Most public schools are required to accommodate special dietary needs, but there is still quite a learning curve in most schools as they come to grips with the reality of service to an increasing number of food-allergic children. If you choose to have your child "buy" lunch in school, you may be interested in the USDA's Accommodating Children with Special Dietary Needs in the School Nutrition Programs. This plan may help you to work with your schools administrators and food service staff to feed your child safely.
For many parents of food-allergic children, packing your child a safe lunch turns out to be the best alternative. When dealing with multiple food allergies, even this can be a challenge, so here are some tips to preparing a safe lunch that will actually get eaten this year:
Take a dip! Dips are always a clever way to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies. A side of ranch or even homemade vinaigrette (apple cider vinegar, olive oil, touch of honey) is enticing enough to get kids to eat their veggies. Send bags of carrots, cukes, peppers and celery. Or try apple and pear slices with a side of soy or rice yogurt or even sunflower butter as a dip. Pay attention to labels! Many dips contain dairy and other allergens. You can find a recipe here for a dairy-free ranch dip that I like to make.
Shape up! When lunch is a bore, thinks of ways to shape it up! A cookie cutter can turn a boring sandwich into a novelty.
Square Meal. If your kids like to nibble, consider a bento-style lunch. Although traditional Japanese Bento lunches include rice with meat or fish, your version can be more of a healthy style "lunchable." You can stack slices of ham, pepperoni, turkey or cheese and cut into neat squares or circles. Include a stack of crackers and your child can make mini sandwiches at meal time.
Hot-Hot-Hot. Think vegetable soup, beef stew or chili. As I mentioned in my "Cooking For Food Allergic Children" post, you'll want to freeze leftovers or individual portions of food in Pyrex bowls that you can later microwave and pour into a thermos.
You can add a side or rice or noodles for mixing or as a side dish. You can also keep a hot dog warm in a thermos with hot water or cut up individual pieces of hot dog and mix with mac and cheese for another kid favorite.
Taco meat in a thermos can be added to a separate taco shell at lunch time. Shredded lettuce, safe cheese, and olives can be kept in separate plastic bags to add the finishing touches. Sam's Club carries individual-sized salsa cups and individually-wrapped tortillas chips to round out a happy meal.
Daily Bread. Need sandwich ideas? Try dairy-free cream cheese and jelly or soy nut butter and honey or apple butter sandwiches. If you're avoiding wheat, dairy and egg, you can still enjoy EnerG breads like their popular Light White Rice Loaf. Rice Cakes are good too with an individual sized serving of Sunbutter.
Get Picky! For some reason, foods of all kinds are more appealing when you can eat them off a toothpick and these novelty picks make even fruits and vegetables more exciting.
It's a toss up! Even kids who won't eat a green salad will happily gobble down a rice pasta salad with their favorite dressing. Consider tossing in some leftovers (chicken, beans, cheese cubes) with some fresh veggies and you have a healthy, easy meal.
Let's Roll! If your child is frustrated with gluten-free breads or just looking for something new, try a wrap. There are gluten-free varieties including corn tortillas. You can simply roll a piece of turkey or ham with safe cream cheese. Wrap a bundle of four or five in one of these brown wax paper bags and you've got the protein portion of lunch all wrapped up!
Just Desserts. Since our children want to look like all of the other kids, they're often tickled to have prepackaged goodies like the other kids. Enjoy Life individual cookie packs and chocolate bars are available at most grocery stores. NoNuttin Bars are a delicious and healthy treat that the whole family will love. I bake and frost CherryBrook Kitchen cookies (we use the gluten-free variety) and store them in the freezer. I pull out one or two to add to my son's lunch for a sweet home baked treat.
The Wrap-Up. These are just a few ideas for innovating on the "same old lunch" that your child will quickly become accustomed to this school year. Once you have a few new tools and tricks up your apron sleeve, it shouldn't take much effort to put together an appealing lunch to keep the allergic crowd smiling. Knowing how important it is for our kids to have the proper fuel to keep them alert and attentive, it's worth every minute of the time it takes to keep our "packers" going.
Published On: September 15, 2008