My son was diagnosed with Celiac disease when he was five, just as he was beginning kindergarten. That means that I’ve never packed him a “regular” lunch for school. We’ve been GF the whole way.
Of course, there have been times where my son envied those kids eating wheat-based snacks or hot dogs and hamburgers on soft buns. I’d always pack an extra special gluten free lunch box on those days with a classroom pizza party, or when there was a birthday celebration with cupcakes. I always have to be aware of any of these “gluten” events. I mean, what mom can stomach her kid feeling left out of the fun and the festivities?
Fortunately, these situations are easily handled with the right information. We sniff out foods and establishments that accommodate my son—our local pizza joints almost all sell gluten-free pizza now, and I have become quite good at whipping up all sorts of gluten-free desserts.
My sweet son just graduated from elementary school, and I’m proud to say that we had six successful years of delicious, satisfying gluten-free lunches, and we survived all of the gluten-full parties. I particularly enjoyed the days he would come home telling me his friends were offering trades for some of his gluten-free goodies.
In my kitchen, lunch boxes are typically broken down into four categories: a main course, a snack food (i.e., crackers), a fresh fruit or vegetable, and a drink. Oh—and, of course, a dessert on special occasions!
Here are five perfectly delicious gluten-free ideas to fill your lunch box:
Gluten-Free Lunch Box Main Courses
While most kids might have a PB&J or a grilled cheese sandwich on wheat toast, my repertoire features a few excellent gluten-free alternatives that my son has loved over the years!
1. Rice Tortilla Quesadillas — You can find rice tortillas at Trader Joe’s, at Whole Foods, and at many mainstream grocery stores. Sometimes I even add a little spinach to the cheese, for good measure.
2. Corn Tortilla Tacos — Chicken, beef, veggie—the possibilities are endless here.
3. BLT Wrap — This is so simple. Simply add the bacon and tomato to the inside of a large leaf of iceberg lettuce, and wrap it up. Delicious!
4. Gluten-Free Sandwiches — These days, it’s pretty effortless to find gluten-free breads at most grocery stores. If your local store doesn’t carry any, you can order from a variety here. Once you’ve found a brand your child likes, you can simply stick his or her favorite ingredients between two slices of GF bread.
5. Flatbread Open-Faced Sandwiches or Pizza — After years of failed attempts, I finally made a gluten-free pizza crust/flatbread that we all love. The recipe is here, and you can add any toppings your gluten-free child likes. Since it’s open-faced, just remember to pack it in a shallow container rather than foil or plastic wrap.
Gluten-Free Lunch Box Snack Foods
This is probably the most difficult category to conquer, because typical snack foods are most kids’ weakness. When you’re gluten-free, only a small subset of snack foods are cleared for you to eat. Here are my tried and true options…
1. Granola Bars — Granola bars are possibly my favorite snack to add to the lunch box. Sometimes I make my own granola that goes in the bars I make, but it’s a great time saver to make them with a pre-made granola. My son’s favorite is Gluten-Free Chex Honey Nut Granola. It’s perfect as a snack on its own, too!
2. Fruit Leather — Since fruit leather is a sweet treat of sorts, all kids seem to love it. And fruit leather is inherently gluten free. Perfect! I like my kids to eat as naturally and unprocessed as possible, so here’s a great recipe for Tangerine-Mango Fruit Leather I like to have on hand.
3. Savory Chex Mix — It doesn’t matter if you’re an adult watching a football game, a teenager hanging out with friends, or a kid in elementary school—everyone seems to love Chex Mix. Within the last few years, Chex has come out with a wide variety of gluten-free cereals, making it possible for even the gluten-free to enjoy the mix! Yay! And there are endless possibilities when it comes to Chex Mix—here are a handful of super yummy Chex Mix recipes.
4. Potato Chips — Yes! Most potato chips are precisely that: a chip made from a potato. Barbecue, salt & pepper, vinegar—you name it and I bet you can find a snack-sized bag of your child’s favorite flavor!
5. Cheese — Cheese sticks and other individually wrapped cheeses are a great gluten-free snack that can easily be thrown into the lunch box.
Fresh Fruits or Vegetables for the Gluten-Free Lunch Box
This might seem like a no-brainer because all fresh fruits and vegetables are inherently gluten free. However, let’s make sure your kiddos will actually love and eat something from this department! I’ve had success with these.
1. Sliced Apples with Sprinkled Cinnamon — This is still my son’s favorite. In kindergarten we started out peeling the apples, and I’m happy to report that by the third grade, the apple skin is now acceptable to him.
2. Peeled Carrots — A sweet and crunchy carrot is a staple—and rarely turned down!
3. Oranges and Tangerines — Citrus is especially sweet at the peak of its season, during the winter months. If they’re available in your area, I highly recommend Sumo tangerines. They’re ideal for lunch boxes because they’re super easy to peel & seedless, and kids love them.
4. Crudités — Yep, you read it right. That means a handful of raw veggies! Just add a small container of ranch dressing on the side, and your kids will be on board.
5. Fruit Kebabs — These are totally fun and can be made with your child’s favorites! Here’s a pretty example.
Gluten-Free Lunch-Box Desserts
I don’t typically include a dessert in my son’s lunch box, but every now and then, it’s a fun surprise. There a couple things my gluten-free child sees other kids having that he would love to eat—namely, donuts and cookies. Well, it turns out, he can have them, too—and more!
1. Donuts — There are several gluten-free donuts on the market now, and if you’re feeling really inspired, here’s a recipe to make your own.
2. Cookies — I love coming up with new gluten-free cookie recipes for my son! I try to always have some on hand in the freezer—you never know when you’ll wish you had them at the ready for a quick lunch box surprise. Here are ten of my most popular gluten-free cookie creations.
3. Chocolate Chip Granola Bars — Just put chocolate chips into the mix for your favorite granola bar recipe. My son loves when I add both white chocolate and peanut butter chips to the granola bars I make with the Gluten-Free Chex Honey Nut Granola.
4. Chocolate Dipped Dried Apricots — This is a lovely gluten-free dessert, and it’s super easy to add to a lunch box. I’m sure you can find these apricots in some of your local stores, but it’s fun, too, to make your own. Here’s how.
5. Dessert Chex Mix — Clearly a staple in our house, Gluten-Free Chex cereals are great for so many things. Would you believe you can now get Gluten-Free Chocolate and Vanilla Chex cereal!? It’s true. I mix these two varieties with a small handful of mini M&Ms, and my son couldn’t be happier.
Drinks for the Gluten-Free Lunch Box
I think you got this one!
Before I had the opportunity to get fully immersed in the world of gluten-free, I would have been scared by the idea of packing a school lunch minus some traditional gluten options. As you can see, though, gluten-free kids can certainly enjoy lunch boxed filled with a variety of nutritious and delicious foods! Have fun!
This post was sponsored by Chex