Gluten and Dairy Free Lunch Tips and Tricks
for Work, School, or on the Go!
Just a word of warning. This is going to be a long post because I want to provide as much information as I can. The information that I am providing is not only from my experience as a person with Celiac's disease and a dairy allergy, but from my experience being a school teacher as well. Click "Read More" below if you would like to continue.
When it comes to packing lunch you must first assess your situation or the situation of the person you are packing lunch for. You need to consider the following:
- What amenities are available to you or the person you are packing lunch for? - Is there a microwave to heat and reheat food? Is there a refrigerator to store items in or does an ice pack need to be used? If you have an office, desk, locker etc. at work or school, you can store snack items and non-perishable meals for times when you are in a jam. Scroll down and you will see a few meal and snack ideas.
- How much time do you or your loved one have for lunch? - Sometimes you may have to do other things on your lunch break, so you may want to pack something simple and quick. I have a gluten and dairy free meal replacement protein powder that I drink. I recently purchased a blender bottle, which is awesome for properly mixing the powder without any lumps or clumps. There is a whisk inside that blends everything together without any leakage. I purchased my bottle from Walmart for $6.88. Note: Students do not have very much time for lunch. Sometimes about 15 minutes is all they have. Try to pack things that are not only easy to eat, but that your child can enjoy within the time limits. Lunch away from home is not the time to try something new on your child.
- How are you going to package your lunch and snacks? - You want to make sure that you pack your lunch in a way that will keep it fresh. Proper packing also keeps food from going bad. I purchased these divided containers to make packing and portioning out lunch a breeze.
- How much are you willing to spend on lunch? Packaged gluten and dairy free foods can be Very expensive. You will notice that many of the processed or packaged foods that I mention are things that I have purchased on sale.
As a teacher, I have a few tips that can make life a bit easier for a child who has special dietary restrictions at school:
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: Make sure that your child's school and teacher are well informed about what your child can and can not eat. It may sound extreme, but I suggest that you provide your child's teacher, and daycare director as well the school office with a packet of information that includes a letter indicating what your child must avoid, the numbers of where you, and additional emergency contacts can be reached, and what to do in the event that your child accidentally ingests something that he or she should not have. I would also include a list of mainstream items like candy, and treats that your child can have. I had a student who was severely allergic to tree nuts. He was so sensitive that he would have a reaction if the residual tree nut oil from someone's hand's touched him. I had his mother's number in my cell phone in case I had a question. Sometimes I would even call her from the store if I was purchasing treats for the class just to make sure that he could have something.
When children are younger they may not always understand what they can and can not have, so it is important to be their advocate. Simply saying that your child can not have gluten or dairy is not enough, since gluten and dairy tend to be hidden in so many things. Many people can not grasp the severity of an allergy or intolerance until it is too late.
- Many schools require a doctor's note about your child's allergy, or intolerance. If your child has been recently diagnosed, make sure that you get a note before the start of school
- Students do not have long for lunch, so make sure that you pack things that are quick and easy to eat - Smaller children may have trouble opening certain types of containers, so it is important to pack lunch in kid friendly containers or bags. Children can also be picky so try to include things that they enjoy
- Send emergency snacks to leave at school with your child's teacher - If your child brings his or her own lunch to school, there may be an unfortunate time when he or she may forget it. Supply your child's teacher with things that your child can eat if this happens. It is also good to provide allergy friendly snacks or treats for your child to have when the class has special treats. This is especially important when other children bring things like cupcakes to school to celebrate a birthday or class party
Gluten and Dairy Free Lunches
Here are a few pictures of Gluten and Dairy Free lunches that I have made.
I have also included a few on the go snacks that come in handy for days when I am short on eating time. You will notice that I pack many of the same types of veggies and fruits to snack on. I really like apples, carrots and sugar snap peas because they are easy to pack and do not spoil as quickly as some other types of fruits and vegetables. Below is a more detailed list of lunch ideas. :)
While I like to focus on packing fruits, vegetables and lean protein, here are a few snacks that are nice to have on hand from time to time.
