The Celiac Mom’s Guide to Prepping for Back to School, Celiac Style Part II: Rockin’ the Gluten Free Lunchbox

Packing lunches. Two small words that fill parents everywhere with dread. It is not an easy job to fill a lunchbox with healthy food that is fun and appealing to little people. It’s an even tougher job when you can’t just make the obligatory pb&j sandwich, because a lot of the gluten free bread out there? No thanks.

I try to think outside the box, so to speak, when packing my daughter’s gluten free lunches. You have to get creative to keep it fun, fresh and healthy. My approach? Bento. Bento boxes originated in Japan, with lots of small choices in little compartments all packed in a cute little box. Bento boxes are sold everywhere from Target to Pottery Barn Kids. Some popular brands online are PlanetBox and Yumbox. The concept has taken the lunch crowd by storm.

Bento boxes make it easy to throw a little of this and a little of that in the lunchbox. This provides great variety in your gluten free child’s diet, but it also means needing to have a wide variety of choices on hand. There are so many delicious, gluten free products out there, however their steep price tags make it too expensive to experiment and buy out the gluten free aisle. So, I’ll do lots of “name dropping” here so you can buy with confidence that every last crumb will get eaten.

Every lunch box generally contains a main dish, a side item, a fruit/veggie, something crunchy, and a dessert. Pick one from each category and get packin’!

MAIN DISHES

  • Deli meat of some kind. Favorites in our house are Applegate Farms, Wegmans brand pepperoni, Wegmans brand packaged turkey or ham (labeled gluten free). You could also pack leftover grilled chicken or ham to keep it less processed. (*A word about bread: The best bread we have found, if my daughter happens to want these meats in a traditional sandwich, are Canyon Bakehouse Bread and Schar Ciabatta Rolls. We also use Glutino English Muffins in place of bread.)
  • Hummus or guacamole. We buy Wegmans hummus and Wholly Guacamole. Both come in mini packs to make packing easy.
  • Chicken salad
  • Tuna salad
  • Egg salad or hard boiled eggs
  • Pasta salad (Barilla gluten free pasta is our favorite)
  • Salsa and cheese (to be scooped up by something crunchy)
  • Peanut butter

SIDE ITEM

  • Yogurt. Many yogurts are gluten free. Try Chobani or Stonyfield Farms.
  • Cheese. Cabot cheddar is gluten free. It is also lactose free, for those celiacs, and there are many, who are lactose intolerant.
  • KIND bars
  • Dried fruit

FRUIT/VEGGIE

  • There are literally hundreds of choices here. The sky’s the limit, and you can’t say that very often with gluten free eating. Sliced fruit is fresh and inviting on its own, and sliced veggies served with a dressing on the side (Hidden Valley Ranch and Newman’s Own Balsamic Vinaigrette are two favorite gluten free choices in our house) are a surefire hit.

CRUNCHY

Everyone’s favorite lunchbox friend: the crunchy, salty goodness of crackers and chips. Here’s what makes the cut in our house:

  • Tostitos Tortilla Chips (to scoop up the salsa and cheese, or the guacamole)
  • Schar Table Crackers or Glutino crackers (pair well with the meats and cheeses)
  • Schar Breadsticks (great with hummus or peanut butter)
  • Schar Crispbread (with mayo and deli meat, it’s a fun open face sandwich)
  • Milton’s Crispy Sea Salt Crackers (great with everything or on their own)
  • Schar Cheese Bites
  • Cheetos Puffs
  • Lays plain potato chips
  • Nuts
  • Popcorn (Boom Chicka Pop and Lesser Evil Buddha Bowl are great already popped brands.)

DESSERT/SWEETS

  • Enjoy Life candy bars
  • Enjoy Life chocolate chips
  • Hershey Kisses
  • M&Ms (not pretzel m&ms or some special seasonal flavors. Check the label.)
  • Lucy’s cookies
  • Yum Earth gummy bears and lollipops
  • Starburst
  • Glutino vanilla or chocolate sandwich cookies (equivalent of a GF Oreo)

There are so many possibilities for packing a gluten free lunch. Be creative. Tuck in little bits of your child’s favorites to make a fun yet well-rounded meal that keeps them full and energized throughout their school day.

Stay tuned for Part III of this Back-to-School series, “Snack Attack”. Look for it in my weekly post next Thursday!

The Celiac Mom is CEO of Diehl Enterprises. Her duties include executive chef, pastry chef, taxi driver, housekeeper, kisser of boo boos, popsicle distributor, counselor, and champion Uno player. She is also the Content Coordinator and writer for Allens Creek Living Magazine. She lives in Pittsford, NY with her husband and three children.

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