School Lunches for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Finding foods that don't trigger irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms is difficult, but turning them into healthy brown bag lunch ideas is even more challenging. Children and adults in school face the challenge of packing lunches that taste good and don't cause IBS symptoms such as pain, bloating, and diarrhea.

Lunch box piglet
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Challenges With School Lunches

Even with a renewed focus on nutrition in the United States, school lunch menus haven't changed much over the years. The kid-friendly staples of burgers, pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheese are still on many elementary school menus, although they are now accompanied by baby carrots, fresh fruit, and raisins instead of French fries. High school lunch menus may offer more variety including sandwiches on French or sourdough bread, soup, and baked potatoes, but junk food items such as ice cream, cookies, and brownies are also available. College cafeterias can be a mixed bag, with many campuses bringing fast food chains into their student unions.

Finding good IBS lunch ideas might be difficult and may even change from day to day. This is why packing a lunch, while time-intensive, might be the best idea to prevent IBS flare-ups.

Benefits of Packing a Lunch

Packing lunches for school is a good way to steer clear of unhealthy alternatives, but it does require some creativity and willingness to experiment. Food must also be handled properly to avoid spoiling—if there is no refrigerator or microwave available the choices will be a bit more limited.

Some important points to remember when creating IBS friendly lunches are:

  • Avoid artificial sweeteners.
  • Avoid gassy foods (bananas, beans, nuts, raisins, etc).
  • Include plenty of soluble fiber (brown rice, French bread, oatmeal, pasta, sourdough bread, soy).
  • Include high protein, low-fat foods.

Using a Thermos

A thermos is an excellent way to carry IBS-friendly drinks such as chamomile tea, soy milk, or even sparkling water. Soups, stews, and rice dishes can fit in a thermos and be the main dish in a healthy lunch.


Upgrading Your Sandwich Game

The staple of brown bag lunches is the sandwich. It travels well, is easy to eat on the run, and has an endless variety. However, peanut butter and jelly on white may not sit well with people who have IBS, so sandwiches need some new ingredients. Bread such as sourdough and French are delicious alternatives to plain white bread. Skip the lunch meat, cheese, and mayonnaise and try soy, tofu, or seafood alternatives.


You Can Still Do Desserts and Snacks

Many of us have a craving for a sweet or salty snack after our healthy meal. The good news is that there are plenty of desserts and snacks that can satisfy both the craving and the need to follow an IBS diet.


Cut Down on the Time It Takes

Packing a lunch every day can be time-consuming. From time to time it may be tempting to skip the brown bag and purchase cafeteria or fast food which is not always nutritious or IBS-friendly. Use these tips to minimize the time and energy necessary to make lunches:

  • Cook foods in large batches and freeze in small portions.
  • Pack lunches the night before instead of in the morning.
  • Wrap up a week's worth of snacks in individual portions.
  • Prepare tea or other drinks in a large pitcher that's ready to pour into a thermos.
  • Get the kids to pitch in and help; turn Sunday night lunch packing into quality time.

A Word From Verywell

People with IBS face an uphill battle with food but there is hope. There is more understood now about how diet affects IBS and how to navigate food choices with some sense of confidence. In the long run, it may be more beneficial to pack lunches than it is to rely on cafeterias or eating out, where ingredients are not always known and understood. Trial and error take time but it's worth it in order to eat healthy, good tasting food that won't contribute to an IBS flare-up.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cozma-Petruţ A, Loghin F, Miere D, Dumitraşcu DL. Diet in irritable bowel syndrome: what to recommend, not what to forbid to patients! World J Gastroenterol. 2017;23(21):3771. doi:10.3748/wjg.v23.i21.3771

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.