If you’re looking for some tasty and easy-to-pack gluten-free lunch ideas for the kids and yourself, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled some of my favorite portable lunch ideas in this article. I’ve been packing lunches for my kids every day for the past 10 years, so I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve! This post contains affiliate links. Please see my disclosures.
Packing a gluten-free lunch can seem like such a chore, especially when you’re rushed to get out the door in the morning.
You may be used to eating lunch out with your co-workers, or having your child buy a hot lunch from the school cafeteria. That all changes once you learn you can no longer eat gluten.
Knowing that even a crumb of gluten can make you sick, and coming to the keen understanding that you’re not home and near your own bathroom in case you accidentally get glutened, you’re probably thinking the safest thing to do is pack your own lunch. And you would be right!
I’ve been packing lunches for myself and my kids for nearly 10 years now, and over the years, I’ve amassed a few ideas that have worked well for me and my family. I focus on variety and keeping things extremely easy. I’m a busy mama and ain’t nobody got time for that!
Before you even think about packing a lunch, you’ll need a few supplies in your lunch-making arsenal:
- Insulated lunch box
- Bento box-style lunch box
- Ice packs (look for lightweight, slim ice packs)
- Warm lunch thermos (various sizes)
- Portable, leak-proof containers (various sizes)
- Reusable zip-top bags – I highly recommend Stasher silicone bags
These supplies will serve you well as you enjoy a variety of tasty and filling hot and cold lunches each day.
42 Easy Lunchbox Ideas and Recipes
Before I share a variety of gluten-free lunch ideas with you, I first want to share my 42 Easy & Gluten-Free Lunchbox Recipes, a downloadable recipe book I created and is now available for purchase. This list includes recipes for a variety of sandwich, wraps, bento boxes, salads and more.
If you’re feeling stumped about what to make, eat and bring for lunch every day, these 42 recipes will be game-changers for you.
Here are some of the recipes you’ll find in this downloadable recipe book:
- Deconstructed Taco Bento Box
- Lentil and Corn Chopped Salad
- Guacamole Rollups
- Green Goddess Salad
- Tofu Veggie Summer Rolls
- Smoked Salmon and Veggie Nori Rolls
- Chicken Ranch Mason Jar Salad
- And much more!
My 42 lunchbox recipes will show you what’s possible when you can’t eat gluten, and I hope it will inspire you to identify a variety of lunches that work for you. You can download my 42 recipes here.
Gluten-Free Lunch Ideas
Now I want to share some of the many gluten-free lunch ideas that I make for myself and for my kids. Many are portable and require only a lunchbox and ice pack, while others require storage in a fridge or freezer and/or use of a microwave oven.
My number one lunch choice is always leftovers. I always strive to make extra dinner the night before and reserve an extra portion just for me for the next day. I often make a ton extra if I know my kids want to take leftovers for lunch too. (Today I work at home, so I just have to take the leftovers out of the fridge and heat them in the microwave.)
If you work in an office, and have a fridge and microwave available, I highly recommend making leftovers for lunch almost every day. It will make your life so much easier, and lunch much more tasty.
If you don’t have access to a microwave, you can easily warm the leftovers in the morning before you leave, and stash them in a warm thermos. They will stay warm for 4-6 hours depending on the quality thermos you have.
(2) Gluten-Free Sandwiches
I used to abhor gluten-free sandwiches because, as you know, gluten-free bread was so bad. You had to store gluten-free bread in the freezer, and then in order to choke it down, you’d need to toast or microwave it to make it soft and less grainy. For a long time, sandwiches were a non-starter for me.
I swear, the stay-fresh bread stays soft for days and does not require any heating. And the bread is soft and doughy. I mean it! The stay-fresh bread means sandwiches are back, baby!
Look for the stay-fresh packaging at your local grocery stores or better yet, save time and order them online. Remember, they stay fresh in the packaging for a long time but once you open the loaf, you’ll need to enjoy it within the week. (BTW, some Costco locations carry the stay-fresh packaging – including my local Costco in Denver.)
What to put on your sandwich?
What you put on your sandwich is up to you. I personally despise mayonnaise, so I opt for mashed avocado, lime juice and salt, then then stuff my sandwiches with deli meats and spinach. The sandwich is perfection if you ask me. Oh, and I also add some red pepper flakes for spice.
Also consider egg salad, tuna salad, peanut butter and jelly, and truly any deli combo you like.
Most deli meats are gluten free including Applegate Farms, True Story, Boar’s Head, and many pre-packaged store brands. Read labels carefully. Avoid deli meats sliced at the deli counter due to potential for cross contamination.
Don’t like gluten-free bread?
I get it, gluten-free bread isn’t for everyone. Here are a few bread alternatives:
- Crackers: Enjoy deli meat, cheese slices and/or PB&J on gluten-free crackers. I recommend multi-grain Crunchmaster crackers for the best taste and texture.
- Tortillas: You could also use tortillas and wrap your sandwich. I offer a guide to gluten-free tortillas in this article, but look for tortillas that are soft and shelf stable when bringing them in your lunchbox. Some of the frozen tortillas taste great, but require heating to become soft and bendy.
- Rice Cakes: Rice cakes can be a fun bread swap too. I slather rice cakes with smashed avocado or peanut butter, then top it with deli meats, cheeses, fruits and whatever I can dream up. You could also top rice cakes with egg salad, tuna salad, or cream cheese and lox.
