Eating Gluten-Free for the Back-to-School Set

Cook, Gluten-Free, Healthy Eating, Learn, Tips & Techniques

This post comes courtesy of Tara Barker, blogger behind A Baking Life.


“Apples, a sandwich, yogurt, string cheese, dry cereal, raisins, water.”


“Corn on the cob, chicken, water, chips, salsa, tomatoes, some raspberries, some green beans, fish.”


These were the responses I got from my two sons, Kalen, 5, and Wylie, almost 3, when I asked them, “If you could pack anything you want, what would you want to bring to school for lunch?” Their healthy answers pleasantly surprised me, signaling that, even in a hypothetical you-can-have-anything-you-want scenario, they still instinctively want foods that make their bodies feel good.


I love this, of course. Concrete evidence that I’m doing a good job! But it feels especially significant at this time of year: we’re heading into late summer. Not only is this a time of family vacations and summer festivals and lazy afternoons spent pool-side, but for many of us, it’s also Back-to-School season. And along with new backpacks and clothes and shoes, parents of kids with food allergies or intolerances have to start thinking about how they’re going to make sure their child eats well, every day, after they’ve left the safety of their home kitchens.


In my young family, since this will be the first time we have a child heading off to school, the logistics of healthy remote feeding are weighing more heavily on my mind than I suspect they will next year, when packing lunches every day will be old hat. The small, independent school Kalen will be attending doesn’t have a cafeteria or traditional school lunch; everyone brings their own bagged lunch. Which I think is great, because it gives me more control over what he eats while away from home. But it also puts greater responsibility on me to be organized and to ensure that Kalen is well supplied with nourishing food to get him through his day.


To prepare myself (I am a lover of lists and plans, so this is a natural response for me), I’ve started compiling a list of portable, healthy foods I know Kalen loves, in the hope that if I provide him with enough delicious, varied meals, he’ll be better able to resist the peer-pressure-induced cravings for Lunchables and peanut butter and fluff sandwiches.


Since ours is primarily a gluten-free household, the foods I’ve come up with are not only things Kalen is used to eating, but are naturally gluten-free or can easily be accommodated to a gluten-free diet. At the same time, I’m hoping that they aren’t too “weird,” too different from what the other kids are going to be eating, so as not to make Kalen feel that he’s missing out on anything. As the child of healthy-minded parents, one who wasn’t allowed to have the highly processed, sugared foods so many of my classmates were bringing to school, I know first-hand the envy that comes with thinking everyone else’s lunch tastes better than yours. I’m hoping to avoid that with my own kids.


It helps that they’ve been raised in a food-centric household. My husband owns a restaurant, I’m a pastry chef and, before that, we owned a gourmet food store. Food — making it, learning about where it comes from, understanding why some foods are better for our bodies than other types — has been a central theme in our children’s lives right from the start. They’re used to overhearing (and more and more, participating in) conversations about, say, unusual flavor pairings, or the exciting heirloom vegetable our favorite farmer is harvesting.


But still, I’m pretty sure that fitting in with his new friends will be an issue (unless school — and childhood in general — has changed significantly since I was young), and I’d like lunchtime to be as stress free and enjoyable as possible for Kalen. With that in mind, here are some of the things that will be finding their way into his lunch pack this fall:


  • Since he specifically mentioned sandwiches in his list, I’ll be sure to allow that everyday workhorse to make frequent appearances. In terms of bread, this is a fortunate time to be gluten-free — there are so many good gluten-free breads on the market (we especially love Udi’s), not to mention bread mixes and recipes that turn out great loaves, that gluten-free kids can have their PB&J or turkey and cheese on a sliced bread that won’t call attention to itself. Never again does a gluten-free “sandwich” have to mean peanut butter slathered on a rice cake!
  • Related to bread, but in Kalen’s mind a completely separate creature, are bagels. Kalen loves bagels and cream cheese for lunch, and is beginning to warm up to the idea of bagels as vehicles for other sandwich fixings. My gluten-free bagels (recipe follows) taste great toasted or at room temperature, and can be frozen in advance and thawed individually as needed, making early morning lunch-packing that much easier.
  • Hummus is a staple at our house, and it’s a great way to get more veggies into my kids. Carrot sticks and celery are their current favorite dippers, but red bell peppers, cucumber slices and grape tomatoes are also willingly eaten.
  • Dinner leftovers will almost certainly become the next day’s lunch. Whether it’s gluten-free grilled pizza, a frittata, a savory tart or any of the numerous soups we live on during the colder months (served with a side of delicious gluten-free focaccia), all can be easily packed into food storage containers or a Thermos® and carted off to school.
  • Processed snacks, while not a big part of our diet at home, will probably be requested more once Kalen starts spending his days in the company of other kids, some of whom, at least, will most certainly be eating Goldfish® or potato chips with their sandwiches. So I’ll be occasionally treating him to his favorite Pirate’s Booty® and bunny snacks, along with plenty of string cheese, yogurt, homemade granola bars, lots of fruit (dried and fresh) and, per his request, dry cereal. He has also recently discovered a love of Snyder’s gluten-free pretzels, so if I can bear sharing my stash with him, he may occasionally get to nibble on those.
  • In terms of sweets, I don’t intend for Kalen to take many of them to school. But on occasions when dessert is appropriate, I’ve got an arsenal of favorite treats to bake for him. And of course, I can also just take my cue from him: when I asked what he might want to pack in his lunch bag for a special treat, he answered, “some chocolate and blueberries.” Absolutely, Kalen. Absolutely.


