Vegan Bento Boxes - Plant based lunches for little and big kids by Autumn O'Neil
“If at first you don’t succeed…” - hickson
I am a busy mom. Many friends ask where I find the time to make my daughter her lunch every morning? The truth is, I have to make the time. Most mornings I wake up late (around 6 am), spring out of bed to start the coffee, and then pick through the cupboards or produce bins to piece together her bento box. Like all kids, my daughter’s taste has changed as she’s aged. Her 12.5 year old palate is maturing; however, she still struggles with certain textures and levels of spiciness. I have learned which nuts to avoid packing, to send fruits and veggies she is most likely to eat, and we have transitioned from nori to soy wrappers for sushi rolls. I do my best to keep her lunches fresh and have a solid rotation, but I do end up repeating certain foods like pistachios or cucumbers simply because I know she will eat them. No matter what, I try to have fun and hopefully it inspires her to be a healthy eater!
Why bento boxing?
A fellow mother from my daughter’s school pulled me into the bento boxing world. She started a Facebook group dedicated to bentos for her children and added all of her friends. Before I purchased Ri’s first box, we were in a lunch slump. I think I sent a sandwich nearly every day, which is totally cool if your kid eats them, but she didn’t. I was tossing her food out at the end of the day and wondering if she was getting proper nutrition. It’s hard enough getting kids to eat, but even more worrisome while vegan. Perusing the Facebook group, all of the lunches looked yummy and interesting, and what I loved the most about the bentos was how darn versatile they were! I was hooked from the start.
Posting on the page became a weekly ritual and I really felt connected to the other parents. Being the only vegan in the group, I think most of the parents were pleasantly surprised with the options I presented. Many of them jokingly asked if I could prepare their lunches as well!
Not too long after, I decided to start an Instagram account just to show people the endless possibilities that vegan kids have in their lunchbox. I am not a chef or a food blogger. I use my favorite recipes from other chefs and bloggers, veganize regular recipes, and tweak others to suit whatever I have on hand. Some of the bento items should be made in advance, but most of them are based off what I have in the kitchen and the amount of time I have to create in the morning. I often have big mistakes and great lunch successes, all in the same week! What is most important is that my kid is eating her lunch nowadays. She doesn’t always finish every single bite, but we’ve made great progress!
A few things to consider:
I live in Southern California and generally have a pleasant climate for most of the year. Please take that into consideration when planning your own child’s lunch. Another thing to keep in mind is that most of what I have listed is from memory and I am always flexible with ingredients! If something doesn’t taste right, I change the recipe. Also, I do not add any spicy seasoning to the recipes, even if it’s listed in the ingredients. Rileigh’s palate can’t handle the heat and I want her to enjoy the food! I recommend introducing new flavors at home.
Breakfast For Lunch
Make Mini Pancakes or use cookie cutters to shape average sized ones. Decorate with food! Both pancake bentos use raspberry jam. The Halloween themed monster pancake has almond teeth and mummy sausages! I used “accidentally” vegan packaged crescent rolls from Trader Joes’s for the gauze.
My favorite pancake recipe is below! Make sure the batter is thin enough to easily pour. Sometimes it’s too thick so just add a little milk or water for the desired consistency.
Banana Bread French Toast!
This banana bread was made by Rileigh and repurposed by mom when it was starting to go a little stale! I recommend staying away from regular sandwich bread loaves for vegan french toast, they do not hold their form very well.
Below is the kid friendly banana bread recipe we used. I also left a link from the Minimalist Baker’s website for chia seed batter and instruction for turning most breads into fabulous french toast!
The Breakfast Burrito
The Breakfast Burrito with roasted garlic potatoes, sauteed kale, breakfast links, avocado, and hummus spread.
Make potatoes to your child’s liking. Saute kale and cook vegan sausage links. Chop links into bite size pieces. Heat flour tortilla over the range or in a lightly oiled pan. Spread hummus, or cashew cheese, then add filling. Roll the burrito properly! If you do not know how to roll a burrito so it holds its form, please watch a YouTube video before beginning. I like to seal our burritos by grilling it seam down in a cast iron. You can lightly press on the burrito and turn after a couple minutes. Make sure to brown opposite side! Slice in half.
We love Soba Noodles in this house! They take 4 minutes to cook and you can eat them hot or cold. I use either tahini or vinegar/tamari based sauces for the lunches. Use cutters to make it fun!
Mushroom Stroganoff is so very yummy! In this version I used gluten-free penne, gluten-free all-purpose flour, tamari instead of soy sauce, and a vegan chive cream cheese in place of non-dairy sour cream. If the sauce is too thick, add water and continuously whisk sauce to avoid burning! Recipe works fine when halved.
Pork & Veggie Dumplings
Pork & Veggie Dumplings require some time to prepare, but are worth it! Research folding and crimping techniques before making the dough! No need to cook “pork” before filling dumpling. You can use any filling, just make sure it is cooked all the way through.
