It’s back to school time! This school year marks a new milestone for us in that my younger son will be attending all-day kindergarten. This means packing a lunch for him each day. His school doesn’t have a hot lunch option but even if they did we would be sending him with a lunch from home. I don’t even want to consider the nightmare of navigating the school lunch menu to figure out which meals might be compatible with a gluten-free diet.
Fortunately, I kind of love packing lunches – I made my own lunch every day from the first grade through my senior year of high school – and it was kind of a geeky thrill to finally be able to do it again when my oldest started first grade. With the exception of the morning I accidentally set his lunchbox on fire (yes, really), it was a successful year of packing lunches. However, the need for my younger son’s lunches to be gluten-free adds a new layer of complexity. I can’t just throw random stuff in the lunchbox on mornings we’re running late.
I haven’t had to pack a gluten-free lunch box yet, but I’ve already started brainstorming ideas to carry us through the school year. I purchased an insulated container to hold hot or cold items like pasta salads or soups, and small reusable bowls to hold items like crackers, yogurt and fruit. I imagine I’ll be sending leftovers to school but I also suspect we’ll rely on sandwiches because my kids love sandwiches. Seriously. If I offer them a choice between a trip to Chipotle or a sandwich at home they will always, always choose the sandwich. My older (non-celiac) son thinks a trip to Subway is a huge treat. I mean, sandwiches are great, but every day? Crazy kids. I remember getting tired of having the same old school lunch, day in and day out, though, so I’ve brainstormed a variety of things to keep the lunchbox interesting.
Sandwiches We make our own gluten-free bread from a mix. Although I do buy high quality luncheon meat (check the labels to make sure they are gluten-free), my younger son prefers peanut butter and jelly. Not sure how well this will go over since some schools have banned peanuts/peanut butter due to allergies. Sometimes we don’t have gluten-free bread, or I just want to change things up. Other sandwich options include rolled sandwiches on a corn tortilla or rice flour tortilla, a wrap on a rice flour tortilla or a sandwich made from corn thins.
Soups I love soup. During the winter I make soup at least once a week and we always have plenty of leftovers. My son can expect to see chicken soup (made with rice or gluten-free noodles), lentil-vegetable soup, chili and potato leek soup in his lunchbox throughout the fall and winter.
Make Your Own Lunchables My older son is fascinated by Lunchables, which I refuse to buy on the grounds that they are expensive and are usually quite high in fat and sodium. I do, however, let them make their own version of the popular lunchbox fare. I prepare sliced cheese and meat and add a small container of crackers, like Blue Diamond Nut Thins.
Hummus with Chips and Veggies What kid doesn’t love dip? A small container of hummus with dippable items like tortilla chips, crackers, carrots and celery is healthy and kind of a novelty. It might be a hit.
Leftovers Lasagna, fajita meat and veggies (with a corn tortilla on the side), macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets . . . I bought the insulated container for a reason.
Salad I’m not sure if salad will go over well. My older one enjoys a good salad in his lunch (as long as it’s a very occasional thing). The younger boy? We’ll see.
Along with the main course I usually try to include a few sides like fresh fruit, a healthy snack (yogurt, crackers or a cereal bar) and carrot sticks. Some great lunchbox-sized treats I’ve found include Clif Kid Twisted Fruit, Fruit Roll-Ups,Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Marshmallow Treats (that’s a mouthful – basically a gluten-free Rice Krispy Treat), EnviroKidz Crispy Rice Bars, Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks and Glutino Gluten-Free Breakfast Bars (several of these are available at my local Target). My kids also like it when I make a trail mix using dried fruit, nuts, cereal and chocolate chips. A bottle of water and a note from Mom and you’ve got all the makings of a perfect gluten-free lunch. What do you put in your child’s gluten-free lunchbox?