Gluten-Free Lunches and Snacks

Reader Contribution by Wendy Gregory Kaho
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I’ve asked one of my favorite bloggers and lunchbox
experts to join me today with tips on packing vegetarian snacks and lunches.

Lunchbox Tips, by Valerie of City|Life|Eats

Last September, I started writing a series on my blog called Today’s Lunchbox,
and it has received an amazing response. What was initially a week-long project
to document a few gluten-free allergy-friendly lunchboxes became a month-long
project.  Now it is well past the six month mark.  I mainly write
about lunchboxes I bring to work (which generally include a
lunch and a couple of snacks) but also weekend
and travel
.  What I love about writing this series is that it
has such universal appeal.  Packing a tasty lunchbox is kind of like the
“what’s for dinner” conundrum – it can get boring fast and requires
constant variety.

For those of us who follow a gluten-free diet,
packing a lunchbox can also add a tremendous amount of ease back into our
lives.   Following a gluten-free diet, whether because of a celiac
diagnosis or non-celiac gluten intolerance, entails many changes, one of which
is losing the ease of eating out, especially when on-the-go, whether on your
lunch break or out on the weekends.  I know before switching to a
gluten-free diet, I was very used to never having to plan where I would be
eating, and what I would be eating.  This is no longer the case since
switching to a gluten-free diet, discovering that I am intolerant to dairy and
chicken eggs, and also choosing to avoid refined sugars and a few other foods
that do not agree with me.

One of the things that has really helped me is to
pack lunches and snacks.  I pack lunch all the time – even on weekends. It
started with packing a few snacks, but eventually I moved to packing a whole
lunch even on weekends.  I like not having to worry about reading labels
or asking questions, particularly if I am trying to fit lunch into a short time

 I have a theory that the key to packing
lunchboxes is to make it both easy and interesting.  Here are my tips for
packing gluten-free lunchboxes:

Rely on leftovers – I would say about
75% of the time, my lunchboxes are just leftovers from the night
before, sometimes repurposed a tiny bit.   I have gone
through phases of not wanting to use leftovers, and while it is do-able to make
separate things for lunchboxes, there are weeks where I just do not have the
time to do that.  I know some people hate eating leftovers, and my advice
to that is to switch up the format of the dish.  One approach to
repurposing is to wrap leftovers up in wraps:

Repeat similar but not identical lunchbox staples – 
I try to make some sort of hummus or dip at least once or twice a week. They
are easy in that the food processor does most of the work, and they can be used
to supplement a lunchbox, or be the central component of a lunchbox.  I
tend to focus on protein staples for that category because that generally makes
them more versatile – hummus or a nut-based dips can be used to
stuff a collard wrap with vegetables, or as a side to some quinoa, or as a
spread in a quesadilla.  My other lunchbox staples include kale chips,
lightly steamed
kale or other greens
, and raw kale salad
Also, just because something is a staple does not mean it has to be boring or
identical week-to-week.  There are infinite ways to make hummus and dips and I often change
up steamed or raw kale with a variety of dressings, which take minutes to make
in the food processor or a blender.

Rethink sandwiches and bread – I
rarely use bread or pack sandwiches in my lunchboxes.  There are some good
gluten-free breads out there, but I find they tend to get soggy when made into
sandwiches that are then packed until lunchtime.  When I pack a sandwich,
I pack the bread on the side and assemble the sandwich right before I
eat.  Really though, I am all about alternatives to sandwiches: crackers
as a base for snack plate lunchbox, brown rice tortillas (for tips on how to
soften them, see here)
with a variety of fillings, collard wraps,
Swiss Chard
and bell pepper

Embrace quinoa – When I am at a loss for
a lunchbox, I often cook some quinoa and throw it
with whatever herbs and
vegetables I have, and round it out with leftover tofu or some cooked beans (or
You can use just lemon juice and olive oil to dress the quinoa salad, or make a
homemade salad dressing and pack that on the side.  Another approach to
quinoa is to top it with tomato sauce mixed with canned sardines or wild salmon
for a fast but filling meal.

Consider drinking part of your lunchbox – This
is one of my favorite time-saving tips. I often have smoothies for breakfast,
and it is not that much more work to make an extra smoothie and bring it to
work for a late-morning snack. I am fortunate that I have only a 10 minute
walking commute, so the smoothie does not spend a long time outside of a
fridge, and I often use a small ice pack to keep it cold.  I pack
smoothies in glass jars and fill them to the top before putting a lid on
them.  I usually pour the smoothie for work into the jar before drinking
my breakfast smoothie.  Smoothies are also an easy way to incorporate more
fruits and vegetables when your lunchbox would be a bit bare otherwise
and you are short on time. ??Finally, a note on time – I follow all the tricks
to save time (cook ahead on weekends, make batches of things, freeze portions
of leftovers) but I cannot deny packing a varied meal day in and day out takes
time. I am lucky my husband also cooks many of our meals and that we both like
leftovers. When I am really short on time, I tend to rely on more raw
in a lunchbox, but we all have to find the time savers
that work for us. I hope these tips give you some ideas on packing tasty food
to go. 

Valerie blogs at  City|Life|Eats
about food,
work, and living with food allergies and a modified diet. Her lunchboxes
and recipes are gluten-free
and often, but not exclusively, vegan.  You can
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All photos by Valerie of City|Life|Eats.