Allergy-Friendly Lunchbox Adventures


Allergy-friendly kid meals to pack and go

To assemble

When my children were little, I never wanted their food sensitivities to limit choices. So I was always on the lookout for ways to expand the family’s culinary horizons. I used to introduce new dishes to my children by explaining that we were embarking on a food adventure. As a result, my kids developed a fondness for a wide range of different foods and became bold eaters.

The task of packing their lunches every day was initially a challenge. I wanted to send them off to school with an allergy-friendly lunch that was not only nutritious, but one they’d enjoy. Preparing an appetizing hot meal to eat at the kitchen table is one thing. Packing a tasty lunch to consume cold several hours later is another. I found that organization and planning helped. I created lunch menus a week ahead, buying groceries accordingly. Then I organized the items and prepared certain foods ahead of time and the night before. This eased the workload the following morning, making breakfast time less stressful and more pleasant.

Try these gluten-free, dairy-free lunch ideas to nourish and fortify your young food explorer.

 place two slices of gluten-free salami on a brown rice tortilla.

Gluten-Free Buckwheat Blinis with Black Forest Ham


Inspired by traditional Russian blinis, this kid-friendly adaptation features ham filling wrapped in buckwheat pancakes. My taste-testers had never seen buckwheat pancakes before and thought the brown hue meant the pancakes were burnt! Lesson learned: New ingredients can change the appearance of familiar favorites. Prepare your child for the difference.

12(3-inch) cooked gluten-free buckwheat
    pancakes (See “Shopping List,” above on right.)
1 cup gluten-free black forest ham, finely chopped
½ teaspoon dry mustard
¼teaspoon pepper
½ cup mayonnaise or egg-free substitute
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1. Prepare buckwheat pancakes, making batter a little thinner than instructed on the package. Pancakes should be 3 to 4 inches in size and cooked to a dark-brown color on each side. Set aside or store in refrigerator or freezer.

2. In small bowl, mix together chopped ham, mustard, pepper, mayonnaise and parsley.

3. To pack for lunch, separate ham mixture into ⅓-cup portions. The number of portions depends on your child’s appetite. Place each portion into its own small plastic container with a tight-fitting lid.

4. Place 3 to 4 pancakes into a plastic bag.

5. Place pancakes and containers with ham mixture into a lunchbox, along with a plastic spoon and small ice pack.

Each blini contains 112 calories, 6g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 33mg cholesterol, 318mg sodium, 9g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 4g protein.

Turkey Cheese Wraps with Honey Mustard


La Tortilla Factory ( offers gluten-free wraps made with teff, an African grain the size of a poppy seed.

2 cups hummus, plain
6-8 tablespoons honey, to taste
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 teff wraps
8 thin slices gluten-free turkey
2 cups Manchego cheese or your child’s favorite
    cheese or dairy-free cheese, shredded
4 lettuce leaves, washed and dried

1. In small bowl, mix hummus, honey (to taste) and mustard.

2. Spread ¼ of the hummus mixture over one wrap, leaving ½-inch space around the edge.

3. Sprinkle ½ cup shredded cheese on wrap. Place 2 turkey slices and 1 lettuce leaf on top of the cheese. Repeat with each wrap.

4. Roll each wrap in wax paper like a burrito. Cut in half for small hands and seal in foil to keep wrap fresh and secure.

Each wrap contains 625 calories, 32g total fat, 13g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 85mg cholesterol, 1772mg sodium, 57g carbohydrate, 9g fiber, 31g protein.


Pecorino Romano Pesto


If you’re avoiding cheese or pine nuts, try Roasted Red Pepper Pesto.

¼ cup pine nuts
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese or dairy-free cheese replacement, grated
2 cups basil leaves, washed and pounded to bruise
½ cup + 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1. In a small non-stick skillet, toast pine nuts until just golden. Stir in garlic and cook for one minute. Take skillet off heat and cool.

2. Place all ingredients, except 1 tablespoon olive oil, in a food processor and pulse until mixture is finely chopped.

3. Place pesto in an airtight container. Drizzle remaining tablespoon olive oil over pesto. With each use, cover the pesto with more olive oil. Store in the refrigerator.

