Whether it’s back to school or back to work this week, many of us end up eating lunch away from home. There are many benefits to brown bagging it. It saves money, reusable containers help reduce waste, you can pack healthier options, and it’s quite portable.
But what happens when the inevitable happens? You (or your children) get bored of the same old lunch box? What if it’s a bit more complicated because you need to avoid certain foods due to allergy or sensitivity?
I’ve been working with a local non-profit group Food Allergy Families of the Triad to help tackle this very problem.
There are 8 Top Foods that are responsible for 90% of food allergies: Wheat, Soy, Dairy, Peanuts, Tree Nuts, Shellfish, Fish and Egg. My challenge was to come up with 10 lunchbox ideas that would avoid all 8 of these, but still provide a healthy, appealing lunch for kids. If you have children that have to avoid bringing certain foods to school (no peanuts or nuts) these ideas would be safe. Fun colors and shapes aside, all of these suggestions would be appropriate for adults too, with our without food allergies. Think of it as a way to brighten up your lunch time to feel like a kid again.
The Healthy Meal Formula
Quality protein + high fiber starch (vegetable preferred) + colorful crunch (fruit and/or vegetable) = a balanced meal
Add the *Fun* Quotient!
Make kids meals fun by adding shapes, color and other themes such as animal faces or cartoon characters and keeping most items “finger foods.” Any chef can tell you that a creative presentation make the food more appealing. One easy way is to use a miniature cookie cutter to slice vegetables and fruits into fun shapes. You can also use a melon baller to produce colorful spheres or hollow out a cucumber or squash and fill with chicken salad.
In fact, there is an art to lunch box creation, popularized in Japan called “Bento.” Mothers lovingly prepare their children’s lunch boxes by shaping rice balls into animal faces and creating geometric shapes and flowers out of fruits and vegetables. It’s too cute. But if you don’t have the time to get extreme, no worries, check out the lunch box ideas below:
10 Lunch Box Ideas Top 8 Allergen Free
- Chicken salad* scoop: Crackers (your choice), raw baby carrots, celery (for scooping) & grapes
- Fun Stacks: Sunbutter & sliced apple stacks- dot edges w/ raisins, matchstick veggies & avocado dip*, apple shapes & Sunbutter & Enjoy Life chocolate chips
- Hummus* wrap: Use lettuce, nori or deli meat as wrap (or other gluten free wrap of choice), Fill w/ hummus, veggie strips of choice. Melon balls or other fun shapes.
- Meatball Monday: beef or chicken meatballs w/zucchini noodles or summer squash, marinara sauce cup. (Or use gluten free noodles & marinara with puréed zucchini & spinach in sauce) Green beans in a cup. Cybele’s chocolate chip cookie.
- Turkey roll ups: Thinly sliced carrots, cucumbers, peppers, stuffed in lettuce & turkey slices & Daiya sliced cheese. KinniKinnick graham crackers with Sunbutter & honey spread.
- Steak bites: Marinated beef chunks w/ broccoli, Oven fries white or sweet potato chunks, peach or seasonal fruit.
- Chicken tenders/nuggets: Steamed Brussels sprouts and/or baby carrots, apple slices & cinnamon.
- Applegate Chicken Sausage & Sweet potato cubes– kabobs, strawberry & blueberry fruit kabobs, Sunbutter or Daiya cream cheese & honey dipping sauce.
- Taco Tuesday: Seasoned ground hamburger/turkey or beans, butter/Boston bibb lettuce, diced avocado, tomato, salsa, corn, orange slices or clementine.
- Tropical Treat: Ham & pineapple & cherry tomato kabobs, cucumber shapes, fresh coconut chunks.
(Brand names known to be Top 8 Free are in italics, recipes are starred *)
- 1 avocado
- 1 Tb lemon juice
- 1 Tb olive oil
- 2 Tb water
Blend together in mini chopper or food processor until creamy. May adjust ingredients to taste.
- 2 cups diced cooked chicken breast
- ⅓ cup avocado mayo*
- 1 small apple diced (can leave peel on)
- ½ cucumber, seeded & diced
- ¼ cup onion finely diced (or use onion powder instead)
Mix up all ingredients in a large bowl until evenly blended. Can add more or less avocado mayo until desired consistency is achieved.
- 2 cans chickpeas
- 1 Tbs lemon juice
- 5 cloves garlic- finely minced
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp chili powder
- ¼ cup Sunbutter or ¼ cup olive oil
Puree all ingredients together in a food processor until creamy consistency achieved. Can add water to thin to desired consistency.
What challenges have you faced with preparing bagged or boxed lunches? Do you have to worry about food allergies? Do kids return with lunches uneaten? What other ideas would you like to see to help with eating healthier at lunch time? Leave a comment below with your best strategies that have worked for you. If you have friends who might benefit from this article, please share.