It’s back-to-school season, and many moms are looking for school lunch ideas. When you also need that lunch to be gluten free, it can make lunch packing stressful. Don’t fret! Packing a healthy, gluten-free lunch isn’t difficult and these ideas will help you give your kids a variety of options so they don’t get bored.
It’s easy to get into a rut of fixing basically the same lunch for your kids every day – a sandwich, bag of chips, and piece of fruit. But lunch can be so much more (and so much better!) than that. It might take your kids a little time to adjust, so you might want to start by gradually changing the lunch options. For example, keep the sandwich but mix up what goes along with it. Eventually you can try replacing the sandwich too. At least some of the time.
Gluten-Free School Lunch Ideas
One problem with sandwiches is that gluten-free bread is expensive and usually has a long list of ingredients. But at least there are options available to most of us.
If you want to make your own sandwich bread, I found that the easiest way to do that is to make round buns rather than a loaf of bread. Gluten-free loaves tend to have problems such as sinking in the middle and lacking a soft texture. My hamburger buns recipe avoids having to make a large loaf, the buns are soft, and you can freeze them. I get 10 – 12 buns from one recipe and freeze them in zip top bags.
You can skip the bread and pack the sandwich filling accompanied by crackers and/or other options I’ll get to below.
These ham and cheese lunch skewers are fun to eat! Or you could create rolls of meat and cheese.
Chicken salad is another great idea and it’s easy to adapt it to your child’s tastes. All the items on the plate in the above picture could easily be part of a packed lunch.
Egg salad with bacon is a favorite of mine. Just pack it in a container and remember to send a fork.
If you’re not packing a sandwich and want to include a grain option, consider some of these ideas and mix it up to keep things interesting.
Muffins in particular are great for lunches or can be used for a snack when they need it. They usually freeze well, so you can have a baking day, put them in the freezer, and have a few kinds available that the kids can choose from.
- Gluten-free crackers
- Gluten-free pretzels
- Muffins (this link takes you to all my muffin recipes including some that are grain-free)
- Gluten-free waffles or pancakes – not typical lunch food, but your kids might be thrilled
Nuts & Seeds
Unless your child’s school doesn’t allow nuts at all, nuts and seeds can be healthy additions to a lunch. You can pack them individually, create an mix of whatever your child likes, or combine them in bars. Here are a few recipes:
- Granola bars (with oats)
- Granola bars (grain free)
- Chocolate Chip Walnut Snack Bars
- Lemon Blueberry Snack Bars
- Energy Bars (Larabar copycat)
Fruit and Vegetables
Most kids like most fruits. Be sure to have fresh fruit at home as an option. There’s really no need to purchase packaged fruit when it’s so easy to include apple slices (toss with a little lemon juice and water to keep from browning), orange segments, grapes, berries, chunks of melon or pineapple, etc.
Fresh veggies cut and ready to eat are perfect options for a lunch box. Consider carrots, celery, cucumbers, zucchini, sweet peppers, and small tomatoes.
You can also include veggies in the form of salads (such as coleslaw) or smoothies. Just freeze the smoothie in advance, pack it frozen, and let it thaw in the lunch box. It will help keep other foods cold too.
Get Your Kids Involved
Getting your kids involved in packing their own lunch helps them take responsibility, takes some of the load off you, and makes it more likely they will eat what is packed! Talk to them about healthy food choices, give them options, and listen to their ideas.
Young kids often love being given a buffet of foods to choose from. Have a buffet of options for them and let them choose what goes in the lunch (with a few guidelines), and they’re likely to eat everything. Your buffet doesn’t have to have a ton of choice, but change the options up from week to week.
Healthy, real-food lunches often require separate containers for different food items. You can use small individual containers or a divided container such as these EasyLunchBoxes and put it inside a lunch box or try something like this Fit and Fresh Bento Box Lunch Kit which has food compartments and a place for cold packs. I haven’t personally tried either, but if I was packing lunch for kids, I would choose something like that.
Sending lunch to school with your kids will give you the peace of mind that they have a healthy, gluten-free meal, it will save you money, and your kids will learn along the way.
What are your school lunch ideas?