Back to School and Gluten-Free: The Gluten-Free Lunchbox

Photo credit: Katie Fries

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?

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Comments (3)

  1. Katie Fries 09/10/2010 at 5:20 pm

    I use Pamela's Gluten Free Bread Mix & Flour Blend. I buy it in the large bags from and make it in my bread maker. It is much softer and tastier than the brown rice bread. One loaf (for two people) lasts about a week in our house.

  2. Gina 09/09/2010 at 9:10 pm

    What brand of bread mix do you use? I'm trying to find one to make sandwiches palatable. The ready-made brown rice bread at TJ's doesn't taste good to me. Thanks!

  3. Gina 09/09/2010 at 3:10 pm

    What brand of bread mix do you use? I'm trying to find one to make sandwiches palatable. The ready-made brown rice bread at TJ's doesn't taste good to me. Thanks!