This post is from contributing writer Mary Voogt of Just Take A Bite.
School is right around the corner (I said it…don’t throw tomatoes). Depending on where you live it could be a month, a couple weeks or even days away!
Of course that means school lunches are coming too.
When you have to manage food allergies, your choices are limited. No more pb&j. No crackers and cheese. Scrap half of the cute Pinterest ideas. Even if you don’t have allergies in your family, your school lunch choice may be limited by safety precautions for other kids in the class with food restrictions (for example, since kids with peanut allergies can have reactions from smelling peanuts in the air, most schools have peanut-free rooms or buildings).
You’ll find plenty of posts claiming to have allergen free ideas…that really aren’t allergen free at all except for maybe one or two options from a long list. Or you have to do a bunch of substituting on your own to make them allergen free for what your family is actually dealing with.
Get excited about allergen free food!
But allergy friendly lunches don’t need to be boring, bland, void of nutrition or complicated. In fact they can be downright fun! Just ask my kids (if anyone understands eating allergen free it’s them).
I’ve been packing school lunches for two years now. I don’t mind it too much, but I do get in a rut sometimes. So I like to have a list on hand of safe, healthy and delicious lunch ideas for my kids. Today I’m sharing them with you!
These are the best real food allergy friendly lunch ideas around. And they are all staples in our lunches.
Pick your favorites, make some weekly lunch menus and rotate through them. Lunch dilemma solved!
Allergy-Free Main Courses for Lunch
- Sandwich made with allergen free bread or pancakes and homemade lunch meat.
If you want to add a little something to the sandwich spread pureed pumpkin or squash on the bread with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of sea salt. Mashed avocado is great too! Either one will add creaminess, texture and flavor to the sandwich.
- Sloppy joe meat with crackers or chips for scooping.
Simply heat the meat in a pan for about 60 seconds in the morning and put it in a thermos. As an added bonus, you’re serving healing broth for lunch! Throw in some extra gelatin to boost hair, nail, skin and joint health (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off any order at Perfect Supplements!).
- Allergen free bread or pancakes with sunbutter [this brand is 100% nut free] and pectin free strawberry jam, cherry jam, peach jam, grape jelly or red plum raspberry jelly. This is not your traditional pb&j. But trust me, your kids will love it!
- Leftover soup with your favorite muffin.
Some delicious, kid-friendly soups are squash and sausage, split pea, pumpkin, chicken noodle, beef vegetable, smoky Mexican chicken, maple roasted acorn squash, cheeseburger, and steak fajita. They all pair well with chocolate zucchini muffins, pumpkin muffins or allergen free blueberry muffins. Simply heat the soup on the stove in the morning and keep it in a thermos.
- Leftover hamburger, chicken burger or pork burger served with ketchup for dipping.
My kids don’t mind cold leftover burgers. Just cut them into bite size pieces and it’s like little nuggets for dipping. If your child can’t have tomatoes, honey is a great dipping alternative. We also make a “ketchup” with pureed pumpkin, honey and salt.
- Dairy free grilled “cheese”.
Use allergen free bread, your fat of choice and a secret mix that includes gelatin (use the coupon coupon KS10 for 10% off) to create a grilled cheese flavor without any dairy! It tastes great cold, and is easy to pack.
- Sweet potato salmon burgers.
Really change things up with these burgers made from seafood! Eat sweet potato salmon burgers on a bun or as a finger food dipped in pesto, mayo or ketchup.
- Leftover pizza with nightshade free sauce.
What kid doesn’t love pizza? This version has all of the pizza flavor without the allergens. Make pizza for dinner and the leftovers pack up easily for lunch the next day.
- Zucchini noodles with sauce.
Zucchini noodles are a great swap for grain based noodles. I use a very inexpensive hand spiralizer to make small batches for my kids. Then use whatever sauce they like best (tomato, pesto, etc.). For added nutrition I cook the noodles in broth. Add leftover shredded chicken, cooked ground beef or sausage for a complete meal. You can cook this the night before and serve it cold for lunch like a pasta salad.
Perfect Hearty Lunch Sides to Avoid Allergens
Finding dairy-free and egg-free recipes for kids (and then some) is NOT easy. But I’ve dealt with them all, and these are some of our favorite options. These “sides” are nutrient-dense and filling enough to be main courses!
Don’t think smoothies are just for breakfast. They make a great addition to lunch. A smoothie is especially helpful if your kids resist eating veggies at school. Pack them in a smoothie like this squash cherry smoothie. No allergens but lots of nutrients. Put it in a sealed cup and shake before drinking.This is also great for kids (like mine!) that eat slowly and get distracted easily. Drinking a smoothie gets nutrients down quickly. If you make a big batch you can keep some right in the blender and give it a quick whir for an easy lunch for mom!
- Allergen free pumpkin yogurt or coconut milk yogurt with fresh fruit and crumbled graham crackers.
