Easy Lunch Ideas for Nut-Free Preschool?
July 26, 2016 8:33 PM   Subscribe

My 3 year old is about to start preschool at a nut-free school. What are some ideas for lunch that are PB&J-level easy and toddler-friendly? Searching for this online yields a lot of parenting blogs that think I'm going to bake scones or make homemade beef bourgignon every night.
posted by Anonymousness to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Are seeds also out? If seeds are ok, then hummus and carrots.
posted by aniola at 8:40 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

My son has a lunch container that has 3 compartments, I fill it with a fruit (apples, berries, grapes, pineapple, whatever), cheese (slices, cheese string, those wax wrapped Babybel cheeses), and then something carb/grain. Sometimes that is a "wow butter" and jam sandwich, the occasional home made muffin, crackers. I also often send yogurt as a snack, in addition to my 3 compartment container.
posted by rozee at 8:42 PM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also meat? Turkey or ham rolled up, pepperoni sticks, smoked salmon.
posted by rozee at 8:48 PM on July 26, 2016

-turkey sandwich
-cheese sandwich
-pita pizza

Is almond butter allowed?
posted by Leontine at 8:50 PM on July 26, 2016

Sunbutter is another nut free option. I also do the compartment lunch thing for my kids, and often pack little bites of cheese, a couple of rolled up pieces of deli meat, crackers, and some berries or carrots.
posted by katie at 8:51 PM on July 26, 2016 [8 favorites]

Boiled, peeled eggs did it for us.
posted by taff at 8:55 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If sunflower seed butter is allowed, that's an easy sandwich substitution. $5 a jar at Trader Joe's and considerably healthier than standard peanut butter.

Crackers + cheese (slices or string cheese); cut up fruit; cut up vegetables; cherry tomatoes; hummus & carrot sticks; cottage cheese + pineapple.

I sometimes make my girl an egg & cheese sandwich. Cook an egg into a compact omelet; put in between half-slices of bread lined with thin slices of cheese; cook in same pan so cheese melts to glue egg into place.

If your kid will eat canned chickpeas they make a wonderful fast & easy finger food.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:04 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jelly and cream cheese sandwich.
posted by peanut butter milkshake at 9:10 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cream cheese in split pita wedges.
posted by gryphonlover at 9:12 PM on July 26, 2016

Cheese and vegemite.
posted by pompomtom at 9:17 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is bologna OK? Bologna and mayo and mustard sandwiches.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:23 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also. Little kids have no problem with room temperature food unless you train them to. So baked beans or tinned spaghetti (put in to openable Tupperware) is a good one.

Our local supermarket does frozen gozleme (and yummy vegetarian pizzas). We put slices of those in lunch boxes too. And tuna.
posted by taff at 9:31 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Quesadillas (by which I mean put some cheese between two tortillas and melt in the microwave for a minute)
posted by drlith at 9:36 PM on July 26, 2016

The kiddo I watch loves "crispies" which are just small cubes of firm tofu fried up in a pan with a bit of soy sauce (his mom often sticks a pan of them in the toaster oven and that works just fine). Can be eaten with fingers! (I find them really delicious and sneak a few myself once in awhile).
posted by sucre at 9:38 PM on July 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Fwiw, get used to it. Every camp, school, daycare, etc. My kid has been in for 7 years is nut free.
Almond and sunflower seed butter are your friend.
posted by k8t at 9:45 PM on July 26, 2016

Almonds were banned at our nut free schools. But pine nuts are not considered to be nuts so were allowed. As was coconut. (Some knobs thing it's a nut too.)
posted by taff at 9:57 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

When I was a kid, one of the lunches my mom made was bologna sandwiches with raspberry jam. Don't knock it unless you've tried it; it's better than it sounds.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:16 PM on July 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cheese sandwich, hummus sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches, chicken sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, jelly sandwiches.

Just as a side note, I'm almost 40 and I still have nightmares about the cream cheese and jelly sandwiches my mom sent me to school with. My husband has similar nightmares. Beware the cream cheese and jelly sandwich. Ugh.
posted by Toddles at 10:18 PM on July 26, 2016 [4 favorites]

Start with bolongia and American cheese. Upgrade to whatever, but cold cuts and bread are a staple for a reason. If you are concerned about quality, just up the ingredients. Easiest way to upgrade.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:29 PM on July 26, 2016

My kids get a deli meat and mayo sandwich, a small container of chopped fruit (about half a banana or Apple), another small container of chopped raw veggies, and a small yogurt. This is good for lunch plus 1 snack. If they're going somewhere after school, I add an extra fruit or granola bar.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:33 PM on July 26, 2016

Pemmican. My favorite recipe is finely ground beef jerky, dates, and cocoa butter.
posted by Bruce H. at 10:52 PM on July 26, 2016

Ravioli -- the big pillowy ones filled with spinach and cheese, or pumpkin, or just cheese -- is great for preschool lunch -- make the night before or while making coffee in the morning. It's fine room temperature.
posted by flourpot at 12:29 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sunbutter is definitely the replacement of choice at our nut-free school.

