Fun Gluten-Free School Lunches
by Connie Sarros
Connie Sarros is the author of several Wheat-free Gluten-free Cookbooks.
She gives speeches to dietary support groups throughout the country. These talks center around cooking and baking in a gluten-free kitchen, with a focus on the special dietary needs of celiacs, and an emphasis on healthy eating. Connie not only writes her cookbooks, she edits, publishes and promotes them as well. In addition, she has produced a 72-minute DVD, "All You Wanted To Know About Gluten-free Cooking".
It can be challenging to pack school lunches that offer variety and that your kids will actually eat. If you have celiac children, the problem is compounded because you need to pack a lunch that is 100% gluten-free (no wheat, rye, barley, or spelt), yet can still be fun to eat. Even picky eaters are more likely to eat what you've packed if it's a fun lunch. It's also more likely they'll eat their lunch if they help to make and pack it. With a little pre-planning, your task is limited only by your ingenuity. First, no matter what the age of your celiac children, educate them about their diet restrictions. Remind them daily that they can't exchange foods with friends.
The variety of cold lunches is endless. For entrees, pack baked or fried chicken or chicken wings (made with a gluten-free coating), or cherry tomatoes stuffed with tuna fish. If you prefer sandwiches made on gluten-free bread, break the routine of deli lunchmeats with meatloaf, egg salad, or Reuben sandwiches. Any sandwich cut with a large cookie cutter is more fun to eat than a sandwich that's just cut in half. Using a cookie cutter also eliminates the crusts, which makes the sandwich look special. Use fun cookie cutters like an elephant, dinosaur, or gingerbread man. If you don't want to use bread... no problem. Wrap lunchmeat around a piece of string cheese. Skewered food is fun food. Let your child select what he wants to thread onto a toothpick: cubed lunchmeat, cubed cheese, slices of green pepper, pineapple chunks, olives, pickle slices, cherry tomatoes, orange slices... the choices are unlimited. To keep foods from spoiling, add an ice pack to the lunchbox.
Salads make a perfect cold lunch, whether it's chicken, ham, potato or egg salad. Kids love pasta salad; using gluten-free macaroni, add cut up veggies to make the salad more nutritious. Kids are more likely to eat cottage cheese if you fold in some chopped fruit (pineapple or peaches are especially good).
Escape From Bread
There are other viable sandwich 'containers' besides bread. Corn tacos are a crisp, fun holder for a multitude of fillings. A taco lunch will be the envy of their friends. In a divided container, pack shredded cheese, lettuce, salsa, and shredded rotisserie chicken -- Don't forget to include the corn taco shell. Gluten-free tortillas make great wraps. Spread your child's favorite sandwich filling on a rice tortilla, roll it up, then slice it into smaller pieces creating circles. Even pancakes and crepes make wonderful wraps. If you pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with gluten-free waffles instead of bread, it's guaranteed that lunch will be a hit! -- Or get even more daring and replace the jelly with slices of banana or apple slices drizzled with honey. Belgium lettuce leaves are shaped like little boats and make a fun holder for tuna or chicken salad. Cracker sandwiches can be fun, especially when you layer the crackers with lunchmeat, cheese, and add a surprise like sliced black olives or sliced sweet pickles. A smiley face is easy to create -- Spread a rice cake with peanut butter. Make a smiley face using raisins or any cut up dried fruit. Add a full head of hair with coconut flakes. Occasionally avoid the bread or wrap altogether and pack gluten-free muffins instead.
