School Lunches, Gluten Free

By Rachel Sircy

Last post I wanted to remind all of us to be mindful of the food allergies that other people might be suffering. It’s important to keep our friends and even our teachers in mind when we pack our lunches because food allergies are becoming extremely prevalent. Now, though, I want to turn my attention to those of us who have to pack gluten free lunches for our little (or not so little) ones. 

My daughter – whose name I don’t divulge on the internet, so I’ll just call her HRH (short for Her Royal Highness) – doesn’t exactly have to be gluten free, but I do. We are homeschooling, but we have a homeschooling co-op where we meet with other parents and students once a week. Because we have this one school day per week (and because I have to attend school with HRH), I have to think about packing my lunch own lunch as well as hers. I also have to think about how to avoid cross-contamination when packing (and unpacking and eating) our food. 

Now, I’m a person who likes to cook and who believes that there is only one really safe way for celiacs to eat, which is to make whatever you eat yourself. I have only just begun to realize how difficult this truly is when you have to prepare meals that need to be portable and finger-friendly. For those of you who are sending your children to public or private schools, getting your child’s school lunches together must be like trying to prepare for five picnics every week. So, I thought that this week, I’d try to share what I’d learned (and some new ideas, too) about how to do gluten free lunchtime shortcuts. Here are a few: 

  1. My first piece of advice is to keep things fresh. Fresh fruit and vegetables are naturally gluten free, and most are finger friendly. I am personally a huge fan of celery, dipped in ranch, soy or sun butter, gluten free guacamole or gf hummus. You can make the hummus or guac yourself at home and then just pack individual servings, but there are also several brands of both guacamole and hummus which are gluten free and some of which come in individual packages. I personally am a big fan of the Aldi brand of guacamole that comes in individual servings. 
  2. You can also make sandwich or cracker spreads ahead of time and dish them up in individual servings. Since gluten free bread is hard to eat without toasting it, and since it doesn’t last long after you toast it (it gets this weird, gross chewiness to it that makes you feel like you’re trying to eat rubberized bread), I simply don’t mess with it. Crackers work just fine for most sandwich spreads. Multigrain chips work with pimento cheese, as do Glutino Brand gf bagel chips. I make pretty good chicken salad that is delicious with crackers. I would give you the recipe, except that I don’t use one. I simply boil and shred a couple of boneless skinless chicken breasts and add in chopped green onion, celery, toasted pecans and dried cranberries (Ocean Spray claims that its plain Craisins are gluten free, but beware because the trail mixes, etc., containing Craisins are NOT). I don’t use a whole lot of mayonnaise to bind everything together, but of course, I never use anything other than Duke’s. (P.S. If I take this mix to school, I leave out the toasted pecans.)
  3. Don’t forget there are safe gluten free companies out there pre-packaging food for us! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Enjoy Life Foods is the best all-around brand for any group get together because they make sure their food is free from the top 8 allergens. So, if your kid likes peanut butter, pack him an Enjoy Life Sunbutter bar. They are gluten and allergen free and I think they’re pretty tasty. 
  4. If you’re packing a gluten free and a non-gluten free lunch, make sure that you don’t try to do everything at once. Don’t have gluten free bread or crackers out while you’re making wheat toast or slicing banana bread or something. Crumbs can make a celiac sick, so avoid them at all cost. Pack the gluten free lunch first. And with any spread (like a soy or nut butter spread) mark the spread gluten free before you even open it so that all family members will know that gluten free precautions apply to this particular jar. I keep a sharpie in the kitchen drawer just below the snack cabinet for just such a purpose. (I label all gluten-contaminated jam and nut butter jars “contaminated” so I’ll know not to use them). If my husband and daughter have to use my stuff, they know the drill – Dip out what you want with a clean teaspoon or tablespoon. Seal the jar back up and put it in the cabinet or refrigerator. Then take a knife and spread what’s in the spoon onto your wheat bread. Voila! Gluten free with ease. 

If you would like more variety, let me recommend Beyond Celiac’s webpage for kid-friendly gluten free snacks and appetizers (they also have a few pages dedicated to gf recipes for kids lunches – although frankly, I thought they seemed a bit too grown up for a school age kid). Visit : https://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-recipes-categories/appetizers-snacks+for-kids/