Gluten-Free Lunch Ideas

Gluten-Free Lunch Ideas

September 9, 2012
By Rachel Begun, MS, RD


Backpacks. Check. Pens, pencils and notebooks. Check. New jeans and sneakers. Check. Ideas for what to make for lunch. Help!

It’s hard enough coming up with fun and exciting school lunch ideas when they can be supplemented with the options offered at school. It’s that much more difficult for kids with celiac disease (and their parents), as they often have to rely solely on the brown bag.

To get you and your kids through the school year, here are ideas for delicious and nutritious gluten free lunches.

Breakfast for Lunch 

Kids love breakfast for lunch. These nutritious ideas can be made the night before, keep fresh in an insulated lunch box and pair well with cut fruit and yogurt:

  • A wedge of frittata
  • Baked oatmeal (made with certified gluten-free oats)
  • Gluten-free whole grain breakfast bar (recipes abound on the web)

Make Your Own Tacos
Tacos are great, because kids love eating foods with their hands and they can select their favorite toppings. Choose between 100% corn soft tortillas or hard shells. Offer the filling options, such as shredded grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and sliced avocados, in different sections of a bento box (see below) and the tacos or tortillas on the side for kids to assemble. Alternative filling options can include ground beef, ground soy meat and beans. Double-check ingredient labels to ensure the products you choose are gluten-free.

We’ve all been given the advice to work smart, not hard. This applies to school lunches. When planning weeknight dinners, think about what can also hold well for school lunches later in the week. Good examples are gluten-free pasta dishes (keep sauces separate), stir fries, stews and chilis.

PB*&J Sushi (tyh note: peanut butter substitutes* can also be used!)
To spice up the old standby, peanut butter and jelly, lay a gluten-free tortilla down, spread on the peanut butter and jelly, roll up the tortilla so that it is long and cylindrical, and cut on the diagonal to create what looks like a sushi roll.  Variations on PB&J include peanut butter and banana slices or raisins, black bean spread with avocado slices, or hummus with pepper. For schools that don’t allow peanut butter, sunflower butter is a very similar alternative your kids will love.

The Bento Box
The bento box lunch is all the rage these days, and for good reason.  It allows for variety and imagination, and kids love being able to mix and match different options. Some ideas for filling bento box sections with foods that go together and provide good nutrition include:

And don’t forget presentation. Kids eat with their eyes and enjoy food that is attractively prepared. When you are out shopping with for new clothes and school supplies, invest in a fun lunch box, thermos, bento box and plastic ware to mix it up and offer fresh options throughout the year. Your kids’ tummies will thank you, and so will the environment.

Rachel Begun, MS, RD, is a food and nutrition communicator. She provides education, communications and consulting services to health organizations and the food industry. She also educates the public via speaking opportunities, online activities and writing for publications, including her own blog, The Gluten Free RD.  You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest via her website at


Soylent Pink: 7 Million Pounds Of (Mystery) Meat For Children’s School Meals

Pink Slime For School Lunch: Government Buying 7 Million Pounds Of Ammonia-Treated Meat For Meals.

Pink Slime For School Lunch: Government Buying 7 Million Pounds Of Ammonia-Treated Meat For Meals

Pink Slime In Schools

First Posted: 03/ 5/2012 5:19 pm Updated: 03/ 6/2012 9:03 am

Pink slime — that ammonia-treated meat in a bright Pepto-bismol shade — may have been rejected by fast food joints like McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King, but is being brought in by the tons for the nation’s school lunch program.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is purchasing 7 million pounds of the “slime” for school lunches, The Daily reports. Officially termed “Lean Beef Trimmings,” the product is a ground-up combination of beef scraps, cow connective tissues and other beef trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens like salmonella and E. coli. It’s then blended into traditional meat products like ground beef and hamburger patties.

We originally called it soylent pink,” microbiologist Carl Custer, who worked at the Food Safety Inspection Service for 35 years, told The Daily. “We looked at the product and we objected to it because it used connective tissues instead of muscle. It was simply not nutritionally equivalent [to ground beef]. My main objection was that it was not meat.”

Custer and microbiologist Gerald Zernstein concluded in a study that the trimmings are a “high risk product,” but Zernstein tells The Daily that “scientists in D.C. were pressured to approve this stuff with minimal safety approval” under President George H.W. Bush’s administration. The USDA asserts that its ground beef purchases “meet the highest standard for food safety.”

Controversy surrounding “pink slime” stems from various safety concerns, particularly dangers associated with ammonium hydroxide, which can both be harmful to eat and has potential to turn into ammonium nitrate — a common component in homemade bombs, according to MSNBC. It’s also used in household cleaners and fertilizers.

In 2009, The New York Times reported that despite the added ammonia, tests of Lean Beef Trimmings of schools across the country revealed dozens of instances of E. coli and salmonella pathogens.

Between 2005 and 2009, E. coli was found three times and salmonella 48 times, according to the Times, including two contaminated batches of 27,000 pounds of meat.

A public outcry against the “slime” is led perhaps most prominently by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver,
who had also successfully waged war against flavored milk in Los Angeles schools and continues a crusade for healthier school lunches.

News of the USDA’s plan to bring 7 million pounds of “pink slime” to school cafeterias nationwide comes just weeks after the government announced new guidelines to ensure students are given healthier options for school meals. The new standards call for more whole grains and produce as well as less sodium and fat in school meals. While the measures mark a step forward from previous years, they still compromise amid push-back from Congress to keep pizza and french fries on the menu — counting both the tomato paste on pizza and the potatoes that make fries as vegetables.

Still, some schools — like several in California — have taken the matter into their own hands, and have found ways to profit from those efforts. Umpteen school districts have taken part in a decade-long initiative, supported by a philanthropic organization, that provides schools with equipments and chefs who teach cafeteria workers to cook from scratch and produce fresh meals.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that more than a third of high school students were eating vegetables less than once a day – “considerably below” recommended levels of intake for a healthy lifestyle that supports weight management and could reduce risks for chronic diseases and some cancers.

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