First prep your fillings. I used finely shredded kale, minced carrot, and chopped garlic. The “pork” is Lighlife sausage in tube, and you can find it in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Depending on how many you plan on making, you will likely only need half of the tube. Mix “pork” with veggies and season with a little salt and pepper. You want the mixture to be about half protein, half veggie, and it should hold its form when you scoop it out. Prepare wonton dough and make sure you work fast to keep the dough from drying out. At this point, you can store the dough in the freezer or start filling and folding dumplings. Once you have decided on the shape of your dumpling, use about a teaspoons worth of filling, fold, and then quickly crimp close to seal. Always make sure you fully sealing the dough. The dumplings can be stored in the freezer uncooked or sent straight to the steamer or frying pan. If you do freeze, I recommend freezing them on a pan and then transferring into a freezer bag. Use vinegar and tamari for dipping sauce!
W: http://www.marystestkitchen.com/easy-wonton-wrappers-or-gyoza-wrappers-or-dumplin gs-wrappers-vegan-recipe/
Tofu Ricotta & Pesto Stuffed Shells!
Cook and strain jumbo pasta shells. Lay shells out on parchment lined baking sheet. For the ricotta, I use about a half block of tofu that is rinsed and pressed of excess water. Mash the tofu with a fork and season with salt, pepper, dried basil, and nutritional yeast to taste. I also add about a ¼ cup of vegan mozzarella. Thoroughly mix ingredients. Make pesto sauce. Stuff shells with ricotta, add tablespoon of pesto, and bake at 4oo℉ until slightly brown. Coat bottom of bento with more pesto and top with vegan parmesan.
Crispy Corn Fritters
These are Rileigh’s favorite! She asks for them at least once or twice per month. They are slightly sweet and totally good. I have tried a gluten-free version and she prefers regular wheat flour.
I often halve the recipe since we are a family of three, and it turns out fine. Substitute the milk for a non-dairy of your choice. The fritters are easy to make and like the other batters, if it seems too thick then just add a little water. I have made them both with and without an egg replacer. I would experiment a little to see what your child prefers. We leave out the jalapenos! Make sure your griddle is hot and oiled. Once you have made a couple of successful fritters you can turn down the heat to avoid burning them. Serve with anything!
Baked Zucchini Fries
Baked zucchini fries are yum for kids and adults alike! It’s really important to season the the bread crumbs. Do not forget the salt and pepper. Use your favorite vegan parmesan cheese. Instead of spraying a baking sheet, I use earth-friendly parchment paper for baking zucchini fries. Also, make sure to thoroughly coat fries in flour, then aquafaba, and finally a good coat of panko or italian breadcrumbs. Bake at 425℉ and turn every 10-12 minutes to evenly cook. Serve with vegan ranch dressing.
*aquafaba is an egg-replacer that works really well for frying or baking breaded foods. Open a can of garbanzo beans and strain the beans while reserving the fluid instead of tossing it out. You can store the liquid in the fridge for a couple of weeks and use as needed. 3 tablespoons of whisked aquafaba is equivalent to one egg.
These Fish Sticks were a hit with Rileigh’s dad. I loosely followed the recipe below. Unfortunately, I did not have most of the spices so I tried to recreate my own Old Bay seasoning. Shape into sticks or patties and fry in oil of choice. I have never tried baking them, but maybe it could work? Serve with vegan ranch or tartar sauce!
Sushi Rolls are popular with not only Rileigh, but also her non-vegan friends at school. Fresh sushi rice is always best. The whole process of preparing the rice will take about 1.5 hours, but it’s worth it. Just make sure you have enough time before getting started. It is possible to make the entire roll the night before. Prepare the rice according to the instructions on the bag, assemble roll, tightly wrap in cellophane, and store in fridge overnight. You should always use sushi rice to make the roll as soon as it cools to just above room temperature. Never use old rice to make rolls. Watch a few videos before assembling sushi and expect to make mistakes!
Spicy “Crab” is rinsed and pressed tofu with spicy miso mayo, nutritional yeast, and salt. The brand of spicy mayo I use is called So Good, and it is very mild. Add cayenne if you want heat! We use avocado and cucumber with tofu filling. You can use nori or soy wrappers.
* You need to make a vinegar, sugar, and salt solution to add to sushi rice. Make sure you adjust the measurements to match the amount of rice you are making.
* Rinse and soak rice for 30 minutes. Dump water and strain in colander for 15 min. I use a large stock pot over a range. If you use a rice cooker then follow rice cooking instructions for machine, not on the bag of rice. I cool my rice in a large shallow bowl and mix vinegar solution in at that time.
Suggested Tools: fruit/vegetable cutters, bamboo sushi rolling mat, cookie cutters, parchment paper, cellophane, rice paddle, spoons & sharp knives.
Bio: Autumn O'Neil resides in the foothills above Pasadena, CA, with her 12-year-old daughter and three furry children. She's a small business owner, part-time college student, and has been vegan for 17 years. Her hobbies include hiking, baking, audio books, creative writing, and lover of all things related to horror!
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