Getting Organized for School Lunches, Part 1

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back to school (2).jpgStep 1: Make a List

It’s back to school time in our community, and with a new school year comes a new rhythm to my day. This year, my oldest two children are in Kindergarten and 3rd grade, leaving me (mostly) at home with only my 2-year-old. It’s a big shift from having all three at home over the summer!

Since the older two have complex food allergies, feeding challenges, and other special needs, I’m working on streamlining the process of packing lunches for them. Mornings are super crazy, and cutesy, Pinterest-worthy lunches are just not a priority around here. I’m just trying to get some food packed between hollering “Get dressed!” “Don’t forget to comb your hair!” and  “Stop chasing your brother around the house like a maniac!”

The first step is to “Make a List” – a list of lunchbox-worthy items they’ll actually eat. School lunches are not the place to experiment with new foods. Lunch time is so short at school, and my boys will ignore anything that is not an easy-to-eat, preferred food. Allergen-free food is too expensive and time-consuming to be wasted, so familiar foods it is, even if that means the variety is pretty limited.

I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now for my oldest, so here’s his list:

  • Hot Entrees: hot dogs, leftover chicken, potato hash, “mac & cheeze,” burgers
  • Cold Entrees: tuna salad, Sunbutter and jelly sandwich, yogurt with jelly, cracker sandwiches
  • Starchy Sides: potato chips, Rice Rollers, Supercookies, homemade no-bake cookie
  • Fruits & Veggies: applesauce pouch, apple slices, dried mango, raisins, carrots, celery, avocado

For my middle son, the list is more restricted:

  • Hot Entrees: hot dogs
  • Cold Entrees: Sunbutter and jelly sandwich, cracker sandwiches, leftover “desperation” waffles
  • Starchy Sides: potato chips, Rice Rollers, Supercookies, crackers
  • Fruits and Veggies: applesauce pouch, raisins, fruit leather

I try to pack 3-4 items each day, depending on the serving size of each item. Hot items go in a thermos, of course. (Pro tip: Pre-heat the thermos by filling it with boiling water and letting it sit for 5-10 minutes before filling it with hot food.)

My next post will be Step 2: Streamlining the Process. Stay tuned!

Crock Pot “Dump” Meals

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I’m convinced that this is the answer to all my problems: Crock Pot “Dump” Meals. Ok, not really the answer to ALL my problems, but a really valuable tool for simplifying life a bit. “Dump” meals are the ones where you dump a bunch of ingredients into the crock pot, turn it on, and 6-8 hours later, voila! Food – hot and ready to eat! Here’s the key – most dump recipes, also called “Freezer-to-Crockpot” meals, can be prepped ahead of time and frozen in freezer container or bag, without cooking them first.

We’ve talked a lot here about doing batch cooking and using the freezer to store prepared food for future meals, but this is even easier. All that is required is to put raw food in freezer bag, label, and place it in the freezer. And pulling a bag out of the freezer and dump the contents into the crockpot? Easiest thing ever!

*Pro tip – freeze the food in a shape that fits into your crockpot or else allow several hours for the package to thaw before cooking it.

Here’s a super simple recipe to get you started:

Honey-Rosemary Chicken

Place in a freezer bag:

4 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbs rosemary, chopped

1 tsp salt

When you’re ready to cook:

Empty contents of freezer bag into the crockpot and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

It really doesn’t get much easier than that, people! Serve it with salad or steamed veggies on the side, whatever you like, and enjoy the fact that dinner cooked itself!

Tuesday Tips – Kosher for Passover Marshmallows

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It’s Passover for those who celebrate, and that means that the grocery stores are stocking special “Kosher for Passover” items. This is a boon to those of us who must avoid corn, as one of the “rules” for Passover is usually interpreted to mean that corn is forbidden in Passover foods. My favorite thing to stock up on at this time of year is corn-free marshmallows, and when I see them, I always stock up. This year there were two kinds at the store: one coated in toasted coconut, and one without. I’m not sure who was more excited to see them, me or the kids! I’m sure the other customers in the store thought it was odd to see an entire family jumping up and down with excitement over marshmallows.

Of course, I can’t see marshmallows and not think about those gooey marshmallow cereal treats from my childhood. They were always a staple at bake sales in high school. It turns out that they are still every bit as yummy as now as they were 20 years ago! And they’re still super simple to make. Add these to the list of easy snacks to send to school!


