Gluten Free Lunch: To Go! Ideas for what to pack

GF Bento Lunch

A packed lunch from last school year. Photo by Kate Chan

Are you looking for a little inspiration for your lunch box/bag?  Me too.  I put together a little post about my favorite ways to pack up my lunch to make it more exciting and now I thought I’d list a few of my lunch menus/ideas/components as well as some links to where I find inspiration to cute-up or nutrition-up my lunches.

Just a little thought for you neophytes on the hand-packed, homemade lunch route:  I’ve gotten MUCH better at packing a balanced lunch than I used to be.  I don’t think I paid much attention to my food balance… until I started taking pictures of it all!  Now THAT will keep ya on your toes – and it’s much healthier to boot!

The easiest lunch to take:  leftovers.  And this is something I take frequently.  We make extra portions when we cook for exactly this purpose.   While cleaning up the kitchen, I just pack the leftovers for lunch, varying a bit the side dishes (if I pack side dishes at all) and being sure to toss in some fruit/veg.  I know leftovers are not exactly the most romantic or exciting thing…. well, wait.. that depends on what you ate for dinner, I guess.  Sometimes leftovers aren’t an option – maybe we didn’t eat at home or we had friends over, etc.  So that is when the rest of this list kicks in.

I wrote about lunches last year too.  I think the lunch thing always hits me hard when school starts.  I’m no longer at home where easy access to “whip” something up is possible.  Being gluten-free and planning lunch has certainly forced me to become more organized and thorough about my plans for the day.  I no longer just “wing it”, but make sure that I have a plan for myself so I don’t feel deprived or annoyed…. or downright crabby (I was so gonna say something else… but I’m keeping it PG) at work.  Some days last twelve hours or more at school and then another 2 or 3 at home prepping for the next day.  I don’t have time for food meltdowns.

And now with a kidlet on the way?  NO TIME for FOOD meltdowns times two. (And thankfully, no more twelve hours at school crap either!  I shall be joining the ranks of those teachers who are “permitted and allowed” to leave at a reasonable hour because they have kids.  Apparently my dog, Max, never counted as this permission – even though he is quite dependent on us for those walks/potty breaks. Oy vey! I’m whining again! Sorry!)

Mr. Bento Premier

A Mr. Bento Lunch – My first Mr. Bento Lunch from the 07-08 School Year.
Photo by Kate Chan

(Click on the link for the picture to see what each item is.)

So, what’s my plan?   Here’s the list of goodies that I count on for lunch.  It’s a mix and match list.  (And I’m probably even repeating some here without knowing it.)  What would you add?

These are the  items I pack:

  • Green leafy salads – all varieties!
  • Quinoa Salads or Quinoa Tabbouleh
  • Cheese crackers/Mock Fish crackers
  • Fruit:  Grapes, cherries, oranges, blueberries, bananas, oranges, starfruit, jicama, etc.
  • Veggie sticks:  carrots, celery, sugar snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce wraps, etc
  • Mango-Ginger Chutney with GF lunch meats and/or salad
  • Stew/Rice packed on top to keep the stew together and warm
  • Nori Wraps – nori wrapped around cucumber, avocado, etc – with or without rice
  • Sushi – California rolls, tuna, salmon, cucumber, inari, etc rolls.  (sushi rice recipe)
  • GF Pretzels with grain mustard dip
  • Celery with GF Cinnamon peanut butter or cinnamon hazelnut or cinnamon almond butter
  • Raw nuts/seeds and dried fruit
  • Homemade GF granola bars/granola cereal
  • Polenta Fries
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Savory grits
  • Yogurt  (with fruit, or fat free Greek yogurt, etc)
  • Red pepper strips with tzatziki
  • Taco salads/nachos: Chips, guacamole/avocado, salsa, shredded lettuce, shredded chicken
  • Chicken/tuna salad (use Greek yogurt instead of mayo to lower the fat)
  • Canned salmon/tuna (packed in water)
  • Chilaquiles (I love using the Nissan for this.  Keep the broth HOT until I’m ready for the chilaquiles!)
  • Onigiri (Seamaiden @ Book of Yum has a great post about Onigiri here)
  • Jicama strips
  • Beef or salmon jerky
  • Hard boiled eggs (shaped, of course)
  • String cheese or “Laughing Cow” cheese bites
  • Egg Muffins (NOT Egg McMuffins) with cheese/ham or green onion/garlic or mushrooms (See Kaylyn’s Kitchen for the recipe.)
  • Teriyaki Chicken salad
  • Steamed veggies
  • Risotto with seasonal veg and/or seafood
  • Parmesan crisps
  • Lettuce wrap sandwiches
  • Spring rolls
  • Dates with cream cheese and walnuts (definitely a dessert!)
  • Nori strips for snacking
  • Garbanzo beans:  on salads, fried or baked/crispy for snacking or salads
  • Baked Falafel
  • Fruit kebabs
  • Hummus with veg sticks or pita or baked wrap “chips”
  • Fruit leather (Here’s how Carrie @ Ginger Lemon Girl makes hers.)
  • Popcorn
  • Smoothies
  • Cinnamon nuts
  • Cucumber salads or sandwiches
  • Little fruit-filled mochi or red bean-filled mochi (I like the small 1 oz size)
  • Rice cakes (I prefer the thin ones over the thick ones, if savory)
  • Sweet rice cakes (dessert or sweet treat after school at only 20 calories!)
  • Baked sweet potato chips (or parsnip chips, etc)
  • Rice with nori & sesame seeds
  • GF Oatmeal with cherries or cinnamon with a little rice milk
  • Sandwiches
  • Wrapped Sandwiches

