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?

Gluten Free Lunch: To Go! Packing it all up.

Options for packing your gluten free lunch

It’s empty now, but it won’t be once school kicks off again.

One short week.

That’s all that stands between me and mayhem.  Soon the school year will kick off with the unpacking, arranging, sorting, planning, organizing, meetings, and whatnot.  All BEFORE the students even *think* about venturing out of their beds earlier than their late summer waking times.   In reality, I started working a few weeks ago:  meetings, reading literature, planning, gathering ideas, researching and reviewing literature.  This topped with our Adoption work is definitely keeping me BUSY!

And then I started getting geared up for gluten free lunch at school.  I realized how many things I do during the year that help me stay gluten free at work.  In some ways, maybe only having 25 minutes for lunch and no option of “eating out” is really helpful.  Maybe gluten free school lunch is actually rather ideal… and cheaper (!) than eating out weekly.

I thought it might be a good idea to share some of my favorite lunch ideas and get a dialogue going with you all about what you eat/pack for your lunches, etc.  Keep in mind, please, that there are a two things to know ahead of time.

First:  Know what type of access you may have to appliances.  For example, I have a microwave and a GF Only Toaster in my classroom.  While there are microwaves available in most schools (our high school has a couple microwaves for the kids to use, as to the middle schools), most elementary schools will require the student to get permission or help to use the microwaves in the teacher’s lounge or office.  (Microwaves are usually donated by teachers or if not new, the microwaves are more likely to be the old model when a teacher purchases a new one for home.)

Second:  Plan your packing well.  While there is a small refrigerator (college dorm room size) in the Staff room in my hall, there are also 15 of us in the hallway.  All of our lunches just don’t fit.  Sometimes I may slide a yogurt into the fridge, but I usually just choose to pack my lunch better.  It works.  One time I even had frozen sorbet with fruit for my lunch – some 5 hours after I’d packed it.

I have a few packing options that I use often.   Here they are:

Options for packing your gluten free lunch

1. Leaflet Bento Box

I like my Leaflet because it’s quite versatile and super easy to clean. (and inexpensive. I found it at a local Asian market and paid $6.00.) First, it has three removable compartments (See the first photo in this post) – perfect for when I’m packing a sandwich (large compartment), cottage cheese and fruit (the two small compartments) or some other similar lunch treats.  Since the compartments are also removable, I’ve take the small ones out and filled the large compartment with salad and the other side (where the two small ones would normally fit) with ravioli or etc.

Somethings to note:

  • The base and dividing compartments are microwave-friendly.
  • The lid/rubber seal are NOT microwave friendly.
  • The rubber seal comes out for easy cleaning and does a GREAT job of sealing in foods.
  • This is not a temperature-keeper, like a thermos would be.  Pack this inside an insulated bag if the food items need to be kept warm/cool or just pack inside a basic cloth bag and reheat as necessary.

Options for packing your gluten free lunch

2.  My Mini Bento – A smaller version than my “Mr. Bento” that I love.

Options for packing your gluten free lunch

This version has two cups with lids (medium and small-ish) and a larger cup that slides into a metallic cylinder.  And your own pair of chopsticks with a chopstick holder to match! 🙂 The larger one that slides into the cylinder keeps things warm, but the cylinder heats up with the temperature of the food within – so beware!  Don’t pack your cold cottage cheese in one of the small cups alongside your hot soup.  It won’t work.  The benefit here though?  Since the large one slides in to something metal, without the cylinder the larger container is microwaveable.  Why should it matter? Let’s just say it’s been the perfect working-lunch container.  I bring the food to school cool/cold, but put soup or something that I want to heat up in the large one.  Then, right before the working-lunch/meeting begins, I pop the large container (sans cylinder) in to the microwave, heat it, return it to the cylinder and it stays warm while I move the meeting location.

