Real Food School Lunches

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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  1. Hey peoples,
    I am a kid and have been looking for healthy foods like this to help me lose weight and these lunch foods sound delisous and healthy and something I would actually eat.

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Where is your compassion for a little 5 year old boy that has to sit at a table by himself at lunchtime? He won’t eat his lunch at all or just one item? Hard for the little guy to understand. Count your blessings lady.

      2. Actually, the burden does fall on the parent/child with allergies. When you drop your child off at school, you only have the inconvenience of not being able to pack certain items in your child’s lunch. I, on the other hand have to spend my day in fear that my child will come in contact with another child who has eaten peanut butter and forgotten to wash his hands. I, the parent of the child with allergies, have the wonderful experience of having to meet the ambulance at the ER, wondering if my child is going to survive another careless exposure. No, it’s not fair that Johnny can’t bring trail mix to school. It’s also not fair that my child could die from eating a peanut. And yes, I have found an alternative that works for us. He no longer attends public school.

  3. 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!