Lunch is such an important meal—in fact, it’s the main meal that needs to sustain your child during the day until they get home from school. As parents, we’re often not around during lunch (unless we homeschool), so we are not there to encourage them to eat. We have less control, so in some ways we need to be more resourceful—to make meals enticing so children will want to eat it themselves. Here are some of my favorite ideas for making lunch time fun, delicious and nutritious—and within the parameters of your special diet.
- Leftovers from night before, such as burger patty and vegetables, heated or not as desired
- Chicken nuggets with sweet potato fries and green beans
- Homemade burrito prepared in the morning and kept warm in Thermos
- Homemade soup or stew kept warm in a Thermos
- Sandwich with gluten-free bread and good protein (such as egg salad, salmon salad, roasted chicken) with frozen (thawed on way to school) or freeze-dried peas and a fruit
- Sandwich using Chicken Pancakes as bread (see Savory Lunch Pancake Sandwiches), plus a vegetable such as sliced red pepper and a fruit like blueberries.
Bento Boxes and Lunches
Bento is a single-portion meal (either home-packed or takeout) common Japanese tradition. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables. It’s typically in a to-go style, box-shaped container. These containers often have a lid, and range from one single container space, to those with many small compartments.
Bento can go from a homemade lunch to a work of art. Bento is known for its creative and fun use of food. For example, rice mounds and hardboiled eggs in various shapes, or food decorated with eyes and a mouth cut out of a nori seaweed sheet.
Bento is fun and it’s conducive to special diets. Special diets are often choices other than sandwiches and frequently require a container for your food. For example, “fruit chews” do not require a container since they come in a plastic wrapper (not recommended). While, a more nutritious choice of cut up mango, would require a container with a lid.
Bento Lunchbox Ideas
- Green beans or Freeze-dried veggie mix
- Pear with sunflower butter
- Potato pancakes with shredded veggies
- Frozen peas
- Strawberries with chocolate nut butter dipping sauce
GFCF egg-free Bento
- “PB&J” Sunflower butter or nut butter with jam
- Carrots and parsnip chips
- Freeze-dried blueberries
GFCF Egg-free and nut-free Bento
- Sandwich with sliced lunch meat free of nitrates/ites and gluten-free
- Celery sticks or other veggies for dipping in non-dairy ranch, hummus, or plain
- Apple Kraut
- Coconut date balls
Grain- and starch-free bento
- Beef burger
- Fruit such as golden delicious apple sliced with sunflower butter dipping sauce
- Spaghetti squash
- Nut or coconut muffin
Specific Carbohydrate Diet Bento
- Bean burger wrapped in kale or lettuce leaves
- Hardboiled egg
- Butternut squash
- Frozen, thawed green peas
Choosing a Lunch Container: Product Spotlight
Lunch containers need to be functional, as well as fun. Consider the style of lid it has—some have seals that are difficult for children to do, and others have easier flap styles that don’t require as much dexterity.
Also, toxicity is an issue to consider. Many lunch boxes are made with PVC plastic that has toxic vinyl as well as lead – these should be avoided.
I researched lunch box choices on my blog recently and wanted to share these safe lunchbox choices. The following is an excerpt from my blog at NourishingHope.com/blog
All of the products and lunchboxes here are BPA-, phthalate-, lead-free, and the food and beverage containers are also plastic-free.
Here are some of my favorites.
Lunchbox Carrying Cases (fill with any of your own containers)
Mimi and the Sardine
Small and soft to squeeze in anywhere
Basic/Classic Lunchboxes without lead or other toxins
Skip Hop, Zoo Lunchies
Adorable animal lunchboxes
Full Lunchbox System
Stainless lunchbox system with carrying case and place for water bottle. Be careful as not all of the compartments are water-tight.
Unique box design folds out for an eating surface and for easy washing. Does include “non-toxic” plastic containers, so consider using your own non-plastic containers instead.
Inside Lunchbox Containers
Lunchbots (stainless steel)
ECOlunchbox (stainless steel)
Reusable Sandwich Bags
Water Bottle (Metal-Free)
Finally a glass water bottle that doesn’t break, and no more metal tasting water! Glass water bottles with a silicone sleeve. 9 oz bottles fit well into most lunch boxes. Even better, these are Life Factory’s baby bottles with a solid cap so they can be reused after baby is older or purchased new if you’re just discovering them. They also have 16 and 22 oz sizes.
Cotton with beeswax coating
Fun Bento Ideas
Green rice with juiced greens shaped into green animal shape such as frog or alligator
Hardboiled egg shaped into various molds
Chicken and veggie pancakes cut out with cookie cutter shapes, even decorated with nut butter and/or jam piping
Heart shaped veggie latkes
Cut face shapes (eyes, nose and mouth) out of nori seaweed sheet and decorate food like a rice ball
Broccoli as mini trees
Mini chicken cupcakes with sweet potato mash piped on like cupcake icing.
