Gluten-Free School Lunch Ideas and Tips
A nutritious lunch at school helps kids be at their best for the rest of the day. Good nutrition is also important to support kids’ growth and helps keep them healthy.
When shopping for lunch foods, always confirm that the brands or types of food you choose are gluten-free. Ingredients may change each time you shop.
Balancing That School Lunch
Getting good nutrition from each meal is key, especially when eating gluten-free. Avoiding gluten-containing foods may mean that important nutrients are missed. Here’s how you can help your child get the right balance of nutrients without sacrificing great taste.
Below are just a few of the many options from each food group to get you started. Include your favorites but also explore other options. Introduce your child to different types of beans, nuts, as well as fruits and vegetables.
Try including at least one food from each of the following groups. Choose different foods within each group throughout the week to get different nutrients.
Protein – Meat (chicken, beef, pork), deli meat, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, cheese slices or yogurt, nut or seed butter (like peanut or sunflower seed butter), beans (like garbanzo or black beans).
-Include an ice pack in your child’s lunch to keep perishable items safe.
Gluten-Free Grains – Bread, crackers, tortillas, wraps, pasta, rice. Try to make about half the grain items whole grain versions when you can, since they usually have more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Vegetables – When it comes to vegetables, the more the better! Most of us don’t eat enough vegetables, and they are loaded with important nutrients. Don’t stop at just one choice in this group. Include vegetables in sandwiches by adding lettuce, sliced cucumber, or shredded carrot. Add veggies to favorite soups, pasta dishes, and casseroles. Don’t forget raw veggie sticks, too!
Fruits – A piece of whole fresh fruit, like an apple, banana or orange, adds a little something sweet to any school lunch. Even dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, or cherries can do the trick.
What should you include as a drink? Water is an excellent choice, as is low-fat milk or milk alternatives. Avoid sugary drinks. If you want to include juice, limit it to a few times a week.
More Gluten-Free Lunch Tips
Here are some more school lunch ideas that are sure to please!
Shape Shift the Sandwich
Use a corn tortilla, gluten-free wrap, or lettuce leaves to roll up favorite fillings in place of bread. Or pack a “deconstructed sandwich”: bite size pieces of lunchmeat, cheese, vegetable slices, and bread or crackers.
Use a Thermos
Who says lunch needs to be cold? Fill a hot thermos with soup, pasta, chili, stew, beans, or a favorite casserole dish. A warmer midday meal is nice as weather cools off.
Bring on the Pasta
Gluten-free pasta is always popular. Include it in a school lunch by packing a thermos of minestrone soup that has pasta and beans, spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs, or even a pasta-based casserole.
It can be fun to be hands-on at lunchtime. Pack the fixings for tacos and let kids build the tacos themselves. Storing each component in a separate baggie or container helps keep everything from getting soggy.
Dinner for Lunch Ideas
You’ve had it for dinner. Now, turn it into lunch!
Prepare sliced or as chicken salad in a sandwich with gluten-free bread or in a gluten-free wrap. With slices of chicken, add a slice of cheese, a little mayonnaise, and lettuce or cucumber slices. For chicken salad, chop chicken into small cubes, and add a little mayonnaise, chopped celery, and chopped pickles, sweet or dill.
Shred it for tacos. Start with corn tortillas. Along with thin slices or shredded pieces of chicken, add beans — canned or home-cooked — and some grated cheese. Pack a small container of salsa or diced tomatoes and maybe even avocado slices or cubes to add at lunchtime. Remember to pack ingredients separately so the taco doesn’t get soggy.
Just like pasta for pasta salad, leftover cooked rice — white, brown, or wild rice — can be turned into a tasty rice salad. Mix in cooked frozen peas and a little vinaigrette salad dressing. Add in other vegetables you have in your fridge. Include a protein source – cubes of cheese, a cup of beans, or bite-sized pieces of chicken or turkey, and you’ve got a complete lunch!
Any shape of gluten-free pasta can make a fun eating experience: spaghetti, rotini, ziti, even elbows. Use pasta to make cold salads, or mix it up with your favorite pasta sauce, heat it up, then put it in a thermos to keep it warm. Pack some grated parmesan cheese in a container on the side.
You might want to plan to have leftovers, so that making your child’s lunch is super simple! Use leftovers within two to three days. If you still have a portion left after that timeframe, freeze it for another meal at another time.
As you can see, it isn’t hard to make a fun, nutritious, and delicious school lunch for your gluten-free kid. Get your kids involved in making their lunches. They’ll learn more about how to eat gluten-free and about good nutrition, too. Soon, they’ll be making healthy gluten-free lunches all on their own!