Homemade yogurt is an easy and delicious way to add probiotics to your child’s diet.And if your kids don’t like yogurt (or can’t do coconut OR dairy) we are proud to recommend our sponsor, WellFuture, whose dairy-free probiotic powder is especially formulated for infants’ and children’s digestive systems. It’s very easy to “hide” the powder in just about anything, from applesauce to that Sunbutter or jam we talked about above. No reason you can’t have probiotics at lunch!
- Raw vegetables and crackers with hummus or pesto hummus.
All kids love to dip! Simply puree cooked chickpeas with olive oil and sea salt for a kid-friendly dip. Note that beans are in the same family as peanuts. So if you are nut free and can’t use chickpeas you can puree roasted vegetables (like cauliflower) or even use a thick pureed soup (like squash or pumpkin) for dipping.
- Leftover roasted vegetables (red cabbage and cauliflower are our favorites!) or frozen vegetables (peas, broccoli and cauliflower cook quickly in the morning).
If you struggle to get your kids to eat vegetables, try roasting them. For real. My kids devour roasted vegetables. Warm, cold, fresh out of the oven, leftover. It doesn’t matter. Even my toddler will eat a mountain of roasted veggies. We have to fight over the leftovers. (Here’s one example recipe.)
- Pitted dates filled with sunbutter.
The combination of dates and sunbutter gives quite a nutritional punch. Dates contain calcium, sulfur, iron, potassium, phosphorus, manganese, copper and magnesium! Plus they are a good source of carbohydrates and energy. Sunbutter adds potassium, vitamin E, zinc, phosphorus, iron, niacin, magnesium and copper. Not to mention some healthy fat and protein. To top it off it tastes amazing!
Your kids can learn to cook, even if you don’t know where to start.
My 4 kids and I created the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse to help bring real food and independence to families all over. Over 10,000 kids have joined us and we’d love to invite you along for the adventure!
PLUS we’re so pleased to offer a little gift from our family to yours: “10 Snacks Your Kids Can Make” packed with our favorites for the road! GRAB THAT HERE!
Complete The Meal
As you start prepping lunches don’t forget to add healthy fats. All of those vitamins don’t do any good if there isn’t fat in the diet to help absorb them (hence the term “fat soluble” vitamins). Lard, tallow, coconut oil (find quality versions at Mountain Rose Herbs , Tropical Traditions and Thrive Market – your first jar is sometimes free as a promotion there!) and extra virgin olive oil (source at MRH, From Nature with Love, or Tropical Traditions) are all great, allergy friendly choices. Avocados and seeds can be great too if they are tolerated.
If your child is resistant to eating fat on his vegetables/in his food try this salted caramel. Keep it in a small container and serve it with a spoon. Healthy fat plus a secret super food! My kids also love lard mixed with honey straight off a spoon. The lard and honey combination also serves as “frosting” on a muffin.
Pick one of the above main allergy free lunch components. Then add sides and snacks from this list.
Allergies are never as straightforward as you would like. There are always extra things to look out for. When packing food for someone with allergies keep cross-reactive foods in mind, especially when dealing with life-threatening allergies.
Avocado, banana, kiwi, chestnut and papaya are the major cross reactors with latex. Every person is different, but most individuals with a latex allergy should also avoid those foods. There are others that can be cross reactive as well, so do your research.
Also note that beans and peas are in the same family as peanuts. So if a child has a peanut allergy she should also avoid beans and peas. It can be hard since beans are an easy protein substitute for dairy and nuts. But there are other creative options (as noted above).
Packing For Home
I have a confession – I won’t be packing lunches this year.
I have a unique situation as we are venturing into the world of home schooling with our oldest (3rd grade). And my son is still in 1/2 day K. So that means NO PACKED LUNCHES (mostly)! I am just slightly excited about that.
Even though I don’t have to pack anything I still want easy lunches so that making a meal does not take an hour out of our class time at home. Plus we’ll have one day a week of home school co-op that will require eating lunch in the car.
So all of these ideas still apply. I just might find myself “packing” lunches the night before anyway so that our day is smooth sailing. I have no clue what I’m doing with home schooling (got any helpful tips??), so I’ll take all the extra time I can get, especially with a busy toddler.
Whether you are sending your kids to school or keeping them home this list is a must for those with allergies. It’s great to pick from it even if you don’t have allergies to help keep everyone else safe at school.
Cross Allergen Friendly Lunches Off Your List
As always, don’t forget to let your kids help make their lunches. Believe it or not they enjoy it (even if you don’t). Little by little let them take over and scratch that off your to-do list. Now is a great time to try with the #mykidmadethis challenge! They’ll be preparing lunches like pros by the time school starts.
Other lunch-packing posts:
- Over 70 ideas for packing a healthy lunch to go
- “green” lunch packing (reducing and reusing disposable items)
- gluten free lunch ideas
- 10 School Lunch Packing Tips so food is not wasted
- If I was in charge of school lunches…
- Are the new natural lunchmeats too good to be true???
- a great idea for an incentive to get your kids to unpack their own lunches at the end of the day
- my reusable sandwich bag review
- my bento box review