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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!

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.

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

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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.

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!

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?

Fab or Flop Friday – Making Vegan Yogurt, Part 3

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Part 1  Part 2

It turns out that the package of yogurt starter had a troubleshooting guide in it that I missed the first time around. Apparently overheating the culture does cause the whey-like separation I got when trying to make the hemp milk yogurt. Well. Now I know. Operator error. Got it.

So, armed with this knowledge, I made another attempt at vegan yogurt. I used rice milk this time, kept the batch small, and used my typical incubation method. I carefully went through the process of heating the rice milk, adding the starter culture, and incubating the mixture. Oh, who am I trying to kid? I put the rice milk on the stove and measured its temperature carefully for about 5 minutes before my boys had so-called “needs” and distracted me. *Sigh* At least it didn’t boil over this time.

After 24 hours of incubation, the result was another mediocre batch of yogurt. The tart yogurt-y taste was more fully developed this time, probably because I didn’t kill the culture so quick. However, there was still that funny sweetish taste, too. (Sweet-ish, not to be confused with Swedish.) The consistency of the finished product was pretty much the same as rice milk, perhaps slightly thicker.

Here’s my theory. It’s pure speculation, but it sounds real good. I think that the bacteria ate all the sugars they could, but I’m not sure that all the sugars in the rice milk are digestible to these bacteria, so that leaves the strange sweet taste – the undigested sugars. Also, I don’t think there’s enough protein and fat in rice milk to cause the mixture to thicken up any. You’d need to add gelatin or agar agar or something to thicken things up to something resembling commercial yogurt.Pear, carrot, and spinach juice with rice milk yogurt

There is some good news, though. I now have a cultured (fermented) rice beverage, kind of like kefir. I’m not a fan of drinking it straight, but I mixed it with some freshly pressed juice, and it was a super-refreshing beverage. The combo was actually quite a bit better than either beverage alone. Not quite “Calgon, take me away!” good, but probably the best beverage I’ve had in the last several years. Seriously yum-tastic.

I’m getting a regular supply of goat’s milk again, so I think my adventures in making vegan yogurt are over for now. I’m going to give Jaye the rest of the starter culture, as her family uses almond milk, and I’m curious to see if it makes a difference. Stay tuned for the continuing saga!

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