Somethings to note:

  • That cylinder is not microwaveable! (Did I say that already)
  • The small containers are not really salad-friendly, unless you are hauling potato salad or something similar.
  • The lid on the larger container seals liquids well – but this one is not really all that tip-worthy.  I definitely carry this one and don’t put it in my backpack filled with liquids.
  • The heat transference from the larger container (or cold) transfers because of the close quarters in the bag and it’s not insulated. (Rather strange really, but I love that I can slide the large container out to microwave.)

Options for packing your gluten free lunch

3.  My new one:  A Lock & Lock lunch bag.

Lock & Lock has a line of lunch bags with their great containers within.  (I use their containers for my flours and LOVE them!) I’ve seen two versions of this lunch container.  This is the smaller of the two.  Although, part of me thinks the larger one would have been great for my 12 hour days when I would pack some snack, etc for my afternoon.  I found it at my local Asian market.  Actually, I’ve seen a few of these different Asian markets in town.  (Watch the prices.  I bought this one for $8.00.) I got this version as a little shove into the world of “portion control”.  This container has two long Lock & Lock snap containers – one is divided into three equal sections (unchangeable) and the other is one compartment completely.  It also has a Lock & Lock beverage container.  I’m rather looking forward to packing a smoothie for my lunch treat.  It will beat the cold coffee or water that I normally drink and give me a great vitamin boost to boot.

Options for packing your gluten free lunch

Options for packing your gluten free lunch

Somethings to note:

  • While this bag is insulated, it will either keep everything cold or everything warm.  Keep that in mind when meal planning and packing.
  • The smaller compartments are a great way to ensure balanced meals that don’t overwhelm.  Pack one with carrots, the other with yogurt and the third with fruit.  Perfect tastes.  Or use one of the compartments plus a little bento dressing bottle to pack your salad dressing for the salad in the larger container.
  • Consider removing the drink if you wish to pack whole pieces of fruit (bananas, etc) within the bag.
  • That long container?  It’s wickedly perfect for a roll-up wrap sandwich. 🙂

Okay, so it’s just a thermos. But not really.  This baby has kept my pozole HOT for EIGHT hours one day!  In fact, I bought this one because i have the coffee thermos made by Nissan.  I was SHOCKED one day when I first got that thermos that my coffee leftovers were still STEAMING hot when I got home and was pouring the remainder out in order to clean the thermos.  Nissan?  I think I love you.   That and there is no glass here – nothing to break when it bounces around or , ahem, drops.  And the liquid stays INSIDE the thermos.  Not even a droplet in my bag.  Oh yea.  It’s thermos-love around here for Nissan.  How much love?  One day I put the open thermos in the freezer the night before school.  In the morning, I scoop frozen sorbet into the thermos and packed some fruit.  At lunch, some 5 hours later, my sorbet was still perfectly cold.  Oh yea.  It’s love.  No one else at lunch had anything nearly as fun!

Somethings to note:

  • This is definitely NOT microwaveable.
  • Pouring hot water in before filling with hot foods will help it retain heat.
  • The heat does NOT transfer to the outside – so it’s still cool to the touch.
  • Keep the thermos open (uncapped) in the freezer or fridge the night before (or filling with ice cubes for a few minutes in the morning) will help the thermos retain the cold.
  • It holds 10 ounces (1 1/4 cups).


These are just a few of the packing ideas for lunches.  I have really lived my “lunch life” as a fun one.  And why not?  To be honest, I enjoy making lunch fun.  It gives me something to be courageous about – especially when I’m eating lunch with people who don’t know what I’m eating or know why I may not be eating what they are.  I’d rather steer the conversation to the “oh-that-looks-good” and make myself smile than worry about anything else.

Gluten free lunch on the go is great.  Not difficult.  Nothing “odd” and what I bring I would – and do! – serve to any and all of my gluten-eating colleagues and friends.  And they’d never think twice.  Gotta love that.

And what do I pack/bring?  I’ll post a list of my lunch ideas this week.  Stay tuned for Part Two of the Gluten Free Lunch Series.  I’ll update this post with a link to that list as soon as it is up.

In the meantime, if you are looking for something fun for your lunch, here are a few links to check out:

Happy Monday and School Planning!

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