Laura Hashiguchi, RD, LD/LDN, with the Celiac Disease Program at Children’s National, shares tips for packing healthy, gluten-free school lunches for kids with celiac disease.
With the new school year, for many parents it means it's time to start packing lunches again! Many parents of kids with celiac disease opt to pack their children's lunches rather than purchase at school, but finding lunches that are gluten-free, portable, and healthy can be a challenge.
As with all meals, start by thinking about the MyPlate guidelines. You want to think about half of the lunch being made up of fruits and veggies, with the other half split between whole grains and protein. The great news is that means at least half of the lunchbox (fruits and vegetables) are naturally gluten-free. Make sure you send a variety of colors throughout the week to make sure your child is getting all the nutrients they need.
The protein and whole grains are sometimes a little more tricky and involve thinking outside the traditional sandwich option. Gluten-free cracker sandwiches can be a fun alternative, especially for kids in elementary school. Send gluten-free crackers, gluten-free lunch meat, and cheese slices and let them make their own sandwiches at school. Corn tortillas or lettuce wraps can also be an alternative to make sandwich wraps with a favorite gluten-free lunchmeat.
Or, think outside the sandwich box altogether! Older kids may like to take a salad to school. Be sure to add protein on top with chicken, hard-boiled eggs, beans, or another type of protein. Tip: send the dressing on the side so it doesn't get soggy. You can also pair a protein such as hard-boiled eggs, hummus, peanut butter, or leftover chicken along with a whole grain such as whole grain crackers, popcorn or homemade whole grain items. Depending on the school, your child may be able to use a microwave to heat up leftovers from the previous night's dinner.
The key is to make sure your child is getting a good variety and eating from all the food groups. With a little bit of planning, school lunches can be healthy and low stress!