Lunchbox Ideas for the GFCF Diet
–Meghan Cox Gurdon, The Fever Swamp/National Review Online
Filling the Lunchbox
Fillling up a GFCF diet lunchbox can be torture, but after years of doing this almost unspeakable task I have some ideas to share which I hope will help you. While my mantra is always “keep it simple,” some kinds of simplicity cost more than others. I have found that my four children will eat healthier foods if I play up the “fun” factor, and focus on what they DO get rather than don’t get.
I don’t make my non-spectrum kids eat gfcf all of the time – but I have learned that they are all healthier when we cut out the junk and sugar, including extra carbs. (Not all carbs, just not tons of unhealthy carbs.) Remember, the spice of life is variety, not sugar.
When I started this crazy health food diet, the little dudes didn’t complain, babies will eat anything, especially stuff off the carpet. But my 7 year old was beside himself for a long time. He was mortified that he no longer had Jell-o pudding snack packs in his lunchbox like his friends and hated everything he got- this is when the “fun” factor thing was hatched. He would start whining, and at first I would apologize, (I felt baaad.) But now if he complains I simply say, I love you too much to let you eat that. How can he argue with that? Now as he is nearing 10, he will occaisionally say, I wish we used white bread, but I get the feeling it is almost out of habit- when I shot back- you don’t really think that stuff tastes better than the bread we eat, do you? He looked kind of smug and said nothing. He is probably trading everything with his buddies for Reddi-pak nuclear cheez-n-crackers.
Daily GFCF Diet Lunchbox Formula
The gfcf lunchbox for most days is a simple formula: Protein, fruit , vegetable, nut/seed, an “extra” (which may be a dessert, occasionally) and a small water bottle. You heard me, water. Having your kids drink water is one of the most effective ways to cut their sugar intake.
We don’t really rely that much on prepackaged gfcf foods, so it is less expensive and there are fewer labels to read. The unexpected off shoot of using this formula is that it makes it easier for the kids to pack their own lunches, and it is reinforced every day what makes a balanced meal.
Here is a typical lunch: Turkey sandwich on rice bread, apple, carrot sticks, almonds, corn chips, water. Simple. And plenty to eat. Below are some ideas to mix and match, and after that are ways to up the fun if you want to get all fancy.( Or check out the menu at the top for a little more organized way to find everything.) The trick is variety. (Remember to only choose what your child can eat- we don’t have nut allergies for example, and one of my kids is allergic to practically everything else. (See the disclaimers.) We get nearly all of this at our local health food store.
-Hard boiled egg. (with a little salt shaker) Click here to see how to make a boring egg into a stormtrooper! But first, watch this.
-Turkey, chicken or beef lunchmeat rolled up in a GFCF corn tortilla (Applegate Farms lunchmeat is good.) Or if you are sensitive to corn, try a big piece of romaine to wrap it up.
-Tuna salad made with Spectrum Canola mayo. Or chicken, if you are avoiding seafood for mercury concerns.
-Chicken chunks mixed with blueberries and a few almonds.
-Hotdogs (Applegate Farms) my kids like them cold, sliced into wheels and put in a snack sized container. Give them a toothpick to eat them with and all the other kids will want one. You can also heat them put them in foil and put them in a thermos.
-Peanut butter in a snack size container for dipping carrots, celery, etc.
- Homemade hummus on bread, in containers for dipping, as a mayo substitute.
Fruit and vegetable ideas:
The trick with getting kids to eat fruits and veges at school is to give them a small amount and make them easy/ fun to eat. For example, no kid is going to waste his whole lunch hour peeling an orange, but he may eat it if it is already peeled or cut into wedges. Also, no child I have ever met will eat raw zuchini sticks, but will happily gobble up zuchini muffins. Use your imagination.
-orange wedges (You know, the kind that you stick the whole thing in your mouth, rind and all, and you look like an incredibly dorky monkey.)
-celery sticks (with dip or they will throw them out.)
-cucumber cut into wheels
-whole apples, pears, etc.
-put them in a sandwich. My kids like hummus with cucumbers and sprouts. Really. Innovate!
Fun to eat – Dip Ideas:
My kids will eat anything if it has dip. Try pureed avacado (If they are sophisticated tell them it’s guacamole, if they are 8 year old boys tell them you cooked Yoda and put him in the blender. They won’t believe you, but they will still tell all their friends that is what they are eating.)
Tip: only give them a small bit in the bottom of a snack sized container, they just don’t have enough time to eat.
-a little GFCF mayo mixed with dill for Dill Dip
- One leftover baked potato(peeled), little bit of mayo, 2 cloves of garlic. Blenderize.
-Annie’s Naturals has a lot of different salad dressings that are gfcf and sugar free.
-make “fry sauce”: combine equal parts gfcf mayo, ketchup, mustard and gfcf pickles. Mmmm.
-gfcf pizza/ tomato/spaghetti sauce (Muir Glen is good)
-pumpkin pie dip: pureed pumpkin or sweet potato mixed with pumpkin pie spice and a little honey. This is good with apple or pear slices. If your kids like Hogwarts, they will eat this.
Sneaky fruits and veggies:
-You can bake almost any pureed veggie into a muffin and kids will eat it.
-Add a bit of pureed veggie to mayo and call it dip. Heck, it’s practically food coloring. 1 Tblsp. of pumpkin mixed with mayo and you have ATOMIC ORANGE dip. Maybe my kids are just gullible but they fall for it every time. They think it’s cool. Coolness also helps at school with the punks who are going to make fun of your kid because his lunch is weird. I am sure when they grow up and find out what they were really eating they will have nothing but admiration for my awesome skills. It takes time for children to learn to stand up for themselves. My oldest son is funny- If one of the kids starts giving him a hard time, he will grab something from his antagonist’s lunch box and start reading the ingredients off the label. Then he adds the disease that goes with it. He goes “High fructose corn syrup: diabetes. Aspartame: cancer. Good luck with that.”