- Lettuce: I love a lettuce wrapped sandwich or burger. I recommend packing the lettuce in a separate container from meats and cheeses so everything stays fresh.
(3) Sushi Rolls
I’m not kidding you when I say I often make myself sushi for lunch. It packs well with an ice pack, and stays cold all day.
I don’t use raw fish to make my portable sushi. Instead, I make vegetable or California rolls using gluten-free imitation crab. I have a full list of gluten-free imitation crab brands in this article about gluten-free sushi.
I don’t even cut the rolls into sushi bites; rather, I enjoy my sushi as a burrito with a little tamari sauce for dipping (you can buy single-serve tamari sauce packets on Amazon).
(4) Heat-and-Eat Foods
If you have access to a freezer and a microwave, consider bring some frozen foods and meals that quickly reheat in the microwave.
I personally enjoy Mikey’s Pizza Pockets, which heat in about 90 seconds in the microwave. Mikey’s also recently came out with pockets made with Beyond Meat. They’re filling and vegan too. Look for them in the grocery store.
Another great heat-and-eat option includes gluten-free entrees by Amy’s Kitchen. Amy’s Kitchen has amassed a large selection of gluten-free frozen meals, including Mac and 3 Cheese Cauliflower Bowls, Tortilla Casserole and Black Bean Bowl, Thai Vegetables and Rice Bowl, and India Vegetable Korma, to name a few options. I’ve seen Amy’s Kitchen meals in most grocery stores nationwide.
(5) Cup of Noodle
If you have access to hot water come lunchtime, consider taking a cup of gluten-free ramen noodles for lunch. There are several brands to choose from, including Lotus Foods Ramen Noodle Soup Cups, Pamela’s Rice Noodle Soup, and Mr. Lee’s Instant Ramen Cup Noodles. Stock up on them on Amazon and have them ready to grab-and-go as you walk out the door in the morning.
If you don’t have access to hot water, you could also bring hot water in a warm thermos. I have also stopped at a Starbucks and asked them to fill my cup with hot water. They are more than happy to oblige, and I usually order a beverage too so it’s a win-win!
One thing I can never get too much of in the cold winter months is soup. I often make a big batch of soup on Sunday to enjoy for lunch all week long. Focus on making hearty soups that hold well, like my chicken enchilada soup. A minestrone soup would work well too, but hold off on adding noodles until you’re ready to eat it to prevent them from getting mushy.
You could also buy pre-made soup at the grocery store. Many of Whole Foods 360 brand refrigerated soups are certified gluten free by the GFCO, and Boulder Organic soups are also gluten free (only available in Colorado).
You’ll need a warm thermos to hold the soup. Then bring gluten-free crackers, gluten-free noodles (pre-cooked) or even cooked rice to add to it to make it even more hearty (optional).
(7) Mac and Cheese Cups
If you have access to water and a microwave, you could also purchase Annie’s Mac and Cheese Cups – look for the gluten-free label. See my tips for accessing hot water in the Ramen section. (Read my article, Gluten-Free Mac and Cheese Brands (Kraft, Annie’s and More), to get the full scoop on gluten-free mac and cheese brands.)
(8) Quinoa To-Go
These Quinoa Quick Meals are perfectly packaged to be enjoyed for lunch and require no heating or refrigeration. You’ll get plenty of plant-based protein, tons of flavor, and an easy lunch to enjoy when on-the-go.
Another brand making quinoa cups to go is Keen One Quinoa. It’s packaged similarly as a cup of noodles and requires hot water or heating in a microwave. It’s also filled with plant-based protein and offers a hearty meal for on the go. All Keen One products are made in a dedicated gluten-free facility according to the company’s website.
(9) Make Your Own Lunchables
Most of you probably grew up eating Lunchables. Lunchables are basically crackers, cheese, deli meat and some sort of sweet treat in a plastic container.
Lunchables are full of gluten (and other questionable ingredients), so avoid buying them, you could easily make your own with better-for-you gluten-free ingredients.
To make your own “luncheable,” invest in a bento box of choice (there are many to choose from on Amazon), and then fill it up with the deli meats, cheese, crackers, fruits, vegetables, nuts and treats of choice. There are several bento box-style suggestions in my 42 Easy & Gluten-Free Lunchbox Recipes booklet.
While it’s always best to pack fruits and vegetables with your lunch, as they are naturally gluten free and good for you, you may be looking for some portable gluten-free snacks to bring along with you.
Some of my favorite portable snacks include:
- Chips – I tested Doritos and other chip brands for hidden gluten in this article
- Squeeze applesauce
- Stroopwafels (gluten-free, of course)
- Squeeze peanut butter packets (for dipping apples and crackers)
- Dried fruit
- Trail mix
- Nuts and seeds
- Granola bars
- Protein bars
- Beef sticks
- Turkey jerky
- Cheese slices or string cheese
- Avocado, lime and salt
- Single serve hummus and/or guacamole packs
- Rice cakes with peanut butter and banana slices
While I could list many items, the truth is most of the snacks you know and love can be found in a gluten-free version. You may have to do a little searching in the grocery store and/or online to find what you’re looking for.
I’ve got a big list of some of my favorite and best portable gluten-free snacks – check it out!
What other suggestions do you have for easy, portable and gluten-free lunch ideas (and snacks)? Please share in the comments to help others in our community figure this out.
And please enjoy my 42 Easy & Gluten-Free Lunchbox Recipes to help get you started and inspired come lunch time. Don’t overthink it and remember, you got this!