Gluten-Free Bagels

These bagels are so good you’ll be tempted to eat them plain, straight from the oven. An appealing crisp-yet-chewy crust gives way to a tender interior, with a flexibility and springiness usually only seen in gluten-full breads. Ideal with a schmear of cream cheese, they also make a fine base for your favorite sandwich fillings. Personally, I think they make the best bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever had.

1 1/4 cups brown rice flour

1 cup white rice flour

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/3 cup almond flour

1 Tbs. xanthan gum

1 Tbs. sugar

1 tsp. psyllium husk powder

1 tsp. fine sea salt

1 3/4 cups milk

1 egg, at room temperature

2 1/4 tsp. (1 packet) active dry yeast

1 Tbs. canola oil, plus more for greasing

Cornmeal for dusting

1 egg white, whisked until frothy, for brushing on top of bagels

Kosher salt, toasted garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds or anything else you want to scatter on top of your bagels


Special equipment needed:

A baking pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet

Eight 4-inch squares of parchment paper or wax paper

A piping bag or plastic freezer bag

A slotted spatula or spider

A pastry brush


Dust the prepared baking pan with cornmeal. Grease the 8 parchment squares and the interior of the piping bag with canola oil. Set aside.


In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the brown rice flour, white rice flour, cornstarch, almond flour, xanthan gum, sugar, psyllium husk powder and salt and beat on low speed until combined.


In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk until it feels warm but not hot to the touch, 90º to 100ºF. (Alternately, you can warm it in the microwave.)


Whisk the egg, yeast and the 1 Tbs. canola oil into the warmed milk, then add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and beat on low speed just to blend. Increase the speed to high and beat for 5 minutes.


Transfer the dough to the greased pastry bag (cut off the tip of one corner if using a freezer bag) and pipe 8 bagels out onto the 8 squares of greased parchment. Use wet fingers to smooth out any irregular edges. Cover the bagels with a piece of canola oil-greased plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is. The bagels should double in size but not start to crack; this indicates overproofing.


Fill a large saucepan with water and put it on to boil. You want to time it so that the water has come to a rolling boil at the end of the bagels’ rising time.


Preheat an oven to 425ºF. When the bagels have finished rising, lift them up by the corners of the parchment squares and lay them face down in the boiling water. (You don’t want them to touch each other, so this stage will need to be done in batches.) The parchment squares should lift right off. Boil on one side for 10 to 15 seconds, then use the slotted spatula to flip the bagel over to the other side. Boil for an additional 10 seconds, then remove the bagels from the water with the spatula and gently place on the cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Try not to boil the bagels any longer than that, to prevent them from absorbing too much moisture.


Use the pastry brush to gently brush the bagels with the beaten egg white and sprinkle them with kosher salt, toasted garlic, sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds, or any other favorite topping. Bake until the bagels are golden brown and firm to the touch, 30 to 35 minutes. A tester inserted in a bagel should come out clean.


About the author: Tara is the author, recipe developer, and photographer behind the gluten-free baking blog, A Baking Life. She is also the pastry chef at 40 Paper, her husband’s Italian bistro, where she has developed an acclaimed — and entirely gluten-free — dessert menu. She lives in a small town on the coast of Maine with her husband Josh, their two sons Kalen and Wylie, and their black Lab, Sage.


Cool the bagels completely on a wire rack, then wrap airtight and store at room temperature for up to 3 days. Bagels can also be frozen for up to 3 months and thawed as needed. Makes 8 bagels.

9 comments about “Eating Gluten-Free for the Back-to-School Set

  1. Melinda

    This is also my first year of sending GF kids to school – I am so glad I found your blog, and through it, this recipe! I have these bagels proofing on the counter right now and can’t wait to see how they turn out!

  2. Melinda

    The verdict from the whole family is that these bagels are DELICIOUS! Thank you for such a wonderful recipe that I foresee using for years to come!

  3. Tara

    bijoublessing – Thank you so much! Good luck with the school year!

    Melinda – I’m so glad you tried (and loved!) the bagels. Thank you, and I hope your kids have a healthy school year!

  4. Cathy

    Thanks for the beautiful recipe. I was wondering what you could use instead of the psyllium husk flour?

  5. Tara

    Cathy, if you can’t find psyllium husk powder at your local natural foods store, you can simply increase the xanthan gum by 1 teaspoon. Good luck!

  6. fran

    I just made these for my niece and they have a really good flavor and texture. I did something a little different though. Based on someone’s review they fell apart in the water I baked them for a couple minutes to set and then boiled them in honey water. Baked till done. Great smell while baking too

  7. Delicious Homemade Bagels Recipe (Gluten and Dairy Free!)

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