Got a kiddo with food allergies and not sure what to pack in their lunches this fall?
I know how hard it can be to pack lunches for kids with multiple food allergies. When we transitioned from homeschooling to doing school outside the home, one of my biggest struggles was figuring out what to pack for my kiddos.
After some trial and error, I found…
8 types of lunches that work well for kids with food allergies.
They’re frugal, healthy, fast, and simple.
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1. DIY Lunchable
This is one of my kids’ favorites. They love making their own lunchables. And I love that they love doing it! Bonus points for having a lunch that kids love to make themselves. BAM!
Of course, you can put anything you want in your DIY lunchable….that’s the beauty of it. But, in our home, it’s pretty much always some deli meat rolls, their favorite crackers, a piece of Chao vegan cheese, and some fresh fruits or veggies.
If you are going to make DIY lunchables a part of your school lunch routine, I recommend you invest in a container with divided compartments. It makes it a lot easier for the kiddos to do it themselves and somehow makes it more fun for them.
If you have a kiddo that loves salads (I have one of these), salads make a fantastic lunch option. When we make salad for dinner, we always chop double the ingredients that we need so we can have salad for the next day or two without having to get out the knives and cutting board. We store all our salad ingredients a la carte in mason jars. They keep up to 5 days when stored this way. It’s easy for my 6-year-old to pull out the jars and mix her own little salad to throw in her lunch box. It takes just a few minutes and is such a healthy, fresh, and frugal option.
My kiddos love to have smoothies in their lunches. I think a lot of people forget that they can make a great entrée in our kids’ school lunches. Of course, we all know that the bonus with smoothies is that they are fantastic for getting our kids to eat their fruits and are great at hiding all kinds of veggies! There are a ton of smoothie recipes out there and I encourage you to experiment until you find one that your kids love.
You can find our favorite sweet smoothie recipe here. If you’re going to make smoothies regularly, I recommend finding a recipe you love with hidden veggies in them. Here are some great smoothie recipes to try with hidden veggies!
The trick to keeping the smoothies cold until lunch time is having a good thermos – we bought this one a year ago and have loved it. It keeps hot food hot and cold food cold! To keep the smoothie cold for several hours, simply freeze the empty thermos for at least 15 minutes before you put the smoothie in it. It works amazingly!
Soups make for a fantastic entrée in your kids’ lunches. My kiddos love to have soup in their lunch. I love that it is cheap, easy, and super healthy. I don’t cook soups just for lunches. Rather, whenever I make a big pot of soup, I set some aside to use later in lunches. It’s one of the ways I streamline my kitchen work – by cooking once and eating twice.
To keep the soup hot until lunch time, we use the same thermos that we use for the smoothies. Instead of putting it in the freezer, we pour boiling water in the thermos, put the lid on it, and let it set for at least 15 minutes to heat the thermos up. After 15 minutes, we pour the hot soup in the thermos and it stays hot until lunchtime.
I think a lot of people overlook leftovers as a viable option for their kids’ lunches. Talk with your kids. See if there are any types of leftovers they would like to try in their lunches. It might surprise you! My kids don’t like all leftovers in their lunches, but there are several they like! My favorite part of sending leftovers in their lunches is that there’s nothing cheaper I can send them with than leftovers. When we overhauled our budget, I quickly learned that I can serve a hot lunch much cheaper than I can serve a cold one. Sending leftovers also reduces the amount of food we waste. So, it really is a win-win.
To keep the leftovers hot…… you guessed it….we use a thermos. We put boiling water in the thermos and let it sit with the lid on for at least 15 minutes. This pre-heats the thermos. Once it’s heated, we add the hot food to the thermos, and it stays hot until lunch.
If you want to win points as a Master Lunch Building Mama, you can send your kids with homemade pizza. Last year, I had plans to make every Friday ‘Pizza Friday’ in my kids’ lunches. I made pizza for school lunches exactly one time in the past 3 years. But I mention it here because it really is a great option to keep in mind when you have a little extra time and energy and want to spoil your kiddos with a special treat. If you are more organized than me, you can make them ahead of time and freeze them. So, it doesn’t have to be a big event when you do it.
Click here to read my blog post about how we make gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free pizzas. We make most of our pizzas with veggie toppings and skip the cheesy alternatives. But, if you are looking for a good cheese alternative on top of your pizza, we like the Follow Your Heart brand as well as the Go Veggie brand.
To freeze pizzas ahead of time, just make them as normal, then put them in the freezer on a baking sheet for 1 hour. Once firm, transfer them to a large freezer bag and freeze up to 3 months. To serve, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake 13-15 minutes until heated thru. If your kids want their pizza hot, you can cut it into slices and put it in the pre-heated thermos. Mine will eat it cold, so I just send it in any container.
I think you can see why I only sent pizza one time – HA! But, I still mention it because it is a fun, fairly inexpensive allergy-free option.
Of course, we also send sandwiches. We try not to do it too often because, as a family with food allergies, sandwiches are one of the most expensive lunches we can send. But I like to keep the ingredients around so the kids can make something quick on days that I don’t have time to help them by preparing the thermos ahead of time.
Sometimes we buy store bought bread. Our favorite gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free store-bought bread is made by Schar. It’s shelf stable and holds up well in lunches. And bonus points because it’s currently found at Costco for a great price.
But, our all-time favorite bread is one we make for ourselves. We make it in our bread maker and it only takes about 3 minutes to dump the ingredients in. I wrote all about it here. The best part about this bread – besides the fact that it only costs $4, is the tastiest and moistest gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free bread we have ever had – is that it doesn’t crumble. We bought a bread maker at our local Goodwill for about $6 and have never looked back. If you’ve got food allergies in your home and are looking for a good bread, I highly recommend you try this! And then write me and tell me how much you love it!
8. Clif Bars
And, last but not least, sometime life is super crazy (or you have that picky kid) and we send a Clif Bar as an entrée with fruits, veggies, and crackers on the side. When I was diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment, we did tons of Clif bars for entrees in their lunches. When we buy them at Costco, they ring in at about .50/bar – making them an affordable and practical option for us.
Hopefully this gives you some inspiration as you face the new school year. I encourage you to take some time right now to make a plan for your back-to-school lunches. Ask your kids what they would like you to serve. Make a plan – a specific plan – for what you want to send them with and how and when you’re going to prepare them.
To find out how we streamline breakfast, check out this breakfast blog!
And, to learn how we put fresh, whole-food dinners on the table in 15 minutes Monday – Friday, check out my new book Dinner in 15 Minutes!
I know the back-to-school transition can be bumpy, but with a little planning ahead, it can be a smoother ride.