School Lunches Made Easy…and Gluten-Free

September 2019

by WeForum Editors


Almost as much as I look forward to and even celebrate the end of each school year, I dread the upcoming one. This dread is mainly for one reason…packing the kids’ lunches. Yes, I dislike the sixA.M. alarm, the hustle and bustle of the rushed mornings, and the nightly battle over homework. But one factor that looms over me, come those last precious weeks of August, is the return to the making of school lunches.

As if it’s not enough of a struggle to pack a healthy lunch for the kids each day, many parents now need to work around dietary restrictions for one or more of their children and often classmates. A few years back, my daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease, which blew the lid on her turkey and cheese sandwich habit. Celiac is not an allergy per se, but a chronic autoimmune disease, which over time, damages the lining of the small intestine and can lead to many other serious conditions (MS, Type 1 diabetes, etc.) if left untreated. Those with celiac disease must follow a strict gluten-free diet which means eliminating products containing gluten, such as bread, pasta, crackers, pretzels, Goldfish, wraps, pastries, pizza, and so on. Even foods that seem otherwise innocuous contain gluten, like soy sauce, Twizzlers and even some hot cocoa mixes. Basically, the staples of my 10-year-old’s diet were now off- limits.

When I first shared her diagnosis with other moms and explained my daughter’s dietary restrictions, they looked at me with sincere concern and asked, “What do you pack her for lunch?” The struggle is real. Celiac disease patients cannot eat any foods containing wheat or wheat varieties such as spelt, kamut, farro and durum, plus products like bulgur and semolina, barley, rye, farina and some oats. The list is endless, and gluten can be hidden in many different food items. Compounded by the fact that many children now suffer from food allergies and schools require that students bring only items from an approved list, the days of a quick PB&J in the lunch box are over. There is a plethora of gluten-freebread alternatives out there, yet we have yet to find one we’re willing to eat on a daily basis. So, while a sandwich, chips and an apple have certainly cemented their spot on the “What did you pack me?” list, let’s face it; all moms and dads could use a little help revamping the lunchbox.

This year, I’m planning ahead to make the transition into the hectic school days a bit easier on myself, and perhaps on you as well. I’ve done a little research and added a few ideas from my repertoire to come up with some easy, healthy, and readily available lunch and snack options to fill those empty lunch boxes looming somewhere in the back of your kitchen cabinet. All of the lunch options are gluten-free; garnered from my experience as a mom of a child with celiac disease and my daughter’s taste buds. Many are also nut-free and allergy friendly, but always check labels! These options are quick and easy to modify or rotate based on what your family had for dinner the night before and adapt to your child’s likes and dislikes. We follow a simple formula that makes for no-hassle packing in the mornings, and your child can help decide on what to bring, or even pack their lunch themselves. Just grab one item from each category and go!


Protein + Carb + Fruits and Veggies + Treat


There are numerous best health food and grocery stores for sourcing of gluten-free options. We likeDean’s, Foodtown, Whole Foods and Shop-Rite for local options, and we try to go for bulk packaging and minimal processing whenever possible. These snacks are great to have on hand for both lunches and after school activities.


Gluten-free snacks:

  • Gluten-free granola or granola bars
  • Popchips, Pirate’s Booty, or Popcorners
  • GF cookies
  • Rice cakes (flavored or plain and add your own spread)
  • Gluten-free pretzels
  • Popcorn (we like Skinny Pop and Boom Chicka Pop)
  • Dried fruits
  • Babybel cheese or cheese sticks
  • Rice treats (Envirokidz are good)
  • Yogurt


Time-Saving Tips:

  1. When cooking dinner, throw in extra steak, chicken, or sausage, or whatever protein is goingin that evening’s meal. This makes for a super easy starting point for tomorrow’s lunches.
  2. Same goes for fruits and veggies; during meal prep cut up extra raw fruits and veggies and store them in the fridge in lunch containers so they’re easy to grab in the morning. Or if you’re making a salad, make a few extra servings.
  3. Assemble any gluten-free bread/sandwich alternatives the night before and store in the fridge (turkey and cheese lettuce wraps, gluten-free bread with cukes and hummus, etc).
  4. Another shortcut is to make 3-4 servings of pasta or rice at a time to use throughout the week. I use quinoa or chickpea pasta for a source of protein; and grab a rotisserie chicken at the store on Sunday.
  5. Use a basic formula when packing lunch and mix and match options from each category. We use Protein + Carb + Fruits/Veggies + Treat
  6. Keep a list of items in each category on the counter to reference in the evenings or mornings and bring it with you to the grocery store as well.





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