9 Vegetarian Lunches for Kids Who Hate Vegetables

Kermit may grouse about being green, but I’m willing to wager that’s a heck of a lot easier than getting a 9-year-old boy to eat his greens.

None of us sets out to raise a veggie-phobic child, but at one point or another most kids seem to transform into one. For some it’s a brief phase. For others… Not so brief.

And it’s usually completely unexpected. Most kids, until they are 2 or 3, will gleefully eat (or splash on the floors and walls) whatever you put in front of them.

Then suddenly… Welcome to the wonderful world of dinner table power struggles.

When my son was a toddler, he inhaled bowls of Indian-spiced spinach, roasted butternut squash, kale-this-and-that, carrots prepped every which way. I’d hear parents complain about picky eaters and think, “Clearly, they just aren’t trying.”

Clearly, I was just an idiot. I had no idea what was coming.

Around when he turned 4, my son decided he was a carnivore. And he’s never looked back.

I’m OK with this because I still manage to get him to eat a balanced diet of produce, whole grains and healthy proteins.

The trick, of course, is assembling lunches that still satisfy my growth spurt-inclined boy. Here are a few ideas that you can try:

Antipasti: I know, true antipasti includes meat. But there’s no reason you can’t assemble a collection of crackers, cheeses, fruits, dips – maybe even a few carrots or cucumber slices – and call it good. Plus, kids love lunches with lots of choices, and finger foods are always hits.

PB&J: No, not the same old way. Mix up this classic by preparing it on unexpected “breads.” Try it on graham crackers, leftover pancakes or waffles, or smear it onto a whole-wheat tortilla and roll it up (maybe with a banana inside). Peanuts a no-go at your school? Try sunflower seed or soy nut butter.

Get Saucy (pictured above): Speaking of jars of pasta sauce… Heat some in the microwave, then pour it into a thermos to stay nice and toasty. Now accompany it with whatever your kid likes to dunk: breadsticks, cheese sticks, pretzels, whatever.

Salad: I know… I used the “S” word. But this isn’t a greens-based salad. Start with leftover cooked pasta and toss it with your kid’s favorite dressing. Now add whatever you have – chopped apples, chunks of cheese, sliced grapes, whatever. You might even slip in whichever veggies your kid does tolerate. In my kid’s case, that would be chopped cucumber.

Fruit Salad: There’s the “S” word again… But make a giant bowl of chopped fruit and dole out big portions for lunch (a splash of OJ keeps things from browning). Accompany it with whole-grain crackers and cheese, maybe a yogurt, and you’ve just nailed a balanced meal.

English Muffin Pizza (pictured at top): Talk about easy – you just need three ingredients: the muffins, a jar of sauce and some cheese. Pop them in the toaster oven in the morning while the kids eat breakfast, then they get to enjoy “leftover” pizza at lunch.

Sushi: No, really. Most grocers sell it now. And even the most veg-averse kid generally will enjoy a California roll or an avocado roll (nothing but rice and avocado wrapped up).

Loaded Potato: Nuke a potato in the morning, then pop it in a wide-mouth thermos. Accompany with whatever your kid likes to top it with – cheese, guacamole, salsa, beans, vegetarian chili (heat it and pack in a separate, smaller thermos). Kids particularly like the DIY aspect of this since they get to assemble it themselves at lunch.

Smoothie: Sure, you can buy them. But if you make them, you control what goes in them – particularly the sugar content. Blend a yogurt, some milk, a frozen banana, some pineapple, some unsweetened cocoa powder and a tiny pinch of salt (it makes everything taste sweeter), then pack it in an insulated thermos or drink bottle. For even more filling protein, add some peanut butter (or non-nut butter) to the blender.

Need more lunch box inspiration? Try:

Harnessing the Power of the Parfait
10 Healthy (and Fast!) Whole Grain Lunches

No More Bland-wiches: 6 Spreads You’ve Gotta Try

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