There are many reasons why a parent may choose a gluten-free diet for their child, including celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or personal preference.
Regardless of the reasoning for a gluten-free diet, it can be tricky to come up with tasty meal ideas, especially for a picky child.
The idea is to provide appealing, fun meals that kids want to eat. Sound stressful? It can be stressful for kids too. Imagine being at lunch with your peers and realizing you are not allowed to enjoy that delicious looking slice of pizza or your favorite breaded chicken strips.
Kids may not fully understand the need for their specific diet, but that does not mean they need to feel deprived of a delicious meal. The first step to unraveling the challenge with a gluten-free diet is to understand the dos and don’ts surrounding gluten.
The Meaning of Being Gluten-Free
Gluten is a protein found in many grains. The foods that contain it may cause serious health problems for some people.
One of these conditions is called celiac disease. Celiac disease is when gluten damages the small intestine due to an autoimmune reaction.
Others may be sensitive to gluten and experience symptoms such as; belly pain, diarrhea, bloating, headaches, and inflammation when ingesting food that contains gluten.
Others may choose a gluten-free diet out of preference.
As you can expect, following a gluten-free diet implies the total elimination of foods that contain gluten. To understand this better, let’s look at foods that may contain gluten.
Foods to Avoid
- Any food containing wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a cross between wheat and rye)
- Oats- unless specified as gluten free
- Wheat Based Cereals
- Cakes, Cookies and Pastries
- Sauce with a Flour Base
- Seasoning Mix
- Pasta and Soba Noodles
- Pancake or Waffle Mix
- Soy sauce
Go-to Foods for Lunches
- Fresh meat
- Fresh eggs
- Fish and poultry
- Seeds and nuts
- Most dairy products
- Beans and Legumes
- White rice
- Gluten Free Products
Now we need to take the gluten-free foods and create a palatable, delicious meal that any picky toddler or moody teenager will appreciate. Some ways to do this are creating some childhood staples using acceptable, gluten-free ingredients.
Entrees That Are Sure to Please
Gluten-free Mac and Cheese
Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? There is nothing that can put a smile on a child’s face quicker than a steamy bowl of delicious noodles covered in gooey cheese.
¼ cup of butter, 1 ¼ teaspoon salt, ¾ teaspoon mustard powder, 4 cups of milk, ¼ cup of cornstarch, 4 cups of shredded cheddar cheese, 1 box of gluten-free pasta (you can use different shapes to make it more fun).
- Boil the noodles in lightly salted water.
- While waiting for the noodles to boil, melt ¼ cup of butter over medium heat. Stir in the salt and mustard powder. Then remove the pot from heat.
- Whisk the milk and cornstarch together in a bowl until smooth. Next, mix your milk/cornstarch mixture with the butter mixture and return the pot to the stove.
- Cook the mixture over medium heat while stirring constantly. Cook until the sauce is thickened (around 5 minutes) and remove from heat.
- Next, stir in 3 cups of cheddar cheese, add the pasta and stir well.
- Finally, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and enjoy.
PB&J Apple Sandwiches
If peanuts are allowed in your child’s school, these PB&J apples will be a hit. Slice apples into ¼” rounds. Spread peanut butter and jelly on half, and cover with the other half.
For children who love the taste of pickles. Try these pickle wraps. You can mix and match with different meat and cheeses to mix it up.
You will need six slices of ham, 4 oz. of cream cheese, a pinch of paprika, two tsp. of chopped dill, a pinch of black pepper, and six medium dill pickles.
Top each slice of ham with cream cheese and sprinkle paprika, dill, and pepper. Place the pickle in the center, and roll the ham around it.
Club sandwich kabobs are made with a mix of deli meat, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheeses.
Fold the deli meat into a small square, cut vegetables to size, and slice cheese into small squares. Slide the ingredients onto skewers.
Use gluten free mini pizza crusts, pizza sauce (most tomato based sauces do not contain gluten), pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese, to make homemade pizza lunchables.
Mini Corn Dog Muffins
This recipe calls for one box of gluten-free cornbread mix, one package of gluten-free hot dogs, and gluten-free cooking spray.
First, preheat the oven according to the cornbread instructions and spray the mini muffin pan with cooking spray. Next, combine all of the ingredients for the cornbread mix as directed on the box.
Fill the muffin pans with the cornbread mix and cut the hot dogs into bite-sized pieces. Place a bite-sized hot dog piece into the center of each mini muffin pan.
Cook according to the directions on the cornbread box for mini muffins. Pair this with some ketchup for an excellent kid-friendly lunch.
Side dishes can include a mixture of fresh fruits and vegetables. The more colorful, the better. Other options include already prepared gluten-free products.
Fortunately, there is a tasty variety of products available at most grocery stores, including gluten-free muffins, bread, crackers, chips, and more.
Packing lunches can be tricky when preparing fresh foods. It is always a good idea to invest in a sturdy lunch box.
Additional items, like a thermos, can help keep warm foods warm or cold foods cold. Bento boxes can help separate food items for kids who do not like their foods to touch. Don’t forget the ice pack.
Substitutions Help Keep Your Little One From Feeling Left Out
Overall, preparation is the key to keeping the stress of packing gluten-free lunches to a minimum. Use creativity when trying to mix it up and keep in mind that kids are still kids.
They may not understand the importance of food restrictions. Let’s help them by keeping it fun, creative, and healthy.