Wrangling the kids together and sending them to school can be quite the task in itself, let alone packing their lunches. To make things even more complicated, you can now factor in the additional regulations around food allergies that some classrooms may uphold.
However, these dietary restrictions are less complicated than they initially appear once you get familiar with the brands, store locations and just the simple things to look for. Let's start with the most common food allergies and restrictions for some quick fixes that won't hurt your wallet or your already crunched schedule.
--Gluten-free. The most trending food allergy as far as recent exposure goes, going gluten-free is actually now much easier than it was in the past. The quickest solution is to use butter lettuce as a bread alternative, or perhaps ditch the bread completely and prepare a large amount of protein that you can make last for several days of the week. For instance, you can roast a chicken and then prepare a cold chicken salad one day, add some barbecue sauce the next, etc. For gluten-free bread options, Udi's has many different types of GF bread, from whole grain to cinnamon raisin to wraps. There are also many wrap alternatives such as raw coconut wraps or corn tortillas that are just as tasty as the options that contain gluten.
--Nut-free. With this one, you might want to just ditch the nut butters altogether. Instead, you can find small packets of pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds as a replacement. In fact, pumpkin seeds often have a higher amount of protein and other vitamins that make them just as healthy, if not more, than cashews or almonds. You can also try sunflower seed butter if your kids aren't quite ready to give up their PB&J sandwiches just yet.
--Sugar-free. For that sweet tooth fix, swap out those Oreos for some strawberries, blueberries or some pineapple slices. You can also find sugar-free dried 100 percent fruit slices at most local supermarkets, which can be a bit more convenient than slicing or packing fruit itself. Nature's All offers freeze-dried fruit, which is also completely organic and the only ingredient is the fruit itself. You can save money by ordering in bulk on sites such as Amazon.com.
Dairy-free. Luckily, there are many dairy alternatives available at nearly every major grocery. You can replace cow milk with coconut milk, rice milk, almond milk, soy milk or the latest to hit the shelves: cashew milk. Brands such as Daiya offer dairy-free cheese that is both grated and pre-cut in slices. Instead of using butter, try coconut oil. Make sure to buy lunch meats that say "casein-free" on their packaging, because casein is actually a milk protein. Applegate packages of meat slices are both casein- and gluten-free and organic.
--Soy-free. Soy is another allergy that has become more common. One of the biggest considerations to take regarding soy is mayonnaise. Most mayo brands have soy in them, but a lot of the brands are now making versions of mayonnaise using olive oil instead, so keep an eye out for that. Also, avoid edamame and double-check the ingredients to condiments and sauces because they can also use soy as the base of their product.
--Fun-free. Does not have to be an option when packing allergy-friendly lunches. If you'd like to educate yourself more on common allergies and how they've come to exist, you can search YouTube for various Ted talks or look for informational videos from nutritionists. Like most things in life, the more you know about something the easier it is to navigate it.
Luckily, many new, fun brands have emerged to fit the needs of the health conscious consumer, and many existing brands are modifying their ingredients to fit those needs as well. By shopping at locations such as Whole Foods, you're automatically increasing the ease in which you can find these healthy products. If Whole Foods isn't an option near you, most supermarkets now have organic sections; that's a great place to start while looking for the allergy-friendly options. And of course, so much is available online these days, so check out Amazon.com to see what you can find there.