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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!

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Squash-Tastic

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This lovely blossom will be a yummy squash in a couple weeks!

It’s that time of year again when the garden is yielding up more squash than you can shake a stick at. Squash is pretty easy to grow, and produces a lot of food, so it’s a good crop for the novice gardener.  Last year, I was given nearly 50 yellow squash starts for my garden, and as a result, I had an abundance of yellow squash for much of last summer. By the end of summer, I had mastered the art of hiding squash in a number of creative recipes.

  • Sliced thin, lightly salted, and dehydrated into squash chips (a tasty low-carb snack!)
  • Dredged in a mixture of flour, salt and herbs and fried
  • Sautéed in oil with tomatoes, white beans, caramelized onions, garlic, bell pepper, etc.
  • Steamed with broccoli and lightly seasoned with herbs for a side dish with grilled chicken
  • Boiled with potatoes and cauliflower and mashed into “mashed potatoes”
  • Roasted with potatoes, carrots and bell pepper
  • Lightly brushed with olive oil and grilled
  • Julienned into a squash/carrot/radish coleslaw-like salad
  • Chopped into lettuce salad
  • Shredded and in baked into muffins and pancakes
  • Added to soup
  • Mashed and added to spaghetti sauce
  • Lacto-fermented (aka pickled) in brine
  • Peeled into thin strips as a low-carb, grain-free pasta substitute
  • Shredded and mixed into meatloaf and chicken patties

I think the only thing I didn’t do is stuff them, and that was only because I didn’t let them get that big. I also sliced and shredded a bunch for the freezer so we could enjoy squash all year long.

This year’s garden has less squash, but overflows with broccoli instead. I’m sad to say that it is not proving to be nearly as versatile.  I’d be happy to hear your suggestions for using up broccoli or squash in the comments!

Summer Vacation

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Food Allergies on Ice is taking a brief summer vacation while Becki’s family is traveling. Traveling while accommodating complicated food allergies is always a challenge, but I’ve figured out a few things that make life easier. Zippie bags take up far less room in a cooler than plastic containers, for example. Don’t forget to bring a sharp knife with your picnic supplies – there’s always something that needs cutting. Oh, and keep baby wipes on hand at all times. Even if you don’t have a baby in diapers – it’s still a good idea.

Here is the menu for while we’re away:

Breakfasts: *Pancakes and maple syrup or sunbutter, crispy cereal with hemp milk, *muffins, *yogurt with jelly, *sausage

Lunches: Sunbutter and jelly *sandwiches with carrots and celery, turkey *lunchmeat roll-ups and avocado, tuna salad with pickle, turkey *hot dogs and potato chips

Dinners: *pizza with salad, *baked chicken with *mashed potatoes, *chicken nuggets with broccoli

Snacks: Homemade trail mix, potato chips and salsa, *orange-cinnamon bread, *muffins, rice cakes, hummus and crackers, “squeezy” applesauce, whole fruit

* Items marked with an asterisk were packed frozen

Yes, I’m traveling with small children, as you can see by my menu choices. Yes, we’re eating far too many potato chips instead of all those nice fruits and veggies I mentioned. But here’s the point: Most of this food I was able to make ahead of time and freeze. Everything got flash frozen and packed into resealable bags so I could layer the food into a cooler. This way I was able to pack enough food in our undersized cooler for 4 to 5 days. We tend to stay in the sort of hotel where we can get a refrigerator and microwave in the room, and reheating the food isn’t difficult.

Here are some other meal ideas we’ve used in the past:

Pasta with *Red Sauce (rice and pasta can be cooked in a microwave just fine)

*Soups (freezes well as long as there is no rice, pasta or potato in the soup)

*Curried Lentils/Dahl

*Chicken Stir-fry

*Meatballs

*Chicken Patties

Your turn – what are your favorite meals for on the road?

Tuesday Tips – Homemade Sausage Patties

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We have started making our own homemade chicken sausage patties, since the ones in the store are so stinkin’ expensive, and likely to be contaminated with one of our many allergens. It turns out that it’s really easy to make allergen-free sausage – just mix ground meat with seasonings, and voila! Bulk sausage.

There are a bunch of homemade sausage recipes on the web. We don’t really have a favorite to recommend. Sometimes we make Italian sausage for pizza, sometimes spicy sausage (for Hubby), or sometimes a sweet breakfast-y maple sausage for, well, breakfast.

Maybe someday I’ll get ambitious and figure out how to stuff casings and all that. In the meantime, I figured out an easy way to make easy sausage patties. After mixing the raw meat and seasonings together, I just form it into a log, roll it up in freezer paper, and freeze it solid. Then, I unwrap it and simply slice off little patties – much like those slice-and-bake cookies I used to make as a teenager. You’ll need a really super sharp chef’s knife for this. I found that a serrated knife left little sausage sawdust bits everywhere, so I use a flat blade instead.

I pop the frozen patties straight into the frying pan to cook. They hold their shape that way while they cook. Extra patties go back into the freezer, safely sealed in a labeled baggie for another meal. Simple as that!

Tuesday Tips – Salvaging Leftover Produce

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I like to get my produce through a co-op. It’s fresh, less expensive and there’s always a lot of variety.  The cost is the same each time, which makes budgeting easier, too. The challenge, of course, is that I never know what I’m going to get. Right now I have fennel, beets, kiwi and pears in my fridge – all foods that I would not typically buy. I have several tools that are really helpful for making sure the food doesn’t go to waste.

