Carol (Missy) Cohen MPH, CHHC

10 Gluten-free, dairy-free lunch ideas

When my son, Joshua, was 8 years old we discovered that he was lactose intolerant. As it turns out, he had been lactose intolerant probably since birth but we didn’t recognize the signs. He had chronic ear infections as an infant and toddler that led to prescription on top of prescription of antibiotics that destroyed his gut flora which led to more food intolerances. (More on that later.) He had trouble sleeping through the night as a toddler and wouldn’t settle down until he had a glass of milk. He alternated between being constipated and having diarrhea. When he was in elementary school, he would come home from school and drink two and sometimes even three glasses of milk. Joshua and I later learned that our bodies frequently crave the things that are not necessarily healthy for us to consume. It was severe nightly stomach cramps that finally made us realize that there was something truly wrong. After a year and a half of visits to a pediatric gastroenterologist that we discovered through the guidance of a health coach that Joshua, and I, were lactose intolerant.

It was many years later that I learned that over 2/3rd of the general population is lactose intolerant and many of those people are unaware of it. Dairy products may make them lethargic and sleep, bloated, give them gas, cause aches and pains, give them headaches or migraines and cause other symptoms.  Lactose intolerance can also cause moodiness and difficulty concentrating.

Joshua also discovered, through trial and error, that school lunches are not an option to someone who has a gluten or dairy allergy or sensitivity. (Gluten and dairy are the top two food allergens in the United States according to F.A.R.E – Food Allergy Research and Education. Some typical school lunches at my son’s school include cheese pizza, baked pasta such as macaroni and cheese, and chicken fingers and French fries – both of which are covered with a breading that contains gluten.

To help other kids that have food concerns, we have put together a list of 10 lunches that are gluten-free and dairy- free and that Joshua has been enjoying for years:

  1. Leftovers from dinner
    1. One of Joshua’s favorites is chicken salad which he makes with leftover chicken, chopped up celery and carrots and a little mayonnaise. He will eat this as is or roll it into a piece of lettuce of wilted Swiss Chard.
    2. We put leftover veggies in the food processor or blender and puree them. Sometimes he thins them with dairy-free milk such as rice milk or almond milk and sometimes he leaves it thicker and spreads it on gluten free crackers. (Mary’s Gone Crackers are our favorite.)
  2. Quinoa with various vegetables. Quinoa cooks up in under 15 minutes and we make a few cups of it every Sunday because it will keep in the refrigerator already cooked. Joshua’s favorite is quinoa with black beans, corn, tomato, avocado and a squirt of lemon juice. (Note: quinoa with coconut milk and fruit is one of our favorite breakfasts and can be had warm or cold.)
  3. Sometimes Joshua prefers something sweet for lunch and I don’t feel too badly when he has chia seed porridge. He puts about 1 cup of full-fat coconut milk in a mason jar with ¼ cup chia seeds. He throws in a little shredded coconut, a dash of vanilla extract and a little sea salt. It gets a good shake and then put in the refrigerator overnight. By lunchtime, it has thickened nicely and he throws some berries or apples in it with cinnamon.
  4. Drain a can of artichoke hearts and blend them up. It makes a great dip for other vegetables or a spread on rice crackers or the gluten-free crackers mentioned earlier.
  5. Bone broth is SO good for us! (You don’t need to share that with your child.) Put a beef bone or chicken carcass in a pot with a quartered onion, chunked up carrots and celery and poor water over the whole thing. Let it simmer for as long as you have time for. Pull out the solids and add whatever gluten-free grains and vegetables the child wants.
  6. Start with a green leafy base and have your child add in whatever vegetables, nuts and seeds they want. In a separate container, mix rice vinegar with equal parts olive oil, a squirt of fresh lemon juice and whatever herbs they like.
  7. Put a can of drained and rinsed beans in the blender with a clove or two of peeled and minced garlic clove, a little olive oil, fresh lemon juice and a little sea salt. Blend this up and serve with chopped up vegetables, rice crackers, or gluten-free crackers.
  8. Hard-boiled eggs travel really well – with or without the shell depending on the age of the child and how much time they have for lunch. Joshua also likes making egg salad with chopped up hard-boiled eggs, celery, mayonnaise and mustard.
  9. As a Mom, I LOVE smoothies. (Yes, you probably have noticed that I have a love affair with my blender.) Joshua’s favorite smoothie is almond milk, a frozen banana, kale which has been stripped off the stem, and 2 tablespoons of coacoa powder. He thinks that I am letting him “cheat” on his lactose-free diet when I make this because he thinks it is a chocolate milkshake. To make it extra think, I’ll add in ½ an avocado. It doesn’t add any strong flavor to the smoothie but it adds a ton of nutrients. If it gets too thick, thin it down with water. Let your kids play and decide what their favorite is.
  10. Finally, but by no means last, is the mighty avocado. If you cut the avocado in half, pull it apart, and put it back together again with the pit still inside, it will stay green for a long time. When we are in a hurry or Joshua is giving me the, “I don’t know what I want for lunch today,” I throw an avocado in his bag with a spoon. It’s satisfying and full of nutrients and will get him through his school day. Also, it’s creamy without the dairy.

We are always looking for more glulten-free, dairy-free lunch ideas. Please share your experiences with us!

Be Well,



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