Lunch is such an important meal—in fact, it’s the main meal that needs to sustain your child during the day until he or she gets home from school. As parents, we’re often not around during lunch (unless we homeschool), so we are not there to encourage our kids to eat. We have less control, so in some ways we need to be more resourceful—to make meals enticing so they 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. Plus, turn to p50 for tasty recipes from my book, Cooking to Heal.
Bento is a single-portion meal (either home-packed or takeout) that is a common Japanese tradition. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables. It’s typically served in a to-go style, box-shaped container. These containers often have a lid, and range from one single container space to options with many small compartments.
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 (see 8 Fun Bento Ideas). 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. Consider:
Traditional bento Chicken; rice; green beans or freeze-dried veggie mix; pear with sunflower butter.
-GF/CF bento Sausage; potato pancakes with shredded veggies; frozen peas; strawberries with chocolate nut butter dipping sauce.
-GF/CF egg-free bento PB&J with sunflower butter or nut butter with jam; carrot/parsnip chips; freeze-dried blueberries.
-GF/CF egg-free and nut-free bento Sandwich with sliced lunch meat free of nitrates/ites and gluten; celery sticks or other veggies for dipping in non-dairy ranch dressing or hummus; 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; mango; frozen, thawed green peas.
Additives To Avoid
Keep in mind that certain common additives can aggravate your child’s sensitivities. Be careful about checking labels so that you can eliminate as many artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives as possible from your child’s diet.
Also avoid trans fats (look out for hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil, margarine, mayo, and commercial peanut butters); artificial sweeteners; high fructose corn syrup; monosodium glutamate (MSG); hydrolyzed vegetable/soy protein; autolyzed yeast and yeast extract; soda and carbonated beverages (unless naturally sparkling); and lunch meats that contain sodium nitrite.
Choosing A Lunch Container
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 open, and others have easier flap styles that don’t require as much dexterity. Toxicity is another issue to consider, since many lunch boxes are made with PVC plastic that has toxic vinyl as well as lead—these should be avoided. For safe lunchbox (and reusable lunch bags), and beverage container choices that are BPA-, phthalate-, and lead-free, check out:
Mimi the Sardine
Savory Lunch Pancake Sandwiches
This lunch uses pancakes for bread because pancakes are a more forgiving “bread” choice for people with multiple food restrictions, and they are easier to make. These “sandwiches” are made with two pancakes as the bread (any non-sweet gluten-free option will do). The chickpea pancakes (see p52)are delicious as a spicy pancake with green chili peppers, or without the green chilis as a savory (but not spicy) pancake.
-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
-Thinly sliced celery half-moons
-Thin pickle slices (naturally fermented)
-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
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 and carrot sticks with dairy-free ranch dressing
-Chicken pancakes and pear sauce (as dip)