There are lots of ways to pack a healthy gluten-free school lunch. Start by including your gluten-free child in the weekly menu planning process- this will increase the odds that he or she will actually eat what you pack for them!
Good quality proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats are key to improving your child’s diet. These tips and resources will help you plan and pack healthier gluten-free school lunches for your gluten-free child.
- Start with a healthy protein
- High quality gluten-free deli meats (See tips for product links)
- Gluten-free cheeses and cheese spreads
- Chicken and turkey salads
- Left-overs (homemade chicken gluten-free noodle soup, vegetable beef soup, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, lasagna, tacos, fried rice with eggs, etc.)
- Nut butters and jam sandwiches
- Deviled eggs
- Gluten free yogurt flavored with fresh fruits and honey
- Black bean salsa with gluten free corn chips
- Protein powder smoothies blended with fresh fruit
- Homemade gluten-free protein bars
Note-Include a thermos and ice packs in lunchboxes to keep these foods safe.
- Add healthy complex carbohydrates
- Fresh vegetables and fruits (Use in sandwiches, small salads, salsas, kabobs and cut up in small sticks for dipping)
- Make whole grain gluten free breads, crackers and muffins (Plan ahead- double recipes and freeze half for convenience!)
- Hummus (A nutritious bean dip)
- Homemade Tomato Soup
- Pico de Gallo (A delicious fresh fruit salsa)
- Fruit kabobs (Cut fruit in cubes, skewer on a toothpick and marinade in fresh lemonade)
- Grate carrots and mix with cream cheese for a sandwich spread or dip for veggies
- Pack healthy gluten free pasta dishes like Pesto Pasta with Toasted Pinenuts
- Include healthy essential fatty acids
Most American diets contain adequate, if not excess amounts of omega 6 essential fatty acids. Vegetable oils like soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil and cottonseed oil are rich sources of omega 6 fatty acids. Fish oils and flax seed are excellent sources of essential omega 3 fatty acids.
- Send healthier gluten free sweets
- Rice crispie bars made from gluten free brown rice cereal
- Homemade brownies with walnuts
- Blueberry muffins
- Banana bread
- Gluten free oatmeal cookies with toasted coconut
Add healthy gluten free flours to your dessert recipes – brown rice, amaranth, almond meal, teff, millet, bean flours and sorghum all bring nutritional value to sweets!
- Avoid sending sugary juices and soft drinks that add calories without bringing nutritional value to the table! Pack fresh plain water or occasionally send a fresh fruit flavored water like Aqua Fresca from Guide to Mexican Cooking, Chelsie Kenyon. Cut back on the sugar or use stevia, a natural, herbal sweetener to further reduce sugar content.
- Get your child involved in the process of planning a weekly lunchbox menu. Let them pick out a fun lunchbox that has a thermos and ice pack in it. That way they will look forward to carrying it and it will keep foods at safe temperatures.
- Make sure your child understands the importance of avoiding foods with gluten. Trading lunches with friends is off-limits!
- Avoid the temptation to fill your child’s school lunch with packaged sweets and refined carbohydrates. Of course kids love eating cookies, candy bars, potato chips and drinking sugary fruit juices and soft drinks but these foods lack the nutrients growing children need. Add a small healthy, homemade gluten free cookie, bar or muffin instead.
- Change things up! Don’t send the same foods day after day. Gluten- free kids need variety for a balanced diet. Utilize left-overs like homemade soups, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, lasagna, herb-flavored rice dishes and fruit salads. These foods add nutritional value and variety to school lunches. And they break up the monotony of sandwiches!
- Gluten-Free Product Resources-
Gluten Free deli meats and dairy products
Applegate Farms Gluten Free Organic Deli Meats and Cheeses
Boar’s Head® Deli Meats, Cheeses and Condiments
Hormel™ Natural Choice® Deli Meats
Organic Valley® Gluten Free Dairy Products
Thumann’s (Certified Gluten Free) Deli Meats
What You Need
- A list of your child’s favorite gluten-free lunch foods
- A lunchbox your child likes – with a thermos and ice packs to keep foods safe!
- Gluten-free deli meats, cheeses and yogurt
- Good quality, preferably whole grain gluten-free sandwich bread
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Gluten-free left-overs like spaghetti, lasagna, soups and rice dishes
- Fresh water instead of sugary juice boxes and soft drinks
- Gluten-free crackers and corn chips
- Gluten-free condiments including mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup
- Several packable, lidded 4 ounce containers
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Author Information: Teri Gruss, MS
About.com Guide to Gluten-Free Cooking
Teri was diagnosed with gluten intolerance after decades of symptoms that culminated in malabsorption syndrome. Teri has written numerous health and nutrition articles for the popular website naturalnews.com and was a founding member and moderator of nutritioncircle.org, a nutrition forum for healthcare professionals and students. She is a member of the American Dietetic Association and supports the non-profit organization Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) of North America as a member.
Email Teri Gruss, MS here.