Food-allergy-friendly (and healthy) lunch box options for kids

Posted on August 19th, 2013 by Alison | Posted in Babies & Kids, Food Ideas | Read 3 Comments - Add Your Own »

When you have a child with food allergies, you can’t rely on any school-supplied lunches, if any are even offered. You have to make lunch every day. Any mom who packs lunches can relate to the morning drill of hoping you’ve done enough grocery shopping to find enough food to put in your kids’ lunchbox that day, while also trying to make it healthy and desirable. I feel a sense of failure when I open a full lunchbox at the end of the day!

Over the years I have figured out how to make my kids’ lunchboxes to come back empty rather than full. When you are dealing with food allergies, you have to think outside of the (lunch)box! No PB&J sandwiches, Goldfish or cheese sticks to fall back on. My kids and I have figured out lunch options that make me and them happy. That’s not to say I don’t strike out sometimes, but I thought I’d share some of our successes and hope these might work for you, or at least spark some ideas.

I can’t say enough how important it is to have a good lunchbox — one with compartments that show the food. What food is appetizing served in plastic baggies and aluminum foil? Plus, the whole no-waste thing is a bonus! I love Laptop Lunches and my kids have been using them for years. When a child opens the lunch, the entire lunch is displayed at once. It is really convenient and appetizing and there is even a fork and spoon — imagine eating with utensils!

Whichever lunch box you choose, the next step is to fill it up! Aim for variety and try to cover all of the food groups. I always put protein along with the filler food (carbs), some fruit and a veggie. And yes, I put a little treat of some kind! I didn’t used to, but I realized that it just makes my kids so much happier when there is a little sweet surprise — and I do mean little — a small cookie, a little pack of gummy candies, a homemade mini muffin.

If your kid likes a sandwich, go for it! There are now many kinds of gluten-free breads to choose from, vegan mayonnaise and allergy-free lunch meats. My kids are currently not crazy about sandwiches so I have had to come up with other options. Here are some of the things I have packed over the years:

  • Gluten-free pretzels with Sunbutter – pack Sunbutter in a dipping container
  • Apples with Sunbutter
  • Rice crackers or tortilla rounds or strips with hummus
  • Tortilla chips with refried beans as bean dip – try Amy’s Organic Traditional Refried Beans – it is not spicy at all and has a good mild flavor that kids like
  • Raw veggies – sometimes on Sunday, I wash and cut into matchsticks or rounds cucumbers and carrots. I store them with snap peas or any other veggie that the kids like in a sealed container in the frig and then when making lunches in the morning, I ask my kids to choose from the veggies for their “veggie compartment.” I have read about some supermoms that put a green salad in their kids lunches. There is no way my kids would eat a salad at lunch! But this veggie method has worked so far for us. Also, if the veggies seem a little dry because you have cut them days before, just sprinkle a little water on them.
  • Cooked veggies – I have gotten away with putting leftover green beans and broccoli (as long as they are not overcooked) in my older daughter’s lunchbox. Sometimes you have to take a risk! :)
  • “Breadsticks” – my kids got tired of sandwiches, so I made breadsticks by toasting the same gluten-free sandwich bread and cutting it into strips – this is great for dipping in hummus or sunbutter, or even just plain. Change the shape and it’s a whole new food!
  • Fruit – okay, this seems obvious, but let’s face it — sometimes there’s no fresh fruit left in the house! Berries, grapes, watermelon and apples are the fresh fruits my kids like, but I always have a back-up of canned pineapple chunks (the natural kind – no sugary syrup) and serve with a fork. The kids love it. If you can fit the pineapple rings in the lunchbox, that’s a big hit also! Other fresh-fruit replacements include applesauce (don’t forget the spoon!), frozen mango, and I bet those cute little mandarin orange slices would make them happy too – I haven’t tried those yet.
  • Protein sources – the beans, hummus and Sunbutter mentioned above are some. My kids like lunch meat, so I will include all-natural salami, or turkey or chicken breast. Try rolling it up and securing with a toothpick (“turkey rolls”), or with rice crackers. Since nuts are a common allergen, you might try seeds like shelled pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds — Enjoy Life makes a trail mix of seeds, dried fruit and chocolate chips, or you could make your own.

