Gluten Free Bentos - guest post

With the start of school, I know that gluten-free lunch ideas are on some readers' minds. Since I'm not well versed on the subject, my friend Holly is helping out today with some ideas & suggestions for gluten-free bentos.

ETA: A friend twittered this post for Gluten-free ideas too, just wanted to share!

Being gluten free was not something I knew anything about a year ago, and within the past year I have become somewhat of an expert. As anyone knows who has a real need to eat this way, it isn’t like a diet. “Cheating” isn’t much of an option for most. At first, our house became gluten free because my son who was 2 ½ at the time was having some concerning behavioral issues. He wasn’t (and isn’t) autistic. He wasn’t exactly destructive. He wasn’t ADHD. No one really seemed to know what was going on with him. He was getting VERY little sleep though. He would go to bed at 7 pm after an epic battle, and typically wake up at about 2 am and not go back to sleep until I put him back to bed at 7 pm the following night! He wouldn’t get groggy or sleepy, he would not take a nap though I certainly tried. He would get really wild and crazy instead. I was very concerned about how so little sleep was affecting his health not to mention our sanity as parents. A friend of mine suggested that gluten might be an issue, which we both figured was a long shot. Lo and behold, it took about 2 days for us to see the change and it was pretty dramatic.

It has been a journey, but here we are a year later after two attempts to reintroduce gluten ... still gluten free. Thankfully, I was already bentoing (this is a real word, right?) before the switch and knowing how to put a bento together has helped me immensely in planning great lunches for my now 3 ½ year old.

When I build a bento, I usually look in my fridge for leftovers first and build on from there. For me, a full lunch bento should include an veggie, a fruit, a source of protein, and a high quality carb. Very occassionally, I put what others would consider a treat in his lunch. He doesn’t request them and eats what I give him without complaint so I figure why rock the boat?

I purposefully make dinners that will be easy to convert the leftovers into bento bites. Some popular meals here that wind up in the next day’s lunch are:

Meatloaf muffins (just make your fave meatloaf in a muffin tin)
Various macaroni dishes (which can be served in way to eat with a fork or can be reincarnated as a croquette to eat with the fingers)
Steamed broccoli

I look at what I have on hand and then fill in the rest based on what nutritional gaps I need to close. By category, here are things I often include:

Cheese slices or cheese stick
Nuts (check with your school to see if these are allowed)
Peanut butter or sunbutter
Rolled turkey or ham slices
Hard boiled egg (although I *still* have not convinced my son to eat these with gusto)

Carrot sticks (I do not like to put baby carrots in. they are more expensive and I don’t like the look of them. I buy large organic carrots and peel them and cute them into the right size carrot sticks or coins for a cute bento)
Celery sticks
Red pepper strips
Cucumber salad (recipe follows)

Apple slices that have been dipped in diluted lemon juice (to retain color)
Melon bites
Banana (I cut the banana in half and leave the peel on, but this isn’t my first fruit of choice)
Dried fruits

Onigiri made with brown rice
Gluten free crackers
My homemade gluten free bread
Gluten free dry cereal
Homemade gluten free granola bar

Optional treats that I sometimes include:
Gluten free pretzels
Gluten free animal crackers
Chocolate chips (if I include these, I might mix like 4 or 5 chips in a small container with dried fruit and cereal to make a trail mix of sorts)

This summer I haven’t been able to be near as creative since my son attended a day camp that did not extend into lunch time. All I did was make him a snack every day. I have noticed a tendency to give carbs for snacks to children, you know, cheese crackers, pretzels, etc. Personally, I think it’s not a great idea if you want a good eater. It’s not something I do. I would rather my son fill up on fruits
and veggies, and just a bit of protein if he is really hungry at those in between times so that he will be hungry again in the following hour or two and want to eat a good lunch. This makes it super easy for a gf’er, but even if my son wasn’t gluten free, I would feel the same way about loading a child up on carbs for a snack.

I usually pack his snack in those little plastic Gerber containers. It’s amazing how much you can fit in one of those with a well packed bento. Usual fare may include grapes, a few carrot sticks, and a couple small slices of cheese. For the carrot sticks, I often include dip which up until now I have simply been putting in an old medicine cup that I cut down to size to fit in his containers. The nice thing about a well packed bento is that a small cup of dip will not fall over and make a mess because it is wedged in nice and tight.

Cucumber Salad Recipe

Wash and thinly slice baby seedless cucumbers (they sell em’ at Costco)
Put them in a bowl and for every 4-5 cukes, add about ½-1 teaspoon sugar, a good pinch or more of sea salt, about 2-3 teaspoons of dried dill, and a good splash (between 1/8 -1/4 cup) of seasoned rice vinegar AKA sushi vinegar.
Stir. Add a dash of pepper and a good splash of oil (a little less than the
amount of vinegar you put in).
Stir and chill.

This salad is great as it is or you can change it up by adding cherry tomatoes and feta, or raisins. My son eats a ton of this salad! Drain most of the dressing off when packing for a bento so it doesn’t make a mess.


  1. I'm not gluten free, but I LOVE this post! Holly, I'm with you on the snacks and such. I love the idea of an old medicine cup for dip container, I never thought of that.


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