Sammy’s Gluten-Free Lunch Box

Sammy’s Gluten-Free Lunch Box

Only a few fleeting moments…

For only a few fleeting moments they stay like this…in restful slumber…precious, sweet and fairly easy to feed. I breastfed all my children so the first six months of their life were simple when it came to food…no bottles to wash, no formula to prepare. It was simple and easy for me. Even once they started on solids, it wasn’t too bad. Now, when it came to changing Sam’s diet at 2-1/2 years (after his autism diagnosis), which included removing gluten, dairy, soy, egg, color dye, all additives and preservatives and switching to primarily organic foods, I have to admit it was a challenge but I soon found my stride. Preschool presented new challenges…dealing with a caretaker that may or may not understand your child’s food restrictions, my child now eating snack foods among peers (who are eating very differently) and the last minute cupcakes brought into the preschool room for a birthday celebration (even though I’d asked to be alerted to these type of events)…ugghhh. It was very stressful but once again, I soon found my stride and then…Sam headed off for elementary school…


Sammy’s first day of Kindergarten in 2012


Riding his bike to school

My biggest worry concerning food at school has been keeping my child on track. How do I continue to assure he will eat in such a way that his brain function and health continue to be optimized? Especially since mainstream food is over-processed, nutritionally void and full of chemical and additives that are not doing our children’s health and brain function any favors. Sammy is in what’s called “managed recovery.” He may always be susceptible to impaired brain function if he does not eat healthy, nutritionally dense foods and make good lifestyle choices. We’ve entered into a phase in Sammy’s life of having to begin to help him advocate for himself when it comes to safe food. I will no longer be there to protect him the majority of the time. I also cannot prevent him from swapping foods and throwing food away at school. I have to help him make good choices and also help him fit in, as much as possible, in his world where he functions among his peers.

The first decision I made is that Sam will most likely always be a “brown bagger” when it comes to school. I’ve looked into the school lunch system and it’s in dire need of repair and quite frankly, I don’t have the band width right now to take it on but will help support anyone who can. The reality is that I have lived this way for seven years…gluten, dairy, soy, egg and additive-free. For the first three years of my diet change, I took my food everywhere with me. I’ve become quite the connoisseur of “to-go ware.” I have every size of cooler, food container and Thermos available. So, now this is Sammy’s reality too until our food system is repaired. Below I’ve featured some of his lunch selections. Note that as much as I would love to feed him unprocessed food, I have found it stressful for both him and me. He really, really wants to “fit in” at school so I choose what I call safe “peer friendly” lunch food for him. When he’s at home, I told him, “he’s mine and he eats what’s in front of him” which is homemade whole food (most of the time). Also please note, many of these store bought foods can be made at home. I used to make home-made gluten-free chicken nuggets and freeze them for future use. I now do not have the time for this but it’s a good idea if you can manage it. It gives you optimum control over what goes into their food and ultimately their body.

grilled chix

Grilled Chicken Kebab with brown rice and veggies

Above is one of Sammy’s favorites. I like it because it’s less processed than some of the other lunches. I marinate the chicken and then grill it. I make this for dinner and then give him leftovers for lunch the next day. It saves a lot of effort and time. I use two different recipes that are featured at the end of this post. I’ve also included the brown rice recipe that most kids love because it’s moist and flavorful. The sauce for the chicken is Organicville barbecue sauce. The jellybean brand is featured below. Please note, Sam is instructed that he cannot have his treat until he finishes both his protein and vegetables. For now, it’s working.


Non-GMO, organic, gluten and dye-free


Turkey sandwich

Sammy wanted turkey sandwiches for a long time because his friend was eating them. I’m glad he’s finally over that phase. I used Applegate brand turkey (featured below) with either Udi’s multi-grain bread or Kinnikinnick brand bread. They both have egg. Sam can do a little egg in baked goods. The corn chips are organic and GF certified. The cookies are Homefree brand featured below. I like them because they are the perfect size for a small treat and they are allergy friendly.


