Packing a School Lunch

By Francie Kelley

There are a lot of options for ensuring that your child receives a safe cafeteria meal at school. But no matter how great a job your school does at providing gluten-free options, some kids prefer a lunch that comes from home. They can get exactly what they want and many parents like knowing that the food is safe.

We packed lunch for my daughter every day from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation. She preferred it. The lunch offerings in her middle school were fine. But, in elementary school the selection was grim. And that is grim for everyone, no matter if you had a special diet or not. In high school the lines in the cafeteria were long and waiting for cafeteria food took up more than half of the lunch period. Packing a lunch just worked best for her and most of her friends also brought lunch from home.

My approach, to make this simple, was to pack the same thing every day. No, I did not pack peanut butter sandwiches every day. The selection of food varied but the components I included in the lunch box stayed the same. Including multiple components ensured she had variety and plenty of food for both lunch and snacks. I assembled the components. Ran a check that all the components are included, tossed it all in the lunchbox and we were good to go.

The components I included were:

  • A bottle of water
  • A main dish
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt
  • A “crunchy”
  • Dessert

I also included plenty of napkins, one of those blue ice packs to keep things cold and a spoon for the yogurt. Depending on the food packed I added other utensils.

We had lots of different lunch boxes over 13 years. But my favorites were the ones that had 2 compartments. One compartment had the blue ice and anything that should be kept cold. The other compartment had the napkins, anything like a napkin that needed to stay dry and food that was were best kept at room temperature.

The main dish might be a sandwich on gluten-free (GF) bread, a wrap on a GF tortilla (we prefer corn), a roll-up of meat and cheese, last night’s dinner leftovers, cold GF pizza, anything in a thermos (she loved mac and cheese), a hard-boiled egg, cold GF chicken strips or a panini on gluten-free bread (I wrapped this in tin foil to keep it warm). I also made “lunchables” I would include deli meat and cheese with GF crackers. If your child has access to a microwave there are a lot of GF frozen meals that you could include as the main dish.

The cheese might be string cheese or cheese I cut up in to cubes or strips. She preferred cheddar and mozzarella but any type of cheese works.

The crunchy was the thing that varied most. Generally it really was something that added crunch to the meal and is why we called it a “crunchy”. It could be a snack bag of GF cereal, GF crackers, chips or GF pretzels. This component was often fruit, especially apples or cut up vegetables.

Dessert of course was her favorite part and most of the time I included GF cookies. But, anything that your child thinks of as a treat works.

If you are preparing lunches for multiple children and not all of them are getting a GF lunch, you need to be careful to keep the food preparation of the GF lunch box items free from any contact with the gluten containing foods. You will need to keep your hands clean. You will need to use separate cutting boards, knives and other utensils.

Packing a lunch can seem like a chore, especially in the early hours of the morning. But if you have a plan and rhythm to assembling the components of the lunchbox it can easily become part of your routine. And it does not have to be part of your morning routine. Food can easily be prepped and assembled the night before.

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