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Allergy Friendly Lunchbox With Brain Power

The Allergy Free Lunch Box

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.

Lunchbots containersThese 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

Sides  –

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)

Treats –

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!

If you like what you see here and do not want to miss a post, don’t forget to subscribe to my feed or have my recipes delivered directly to your inbox (you can enter your email address at the top of the page).

This post is also linked to:

Allergy Friendly Friday

Slightly Indulgent Tuesday

Gluten Free Wednesdays,

Real Food Wednesdays.

  1. On August 17, 2010 Zoe @ Z's Cup of Tea said

    What great ideas! I’ve never thought of trying dipping apple or pear slices in pumpkin pie filling but now I want to, it sounds delish! I’m working on more recipes that are lunchbox friendly and that I will be presenting in the weeks to come, so that Master Lunchbox idea sounds perfect.

    • On August 17, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

      Thanks, Zoe! I have to remind myself of some of these when I get into my ruts, but the kids always love when I change things up!
      If you have any recipes/ideas you want to add to the list, let me know. I will add them with your links!
      ps The pumpkin pie dip is super yummy and my kids think it is dessert!

  2. On August 17, 2010 Maggie said

    You rock Kim. This is a great list with so many links. Callum goes to school next year so I am anxious to see how that will change the direction of my blog! Please re-post this next August 🙂

    • On August 17, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

      Haha! I promise I will post it again in a year! Do NOT want to have to write this one up again! hehe. I bet your blog will end up with some neat posts once Callum is in school! Thanks so much, Maggie!! 😉

  3. On August 17, 2010 Lexie said

    Another dynamite post! You are doing a great service to so many busy moms and dads! Love the sandwich on a stick idea.

    • On August 17, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

      Ah, thanks Lexie! I just tried out the sandwich on the stick today with Conner for lunch. He said he loved it and all of his friends could not stop asking about it.
      I hope this helps at least a few moms and dads. Even i get stumped in the mornings when we are rushing to get out of the door. Had to remind myself of a few of these that i have used in the past and then forgot about.

  4. On August 17, 2010 gluten free easily said

    You’re on a roll, Kim! A gluten-free tasty roll for lunch, of course. 😉 Seriously, I’m sure this list will help many. I think the main issue is we just forget when it comes to lunch and many are transitioning from lots of packaged small gluten products and not sure how to make the transition. Kids tend to like a lot of different things and in small portions–just more visually appealing to them and makes them look like special kiddos to the other kids. 🙂


    • On August 17, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

      Hey Shirley, I just commented to Lexie that even I get in a rut on those busy mornings. It always helps to have a reminder of all of the healthy possibilities there are to pack. And I totally agree, that kids are very visual. They are a lot more willing to try new things if they are presented in the right way and look cool! Today, Conner got all kinds of cool props from his Sandwich sticks! 😉

  5. On August 18, 2010 Kelly Lester said

    What a fantastic resource of menu ideas here! Another lunch box option which creates a visually appealing and easy way to pack these yummy lunches is in my simple EasyLunchbox System. It’s a bento-style, three-compartment container with one lid which fits perfectly into our roomy cooler bag. Less pieces to wash and keep track of, which is a plus, especially if you have more than one kid. No BPA, phthalates, lead, vinyl, or PVC. Sized right for both adults and kids. Affordable and green.

    • On August 18, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

      Hey, Kelly! Your lunchbox system looks awesome! I love those. Will definitely have to try them out! They are perfect for creative lunches! Thanks for sharing! 😉

  6. On August 18, 2010 gluten free easily said

    The sandwich sticks are adorable. Family Fun has been around for some time. I loved the magazine when Son was growing up. 🙂

    Also, a great post on school lunches and teaching one’s kids to pack their own the healhy way is this one from Ali (The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen). I need to include it in my post or share it again with others. I think kids can learn to take responsibility and feel great satisfaction from packing their own lunches, too. (Much like getting them to cook makes a difference in their eating habits; they’re more “vested.”)



    • On August 18, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

      Shirley, I LOVE Family Fun magazine. I have gotten so many recipes and craft ideas from it over the years!
      And I loved Ali’s post about having the kids help with packing healthy lunches. My boys go to a Montessori school where they encourage the parents to make sure that the kids are helping with everything at home! My boys help me make lunches, cook, do laundry, empty dishwashers, make beds… I could go on. But it is such a wonderful way for them to build confidence and let them feel like they are part of the family dynamics! They actually both love doing all of it (not sure what they will feel about it as they turn into teenagers though, lol).

  7. On August 18, 2010 carrie GLG said

    WOW~! What an amazing post! I’ll definitely have to use this as a resource for quick lunches, this will be so helfpul to so many people! Awesome job girl!

    • On August 18, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

      Carrie, thanks so much! Even I need reminders though to think outside the box… part of the reason I wrote this post! And these are ideas for adults too. Hubby actually likes a lot of these ideas as well. He gets so tired of going out for lunch everyday. He has 3 partners and ALL of them are gluten free for different reasons (one’s son has autism, one’s wife has Celiac Disease, one has Crohn’s, and my hubby has Celiacs). So he has a lot of support at the office and they always go out and eat together or one of the wives send food for them for lunch!

  8. On August 18, 2010 Erin Elberson said

    Kim, you read my mind. These are great not just for kids, but adults also. Awesome list!

  9. On August 18, 2010 Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said

    Erin, I often make extra for myself in the morning for my own lunch! It is so much easier that way and then I am making sure I am eating right too. I find that my kids eat far better than I do because I am always working so hard to make sure that they are getting fed well that I often forget about myself! lol

  10. On August 29, 2010 Tracy said

    THANK YOU!!! School starts in 1 week and I’m stuck for ideas. I found this and it’s getting me some great starts. I’m in Canada and we don’t have the best of selection here but these are great ideas. I signed up to receive your emails.

    Thank you!!

    • On August 29, 2010 Cook It Allergy Free said

      Hi Tracy! I am so glad that you find the ideas helpful. No matter what, we all seem to get stuck for ideas from time-to-time. So some extra tips can always be useful! Thank you so much for your comments and for signing up to receive my posts!!! 😉 Welcome to Cook It Allergy Free!

  11. On August 30, 2010 gfreemom said

    I love this list! Far too good for the kids. ;-). Have started to chronicle the gluten free lunchboxes that I’ve been making on my blog since school began last week. Am grateful for the inspiration! Awesome blog! Nicola.

    • On August 31, 2010 Cook It Allergy Free said

      Hi Nicola!
      I am glad you liked my lunch ideas! I will have to go check out your lunchbox chronicles on your blog. I, too, look for more inspiration always! It is so fun to get ideas from other gfree moms!
      Thanks so much!!

  12. On May 6, 2011 Lori-Allery Eat'n said

    Wow!! I love this post. This will help when I get lunch box brain freeze 😉
    Thanks for the great info!

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