Here comes the school year! And with it, the creative challenge of what to put in your kids' lunchboxes. Day after day. For the next 10 months, give or take. It's no wonder many caregivers struggle to come up with fresh combos of healthy, tasty meals that travel well without refrigeration.
We've got some fresh ideas and product recommendations to get you started.
Plant-based ideas for back to school
With several initiatives supporting vegan and plant-based choices, it's the perfect time to explore lunchbox options without the usual animal-derived products. For example, the Non-GMO Project is running a September campaign celebrating non-GMO innovations in plant-based foods. We'll outline best practices to avoid GMOs popping up in this category all month — follow our social media channels for handy infographics and future articles!
Meanwhile, the good folks behind Veganuary are in the midst of a back-to-school campaign. They're presenting a wealth of ideas and recipes through the Vegan School Lunch Challenge website to anyone who's curious about plant-based or just plain hungry.
Guaranteed access to plant-based options in schools has never been more critical. Dairy milk has been a staple of school meals for decades — much to the distress of the many lactose-intolerant kids who receive it. Did you know the ability to comfortably consume dairy is essentially a genetic quirk, common among people with northern European ancestry but rare in communities of color? VegNews recently reported that "up to 80 percent of Black and Latinx people, up to 95 percent of Asian people, and more than 80 percent of Indigenous Americans cannot digest lactose." With health and educational impacts disproportionately impacting children of color, plant-based options are necessary for all school cafeterias.
To build out a plant-based main course, choose from these Non-GMO Project Verified sidekicks.
Sweet treats and salty snacks
The best snacks are both good for your child and tasty enough that they don't get traded away at recess. That's precisely the problem that motivated 180 Snacks founder to launch their own line of wholesome squares and bars. High-energy and high-nutrition tree nuts are combined with dried fruit, seeds and rice for just the right amount of sweetness and crunch. 180 Snacks products are Non-GMO Verified and free from peanuts, gluten and dairy to keep them classroom-friendly and shareable.
For a savory snack, there's a seaweed option your kid will love just as much as chips! SeaSnax Grab n Go Packs boast a delightfully spare ingredient list: Organic seaweed, organic extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. That's it. The only problem is that SeaSnax products are so addictive, they might disappear before school starts.
Choosing a dessert treat is pretty easy in late summer when fresh seasonal fruits are still available. However, once fall settles in and those options become harder to find, that's when YumEarth shines. YumEarth prides itself on using non-GMO ingredients for their allergy-friendly fruit snacks and candy — which means these treats are always welcome in the classroom.
What do you look for in a lunchbox beverage? The Non-GMO Project staff generally prioritize juices with no added sugars. We also (unsurprisingly) look for the Butterfly to ensure the apple juice that's added to many juice formulas comes from non-GMO apples. As always, a combination of Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Organic is considered the gold standard for clean foods.
We recommend Apple & Eve juice boxes, available in non-GMO and organic lines. Canadian shoppers have another option, Kiju organic juice. From classic apple to antioxidant-rich pomegranate-cherry, Kiju celebrates the many benefits of non-GMO and organic products — better for you, better for farmers and better for the planet!
Whether your child is trying out Meatless Monday or following a vegetarian lifestyle, you'll find a range of Non-GMO Project Verified options on our website. Plant-based options are growing in popularity — recent initiatives in Illinois, New York and California have expanded access to plant-based foods in school lunches. However, the rise of plant-based means we're also seeing a surge in GMO ingredients made from new genetic engineering techniques. Looking for the Butterfly when sourcing plant-based options for the whole family is more important than ever.
Together, we can protect the legacy of the plant-based movement, encouraging innovation while keeping it true to its roots.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn what the evolution of plant-based means for you!