OK In Health - Gluten Free Goodness

The Dreaded School Lunch Dilemma - September 2022

How to make it kid friendly and gluten free.

By Cathy Lauer

stainless steel kids lunch container

Where did the summer go! In a very brief amount of time you will once again be faced with packing school lunches for yourself and or your children. When parents think of kid’s packed lunches they want them to be nutritious yet easy on the budget. When kids think of packed lunches they want fun, tasty and fashionable. Add gluten free into the mix and making a packed lunch that suits both parent and child can be a bit of a challenge. Hopefully over the summer you have read a few books and familiarized yourself with the yes’s and no’s of the gluten free diet. If not here are a few reminders for you as well as some suggestions for packing nutritious, kid friendly and budget friendly school lunches.

        As always the first rule of eating gluten free successfully is to read the label. Watch out for malt syrup or flavouring. It adds sweetness and colour but it is NOT gluten free. For a good list of what to avoid go to the Canadian Celiac Association web site so you will have a good idea of what to avoid when shopping.        

        My second rule about kids and food is to get them involved. Before you even hit the grocery store sit down with your kids. Make a chart with each child’s name and the 3 basic food groups; protein, starch, fruit/vegetable. This doesn’t have to be fancy unless you are the kind of person to go all out on these things and make them permanent fixtures on your fridge or the kitchen wall, like me. Make a list under each persons name with their choices for each group. Don’t choose for them or this won’t work. Some kids are going to have more choices than others and that is just personal taste.

   Over time even the pickiest eater will start to add new things to their list. Before going to bed everyone makes their own packed lunch. Allow one choice each from protein and starch and two or more from fruit/vegetable. Add a healthy drink and a treat and you’re done.

    Always leave meat, cheese and vegetable choices in the fridge overnight but make sure they are portioned and wrapped so it is a quick transfer to the lunch bag in the morning. Even a kindergartener can participate in this process. It will encourage healthy eating by teaching the food groups and what constitutes a balanced diet. Kids are also more likely to eat a lunch if it has their choice of foods in it. When prepared ahead in this way it also teaches organizational skills and takes the stress out mornings.

  Rule number 3 is NEVER go shopping without a list. You will be less likely to impulse shop if you have a list and you will also be more likely to buy things that will actually get eaten if it is what someone has requested. If you are on a budget, a list will certainly help to remind you to only get what is on the list. Be sure to let the kids know when you are going shopping so they too can make additions to the list IF it is a choice off their lunch list.

        With so many more companies getting on the gluten free bandwagon the choices of pre-packaged foods that are actually safe for those on a gluten free diet has ballooned. Granted, some of them do not look or taste all that great, but the majority will pass the kid test and still look cool in a lunchbox. Lunchables are a popular glutinous lunchbox meal that are really easy to make gluten free. Glutino makes really good gluten free crackers in several flavours and Freybes and Grimms both make gluten and dairy free meats that can be cut into little circles to fit with the crackers. Almost all cheeses are gluten free and the goat, dairy free and vegan cheeses have improved considerably over the years. Substitute the meat for hummus or a nut butter and you have a vegetarian lunchable. If you want to make it look the same go to a discount or dollar store and get a divided lunch size container. Now you have a gluten free lunch that is tasty, cool, budget friendly and environmentally friendly.

        One of my kid’s favourite things to take in their lunch was leftovers from dinner the night before. Thermos makes really nice containers for taking hot foods such as soups, stews or other hot meals. Leftover pizza is also a great lunch treat as many kids prefer it cold anyway. Make extra on pizza night and lunch for the next day is solved. Putting soups, stews and other hot foods in single serving containers in the freezer can also be a lifesaver for those days when there is nothing in the fridge to pack for lunch.

        Home baked goods are also a great thing for lunches. Muffins, granola bars and cookies can be kept in the freezer, then pop them in the lunch bag frozen and they will be thawed by lunchtime. I like to keep the container that the muffin papers come in as a container to put my muffin in for lunch. That way it won’t get crushed. Homemade breadsticks, pizza pretzels and bagels are also great lunch items for kids and adults alike. Add a small container of pizza sauce to dip in and you’re set.

        Lastly, kids like a treat. Cookies, cake or some junky kind of thing you really don’t want them to have all the time. Being on a gluten free diet doesn’t mean your kids have to give these things up. There are many kinds of healthy, kid friendly snacks that are pre-packaged and gluten free. Many varieties of real fruit gummies, fruit leathers, chips and nuts are gluten free and come in single serving packages. Glutino makes very tasty gluten free pretzels in single serving bags. There are many kinds of health bars that are also gluten free. No Nuttin’ and Larabar make several kid friendly flavours. Always watch out for oats or oat flour in health bars.

        Hopefully this information is empowering and not overwhelming. Gluten free is not the millstone it used to be. Many stores have gluten free aisles now or at least gluten free options next to the wheat ones and new products are coming on the market all the time. Gluten free baking is getting better all the time and there is no reason not to be able to pack a delicious, nutritious and cool lunch that you and your kids will love.


Cathy LauerCathy's Bio: Cathy Lauer has been cooking/baking gluten/dairy free for 17 years. She has written 3 all baking cookbooks and has a gluten free baking blog/store. In her spare time she loves to garden in a big way with fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. She is a classically trained singer and loves to read and collect recipe books. She homeschools her youngest son (11) and has 3 grown children and is grandmother of 2. Cathy's Gluten Free Creations Ltd. Gourmet Gluten Free Baking. Cookbooks and Baking Mixes. 250-758-5232 - Cathy Lauer Website - Email

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