-I never use jelly or jam. Too much sugar. If they want a peanut butter sandwich, they get p/b and banana. Or celery. Or strawberry. But they don’t really like the celery one as much.
-Sometimes when I make hummus I puree veggies in with it. They don’t even know they are there.
-Really picky toddlers can be fooled into eating small amounts of veggies pureed into applesauce. Can you tell I love the food processor?
-Puree simple cooked veggies for pasta sauces. (i.e. spinach is alien sauce. Cooked aliens, caught ‘em myself in my space trap. I’m not kidding.)
-applesauce in a tube. I think the brand is Walnut Acres.
-gfcf cookies. We live for Enjoy Life cookies!!
-“snack mix” which means taking raisins, nuts, seeds, gfcf cereal, blueberries, or what ever and mixing it up. It is a great way to use up the last bits in the bag. The kids love making it and think it is a treat even though it really is nothing special. I guess it is more than the sum of it’s parts. Sometimes I chuck a hand full of M&Ms in the baggies for the non gfcf kids when the gfcf kids aren’t looking.
-baggie of gfcf cereal
-any kind of gfcf muffins
The trick here is variety. Put something new in, you will be suprised what your kids will eat. We use pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, peanuts, almonds, really whatever is on sale in the organic aisle that week. One tip, don’t put in nuts that need to be shelled, even peanuts, they don’t have time to eat them-they don’t want anything cutting in to their recess time.
Upping the fun (when nothing else works.)
I have found that often the kids don’t care what they are eating if it is fun enough to eat it. This first became a problem when my son started hanging around with a bunch of kids who brought Lunchables to school every day. He felt left out, and while I usually would give them a lecture about daring to different, being a leader not a follower, yadda yadda, in this instance I took it personally that he felt like his nutritious food wasn’t good enough. I don’t blame him, I blame the evil food companies who market their stupid unhealthy products to kids and the clueless parents who buy them. Thus, Smunchables were born. (We called them Smunchables because we use the word “smunchy” to indicate anything particularly delectable: i.e. cookies can be smunchy, but so can kisses, baby cheeks and whiskers on kittens.)
We set out to make the coolest, funnest, most awesome lunch boxes ever. the first thing we did was to go shopping for props. Props are the essential bit that takes the focus off the food and on to the packaging, much like the dastardly food companies. When the back to school “sales” were over I noticed a huge bin of lunchboxes at Wal-mart (that they were obviously trying to get rid of) for 2 bucks each. I let the kids pick out a few each. This was the best move! Not only did they bring a cool different lunch box every day, but we weren’t left in the lurch when they accidentally left one at school. I don’t know why, but this gave my son major street cred. Click here for a way to make a plain, plastic lunch box the envy of every kid in school.
The next things we bought were snack size containers for all the dips, toothpicks, and tiny wooden cocktail forks. The toothpicks and cocktail forks were of course, for picking up the food, and this is their favorite part. All of the other kids were coveting those cocktail forks! (I found them accidentally at the fancy grocery store in town.)
Another fun thing to do is to make salt shakers out of film canisters. (Poke a few holes in the lid.) Or you can reuse small size spice containers. This was a big hit. You could put salt in for hard boiled eggs, or cinnamon for apples. The only tip here is to just put in a little, because of course they go overboard and make everything inedible.
I think the best part of this was it did a lot to help my boys who are not on the spectrum to feel like I cared about them as much as the kids with special needs who seem to get all the time and “special” treatment.
-small container of pizza sauce
-toothpicks or cocktail forks
-sausages cut into wheels, perfect for dipping
-green pepper strips
-gfcf crackers or rice cakes (the tiny ones are good if you can find them) – or try our GFCF pizza crust recipe!
-any other pizza topping you can think of that your child can eat.
-I would also throw the kids off the spectrum a cheese stick.
-small container of peanut butter for dipping
-apple slices dipped in lemon juice (to keep them from browning.)
-gfcf crackers, rice cakes, or bread cut into small squares
-grapes (with toothpicks)
-a few gfcf chocolate chips for dessert
- small container of tomato sauce/a little gfcf chili pepper or gfcf salsa
- gfcf corn chips
-tiny hamburger meatballs
-small container with beans and rice
-small container of avacado dip
-cheese stick for the non spectrum kids
A lot of Moms probably write notes to their kids and put them in their lunch box, but we take it a step further. It is much more fun to get a note from Dad! My kids also like to write notes to each other and sneak them into lunchboxes when no one is looking. They like to put in dumb jokes and riddles. We have also done continuing stories, where they only get one or two lines of an exciting story I make up as I go along with them as the heroes, of course. They don’t have to be complicated or sophisticated. One of their favorite stories is one my husband made up about magical flying unicorns that take them to Disneyworld.
One of the best things I ever did was to use my daughters Asperger’s obsession to encourage her to use better social skills and manners. She was (and still is) obsessed with Harry Potter, so I wrote her a small story everyday with the main character doing the things we were working on. It was all about Hermione’s magical adventures in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, during meal times. Hermione of course, said hello to everyone, gave them personal space, and tried hard to look people in the eye. When it was hard she would put a spell on herself to make it easier. Sounds boring, but my AS daughter ate it up. (Not literally, she hasn’t eaten paper for years!)
Don’t get discouraged-we certainly don’t do stuff like this everyday, and it took us a long time to get organized enough to do it at all. The whole point is, anything that is a chore can be more fun with a little planning. Going GFCF was the hardest thing I have ever done, but the only thing harder would be going back to the behaviors we have left behind by implementing it.