(To view my Daytime TV episode on Allergy Free Lunches, CLICK HERE)
It’s back to school time! And this means two things; the little rascals angels get out of the house and have somewhere constructive to go where they learn things like reading, math and gross jokes and it also means making school lunches – an especially important topic if your child has allergies or is gluten intolerant. There is just no way they are going to get a decent meal buying the cafeteria lunch where ketchup is considered a vegetable!
Children who are well fed during the day learn better, have a better disposition and won’t come home all cranky and out of sorts.
Making lunches for children with food allergies poses challenges for parents but fortunately in this day and age there are many more options now available.
Here are a few tips and suggestions to brighten up your child’s allergy-free lunch and keep them safe and healthy.
Let’s first talk that lunch box staple – the sandwich. Most sandwiches start with bread and as we know not all gluten-free breads are created equally.
Kinnikinnick makes a wide variety of breads that are gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and they also have an egg-free bread. But no matter how safe a food product is, if it doesn’t taste good, your kids aren’t going to eat it. The best news about Kinnikinnick products is they really do taste great and are widely available. Look for their breads in the freezer section.
What you put on your bread is important. Condiments can be a hidden source of dairy, gluten and eggs.
For an egg-free mayonnaise check out Vegenaise by Follow Your Heart. Produced since the early 1970’s, Follow Your Heart has had lots of time to get this egg-free mayo down! They produce a variety of egg free mayos that are all gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and Kosher. Vegenaise is a fresh product so look for it in the refrigerator section of the store.
Organicville makes a whole line of condiments that are gluten-free, dairy-free, 100% organic, vegan and sweetened with agave instead of corn syrup or sugar.
Now let’s talk lunch meat. One of my pet peeves is when gluten is added to stuff that would naturally be gluten-free. Unfortunately this is often the case with deli meats. Always, always, always read the labels but here is a list of brands that produce gluten-free lunch meat:
Boar’s Head – All of their meats are gluten and dairy free EXCEPT: Mortadella Bologna, Chorizo Sausage, Pesto Parmesan Ham and Italian Style Seasoned Roast Beef
Hormel Natural Choice – Pre-sliced deli sandwich meats and Deli meats are gluten-free and dairy-free and have no nitrites or nitrates added, and no artificial colors or flavors.
Applegate Farms – All Applegate Farms cold cuts and deli counter bulk meats are gluten and dairy free.
Diestel – All deli meats are gluten and dairy free, contain no artificial ingredients, no phosphates, no nitrites, and no MSG.
Niman Ranch– All meats are gluten-free and with the exception of their hot dogs are dairy-free.
Jones Dairy Farm – Despite the word dairy in the company name all their products except Scrapple are dairy-free as well as gluten-free.
What’s a deli sandwich without a slice of cheese? Follow Your Heart makes a whole line of dairy-free cheese (gluten-free, nut-free, vegan and no GMOs as well). Their cheeses can be sliced, cubed and melted and they even have a yummy cream cheese alternative for gluten-free bagels! Their products do contain soy but I spoke with a representative of the company and they are currently in development of soy-free products as well so they will soon have a line free of all major allergens.
And what about that icon of lunch box sandwiches, the classic P.B. & J. Peanut allergies are so dramatic for children that many schools have actually banned all peanut products from school campuses. If your child has a peanut allergy you can be very grateful for this. And even if your child does not have a peanut allergy you may need to find a substitute. Sunbutter makes a delicious alternative made with roasted sunflower seeds that tastes amazing! And make sure you replace that jelly with 100% all fruit spread; this will ensure no hidden allergens. Sunbutter has a whole array of spreads including creamy, crunchy, natural and organic unsweetened. All of their products are tree nut free as well as peanut free and of course are gluten and dairy free.
For something a little different and fun, why not pack up some lettuce wraps? So fun to scoop the salad into the lettuce leaves! Use any kind of protein salad your child likes (tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, tofu salad) and keep the lettuce crisp by wrapping it in some damp paper towels. (I have included an allergy free chicken salad lettuce wrap recipe at the end of this post.)
Everyone needs snacks, especially kids.
Some great ideas for snacks are:
A piece of fruit – this is an obvious choice. I always included some kind of fruit in my children’s lunches. When my kids had their front teeth missing I put pears in their lunch boxes because they are easy to bite into and my boys loved them. (For a cool and CHEAP way to keep whole pears from getting squished or bruised in a lunch box, check this out! $1.50 for 4 pear travel packs.) Throw in whatever your child loves, a small bunch of grapes, orange segments, a handful of cherries. Fruit is, after all, nature’s candy!
Something salty – especially in warm climates a little salt is good. Plus kids love to munch on something salty as a snack. Small bags of nuts (no peanuts!) like pistachios, almonds or cashews are great natural snacks. Pistachios have great flavor and are especially high in protein with 6 grams in just one serving. Gluten-free crackers and pretzels such as those made by Glutino are also a good addition to any lunch box. Potato chips often have gluten and dairy added. Lays has a whole line of chips that are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, etc. And they have a really cool at-a-glance product page that shows what is and most importantly what is NOT in their chips!
