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11 vegan lunchbox ideas for little people who love big flavor

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

These vegan lunchbox ideas are so good their omnivore friends will want a bite

You've been looking at all these articles on lunch ideas and thinking, "Nope, not vegan, can't pack that" again and again? We hear you. And we know what most vegans know — that a plant-based meal is anything but limited. There are endless possibilities. Here are just a few vegan lunches we think eaters of all ages will nosh happily.

More: 20 nutty trail mix recipes to keep you fed and fueled

1. Black bean burritos

Spread a tortilla with vegan refried black beans, add some veggies — like sautéed onion, green bell or jalapeño pepper and olives — nut cheese and some fresh cilantro. Roll it up, and send plenty of salsa, pico de gallo and guac.

A side of refreshing honeydew drizzled with agave nectar cuts the heaviness before they head back to class.

2. Hummus pita pocket

Spread hummus on the inside of a halved pita, and pack it full of baby spinach or lettuce, halved cherry tomatoes, shredded carrot, cucumber slices, avocado slices, black or Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers and sunflower seeds, with rye crackers on the side.

3. Strawberry-banana SB&J

It's like dessert for the main course. Spread sesame butter (or coconut butter) on a slice of oat nut bread, top with slices of fresh banana and strawberries, and top with another piece of bread. Pack baby carrots with your kiddo's favorite veggie dip as a side.

4. Tempeh meatball sub

Pack hot tempeh meatballs with marinara sauce in a thermos so your meat-free progeny can dump it onto a pre-sliced, toasted sub roll at lunch with a sprinkle of vegan Parm. Veggie soup (in its own thermos) or a garden salad provides the much-needed veggie power.

More: 20 vegan caramel recipes that are decadent and wholesome — yes, both

5. Vegan Chicago dog

Top vegan hot dogs with chopped onions, plain yellow mustard, sweet pickle relish and dill pickle spear, tomato wedges and pickled peppers, and sprinkle lightly with celery salt. Serve with Kettle brand salt and vinegar potato chips — yes, those Kettle chips are vegan.

6. Vegan chili

Protein-packed bean and veggie chili pairs perfectly with a square of cornbread. Send banana chips and cinnamon applesauce on the side.

7. Vegan copycat Happy Meal

Baked tofu nuggets with barbecue sauce or sweet-and-sour sauce come with french fries and apple slices for a vegan Micky D's experience in the lunchroom.

8. Fried rice

Veggie fried rice can be made with your kiddo's favorite protein — tofu, tempeh, even chopped-up black bean burger patties if that's how they roll. The stars of this show are the fortune cookies you're going to make them using vegan fruit leather.

9. Faux egg salad

Mix crumbled tofu with Nayonaise, a bit of mustard, turmeric, salt and pepper. Add onions or pickle relish if that's your child's preference, and spread it between two slices of bread, or send some whole-grain crackers for spreading or dipping. A side of veggies with dipping sauce completes this classic lunchtime staple.

10. Cold pasta salad

Mix cooked and cooled bow tie pasta with Italian dressing and small frozen veggies like diced carrots, peas and corn (which will defrost before lunch) and drained and roasted chickpeas. Serve with a sliced nectarine or peach on the side.

11. Apple smiles

Spread two wedges of red apple with a thin schmear of sesame butter. On one of the wedges, press a row of vegan mini marshmallows into the peanut butter to resemble teeth, and top that with the other slice. Repeat until there's enough for your child's appetite. Pack with a handful of Ritz crackers.

More: 14 Simple ingredient swaps that make vegan eating easier

12. Banh mi-inspired wrap

For the more adventurous eaters, take the best parts of a banh-mi sandwich — the shredded carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and maybe chili sauce. Add mock duck or vegan sausage or pâté, and roll it all in a vegan wrap.

The ultimate tip for packing vegan lunches your kids will eat

So here's the deal: There's peer pressure about what you bring for lunch too. Remember when your parents were "poor" or "cheap" if you didn't get Lunchables once a week? When I was a kid, I thought my friend Sarah was so cool because her mom packed Granny Smith apples in her lunch every single day. And no, it never once occurred to me to just ask my mom if I could have apples in my lunch. Ask your kids what other kids bring for lunch, then try to emulate that with a vegan option. Of course, with these ideas, it's likely your kiddo will be one of her peers' Sarah.

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