School Lunches, Gluten Free

By Rachel Sircy

Last post I wanted to remind all of us to be mindful of the food allergies that other people might be suffering. It’s important to keep our friends and even our teachers in mind when we pack our lunches because food allergies are becoming extremely prevalent. Now, though, I want to turn my attention to those of us who have to pack gluten free lunches for our little (or not so little) ones. 

My daughter – whose name I don’t divulge on the internet, so I’ll just call her HRH (short for Her Royal Highness) – doesn’t exactly have to be gluten free, but I do. We are homeschooling, but we have a homeschooling co-op where we meet with other parents and students once a week. Because we have this one school day per week (and because I have to attend school with HRH), I have to think about packing my lunch own lunch as well as hers. I also have to think about how to avoid cross-contamination when packing (and unpacking and eating) our food. 

Now, I’m a person who likes to cook and who believes that there is only one really safe way for celiacs to eat, which is to make whatever you eat yourself. I have only just begun to realize how difficult this truly is when you have to prepare meals that need to be portable and finger-friendly. For those of you who are sending your children to public or private schools, getting your child’s school lunches together must be like trying to prepare for five picnics every week. So, I thought that this week, I’d try to share what I’d learned (and some new ideas, too) about how to do gluten free lunchtime shortcuts. Here are a few: 

  1. My first piece of advice is to keep things fresh. Fresh fruit and vegetables are naturally gluten free, and most are finger friendly. I am personally a huge fan of celery, dipped in ranch, soy or sun butter, gluten free guacamole or gf hummus. You can make the hummus or guac yourself at home and then just pack individual servings, but there are also several brands of both guacamole and hummus which are gluten free and some of which come in individual packages. I personally am a big fan of the Aldi brand of guacamole that comes in individual servings. 
  2. You can also make sandwich or cracker spreads ahead of time and dish them up in individual servings. Since gluten free bread is hard to eat without toasting it, and since it doesn’t last long after you toast it (it gets this weird, gross chewiness to it that makes you feel like you’re trying to eat rubberized bread), I simply don’t mess with it. Crackers work just fine for most sandwich spreads. Multigrain chips work with pimento cheese, as do Glutino Brand gf bagel chips. I make pretty good chicken salad that is delicious with crackers. I would give you the recipe, except that I don’t use one. I simply boil and shred a couple of boneless skinless chicken breasts and add in chopped green onion, celery, toasted pecans and dried cranberries (Ocean Spray claims that its plain Craisins are gluten free, but beware because the trail mixes, etc., containing Craisins are NOT). I don’t use a whole lot of mayonnaise to bind everything together, but of course, I never use anything other than Duke’s. (P.S. If I take this mix to school, I leave out the toasted pecans.)
  3. Don’t forget there are safe gluten free companies out there pre-packaging food for us! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think Enjoy Life Foods is the best all-around brand for any group get together because they make sure their food is free from the top 8 allergens. So, if your kid likes peanut butter, pack him an Enjoy Life Sunbutter bar. They are gluten and allergen free and I think they’re pretty tasty. 
  4. If you’re packing a gluten free and a non-gluten free lunch, make sure that you don’t try to do everything at once. Don’t have gluten free bread or crackers out while you’re making wheat toast or slicing banana bread or something. Crumbs can make a celiac sick, so avoid them at all cost. Pack the gluten free lunch first. And with any spread (like a soy or nut butter spread) mark the spread gluten free before you even open it so that all family members will know that gluten free precautions apply to this particular jar. I keep a sharpie in the kitchen drawer just below the snack cabinet for just such a purpose. (I label all gluten-contaminated jam and nut butter jars “contaminated” so I’ll know not to use them). If my husband and daughter have to use my stuff, they know the drill – Dip out what you want with a clean teaspoon or tablespoon. Seal the jar back up and put it in the cabinet or refrigerator. Then take a knife and spread what’s in the spoon onto your wheat bread. Voila! Gluten free with ease. 

If you would like more variety, let me recommend Beyond Celiac’s webpage for kid-friendly gluten free snacks and appetizers (they also have a few pages dedicated to gf recipes for kids lunches – although frankly, I thought they seemed a bit too grown up for a school age kid). Visit : https://www.beyondceliac.org/gluten-free-recipes-categories/appetizers-snacks+for-kids/

Back To School Allergy Awareness Tips

By Rachel Sircy

education-662458_1280It’s that time of year again, when kids and teachers across the state are heading back to school. For an increasing number of parents, the school year is a time when they worry about their child’s health and safety. Our schools are attempting to become safer places by installing metal detectors and having police officers on campus, but what about those kids for whom the danger is ever-present and lurking in the lunchroom?

