Packing school lunch becomes quite the challenge when allergies are involved. Sometimes mums and dads have to let go of children’s favourite snacks, like the classic PB&J (peanut butter and jelly) or hazelnut sandwich, and cook up allergy-friendly alternatives. The good news is plenty of delicious and equally nutritious replacements exist, and can be found in stores with a quick online search.
In fact, many schools and nurseries in the UAE follow a strict nut-free policy, says Nida Shamim Khan, a Dubai Health Authority-licenced clinical dietician with paediatric expertise at Neuropedia, Dubai.
“Nuts are the most hidden ingredient in food items. Parents might think a chocolate spread is just chocolate, but hazelnuts are, again, a type of tree nut,” said Khan. “A child might accidentally taste an ingredient they’re allergic to and flare up; this is also why lunches aren’t allowed to be shared up until primary section.”
It’s not just nuts and nut products that pose a threat. Some of the most common allergens include eggs, milk, soy, gluten or wheat, fish and shellfish. Khan mentions corn and sesame seeds, as well, which might be less commonly known than the top allergy-inducing ingredients.
So, what can parents pack for lunch? This depends on your child’s food allergy and the school’s guidelines. Parents can still whip up a yummy snack, says Khan. “If I’m removing nuts, then I’d add sunflower and pumpkin seeds. If I can’t give them milk or milk products, make chickpea pasta or add hummus. You can replace wheat with so many ingredients, like flaxseed and buckwheat flour. Pancakes can be made with chia (seed) eggs instead of dairy eggs – they work wonderfully and are just as nutritional,” advised Khan.
We picked out effortless allergy-free snacks for lunch prep below. Remember to “always read the back of the pack, the fine print and every asterisk carefully”, adds Khan, before adding it to the tiffin. Use your Prime subscription to avail yourself of next-day delivery on some of these products.
1. Best Butter: Laurel’s Sunflower Butter
Laurel's sunflower seed butter is an organic sandwich spread. Unlike most kinds of nut butter, this jar has a moist consistency right out of the box – stir the contents well for a spreadable substitute to peanut butter. Each jar weighs 227 grams and lists roasted sunflower seeds and sea salt as its only ingredients. Use this butter as a spread for toast, crackers, muffins and bagels.
2. Best Cookies: Homefree Mini Cookies Variety Pack (Pack of 10)
Let your child choose a cookie flavour they like from not one but six varieties in this Homefree mini cookies pack of 10. From chocolate chip to lemon burst, every cookie is gluten-, nut- and dairy-free, carefully baked in an allergy-free facility. According to the brand, each bag provides more than half a serving of whole grains, and reviewers rate them as crunchy, homemade and delicious.
3. Best Fruit Rolls: BEAR ‘Fruit Rolls’ Strawberry (18 Rolls)
Another sweet snack to wrap up lunch break with, the Bear fruit roll ups are all-natural fruit, with no added sugar or concentrates. They come in a pack of 18, each pocketing two strawberry rolls – other flavours are available in raspberry, apple and mango. These chewy rolls are high in fibre and are gluten- and nut-free, as well. Kids will love collecting fact cards that come inside every pack, as parents vouch in the reviews. Mums and dads can also stash these in the pantry for when children are feeling peckish in between meals.
4. Best Chips: Popcorners Snacks Gluten Free Chips, 6-Flavour Variety Pack (Pack of 20)
Gluten-free chips, anyone? In this value pack of 20, kids get to snack on six flavours of crisps, including sour cream and onion, kettle corn, white cheddar and more. All Popcorners’ chips are made of popped corn with sunflower oil, cane sugar and salt. There are no nuts involved in the manufacturing process, either. Pair a packet with a hummus dip to munch on or as a side for a wrap, and your child is good to go. Some flavours also offer dairy-free options.
5. Best Fruit Snack: YumEarth Organic Fruit Snacks Tropical (Pack of 12)
If your child loves button-shaped candies, then there’s a good chance they’ll enjoy an organic version. The YumEarth Fruit Snacks come in a pack of 12 and are stamped with an allergy-friendly seal. This means the fruit candies are free of gluten, tree nuts, soy, eggs and dairy. Parents won’t have to worry about artificial dyes or flavours with these delicious snacks. Each pack has an assortment of three tropical flavours.
6. Best Breakfast: Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free Pancake Mix, 24-ounce (Pack of 4)
Stock up on a trusted gluten-free pancake mix that makes delicious waffles, too. Bob’s Red Mill pancake mix comes in a pack of four, each weighing 680 grams. The product is tested and confirmed in the manufacturer’s gluten-free facility, and gives you the option of using plant-based milk and egg substitutes. However, do note that the mix is made in a facility that also uses tree nuts and soy.
7. Best To-Go Snack: Made Good Granola Bar Mixed Berry, Case of 6 Boxes
For a quick energy boost, there’s nothing like a granola bar. Made Good makes school-safe oat bars without tree nuts, and has allergy-friendly and gluten-free seals on them. Its mixed berry flavour is tarty and crunchy, packed with organic cranberries, raspberries and currants, making it rich in antioxidants. This is a six-pack order, so you get 36 granola bars in total.
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