Lunch is the worst. Can we all just agree on that? It’s my least favorite meal of the day. My kids ask for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every single day but I can’t stomach the thought. I don’t want to eat the same boring sandwich every day but I also don’t want to spend an hour cooking AND I don’t want to feed my kids a lot of gross processed foods. I made it my mission to find a handful of meals that I can make with limited time, that I feel pretty good about feeding my kids, that they will actually eat, and best of all, that I want to eat too!
My lunch-making criteria:
- my kids and I need to actually eat it
- must be easy to make
- must be relatively healthy
- a mostly plant-based diet
Disclaimer: these are real meals that I fed my real kids while they waited for me to take a quick picture with my phone. These photos could have been really great if I was able to style them and take photos with the fancy camera in good lighting while my kids were napping… but that kind of defeats the purpose of feeding my kids!
Here’s seven of our favorite lunches… that aren’t pb&j!
rice cakes with peanut butter and sliced apples — so simple, so good. The funny thing is Joanna, age 3, loves the rice cakes and only eats a little of the apples, while Oliver, 1.5, devours the apple and only nibbles the rice cake. To be honest, I use cinnamon rice cakes, so they’re practically cookies, but, either way, I consider it a win. (On the side this day: rainbow goldfish and mixed nuts — or “nuts ‘n’ stuff” as Joey calls it.)
black bean and avocado quesadillas — you can’t have a kid-focused lunch list without quesadillas! But my weirdo kids actually don’t usually like them. Give them plain cheese or chicken and they’ll balk, but they love these I make with black beans, avocado and a bit of monterey jack cheese. Easy peasy. (On the side this day: fresh mangos and some extra avocado.)
cauliflower “fried rice” — we pretty much avoid most processed foods and frozen meals, but I do like to use frozen vegetables. One of my favorites is the Green Giant Riced Veggies Cauliflower Medley (not sponsored!). It’s riced cauliflower with little bits of carrot and peas, which I saute with some fresh carrots, lots more frozen peas which my kids love, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and a scrambled egg, and it tastes just like fried rice. (On the side this day: strawberry and orange slices.)
chunky egg and avocado toast — my kids will eat anything related to avocado. When I made this recently, Joey turned to me and very sincerely said, “thank you, mommy.” That’s like a Michelin Star from a three year old! This is my version of avocado toast. Sometimes I slice the hard-boiled egg and avocado to look pretty on top of toast. Unfortunately this particular avocado wasn’t the most presentable and I had to cut out some brown spots, so I cut it and the egg into large cubes and loosely mixed them together as a “salad.” The avocado acts as a binder, so there’s no need for mayo, just a pinch of Himalayan pink salt on top because it makes the kids feel fancy! They seriously gobbled this up. (On the side this day: grapes, a piece of Kerrygold cheese, and some dried cherries.)
coconut quinoa with nuts and berries and tahini-honey-lime dressing — this is one of my favorite meals ever (based on this Sacramento Street recipe). Quinoa cooks quickly (10 minutes-ish) in coconut milk, and it’s easy to add in whatever we have around. On this day it was strawberries, avocado, pine nuts, dried cranberries and dried coconut. Joey says, “I love ‘keen-wee!'” Olly doesn’t love quinoa as much, but he still eats enough of it while he’s picking out the nuts and berries and stuff. The dressing is so good.
noodles and cottage cheese with peas — I grew up eating egg noddles and cottage cheese for lunch with my mom, which is a traditional Hungarian meal (I was so excited when I saw it on menus in Budapest), and I love passing that tradition to my own children. But to make it appeal to my little guys, I used Banza shells made from chickpeas, which are higher in protein than regular noodles, along with a big scoop of cottage cheese mixed in, and I added frozen peas because my kids love them. (On the side: veggie straws and half a slice of toast with peanut butter because my daughter was begging for pb&j as usual.)
goat cheese and jam grilled cheese with fresh fruit — well this is delicious and about a million times better than plain old pb&j! This is actually something we make for dinner sometimes, but I also make it for lunch whenever we have good bread in the house. This time we used rosemary Italian bread, but sourdough is nice too. Just spread a layer of goat cheese, a layer of jelly (I am obsessed with Brownwood Farms Michigan Cherry Preserves, which we find at Heinens), and then, the piece de resistance, a layer of freshly sliced strawberries, cook the sandwich in a little bit of oil and holy moly. It’s fruity and yummy but not greasy and heavy like a normal grilled cheese. I realize this isn’t the most healthy meal, but, come on, you gotta live sometimes! (On the side: fresh mango and spicy mixed nuts.)
With little kids, you never know what they will or will not eat from one day to the next. But our goal is to just keep introducing them to new foods and keep putting different styles of food and flavors in front of them. They may not eat it all. They may spit it out! But as long as they try everything, they’re learning to expand their food horizons beyond french fries and chicken nuggets (or pb&j, ugh) — whether they want to or not!
So let us know what some of your favorite lunches are — for kids or grown ups. Andy has also been in a severe struggle with what to take to eat at his desk, so he’ll take any suggestions you have!