Are you in a slump of what to send with your food allergic child to school? Does the thought of packing a daily lunch scare you? I’ve listed both homemade and store-bought options to help you put together satisfying and quicker school lunches to help your kiddo be safe and full, all while being friendly on the budget! Gluten free and nut free lunch ideas too!
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Let’s just get right to it and save you some time, you busy mom you. I’ve created a homemade lunch idea list that works for both those with Celiac disease and food allergies so that it should work for just about anyone with a specialty diet or food restrictions. I want lunch time to be a delicious time for your kiddo and mine all school season long! May they all have a safe and great year ahead of them. I hope these free lunchbox ideas will help you all.
We just had our very first day of school, and boy–let me tell you! It was rough getting up and making sure the lunch was packed and we were out the door. Here are some things I plan on implementing to help our school lunch packing go smoother, aka make this list work for us and have success, because it’s not just about what’s going in the lunches but lots of things leading up to it.
TIPS FOR PACKING ALLERGY FRIENDLY & GLUTEN-FREE LUNCHES:
- I am going to pre-make a bunch of sandwiches. I plan on splitting up at least one entire loaf of bread into half SunButter & Jelly sandwiches, and the other half tuna sandwiches (all with safe bread and safe mayo…if you want to see what brands I use, check out the list below). Then, I will put them in the freezer, in baggies with what they are written on them. That way little man can grab which one he’s feelin’ that day, and it will be thawed by the time it’s lunch. (I also plan on freezing the tortilla roll ups too!)
- I also plan on picking one day a month and doing some batch baking. My son could eat muffins all day (and they’re a great lunch filler), and my pancakes (which are great for sandwiches, or for busy school mornings). I will make big batches and freeze them, so that he can take one with him without me having to bake every single time.
- I have a specified bucket in our pantry for JUST school lunches, that way I’m not digging for those individual olive cups or applesauce containers. I want to know where they are and find it quickly instead of scanning shelves. Now, the problem is to make sure the boys stay out of it–because of course the box has items they covet. I try to make lunches a little special so that my son will look forward to them since he’ll have 12 years of home lunches and I don’t want him getting bored. Make sure every week when you go to the grocery store that you check your school lunch items to make sure they’re always fully stocked.
- I’m still going to pack a lot of leftovers–that saves on budget and time, since I’ll have already made it the night before! My son has quite a few dinners, especially soups, that he enjoys. I bought him a Batman Thermos so I can pack hot lunches for him still. The trick is to pour boiling hot water in it first, let it sit for a few minutes, dump out the water and then put in the heated food. It should stay warm, especially if you have a good quality thermos.
- I upped my budget! Yes, me, who is a sticker about grocery budget, upped my weekly budget, but by only about $10. I recognize that him not being able to eat leftovers every day and having to buy extra things will make our grocery budget go up. If you’d like to see how I budget while having to shop for specialty items, you can see these tips for grocery shopping on a budget with food allergies (which has a video!).
- I’m not bothering with juice boxes–I find that to be extra sugar and an extra expense. I’m also not giving him my good water bottles to only accidentally lose. I know this isn’t the most environmental friendly, but I bought the mini plastic water bottles and am going to use those. I love my kids drinking lots of water, and I do ask that he bring it home so we can reuse it a few times. We’ll see if he remembers. If he doesn’t–then I’m not mad since it wasn’t a lot of money.
- I will shop seasonally. If melon is in season, I’ll be sure to include that. If berries are on sale, I’ll include those. Fresh fruit and veggies are such great fillers, that don’t require anything “allergy” specific and help us rotate through to keep things not too boring for those picky eaters.
- Buy in bulk and place in baggies. Again–I’m a cheapo–and find that often things that come in individual servings are more expensive. Sometimes it’s worth it, and sometimes I’d rather buy a big bulk size and just grab a handful and throw it in a plastic zip top baggie–that way I can portion control too. And, when I say buy in bulk, I don’t always mean the Costco size. I find sometimes that is actually more expensive–either in cost, or because we tend to eat a ton of it, since it seems we “have so much” and then we actually blow like $10 on a bag of chips, that we could have had last us longer if I had bought the regular size. I’m just saying we don’t often buy like “fun sizes” or “single serving” sizes–unless it’s something messy like applesauce, in which case you need it to be in it’s own container.
