Real Food School Lunches

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I would be lying if I said coming up with a variety of healthy, real food, peanut-free, tree nut-free, portable lunch options wasn’t a challenge. I understand that the school is trying to protect children with severe peanut/tree nut allergies, but I have to admit that I often feel their little rules conflict with what we are trying to do…eat real food that is. On the school’s “safe snack list” which offers hundreds of “approved” options I literally found only 15 items that we would also consider to be “approved” for our kindergartner. They seriously have “Wendy’s Frosties” listed as an approved option so I suppose they would rather me send in one of those or something like a package of goldfish for her snack instead of a little all-natural cashew/dried fruit mix?

I know I can’t just sit here and complain and not do attempt to do anything about it. I am definitely going to do something…not necessarily overrule the nut-free aspect of it all, but something to hopefully encourage the school to put more of an emphasis on healthy “approved” snacks! We are only a few weeks into our first stint at the Elementary School so I feel like I want to spend a little more time observing first though. Certainly if you have any ideas or experience or suggestions in regards to healthy foods in schools or healthy food PTA/PTO committees…please share!

In the meantime, let’s talk about what I have been sending in my daughter’s lunchbox. I was at first giving her separate little items like a sandwich in foil, some pretzels in a small snack container, an apple in a plastic bag, and at the end of the day she was coming home with hardly any of her lunch missing! Then one day I went to school to have lunch with her. I got to witness first-hand the limited amount of time they have to actually eat in a cafeteria that naturally provides a massive amount of distraction. By the time she got the last little container open it was practically time to start packing everything back up.

So I knew I had to do something different, and I’d heard about all of the lunchbox/bento box/laptop lunch systems out there. While I liked the idea, I decided that I certainly didn’t need anything fancy or expensive (or that required me to pay an additional 5 or 10 bucks in shipping). So rather than ordering some overpriced “lunch system” off the Internet I just drove my car down to Target and spent a few bucks on a divided plastic Ziploc container. My 5-year-old now has to only take one lid off of one container and voila, her entire lunch is displayed in front of her. She has started coming home with almost everything gone since we made this change…and I am of course thrilled about that!

Here are some examples (pictured) of what I have been sending to school with her so far this year…

  • Hummus, cheddar, and carrot shavings on whole-wheat bread, popcorn, grapes and little organic carrot sticks
  • Celery with cream cheese and raisins on top, cheese, applesauce, peaches, and Triscuit crackers
  • Hummus and cheese on a homemade whole-wheat tortilla, grapes/raspberries, mango (her favorite), and a big whole-wheat pretzel
  • Cream cheese and jelly sandwich on whole-wheat bread, half of a banana, some apple slices, and a whole-wheat pretzel/pumpkin seed/dried fruit mix

I am also occasionally sending warm items in her little thermos as well. I will do a follow up post soon on those ideas and other options for snack time, too. Please also feel free to leave a comment with your school lunch ideas and suggestions if you have any!

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77 comments to Real Food School Lunches

  • sherry

    By the way, sorry to “hog” the comments, but I thought it was important to note that I am NOT considered to have a “serious” peanut allergy! The experiences I have described are very typical, I am fortunate enough to be able to walk in a place that has peanuts sitting around, although its not the smartest thing I could do. I am also able to sit on a plane next to someone who is eating them as long as they dont touch me before washing their hands, people with severe allergies can start reacting just from the proximity.

  • kim

    Some great lunch ideas! Even though I have teens, I can still get some great ideas from this. Teen boys just need MORE. lol! I am very happy I don’t have to worry about being nut-free at their school, although I understand the need (being a celiac and not able to have casein either) the issues surrounding food allergies and diseases. Selfishly, since we already don’t do gluten or dairy, I’d hate to have to not do nuts too. Strange how this has become such an issue.

  • Bebe

    Love your site. Awesome.

  • Sarah

    Hi Lisa- I am Jacob’s mom and am sorry that I just know found out about your website. This is really neat and I am loving reading this. I wish I had of known about these food trays that you sent lunch in, what a great idea. Too bad school is almost out but at least there is always next year!

  • I understand your frustration about the nut free policy. I know that it is deadly to some kids, but so are other things like wheat. I have two kids who get VERY ill when around wheat. They don’t have to eat it, just touch it. It would be easier on me if public places “outlawed” wheat, but that would not be fair to others. I think if the parents of the nut free kids are worried about it then they should home school. We plan on homeschooling our kids just for that reason. I know that may sound harsh to some parents who have a nut allergic child, I don’t mean it to be. But if we had to ban all foods that kids were allergic to there would be very few things left to eat. Betno boxes are amazing. We have a few laptop lunch boxes and several Japanese style bentos. We love them.