Hopefully, this list has helped you get some new ideas. I would love for you all to share what you pack in your kids’ lunches! I could use some new ideas too!


How to Make Gluten-Free Brownie Bites

Posted on January 26th, 2013 by Alison | Posted in Egg Allergy, Food Ideas, Holidays/Special Events, Recipes & Cooking Tips | Read 8 Comments - Add Your Own »

When I thought of how to make gluten-free brownie bites one day, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it earlier. So simple, and so useful! These are also egg-free, dairy-free and nut-free.

There’s really no recipe here, but instead, an idea. All you need is a mini-muffin pan (I use this one) and a gluten-free brownie mix that you like. Because my daughter also has egg allergies, I need to make them egg-free. The mix I have been using for years is Pamela’s Brownie Mix, which has a “Fudgiest Brownie” recipe the bag – the only thing you add is oil and water. Sometimes cooking without eggs or with egg replacer can result in a batter that seems undercooked or takes a lot longer to cook, but because these are made in a mini-muffin tin, they get baked through very nicely.

Tip for Allergy Moms: These brownie bites can also be used as mini-cupcakes – just add frosting and sprinkles. These freeze well, so make extra and store them for a later date. Easy last-minute treat!

Tip for Valentine’s Day:  Use a heart-shaped mini muffin pan to make heart brownie bites for Valentine’s Day. Make sure to smooth the batter in each one as much as possible, and don’t fill to the top so that it bakes flatter. Top cooled brownies with pink frosting and colorful sprinkles! (I just ordered this Wilton Silicone heart mini-muffin pan.)

Which brownie mix to use?
There are many, many (many!) gluten-free brownie mixes on the market, so take your pick (most of these are linked to Amazon in case you can’t find them where you live). After compiling this list, I was shocked at how many there are! I have not taste-tested these, so you will have to make decisions based on your own taste, ingredient preference, price and availability.

Which mix is your favorite? Your 2 cents is welcome here!


Gluten-free dairy-free ice cream pie

Posted on April 26th, 2012 by Alison | Posted in Food Ideas, Recipes & Cooking Tips | Read 2 Comments - Add Your Own »

Pizza and cupcakes, pizza and cupcakes — this is the usual fare at children’s birthday parties. I’ve got the whole bring-our-own-cupcakes thing down and I am used to delivering hot homemade pizza to the parties. But once in a while, a creative mom throws me for a loop by serving frosting-filled ice cream cones (that was an easy one, luckily) or ice cream sandwiches (the traditional dark cookie rectangle kind – not so easy).

GF DF Ice Cream Pies

At the last birthday party my daughters attended, the dessert was ice cream pie. I used to love ice cream pies but really had never made one. Ah – a new challenge. I used allergen-free cookies and dairy-free ice cream to make individual pies for my girls. The crust turned out fine, although probably too crumbly if you were going to try to cut and serve it. Since they had their own it didn’t matter and they ate them straight out of the baking tin.

Here’s how I did it:

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Crush cookies using a food processor (this is the easy and fast way and produces a finer crumb) or by putting them in a plastic bag and rolling the bag with a rolling pin. You should have about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of crushed cookies.
  2. Melt about 1/4 cup of butter.
  3. Add butter little by little to the crushed cookies either directly to the food processor or in a bowl. You want the cookie/butter mixture to stick together enough but not to be too oily. Many cookie crust recipes call for sugar to be added also, but I left it out. Seems sugary enough to me!
  4. Press cookie/butter mixture into the bottom of a greased pie plate or ramekin or whatever you want to serve it in.
  5. Put crust in the freezer to set for at least 15 minutes (more time is better, but I was in a hurry).
  6. Take out the ice cream to soften a bit (10 minutes).
  7. Smooth the softened ice cream into the crust.
  8. Melt chocolate chips (if you do this in the microwave, cook for short intervals and stir each time). Drizzle the chocolate on top of pie.
  9. Return pie to freezer. It is best to leave it for at least 30 minutes or longer.