And of course – desserts when I will allow myself the treat. (Check the desserts recipes on the Recipe page.) I like make cookies to bring to work.  Helps with portion control – and looks “normal”  LOL!  I especially love Aunt Selma’s (GF) Oatmeal Cookies and the Chocolate Threat Cookies.

Mr Bento...mmm..cold salad & GF lunch =)

Another of My Mr. Bento Lunches – a tad starch-heavy, but yummy!
Photo by Kate Chan

(Click on the link for the picture to see what each item is.)

I know this list is not nearly complete.  There are a million things we can eat for lunch.  And here are a few sites where I seek inspiration when I’m feeling in a lunch-rut:

  • Mr. Bento Flickr Pool – People take pictures of their Mr. Bento packed lunches.  You don’t have to have a Mr. Bento to be inspired by some of their ideas – Many of which are quick, healthy, and easy on the budget too.
  • Laptop Lunch Flickr Pool – Just like the “Mr. Bento” pool – but with a different pack.  Still inspirational – and often kid-friendly too.
  • Lunch In A Box – a great site with great ideas for lunches.  While she focuses on “bentos”, really – it’s all just packing a lunch. 🙂
  • Lunchbox Recipes Flickr Pool – Similar to the three above, except you are guaranteed a recipe to go along with the tasty eye-candy treats.
  • The Lunchbox Gourmet – Written by someone with multiple food allergies (NOT gluten-free, however) and is a rather long list of recipes and ideas for lunches.  Perfect to make your brain kick in to gear and get you motivated!
  • Chocolat-Vanille’s Flickr Bento Set – A Japanese woman who shares photos of her Tupperware lunches.
  • Kastinkerbento – A live journal blog with photos of great bento meals from breakfast through dinner
  • And OF COURSE – ALL of my GF Blogger Buddies, links on the side here.  HUGE Inspiration there!

A little bento lunch

Another school lunch from last year.
Photo by Kate Chan

(Click on the link for the picture to see what each item is.)

And check out this super cute idea…. oh, yea… I can’t WAIT until there is a kidlet around this house for me to make bentos like this for! Strawberry Mice anyone? (Almond ears, mini-chocolate chip eyes/nose)

Photo by Shiegra.  Found here on Flickr.

So …. what are YOU going to be packing for lunches this <school> year?


  1. Thanks for putting this list together! I’m going to have to be more organized this year about bringing lunch to work. And I really ought to get myself some of those nifty containers. Now if only I had someone to make me cute little strawberry mice…

  2. I wish I worked a job where I needed to bring lunch! But working the morning shift at Wholefoods, where you are surrounded by snacks all day long and you only get 15 minutes to eat, isn’t conducive to bringing lunch. Oh, someday.

  3. Cassandra says:

    Braden’s lunch is really very simple. I found last year that if I sent a sandwich, he didn’t get too much eaten, because chewing the bread took longer. He only gets a half hour for lunch, and that’s not very much when you are only 6 years old and talk incessantly.

    He gets meat and cheese, a vegetable (thinly-sliced works best for cutting down on time), sometimes gf crackers or pretzels, and some fruits. The fruit varies – fresh, dried, unsweetened applesauce, those little plastic cups of fruit in their own juices, and/or 100% fruit snacks.
    I sometimes (but rarely) send a dessert or chips with him. I think he gets enough of that at other times. Plus, since he has so little time to eat (for him anyways), I want to make sure that what he is getting is the best for him.

    I pack it all with a frozen box of 100% juice. It keeps the meat and cheese cool, and is almost like a slushy by the time he eats.
    I don’t send heated leftovers because he doesn’t want them.
    Last week, he started making a list of different things he wants in his lunch. This included cheese, turkey, and spinach wraps (no tortilla or anything, just wrapped in the cheese) and some healthy snack-type things like Veggie Booty.

    I don’t know yet what “snack-time” will be like. I’m hoping that each child will bring their own each day (he is in second grade now, after all). They had some rather unhealthy snacks last year.

