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 14 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.