Applegate organics, gluten, dairy and nitrate free





Sometimes Sammy will request a “nut butter sandwich” for afternoon snack (at daycare). I personally don’t think a nut butter or peanut butter sandwich is enough substance for lunch. In addition, mainstream peanut butter is filled with additives, peanuts are heavily sprayed with pesticides, they have mold issues and increasingly more children have life threatening allergies to peanuts (and tree nuts). I just stay away from peanuts including peanut butter. Although at home we use fresh ground almond butter, we use Trader Joe’s sunflower seed butter at school when needed. It’s safe for social situations where you could have a child with a nut or peanut allergy.

Used for a snack sandwich only

Used for a snack sandwich only

Small size allergy friendly cookies

Small size allergy friendly cookies



Turkey rolls

Turkey pin wheels are a fun lunch option. Above I’ve featured turkey and ham. I use Applegate brand for both turkey and ham slices. I include either romaine lettuce or spinach in the roll with Sammy’s favorite spread, mustard. Guacamole or avocado would be another great sandwich spread for this. You can also use chicken salad. I’ve included the recipe below. For the cookies here, I used our favorite, Kinnikinnick chocolate sandwich cookies, K-Too’s (the “Oreo” knock off).


One brand of tortillas used for the turkey rolls


Another good brand of tortilla used for the turkey rolls


The turkey, ham, lettuce and mustard…ready to roll


After rolling, use a very sharp nice to cut the pin wheels from the rolled tortilla. Hold the roll firmly in place to prevent it from falling apart.




Simple turkey rolls

On occasion, Sam will tell me he doesn’t want the bread and would prefer just the turkey meat. I squeeze a little mustard in the middle of the turkey slice before rolling. Here I used Sam’s favorite GF pretzel, Synder brand. Glutino also makes a tasty GF pretzel. I used sunflower seed butter for the “ants on a log” celery stick (organic celery with seed butter and then topped with organic raisins). The treat in the middle is gummy bears by Surfsweets.




Pizza time!

What child does not love pizza? Our favorite GF crust is Venice Bakery. They are vegan, certified gluten-free and very tasty. They offer a five inch “sample size” that is great for children. It fits perfectly into his lunch box. Below I have featured two different type of cheeses. I used to use Daiya brand on this pizza. It is gluten, dairy and soy-free. I’ve now opted to start using goat milk cheese on his pizza. I consider to be “real food” and he hasn’t had a reaction to it….neither have I. Goat milk is closer to human milk in amino acid structure and is easier to digest. It is also typically less processed than cow milk cheese. Keep in mind that it is still an immune response stimulator so it might not be for everyone. Sammy loves the flavor of this “cheddar type” goat cheeses below.



Raw goat milk cheese…sometimes easier to digest than cow’s milk cheese


Dairy, gluten and soy-free. This product is tapioca based



Green soup with GF chicken nuggets

I try to balance out the GF processed foods with some really healthy foods such as my “green soup” recipe. It looks like cream of broccoli but is dairy-free. It contains only broccoli, asparagus, leeks, shallots, spinach, sea salt and chicken broth. Sammy’s favorite chicken tenders are Applegate (see below).SamsPick




Chicken Sandwich

Sam really likes these chicken patties by Ian’s. They are not my favorite but then again, it’s not my lunch. This one is served on a Canyon Bakehouse GF hamburger buns. These are our favorite. Another favorite is Katz GF Bakery featured below.SamsPick



One of our favorite buns…Canyon Bakehouse


Katz Gluten-Free (sorry for the blurry photo)



Chicken nuggets with pasta and sweet potato fries

For this lunch, Sammy requested pasta. I use several brands of GF pasta so I’m not sure of the brand featured here. Typically for elbow pasta, I use Tinkyada (rice based) or Bionaturae (contains soy) brands. I made the sweet potato fries from scratch. They are super easy and I ate some for breakfast that morning too. I used an organic apple that I cut myself. I stay away from pre-cut apples. They hurt my stomach…it’s probably something they’ve added to prevent browning. The dye-free organic gummy worms are from Surfsweets again. They offer regular and a sour version.




Chicken nuggets and mac n cheese

Now here’s a super processed lunch. I consider this to be one of Sam’s “peer friendly” lunches. He doesn’t ask for it often (thank goodness) but on occasion, I don’t mind. His favorite mac n cheese is either Miglet’s Bakery’s house made or Amy’s soy-free version (featured below). You’ll also see the brownie treat below, Lucy’s brand, and one of our favorite GF crunchy crackers.