- Talk to my son–I want to hear what he’s eating and what he’s not. I’m trying to create a non-pressure environment where he doesn’t feel he has to hide or throw away food to look like he’s eating. I told him to bring anything he doesn’t eat home, so I can see what’s really getting eaten. I want to know what he’s getting sick of. I want to know what I packed too much of, so I can adjust. If he doesn’t eat all the healthy stuff–then he’ll feel it. Plus, I’m the gatekeeper and make sure only one snack goes in there anyways. I figure there are days I don’t make the smartest decisions, and then my body feels it. This is a great little step into maturity and responsibility for him to eat without an adult and to make choices. I am excited for him!
- Have a good thermos! Sending things that need to stay hot (like soups and chilis) are so filling and welcomed during cold winter months. We use one like this and make sure to put boiling water in it for 10-15 minutes before placing the hot item so that it stays warm until lunch time.
- Have ice packs frozen and ready. There will be times when you want to send things that could spoil, or are just better chilled. Make sure you have ice packs you can send.
- Need a good lunch box idea? I know many people like the Bento-style/compartmentalized lunch boxes, but it’s just too rigid for my liking. I love our Flatbox lunchbox and we’ve been using it for years, so it’s super durable and washable. It’s great because it unzips, allowing my son to place his food items on the clean lunch box, instead of worrying about setting his food somewhere that has been cross contaminated. Plus, it’s soft to hold and very bendable to fit in backpacks because it’s fabric.
- Breathe. It feels daunting when I think of the fact that he’ll never be able to eat school lunch and that he has 12 more years of school. But I’m going to do my best to take it one lunch and one day at a time!
HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF THIS ALLERGY-FRIENDLY SCHOOL-LUNCH LIST:
- I separated it into mains, sides and then snacks. I like to think in those three groups then try to get too complicated with things like protein, grains, and so on. I honestly have let go a lot about worrying about my son’s lunches–they’re still great–but recognize that a healthy, homemade dinner and a good breakfast can round out if his lunch isn’t pristine. My main goal: help him feel proud of his school lunch, help him like what he has so he’s not tempted to try someone else’s, and get a full, happy tummy!
- What allergens does it avoid: most things are top-8-free. **Be sure to check labels**, as things could have changed or may differ regionally. I do have a few with soy, because we can do that!
- I tried to literally spell out everything I could think of that we will be putting in our lunches. You may think “why did you spell out the fruits and veggies”? Well, sister–I already feel like my options are limited, so I LOVE seeing a long list to jog my brain and help me see that there really are more things out there. When I see that long list of fruits and veggies it helps me feel better about not being able to pack goldfish, and helps me get out of the whole apple and banana rut.
- Feel free to adapt, print this out and then write on it additional things that work for your family. I LOVE having a base template and something to physically run my eyes over when I’m making my grocery list.
GLUTEN-FREE BREAD OPTIONS:
Sandwiches are often a large part of school lunches. Just because you need gluten-free school lunches doesn’t mean you have to skip on the sandwich. Here are some gluten-free sandwich bread options for you:
- Most people I know prefer Canyon Bakehouse. Note they do use egg, so we can’t. But, they do have a gluten-free bagel, buns and several types of bread.
- We love Little Northern Bakehouse because it’s gluten-free and vegan. They have several kinds of bread, rolls and buns.
- We also love Schar for their ciabatta rolls, hoagies and hamburger buns. They use soy.
- Udi’s is another longstanding gluten-free brand that uses egg. They also have muffins.
- Franz is gluten, dairy and soy free bread.
Let me know in the comments if there are any other brands you like for gluten-free sandwiches!
*Since they don’t make gluten-free crustables, you can make your own with this special bread cut out set from Amazon.*
ALLERGY-FRIENDLY SCHOOL LUNCH LIST IDEA:
- Pancake sandwich (leftover safe pancakes filled with a safe nut/seed spread and jam)
- Tuna sandwich (safe bread, tuna and safe mayo)
- SunButter & Jelly Sandwich (or pb& j if you can do it and your school is a nut-free school)
- SunButter & Honey Sandwich
- Gluten-free chicken salad sandwiches
- Egg salad sandwiches if you can do egg
- Tuna salad
- Sandwich with your favorite deli meats (I prefer to buy packaged deli meat, to lessen the chance of cross contamination with freshly sliced meat at the deli counter)
- Tortilla, mayo and turkey roll up (we use corn tortillas, but there are gluten-free flour tortillas—or you can also use lettuce and make it a wrap!)
- Tortilla, mayo and ham roll up (add what toppings you can!)
