This month we review a cookbook that almost makes the brown-bag concept obsolete by substituting tasty vegan bento-box-lunch ideas that appeal to kids.
Vegan Lunch Box:
130 Amazing, Animal-Free Lunches
Kids and Grown-Ups Will Love!
By Jennifer McCann
De Capo Press, 2008
Vegan savvy, innovative, and completely at home in the kitchen, Jennifer began by asking her son what he would like in his lunchbox. When he replied, "Sushi!," her creative spark was ignited, and she began assembling lunches that reflected untypical and "out of the box" thinking that led her to create the Vegan Lunch Box Blog that won a PETA Proggy Award for Blog of the Year, a VegNews Veg Webby Award for Best Family Blog, and a Bloggy Award for Best Food Blog.
Organized in two parts, Vegan Lunch Box begins with a focus on a variety of menu suggestions. The book offers a dozen Quick and Easy menu ideas complete with tips on lunch packing for which the author uses bento boxes. Because parents hear kids openly express likes and dislikes, they will find suggestions for substitutions that are just as nutritious and easy to prepare.
Rise and Shine is a chapter of menus that proposes brunch for lunch--ideal for those morning people who don't mind the early kitchen preps. This section is packed with lunch ideas centered on items like oatmeal pancakes, sausage biscuits, or quinoa and amaranth timbales. Most lunch menus include fruit and fresh or steamed veggies. Jennifer says, "Kids love to dip things! A Thermos filled with piping-hot vegan fondue turns vegetable eating into a party."
Night before preps in Ready and Waiting make assembling the lunchbox a quick fix in the morning. What kid wouldn't enjoy a lunch of Wheat Gluten Pot Roast and Gravy complete with Potato "Beetles," Blanched Green Beans, Fruit Gel Cup, and a beverage of Fortified Rice or Oat Milk?
Great ideas are packed into small and large sidebars throughout the book. Aware that teens are busy and on-the-go, Jennifer suggests baking a batch of whole-grain muffins on the weekend and freezing them. "They'll be ready to toss into a backpack at a moment's notice," she says and even suggests muffin variations like adding vegetables, nuts and ground flaxseeds, and even protein powder "for the growing athlete."
A tip for the environmentally focused family suggests that instead of packing paper napkins in the lunch box, sew your own colorful lunch box napkins from fun fabrics or make them out of old tablecloths.
Some families never think beyond sandwiches for lunch, but this think-tank mom has a pack of adventurous options like Sushi Rolls, Phyllo Triangles, Cornish Pasties, Spanish Empanadas, and Black Bean Tamales with flavors that kids enjoy. She recognized her son's seasoning preferences were more sensitive than many adults and cut back on the spices
Packed with an infinite supply of clever ideas, the recipe section of the book is where Jennifer is able to turn lunch into a fun dining experience. What a wonderful opportunity to teach a child that healthy food can be delicious and fun, too! Many of the dishes would even be a delight to teens and adults, and they may not even balk at the host of playful food presentations like adding red radish "fingernails" to baby carrots for Halloween or cutting bread slices and veggies into flower or animal shapes.
Some recipes are familiar favorites like Easy Hummus and Veggie Burger, while others like Lentil-Rice Balls, Phyllo Triangles, and Savory Autumn Leaf Pies introduce dining diversity and new flavor combinations into a child's world.
Chapter 13 introduces Breads and Muffins with great ideas for Full Meal Muffins, Spelt Biscuits, and the author's prize-winning Blue Ribbon Bread that won her an award at her local county fair. Readers will even find a recipe for Ethiopian Injera Bread and Croissants made with whole-wheat flour.
Mentioned throughout the book are prepared vegan versions of what the "omni peers" are bringing for lunch, like ham or turkey deli slices for sandwiches and store-bought sweets like chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies. Homemade treats like the Fruit and Nut Bars made without oil or sugar or the Nut and Seed Butter Cookies are not only healthier choices but also offer more satisfying taste.
The book contains a resources section with recommended books and websites and an allergen-free index along with the standard index. Inserted into the center of the book are eight pages of attractively packed lunch box meals in stunning full color where the reader can see the bento box technique put into full gear.
Vegan Lunch Box is a must for any vegan family whether their children are first graders or high schoolers. All will benefit from the host of tasty recipes and unique suggestions that make lunch a joyful experience. With first-hand experience and a flair for the exceptional, this author sets the lunch box bar at new heights with countless ideas any family will find beneficial and fun.