I try to make sure that I pack a variety of healthy foods in my lunch. The reason why I do this is because sometimes I never really know what I may be in the mood for. Although some of these overlap, I think it is important to incorporate the following:
- Lean Protein
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Something Crunchy - Most of the time this means crisp veggies, but rice cakes, crackers, nuts or baked chips are good options.
- Something Sweet - Naturally sweet items like fruit is what I pack the majority of the time, but every once in a while I like to have a small serving of a special treat like trail mix, a snack bar, a cookie or brownie etc.
- Make lunch that you and your family will look forward to eating. There is nothing worse than a boring lunch day after day. Kids will not even touch lunch if they are not interested. Trust me, I have had to coax many a child into eating their lunch.
- Homemade Lunchables- I make lunchables for myself, by packing crackers, cut up meat and non-dairy cheese, but you can add thinly sliced vegetables or spreads.
- Just for Kids: Match it up! - Many schools send home a calendar indicating what the monthly lunch menu will be. If you notice that there are chicken nuggets on the menu and your child loves nuggets, try to pack gluten free nuggets so that he or she does not feel left out. You do not need to do this everyday, but it will help your child feel more comfortable when the rest of the class "oohhs" and "ahhs" over the popular menu items.
- Lunch Meat Roll Ups - These are so easy and so versatile. Take a slice of gluten free deli meat and spread it with the spread of your choice: hummus, non-dairy cream cheese, mayonnaise, mustard or a combination etc. Next you can add a piece of non- dairy cheese a piece of lettuce or avocado and roll it up and your are done. Kids like these because they are easy to eat and they are great for times when you do not have bread or are avoiding additional carbohydrates.
- Lettuce wraps - Similar to the lunch meat wraps, but start with lettuce, then your spread, then your fillings. Lettuce wraps are great for chicken, tuna and egg salads.
- Gluten and Dairy Free Sandwiches and Wraps The possibilities are endless! Veggie sandwiches are great option, and you can make things interesting by using hummus, chipotle mayonnaise, honey mustard in addition to other types of gf/df spread and condiment options.
- Salads - Salads can be a great way to get in your veggies. Adding beans provides you with fiber and protein which can help keep you satisfied. Pasta salads work well also. * After washing and cutting up vegetables for salad, I oftentimes pack more than one container for salad throughout the week. The cool thing about doing this is that although you have the same salad base, using different toppings and dressing provides you with variety.
- Leftovers - Leftovers can be great, because they are an extension of dinner and do not require too much work. Keep in mind however, that some require warming. For kids who normally do not have microwave access at school, it is important try to pack things that taste good cold like gluten and dairy free quesadillas, or pizza.
- Soup - Homemade or canned soup can be great for lunch. Whenever I make soup, I like to freeze some of it in single portioned containers. I can then take it out of the freezer the night before so that it will be thawed and ready to eat by lunch time the next day. A thermos is also a neat way to transport warm soup to work or school. I recently learned that some Progresso soups are gluten free!
- Thai Kitchen Meals - Thai Kitchen has a few gluten and dairy free meals which are great for lunch when you are short on time. Just add water. Warning - These tend to be high in sodium, so I suggest using only half a packet or less of seasoning. I do not eat these often because of the sodium, but I used to keep some in my desk at work for times when I forgot lunch or did not have time to pack something at home. It was great knowing that I had something waiting for me. Some varieties are also vegan.
- Cereal - If you have a microwave available, packing a gluten and dairy free hot cereal can be a great lunch. I like to put the dry cereal in a microwavable container and I just add water when I get to work. Not only is this easy to put together, but it can be jazzed up by adding nuts, fresh or dried fruit, agave nectar, honey, or almond milk. I have even added a teaspoon of peanut butter to Mighty Tasty cereal and it was delicious! You can also do this with cold cereal. Just pack it in a container and pack the non-dairy milk of your choice in another container to combine at lunch. Just make sure that you can keep the milk cold enough.
- Gluten/ Dairy free Entree - If you have microwave access, heating a gluten and dairy free entree can make life rather easy. Although I do not buy these often, sometimes it is nice to have a gluten and dairy free entree in the freezer for emergency days. Admittedly, I am frugal, so I do not buy many of these, unless they are on sale.