Packing a Gluten-Free, Allergy-Friendly School Lunch

This month's "Go Ahead Honey, It's Gluten-Free!" event, hosted by Ali of Whole LIfe Nutrition, is focused on packing healthy school lunches. The event was started by Naomi Devlin of Straightinto Bed Cakefree and Dried, a blogger I have admired for quite some time. I've always thought this event was great, so I'm excited to participate!

While I may not have children, I do fancy myself a bit of an expert in the lunch-packing arena. I've been brown-bagging it nearly everyday for work the last six years, and since changing my diet 2 1/2 years ago have hardly left the house with a meal or snack, especially on car trips, airplane rides, or long days of errands.   See that meal up there in the photo? It was delicious - red lentil garlic dip, raw veggies, brown rice tortillas, and some raw cashews.  I carried it around Manhattan with me on my last trip to New York, and it was an awesomely easy, affordable, and allergy-friendly way to enjoy an afternoon in Central Park. And although I'm a 28-year-old grown woman, it was a meal that would have been equally appropriate for a school lunch for your little one.

If your child has dietary restrictions, they might feel like "weird kid" when compared to their schoolmates eating processed foods, peanut butter sandwiches, or string cheese. Thankfully, there are lots of ways that you can pack fun and delicious lunches that will make make their tummies happy and probably make their friends wish that you were packing lunch for them too. 

Ways to Make Packing Lunch Fun

  • The obvious: get your kids involved.  Children love to participate, so encourage them to help you pack, or pack the lunch themselves. Create a checklist or master grid they can work from - Ali posted an awesome idea for a chart that she uses with her children in her post.  And here's another idea - if you're packing leftovers from dinner, turn packing lunch into a fun way to help "clean  up".
  • Incorporate lots of colors and textures in the lunch box. For example, use small cookie cutters to create fun shapes out of fruits and vegetables.  Use them in salads, sandwiches and wraps, or on open face sandwiches.  Create faces on sandwiches with garnishes, or arrange sliced vegetables and fruits in rows or circles in the lunch container. A little creativity will make the lunch more fun and sensory, and get your child excited about packing their own beautiful lunch. Think of packing the lunch like arts & crafts time. :)
  • Everyone loves a good lunch box and accessories. For something totally cool (and functional) get a Japanese-style bento box. This post has lots of good tips on brands and styles. And the blog Lunch in a Box has a TON of amazing tips on packing bento-style lunches.  
  • Variety! Don't pack the same thing everyday. Unless, of course, your child wants the same thing everyday, the way that kids sometimes do...  I think I only alternated three types of sandwiches all through grade school: salami with mustard, peanut butter with honey, and smoked spicy turkey with Miracle Whip.  It was weird and obsessive.
  • Create healthy versions of what other kids may have. Things like nut/seed butter sandwiches of GF bread, kale chips instead of potato chips, homemade sweet potato fries instead of other fries, an homemade cookies or treats instead of vending machine candies will make your kid feel like "one of the gang" without compromising their diet.

Creating a Balanced Meal

It is important that your child have a balanced mix of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Many kids love to load up on sweet things and carbs, but protein and fat play an equally important role.  Don't be afraid to include avocado, nuts and seeds, healthy oils, full fat dairy (if you child is dairy-tolerant), and responsibly raised meats or seafood in their lunches. Fat and protein help increase satisfaction, stabilize blood sugar, and provide concentrated calories that will help your child sustain energy through the day and be focused on their studies and fun school activities! Let's break it down:

Complex Carbohydrates

  • cooked quinoa, millet, buckwheat, or rice 
  • gluten-free pasta (Tinkyada is excellent) in cold pasta salads or hot with sauces/pesto
  • gluten-free brown rice tortillas (Food for Life is good) or corn tortillas (if your child can eat corn)
  • homemade gluten-free breads or muffins, crackers, or rice cakes
  • storebought gluten-free breads (I hear Udi's and Food For Life are good)
  • starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, or winter squash
  • beans or legumes

    Healthy Fats

    • raw or roasted nuts or nut butter
    • raw or roasted seeds or seed butter
    • avocado
    • salad dressings made with olive, flax, pumpkin, or coconut oil
    • organic butter or ghee on bread, crackers, or warm vegetables/pasta/grains


      • beans or legumes in dips, soups, or salads
      • nuts or seeds in trail mixes, granola, or plain
      • nut or seed butter
      • fish, poultry or meat in salads, sandwiches, wraps, soups, or casseroles
      • jerky sticks or high quality sausages
      • protein-containing energy bars
      Rockin' Raw Wrap from Sun in Bloom

      Main Lunchbox Items

      For increased satisfaction, it is good to have a main lunchbox feature that has a good balance of nutrition on its own.  Add a serving of fresh seasonal fruit, raw vegetable sticks or a simple side salad, chilled roasted vegetables, or another side/snack item to these main options, and you have a satisfying and healthy meal.

      Fresh Pea Dip with Sorrel and Thyme (gluten free, vegan)

      Side Items and Snacks

      crispy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

      Sweet Treats

      When I've had to feed children recently, I just think about what I'd like to eat, simplify it a little bit, and make it look cute, fanciful, and appealing.  I am excited to have children of my own one day and pack them lunches.In the meantime, I try to make sure I have tasty food for myself, and like to feed my friends, family, and coworkers. Happy lunch-packing!

      *The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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