Last week I found myself in the kitchen staring at four empty lunch boxes feeling as if I’d never packed a dairy-free school lunch before. Of course this isn’t true because five lunches a week times four children multiplied by 12 years of school plus a nine-year age spread equals: help. But it was as if all my lunch-packing brain cells went on vacation at the end of May and never came back.
Of course my children are old enough to pack their own lunches, but I like to keep the kitchen stocked with foods they like. School days are long, so it’s nice to have a cheerful lunch to look forward to.
I asked the kids to help me compile a list of their favorite dairy-free school lunch ideas, and I thought I’d share it with you. There’s nothing revolutionary here, just some time-tested favorites. I hope you share some of your favorite dairy-free school lunch ideas in the comments! Together, we can do this. Only 160-some more school days to go.
Best Dairy-Free School Lunch Mains
These ideas are all dairy-free, nut-free, and peanut-free to make them school safe! Most can also be enjoyed vegan or gluten-free with your favorite swaps.
Pepperoni Rolls – We serve them with a cup of pizza sauce for dipping.
Leftover Dairy-Free Pizza Slices – Our recipe makes a big batch of dough that freezes well.
Dairy-Free Macaroni and Cheese – We make it quick and easy with Daiya Cheddar Style Cheeze Sauce.
Hardboiled Eggs – This is a constant favorite in our house. And it makes me think of Ramona Quimby breaking the egg on her head in the cafeteria.
Corn Dog Muffins – This recipe is a new favorite this year. My kids even like the egg-free option best for their dairy-free school lunch!
Homemade “Subway” Subs – These are mini sub buns–or hot dog buns!–filled with sliced turkey and vegetables. Some of our favorite toppings include tomato slices, cucumber slices, green pepper strips, sliced olives, and shredded lettuce.
Tortilla Pinwheels – Our recipe is in the new edition of Go Dairy Free!
Chicken & Stars Soup – I use the recipe from Comfort Foods: Rachael Ray 30 Minute Meals.
Campbell’s Tomato Soup – We make it with water, instead of milk, and add cooked pasta.
Sunbutter Sandwiches – At home we do make them with peanut butter, but for peanut-free and nut-free school policies, we use SunButter. One of my kids likes hers just toasted and slathered just with SunButter. The others like it PB&J style with Homemade Peach Jam.
Egg Salad Sandwiches – These are made with all of those hard-boiled eggs! For sandwiches we typically use Aldi L’oven Fresh Whole Grain White Bread. But for gluten-free, Canyon Bakehouse has good nut-free, dairy-free options.
Cold Cut Sandwiches – My kids like an assortment of cold cuts (we find kosher deli meats reliable for dairy-free). Dairy-free hard salami is a favorite, and its usually paired with Ken’s Honey Mustard. Turkey with mayo is another combination they make often. I don’t worry so much about vegetables on the sandwiches if I know they have fruit and veggie sides they will eat.
For more dairy-free school lunch mains that are also top allergen-free, see these Easy School Lunch Ideas.
Best Dairy-Free School Lunch Snacks & Sides
These snacks and sides are also dairy-free, nut-free, and peanut-free for school “free from” policies. Most are gluten-free and vegan optional, too.
Apple Slices – We toss the slices in orange juice to prevent browning.
Grapes – You can freeze the grapes and use them like ice in the lunch box. They freeze and defrost well.
Bananas – Make sure they are packed with some cushion to avoid getting bruised in transport.
Unsweetened Applesauce Cups – These are easy and travel well because they’re sold in shelf-stable cups.
Carrot and Celery Sticks – My kids just munch on them plain. But once in a while they like Ken’s Honey Mustard for dipping.
Tortilla Chips – I always pick up Aldi Clancy’s Restaurant Style Tortilla Chips. But if you want to spice things up with flavored chips, Beanfield’s are quite good. They have flavors like Pico de Gallo and Nacho, all dairy free!
Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars – These are more nutritious than old-school fig bars, but just as delicious, and they’re both dairy-free and nut-free. They also have a gluten-free line that is a bit sweeter.
Snack Bars – We aren’t a gluten-free household, but the Aldi LiveGFree Gluten-Free Cocoa Loco Baked Chewy Bars get our seal of approval.
Lunchbox Cookies – For nut-free policies, we omit the nuts. My older kids can make this recipe on their own!
Muffins – This could be its own section. We love dairy-free muffins. Just some of the kids’ favorites include Ginger Peach Muffins, Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, Squash Cakes, S’mores Muffins, Chai Double Chocolate Chip Muffins, and Cookies n’ Cream Muffin Cakes.
For More Snack Ideas, see Alisa’s printable Nut-Free & Dairy-Free Snack List.
Our Favorite Packing Supplies
Thermos – This is an essential for soups and pasta!
Water Bottle – I like the ones with lids that close over the straw to help keep germs at bay. The Thermos brand Water Bottles last a long time, and they do not leak!
Ice Packs – Any little ice packs will do, but cute ones like these Fit & Fresh Penguin Coolers are made to fit lunchboxes and are so much more fun!
Sandwich Containers – Locking containers like the budget-friendly Sistema Klip It Boxes keep food fresh, and they prevent the dreaded smooshed sandwich.
Reusable Snack Bags – These ones from Garnet Hill hold up really well, even after repeated washings.
Bonus Book Recommendation
I can’t talk about packing lunches without recommending Bread and Jam for Frances, a book with some of the best lunches ever described.
A friend of mine has a daughter who decided to recreate some of Albert and Frances’s lunches last year. She is my hero.
What Are Your Kid’s Favorite Dairy-Free Lunches for School?
Share in the comments below!