Lunch (or other meals) away from home can be a particular challenge, especially for young kids, but for adults as well. Gluten-free breads don’t travel well, and rice cakes or tortillas all the time can quickly lose their appeal. So what can you do when you need to brown-bag it? I’ve listed here some sandwich and non-sandwich options. Access to a microwave opens up many possibilities, but if that’s not an option, you still needn’t be doomed to rice cakes forever.
When eating away from home, I take a small insulated bag with a bottle of frozen water (any kind of cold pack will do, but the frozen water can be drunk when it melts) and pack any items that need to be kept cold next to the ice. Crackers and other items can also be packed at the top of the same bag if they are in some kind of waterproof container. The key is that if you can keep your food cold for a few hours, you expand your options greatly. Investing in a lunch-sized, insulated container is well worth it.
Bread is the problem with gluten-free lunches. Most GF breads are not palatable at room temperature without being heated up. There is one that I know of (Udie’s bread) that does not need to be heated up and makes good sandwiches. Making your own bread is another option; the fresher the bread, the better it is at room temperature. Toasting the bread in the morning and wrapping it well works with some breads. You can bring the mayo and other ingredients in a separate cooled area.
Some sandwich shops will make a sandwich on your bread. Make sure they keep the bread on a piece of paper while it is being prepared and that there are no crumbs in the condiments. Also make sure the meat is a gluten-free brand. If the bread needs heating up, it can be microwaved for a few seconds (keep it on the paper).
Here are some of our sandwichless lunchtime favorites.Scoops and dips are a good way to avoid having to bring a sandwich. The list below will get you started.
Gluten-free Crackers: our favorites are Blue Diamond Almond Nut thins, Edwards and Sons Vegetable Brown Rice Snaps, San-J Tamari rice crackers.
Chips: Most chips are gluten free, but check to make sure. Garden of Eatin’ black bean chips and corn rounds are favorites. Look for other gf options such as Lundberg Brown rice chips and Boulder potato chips. Most of the Lay’s brand potato chips are also GF, which is handy as the small bags of chips are widely available and can be helpful in a pinch.
Veggies: Red, yellow, or orange bell peppers cut in chunks. Other veggies that work well with this are fennel, celery, cabbage leaves, cucumbers, romaine leaves, and carrots (cut up a week's worth of veggies on Sunday and they are handy to pack each morning).
Tuna salad, chicken salad (Trader Joe’s makes a good canned chicken if you don’t have time to cook up your own), and ham spread can easily be made gluten-free. To make homemade ham spread, use a food processor or blender to mix up chunks of ham (Beeler’s Ham is tasty and gluten-free), mayo, and relish until it makes a smooth spread. Pack tuna salad in a separate container and use the bell pepper to scoop it up.
Other favorites: baba ghanoush (a middle-eastern eggplant dip); hummus, bean dip, sour cream dip. Goat cheese, brie, rondelez cheese, or other soft cheese.
Lunch meat cut up in cracker-sized pieces (Beelers ham; Diestel Turkey, etc.), pepperoni, salami Slice tomatoes and salt and pepper them; fresh basil leaves add flavor.
Leftover BBQ chicken is another favorite that tastes good cold.
Deviled eggs are easy to transport if you pack the whites separate from the yokes and bring a spoon for scooping (or just make egg salad to eat with the veggies).
We also sometimes have dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) that come prepared in cans (you can get them at Trader Joes). String cheese is an easy-to-pack snack.
If you have access to a microwave this can open whole new vistas such as homemade or canned soups (Amy's makes a variety of good, GF soups) and chili (we like Shelton's Chicken with black bean chili) . You can also heat these up in the morning and take them in a thermos (remember those? they do still make them). Amy's makes several frozen GF entrees that you can pack in a cooler pack and reheat in the microwave. Don't forget leftovers such as GF Pizza. Kinninckkinnick bagels are also a possibility if you have a microwave or a hot pad.
Lots of other snacks such as Mrs. Mays Almond or Pumpkin Seed Crunch (available from celiac.com) make a great treat. Health Valley makes rice crisp bars (available at Trader Joe's). You can get organic fruit leather at Trader Joe's. Small bags of GF pretzels (celiac.com) are a great treat. Shelton's Turkey Jerky is gluten-free (this also makes a great emergency food supply to have in the car or office in case of disaster) and now Trader Joe’s carries gluten-free jerky. I have also found GF jerky at Costco (Oberto brand). Homemade or purchased GF cookies travel fine if they are packed in small containers (our favorite is the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the Pamela’s Pancake Mix package). Nuts are another good snack that work well for lunches or just a quick snack. There are also a few GF granola mixes out there (or make your own). Sea’s Gift toasted Nori comes in handy lunch-sized packages.
If you are really in a hurry, there are several varieties of GF food bars. Think Thin (Trader Joe's and health food stores) has several varieties of bars that are gluten-free; we also like Lara bars and Organic Food Bars.
Fresh fruit is also good: Pears, apples, and mandarin oranges (Satsumas and pixies are favorites) travel well. Other fruits (grapes, peaches, nectarines) can be cut up and carried in a small container.
Kozy Shack pudding comes in small containers that are easy to pack. Yogurt is another possibility.
Cruise the aisles of your local health food store, read labels, get inspired. Rice cakes are fine if you like them, but don't feel limited by the GF diet; once you get started you will realize how many other options you have.