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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!

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!

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?

Tortilla Dough = Pie Crust

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I know what you’re thinking – tortillas are not in the least related to pie crust. And you’re absolutely right. Except that I’ve discovered that my tortilla recipe works for a pie crust.

Gluten-free, vegan apple piePastry is just flour and shortening, mixed together with a little bit of water to turn it into dough. That’s pretty much the tortilla recipe I’ve been using. So, the other night I made tortillas using my usual method. My beans were semi-frozen, which kept the palm shortening cold, and the whole thing turned to pastry dough in my food processor. I was amazed. I rolled it out on some wax paper, put it in a pie plate, and baked it a little. Then I put apple pie filling in there, put another layer of pastry on top, and baked the whole thing.

For the sake of full disclosure, I did have to piece the crust together a bit, as it didn’t quite hold together well enough to move to the pie plate. Not pretty, but still tasty. After it was baked, it held together just fine.

I don’t know if it was just the cold beans, or if I used extra shortening this time, but this was much more like pastry than like tortilla. Just in time for Thanksgiving, too. Score!

gluten-free, corn-free baked pocket sandwichI’ve used the tortilla dough to make a allergy-free baked pocket sandwich before, too. Kind of on the order of a calzone. Now I’m wondering what else I can make with this basic dough. Any suggestions?

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!

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