As a mom to two children with multiple dietary restrictions, I can think of few things more mind numbing than coming up with creative and healthy boxed lunches (that my kids will eat) 5 days a week, so I thought I would begin a list of links to recipes that I make for my kids’ lunchboxes as well as several links to some great resources that just might make this daily activity a little less stress-inducing for all of us.
But first, here are a few tips that have been REALLY helpful for me:
Planning ahead definitely makes lunchbox preparation significantly easier. Not only does it remove the daily panic of figuring out what to include, it also makes grocery shopping a money-saving cinch (assuming you stick to “the list” which is usually my downfall).
Write down a daily menu for the week ahead. The menu can include fresh fruit and veggies, freshly prepared foods and my favorite time-saver: leftovers from dinner the night before. I have two Thermos Stainless King Food Jars and they do a great job keeping homemade soup and leftovers hot (or at least very warm) until lunchtime. The jars also come with a handy stainless steel spoon that fits in the lid.
Allow your children to have a say in what goes into their lunchbox (from a mom-approved list of healthy options of course). Not only will your kids be more likely to eat it, but if you do it right, you can get them eating all sorts of healthy goodness. I talk about this more extensively in my post, Tips for Getting Your Kids to Embrace Whole Foods…seriously, go check it out, all my tips are “Sam and Luke Tested!”
Presentation really does go a long way, remember getting a black mushy banana or those brown apple slices in your lunch box as a kid? Yeah, can you say, “where’s the trash?”
Fresh, beautiful food is much more likely to be eaten than off-colored and lifeless produce. When I make apple, pear and peach slices for my kiddos, I soak them in a corn-free citric acid solution before I bag ‘em up (it doesn’t leave a “sour” taste like lemon juice can). For this I use NOW Foods 100% Pure Citric Acid Powder which is free of: yeast, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, milk, egg, chemical additives or excipients.
A nutritionally balanced lunchbox should include one or more items from the following food groups:
Many parents struggle to get their kids to eat their fruits and vegetables every day (myself included) and I have found that by presenting the foods in different ways, it keeps their interest up.
Consider presenting fruits in different ways: as sliced fruits (fruit dips make a tasty treat too, my boys love this vegan pumpkin dip I made last year), make fruit kabobs using fun cupcake picks as the skewer (you can see an example of this in my post on Lunchbox Kabobs), homemade gelatin (and gelatin-free) fruit cups, fruit salad and homemade no-sugar added sauces (applesauce, pear sauce, etc.). If you have a young child, try sticking a corn-on-the-cob holder on each side of a whole apple…my boys love that (well, Luke does, Sam was mortified when I did it last year when he was in first grade, LOL!).
Cherries, Grapes, Kiwi, Oranges and Fresh Pineapple Sticks are also favorites of my boys.
I don’t know about your kids, but mine are much more likely to eat raw vegetables versus cooked. Cut up a bunch of raw veggies on Sunday nights, that way it is easy to grab a few to throw in their lunchboxes with various healthy dippers: hummus, Baba Ghanoush, homemade dairy-free ranch dressing (I have a new nut-free and much easier recipe to share next week), dill dip (I’m close to cracking the dairy-free case on this recipe too, so keep an eye out for that recipe).
Foods with protein are great for staving off those hunger pains and they work in unison with carbs which provide energy and help to boost concentration, memory and attention span. Protein foods not only work great as sandwich fillings, but they’re also handy as salad toppings (cubed chicken or sunflower seeds are two ideas and this Dairy-Free Creamy Greek Salad Dressing is quite tasty, as is this *awesome* recipe for French Dressing), toss some some chicken or beef into homemade soups, add chicken or shrimp to spring rolls, nut butters spread on gluten-free bread, bagels or even pancakes to make a filling sandwich (my kiddos really like Udi’s GF bagels topped with peanut butter and banana slices and I make my own cane sugar-free jams and jellies using Carol’s recipes for blueberry jam and strawberry jam over at Simply…Gluten Free. Carol’s method also works well with blackberries and raspberries).
Another fun idea is to pre-make several gluten-free "sandwich puzzles," (Canyon Bakehouse breads are perfect for this because the bread slices are large enough to fit most cookie cutters and the San Juan 7-Grain bread has a nice dark color that contrasts well with their Mountain White bread), throw them in individual sandwich bags and store them in the freezer until you need one (a gluten-free "uncrustable" if you will).
Stuff some celery with nut butter and top with raisins to make ants-on-a-log (or use cranberries for “ladybugs-on-a-log”), toss in a little container of nut or seed butter for apple dipping.
Deli Meat Rollups are also popular with my boys (we use Applegate Farms deli meats which are gluten and casein-free, and I simply roll the meat up…no bread).
Most protein boosters:
Grain-Free Almond Crackers (I use one chia egg and my kids absolutely LOVE these!)