Supercook.com

Have you seen this handy little tool yet? It allows you to list what ingredients you have on hand, and the site will search for recipes with those ingredients. Even better, you can easily make exclusions like no dairy or no nuts – awesome for those of us with food allergies! The only drawback is that the search engine only seems to search through a handful of recipe sites, and doesn’t look at the numerous blogs that host recipes, like Food Allergies On Ice, for example.

But hey – I just found a recipe through there for beet and fennel soup. Who knew?

Stir-Fry

When I have a bunch of random veggies on hand, it frequently ends up in a stir-fry. As it turns out, the mix of veggies in a stir-fry isn’t nearly as important as the sauce on top. Put a little effort into a decent Chinese-style sauce, and all those veggies will be just wonderful. FYI – Coconut Aminos are an awesome replacement for soy sauce for the soy-free among us.

Soups

My other solution for odds and ends of vegetables is to put it all in a soup. This is one of those frugal things our grandmothers knew how to do, but we seem to have lost the art while in pursuit of the can opener. Well, when you have multiple food allergies, Campbell’s isn’t exactly an option anymore.

The secret to soup is in making a really flavorful broth. Don’t be afraid to use some herbs and spices! And you can throw all sorts of stuff in a soup, from last night’s salad (I saw that on a TV cooking show once)  to that random quarter-cup of broccoli that no one ate for dinner the other day. If you like, put some (or all) of the cooked soup into the blender or food processor to create a thick, cream-like soup.  This also has the advantage of hiding offending vegetables from picky eaters. Not that I would know anything about that, of course.

The different kinds of juices separated into layers making these neat striped popsicles.

If I have a lot of fruit on hand, I’ll run it through the juicer and make popsicles. Apple, carrot and kale is a decent recipe that my kiddo will actually eat if I call it a popsicle! Along the same lines, you could make a smoothie. Just freeze chunks of fruits and veggies and throw them in the blender to make a nice, thick beverage.  Delicious!

So there you go. No more excuses, ok? Go make fruits and veggies taste awesome!

 

 

 

 

Also shared at: frugallysustainable.com

Best of the Web – Chicken Nuggets

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If you’ve stumbled on this blog, you’re probably much like me, surfing the web, looking for new recipes to serve my family that accommodate our food allergies. While sometimes I can find a good recipe on a website such as AllRecipes.com or Food.com where the recipes are reviewed, some of the most creative recipes out there for those with multiple food allergies are on blogs. And unless the blogger has multiple comments discussing the recipe, there’s no way to know if it’s really any good or not. (Yes, that’s a reminder to go ahead and comment on our recipes!)

So, as Jaye and I stumble on really good recipes that are suitable for those with multiple food allergies, we’ll post the recipe with our review here. If you have a good recipe you’d like us to review, please feel free to email us!

The first recipe is for easy, baked, gluten-free Chicken Nuggets. Normally, we use the Fry Daddy for nuggets, but that’s so tedious that I really wanted to find a way to oven-fry the nuggets instead. Not to mention that it must be more healthful to bake them instead of deep frying.

Pros: This recipe was super-easy, and quite tasty. The kiddo gladly ate his nuggets dipped in honey. This recipe was easy to double, and would have been easy to freeze for a future meal.

Cons: We’re allergic to black pepper, so we omitted it. However, the remaining breading was still a little too spicy. Next time we’ll cut back on the cayenne. Also, the nuggets weren’t quite so crispy as we could have hoped for. We didn’t quite use all the oil the recipe called for – that might have been the difference.

Final Verdict: We’re going to add this recipe to the regular rotation, possibly changing up the spices to add variety. Two thumbs up!

Bonus Tip: Partially freeze the chicken breasts before cutting them into chunks. 15-20 minutes in the freezer should be enough to make the breasts easier to cut up without freezing them completely solid.

Tuesday Tips – Making a Plan

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My family has recently moved.  A pack-all-your-things-and-move-across-the-country type of move.  There are several things that happen when you move: You lose all your good hunting grounds for allergen-free foods, your kitchen gadgets end up in boxes marked “office supplies – storage room”, and your routine is lost.  It’s like discovering food allergies all over again!

One thing I have neglected on working on is The Meal Plan.

I have a love-hate relationship with plans in general, but I grudgingly admit that The Meal Plan has helped simplify dinner for me.  When I don’t work on The Meal Plan, my days are filled with unpacking, trying to start up a business, juggling appointments of all kinds, playing with my toddler, getting the bigger kids to and from school and suddenly … the witching hour hits where everyone is hungry and cranky and I’m looking at my kitchen in amazement because there is nothing ready to eat.

The Meal Plan.   The Forgetful Professor

There are many great things about having one. You know in advance what ingredients you need.  You can buy in bulk to cook (or freeze) ahead which can save you money.  You can start your dinner in the crockpot in the morning and let it simmer all day and be ready when you are.  You can post it prominently so complainers can get it over with, and all others can eagerly anticipate the glorious mouthwatering food that you can create.

But seriously.  The Meal Plan helps me because I am more like an absent-minded professor working on the big ideas of life, and having The Meal Plan charted out and in place is like having someone follow me around reminding me to pick up my socks.

Now I have many grand ideas about how to meal plan.  Right now I’m working for a 2 week rotation.  I’d love to expand it a little further, and possibly rotate seasonal meals through as well (potato salad in the summer time, for instance.)

I would love to hear what works for other people though.  Especially in attempting to tame food allergy cooking.  What works for bulk and batch cooking?  Do you have a month’s worth of meals you can work with?  Have you tried once-a-month cooking?  Do tell!

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep looking for my crockpot.  Maybe it’s in that box labeled “shed – tools”…

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