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Packing a lunch for your kids can be one of the biggest challenges of the school year. And it doesn’t get any easier if you have gluten, dairy, or egg allergies to consider.
I’ve been packing gluten-free lunches for 3 years and I still find it to be something that requires thought, planning, creativity, and lots of patience.
The other tricky part to packing gluten-free lunches, is packing lunches the night before can result in crumbly gluten-free wraps and sandwiches. Thus, I am usually spending too much time in the kitchen in the morning and we end up rushing off to school to beat the bell!
However, I’m aiming to turn over a new leaf this year. My goals for this year’s gluten-free lunches are:
1. Pack as much as I can the night before;
2. Make sure their lunches are as healthy as reasonably possible;
3. Aim for 80% of their lunch to be eaten at school;
4. Let go of #3 a little and realize kids have a gazillion distractions at school and a small window of time to eat.
As a nutritionist, I truly believe that as lunch-packers we need to provide nutrition that will fuel learning. So what do our kids need to be better learners? They need exactly what their growing bodies need – a diet high in fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and whole gluten-free grains (if tolerable) – in other words a well balanced real food diet.
Eight tips for packing awesome (and healthy) gluten-free lunches.
1. Load up the lunchbox with your child’s favourite fruits and veggies. Don’t forget to add their favourite dip too. Check out the Dirty Dozen to see which fruits and veggies you should be buying organic.
2. Bring your son/daughter to the health food store or grocery store with you and let them pick some lunch items. Remember, it’s all about balance. Once in a while I will buy some gluten-free processed foods (ie Animal Crackers) for a lunchbox treat.
3. Buy one or two packaged items that you know your kids will like. This is a big one for Callum. He says everyone else’s lunch is store-bought foods (which kinda makes me cringe) and he wishes he had packaged foods in his lunch. Applesauce, gluten-free granola bars , or dairy-free yogurt are good options here.
4. Get a good cookie recipe, one that the entire class will like too – I like to make sure my school-bound baked goodies are nutrient dense and nut-free (see my recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies using pumpkin seed flour).
5. Make sure the treats, baked goods, and snacks you do send to school are nutrient-dense. Baking with grain-free flours and high protein gluten-free grains will help to balance out the sugar rush and make for better learning (and less tummy aches). I like to use unrefined sugars in my baking too.
6. Incorporate their favorite leftovers into lunches at least once a week. I send a thermos to school with leftover soup, curry, pasta, or rice bowls. If your kids are meat eaters, like mine, make your meats at home so you can skip (or at least limit) the deli meats, which are heavily processed and contain unnecessary ingredients.
7. Skip the juice boxes and send water or smoothies. There’s no nutritional value in juice boxes and our kids simply do not need them. Try Lexie’s flavored water or coconut water if your kids raise a stink about this. Sugars in juice boxes actually take nutrients from our kids and do not provide the kind of hydration they need.
8. Bookend the day by making sure your kids eat a healthy and well-balanced breakfast, after school snack, and dinner. Some kids are just too picky to eat well at school. If that’s your kiddo, breakfast is KEY!
Back-To-School Recipe Round-Ups with Lots of Recipe and Lunchbox Ideas:
- All Gluten-Free Desserts 50 Back-To-School Gluten-Free & Nut-Free Healthier Lunchbox Treats Your Kids Will Love
- Oh She Glow’s Back-To-School 21 Portable Allergy-Friendly Snack Recipes
- Cook It Allergy Free’s Printable List of 50 Allergy-Friendly Lunchbox Ideas
- Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free’s Back-To-School Recipe Round Up
- What to Pack – School Snacks
Back-To-School Recipe Ideas (Nut-Free & Gluten-Free):
- Crispy Quinoa Cakes
- Crunchy Chili Chickpea Chips
- Curried Carrot Pate Collard Wraps
- Curried Lentils and Butternut Squash
- Dairy-Free and Nut-Free Pesto
- Falafel Bites Gluten-Free and Vegan
- Macaroni and Cheese – Gluten-Free and Vegan
- Omega 3 Bean Dip
- Quinoa Tabbouleh
- Savory Gluten-Free and Vegan Crackers
- Sourdough Sandwich Bread
- Turkey Pumpkin Chili
- Vegan Fish Cakes
Cookies, Bars and Treats
- Cinnamon Apple Chips
- Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookie Dough Balls
- Chocolate Energy Bars
- Coconut Hemp Earth Balls
- Gingersnaps – Gluten-Free and Vegan
- Healthy Candy Bars
- Nut-Free Granola Bars
- Peanut-Free Peanut Butter Cookies
- Strawberry Coconut Butter
- Sunbutter Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Muffins and Quick Breads
- Banana Oat Muffins
- Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
- Carrot Cake Muffins
- Cherry Chia Mini Muffins
- Pineapple Carrot Muffins
- Power Vegan Muffins
- Spiced Zucchini Muffins
- Pumpkin Bread – Gluten-Free & Vegan
Packing a healthy lunch is essential for learning. There’s no way we can expect our kids to learn on a diet of processed foods, drink boxes, and sugary treats. Even if it takes all year to make this change, I know it’s worth it.