For those of us with food intolerances, sensitivities and allergies, staying healthy and safe is a constant battle. But there are things that we can do to keep our kids (and let’s not forget those teachers and school staff who may have allergies also!) from coming into contact with the wrong foods. If your child or someone you know has a food allergy which may be flared up at school, DON’T BE PASSIVE! There are steps you can take to help protect your child and everyone at their school.

  1. Contact the school and let them know ahead of time who your child is and what kind of food allergy they have. Be prepared to provide a doctor’s note. Let the school know how sensitive your child is to their allergen and then offer advice on how to control the situation at school. Don’t forget to provide the school with your child’s emergency medications, if they take any.
  2. While you on the phone with the school, see if they would be willing to promote food allergy awareness through programs like Be a PAL. There are tons of resources to help kids understand what food allergies are and how to help and protect their friends, from pamphlets and worksheets to coloring pages for the littlest learners. They are great classroom resources! Visit: https://www.foodallergy.org/education-awareness/be-a-pal
  3. If you and your child don’t have a food allergy, but find out that someone in his or her class does, then try to be mindful when providing snacks for your child and especially when providing treats for the class. Take a few minutes to learn about the allergy and how you can avoid it. Peanuts and nut allergies are extremely common and there are very simple methods for avoiding exposing nut allergy sufferers to their allergens. There are plenty of alternatives to nut butters on the market, including soy butter and sunflower seed butter (Tastewise, I prefer the sunflower seed butter. Enjoy Life Foods has a ton of products, including individually wrapped snack bars made from sunflower seed butter, which I can personally say are quite tasty. I would guarantee your kid won’t know the difference.)
  4. Remember, school time isn’t the only time that we need to be mindful of allergy sufferers. Any school function could be a place of exposure. So be sure to pack allergy-friendly snacks and treats for any of your child’s after-school programs, including sports practices and games, dance lessons and recitals, etc.

Those of us who may only have celiac disease and not food allergies are still aware of how hard it can be to feel comfortable and safe in a world filled with stuff we shouldn’t eat. So, let’s be even more careful to stand up for our allergy-suffering friends!  Happy back to school!

Finally! Something New For The Lunch Box

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

I struggle with the lunch box dilemma every week.  My child is a lot like me in that she must have variety.  I have friends who talk about how their kids eat the same lunch day after day, but I could never pull that off with the Vivver.  She can be really gung-ho about a certain food, but if you overdo it, she’ll turn off real quick.  So each week, I cruise the grocery store looking for inspiration, new ideas, something, anything. One thing we don’t do is the stuff I always wanted as a kid…Little Debbies, Doritos, cookies.  Yep, I’m one of those moms who tries to keep my baby away from processed food in a bag.

I was recently asked to do a cooking lesson for Vivi’s Girl Scout troop.  The group consists of Daisies (Kindergarten-1st grade), Brownies (2nd & 3rd) and Juniors. The Girl Scout guide suggests teaching healthy snacks, but I thought to myself “Snacks?  That’s not exactly cooking, now is it?”  So, I put some thought into what snacky ideas could actually teach some cooking skills and still be age appropriate.  I’ll be blogging more about this once I get the photos (yep, I asked a friend to be my photographer).  It was a great time with all those little girls in the kitchen! But one thing I wanted to go ahead and share now were the Mini-Cheeseburger Pies.

Cheeseburger Pies

This is a recipe by Betty Crocker…I did not make it up.  I made it with the Girl Scouts and all of them loved it- including my little one.  Then, I had a light bulb moment and realized this would taste just as good at room temperature, so it’s a lunch box candidate!  So, last night I made another batch. As usual with me, I tweaked it a tad.  For instance, I used a little less than 1 lb of meat, used a little bit more cheddar, a little more Worchestershire (this gives it a great little kick of flavor), and I sauteed a pretty good portion of onion.  The result was a 10.  I ate two of them right out of the oven!  This morning, I heated a couple in the microwave then wrapped in foil, hoping that would keep them a bit warm for Vivi’s lunch.  I can’t wait to get her review after school today.  Now, I will admit that this isn’t the most low fat recipe, but since my child is extremely active and burns it up with karate, ballet, basketball, I don’t worry so much about that.  Of course, using turkey will be just fine, I’m sure, so that’s one way to lighten the fat.  I think this recipe also lends itself to sneaking in other vegetables that won’t really interfere with the “cheeseburger” nature of the pies. If you want to try it out on your kids, here is the recipe. If you try a new twist to the recipe, I’d love to hear about it below!