Toddler Food Allergies
According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 13 children (or about 2 students per average preschool classroom) have food allergies. In other words, an estimated 8% of children in the United States need to stay safe during meal times. If your child falls into this food allergy group, you might have safety concerns when sending them to a new daycare where they will be eating with other children. As children get a little older and start wanting to do things like share food with their friends, this can become an even bigger concern for some parents.
Since ninety percent of food allergies are linked to just eight common foods, including dairy, wheat, and nuts, many schools and daycare centers have decided to remain free of these foods instead of risk cross-contamination.
Make sure to discuss any restrictions your child has with their daycare provider ahead of time, and come up with a plan you feel good about. At the end of the day, you want to know that every effort is being made to keep your child safe while in the care of others.
Gluten-Free Toddler Lunches
With all the gluten-free options available today, it’s much easier to pack a lunch for your child that will look familiar to everyone. Sandwiches made with gluten-free bread, crackers made with alternative flours, and specialty treats all make for quick and easy lunch options. However, if you need some ideas that forego the bread and crackers completely, here are some easy options for your gluten-free lunchbox:
Rice Cake “Sandwiches” - Layer a thin rice cake with sunbutter and jam for an allergy-friendly take on the classic PB&J. Add apple slices and carrot sticks to make it a full meal!
Deconstructed Tacos - Tortilla chips, refried beans, cheese, sliced cherry tomatoes, and your child’s favorite fruit can make the perfect “taco” lunch while avoiding wheat.
Tiny Tot Charcuterie - Charcuterie boards are all the rage these days, so why not make a tiny tot version? Cheese slices, cut veggies, lunch meats, and cubed fruit can all be added to round out your toddler’s “snacky” lunches. Make it extra special by adding freeze-dried fruits or a fun dip! Pro tip: This can be your go-to easy lunch option for extra busy days.
Dairy-Free Toddler Lunches
Gone are the days of celebrities championing the virtues of milk on every TV channel! With so many children experiencing lactose intolerance and other dairy-related difficulties, many dairy alternatives are available at most supermarkets. These toddler lunch ideas include nutritious ingredients to keep your little one growing strong without the moo-juice:
Lentil Pasta with Sauce - Lentil pasta is a great way to add some protein and calcium to your toddler’s dairy-free daycare lunch. Add their favorite sauce for extra flavor, some easy veggies such as snap peas, and a fruit pouch to make things extra simple.
Breakfast for Lunch - Pancakes are usually a hit at any time of the day for kids! They are also an easy finger food for your youngest daycare-goers (just skip the syrup to avoid a sticky mess.) Don’t forget to add plenty of fresh fruit and your child’s favorite breakfast protein.
Chicken Nuggets with Dip - “Nuggies” are often a win for toddlers and teenagers alike. (Maybe even parents too. No judgment here!) Add veggie sticks and a tasty dip to help round out the meal. There are plenty of vegetarian options for nuggets these days as well, if chicken isn’t your child’s preferred protein.
Nut-Free Toddler Lunches
Nut allergies, including peanuts and tree nuts, are a commonly-recognized allergy in young children, and one that many schools and daycare centers take seriously. Even if your child does not have a known nut allergy, you might need to have some nut-free lunch ideas on hand if your daycare center prohibits nuts and peanuts from being consumed in their facility.
Quesadillas - A simple cheese quesadilla cut into strips or triangles is a great go-to for kids who don’t mind eating them cold. Avocado slices, cucumber rounds, and berries make simple side dishes for this kid-friendly staple.
Hummus Meals - If your child likes hummus, you can easily create all kinds of easy allergen-free meals! Cucumbers, carrots, celery, bell pepper strips, and snap peas are all delicious dipped in hummus. Add some sliced grapes and crackers and let your little one dip away.
2 Bonus Tips for Allergen-Friendly Meals
1. Make a Meal Plan - There’s nothing worse than trying to throw together a lunch at the last minute. Especially when you are also trying to make breakfast, find tiny missing shoes, and get clothes onto squirmy bodies! Planning ahead and having a list of what you’d like to pack in your child’s lunchbox each day will help save time and energy during the busy morning rush to get ready.
2. Dining Out Safely - If your child’s food allergies are severe, it can be difficult to go out to eat without worry. However, it’s not always possible to make every single meal at home! An easy way to communicate your child’s specific dietary needs to chefs or wait staff at restaurants is by using the customizable Food Allergy Chef Cards from FARE.3 Being able to safely and more conveniently eat out as a family? Yes, please!
Helpful Lunchbox Features:
Similar to the food allergy cards referenced above, our Yummie Daycare Preschool Lunch Bag comes with a set of food allergy alert cards that can be prominently displayed in the clear pocket to keep your child’s needs in easy view. These allergy cards will easily remind caregivers of gluten, dairy, or nut allergies so that they never have to second guess what your little one needs.