Another GF chicken nugget option


Gluten, dairy and soy-free mac n cheese


These are pre-baked and packaged in two’s. They are a perfect size for lunch boxes.


One of our favorite crunchy type GF crackers


Mama’s meatballs!

I think this is one of my favorite lunches. Mama’s meatballs with pasta. I used Second Helping Mama’s Meatballs. They are frozen and ready to pop into a pan of marinara sauce and cook for about 20 minutes. They are super easy to prepare and are tasty. I’m pretty sensitive to processed food or anything prepared but these do not hurt my stomach. I consider them very close to “homemade.” I use Organicville marinara sauce and spaghetti noodles. Our two favorite GF spaghetti noodles are featured below. I have a homemade recipe for meatballs if you’re interested. Email me at


Second Helping Mama’s Meatballs…just like homemade. Available at Draeger’s Market, New Leaf Community Markets and Miglet’s Bakery in Danville






Another product that Second Helping offers is GF “corn puppies.” These are a perfect lunch solution. The tablets in the center of his lunchbox are Sammy’s digestive enzymes.

corn dogs package


lunch9In this lunch, I go a little crazy and let me son be a kid for a day with GF, dairy and nitrite-free organic grass-fed hot dogs. I’ve noticed that regular ketchup causes Sam to be hyper. I am not sure why but we use this Organicville ketchup below sweetened with agave nectar and it does not have a negative effect on him. Another option I do is beef medallions. I buy 100% grass fed beef. I find that a nice cut such as Chateaubriand is easier for him to chew because it’s tender. He only consumes about four ounces so the cost is not too bad. I have the butcher cut the meat into bite size cubes and then I salt and pepper them before quickly sauteing them in a skillet. It’s super easy and quick.




I use 100% grass-fed for Sammy’s beef medallions.

lunchAnother option is to send stew, soup or, in this case, chicken and dumplings in a “Thermos” style container. I make my soups and stews very hearty and thick so they are a meal within themselves. You can serve a soup/stew with brown rice or GF pasta.



I have also found it useful to create a “safe snack box” for Sam to store at school or daycare. I also keep one of these in my car so that I have an easy snack for sports or other events.



Contents of Sammy’s Safe Snack box

India Tree GFCF Dye Free Sprinkles

India Tree GF Dye Free Sprinkles

Above are the “safe snacks’ that I store in the bin above. I include a bottle of dye-free sprinkles. On occasion, a project at school or daycare will require sprinkles and this gives Sammy a quick and safe option.

Another tip I offer is to work closely with all teachers, care takers, coaches, room parents and team mom’s. I always email or talk to them in person to alert them of Sammy’s diet restrictions. I attend all school events/parties to help monitor the situation and offer to review and sometimes even modify menus and recipes to make the food safer and more healthy for all the kids. You would be surprised at the support and interest it can generate. It’s a great way to increase awareness of healthy eating for our kids.


Sam’s first day of first grade this year (2013)

Feeding this little guy has been a challenge and it’s been worth every step and every ounce of worry and effort. The day that Sammy was “mainstreamed” for elementary school with no assistance (graduating from his special education program he had since he was three) was one of the best days of my life. “Recovered,” “mainstreamed” and “no assistance” were words I dreamed about 4-1/2 years ago and now they are my reality. When I see moments like this below, I tear up and think about how I felt the day of Sammy’s diagnosis (read more here, Sammy’s autism spectrum diagnosis). I had no idea what my son’s future would look like. Today from my perspective…it looks pretty bright. Now, I’m off to prepare our organic gluten, dairy, egg, dye and soy-free dinner with great joy (smile from me).


A good day.




Teriyaki Style Marniated Chicken
  • 8-12 raw chicken tenders (not the breaded type)
  • ⅓ cup gluten-free tamari sauce
  • 2 TBL organic brown sugar, honey or agave nectar
  • 3 TBL gluten-free rice wine vinegar
  • 1 TBL olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves minced garlic (jar version is okay)
  • 2 TBL minced ginger root (jar version is okay)
  • ½ teas. Sesame seed oil
  • ¼ teas. Red pepper flakes
  1. Mix ingredients in a bowl. Add raw chicken tenders and marinate for 2-4 hours. I place the tenders in a plastic storage bag (see first photo below) and store in refrigerator during the marinating process. When ready to cook, I put the tenders on a metal skewer (see second photo below) and grill until 170 degrees.