Ants on a log with celery, nut butter, and currants
Additives to avoid in lunch packaged foods
- Avoid transfats (interfere with good fats) – avoid hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil, margarine, mayo, and commercial peanut butters
- Eliminate artificial sweetener
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup and sweetened snacks
- Eliminate artificial ingredients (colors, flavors, preservatives)
- Avoid MSG (hydrolyzed vegetable/soy protein, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, even “flavors”)
- Avoid soda and carbonated beverages (unless naturally sparkling)
- Avoid sodium nitrite in lunch meats
Savory Lunch Pancake Sandwiches
This lunch uses pancakes for bread because pancakes are more forgiving of a “bread” choice for people with multiple food restrictions and they are easier to make. These “sandwiches” are make with two pancakes as the bread, and the pancakes are non-sweet pancake varieties, any pancake will do.
The chickpea pancakes are delicious as a spicy pancake with green chili peppers and the cooking
- Non-sweet pancake choices (All 4 of these are also grain-free!)
- Chicken pancakes
- Lentil pancakes
- Chickpea pancakes
- Coconut pancakes
- Nut butter or sunflower seed butter
- Finely chopped egg salad “spread”
- Finely chopped chicken salad
- Avocado sliced or smashed
- Tuna or salmon salad
- Non-dairy Ranch Dressing
- Raw sauerkraut
- Shredded carrots
- Thinly sliced celery half-moons
- Mini arugula
- Thin pickle slices (naturally fermented)
- Banana slices
Sandwich Combination Ideas
- Chicken pancakes with hummus and shredded carrots
- Chicken pancakes with avocado slides and arugula
- Chickpea pancakes with egg salad and thin layer of pickle slices
- Spicy chickpea pancakes with chicken salad and non-dairy Ranch dressing or a drizzle of sour yogurt (if not dairy-free)
- Lentil pancakes with salmon or tuna salad and thin celery slices
- Coconut pancakes (plain or sweet) with sunflower butter and banana slices
Balanced Snacks (two choices together can make lunch):
These snacks each contain some protein and good fat to make a more hearty, sustainable snack.
- Hardboiled egg, deviled eggs or egg salad with sliced cucumber
- Apple or celery with almond butter or sunflower butter (if nut-free)
- Hummus with crunchy raw vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, jicama
- Walnuts or pumpkin seeds and a baked apple or applesauce (no sugar added)
- Avocado and sardines or tuna salad on gluten-free crackers
- Roasted chicken leg or chicken wings carrot sticks with dairy-free Ranch dressing
- Chicken pancakes and pear sauce (as dip)
From Cooking to Heal by Julie Matthews
Chicken Pancakes GFCF/SCD/LOD/BED
1 chicken breast precooked/boiled (Rita – probably about 2/3 lb on breast meat)
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons oil, such as pastured lard or chicken fat or expeller pressed coconut oil (to use while cooking pancakes)
Make six pancakes.
Blend ingredients together in food processor until completely smooth. Mixture will look like thick pancake batter.
Add a dollop of batter to hot, greased pan and cook like a pancake. Batter may need to be spread out into a pancake shape so it’s not too thick.
¼ cup mayonnaise (non-hydrogenated, ideally homemade)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Hard boil eggs. Cool and peel.
Take out yolks and place in bowl or food processor bowl, separate from the whites. Add mayonnaise and mustard to the yolks with salt and blend in the food processor or by hand. Finely chop egg whites or quickly pulse egg whites in food processor (not too much), then stir in yolk mixture by hand.
GFCF Ranch Dressing Dip GFCF
Can be made nut-free with hemp cream in place of cashew cream. Can even be made egg-free using an egg-free mayo.
3/4 cup cashew cream or non-dairy yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar (with yogurt, less lemon or vinegar may be needed, add to taste)
1 teaspoon parsley (dried)
3/4 teaspoon dill
1/4 teaspoon garlic
¼ teaspoon onion
1/8 teaspoon salt
Make a cashew cream:
Blend 1/2 cup cashews plus 1/2 cup hot or boiling water in blender until a thick cream. Measure out ¾ cup to use in the dip. Set rest aside for another use later.
Add rest of ingredients and whisk until blended together.
Chill and serve as a dip.
Makes 16 servings
Chickpea Pancakes GFCF
These are just like the Chickpea Flour Pancakes but made with soaked chickpeas (garbanzo bean) instead of pea flour. Soaked whole beans/peas are easier to find and more digestible.
Just like the others, these can be made with or without the hot peppers. While they may make it too spicy for children or be difficult with digestive disturbances, many adults find the peppers a delicious addition. Include them or eliminate them based on your needs.
2 ½ to 3 cups garbanzo beans (soaked for 8 hours, drained and well rinsed)
1 onion (finely minced)
1 ½ tablespoon fresh peeled ginger (finely minced)
½ cup fresh cilantro (finely chopped)
1-3 fresh green chili peppers (finely minced with seeds)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ to 2 cups of water
1/3 cup of oil for cooking (such as expeller pressed coconut oil)
Blend soaked beans in blender or food processor. Mix everything together except the water and oil. Add the water to make a batter of pourable consistency (medium thickness). Whip with a fork to make it fluffy. Set aside for 30 minutes—the batter will continue to thicken.
Heat iron skillet or pan and add a bit oil to cook. Cook as you would pancakes. Add a bit of oil to the hot pan and pour batter with a ladle then spread the batter out slightly to make a thin pancake. Cooking until golden brown.
Serve plain or with a “yogurt” sauce. Yogurt sauce can be made with non-dairy yogurt, cashew cream, or homemade yogurt (if allowed).
Makes 12 pancakes
*Originally appeared in the Autism Film magazine.