To be honest, I didn’t see my kids eat their pies because I had to leave the party, and I doubt they were perfect by ice cream pie standards, but the tins came back clean. That’s all the proof I need! If I make this again I would like to buy mini pie dishes, use a more interesting ice cream flavor and make it farther ahead so they freeze more.

So, moms, what’s the next birthday challenge? ;)


Gluten-free donuts in 5 minutes

Posted on January 24th, 2012 by Alison | Posted in Egg Allergy, Food Ideas, Recipes & Cooking Tips | Read 12 Comments - Add Your Own »

The other day I had a gluten-free donut emergency. There was a birthday in my daughter’s class and the kid brought donuts to share. I am always prepared for birthdays with cupcakes in the freezer and I can make a fast brownie, but donuts? That is not in my repertoire.

But then I remembered that my mom had just given my daughters a Babycakes Donut Maker. At the time I wasn’t that excited about another appliance in the house, but now I was ecstatic!  All I had to do was come up with a batter that was gluten-free and egg-free (daughter is allergic to eggs) and I would have mini donuts in about five minutes! I decided to use a pancake and waffle mix as the base and work from there. I always have The Cravings Place All Purpose Pancake and Waffle Mix on hand because it is a mix that does not call for eggs at all and somehow the waffles always defy gravity and come out fluffy. I sort of used their recipe (on their website) for Shortcake to make the donut batter. I can’t be certain I followed it exactly, because, like I said, it was a donut emergency and I was in a hurry! You can probably use any gluten-free batter with success.

When I brought the mini-donuts to school, I peeked in the donut box that held the “regular” donuts and to my pleasant surprise, there were donuts with vanilla icing and chocolate sprinkles, just like I had made! My daughter and another allergic girl in the class that I brought donuts for were very happy, and I have to admit that I felt like Super Mom that day!

Here is (approximately) how I made the gluten-free dairy-free egg-free donuts:

Ingredients:

Directions:

Cut the butter or shortening into the dry mix, using a pastry cutter or knives until the the butter or shortening is blended in, or resembles small pebbles. Add the sugar and water and mix until fully blended. Batter should be somewhat thick.

Take a ziplock bag and cut off one corner so there is 1/2 inch hole. Spoon the batter into the bag, and following the directions on the donut maker, squeeze the batter out of the bag into the donut rounds when the donut maker is ready (hot). Fill it pretty full (even though the directions say to fill each with two tablespoons, don’t bother measuring). The bottom side of the donut will brown more than the top, but if you turn the donut over before icing, no one will see the less-cooked side.

Let the donuts cool a little bit before icing them or the icing will melt down the sides. For a quick icing, I mixed a little Pamela’s Vanilla Frosting Mix with a little water until it was the consistency I wanted, but you can also just use powdered sugar and water or milk, and add some vanilla too if you like. It’s up to you how you want to ice them — you can dunk the whole thing to get a glaze all over, or ice the tops like I did. There are also several frosting recipes in the recipe booklet that comes with the donut maker.


SunButter Balls Recipe – A healthy and allergen-free snack

Posted on October 20th, 2011 by Alison | Posted in Food Ideas, Peanuts/Nuts Allergy, Recipes & Cooking Tips | Read 4 Comments - Add Your Own »

These SunButter Balls are much better than Schweddy Balls ;) and they are gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut and peanut-free, and soy-free! The credit for this recipe goes to my sister, Leslie, who lovingly adapted it so that my daughter could eat it too. She also used healthy ingredients to give these little snacks a nutritional punch!

This is a great recipe to make with kids. They love to make the balls and roll them in the cereal! Once coated, keep them (the balls, not the kids) in the refrigerator to have as a healthy snack, to pack in lunches, or for protein on the go. The cereal on the outside, in addition to providing a little crunch, prevents them from being sticky.

sunbutter-balls-2

To read the recipe for Sunbutter Balls, click over to my post on the Attune Foods blog!


Happy Birthday to my girls and a surprise allergen-free dessert

Posted on August 31st, 2011 by Alison | Posted in Babies & Kids, Food Ideas, Holidays/Special Events, Products | Read 6 Comments - Add Your Own »

My girls turned 7 and 5 this month, and for their birthday celebration, I decided to have something other than cake (see their past birthday cakes: Butterfly cakes, Fish cakes, Mermaid cakes, Aloha cakes).