    • Christa

      An alternative to homeschool in many states is a charter virtual school. It’s considered public school, but the vast bulk of the work is done at home. Check out K12.com or Connections Academy. This is a great option for children with allergies or academic needs alike. And you don’t have to deal with the sending meals, worrying about snacks, etc, etc.

  • we care for such information much. we were seeking this particular info for a long time. Thank you and good luck.

  • Penelope

    I have some suggestions for those you complaining about no nut school lunch rooms:
    1)Perhaps your school can have a nut table. Kids can bring whatever nut products they want and sit at their own table so that their hands can be washed right after eating. This would avoid a death like mentioned above and provide the nutritional needs for those without nut allergies.
    2) Let your child have their fill of nut products before and after school for their snack
    3)If your child has sensory issues consult a speech therapist or occupational therapist. I have been in this situation and a therapist can work with your child to expand their diet without forcing them to eat anything they aren’t comfortable eating. This makes every meal less stressful for your entire family.
    4)If your child has very strong aversions to any foods it could be a food allergy or oral allergy syndrome which is a cross reaction to certain pollen allergies.
    5) A child’s life is worth saving. A girl died in Chicago from accidentally eating nuts at a school party. Another girl in southern California died on her prom night from accidental nut ingestion. There’s a young woman in a coma since march from accidentally eating nuts at school and a boy in the UK with brain damage as a result of a substitute teacher giving him something with a hazelnut in it. These reactions happen all the time and are often reported as an asthma attack or heart attack as those often happen when someone with a food allergy eats something they are allergic too. Food allergy in children is now 1 in 13. Food allergies can develop at anytime. You may end up with a nut allergy as well as anyone else in your family.

  • lolly

    My youngest is allergic to wheat,peanuts, eggs and dairy. He cannot touch these foods without reaction. When he was placed in a room with a tree kid allergy kid all I could think was “now what do we eat!?!” But we manage…and it helps him understand other peoples’ needs are important too.

  • Natalie

    My heart just sank as I read this.

    I send my 6 year old to school every day and I rely on other people to keep her safe. She has a severe peanut allergy. She is contact reactive. She is air particle reactive. We have experienced an anaphylactic reaction in which her blood pressure dropped out and her heart nearly stopped. I have sat in the backseat of my car as we rushed to the hospital and begged my toddler to breathe. I want her to go to school, to be a normal kid. She has a 504 plan that dictates her day so she can be safe. When I send her to school the only thing between her and death is her teacher, the other parents, the lunch staff etc… I rely on all of those people to keep her safe.

    Perhaps this could be an opportunity to teach your kids about looking out for others? About compassion? About realizing that sometimes we have to give something up because someone else’s need is greater.

    …and I hope that if any of you were ever to meet my daughter, that you wouldn’t see her as the “allergy kid that messes up our lunch planning”, but as a bright and beautiful girl that she is.

    • Laura J

      Natalie, I know it has been a while since you wrote this and I hope you are all well. My kindergarten daughter doesn’t eat meat, so I was dismayed when her pre-school and then her primary school went nut-free.
      However, along with my dismay, I realized that we have it easy. For most people, eating nuts it is a matter of habit and convenience rather than health.
      Now, a year and a half in to nut-free lunches, my daughter has become a more more versatile eater and I use a little more creativity sometimes. I absolutely agree that it is a situation that teaches children (and hopefully adults!) compassion and empathy. She does have kids with nut allergies in her class and I would be horrified if we somehow caused a health problem for one of them.

      I just want you to know that not ALL parents of nut-eating kids resent those with allergies or harbour hostilities. I think there are quite a lot of us who are sympathetic.

      All the best -

  • Gina Prendergast

    We are trying to eat healthier and after seeing the Prevention article mentioning this website, checked it out. I’m a little put off by the attitude towards the peanut allergy kids, however, as my son has a life threatening peanut allergy. Would they rather me send in fish crackers than some nuts you say? The answer is yes we would, as exposure to peanuts can result in immediate death to a child allergic to peanuts. Every year mothers of peanut allergic children have to try to keep their child safe while dealing with attitudes of people who think it is a burden they have to pack nut free. As these allergic children get older it becomes easier as they can read labels and stay away from certain foods. Please don’t try to combat this issue, but continue to come up with wonderful healthy alternatives. Got some great lunch ideas here and it is worth the inconvenience to provide a safe environment for all.

