Coming up with fresh gluten-free school snack and lunch ideas can be challenging at the best of times, but they can really hit the doldrums as we head into the school year’s homestretch – May & June!
Some serious brainstorming is taking place among the Celiac Parents and Parents of Celiacs Facebook Group – ask to join! One of our 350 members, cookbook author Cathy Lauer, mentioned that she had actually written an article on the topic. She has agreed to share her strategies with us here as a sort of year-end re-boot! Thanks, Cathy!
When parents think of kids’ packed lunches, they want them to be nutritious yet easy on the budget. When kids think of packed lunches, they want fun, tasty and fashionable. Add gluten-free into the mix and making a packed lunch that suits both parent and child can be a bit of a challenge.
First rule of eating gluten free successfully is to read the label. Watch out for malt syrup or flavouring. It adds sweetness and colour but it is NOT gluten free. For a good list of what to avoid go to the Canadian Celiac Association web site so you will have a good idea of what to avoid when shopping.
Second Rule – get them involved. Before you even hit the grocery store sit down with your kids. Make a chart with each child’s name and the 3 basic food groups; protein, starch, fruit/vegetable. This doesn’t have to be fancy unless you are the kind of person to go all out on these things and make them permanent fixtures on your fridge or the kitchen wall, like me. Make a list under each person’s name with their choices for each group. Don’t choose for them or this won’t work. Some kids are going to have more choices than others and that is just personal taste.
Over time even the pickiest eater will start to add new things to their list. Before going to bed everyone makes their own packed lunch. Allow one choice each from protein and starch and two or more from fruit/vegetable. Add a healthy drink and a treat and you’re done.
Always leave meat, cheese and vegetable choices in the fridge overnight but make sure they are portioned and wrapped so it is a quick transfer to the lunch bag in the morning. Even a kindergartener can participate in this process. It will encourage healthy eating by teaching the food groups and what constitutes a balanced diet. Kids are also more likely to eat a lunch if it has their choice of foods in it. When prepared ahead in this way it also teaches organizational skills and takes the stress out mornings.
Rule Number 3 – NEVER go shopping without a list. You will be less likely to impulse shop if you have a list and you will also be more likely to buy things that will actually get eaten if it is what someone has requested. If you are on a budget, a list will certainly help to remind you to only get what is on the list. Be sure to let the kids know when you are going shopping so they too can make additions to the list IF it is a choice off their lunch list.
With so many more companies getting on the gluten-free bandwagon the choices of pre-packaged foods that are actually safe for those on a gluten-free diet has ballooned. The majority will pass the kid test and still look cool in a lunchbox. Lunchables are a popular glutinous lunchbox meal that are really easy to make gluten free. Glutino makes really good gluten-free crackers in several flavours and Freybe’s and Grimm’s both make gluten and dairy free meats that can be cut into little circles to fit with the crackers. Almost all cheeses are gluten free and the goat, dairy free and vegan cheeses have improved considerably over the years. Substitute the meat for hummus or a nut butter and you have a vegetarian lunchable. If you want to make it look the same go to a discount or dollar store and get a divided lunch size container. Now you have a gluten-free lunch that is tasty, cool, budget friendly and environmentally friendly.
One of my kid’s favourite things to take in their lunch was leftovers from dinner the night before. A thermos makes a really nice container for taking hot foods such as soups, stews or other hot meals. Leftover pizza is also a great lunch treat as many kids prefer it cold anyway. Make extra on pizza night and lunch for the next day is solved. Putting soups, stews and other hot foods in single serving containers in the freezer can also be a lifesaver for those days when there is nothing in the fridge to pack for lunch.
Home baked goods are also a great thing for lunches. Muffins, granola bars and cookies can be kept in the freezer, then pop them in the lunch bag frozen and they will be thawed by lunchtime. I like to keep the container that the muffin papers come in as a container to put my muffin in for lunch. That way it won’t get crushed. Homemade breadsticks, pizza pretzels and bagels are also great lunch items for kids and adults alike. Add a small container of pizza sauce to dip in and you’re set.
Lastly, kids like a treat. Cookies, cake or some junky kind of thing you really don’t want them to have all the time. Being on a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean your kids have to give these things up. There are many kinds of healthy, kid friendly snacks that are pre-packaged and gluten free. Many varieties of real fruit gummies, fruit leathers, chips and nuts are gluten free and come in single serving packages. Glutino makes very tasty gluten-free pretzels in single serving bags. There are many kinds of health bars that are also gluten-free. No Nuttin’ and Larabar make several kid-friendly flavours. Always watch out for ‘regular’ oats or oat flour in health bars.
Hopefully this information is empowering and not overwhelming. Gluten free is not the millstone it used to be. Many stores have gluten-free aisles now or at least gluten free options next to the wheat ones and new products are coming on the market all the time. gluten-free baking is getting better all the time and there is no reason not to be able to pack a delicious, nutritious and cool lunch that you and your kids will love.
Cathy Lauer has been cooking/baking gluten/dairy free for 22 years. She has written 3 gluten-free baking cookbooks to go along with her 4 unique baking mixes.
- Facebook – Cathy’s Gluten Free Creations
- Email [email protected]
- Tour Cathy’s Gluten-Free Photo Gallery
- Read all 25+ of Cathy’s articles in OK in Health (search by Lauer, Cathy)
In her spare time Cathy loves to garden – in a big way – with fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. She is a classically trained singer, church choir director and loves to read and collect recipe books. She home schools her youngest son (16) and has 3 grown children and is grandmother of 2.
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