Lunch Bites

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto


¼ cup pine nuts, optional
¾ cup jarred red pepper, rinsed and
    patted dry
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons red onion, finely chopped
– Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a small non-stick skillet, cook pine nuts over medium heat until golden. Cool. In food processor, add all ingredients and pulse until smooth. Store in refrigerator until used.

Each tablespoon contains 34 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 90mg sodium,1g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 0g protein.

Roasted Red Pepper Pesto

Thai Tuna Curry with Crackers


If you don’t eat fish, replace tuna with an equal amount of chopped chicken.

1 (6- or 7-ounce) can solid white albacore
    tuna, rinsed, drained and flaked
½ teaspoon Thai red curry paste
¾ cup mayonnaise or egg-free substitute
½ cup celery, chopped
¼teaspoon white pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
– Brown rice thins or other gluten-free crackers

1. Mix tuna, curry paste, mayonnaise, celery, pepper and cilantro in a small bowl. Chill for at least one hour.

2. Place tuna mixture in a sealed container and pack in lunchbox along with a small icepack. Place crackers in a separate plastic bag.

TIP Gluten-free, vegan Thai red curry paste is available from Thai Kitchen (

Each tablespoon contains 38 calories, 3g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 5mg cholesterol, 58mg sodium, 2g carbohydrate, 0g fiber, 2g protein.

Chuck Wagon Pies


Children love these bite-size meat pies. The filling can be prepared the night before. Pie shells can be made a week ahead and stored in a sealed bag in the refrigerator. You can also use these shells to make mini-fruit tarts: Fill them with gluten-free pudding, top with sliced fruit and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.


½ cup white rice flour
¼ cup sorghum flour
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup organic non-hydrogenated shortening
3-4 tablespoons water

Meat Filling

½ pound ground beef
1 tablespoon oil, as needed
½ cup onions, chopped
¼ cup red pepper, finely chopped, optional
2 tablespoons white rice flour
1½ cups brown rice, cooked
½ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup gluten-free beef broth
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
½teaspoon oregano
⅛teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons cilantro or parsley, chopped, optional

1. To make shells, preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flours, xanthan gum, salt and sugar. With pastry cutter or fork, cut in shortening until mixture looks like small peas. Sprinkle in water, one tablespoon at a time, until flour is moistened and dough almost cleans the side of the bowl.

2. Gather dough into a ball. Shape into a flattened round on wax paper. Place another piece of wax paper over the dough and roll it to ¼-inch thickness with a rolling pin. Cut into 3-inch circles. Place circles into 6 ungreased medium-size muffin cups, pressing dough into each cup and up the sides. Prick dough 3 times with a fork.

3. Place muffin cups into preheated oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool. Remove from tins and cool on rack. Wrap and store on counter. Refrigerate if not used within 2 days.

4. To make meat filling, brown ground beef in a saucepan. Set aside.

5. In a large skillet, heat oil and sauté onions and red pepper until onions are translucent. Sprinkle rice flour over vegetables and slowly add broth, stirring over medium heat until sauce is smooth.

6. Add meat to skillet, along with cooked brown rice, black beans, salt, spices and cilantro. Simmer mixture for 15 to 20 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.

7. To assemble meat pies, fill each shell with meat filling. (There will be filling left over.) Wrap each pie tightly in plastic wrap and tuck into lunchbox, along with a small icepack.

Each pie contains 403 calories, 25g total fat, 11g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 25mg cholesterol, 488mg sodium, 35g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 11g protein.


Oven-Baked Brown Rice


This recipe creates perfect brown rice. Make it ahead and keep it in the refrigerator until eaten.

1½ cups uncooked brown rice
2½ cups water
2 teaspoons butter or dairy-free margarine
½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place rice in an ungreased 8×8 or 9×9-inch pan.

2. In a separate pan, bring water, salt and butter to boil. Pour boiling mixture over rice. Stir slightly, cover with foil and put pan in preheated oven for an hour. Don’t peek!

