The Vegan Lunch Box is a great blog written by Jennifer McCann about the ultra-creative lunchbox meals she comes up with for her family. Jennifer gained a huge fanbase with her blog and then published a book with the same name showcasing her most popular creations.
The idea behind her vegan lunch boxes comes from the Japanese bento box-- a tidy box sectioned off and filled with yummy food. Jennifer is always inventive with her recipes and the presention of them in the cute boxes.
Her blog is also infused with her personal beliefs about animal rights, healthy eating, and veganism in general; all spoken in an easy, unoffensive tone. Afterall, her audience is made up of many non-vegans who are looking for healthy alternatives to the PB&J (besides school lunches), and her tone encourages everyone to try their own vegan lunch boxes.
In The Vegan Lunch Box, Jennifer offers solutions for lunchboxes for every family member, including the parents. She loves the Laptop Lunch system for her son, but uses larger versions when packing lunches for her husband.
After the popularity of the first book, Jennifer got a second book deal for Vegan Lunch Box Around the World, an awesome book that focuses on international food.
Jennifer also has a blog that shows some of her recipes, called Shmooedfood.blogspot.com.You won't believe the food you can make without animal products, and Jennifer showcases several of them, from goldfish crackers to twinkies. You will never miss the cholesterol and hydrogenated oils!
Jennifer answered some questions for us about her innovative vegan lunch box meals, and about what's next for her.
1. When did you become vegan, and for which reasons?
I first went vegetarian when I was around 15, for strictly ethical reasons. It wasn't until I reached my early 20s that I first tried going all the way to veganism. At that time I didn't cook, and I doubt I ate more than two vegetables the entire time. I remember eating a lot of vegan chocolate cake from the health food store. Oddly enough, I didn't feel very good on a vegan diet! That first time didn't last long.
It's been off and on from there, and it really wasn't until I became a mom that I started thinking about nutrition and eating for health. I'm still learning and developing in that respect.
2. How did you get the idea to start making such fun, creative vegan lunch boxes?
My son was getting ready to go off to school for the first time. He was 7 years old, and I had never packed him lunches before.
I found a great-looking lunch box for kids online (the Laptop Lunch System), then I started looking around for vegan lunch ideas.
I didn't see much out there that was both vegan and kid-friendly, so I decided to just ask my son what he wanted.
Right away he said, "Sushi!", and Vegan Lunch Box was born. It was so adventurous, it got my brain going on all sorts of ideas.
3. Where do you get the inspiration for your creations?
My son, bento blogs and Japanese culture, world cuisine, kid-friendly recipes, the challenge of veganizing old favorites and making them healthier, and cute lunch boxes and accessories.
4. I know your son loves most of his lunches and I bet the kids at school are envious of his food. Do they ever ask him why he doesn't eat meat or dairy, and how does he respond?
My son is actually home-schooled now, but when he did go to school he got a few curious questions, but nothing mean-spirited. That was in 1st grade. I imagine things get tougher later on, but at that age kids are very curious and accepting.
Of course, nowadays there's also usually one or two kids in every class who can't have certain foods because of allergies, so it's not too unusual for kids to eat different things.
Sometimes James got a kick out of bringing vegan deli slice sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs to school, because no one would know they were vegan.
But he also liked to show off some of the different things he got to eat, like sushi rolls and his hot thermoses of vegan fondue with veggies for dipping.
That cause quite a bit of excitement at school, I remember. I also remember one girl coming up to me and telling me she wished she had James' lunches.
5. What are your favorite meals to prepare when Shmoo has friends over to your house?
My favorite thing to introduce kids to is fresh smoothies, made with real fruit. Those are always a big hit, and I usually hear that kids tell their parents about them and ask for them at home, too. I also like to set out a giant tray filled with all sorts of fresh fruits and vegetables (baby carrots, apple slices, cucumber, jicama, etc.) and maybe a dip or two. Those always get gobbled up very quickly, too.
6. I know sometimes you try to coordinate food Shmoo brings in to school to align with special events. Do you have any tips about that for other vegan parents?
First of all, I think it's important that kids never feel left out. So if you find out that any special food occasions are coming up -- doughnut sales, pizza day, someone's birthday, etc. -- try to coordinate that with what you put in the lunch box. For example, include a vegan frosted cupcake when a birthday is coming, or a vegan pizza on pizza day.
You can also give the teacher a special stash of vegan treats in case you don't hear about something. Trust me, *anything* can be made vegan. There's never any reason a child should feel singled out or deprived.
The other thing you can do just for fun is scan the calendar looking for days to celebrate with a themed lunch. Make a special meal for Fall Equinox (fall-harvest foods), Chinese New Year (stir-fry), St. Patrick's Day (all things green), or Pi Day (March 14 -- pack a pie for pi, get it?).
7. What have been the biggest challenges with raising a vegan child, and how have you overcome them?
Well, I'm not in a position to answer this question as well as someone with a vegan household and vegan spouse. My husband is a staunch meat-eater, so there are always all kinds of food in the house, and James can always choose what he wants to eat. Sometimes he wants to make the effort to avoid meat and dairy, sometimes he doesn't. I'm happy when he makes healthy choices, but with our situation it's impossible to dictate. James has more flexibility in what he eats than kids with two vegan parents.
I think one of the hardest things for any vegan parents, though, is the extra planning and preparation that have to occur to stay vegan outside the home.
For example, if James wants a vegan alternative at a birthday party, I have to take the time to bake and frost a cupcake and buy some vegan ice cream for him to take. It's worth it, but it is a challenge.
The other big, BIG challenge for us is candy, not as much from a vegan perspective (there are certainly lots of vegan candies out there -- Laffy Taffy being James' favorite) as from a health standpoint. I don't mind a piece now and then, but kids are offered so much of it these days!!
I've solved that one somewhat by offering him a quarter for every candy he doesn't eat and brings to me instead, and paying him by the pound for his candy at Halloween and Easter.
Thank you Vegan Lunch Box author Jennifer!
Vegan Lunch Box interview: 1/7/09