"But what will we feed them?!" The rallying cry heard all around, as more schools move toward a peanut and nut free system to ensure the safety of those suffering severe allergies. "What will we feed them, if we can't send peanut butter?"
I can understand the panic. I have a kid who eats a very limited diet due to severe food aversions, and one of the very few foods he will consistently eat is peanut butter. But all of that pales significantly in comparison to what a parent feels when they send their allergic child off to school. They are literally putting their child's life in the hands of others. It is scary! Nut and peanut free schools are a great thing for those who would suffer greatly if exposed to those allergens.
For us now, being nut and peanut free is a normal thing. Beaker's nut allergy is limited to hazelnuts and is thankfully fairly not severe, but we have plenty of friends with severe nut and peanut allergies, and we take every step we can to keep them safe. We've found plenty of delicious foods that contain no nut or peanut products, and I am happy to share some safe lunch packing ideas. Hopefully this list will help!
* Nut Free Spreads - Got a kid who really loves peanut butter and won't eat much else? Try a safe alternative spread! Sunflower seed butter is our favorite, and Sunbutter brand is becoming pretty easy to find in stores. WowButter, made with soynuts, is another good option. Both are very similar to peanut butter in both taste and texture, and have a pretty decent protein content. Try them on a sandwich with jam, or rolled up in a tortilla with banana and honey. Anything peanut butter can do, these safe alternatives can do better!
* Serve Up Soup - A Thermos is a great way to keep your hot favorites nice and hot for lunch! It only takes a few minutes in the morning to heat up a small pan of soup and warm a thermal container with some hot water, and it will keep the lunch deliciously warm until it's time to eat. We also love our Thermos for packing favorites like macaroni and cheese, ravioli, and spaghetti for lunch. Whenever I make a large pot of soup or such, I tuck a few small portions in quart sized freezer bags and stash them in the freezer. Then the night before I plan to send a 'hot packed lunch', I pull out the portion bag and tuck it in the fridge. By morning it is thawed out and ready for a quick reheat on the stove. Some chilled fruit and crackers are perfect on the side!
* A Twist on a Classic - My kids don't like tuna fish or chicken salad on sandwiches, but put it in a cup with some crackers on the side for scooping and suddenly it's the best lunch ever! I make mine with finely diced sweet onion, dill pickles, mayo and mustard, and just a dash of black pepper, and serve it up with either Ritz or rice crackers. This is one of Bean's favorite lunches!
* Do-it-Yourself - There is a certain brand of pre-packaged lunch product available in stores which is super popular among kids, and it's easy to see why. Putting your own food together out of separated ingredients is fun! The unfortunate side is that these boxed products are often very high in sodium and sugar (and let's not even talk about the inflated price tag!) With a few silicone cups and some simple ingredients, you can make your own version at home for a fraction of the cost and with much better nutrition in mind. The basic cracker-stacker includes crackers with your choice of sliced cheeses and meats, or you can try a few different favorites. Like nachos with cheese sauce and salsa, or fun mini DIY mini pizzas with a flatbread crust, marinara sauce, and choice of toppings on the side!
* Roll it Up - For a quick and easy protein, take regular lunch meat and cheese and just roll them up! The tube shape is easy for small hands to hold, and more fun to eat than any old sandwich. You can also mix this up by cutting the rolls into bite sized pinwheels.
* Let's Do Brunch - Not just for weekends anymore! Mix it up and pack a bit of breakfast for lunch. French toast, pancakes, and waffles all make excellent lunches. They're especially fun when cut into sticks and packed with a bit of syrup for dipping! Try adding some fruit and a hard boiled egg on the side for a well balanced meal.
* Beans, the musical fruit - Beans are an excellent, and often under utilized, source of healthy essential proteins. Bean dip with tortilla strips, cold bean salad, bean burritos - there are so many things you can do with beans for a nutritious and delicious lunch!
* That's a Wrap - Transform a boring sandwich or salad by tossing the ingredients into a tortilla and rolling it up into a wrap! If you want tasty sandwich or salad pinwheels, try rolling the wrap up tightly the night before, wrapping up with plastic wrap to keep it in place, and chill it overnight in the fridge. In the morning, slice into delicious and pretty pinwheels.
* And Speaking of Salad - Not fans of regular green salads? Try pasta salads instead! Toss your favorite whole grain pasta or tortellini with some olives, mozzarella, and other tasty ingredients for a delicious meal with plenty of vitamins and protein.
* Kid Favorites, Cold - Chicken nuggets and hot dogs both taste surprisingly good when served cold in a lunch box. Especially with their favorite sauce on the side for dipping! Pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches are two other favorites that are great for a cold lunch. Try it out - they might surprise you!
* Dip it, Dunk it, Scoop it - Avocados are a great source of healthy essential fats, and guacamole is great for scooping. Make your own by adding diced onion, lime, lemon, and garlic to a cut up avocado and mix together. Pack it with tortillas, crackers, or veggies for dipping. You can also try packing in a nut-free butter spread in a cup with apples, carrots, and bananas for dipping. Hummus is another excellent dip to pack as the protein in a lunch, and very good with cucumbers and pita strips.
So there we go - eleven delicious ways to pack nut and peanut free lunches to help keep kids safe! Want more ideas? Check out some of these great blogs:
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Also, the Snack Safely Guide is an amazing list of nut and peanut free snacks and products and should definitely be checked out by anyone in search of safe snacks!
It may seem overwhelming and difficult to you now, but I promise that within a few weeks you will have it down pat. And those with allergies definitely appreciate your efforts in keeping them safe and well!
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