3. Remove pan from oven and uncover. Fluff rice, re-cover with foil and allow rice to sit another 5 minutes. Serve.

Each serving contains 182 calories, 3g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 3mg cholesterol, 197mg sodium, 36g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 4g protein.

To assemble


Gluten-Free Olive and Cheese Cold Pizza


My taste-testers agreed that cold pizza was their favorite lunch. Make pizza for dinner and save some for next day’s lunch.

1 package gluten-free pizza mix (usually
    makes 2 pizzas)
¼ cup olive oil
Rosemary or other herbs, optional
Pizza Sauce
8 ounces mozzarella cheese or dairy-free cheese substitute, shredded
1 (7-ounce) can sliced olives, drained

1. Preheat oven according to pizza package instructions. Prepare mix. If mix makes 2 crusts, divide dough in half, reserving half for another night. Place one crust on an oiled pizza stone or baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and herbs. Bake crust according to instructions. Remove from oven.

2. Top crust with sauce, cheese and olives. Return pizza to preheated oven and bake until done.

Pizza Sauce


16 ounces tomato sauce or puree
1 tablespoon tomato paste, optional
½ cup water
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

1. Place ingredients in a saucepan and heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Spread sauce on prebaked crust to cover. Top with shredded cheese and sliced olives.

Each serving contains 301 calories, 14g total fat, 4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 18mg cholesterol, 1025mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 9g protein.

Gluten-Free Italian Flatbread


This flavorful flatbread is easy to make and works great for sandwiches. It’s perfect for your child’s lunch box. It can be made with dairy and egg replacements with good results.

⅓ cup sorghum flour
¼ cup brown rice flour
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup potato starch (not potato flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder (if using flax gel, increase to 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 eggs or 3 egg whites or flax gel
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter or dairy-free margarine, melted
½ cup yogurt or dairy-free yogurt
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In large bowl, mix flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum.

3. In separate bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until mixture is a lemon color. Add butter, yogurt, water and vinegar and mix.

4. With a spatula, slowly fold flour mixture into egg mixture. Batter will be sticky. Divide batter in half, placing each half on opposite sides of prepared baking sheet.

5. With floured fingertips, shape each flour mixture into a hamburger-shaped mound. Score the top into fourths with a floured knife.

6. Place dough in preheated oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes. If bread browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil. Remove bread from oven when done and cool on a rack.

Each serving (2 slices) contains 335 calories,10g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 125mg cholesterol, 871mg sodium, 56g carbohydrate, 1g fiber, 6g protein.For lower calories and fat, use low-fat yogurt and egg-free replacement.

Gluten-Free Italian Flatbread with Chicken Pesto Aioli


Cut flatbread in half horizontally for a hearty sandwich or slice it vertically in smaller pieces for lighter appetites.

4 halves Italian Flatbread, cut vertically to make
    small, narrow sandwiches or cut horizontally
     to make half sandwiches
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Pecorino Romano Pesto or gluten-free
    prepared pesto
1 cup mayonnaise or egg-free substitute
4 thin slices cooked chicken breast*
4 slices firm white cheese or dairy-free cheese replacement, optional
1 jar roasted red peppers, rinsed and sliced

1. Lightly brush slices of Italian Flatbread with olive oil.

2. In a small bowl, mix pesto and mayonnaise to make aioli. Spread pesto aioli on each slice of bread. Place chicken, cheese and red pepper over prepared bread.

3. Cover with remaining bread slice, cut to size and wrap with plastic wrap.

*TIP For home-cooked chicken, pound one chicken breast until ¼-inch thick. Marinate for 2 hours in gluten-free Italian dressing. Remove from marinade and pat dry. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Sauté chicken breast until tender, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Each sandwich with Pecorino Romano Pesto contains 936 calories, 62g total fat, 17g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 188mg cholesterol, 1465mg sodium, 73g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 24g protein.

Terry Traub, author of Food to Some, Poison to Others, lives in Arnold, California