As the mother of a son with severe food allergies, I understand the importance of the nut restrictions on school lunches. On the other side, I also understand how this may impact those without allergies. Since my son’s diagnosis, I’ve become somewhat of an expert at reading food labels and knowing what is safe for him and what isn’t. It’s something you have to learn quite quickly when someone you love is diagnosed with a food allergy. It can be difficult to know what’s a safe option for schools (both for food allergy parents and those without experience in this area) so I’ve put together a list of 30+ healthier nut-free school lunch ideas for kids.
Nut-Free School Lunch Ideas:
Before we get into the list, please note that foods in bulk bins are never considered safe for someone with a food allergy. For example, a treat like raisins may have nut-free options but once it’s in an open bulk bin it’s no longer considered “nut-free”. This is because the bins are open, scoops get transferred between bins and the chance of cross-contamination is very high. When looking for nut-free foods for school, always go with the foods in their original packages and stay away from the bulk bins.
Although the items listed here are usually safe, always check the ingredient list for a “contains” or “may contain” warning. What you’re looking out for are notes of “contains” or “may contain” warnings for peanuts or tree nuts. Tree nuts are nuts like almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, pecans, etc. Be careful because some packages can be tricky – they’ll have a “nut-free” symbol on the front but then a tree nut warning on the back of the package (meaning they are peanut free but still contain tree nuts).
If a package of food doesn’t have an ingredient label, you can just assume that it’s not a safe lunch for a nut-free school.
- Bread, Bagels, Tortillas – Never buy from an in-store bakery for school because there is the chance of cross-contamination. Always look for a well-known brand and read the ingredients to see if there is a “may contain” warning.
- Fresh Fruits – Apples, oranges, berries, bananas, pears, and more. Lots of healthy options to choose from.
- Fresh Vegetables – Celery sticks, carrot sticks, sliced bell peppers, and more. Lots of healthy options to choose from. You could include a little salad dressing dip as well.
- Sandwich Meats – Most sandwich meats are safe for school. Look for the ones in brand packaging and not fresh meats from the deli as there is a chance of cross-contamination.
- Cheese – There are so many delicious cheeses to choose from and most are free from nut ingredients.
- Yogurt – Most yogurts are free from nut ingredients but you’ll always want to read the label just to be sure.
- Crackers – There are a lot of nut-free cracker options available but be careful because there are a lot that aren’t safe too. Be sure to read the labels to look for cross-contamination warnings.
- Rice Krispies Treats – The new Brown Rice treats are made with whole grain and don’t contain any artificial colours but they have the same great taste as the original Rice Krispies treats. My son, who isn’t a big fan of sweets, gives these two thumbs up.
- Cookies – There are a variety of cookies at the grocery store with the “nut-free” label right on the box. Just look for the healthiest option in the large selection.
- Raisins – A lot of the brands do have a nut warning on the box but there are a few advertised as nut-free.
- Craisins – A tasty addition to a salad or chicken wrap.
- Dried Fruit Bars – There are several of these at the grocery store with the “nut-free” label right on the box.
- Fruit Cups – Either individual packaged fruit cups or canned fruit packed in water.
- Granola Bars – There are several of these at the grocery store with the “nut-free” label right on the box.
- Pepperoni Sticks – Some are a little healthier than others. I always look for the ones lower in salt.
- Apple Sauce – There are plenty of varieties to choose from at the grocery store including several without added sugar.
- Eggs – You could send these as hard-boiled eggs or turn it into an egg salad sandwich with mayonnaise.
- Pickles – An easy snack idea that most kids love.
- Soup – You’ll find a large variety of soups at the grocery store that don’t include any nut ingredients.
- Pasta – A pasta salad loaded with fresh vegetables, cheese and salad dressing on the side.
- Chili – You can buy the canned chili but it’s easy to make your own nut-free chili at home with ground beef, tomato paste, mushrooms, seasoning and kidney beans.
- Hot dogs – I know, not always the healthiest option, but you will find some brands that are healthier than others.
- Hamburgers – Last night’s dinner could turn into tomorrow’s lunch.
- Chicken – You could make fresh chicken wraps with nut-free tortillas, fresh vegetables and salad dressing.
- Turkey – You could make fresh turkey sandwiches with mayo, salt & pepper.
- Milk – This could be sent as a drink or along with a healthy cereal and a side of fruit.
- Pretzels – A tasty & easy snack idea for kids.
- Tortilla chips with salsa – One of my favourite healthy snack ideas.
- Beans – Great in salads or wraps.
- Popcorn – An easy snack idea for kids.
- Oatmeal – Be careful when choosing oatmeal as several varieties do include nuts. The ones without nuts will be easy to find, you’ll just have to read the ingredient labels carefully.
- Cereal – Be careful when choosing cereal as several varieties do include nuts. The ones without nuts will be easy to find, you’ll just have to read the ingredient labels carefully. I like including healthy cereals as a mix-in for yogurt.
If you’re packing sandwiches, some condiments you could try are mustard, jam, butter, margarine, and cream cheese.
With healthier pre-packaged treats like Rice Krispies Brown Rice treats, your kids don’t have to give up treats completely at school. As a bonus, you’ll always have some treats for yourself to enjoy while your kids are at school!
We’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below as well.
I’m a mom and I #ApproveThisLunchBox.
*Disclosure: I was compensated for this post; however, all opinions expressed here are my own.