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Need some tips for gluten and allergen free lunches? Here are some “out of the lunchbox” ideas.
Parents with children that have severe food allergies can especially feel challenged by the morning lunch prep routine– easy options for lunch seem limited. Without advance planning, the morning rush can make your head spin. Here are some easy ideas to help overcome those mental blocks that we can face during the hectic, rush around mornings. The tips below are all geared towards the gluten-free and allergy-friendly lunchbox but really anyone can add these ideas to their lunch prep repertoire.
1. Plan and prepare in advance
As much as possible, prepare at least part of lunch the night before, while you are preparing dinner. If you are making a salad for dinner, make an extra salad for your child’s lunch. If you are preparing pasta, make an extra serving and re-warm in the morning. Soups, pastas, risottos all make great lunch box options.
-Wash and chop a plethora of fresh veggies and place in air-tight container in the refrigerator. Use what you need as you go.
-Make and freeze larger batches of items such as gluten-free granola bars and home-made gluten-free cookies.
-Purchase handy lunch containers, a thermos and a large enough lunch box to fit everything.
2. Think outside of the regular sandwich
The challenge with gluten-free sandwiches is, of course, the bread. It often crumbles, doesn’t taste good, has holes in it, is expensive, etc. A great way to prepare sandwiches on gluten-free bread is by using a panini maker or sandwich press. The flavor and texture of purchased gluten-free bread is enhanced by toasting or grilling.
Turkey Pesto Panini:
2 slices whole grain gluten-free bread such as Rudi’s
2-3 turkey slices, nitrate free, try organic brand like Applegate Farm
1 slice cheddar, Monterey Jack or Provolone Cheese, or Daiya dairy free cheese
Sliced tomato or avocado
Pesto sauce for the adventurous kids
Spray a little cooking spray on the Panini maker, place your first bread piece, then add nitrate free turkey, a cheese slice or Daiya Cheese Shreds (our favorite!) add optional sliced tomato or avocado, then another cheese slice, and top with second slice of bread, for the adventurous kids, pesto sauce can be spread on the top piece of bread. Cook as instructed. Wrap in reusable sandwich wrapper. While the Panini will not stay hot until lunchtime, it still tastes great.
Almond Butter, Jam and Fruit Panini: Spray a little cooking spray on the Panini maker, spread one piece of bread with almond butter, the other with low sugar, organic jam, place first bread piece, thinly sliced apples or bananas, place other piece of bread on top. Cook as instructed. Wrap in reusable sandwich wrapper.
Waffle sandwiches: Try The Pure Pantry Buckwheat Flax Pancake and Baking mix to make waffles on the weekend. Make extra a freeze. In the morning, lightly toast two waffles, spread with nut butter and organic jam or cream cheese and jam. Try turkey slices or ham with swiss cheese or Daiya Mozzarella to create a “Montecristo” type of sandwich.
Cookie Cutter Sandwiches: appearance is everything to some kids. Create cute cut-out finger sandwiches with large shaped cookie cutters.
3.Make a Hot Lunch
Not a lover of the gluten-free bread choices out there? Think outside the sandwich, and get into thermoses!
This Bento box type thermos provides great versitility: www.ebagsetc.com
Again, planning ahead pays off in the morning. Left overs make great lunches the next day. Soups, stews, pastas, risottos, are all easily reheated and packed into a thermos.
Soups: What can be more satisfying that a nice homemade cup of soup? Here are a few ideas:
Asian Noodle Soups: gluten-free rice noodle packaged soups with added veggies are a perfect, quick hot meal to take to school.
Pasta Salad: gluten-free fusilli pasta tossed with chopped celery, cooked broccoli, shredded carrots, diced black olives, and 1 tablespoon Balsamic salad dressing.
Gluten-Free Spaghetti and Meatballs – make a big batch for dinner, then warm and serve it up for lunch the next day.
Mac and Cheese – Dairy based or Dairy-Free with peas or broccoli.
Left over BBQ’d chicken: My son’s favorite. Barbeque extra chicken legs or thighs, pair them up with coleslaw or a side salad.
4. Get in the greens with salads
I am proud to say my 3 year old eats salads. If your children are salad eaters, a whole world opens up for lunch box choices. It is easy to prepare a chef salad or garden salad with a protein. For dinner the night before, prepare an extra portion and place in a lunch container. Put salad dressing in a smaller container. There are endless options. Here are a couple of ideas:
Chef Salad: top lettuce mixture with slices or turkey,cheese, add hardboiled egg slices, cherry tomatoes, avocado slices. Place salad dressing in a separate small container.
Greek salad: top lettuce mixture with cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, Greek olives and feta cheese crumbles or Daiya Mozzarella shreds, add sliced grilled chicken if desired. Place salad dressing in separate small container.
Garden salad with tuna: top lettuce mixture with sliced carrots, sliced cucumbers and any other veggies your child likes. Combine one can tuna with 1 tablespoon Vegenaise (egg free,dairy free mayo) ½ cup diced celery, ½ cup diced pickle, a squeeze of ½ lemon, dash of dill. Place one scoop of tuna salad on top of greens. Place salad dressing in a separate small container.
5. Add Some Easy Snacks and Sides:
Trail mix: make your own or purchase.
Yogurt Parfait: Your child’s favorite yogurt or coconut yogurt flavor with a small container of sliced fruit and a container of gluten-free granola to top it off. Our favorite gluten-free granola is from Healthy Creations.
Home-made Gluten-Free Granola Bars: try this recipe for Cherry-Almond Oat Bars. Make double batches, cut into bars, wrap each bar individually and freeze. Pull out a ar when needed – it will defrost by snack time.
Gluten-free Chex Mix: try my Agave-Almond Chex Mix recipe for a great snack to pack for lunch or to bring to a class party.
Pre-packed healthy snacks: Organic Fruit leathers, organic squeezable fruit purees, organic apple sauce are all easy to throw in options. Gluten-free crackers and cheese, and organic gluten-free corn chips with salsa are also easy to pull together.
Fresh fruit is a staple in every lunch we make. We always keep apples, oranges, bananas and grapes on hand as a grab and go lunch item or snack. More fragile fresh fruit such as blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, we place in small containers.
Fresh veggies and dips: Carrots, celery, red pepper strips are all great with hummus, organic ranch dip, or Edamame Pesto Dip (recipe in “Fresh from Elizabeth’s Kitchen”).
There are so many options for gluten-free, allergen friendly lunches. With a little advance planning you can provide healthy, tasty lunch options that will keep your kids well-fed and make your mornings flow smoothly.