Make it fun! Presentation is important in food preparation and our children’s food is no exception. If their snacks are fun and look good, they are more likely to eat them. A great trick is to take small skewers or toothpicks and alternate pieces of fruit, veggies or even olives with chunks of cheese or meat. A couple ideas are cherry tomatoes with Follow Your Heart Dairy Free Mozzarella cheese alternative and pieces of fruit with small pieces of ham or chicken (great way to trick ‘em into eating a tad more protein!).
Make it interactive. Kids like to play with their food. So why not throw in a packet of Sunbutter’s On The Go packets for them to squeeze on gluten-free crackers or pieces of celery? Or toss in a small container of Follow Your Heart’s or Organicville’s dairy-free ranch dressing with baby carrots. It is always more fun to eat something if dipping and squeezing is involved!
A little something sweet? Let’s face it, most of your children’s friends are going to be bringing some sort of cookie or snack bar in their lunch. Why should your child be different? After all no one wants to be the kid with the weird lunch. Fortunately there are some healthier, allergy free options.
Envirokidz by Nature’s Path Organics makes a whole line of absolutely delicious crispy rice bars that are 100% certified organic and are gluten-free. Their Lemur Peanut Choco Drizzle Crispy Rice Bars contain no dairy. They also make organic gluten-free animal cookies with cute baby animals stamped into them. All their products are GMO free and if you want to feel even better about giving these treats to your kids, they donate 1% of Envirokidz sales to a fund that helps with environmental and wildlife support – over $1,000,000.00 has been donated to date.
Kinnikinnick makes a variety of K-Kritters, animal cracker shaped cookies that are daisy and nut free as well as gluten-free. They come in chocolate, vanilla and graham flavors. And they even make a gluten, dairy and nut free Oreo type cookie – that tastes and looks perfect! Their K-Toos are sandwich cookies with either chocolate or vanilla cookies and may I just say, they are delicious! Their awesome S’moreables are a gluten, dairy, nut free graham style cracker.
Drink it up! Don’t forget to pack something healthy to drink. My first choice is always water but sometimes kids have a different idea. If you want to go with juice make sure you get “all fruit juice” juice boxes to ensure no allergens are added. I keep small bottles of water and juice boxes in the freezer and throw them into the lunch box in the morning. They act like a cold pack keeping the lunch cold and melt by lunch time but will still be nice and cool.
Now if you just shipped your “kid” off to college this can be a time of worry. The temptations of pizza and beer may be hard to resist for any 18 year old. The best defense in fighting temptation is to have a stock of things to eat in the dorm room that are quick, convenient and easy. Tasty Bite makes a wide variety of exotic and sumptuous packaged foods that require no refrigeration (and yet have no preservatives), are shelf stable, require no cooking (just a fast 90 seconds in the microwave) and many products are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and Kosher. They even have gift (or in this case care) packages specific to dietary needs. The Gluten Free Greatness package has 48 gluten free items and the Very Vegan package contains 36 items. They will ship directly to your collage student and while you can’t be 100% certain your darling child will stay away from pizza and beer entirely, you have certainly increased the odds!
Just keep in mind, variety is the spice of life so change up your kid’s lunches from time to time. Look for fun ways to present their food so the kids will want to eat it and include allergy free items that look like what “all the other kids” are eating. Here’s hoping your kids always come back home with empty lunch boxes!
Allergy Free Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps
1 head of Butter, Romaine or Iceberg Lettuce
2 cups cooked chicken, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 fresh pear, diced
¾ cup mayonnaise or Vegenaise
1 teaspoon gluten-free, dairy-free mustard
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup pistachios or cashews, optional
Remove the core from the head of lettuce with a knife and gently remove 8-12 leaves (2-3 per person), keeping them whole. Rinse and wrap in paper towels then put into individual sized plastic storage bags or containers and store in the fridge until ready to pack into the lunch.
In a mixing bowl, toss the chicken with the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Divide the salad among 4 individual sized storage containers.
To eat, scoop some salad into the lettuce leaves and enjoy.
Makes 4 kid-sized gluten free servings.
This post is linked to this month’s Go Aheady Honey Its Gluten Free Event. Do you have grat gluten free ideas for lunch? If so send then in to Ali & Tom at The Whole Life Nutrition Blog and enter the round up yourself!
Simply…Gluten-Free Desserts is now available, with over 135 recipes not featured in my blog.
Available at bookstores including Barnes & Noble, Borders, Powells, Books-a-Million and Amazon. You can get it also HERE.
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“I am amazed! This recipe is BETTER then the ‘regular-with-gluten’ recipe! Thanks so much, Carol” – V. P.
“I totally love your gluten free recipes – they have solved my love for desserts.” – F.R.
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