Small yogurts can be frozen and will thaw by around lunch time, that is a personal fave.

Homemade "lunchable" with crackers, cheese, and pepperoni/sausage/whatever, like for an appetizer tray, and they can build their own little cracker sandwiches. My kids consider this perfection.

Pita pockets with hummus inside, stuffed with various things ... Raw bell pepper strips, spinach leaves, cucumber slices, feta cheese, etc. My kids will eat a surprising diversity of vegetables if they're stuffed in a pita pocket, I am not sure why.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:50 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I still vividly remember a friend in my preschool class who brought a hardboiled egg and a little egg slicer every day. Slicing the egg with the egg slicer was a fascinating activity to all of my classmates.

Hardboiled eggs are easy, and I bet preschool kids haven't changed that much--slicing it will be fun.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 1:04 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

My daughter (who has a nut allergy, so I am a big fan of the nut-free school thing) gets a variation of the below every day, and has for years. I use the smallest Ziploc/Gladware containers. It looks like a pain, but almost nothing requires prep, really, and since it's modular I can make up three little yogurts or containers of edamame or whatever at once and dole them out through the week.

2 veg, which are almost exclusively leftovers from dinner or microwaved plain frozen vegetables (peas, edamame, green beans, cauliflower, corn). She LOVES canned baby corn and will accept frozen corn or peas, poured straight from the bag into the little container.

1-2 fruits

1 yogurt (I just scoop plain yogurt in the container)

1 meat/grain option - might be leftover chicken, rice, pasta. The key thing here is that is 100% leftovers. If we are out of everything I throw a rice cake in.

Sometimes a string cheese.
posted by chocotaco at 3:54 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm slightly puzzled by the suggestion that you swap in almond butter for peanut butter, which seems to rest on the assumption that "nut free" means "peanut free." Admittedly, almonds are drupes and are therefore technically not nuts -- but then, technically speaking, peanuts aren't nuts, either. At any rate, almonds are the second-most common causes of fatal allergic reactions, second only to peanuts. Please err on the side of caution, and check with the school before using anything that could colloquially be considered a nut.

If you do use sunbutter, or any other nut-free substitute that looks like peanut butter, you might do the teachers an extra favor and write "Sunbutter, NOT peanut butter" on the sandwich baggy, because otherwise, they'll have to depend on your toddler's assurance that it's nut-free.

Anyway, I found that when my kids were toddlers, adding a little bit of playfulness and/or participation always helped. Apples became much more exciting when packed in their own special protector. Carrots became much more interesting when they could be dipped in yogurt or (school policies permitting) hummus.

Also, this recipe for nut-free pesto was a hit with my kids, and had the added benefit of sneaking a lot of spinach into their diet. Depending on your kid's tastes, you could just toss it with pasta, or serve it as a dipping sauce for breadsticks or carrots. (Again, you might want to explicitly tell the teachers it was made without nuts or pine kernels, since pesto often has one or the other.)

Finally: string cheese. As toddlers, my kids really liked the act of peeling off bits of it before eating them.
posted by yankeefog at 4:05 AM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

my youngest really, really preferred a ham cucumber mayo on rye sandwich for years and years. I'd put some fruit and raisins and sometimes cheese-sticks in the box as well, but she liked the sandwich the best and was strongly opposed to variation. I cut it in smaller triangles so they fit her little hands.
Sometimes I'd cook a bunch of chicken drumsticks and give her a couple of those instead, and sometimes when I was full of energy, I'd let her and the her friends help me make mini pizzas the night before, to have for dinner and bring for lunch. But she liked those ham sandwiches better.

(Making small pizzas with 3 to 6 -yos relatively often will make you the star of all the mummies for life, I can tell you. Do it every two months and you will still be reaping the rewards 20 years later…)
posted by mumimor at 4:17 AM on July 27, 2016

Our standard lunch:

Jelly and BUTTER sandwich
Two pieces of fruit
Juice box (more like slightly juice flavored water)
Two cookies (non-brand oreo ones)

My now four year old almost always comes home with something she didn't feel like eating. And her school provides a few small snacks, milk and water.

We add variety in our dinners at home.
posted by zizzle at 4:48 AM on July 27, 2016

We often send leftovers for lunch. Just pop a serving into a baggie, then add fruit, juice box, baby carrots, etc. to the lunchbox.
- tortellini (without sauce is much less messy)
- meatballs
- pizza
posted by belladonna at 6:07 AM on July 27, 2016

Leftovers and some fruit for dessert is what we do most of the time, and bento containers are handy for portioning. For a while I kept track of lunches with a Flickr album. (Some of them are pretty, but none of them took more than ~10 minutes to put together, because it was all stuff from dinner.)

