As if thinking of lunches for your kids in general wasn’t hard enough, we food allergy parents have the added task of thinking of safe lunches… that our kids will actually eat, and enjoy! Oh, what fun!
Jillian is starting 6th grade this year, which means I’ve packed approximately 10 bazillion lunches for her since Kindergarten. (That’s my mommy-estimating, there (momstimating???)… i.e. what it sure feels like!) Real calculations? Six years multiplied by 180 school days gives you over 1,000 lunches that had to be packed. By me. Not taking into account weekends, holidays, summer breaks, and the five years prior to starting Kindergarten. Trust me when I say I’ve got a handle on more than a few tried and true lunch ideas that are milk-free, egg-free, peanut-free and tree nut-free.
She’s being homeschooled this year, which is whole new thing for us. Being 11 years old and in middle school, she’s finally old enough to make her own lunch. Granted, she’s probably been old enough to help me pack her lunches in the mornings before school for a while now, but I never really asked for her help. Guess I have no room to complain, huh?
Anywho, lucky for me, she’s actually taken quite a liking to cooking and preparing meals and snacks! What do you know??? It must be all the Food Network shows she’s been watching this summer… Whatever the reason, I’m thrilled, and I hope it lasts!
She and I put our heads together to come up with five of her absolute favorite allergy-friendly lunches, complete with sides, that are easy to make, healthy and yummy!
Lunch Idea #1 – Tuna Salad with Crackers
You can get our family’s favorite dairy-free and egg-free tuna salad recipe here. It’s super simple — just 3 ingredients. However, you can jazz it up however you like, by adding celery or chopped onions.
Jillian has always LOVED tuna salad. In sandwich form, on crackers or just by itself.
In this case, we’re recommending packing it with your child’s favorite crackers, grape tomatoes, celery and a Kind Bar.
Healthy, delicious and enough protein to get them through the rest of the day!
Lunch Idea #2 – Pasta with “Butter”
Pasta with dairy-free “butter,” or margarine, has been a staple of Jillian’s meals for as long as I can remember. It’s like her version of mac and cheese. She will never turn down a bowl of the stuff!
Luckily, we’ve found several egg-free pasta options at our local grocery store. And, for Jillian at least, even the pastas that are “manufactured in a facility that uses eggs” have been perfectly safe. However, use your own judgement there based on your own child’s allergies. Eggs are her “lowest” allergen of the four (with milk being her highest), so we take calculated “risks” with eggs and have never had an issue.
As for the dairy-free margarine, we use Smart Balance Light in the light blue container. It’s her favorite, although you can find a few other options out there.
Jillian prefers that her pasta stay warm for lunch, so I heat up the pasta, pour it in a thermos, dollop on some Smart Balance Light, and she’s good to go for lunch! The heat of the pasta in the thermos melts the margarine, and by lunchtime all the pasta is perfectly coated.
You’ll want to pair this lunch with sides that don’t need to be kept cool, because throwing an ice pack in with the hot pasta is just counter productive.
We recommend a banana with Sunbutter for dipping, corn with pepper sprinkled on it some delicious homemade trail mix.
Lunch Idea #3 – Ham & Cucumbers
Ham lunchmeat with cucumber slices is a relatively new lunch idea I’ve tried that both of my kids absolutely love! You can totally use any kind of lunchmeat your kiddo likes. Both of mine prefer ham (while I’m more of a turkey girl, myself). I try to get the healthiest lunchmeat whenever possible. Applegate Farms has really delicious lunchmeats that are free of antibiotics and added nitrates and nitrites.
Both kids will eat ham lunchmeat in lots of different ways — in sandwiches, rolled up with vegan cheese, as a side with crackers — but a fun combo we’ve discovered is to pair the ham with sliced cucumbers. It’s a little salty and a little refreshing, all at the same time. I like to prepare it like this:
Each bite of ham comes with a slice of cucumber. Mouthwatering perfection!
Since these foods are yummy chilled, you can pop an ice pack in their lunch and add some cooler sides, like soy or coconut yogurt, frozen berries and popcorn for another salty treat on the tastebuds!
Lunch Idea #4 – Sunbutter & Jelly Sandwich
Currently, this is much more my non-allergic son’s favorite than it is my daughter’s. Although, she definitely went through a phase where she loved these, and they’re such a staple of kids’ lunches, I just had to include it.
I remember when I first discovered Sunbutter. My daughter had been diagnosed with a peanut allergy for over a year, and I hadn’t tasted peanut butter in a looooooooooooong time! I stumbled upon a sample cup of Sunbutter, and popped it open. Terrified to try it, because I had been burned before trying things like soynut butter (which I hated!), I tasted a tiny bit on my finger. HEAVEN!!!!! It was, and still is, the absolute closest thing to peanut butter I have ever tasted. It’s not quite as sweet as peanut butter, but we’ve all grown to love that about it, and I actually prefer Sunbutter now. Paired with my favorite jelly — grape — it makes the perfect sandwich. 🙂
Since this sandwich is on the sweet side, I like to throw in something salty, like pretzels. And round lunch off with some dried fruit and maybe a couple homemade no-bake cookies for dessert.
Lunch Idea #5 – Make-Your-Own Lunchable
Lunchables. Groan!!!! I have a love-hate relationship with them, as do a lot of other parents, I’m sure. They’re so darn convenient, yet so unhealthy! They have SO MANY different options nowadays that our kids just sit and stare at the Lunchable selection in Publix, pondering all the fantastic lunches they could possibly eat. Unless you’ve got food allergies, in which case your selection is limited to one… maybe. Or none.
Through the years, I’ve found two safe (milk, egg and nut-free) Lunchable options for Jillian — only one of which exists today. They used to have a tiny chicken nugget meal that was safe, but they changed their recipe, and now the chicken is breaded in milk, or eggs, or both, I can’t remember. The one safe option now is little hamburger sliders (if she tosses the Reese’s Pieces dessert pack that comes with it… or gives it to Mom!). And I do let her get them from time to time because, for one, hamburgers are her favorite food EVER! And also, if there’s a remotely convenient option for the occasional lunch that I don’t have to make from scratch, I’m buying it! Again, after making approximately 10 bazillion lunches from scratch, I’ll happily take a short-cut now and then.
But I digress… I want to show you how simple it is to create your own basic Lunchable at home, with safe foods for your kiddo.
- Ritz crackers
- Applegate Farms lunchmeat
- Dairy-free cheese slices (Jillian’s fave are Tofutti American slices)
Have a round cookie cutter handy? Great! If not, how about a small measuring cup? Cut the lunchmeat and cheese slices into circles that somewhat fit on the crackers, and that’s it! Voila, homemade allergy-friendly lunchables!
Good sides for this lunch are baby carrots with Kraft Creamy Italian dressing (tastes like a dairy-free ranch) for dipping and some applesauce.
Jillian made a video showing just how easy it is to make these dairy-free lunchables at home. Put your kids to work – they can easily do it themselves!
And there you have it! A solid week’s worth of dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free lunches for back to school. I’d love to hear some of your own ideas! Share your kiddos favorite allergy-friendly lunch in the comments!