Winning the battle of the gluten-free school lunchbox.
We’re into the start of the school year, and for the first week or two, I always have trouble getting my head around what to put in the children’s lunchboxes.
And remembering their sunhats, sunscreen, which day is swimming, the homework books and the schoolbooks (which reminds me of a little chore I still need to do!). I do not have any children with gluten-intolerance, so it’s only my lunchbox I have to think about, but one of the biggest issues with kids not eating their lunch is boredom. This is much worse when you have such a limited range of foods available to utilise, and when it’s harder to fall back on a sandwich or pre-packaged muesli bars and snacks. Here are some ideas to help you to make your child’s lunchbox interesting and varied, even if it is gluten-free.
Fruit and vegetables
Apples, bananas, stone fruit (cheap and plentiful at this time of year), kiwifruit, carrots, capsicum – whatever is on special at the moment and which your child will eat. In winter, dried fruit is a great alternative, although you do need to watch the sugar content of dried fruit.
These can be problematic due to all the nut allergies, but if your child is allowed to take them to school, they’re an excellent protein snack. Try almonds rather than peanuts.
If you freeze a carton of yoghurt overnight, it will gradually defrost in the lunchbox and be ready by lunchtime. This has the added advantage of keeping other items in the lunchbox cool.
Rice crackers and corn chips
You can often get small snack bags of both of these, although check the corn chips very carefully as often the coating contains wheat products.
Savoury or sweet muffins
Make a batch of these on Sunday night and freeze most of them. Again, these defrost well over the morning, and make a nice replacement for a sandwich. I’ve put a recipe below for a basic muffin, and you can add almost anything in, depending on what your children will eat. The advantage of homemade muffins is that you can keep the amount of sugar down, and increase the fibre content. They are also very quick and easy.
Sushi is surprisingly quick and easy to make and great if you have leftover rice. Fillings can be almost anything – we had Christmas leftover sushi using turkey and cranberry! If you leave the roll uncut and in the fridge overnight, it only takes a couple of ticks to slice it up in the morning. Note: this will travel best in a hard plastic sandwich keeper or container. Gladwrap is not a great option for lunchbox sushi!
The freezer is truly your friend when it comes to gluten-free lunches, because biscuits which have been kept in the freezer are truly wonderful. If you’re buying biscuits, Leda does a very nice range which is reasonably priced. They have gingernuts, chocolate chips and a nice plain arrowroot type biscuit. There are lots of good biscuit recipes which translate successfully to gluten-free – shortbread, melting moments, cranberry oatmeal cookies (using rice flakes) and the like all do well.
If you want to give your child a treat, you could look at buying some Cheesy Bites or something similar. You could also add in a hard-boiled egg or cubes of cheese.
If your child can eat eggs and likes them, you might want to consider making mini quiches using gluten-free flour in the base (recipe below). I make these in muffin trays, and individually wrap and freeze the quiches. Again, they defrost well by lunchtime, and are a good way to use up all sorts of leftover bits and pieces in the fridge.
Freedom, Leda and a few other companies make muesli bars which are a good lunchbox filler. These are quite expensive, and you will need to ensure that if your child is gluten intolerant you buy the gluten-free bars, not the wheat-free ones. Also watch the sugar content on these, but that is consistent with normal muesli bars as well. You can buy these at most supermarkets, although I have found New World consistently seems to have the best selection.
3 cups gluten-free flour (I like to use 1 cup brown rice flour for a bit more fibre, to 2 cups gluten-free flour or baking mix)
5 tsp gluten-free baking powder
2 eggs or equivalent egg substitute
1/4 cup oil (I prefer rice bran, but any unflavoured oil is fine. Olive oil is fine in savoury muffins but not sweet)
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 cups milk
1 tsp guar or xantham gum per cup of flour you’re using (not needed if you’re using a store-bought baking mix)
Combine all in a large mixing bowl and add other ingredients. Mix lightly, only until just combined before cooking in muffin tins for 15-20 minutes at 180°C or until golden brown.
Half a cup each of grated carrot, courgette and cheese. Add diced ham, sliced spring onions and capsicum. Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle some sunflower or pumpkin seeds on the top. Add in some cumin or fresh herbs. I basically throw in anything which doesn’t move!
Banana and chocolate chip is a favourite in our household. Mash two bananas in a separate bowl with baking soda and a little of the milk. Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup brown sugar to the dry ingredients. I also often add 1 grated apple and/or 1 grated carrot to this mix as well. It adds to the moistness of the muffins and means they are an excellent little fruit and vege boost.
Peach and ginger is another favourite. Use half a can of peaches in juice, drained and chopped finely. Add in 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallised ginger and 1/2 cup brown sugar to the dry ingredients.
80g gluten-free flour or baking mix
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
4 tsp oil
90g grated cheese
about 1/2 cup meat, ie. salmon, chicken, ham, tuna, salami
1/2 onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper to, taste
grated or finely chopped vegetables, eg. spinach, carrot, courgette, capsicum, tomato, silver beet
Combine all ingredients into a bowl which has a lid. Shake until the ingredients are combined.
Pour into greased muffin tins, top with a little grated cheese and bake at 175°C for 15-20 minutes or until browned. You can also use cold cooked potato pieces to make a frittata-type quiche. Allow to cool, individually gladwrap and freeze.
As with most gluten-free food, you do need to put a little more preparation and thought into making a varied lunchbox, but it is completely doable.
What do you put into your kids’ lunchboxes to make them interesting and exciting?
For those wanting more information on coeliac disease, check out the NZ Coeliac Society website www.coeliac.org.nz.
This blog is the opinion and experiences of its author and should not be taken as medical or dietetic advice. Healthy Food Guide has not verified the content and cannot endorse any advice given. Healthy Food Guide recommends seeking professional health advice for specific complaints or symptoms.