This post has been updated to be part of September’s Go Ahead Honey, It’s Gluten Free! This event was created by Naomi Devlin of Straight Into Bed Cakefree and Dried and is being hosted this month by Ali and Tom of Nourishing Meals. The theme of this month’s round-up is… IDEAS FOR PACKING A HEALTHY SCHOOL LUNCH!
Yes. It is that time again. Summer vacation has come to an end. The routine-less days are now filled with structure and schedules. The lazy pajama-filled mornings are now replaced with rushed outfit changes and mismatched socks. Four course breakfasts lasting all morning are now replaced with meals that have to pack a big punch in a fast way (says the woman who dubs herself the “Breakfast Seargent” – I have strict rules about what is going to be fueling their brains until lunchtime).
I am a solid believer in the amazing power of nutrition and its’ hold over the function of the rapidly growing, neuron firing child’s brain. Great nutrition is essential to good education and learning potential. In order for the brain to function optimally, it needs a hearty supply of healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates, water, vitamins, and minerals. When children are missing these essential nutrients from their diets, they tend to be less curious, less attentive, less active, and more anxious. These deficiencies can lead to cognitive impairment and delayed learning capabilities.
And as we again face those frenzied mornings that signal that school is back in session, it is a wonderful time for us to take stock of what we are using to fuel our children’s brains. By sending them off to school with breakfasts and lunches that are full of nutrient dense foods packed with the proteins and amino acids that will keep those neurons firing long into the afternoons, we are fostering amazing learning potentials.
However, in the rush of the mornings, we often lose sight of what the best options are to pack in that healthy punch. Convenience can trump healthy. Here are some easy ideas to help overcome those mental blocks that we can face during the hectic spin of the mornings. The ideas below are all geared towards the gluten-free and allergy-friendly lunchbox – the list may seem long, but I wanted you to really see how many options there are for those of us with dietary restrictions. I will soon be doing a similar post full of breakfast ideas as well.
These are the Lunchbots – Stainless Steel Lunch Containers that I send in my son’s lunch box everyday. I LOVE THEM!
Sandwich/Wrap choices -
Note: These ideas focus on Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free choices. You must ALWAYS read labels and ensure that your allergens are not included in any ingredients. Manufacturers can change their ingredients at any time. Something that you may have once considered safe, may no longer be so. Also, any food may cause an allergy, not just the most common ones, so please always take your necessary precautions to keep your meals safe.
Note: Any of these ideas can be put on gluten free bread (Udi’s is our favorite), gluten-free pita bread (GFL Foods, Inc is our favorite), gluten free tortillas or wraps (Sandwich Petals are delicious), gluten free crackers, gluten free bagels (again Udi’s are our favorites, hands down), or even home-made gluten-free whole-grain or grain-free pancakes (like these from Elana’s Pantry) and waffles (like these from The Spunky Coconut). Just have fun, think outside the box, and mix and match your sandwich fillings/toppings with what you put them on.
1. Try out different nut butters topped with fruit slices (instead of your typical PB&J) on any of the above. If your child’s school is nut-free, try Sunflower Seed or Soy Butter (I always sprinkle a little chia seed or flax meal inside my kids nut-butter sandwiches for a little extra omega goodness).
2. Home-made (or store-bought) Hummus topped with cucumbers and/or shredded carrots on any of the above (minus the pancakes/waffles – your kids may not quite appreciate hummus spread on them)
3. Mashed avocados with a little squeeze of lime, some mild salsa, and shredded cheese, Dairy or Vegan (such as Daiya) on gluten free tortillas
4. Organic Nitrate-Free turkey slices (such as Applegate Farms – only kind of lunchmeat I buy), Avocado slices, Roasted Peppers, Dairy or Vegan Cheese slices inside a gluten-free pita, in a sandwich, in a wrap, or on a bagel.
5. Organic Nitrate-Free turkey slices (such as Applegate Farms), Roasted veggies and hummus inside a gluten free pita, in a sandwich, in a wrap, or on a bagel
6. Mashed beans topped with shredded cheese, Dairy or Vegan, on a tortilla
7. Chicken (or tuna) salad: in a pita, on a sandwich, or on a bagel – Try a mixture of leftover chicken or tuna (or a gluten-free rotisserie chicken), diced celery, diced apples, cut grapes, a tiny bit of organic mayonnaise (or use Egg-Free mayonnaise), a squeeze of lemon, salt and pepper to taste.
