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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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25 Ideas for Allergy-Safe Snacks at School

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My oldest starts his second year of preschool this week. I never thought I’d be the type to send my kid off to school at such a tender age, but he attends a school for kids with developmental delays, and it’s been awesome for him. Of course, as with every activity we do with him, having multiple food allergies and anaphylaxis is a huge issue. Thankfully, the school is already tree nut and peanut-free, however, I still need to prepare all his school snacks myself to keep him safe. Of course, I want to make his snacks be like what the rest of the class is having. On the other hand, I don’t have time to try to prepare homemade gluten-free, dairy-free fishy crackers every week. It’s a balancing act, to be sure.

My son’s classroom has a microwave and a refrigerator, so we have a little more flexibility in what we can send. Also, they sometimes prepare hot food, like when they study the letter Q and make quesadillas for all the kids.  That said, here are my 25 best ideas for preschool snacks for the food allergic child, all as allergen-free and simple as possible.

  1. Pureed fruit-in-a-pouch (such as Buddy Fruit, Go-Go Squeez Applesauce, and Plum Baby)
  2. Fruit canned in juice
  3. Orange slices
  4. Apple slices with sunflower seed butter
  5. Banana
  6. Knox Gelatin made with fruit juice
  7. Carrots/celery, dipped in “ranch” dressing
  8. Ants on a Log
  9. Rice crackers (I can find savory crackers at my local Walmart)
  10. Cereal and non-dairy milk
  11. Trail mix (dried fruit, seeds, cereal)
  12. Non-dairy yogurt
  13. Rice cakes (top with jelly, sunbutter, honey, coconut oil, cinnamon sugar, etc.)
  14. Pretzels (Mary’s Gone Crackers makes some we can eat)
  15. Potato chips (it’s quick and easy to pack, if not the healthiest option)
  16. Super Cookies (http://www.goraw.com/products/Original_Super_Cookies)
  17. Homemade cookies
  18. Homemade muffins
  19. Gluten-Free Bread and Sunbutter sandwiches (last year we cut the bread into the shape of the letter of the week!)
  20. Pancakes
  21. Tortillas/Quesadillas with non-dairy cheeze
  22. Noodles in broth (aka Ramen Noodles)
  23. Gluten -free macaroni & Cheeze sauce
  24. Pudding (coconut cream, cocoa powder and honey, mix to taste)
  25. Homemade “puppy chow”

We also send some lollipops that the teacher keeps for treats.

I’m always looking for new ideas, so feel free to comment on your allergen-free, lunchbox-worthy snack idea!

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 – 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”…

Restaurant Review: Nourish, Scottsdale, AZ

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I recently visited Phoenix, Arizona, and was able to visit Nourish in Scottsdale. I had, of course, checked them out thoroughly online, and perused their color-coded menu. I was really impressed by the menu – it was very easy to order food according to your food allergies, as everything is clearly labeled as to whether it is gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, etc. I was actually feeling pretty confident about eating there, so I didn’t call ahead as I normally would when going to a new restaurant.

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The valet parking was very nice, since I had to wrangle 2 children out of carseats and organize the visiting out-of-town relatives. We were there at lunchtime on a Saturday, but the restaurant wasn’t too busy.  The atmosphere was modern and bright. I was pleased to find that the staff is just as accommodating as their website advertised.   I spoke to the owner, Kirstin, and immediately found a kindred spirit, at least as far as food allergies are concerned.  She gets it, she really does, even to the point of understanding that traces of corn derivatives are still corn! The menu was extensive and creative, the food was delicious, and the prices were reasonable.  The entire experience was as awesome as a dining out experience can be when you’re dealing with a special-needs toddler and a baby.

The only negative comment I can even make is that the gluten-free, vegan muffins that we took to-go were pretty dried out and my toddler wouldn’t eat them.  But I’m more than willing to forgive them for that, since the rest of the food was so good.  Our family will definitely be returning to this restaurant.

Nourish on Urbanspoon

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