As I have emphasized many times, my kids are picky. Like so picky that my older son, Owen, won't eat cold lunches, every sandwich I pack is "too soggy" to eat. He also finds most school lunches too "yucky" to eat and I guess I have to agree with him there. And just to be upfront, yes, I am pretty sure I did something wrong that created this picky, picky child, but here we are. My younger son, Noah, has an autism diagnosis and experiences many peculiarities that seem to be a common denominator in people with autism; picky eater, picky about texture, and the added complication of a gluten free diet don't give us a lot of options.
I am trying to start out the new school year with one of those "we can do it" attitudes. I am compiling a list of school lunch ideas that will hopefully make our mornings a little easier and I won't find myself staring bleakly at the fridge with no idea of what to put in my kids' lunches. Let's get started.
9 Thermos Meals: Invest in a thermos, they sell lunch box sized ones at Target for $10-15. Then you have the option of soups and chili (usually GF if homemade, read the label closely on canned) or the kid fave spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce.
8 Pesto or Sesame Noodles: Both these options are great because they can be served hot, cold or room temperature. Sesame noodles taste great made with rice noodles (found on the asian food aisle) and they are gluten free. I like to sneak spinach into my pesto for a little nutritional kick, I mix 2 cups of greens (half basil, half spinach), 1/3 cup toasted almonds (pine nuts are traditional, but they are expensive and Geoff is allergic), 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1 clove garlic, salt and pepper, whirl it in the food processor adding olive oil until it is the consistency you like.
An aside: as I am writing this, Noah is sitting on the couch watching "Little Einsteins" and giggling. That might be the cutest thing ever. :-)
Nosh Plate: Who doesn't love an antipasto style meal? Favorite meats, cheeses and veggies especially served on skewers (if your child's school won't freak out about pointy sticks) are a fun and gluten free sandwich alternative. I like to alternate mini mozzarella balls (or even just cut up cheese sticks) with cubed ham or turkey and a cherry tomato on top.
6 Chicken Salad: If my picky kids will eat it yours may too! I shred a rotisserie chicken and mix it with diced celery, chives, and almonds with mayo and lemon juice and lots of salt and pepper. My kids will eat it with a fork.
5 Baja Rice Bowls: Making rice on a busy school morning isn't going to happen, so when I make rice for dinner, I make extra. I do a Mexican inspired rice bowl, but you could easily take the flavors in a different direction. I add a scoop of mexican style rice, black beans, cheese and diced tomatoes. Totally tasty and gluten free without having to use any sort of odd items.
4 Mini pizzas: I learned this recipe in Girl Scouts, and no it won't be warm at lunch time, but I have never known a kid to mind if their pizza isn't hot! On a toasted english muffin, spread left over marinara sauce, top with mozzarella cheese, add toppings if your kid is down with that, and broil until the cheese is melted. GF bread works well for this recipe because is already so hard, this has been the only way I can get Noah to eat it.
3 GF Crispy Chicken Nuggets: This recipe is from Rachael Ray and she is making her nuggets with rice cereal. They turn out super crunchy, no weird aftertaste and gluten free. This is a make ahead sort of lunch idea, but well worth it. Make a big batch to keep in your freezer. http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipe/crispy-chicken-nuggets/
2 A collection of side dishes: Side dishes are usually my favorite part of a meal. When composing a lunch of them, I just think about covering all the food groups and you are good. A sample menu would be fruit salad, either a peanut butter granola bar or hard boiled egg, cheese stick, and crackers. All the food groups represented and all with food my picky kids will actually eat.
1 Breakfast for lunch: I am not sure why breakfast other times of the day is so much fun, but kids sure seem to think so. You have a couple options in this category: yogurt parfaits, send along a yogurt cup (packed with an ice pack), granola or cereal to add at school, extra fruit to dip, and sometimes I will even include a few candy sprinkles to make it extra fun. Another option is just cold cereal, pack milk or have your child buy it in the cafeteria.