The chicken tenders marinating in a plastic storage bag



Easy and Yummy Marinated Chicken
  • j6-8 boneless, skinless organic chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ⅛ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 - 2 heaping tablespoon(s) grainy mustard (country style)
  • 1 teaspoon of favorite GF seasoning (I use Herbivare brand)
  • 4-5 minced garlic cloves
  • 3 sliced scallions/green onions
  1. Whisk ingredients together and marinate chicken for 1-2 days in a plastic storage bag
  2. Grill until 170 degrees.


Yummy Brown Rice
  • 1 cup, organic short-grain California grown brown rice
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp dried thyme
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • ½ bay leaf
  1. Mix ingredients in medium pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 40 minutes stirring occasionally.


Chicken Salad
  • 4-6 cooked organic skinless chicken breasts (steamed, boiled or baked)
  • Or, 1 whole pre-cooked rotisserie chicken, meat removed from the bones and shredded
  • 2 stalks organic celery, chopped into small pieces
  • ¼ cup shredded organic carrot
  • 2-3 green onions, sliced
  • ½ - 1 cup soy-free "vegenaise" (egg-free mayo type spread)
  • 2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Halved grapes and chopped pecans (no nuts for school though due to potential nut allergies)
  1. Process chicken meat in a food processor until ground. See photo below.
  2. Mix all ingredients and adjust the vegenaise, sweetener and salt/pepper to taste. Serve in a rolled gluten-free tortilla with a romaine lettuce leaf, on gluten-free bread or just on (or rolled in) a butter or romaine lettuce leaf.

The chicken after processing


  1. I love all of these suggestions! It’s so hard packing lunches for kids, especially when they want all of the over processed foods that most other kids are eating. Thank you so much for all of this information!!

    • You’re welcome. We all need help and inspiration along this path. 🙂

  2. Hello! Thank you so much for sharing. Our family is just starting our gluten and dairy free lifestyle so I appreciate all the help I can get. I do have a question for you about the hot dogs (and any other non-preserved food) – is there a food safety issue if they don’t stay hot or cold? I ask because my daughter doesn’t have a way to keep her food refrigerated at school other than her lunch box and a freezer pack.



    • Hi Bre
      I would contact Applegate and ask them. Now that Sammy is in public school and has has the same problem, I have started using insulated food containers when the food needs to stay hot or cold.


  3. Hi Kim –

    Thank you for all of the suggestions! Just a few questions, as I am still learning and my little one will be starting preschool here in a month or so….

    1. Where did you get Sam’s lunchbox? I love all of the compartments!
    2. Does your local grocery stores carry all of these fabulous allergen free brands or do you order from a website(s)?
    3. Also, are the two pretzel brands you mention above GFCFSF? I thought there was soy in the glutino pretzels (which are great btw)?
    4. Do you know if Columbus Meats (SF Bay Area company) are CFSF? Costco sells their some of their products and they are labeled gluten, nitrate and GMO free. Applegate lunch meats are great…but the Columbus lunch meats would be so much more economical and they are heartier too!


    • Hi Taryn
      1. Where did you get Sam’s lunchbox? I love all of the compartments! Plant Lunch Box. I ordered it online although I’ve noticed that Pottery Barn for Kids in Stoneridge Mall (Pleasanton) was carrying them at one point.
      2. Does your local grocery stores carry all of these fabulous allergen free brands or do you order from a website(s)? Yes, most of them. Venice Bakery I order online and I use Gluten Free Mall for some items.
      3. Also, are the two pretzel brands you mention above GFCFSF? I thought there was soy in the glutino pretzels (which are great btw)? Both brands do have soy lecithin. Sammy has never reacted to soy so I occasionally will let him have some. I limit it though because I know it can be an issue for kids on the spectrum.
      4. Do you know if Columbus Meats (SF Bay Area company) are CFSF? Costco sells their some of their products and they are labeled gluten, nitrate and GMO free. Applegate lunch meats are great…but the Columbus lunch meats would be so much more economical and they are heartier too! I’m not sure about the soy. I only use their pepperoni that I get from Sprout’s but have stopped using it for now because Sammy’s says it’s too spicy.

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