Roasted Nuts (I roast my own using these simple instructions, and if you’ve never tried Marcona Almonds, you’re missing out on something special (unless of course, you’re dealing with a tree-nut allergy). I totally agree with Shauna Ahern when she said, “Marcona almonds — pop them in your mouth and crunch down on that creamy saltiness. Your disappointment at not being able to eat that hamburger bun will simply slide away.”
Slowcooker Beans n’ Weenies: I make a few substitutions to accommodate my boys additional food allergies: I use my homemade Barbeque Sauce and Wellshire Farms Cocktail Franks (according to the website, Wellshire Farms Cocktail Franks are gluten-free, dairy/casein-free, corn-free, nut-free and soy-free, and eggs are not listed on the ingredient list)
Primal Chicken Nuggets: I omit the cheese and sesame seeds for my kids
Build-Your-Own-Taco-Bar (my kids love Bearitos
Blue Corn Taco Shells. I will pre-cook a couple taco shells and send
them with a thermos of taco seasoned ground beef or shredded chicken
and separate containers of shredded lettuce, tomatoes and salsa so they can build their own tacos at school. The Taco Proper Taco Holders are PERFECT for helping little hands build tacos!) **I use this recipe for homemade taco seasoning,
only I use arrowroot instead of cornstarch (so I can make a taco salad
for myself since I'm allergic to corn) and after I mix up the
ingredients, I give it a whirl in my blender so it makes a fine powder
and then I store it in a glass mason jar in my pantry, super easy, cheap
and I know it's safe.
Leftover Chicken Drumsticks
Soothing Lettuce Wraps, P.F. Changs Style (with ideas for Corn-Free and Soy-Free Substitutions)
Spaghetti and Healthy Egg-Free Meatballs
*I will continue to update this list as I come across new ideas and recipes that my kids actually like.
Have a child who’s new to the gluten-free lifestyle and having a hard time adjusting? Try these copycat ideas for an emotional pick-me-up (or what I call, “Gluten-Free Transition Maneuvers”):
Gluten-Free Goldfish Crackers (I just received permission to share the rice flour version of this recipe and I will make them with Daiya Vegan Cheese and do a photo tutortial on how to make them in an upcoming blog post).
Jumping Through the Pringles Loophole (I definitely recommend sticking with the plain Lay’s Stax should you decide to deploy this “gluten-free transition maneuver,” the flavored chips are LOADED with chemical ingredients).
There are those inevitable days at school when a special treat is in order, whether it be for a classmate’s birthday or classroom holiday parties (or in the case of my kids’ school, Friday Fun Snacks where the kids make unhealthy snacks…I really wish their teachers would seize the opportunity to show the kids how to make fun snacks with healthy food!).
Gluten and Allergen Free Candy Lists from Sure Foods Living (Alison updates the list each year in time for Halloween and I give a copy of the lists to my boys' teachers at the beginning of every school year)
Gluten-Free, Dairy-free, Egg-Free, Refined Sugar-Free Chocolate Cake (you can see these, as well as the link to the recipe I use for Dairy-Free Buttercream Icing in my post on Dye-Free Batman Cupcakes). I keep a batch of these cupcakes in my freezer (already frosted) for impromptu birthday parties at school and send one in a Cup-A-Cake Single Cupcake Carrier.
Knee-Slappin' Good Blueberry Muffins (corn-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, refined sugar-free and xanthan/guar gum-free)
Gluten-Free “Nilla Wafers” (Dairy-Free)
Biscochitos (Gluten-free, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free)
“Tollhouse” Chocolate Chip Cookies (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)
Marshmallows (corn-free, dairy-free and egg-free)
Chewy Caramels (dairy-free)
I shared many of the commercial gluten-free products we like in this post but here are a few more kid-friendly products I occasionally add to my boys’ lunchboxes:
Pirate Original Tings (these are kinda like dairy-free and dye-free Cheetos)
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness is near and dear to my heart and they have been one of the most important resources for me over the past 6 years. NFCA will be hosting a very important (and FREE) webinar on Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 9pm EST/6pm PST called “Importance of School Nurse Education and How-To Strategies for Parents of Gluten Free Kids” (click here to register and join me for this hour of vital information).
Topics to be covered:
Printable Guides from NFCA (you can check out the full list here):
Be sure to check out NFCA’s Kids Central for some gluten-free games, guides and the Kids Cental newsletter!
The Allergy Kids Foundation is a phenomenal website founded by Robyn O’Brien (a.k.a. the “Erin Brockovich” of food allergies). I highly recommend exploring the Allergy Kids Foundation website and checking out Robyn’s book, The Unhealthy Truth: One Mother’s Shocking Investigation into the Dangers of America’s Food Supply– and What Every Family Can Do to Protect Itself (I absolutely LOVE this book!).
If your child has IgE Food Allergies, I recommend reading What You Can Do In the School and downloading the following letters and guides from The Allergy Kids Foundation:
Lastly, in case you missed my printable list of gluten and allergen free art supplies, you can check that out here.