The kids are back in school and the lazy days of summer are over. September is a great time for renewal, but it is also a time where you end up juggling so many things at once. It is a time for meal prep, homework, after school activities, playdates, field trips, drop off, pick up and of course, packing school lunch!
When your child has food allergies, especially multiple food allergies, packing school lunch is usually a must. It takes time, patience, planning, organization and, of course, a variety of safe food choices. Now, if you are like our family and you are packing two lunches or more, then planning ahead is even more important.
See below for 5 steps that will make it easier when packing school lunch!
Steps in Packing an Allergy-Friendly School Lunch
- Focus on what your child can have, instead of what they can’t. It’s so helpful to remember all the foods your child can have when they have food allergies, instead of always thinking of the ones they can’t. Once you do that, make a list, go through it with your child and talk about some options they would like to see in their lunch. Let them give you the ideas and be sure to write them all down.
- Purchase all the groceries. As time goes on this gets easier because you will know the brands of food that are safe and you will have your go-to items. If you are just beginning, start slow and call a couple of manufacturers a week to see what items are safe. Also, having your child eat whole foods, like fruits and vegetables makes life easier in regards to allergies as well as boosting their nutrition.
- Plan your lunch-packing time. Set a time the day before to pack the lunches. Don’t do it in the morning. The mornings are full enough with preparing breakfast, making sure children are dressed, teeth brushed, book bags packed, etc. Every afternoon after pick up I start their lunches for the next day. For us this happens around 4pm. During that time they are doing homework or just hanging out. Try out different times and see what works for your family.
- Make it fun. Yes, I said fun:) If your kids are little, get items that make the lunches cute. Buy small cups that are different shapes and colors, sandwich and fruit cutters and cute picks. Check out Amazon for these items. https://www.amazon.com/Sandwich-Bread-Cutters-Vegetables-Supplies/dp/B08XWY33FJ/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=lunch+supplies+for+kids&qid=1663001362&sr=8-3 Sometimes children with food allergies can feel left out, but with a lunch box with all of these little extras all the other children will want a lunch like this too! It also makes the process more fun for you! It turns out to be kind of like a quick craft project. And who doesn’t like crafting?:) Don’t worry, it may look time consuming, but these additions will take no more than five minutes extra and it is so worth it to see the smile on your child’s face. Take a look at my school lunch page for more ideas https://eatinghealthy4life.com/healthy-lunches-for-kids/
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Keep a list on your phone of the lunches you make the current week and take a look back the following week to see if your children are okay with repeating. They don’t need a different lunch every day of the month. It is okay to repeat. If they are getting a nutritious and safe lunch, that’s a success!
Need some ideas to start?
Here are some ideas on what to pack to give you a head start on your personal list. I always like to have a starch, fruit and/or veggie, and a protein for the main lunch. For snack time I put in more of a fun option, like a baked chip or granola bar.
Break it down into categories:
- Whole grain starch: tortilla, pita, bread, pancake, waffle, rice, pasta, crackers, muffins, pizza. So many gluten free lunchbox options as well! Take a look! https://thismessisours.com/100-gluten-free-lunchbox-recipes/
- Protein: beans, lunch meat, seed butter, dairy options (if no dairy allergy): cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, egg (if no allergy), tuna, salmon (if no fish allergy)
- Fruit: options are endless; fresh fruit, dried fruit, applesauce, fruit pouches
- Veggies: carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, celery, peppers. Adding a dip with a veggie option, such as salad dressing, hummus or a safe spread, such as a seed butter is always a winner with my kids.
Want to make this even easier?
Pack up what you had the night before for dinner and you are set! You may want to add a piece of fruit as well, but since dinner usually has a protein, starch and veggie within the dinner, there is very little prep. This is great for nights that you have after-school activities or have to work late.
What do I pack the school lunch in?
There are so many options for packing school lunches. Bento boxes are the popular thing right now and have been for as long as I can remember. Our favorites are:
Still need some more inspiration?
Take a look at Pinterest for some fun ideas allergy-friendly school lunches. Just don’t get overwhelmed. These pictures are intense sometimes. Make it easy on yourself. As long as your children are getting in the nutrition they need and are staying safe you have done your job! https://www.pinterest.com/JennyKales/nut-free-school-lunches/
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Elizabeth Pecoraro is a registered dietitian nutritionist that specializes in overall wellness and weight loss as well as pediatric food allergies. She provides individualized nutrition services for families navigating food allergies. She offers 1:1 counseling, meal planning services and she is currently creating an online course for parents of children with food allergies. Her Top 9 allergen free cookbook will be out in the summer of 2023. For more personalized information, click here and book a session with Elizabeth.