Corn-Free Marshmallow Cereal Treats100_0174

1 10 oz bag of marshmallows

1/4 Cup of coconut oil

6 cups of crisp rice cereal (we use Erewhon Crispy Brown Rice cereal)


1. Melt the marshmallows and coconut oil together. This can be done on the stovetop or in the microwave.

2. Stir in the cereal until it is thoroughly coated.

3. Press into an oiled cake pan and let it cool completely. (If you’re in a hurry, stick it in the freezer for 15 minutes or so!)

4. Try not to devour the whole thing in one sitting – you’ll get a tummyache!

A word to the wise: I tried making this recipe with both kinds of marshmallows. It worked great with the ones coated in powdered sugar, but the ones with the toasted coconut were too dry. Next time I use that kind, I think I’ll try decreasing the cereal by a cup, and increasing the oil a little. If you try it, leave a comment and let me know how it comes out.

Tuesday Tips – Preserving Your Gluten-Free Flours

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Preserve those pricey flours in the freezer.Did you know that flour can go bad? Whole grain flours are especially at risk, as they contain more natural oils and fats that can become rancid. And any flour is at risk of getting small bugs in it, as it is impossible to completely remove the insect eggs from the flour. Ew. You already know that it’s cheaper to buy flour in bulk, and if you’re making your own gluten-free flour mix, you’ll end up with several pounds each of a bunch of different flours. (I counted one time and discovered that I had eleven different kinds of flour in my house at one time. I may have an obsession with collecting gluten-free flours.) That’s a lot of flour to use up, and the likelihood of it going bad in my house is pretty high. It’s no savings to buy in bulk if you have to throw half of it away due to an invasion of pantry moths.

The quick tip for this Tuesday is to freeze your flours. Yes, our favorite kitchen tool here at Food Allergies on Ice is the solution once again! Keeping the flour very cold helps to keep the oils from becoming rancid, and keeps those tiny insect eggs from hatching. It’s also a dry, airtight space which helps the flour stay dry (obviously important!) and prevents bug invasions. (You know, in case the kids leave the back door open and a bunch of flies come in. Again.) Of course, you can use this trick to preserve gluten-containing flours as well.

One caveat to the freezer trick, though: make sure your flours come up to room temperature before baking with them or your recipes may not turn out as well. Here’s what I do: my bulk flours are in a box in the freezer. I pull out the box and mix up 2 kg of my All-Purpose GF flour mix at a time. That’s enough for a week or two of baking and it stays in an airtight container on my kitchen counter. The box of bulk flours is returned to the freezer for safe keeping until the next time.

Pretty simple, but this simple trick will help you save money and make tastier food. I call that a win!

Homemade Gluten-Free Eggos

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We here at Food Allergies on Ice have a disagreement.  Yes, it’s true.  That conundrum that sweeps the nation has not overlooked even small-time bloggers.  In my professional development venues, I’ve heard rumblings about the divisive nature of this very serious issue.


Waffles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pancakes or Waffles?

Belle loves her pancakes.  She has learned how to appease the Pancake Gods, she has written about the glories of stocking your freezer with pancakes, and she has even graciously given to us her treasured Pancake Recipe.  She swears by pancakes.

I like waffles.  They are easy to mix up, give me a chance to multitask and freeze well.  I make my waffles 4 at a time. Infinitely practical! I can turn them into ice cream cones, make them into “faffles” (waffle sandwich), cook the sweetness into them cut into sticks and have snacks for my toddler. Cooks up easier than pancakes on a busy morning. 4 cups of batter has me working on waffles for maybe 20 minutes. 4 cups of pancake batter has me tied to the stove-top for an hour.

My recipe for waffles is simple.  Unfortunately, it is not egg free.  In fact, I put extra eggs in for extra protein staying power for my kids.  Perhaps this is the dividing line between my sister and I…

Gluten-Free Waffles

  • 4 eggs (beaten)
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3/4 cup water, milk, or juice (be sure to reduce sugar, if you use juice)
  • 2 cups gluten-free flour (or use my Happy Accident Discovery
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  1. Preheat waffle iron – cold irons are messy and don’t cook waffles!
  2. In small mixing bowl, mix wet ingredients
  3. Add dry ingredients and stir until fully mixed
  4. Pour batter on to a hot waffle iron.  I use about 1/2 cup of batter for a 4-waffle iron.
  5. Cook for about 3 minutes.
    (Know your iron!  Some irons don’t get as hot as others.  This recipe is pretty forgiving and it takes walking away and actually forgetting about the waffles entirely to burn them. Not that I’ve done that or anything…)
  6. Serve with your favorite toppings!