    Last year, I didn’t send anything with nuts or peanuts because he had at least 2 kids in the class with epi-pens because of their allergies (and even though it wasn’t a rule, I just didn’t think it was right). We’ll see what this year holds.

  4. I’m not quite sure how I linked to your blog, but I just found it yesterday. And I’m so glad I did! Your recipes sound so good and so many that I haven’t seen presented in other blogs. Thanks for writing and I’m glad I found you! After being gluten free over 5 years, there are still some things that I miss that I haven’t found good recipes for yet. You might have fixed that 🙂

  5. Your bentos are sooo cute! I shopped around on the internet, but the prices were a little too much. I ended up finding cute Hello Kitty bento boxes at one of the dollar stores. They’re a good size, they stack and they have a fork in a slot on the lid. Then I bought a big bowl with a lid for my salad days.

    I work at a (totally glutenized!) university. This will be my first year of gf brown bagging. Thanks for all the tips!

  6. I usually pack leftovers for lunch, or tuna/ egg salad or cheese & crackers. The problem with re-heating hot leftovers is sometimes the microwave on campus is broken :o/

    For snacks I bring cheese cubes and some type of fruit. I’ve started making a GF chex mix that I think will work well. Looking for a granola bar recipe that I actually like!

    Horrayyyy for back to school… haha

    Oh– this “bento” thing looks neat!! I’ve never heard of them before.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. My son has had to go gfcf and packing a lunch for him is a bit more challenging than last year. I got a Laptop Lunchbox for him and that’s helping, but the more ideas the better. Thanks!

  8. Thank you for all your great lunch ideas! My 5-year old (CD diagnosis at 16 months, also peanut & tree nut allergies) is about to start kindergarten and needs to bring lunch. Even though he’s brought lunch to daycare & pre-school, it’s time to go beyond soybean butter & GF bread. And with kids, it’s all about presentation!
    I’m trying hard to do “waste-free” lunches this year, but it’s tough to break the string cheese habit. My spouse has a bento box, but I still have to get one for the kid.

  9. Wonderful ideas! I have a product question, where did you get the green lunch box, looks kind of like the Laptop Lunchbox, but different?

    We tried the Laptop Lunch, and my son loved the organization, but the outside plastic lid ripped off, making it unusable after less than a year. Also, he had a lot of trouble opening the small lids on the inside containers, and without them, the food spilled together. (My son is GFCF, has mild autism and has some fine motor difficulties, lunch is stressful at school and we seek to make it as easy as possible for him to eat!)

    The one you show looks better designed. Just curious where you got it. Mr. Bento looks cool too. I’ll have to check it out!

    Great site! I found you via Thomas at The GFCF Experience.


    Hi Katherine – thanks for stopping by! 😉 I found my little green “Leaflet” bento at a local Asian market which has a random collection/stock of bento things. You can find this box and others on ebay usually. I’ve had great luck with ebay sellers. Just watch the descriptions to make sure the bento is/is not microwaveable and size measurements. Other than that, find the style that suits you. I really prefer the ones that have the bands inserted along the seals as it keeps everything INSIDE my bento box and not splashing around in my lunch bag. Good luck with you bento hunt! -Kate

  10. Thanks for the list. I’ve saved it and will use it as a reference for the future.

  11. Excellent site, keep up the good work

  12. Your packed lunches are awesome and take note its healthy as well as nutritious. mmm… yummy! Oh if you want, I know another site that sells lunch boxes and are made of high quality stainless steel food grade. More safe and convenient to use when packing a large amount of food. You’ll love the design and style because the stainless steel containers are different and unique. Plus, its all environmentally friendly, very fantastic! You can check out the site at Happy Tiffin

  13. I am so happy to have found your site! I’m a teacher too, and a mom and trying to turn our family mostly gluten free. I’m having so much trouble finding time to do the necessary prep! Thank you!

  14. Im having a very hard time dealing with gluten,and wath to eat
    i think you side will help me a lot..thanks

  15. What a helpful blog… thank you for giving so many great options!

  16. My 5 yr old is gluten-, soy-, dairy-, egg- and sugar-sensitive. We’re off gluten entirely. For the others, now that his little stomach is healed up, I can feed him the other foods about once a week. As a single mom, student and teacher, I feel swamped each day, so I’m making week menus and planning all five lunches at the same time for the first time in my life. Thanks for the creative ideas!

  17. Great site! I was diagnosed this week with a gluten intolerance and I have to admit
    I was a little lost…and pretty bummed out. Not anymore 🙂

    Thanks for the recipes!


  18. Thanks so much for this!
    I am a teacher and my son has a wheat sensitivity. These are some great ideas for packing lunches! Thanks.
    Love the strawberry mice 🙂

  19. I just found your blog today! So glad I did. I was just told a doctor last week that I need to go wheat and dairy free. I absolutely love the lunch ideas.

  20. Hi, Check out Many ideas for lunch are gluten free.


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