8. Cucumber slices and Dairy or Vegan cream cheese on a bagel (my son also loves smoked salmon on his)
9. Black Bean burgers with avocado slices on a sandwich or gluten free bun (like these from Lexie’s Kitchen).
10. Shredded veggies mixed with cream cheese and spread on bagels or wraps.
11. Sandwich on a Stick – this is a fun idea from the Disney’s Family Fun Site
Other Hearty Main Dish choices –
1. Cooked brown rice mixed with cannellini beans, garlic, and shredded dairy or vegan cheese
2. Cooked brown rice or quinoa tossed with diced chicken, broccoli florets, dried cranberries, a bit of canola or coconut oil, and a splash or orange juice
3. Fun shaped Pasta noodles tossed with cooked broccoli, shredded carrots, diced black olives, and 1 Tbsp vegan salad dressing
4. Gluten-Free Gnocchi or Ravioli (Conte’s makes a good option) with Marinara sauce for dipping
5. Gluten-Free Spaghetti and Meatballs
6. Meatballs and Sauce in a Thermos – send some allergy-free bread or rolls for a Meatball Sub
7. Mac and Cheese – Dairy based or Dairy-Free (try VegNew’s Vegan Version )
8. Homemade soups in a thermos (I will be posting many soup and stew recipes as soon as it cools down)
9. Meatloaf Muffins with Brown Sugar Glaze – (these are gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, and easily egg-free)
10. Black bean Salsa with Gluten Free corn chips for dipping
11. Plain Gluten Free yogurt (Dairy or Non-Dairy) mixed with any fresh fruit and a small squeeze of honey
12. Pesto Sauce and Gluten-Free Noodles (try my gluten-free, dairy-free pesto sauce with recommendations on how to make it nut-free)
13. Hard-boiled eggs or Deviled Eggs, if you are not Egg-Free
14. Risotto with sautéed veggies – I usually make my leftovers into risotto cakes that the kids love for lunch
15. Any leftovers, really
1. Bananas, Apples, or Celery with a small container of nut butter, sunflower seed butter, or soy butter for dipping
2. Raw vegetables (sugar snap peas, broccoli, carrots, celery, etc) with hummus or salad dressing for dipping (try pureeing vegetables into your hummus)
3. Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Marinara Sauce for dipping
4. Fresh Fruit Kebabs with Dairy or Dairy-Free yogurt for dipping
5. Fruit dipped in pumpkin pie dip: pureed pumpkin or sweet potato mixed with pumpkin pie spice and a little honey. This is good with apple or pear slices
6. Roasted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds
7. Smoothies in a thermos – can get creative and add different fruits, greens, chia or flax seeds
8. Nuts: if not allergic and your school allows them
9. Trail mix with Dairy Free Dark Chocolate pieces for a treat (Enjoy Life Foods has Nut-Free Trail mixes)
10. Dehydrated Fruit
11. Home-made Gluten-Free Granola Bars
12. Home-made air-popped popcorn tossed with organic coconut oil and celtic sea-salt
13. Gluten Free Granola in a container with a separate thermos of Dairy or Dairy-Free milk to pour over it.
14. Cornbread muffins (pair with a turkey sandwich and dried cranberries, or even cranberry sauce)
1. Homemade Rice Crispy Treats made with Organic Brown Rice Cereal
2. Muffins – sweet potato, carrot, banana, or zucchini muffins are all healthy ideas – you can really bake any pureed vegetable into a muffin and kids will eat it (I always throw in a little flaxmeal or chia seeds in to my batter as well)
3. Fruit Crumbles made with healthy ingredients (such as these GF, DF, EF, SF Berry Crumbles that my boys actually made themselves)
4. The famous Nutty Flax Bars (they are actually nut-free and really good for you) – try One Frugal Foodie’s version
5. Dates with Cream Cheese, Dairy or Vegan. Sounds weird but so yummy!
6. A couple of home-made or store-bought allergy-friendly cookies never hurt anyone
Try to mix and match your choices each day, throw in a note or a joke to put a smile on your child’s face, and arm yourself with some fun eco-friendly reusable lunch containers. You really cannot go wrong with filling their lunch boxes with whole grain, plant based options, and avoiding the highly processed, nutrient void convenience foods. Have fun with your creations and then sit back and know that you have done a major part in fostering your child’s learning potential.
And for more amazing school lunch ideas and recipes, go download the FREE E-cookbook, put together by Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy Free and One Frugal Foodie. Smart School Time Recipes: The Breakfast, Snack, and Lunchbox Cookbook for Healthy Kids and Adults is full of wonderful healthy recipes from many bloggers.
What are you going to be packing in lunchboxes this year? Any ideas to add to this list? We can all add to this and turn it into a Master Lunch Box List for the Allergy-Free crowd, of sorts!
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