Which do you prefer? Pancakes or waffles?  Do you have a favorite topping or a unique way to use waffles?  Let us know!

Tuesday Tips – The Happy Accident Discovery

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#3 Flour & friends

#3 Flour & friends (Photo credit: mrlins)

I’ve had an interesting year, this year.  Major life changes, moving across the country and all that jazz.  At one point we were trying our best to live off what was left in the pantry, trying to make our food dollars stretch as far as they would.  I had heard of people using bean flour as a substitute in baking so I decided to experiment.

I didn’t have bean flour, but I did have dry beans.  I didn’t have a flour grinder, but I did have a blender.  I knew what consistency I was looking for in bread batter or for tortillas, and can easily reduce liquids.  So I soaked my beans, cooked them, and blended them to a puree.  My first experiment was in tortillas, and as my sister mentioned, they were flexible but gummy.  More experimentation was needed.  If you’re looking for flexible gluten free tortillas look here.

I continued my experimentation with bread and waffles.  I have discovered that with the new flour mix I could replace 1/4 of the flour in a recipe with pureed beans to achieve an amazing moist crumb without being too crumbly, and plenty of flexibility.  I also noticed that the bread had better rise with the added protein.

Along with the better texture, I love the added vitamins, minerals and protein that the beans give my baked goods.  My children seem to find the new addition more filling, and they do rave about the taste of the food (and they are pretty picky eaters!) so I am confident that this is a Happy Accident we will continue to use in our kitchen!

Anyone else have a Happy Accident to share?

Friday’s Fab or Fail: More About Xylitol Candy…


I’m a big fan of doing things once and doing it big enough that I don’t have to think about it for a while.  You know, kind of the point of this blog.  So, I had the bright idea this summer to expand my candy making to a bulk sized endeavor.  The small batches were a big hit, but time intensive.  I don’t have tons of spare time to be standing around in my kitchen watching sugar boil (as I’m sure many of you can relate to!) so bulk is the way to go.

Home-made Xylitol CandyThe original recipe was 1 cup of water and 1 cup of xylitol.  Bring to a hard boil for 12 minutes (or 310*F) and tada! Candy!  That seemed to work well for the small batches.  There were always some candies that didn’t harden, and some of them turned out a bit crumbly, but no one really cared much.  So, I increased my recipe by 4.

Well, let’s just say that this plan didn’t really come together how I envisioned it.  First of all, it took f.o.r.e.v.e.r. for the xylitol to come to the right temperature.  Then, I discovered that you don’t add flavoring to candy when it is at temperature. Bad idea!!!  The difference in temperatures cause the intended mix to spatter and it can burn you!  DON’T DO IT!  Don’t worry – I’ll tell you the safe way to do this in a minute. The third issue that occurred with my bulk attempt is that some candies hardened beautifully, some never hardened, and some were like crystal shards – not really what one expects when one thinks of HARD candy…  It was quite mysterious, and obviously needed more thought.

I started playing around with the xylitol candy recipe (as I do, when things don’t turn out just how I want them) and have discovered that the original recipe I linked to isn’t the best way to make it. The original recipe used xylitol and water, and then boiled off the water to make the candies. After much research, also known as reading candy cookbooks (yum!), I decided to skip the water as an ingredient altogether.  As it turns out the wide variety of textures in my bulk candy experiment were because of the various amounts of water in the solution.  The really crumbly candies were poured first, and the hard candies were poured at the end when the water had finally boiled off.

So, to make your xylitol candy, you will need to slowly melt some xylitol in a small pan. In this case slow is better – so you don’t burn the xylitol before it melts.  When the temperature reaches “hard crack” (which is about 310*, or if you drip some into cold water, it forms threads that will crack when you try to mold them) pour the xylitol into your candy mold, or drip it onto parchment paper and let it harden.

As I said earlier, DON’T add the flavoring when the candy mixture is at its hottest – it will spatter and burn you! Wait for the xylitol to cool some (to about 270* or so) before adding the flavoring. You will still have plenty of time to take advantage of the fluidity of your candy before it hardens.

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