Variety is the key. Switch foods and alter combinations to make lunch an event of anticipation. One day add deviled eggs; the next day add celery sticks filled with peanut butter. If time is a factor, add 'no-fuss' items like a small container of applesauce or yogurt; or pack a few gluten-free crackers to have with cheese slices or to spread with hummus. Kids like small things that fit in their hands, so send one or two miniature gluten-free muffins with a hard boiled egg, sweet pickle, ham and cheese cubes, and a small container of cole slaw. Trail mix is a favorite with kids and it can be varied from week to week, including options like dried fruits, Chex cereals, mini chocolate chips, nuts, gluten-free pretzels, or even popcorn. In a recent survey, it was found that kids love to find granola packed in their lunches -- so make up some gluten-free granola to have on hand. If using oats in your granola, make sure they are "pure" oats processed in a dedicated facility. (Creamery Hill offers pure oat products.).
Kids Love To Dip
Kids love to dip foods. Use cookie cutters to cut rice tortillas. Bake the cut outs at 400 degrees for about 6 minutes or until crisp. Send along a bean dip or salsa for dipping. Pack carrot, celery, and green pepper strips with a ranch dressing, or string cheese and rolled lunchmeat slices with a dip of honey mustard dressing. For a dipping dessert, cut a rice tortilla with a cookie cutter. Brush with a very small amount of olive oil then sprinkle with cinnamon and/or honey and bake at 400 degrees for about 6 minutes or until crisp; pack a container of applesauce for dipping. Send a few gluten-free sugar or shortbread cookies with a small container of yogurt for dipping. Cut up fruit and toss it with pineapple juice (to prevent browning), then pack some cream cheese to use as a dip. Bake meringue cookies in the shape of bread sticks, then pack a container of pudding for dipping.
Sure, you could pack fruit cups or a piece of fresh fruit, or gluten-free cookies or cupcakes, but dessert can be more ingenious than that. Mandarin Orange Salad or Waldorf Salad makes a refreshing dessert. Or make stacked apple slices (dipped in pineapple juice) filled with layers of peanut butter and honey. Core an apple and fill it with peanut butter and raisins. Air-popped popcorn is a hit, especially when you mix in a few chocolate covered raisins. When you're short on time, you can toss in a gluten-free protein bar.
Another Fun Idea
Pack by color for holidays. For Halloween, consider black bean chili with gluten-free crackers, shredded carrots with raisins, bat-shaped cheddar cheese slices, a small bag of dried apricots and chocolate covered almonds, with orange juice to drink. Add a Halloween napkin for a finishing touch. Choose red foods for Valentine's Day. Patriotic holidays will be red, white, and blue foods.
Don't forget to add a funny note or draw a picture on the napkin. These little touches help to make lunch a time to look forward to for your child.
Unlimited Options on the Road
"I just had to write and share our success with Laptop Lunches. My son has multiple food allergies and autism. He loves to have his food "framed" for him in little boxes. When we're home, I use a cafeteria tray, but we've never had anything we could take on the road until now.
"Before we purchased the Laptop Lunch System, I didn't realize how much we would use it. We've taken it on the town at least half a dozen times. We've taken it to restaurants, where he often can't eat the foods available or can only enjoy a limited selection. We've also taken it to Occupational Therapy appointments, where he has feeding therapy, and to picnics in the park. He just loves his lunch box. I swear he eats more than he would with just a brown bag lunch, and I don't have to haul around a bunch of mismatched containers. Laptop lunches are the best. Now my husband wants one! Thanks for such a great product that makes our lives simpler."
—Laura Compton, Camas, WA
Gluten Free and Waste Free
"My husband and I have been looking for ways to reduce our waste and with my son having so many diet restrictions (he has an autism spectrum disorder so we follow Feingold and a GFCF diet), I have to pack his lunch each day and cringed at all the Ziploc bags and plastic silverware we were going through. We just received our first Laptop Lunchbox last week and loved it so I ordered a 2nd one for my younger son. They are so excited about the lunchboxes. Thank you so much for caring about the environment and making lunchbox lunches look good again."
—Kecia Johndrow, Cedar Park, TX
Allergy Free on the Go
"I love my Laptop Lunch box and use it every day. I have food allergies and your product makes taking my 'safe home-cooked' meals with me 'on the go' very convenient!"
—Tammy Garland, Magnolia, DE