot Salsa is just one fun idea for a portable vegetarian lunch. | Source

When my daughter decided to become a vegetarian a few years ago, we had to make some adjustments to family dinners. But lunches for her turned out to be a big challenge, too.

Since our budget didn't allow for her buying a salad at school every day, I had to figure out some alternatives with several requirements:

  • The food had to be portable
  • The food had to be able to stay at room temperature for several hours
  • The food couldn't need to be heated

Kathryn added that she didn't want anything that tasted too strong, so no garlic or canned tuna.

My first instinct was to grab the peanut butter jar and a couple of slices of bread, and I did. But I knew Kathryn wouldn't want that every day. We needed a stable of ideas for meals that could be assembled quickly by her or me.

Protein, grains and fruit are all important elements in a balanced lunch.
Protein, grains and fruit are all important elements in a balanced lunch. | Source

Nutrition Needs

So what makes a healthy lunch? It helps to know first what the daily nutrition requirements are, and then designing a lunch that fits into that plan.

FDA Daily Recommended Nutrients As Part Of A 2000-Calorie Diet

Nutrient
Recommendations
Protein
50 gr
Fiber
25 gr
Carbohydrates
300 gr
Calcium
1000 mg
Potassium
3000 mg
Iron
18 mg
Vitamin A
5000 IU
Vitamin B3
20 mg
Vitamin B6
2 mg
Vitamin B12
1.5 mg
Vitamin C
60 mg
Vitamin D
400 IU
Vitamin E
30 IU

Gathering Ideas For Lunches

I started by making a list of foods Kathryn liked, asking her for input. I thought about how I'd adapted dinners for her, and also looked through cookbooks for inspiration.

I checked out the packaged convenience foods at my local grocery store with an eye to making my own version. For example, it's easy to find and grab a bag of trail mix in the snack aisle. But creating her own gave Kathryn just the ingredients she wanted, and ended up costing less per serving. Plus, there was less sugar and salt added in.

We also needed to invest in a few extra items, but it was well worth the price. I picked up a sturdy square nylon lunch bag big enough to fit plastic containers in, and a couple of small ice packs, both at Walmart for under $15.

Foods To Stock Up On

Spreads and Dips:

salsa

honey flavored greek-yogurt (on its own or as a fruit dip)

guacamole (with pita or tortilla chips)

nut butters (homemade is easy and fast)

cream cheese (combine with some orange zest - it's tangy and sweet)

cottage cheese (try adding fresh parsley and thyme)

Flaxseed crackers and cheddar cheese slices
Flaxseed crackers and cheddar cheese slices | Source

Grains & Breads:

grain crackers

cereals like Kashi or Fiber One

granola bars (look for low-sugar and at least 4 grams fiber)

wheat bagels

wraps and tortillas

pita bread

Vegetables are an important source of antioxidants.
Vegetables are an important source of antioxidants. | Source

Fruits & Vegetables:

dried raisins, apricots, apples, pears, etc.

bananas

celery

carrots (baby-sized or cut into small sticks)

bell peppers (try all different colors!)

zucchini & summer squash

cucumbers

grape tomatoes

Miscellaneous:

Healthier nuts like walnuts, almonds and peanuts (buy them raw and unsalted)

sunflower or sesame seeds

Even getting just a few of these things will equip you for If you want variety during the week, mix and match foods in the morning. But if you prefer knowing ahead of time, make your favorites a part of the shopping plan for the week.

Combo Ideas

Some of Kathryn's favorites are:

  • Peanut butter and jelly on a whole wheat wrap + baby carrots
  • Walnut butter on a bagel + apple sauce
  • Oatmeal Apple Cinnamon Muffin
  • Salsa with bread or tortilla + cheddar cheese bites
  • Flaxseed crackers with cream cheese spread + pear slices

How To Plan Vegetarian Lunches

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