  • rachel heldt

    I would avoid soy butter for your daughter. 90 percent of soy is GMO, and soy mimics estrogen, not a great thing to give young girls. one of the main reasons I cut out processed food (or am attempting to cut out processed food) is to avoid soy which is on virtually every label. Goggle “dangers of soy” and you will be amazed at what the FDA allows us to consume. How about a jam and butter sandwich? Lots of good fat, the perfect amount of sweet. It would be like dessert on that delicious bread you bake.

  • bob

    It is great that schools are nut/peanut free. Poor you, my child could die from peanuts. You think you have it hard!!!!

  • xmas cracker

    Remarkable issues here. I am very satisfied to look your article. Thanks a lot and I’m looking forward to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

  • CV

    Hi all,

    I bought the “bento boxes” from Amazon and I love them! However, what lunch boxes do you use to send them to school? The lunch boxes we have are narrow and tall as opposed to wide and short which is fine for dry foods but if I want to send yogurt – well, big mess! Suggestions appreciated.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      I am not sure, which boxes you bought, but I can tell you that the zip lock ones that we use fit in Lands End and Old Navy rectangular lunch boxes.

  • Leah

    I don’t have children yet, but I checked the lunch menu for the school they’ll be attending…It’s nothing. But. Junk. I’m not even a parent and I was upset. This is what parents allow their children to eat.

    And on another note, the amount of junk parents buy their families. Oh my God! I work in retail and every time someone buys $100 of food stamps on junk food, I have to bite my tongue and try not to lecture them. You should have to take some sort of nutrition class. Sorry. Pet peeve of mine and one my husband always hears about.

  • Sonya

    Hello To Everyone! I think food allergy questions are sensitive issues. My children also attend a school that is peanut/nut-free,so I too must be creative when making lunches, and the same as some of you I dislike some of the snack suggestions that the school provided. But I would never want to put another child at risk so a rule that I started with my children is to not offer another child something from there lunch (food allergy children should be encouraged to question foods before putting into their mouths)as there are many severe allergies. I also believe that there should be other policies included in school lunch routines such a washing hands before & after eating and children should also wipe clean their eating area. I provide my children with a few hand wipes (for hands & eating spot). And getting back to lunch items that I give include lots of fruit, veggies, seeds (pumpkin or sunflower), cheese, applesauce, peanut/nut-free trail mix, chopped leftover meat or poultry, yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs. My son was once in a class where another child was deathly allergic to eggs so the teacher banned visable eggs (hard boiled or egg salad)for other children to bring. So the big issue is teaching our children basics of not giving away items, have children with food allergies question food, cleaning of hands & eating areas, and good adult supervision by teachers or lunch time supervisors (not older grade kids, I’ve seen this in past). Happy lunch planning everyone!

  • ASG

    We are fortunate not to have severe food allergies in our family, but I used to work at a daycare center where many of the children had allergies. Originally, when the center was small, we had a nut-free policy because of a child with an extremely serious allergy. Then, we got a new school nurse who decided calling the center “nut free” would give parents a false sense of security. I think she was right. The center had no control over what kids would eat before they came to school, whether or not they wiped peanut butter on their shirt, etc. What if a teacher went out to lunch and unknowingly came in contact with something that could trigger an allergy? What if a parent whose child was severely allergic to wheat, eggs, dairy, soy, or latex (we had all of those allergies in my class at one point!) wanted the center free of those things as well? Instead, we had a very clear plan for each child with special dietary needs. It was much more realistic and effective than an overall ban.

    Now, my kids are in school and there’s a nut free table in the cafeteria for lunch. One of my son’s has several nut allergies in his class and the teacher asked that kids don’t bring products with nuts for snack, but just in case they have a strict hand washing policy and take other steps because they know they can’t guarantee there won’t be anything peanut related in every child’s snack for the entire school year. I think is is much better than a false sense of security that comes with a “peanut free” sign on the door. It also protects the school from any liability. There’s no reason why a balance can’t be reached for everyone. Life is all about compromise and give and take and I think it’s great for kids to learn to think of others.

    • Melinda P.

      I think your response is the most sensible I have seen about allergy free zones. No one can totally control an environment with hundreds of people bringing foods (and other allergens)that might be unsafe for someone else. Unfortunately, I think the burden should fall on those with the allergies versus complete restrictions on those who don’t have allergies. One teacher at my son’s elementary school had an allergy to citrus (including odors), so, the entire school was restricted from bringing anything citrus to school. Sorry, this just seems like PC insanity to me. If my children had deathly allergies, I would find an alternative that worked for them rather than asking everyone else to accommodate them.

  • [...] my first two posts about school lunch ideas (post I and post II) I shared that my daughter goes to a peanut/tree-nut free school. As a result the [...]

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