The dessert was a surprise up until the moment it was ready, and it was a hit! Can you guess from the picture of my happy 7 year old what it was?

chocolate-fountain-5

A chocolate fountain! With stuff to dip — all gluten-free and free of the top 8 allergens.

I purchased a mini chocolate fountain on Amazon for $28. It worked great, but I think in the future I would rather have the larger size. For the chocolate I used Enjoy Life Mega Chunks with organic canola oil (you have to add oil to the chocolate to thin it for the fountain). The chocolate flowed perfectly and was delicious. People couldn’t believe it was dairy-free.

Chocolate Fountain

For the dipping I used marshmallows, pineapple (canned), strawberries, mandarin oranges (canned), Glutino pretzel sticks, Kinnikinnick animal cookies, vanilla cake cut into chunks, and more marshmallows (the most popular item), which I also put candles in for my girls to blow out during the Happy Birthday song.

For dipping and eating, I had skewers, plates, and NAPKINS! And a hose. :) Yes, it was messy, but the smiles were worth it. I recommend doing it outside (even though the instructions say not to), and getting a plastic tablecloth.

chocolate-fountain-2

chocolate-fountain-3

The chocolate fountain may just become their birthday tradition!


Healthy (and food allergy friendly) snack options for kids

Posted on August 18th, 2011 by Alison | Posted in Babies & Kids, Food Ideas, Healthy Living | Read 3 Comments - Add Your Own »

I love to snack and I guess I’m pretty good at making healthy snack choices for myself. Kids, on the other hand, require a bit of coaching as to what constitutes a healthy snack. Pre-dinner time is the worst, when kids turn into beggars looking for handouts! So, to stave them off before they reach for the chips and treats, I try to put a variety of snacks out before kids ask for them — you know what they say: be one step ahead of your kid. Sometimes I set them out in a high-traffic area and don’t say a word. They discover them and sure enough, they are eating the healthy snacks and not rifling through the pantry.

Coconut Yogurt and CerealNeed kid-friendly snack ideas? All of the snacks on my list are gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free and nut-free… also minimally processed and healthy! Even kids with food allergies can overload on packaged carb-heavy snacks and sugary treats, so it’s important to not fall into the deprivation syndrome (letting them have as much as they want of the allergen-free treats because you feel they are deprived enough already).

These are snacks that my kids, ages 5 and 7, will actually eat, plus they double as great lunch box items!

To see my healthy snacks list, please visit Attune Foods, and add your own ideas in the comments!

Happy and Healthy Snacking!


What’s for gluten-free breakfast?

Posted on July 21st, 2011 by Alison | Posted in Celiac Disease, Food Ideas, Gluten Intolerance, Products | ADD A COMMENT »

Did you know that breakfast cereal was invented only a little over 100 years ago? What was intended as a health food has become, for most Americans, a meal of sugary processed grains devoid of real nutrition. Bright unnatural colors, marshmallow or chocolate bits and prizes are Happy Breakfastwhat define our boxed cereals of today. Even choosing healthy, natural cereals can mean a lot of gluten, as most cereals are made from wheat, and if you are one of the 7% of Americans who have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant (some doctors suspect the number is closer to 30%!), this big dose of gluten at the beginning of the day can really affect the rest of your day.

So, what are your breakfast options if you need to be on a gluten-free diet? Don’t worry – there are many! Head over to Attune Foods, the makers of Erewhon cereal, to read my list of gluten-free breakfast ideas, and add your own in the comments!


How to Make Soft and Chewy Rice Crispy Treats Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free

Posted on April 17th, 2011 by Alison | Posted in Food Ideas, Holidays/Special Events, Products, Recipes & Cooking Tips | Read 5 Comments - Add Your Own »

The first time I made Rice Crispy Treats, they turned out hard as a rock. After many attempts, I have a yummy and soft Rice Crispy Treat recipe, and it’s gluten-free and dairy-free too!

gluten-free-rice-crispy-tre

The key to making good Rice Crispy Treats is in both the ingredients and the technique. The ingredients in my recipe are different from the traditional Rice Krispies version. First of all, I  don’t use Rice Krispies because they are not gluten-free (they contain barley malt). This is changing in June 2011 — if you haven’t heard yet, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies is going gluten-free. This is wonderful news for so many families, and evidence of the growing and powerful gluten-free market.