- Tortilla, refried beans and guac roll up
- Lemon Basil Pasta (I’ll make extra the night before at dinner and put it in a thermos—really any leftover pasta like spaghetti or gluten-free pasta salad would work too! We use an earlier version of this thermos.)
- Leftover soups (we’re big soup fans and I make extra the night before and send in a thermos)
- Store bought soups my son can do: Great Value Chili with Beans and Great Value Chicken and Rice–use whatever brands you prefer; we’re OK using things that don’t expressly say “gluten-free” as long as we don’t see any gluten containing items in the ingredients list–do whatever you feel comfortable with
- Herbed quinoa (found in my cookbook)
- Protein shake/smoothie
- Baked potato, with olive oil & sea salt wrapped in aluminum (with chili would be good too!)
- Thai Kitchen Noodle Packets in a thermos (has soy, and one flavor has milk so double check labels! But, quick to make up the morning of and
- put in a thermos)
- Rice Ramen (has soy—but quick to make up the morning of and put in a thermos)
- Leftover pizza (either homemade socca or Daiya) wrapped in aluminum (unless they like it cold)
- Mac and cheese in thermos (homemade found in my cookbook or Daiya or Annie’s gluten-free if you can do dairy)
- Bagel and cream cheese (Greater Knead bagels for top-8-free option, or Udi’s/Canyon Bakehouse for gluten-free option. Use regular cream cheese or tofutti or Daiya for dairy-free options.)
- mandarin oranges, peaches or pears in cups
- mandarin oranges in Jell-o
- fruit cocktail
- apple slices
- cuties oranges
- baby bell peppers
- sugar snap peas
- baby carrots (plain, or with hummus or vegan ranch–store bought or homemade)
- Lays potato chips (original, wavy, baked or BBQ)
- Mozzarella or cheddar cheese sticks (Daiya cheeze sticks for those who need dairy-free cheese)
- Lays stax
- The Good Crisp Company
- Top-8-free chocolate banana oat & nut free granola bars
- Top 8 free double chocolate granola bars
- top-8-free & oat-free energy balls
- Silk yogurt if you can do soy, or So Delicious coconut yogurt, or yoplait gogurt dairy free pouches
- Cottage cheese with fruit, if you can do dairy
- Turkey Jerky or Chomps
- Gluten-free crackers (my kids love Annie’s Bunnies)
- Tortilla chips & guac (if you can’t do corn chips, there’s Beanitos)
- SunButter on the go cups
- Synder’s gluten-free pretzels
- Enjoy Life Bars
- Enjoy Life Lentil Chips
- That’s It Fruit Bars
- Cinnamon rice chex
- Dehydrated apples
- Banana chips
- Enjoy Life Trail Mix (or my homemade version)
- Enjoy Life Protein Bites
- Melon: watermelon, cantoloupe, honey dew
- Shelled, salted sunflower seeds
- Celery with SunButter
- Muffins (zucchini, cinna swirl, double chocolate, banana, chocolate
- Berries (strawberries, blue berries, raspberries)
- Fruit leather
- Made Good Granola Bars or granola
- Motts/Kellogs/Black Forest Fruit Snacks
- Allergy friendly homemade cookies
- Fruit roll ups
- Fruit by the foot
- Dum Dums
- Mike and Ikes
- Sweedish Fish
- Schar graham crackers–plain or with homemade chocolate frosting
- Homemade Rice Krispies (original, Snickerdoodle, or caramel)
- Inside out scotcheroos
- Cybele Pascal Free to Eat Cookies
- Enjoy Life Cookies
- Dessert Trail Mix
- Shelf stable chocolate flax milk by Good Karma or Chocolate Almond Milk
Finally, let me know what things you love to put in your kids’ allergy-friendly lunch boxes, so I can add it in next year. I love learning from all of you, and hope that this list of simple ideas helps you make safe lunches for your allergy kids! Remember, this list isn’t just great for kids, but for every family member as it’s great to still pack a lunch to work for adults too. May all of our kids have a happy and safe school year!
CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR ALLERGY-FRIENDLY, NUT-FREE, GLUTEN-FREE & DAIRY-FREE LUNCH IDEAS IN A PRINTABLE PDF!
**Also, don’t forget to pin it–that helps other allergy moms find it, and it helps you not lose it! Be sure to check out my other allergy-friendly Pinterest boards while you’re there!**
Looking for other lists of allergy-friendly foods to give to family, babysitters or schools? Try these helpful posts: