Peanut-Free Healthy Lunchtime Creativity

7 Sep

There’s a boy in my son’s class who has a deadly allergy to peanuts, and so the whole grade is peanut-free. And it’s peanut-free in the most literal sense: every few months, the school sends home a list of foods that risk cross-contamination from peanuts, and none of those are allowed. No Ritz crackers. No M&Ms. No lots of things.

I don’t really think about it anymore (and I feel for the mom sending her kid to school every day when his potential exposure is so out of her control, you know?). Packing totally 100 percent nut-free lunches has become routine. But at the start of kindergarten, the prospect of it freaked me out. We are a peanut-loving family and we consume vast amounts of peanut butter, and I had no clue how to even start packing a lunch for my PB-loving child without including his favorite (read: the only kind he’d eat at the time) sandwich.

Since then, we’ve all broadened our horizons. Packing peanut-free really isn’t a huge deal. But finding a variety of options can be challenging. So I thought I’d share our list of packable, nut-free lunches with you, in case you’re in the same situation with your kids. And if you have an idea I’ve not thought of, by all means, lay it on me in the comments section. I’m always looking!

I’ve found that the key to getting my kids to eat something new at school is to just pack it. I don’t say a word. Just hand the lunch box off with a smile and a wave and let lunchtime happen. By lunch, the kids are hungry and they’re surrounded by their friends, who are…EATING! Monkey see, monkey do, and my kids are monkeys to the extreme. They’re far more likely to try something new that way than if I make a big deal of it at home, where they’ll scrunch up their noses and “ewwwwwww” until I change what’s in there. So zip it, hand them lunch, and send them off. They won’t starve, and you might get something new and healthy into them.

My other trick is to make the new food fun. Use a cookie cutter to make that new sandwich a fun shape. Buy fun containers or tie a ribbon around a wrapped item to make it special. Colorful, fun napkins and making the food pretty can work wonders.

Our peanut free lunches have included:

Soy butter. We like this brand, in the smooth honey flavor. I can pick it up at our pathetic excuse of a Giant store most of the time, and at Whole Foods in a real pinch. It tastes eerily like peanut butter and doesn’t have to be refrigerated, which is a bonus for me. Put it in a sandwich or put it in a little lidded plastic container with some pretzels and carrot sticks for dipping. Or slice an apple, brush it with lemon or pineapple juice (to keep it from browning) and use the slices as bread in an apple-and-soy-butter sandwich of sorts.

Cream cheese. Yes, on a regular bread sandwich, either with or without jelly. Or on a bagel or pita, or as a dip with crackers or veggies. Roll it up in a tortilla with jelly or turkey or ham and slice it into bites log-style for a really fun finger-food option. Lots of protein and some calcium, and the lite cream cheese tastes almost indistinguishable from its full-fat cousin.

Quesadillas. Yes, cold. My kids think this one is da bomb, yo (Yep–I’m the cool mom too, didn’t you know?). Plain cheese or cheese and chicken or cheese and chicken and spinach, with a little plastic container of salsa, and I have happy lunching kids.

Hummus. Hummus in a container with celery and carrots or pita triangles for dipping. Hummus on pita as a pocket sandwich. Hummus on bread with cucumber slices. Hummus and jelly (just not the garlic kind, kids). Hummus is super healthy and my kids devour it at lunch.

Make-your-own Lunchables. Like those pre-packaged deals? Check out the nutrition labels lately? **gag** So make your own. Use a Ziploc plastic container and add crackers, slices of deli meat, slices of cheese, bits of pepperoni, a little container of pizza sauce and one of cheese…whatever you like. You can even buy dividable containers now just for this purpose.

Pasta. Get yourself a Funtainer and fill ‘er up with leftover noodles from last night’s dinner. Noodles with sauce or butter or cheese travel beautifully, and you can sneak some veggies in there pretty easily. We don’t do soup just because we’ve had our share of leaky containers, but you can give that a shot. These containers are also great for meatballs (I’ll share my baked turkey meatball recipe with you soon) or chicken nuggets or anything else that’ll fit in there and that you’d like warm.

English muffin pizza sandwich. Toast an English muffin and make a sandwich with it, pizza sauce, cheese, and whatever toppings your kid likes. Wrap it in wax paper or plastic. Mmmm.

Dips. Use those tiny plastic containers (Rubbermaid and Ziploc both make baby ones) to hold guacamole, salsa, onion dip (made with yogurt if you want it healthier) or any other dip, and add a baggie of carrots, celery, pretzels, or pita strips. Kids love dipping and it’s a pretty easy way to get nutrients into them without forcing steamed brussel sprouts into the lunchbox.

Yogurt. Frozen Go-Gurts are a great treat and Go-Gurts have the least sugar of any kids’ yogurt. Of course, if you can get grown-up yogurt into your kids, that’s even better. Pop an ice pack into the lunchbox and add a yogurt and a plastic spoon. Some of them even come in dessert flavors now that have all the nutrition of their fruity counterparts and are delicious–I’m partial to the Yoplait Light line myself, but there are lots out there.

I’d love to add to my list. Post your ideas in the comments section!

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4 Responses to “Peanut-Free Healthy Lunchtime Creativity”

  1. Judy Emerson September 7, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Thanks so much-wonderful ideas for a Mom who has a kid with life threatening nut allergies.

  2. Shannon September 7, 2010 at 5:20 pm #

    Thank you for this post! My son has multiple food allergies, including peanuts. Its nice to read something positive from the other side of the lunch table.

  3. Laura Beutler September 8, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    Yeah Kim! Thanks for the ideas. I have a 3yr old w/ nut allergies, and a 6yr old who doesn’t do sandwiches, so I’m always on the hunt for other options. I have a Bento box from Wegman’s that works well with anything that requires multiple containers – it’s wonderful.

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