School’s in session guys and I’ve got the ultimate guide to creating school safe lunches here for you as a trusty sidekick for…the rest of your life (or at least until those kiddos are 18)! Since it can be totally confusing to know what is safe and what is not safe when it comes to nuts, I thought I’d put something together to use as a guide this school season.
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I don’t know about you, but our heads are exploding with all the new rules for our Kindergartner! One of the biggest is the requirement for nut-free foods in her daily lunch and snack. While some schools do not require school safe lunches and snacks, others have very strict stipulations or (in our case) a complete ban on nuts. And, it makes total sense because, for some children, a mere exposure (not even ingestion) to peanuts or other tree nuts can cause life-threatening allergic reactions.
What does it mean to be nut free?
You should lean to your school’s allergy guidelines and school policies for their exact requirements, but in general, Peanut Free means the food does not contain peanuts or derivatives of peanuts. If the policy is Tree Nut Free, this means it cannot contain any tree nuts, including almonds, beechnut, brazil nuts, bush nuts, cashews, chestnuts, filbert, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios or walnuts. If your school is peanut and tree nut-free, you cannot have anything that contains peanuts, almonds, beechnut, brazil nuts, bush nuts, cashews, chestnuts, filbert, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios or walnuts.
What about seeds and coconuts?
A tree nut-free policy does not typically include seeds like sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin. And, to make matters even more confusing, the term “nut” doesn’t always mean peanut or tree nut. Nutmeg, water chestnut, butternut squash, and shea nuts are not nuts at all. Macadamia nuts and pine nuts also typically fall into the “safe” category because both are actually seeds. Coconuts are also not typically banned from schools because even though they are classified as nuts, they are actually a fruit. And, while coconut allergies do exist, they are on the rarer side. Head spinning yet?
If you are unsure, ask your school directly about their specific policies on questionable items like seeds and coconut or lean-to foods you absolutely know are safe. The best way to create school safe lunches for your kids is to always air on the side of caution if you don’t know the answer. It may be annoying to come up with creative ideas (especially for picky eaters). But, if we put ourselves in the shoes of parents that have children with life-threatening nut allergies, we can understand why they would want ALL parents to be educated and safe when their kids are out of their sight. And, once you have a school safe food arsenal, you can pack those same foods for when you’re out and about to ensure you’re keeping allergic kids at playgrounds, parks and play facilities safe too.
I share our peanut and tree nut-free school lunches every day on Instagram stories! You can see past posts in my highlights or tune in daily for inspo 🙂
Read your labels and look for…
Knowing what to look for on the labels of the foods your buying is super important when sticking to your school’s nut-free policy. The good news is that the FDA requires most foods state if they contain a top 8 food allergen (including milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, or shellfish). Keep in mind, however, foods that are not regulated by the FDA (like certain baked goods you purchase at a bakery or online shop) may not label properly. When in doubt, don’t buy it.
Here are a few things you might see on food labels indicating the product is NOT SAFE. Note, these statements are voluntary and at the brand’s sole discretion, so if you don’t see it, read the ingredients list AND check the brand’s manufacturing policies (usually found in thier FAQs).
- May contain traces of nuts or peanuts (not safe).
- May contain nuts or peanuts (not safe).
- Manufactured in a facility that uses or processes [peanuts, tree nuts or a specific tree nut] (not safe).
- Manufactured on equipment that uses or processes [peanuts, tree nuts or a specific tree nut] (not safe).
Here is a complete list of tree nut names and derivatives you might not recognize on a label. This list is useful if you really want to buy something but aren’t sure because the above voluntary statements are not included.
Food ideas for school safe lunches
I’m all about easy-peasy, so here’s a quick list of foods and brands that carry nut-free goods you can use to create your school safe lunches. I find switching it up and creating lots of variety keeps my kiddo excited about food (and actually eating it). Once you are in the routine and have a solid list, it’s much easier to start throwing together your lunches each day.
NUT BUTTERS: Replace nut butters with sunflower seed butter (Sunbutter brand or Trader Joe’s sunflower seed butter are good), pumpkin seed butter, flaxseed butter, and hemp seed butter. Replace nuts with seeds (roasted pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are great)
PROTEIN: Add protein with roasted soybeans, peas or chickpeas. Add meat, cheese sticks, cubes and rounds, yogurt tubes and pouches, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, and cream cheese. Be careful with any yogurt cups or snacks that have crackers for dipping as they may contain non-safe ingredients.
GRAINS + BREADS: Earth’s Best Mini waffles, Thomas’s mini bagels, Nature’s Promise breads (all varieties), Pepperidge Farm breads (all varieties), Wonder breads (all varieties), Stop & Shop store brand breads, Vermont Bread Company, Milton’s whole grain bread (all varieties), Baldwin Hill Breads whole wheat variety, and The Baker whole-grain variety.
FRUITS & VEGGIES: Any fresh fruit or veggie, fruit pouches or cups, canned fruits and veggies (in water or its own juices), dried fruits, raisins, and fruit leathers.
DIPS include Guacamole, Hummus, ranch and other yogurt-based dips (great for veggies!). Read the labels to be sure, especially with Hummus.
SNACKS: Madegood granola bars, graham crackers (Teddy Grahams and Annies Bunnies) Nilla wafers, Fig Newtons, Popcorn and rice cakes (Skinny Pop brand is nut-free!), Crackers (Plain Triscuits, Wheat Thins and Goldfish), Pretzels (Rold Gold, Pepperidge Farm Pretzel Goldfish and Newman’s Own), Goldfish and Cheddar Bunnies (Pepperidge Farms and Annies), Late July Tortillas and Pirates Booty
Sample lunch ideas
I share daily pics of our lunches in instastories for inspo, so be sure to follow me on Instagram to access them (just go to my highlights and select “school lunches” to see what we’ve made). Hope this helps you keep things in order on your end. Leaving you with a few things I always have on hand for creating school lunches and meals at home. Happy Day!
Kids Meal Staples
*As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Post may contain affiliate or referral links. I earn a small commission if you make a purchase through my links, which helps me continue on this fabulous journey of blogging! Full disclaimers avail. here.