Also, sun butter as a sub for peanut butter. None of us liked soy butter. And ask the school to get as specific as they can about what is on the "ok" and "not okay" list; we had a no-sesame situation for a while, otherwise tahini is another option.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:38 AM on July 27, 2016

Wraps! Some sort of tortilla, some sort of meat, some sort of spread, some sort of cheese. Side of fruit or finger veg. Wraps cut into little circles are fun looking (that recipe is fussy but there are a lot of options).

roast beef


cream cheese
ranch dressing
posted by jessamyn at 6:49 AM on July 27, 2016

My two-year-old goes to a nut-free daycare. We have the smallest size PlanetBox for her (like a bento box, they are great) and send her with a small container of yogurt, some cheese chunks, some fruit, and a carb every day. If we have dinner leftovers we put those in - she especially likes leftover cold pasta. Carb varies based on what we have in the house - bread, crackers, if we're desperate, tortilla chips. Sometimes we'll put in seaweed or cheddar bunnies for some variety.
posted by john_snow at 7:29 AM on July 27, 2016

We also use one of those three compartment lunch boxes. I got some cheap silicone muffin liners to use in the bigger compartment when needed. I got some cheap bento picks that I use sometimes for fruit cubes.

A typical lunch might be:

1 fruit (grapes, cubed melon, apple slices, berries)
1 veg (cucumber coins, baby carrots, dried peas)
1 protein (a hard boiled egg, a yogurt tube)
1 sweet (fruit peel or snack, these cookies are nut-free and available at Target)

For a main thing I'll mix it up. The previously mentioned Wow Butter is really very very peanut butter like and delicious. You can get it at natural foods stores and the jar comes with stickers that say "Made with Wow Butter, Nut-Free" or something that you can stick on the outside of the lunch.

Mini bagels with cream cheese, hummus, or a slice of cheese (or meat)

Some tofurkey (or turkey whatevs) rolled up with cheese and crackers

My son really likes those Laughing Cow triangles with crackers

Pasta (like rotini) with some shredded mozz on top

Pretzels with some Wow Butter to dip

I like the bento container because it helps me think one compartment at a time. You can fill up three and then be like, okay what else would be good and go from there. You'll find some tried and true things and you'll soon be able to do it in your sleep.

My son's preschool is also dairy kosher (another super fun restriction!) so I can't actually use them, but oh how I have come to understand the invention of Lunchables.
posted by LKWorking at 10:05 AM on July 27, 2016

BTW - remember preschoolers need fats! That is the magic of peanut butter. Cheese, yogurt, mayo are all good replacements, but don't choose the low-fat versions.
posted by mumimor at 12:27 PM on July 27, 2016

We did sunflower seed butter in the same situation. Once we moved to Alaska, it was like $10/jar in the supermarket, but Amazon can ship it for a little over $4.50/jar. Still more expensive than peanut butter, but not as crazy. (I have no idea why the pricing varies so wildly for SunButter on Amazon.)
posted by leahwrenn at 6:19 PM on July 27, 2016

Soy butter is strikingly like peanut butter in taste and consistency, but is perhaps less oily. Your child may not even know it's not peanut butter. This is usually A-OK in nut-free schools. It's the required substitute at a day care center I know.

And for a change you might try a cream cheese and honey sandwich. It's much more interesting, in my opinion, than a cream cheese and jelly sandwich, especially on a slightly sweet - like a honey whole wheat - bread. I loved it as a child.
posted by citygirl at 7:20 PM on July 27, 2016

My kid rarely stopped eating during his preschool & kindergarten days so this will kind of sound like a lot... His teachers always commented on how much we packed and were surprised at how much he ate!

For the core of his lunch we rely heavily on hummus, vegetables, fruit, and cheese but we augment it with things I've prepared ahead of time, portioned and froze. For instance, when I have time I make small arancini (risotto balls - golf ball sized), smallish (maybe 2 or 3 bites in size) vegetarian samosa / pasties, rice crispy squares made with brown rice crispies, a piece of a cake (this one specifically but I replace the cane syrup with very dark cooking maple syrup, make it in a larger rectangular pan and skip the icing sugar). Very occasionally he likes cured meat in his lunch - usually buffalo salami. If we had leftover soba noodles or lentil salad, he'd eat those in his lunch too.

Regarding peanut butter substitutes, my kid loathed peanut butter but an acceptable substitute we have used has been tahini. Tahini seems to vary widely in consistency between brands - some are thick, others thinner - so you may have to play with your ratios for baking.
posted by Ashwagandha at 9:39 PM on July 28, 2016

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