I personally will continue to buy Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice Cereal Gluten FreeErewhon Crispy Brown Rice Gluten Free Cereal because I like the ingredients better: Organic brown rice, Organic brown rice syrup, Sea salt. (The new Rice Krispies will contain whole grain brown rice, sugar, salt and BHT.) Erewhon compares in taste and crispiness to Rice Krispies, and it has been a staple in my house for years.

The next change I made to the traditional recipe was to use dairy-free butter. I used Earth Balance Soy-Free Buttery Spread, and the result was soft and chewy. You can also use coconut oil, which will result in a chewy but not as soft treat with a hint of coconut taste.

Another difference in my recipe is a higher marshmallow to cereal ratio. I have always felt that rice crispy treats never had enough marshmallow, so I fixed that problem!

I discovered after trial and error that technique is important. You must slowly heat the marshmallows or you will get a rock-hard treat.

I hope you enjoy!

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Soft and Chewy Rice Crispy Marshmallow Treats

Ingredients:
Easy to remember! 4-4-4 (or 2-2-2 if you want just a small batch)

  • 4 tablespoons Earth Balance dairy-free butter or coconut oil (coconut oil will result in crunchier treat with a hint of coconut flavor)
  • 4 cups mini marshmallows
  • 4 cups crispy rice cereal (I prefer Erewhon Gluten-Free)

Directions:

  1. Heat dairy-free butter or coconut oil on low heat until almost melted.
  2. Add marshmallow and heat S-L-O-W-L-Y in a large saucepan, with little to no stirring, until the marshmallows are almost melded together. Be patient.
  3. marshmallows melting

  4. Stir gently until the marshmallows resemble marshmallow cream. The marshmallow cream should be light and fluffy. If you heat too quickly, it will become tough and sticky, making for a tough treat. If using coconut oil, it will seem like the oil is not stirring in at first, but gently continue to incorporate it in until you don’t see any more in the edges of the pan.

    marshmallow melted

  5. When it is creamy and the butter or oil is blended in, turn off the heat, and pour the rice cereal into the pan, gently blending the marshmallow with the cereal until evenly distributed.

    marshmallow and cereal

  6. Pour into any kind of greased pan.
  7. Cut the treats with cookie cutters while warm or cool. If using coconut oil, it is better to cut the treats while warm, as they will harden. To cut, flip the treats out of the pan onto a cutting board. Cut with a knife or use cookie cutters. If using cookie cutters, you may have to run a knife along the edge to break the marshmallow strands. If the edges of the shapes turn out a bit rough, simply mold the edges with your hands to make smooth.

    Rice Crispy Treats

  8. When cool, store in an airtight container or plastic bag.
  9. Shapes can be frosted too!

Valentine’s Day ideas – gluten-free and allergen-free

Posted on February 9th, 2011 by Alison | Posted in Food Ideas, Holidays/Special Events | Read 5 Comments - Add Your Own »

gluten free pizza heartGluten-Free and Allergen-Free Valentine’s Day food and treat ideas so you can enjoy your day of love feeling happy and healthy:

♥ Make a gluten-free Valentine’s Day pizza!

♥ Follow the trend of cake pops – gluten-free, of course!

♥ Make sure your Valentine’s candy is gluten-free!

♥ Explore some Gluten-Free Chocolate Recipes for Love!

gluten free valentine brownies

♥ Serve up some morning love (no, I don’t mean that!) — Chocolate Cherry Drop Scones that are free of gluten and refined sugar!

♥ Make heart-shaped gluten-free brownies and frost with Valentine’s flair!

♥ Make Allergen-Free Sugar Cookies or Allergen-Free Red Velvet Cake!

allergen free valentine smore♥ Buy your sweetie some See’s Candy – make sure you check the allergen info first!

♥ Make allergen-free Sweetheart S’mores!

If you have any more Valentine’s Day ideas, leave them in the comments!