Tag Archives: packed lunches

Thermos-inspired lunches

There are 2 things that are promising to totally transform the look of M’s packed lunches for school in 2017. The first is the reintroduction of parsnips to his diet as I’m finally able to cook a crisp-like addition for his lunchbox, which makes them seem a lot more like those of his friends after a long time of feeling so very different. 9270635_r_z002a_uc1440961The second was thanks to a somewhat last-minute Christmas present from good ol’ Father Christmas, which M is absolutely thrilled with and can’t wait to try out now that the new term has started – an individual thermos flask complete with a folding metal spoon tucked neatly into its top.

He’s been considering the matter at great length and has already come up with a long list of meals that he is keen to try out over the coming months. From pasta dishes including lasagne, to risotto and stir-fry, the options are endless, but today’s maiden meal was new-found favourite, parsnip and apple soup. This simple meal is beautifully easy to make, which is something I’m extremely grateful for now that I’m back to work full-time and every second saved cooking is a second gainfully employed somewhere else. Even better, the range of herbs and spices that I can safely add to M’s meals means that I can img_12781create enough subtle flavour differences to his soups to provide some much-needed variety and keep him engaged in the novelty of his first hot school lunches in a long time.

For the launch of our experimental hot meals at school, I made a spicy apple and parsnip soup and included a few of the Rude Health mini rice crackers that have become an integral part of many of M’s lunch and snack times. Whilst nothing can really compare to the unquestionable delight of dipping some crusty French bread into a bowl of rich, creamy soup, the portion of homemade, and safe, parsnip and apple soup accompanied by a handful of rice crackers was everything that M was longing for it to be and that meant it was a resounding success. Over the coming weeks I’m looking forward to experimenting a little more with texture and flavour and will be looking at replacing the apple with pear as well as changing the herbs added to each bowlful. Most of all, I’m hoping that M continues to be excited about the prospect of enjoying a mix of hot and cold meals during the next few months of the school year.

A Bento Box Journey

packed lunch

Packed lunches can easily become boring

Have you ever seen a picture of something on-line and be so impressed that you just wish you’d known about it sooner? 18 months ago, a friend and fellow FABED Mum started posting on FB photos of the most incredible Bento boxes that she had been putting together on a daily basis for her daughter’s school packed lunches. Contending with a limited diet as well as other sensory issues, this Mum wanted to create an appealing meal that would encourage her child to eat whilst at school and ensure that she didn’t feel like she was missing out because of her restrictions. On a regular basis, I see updated photos of her most recent creations and I love how she tailors the themes of the boxes to match events at school or in the outside world. I can’t imagine anything better for a child than opening this lunch box at school to discover what food has been included and the theme that has been picked for that day, and I’m sure she must be the envy of many of her friends. To be frank, I’m quite envious as I would love to have these bento boxes for my own lunches too!

 Are you wondering exactly what I mean? Well, take a look at these amazing boxes that have come from N’s kitchen over the last year:

 But why take the time to make your child a bento box meal like these? Without a doubt, a creative lunch may take a little bit of forward planning, but I’m certain that the benefits gained far outweigh the extra time and effort needed each day. Children with food allergies often have an unavoidable sense that they are missing out because they can’t enjoy the same crisps or chocolate or even sandwich fillings as their friends, but when their safe meal can suddenly become as appealing, if not more so, than that of their peers, that disappointment can start to disappear. 12662534_10153359363278176_2469231552454213776_nA child with sensory issues or a reluctance to taste new foods and textures may be tempted to take a bite when faced with a Minion banana or a star-shaped piece of cheese. Of course, there’s no guarantee that your hard work will reap immediate rewards, but as with most things, a continued effort may make all the difference in the long run.

 I just wish M and G were back at the stage of just starting school as I can well imagine how delighted they would have been to eat lunches as inventive as these, but I think we’ve probably passed that window of opportunity, although I am tempted to ask M if he’d like them during his final year of Junior school. As you can see from the pictures I’ve shared above, what helps make the boxes so special is the various pieces of paraphernalia that can be bought online from Bento box company, Eats Amazing. There is an astounding amount of bits and pieces available, from mini cutters to letters and accessories, all there to help turn the run of the mill into a work of art. I suggest that you give yourself plenty of time to discover all that the website has to offer and choose items from themes that will not only appeal, 10629611_10153108516363176_8999877504252818384_nbut can be used on more than one occasion. At first glance, this isn’t a cheap hobby, but by picking a few strategic pieces and taking inspiration from everything that’s available, I am sure that this would be a sound investment for anyone wanting to make their child’s lunchbox something really special. I suspect it would have even tempted my pickiest of eaters when she was a few years younger.

 I am so grateful to N and her family for sharing their bento box journey and showing how a little creativity can make a big difference to a child surviving food allergies and issues in the school environment.

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School Dinners

One of the roles that I’m most proud to have taken on in the past few years is that of Allergy Ambassador for the wonderful restaurant review website, Can I Eat There?, not least because we are a family who enjoys to eat out and embraces the challenge of finding somewhere safe for both M and G. We have to accept that there a some places that we just can’t visit as a family because of their allergies and whilst that causes the occasional moments of heartbreak, we’ve learned to avoid them as best we can. In similar fashion, we have had to adjust our thinking when it comes to the matter of school lunches for both children. G’s food allergies have been a part of our lives for long enough that we’ve always had to make special provision for her lunches at school and, whilst her first school was prepared to buy gluten- and dairy-free alternatives to cook for her on a daily basis, it became increasingly difficult once we made the decision to move away article-1052305-0283dca100000578-744_468x306from the independent sector to a school with external caterers. We did manage for a couple of years once M had started at school by making sure that G and her teachers knew to pick the safe option from the choices given, but once M went MEWS-free in 2011, school dinners became a thing of the past and packed lunches were the way forward.

I was recently talking to a good friend when the subject of school lunches came up in the conversation. If I’m honest, I can’t quite remember what led us to that topic, but I was really interested to hear about the steps her daughter’s school was taking to make more than adequate provision for those with dietary needs. The school in question, Ashcombe Primary in Weston-Super-Mare, runs their own kitchen and work hard not just to maintain their healthy school status, but also to use local produce and to minimise waste. They are also keen to be inclusive in their approach to cooked school lunches and ask parents to talk to their kitchen manager if there are specific dietary requirements or allergies, menuso that they can work together to provide a healthy and nutritious alternative menu customised for that child. I’m sure that they cannot be the only school to make such efforts, but they are certainly the first I’ve heard about from someone in the know and I was impressed by what she told me they offer.

However, when I saw this sample menu that she e-mailed across to me, I was even more impressed. This school kitchen has really taken on board the requirements of the 2014 changes to EU legislation concerning allergens and their monthly written menu reflects them. Every single item on the menu indicates which of the top 14 allergens are included in the dishes and as each day offers 4 alternatives, that is no mean feat and shows a level of dedication to getting this right that is admirable. The steps this school has already taken in making this effort would reassure me, as an allergy Mum, that the kitchen manager knows her stuff when it comes to catering for children with allergies and that is something that is, without a doubt, absolutely priceless. Of course, I don’t know how successful they are in preparing freefrom alternatives when needed and would be fascinated to discover if their encouraging start actually delivers in reality.

Do you know of a school that offers a similar service or have firsthand experience of one? I’d love to hear from you and be able to share and celebrate these individuals who are working hard to be inclusive and not exclusive when it comes to lunch-times at school.

A cake for every occasion

We might have had Christmas, Easter and at least 2 birthdays since M first had his NG-tube, but they’ve all been celebrated without a morsel of cake passing his lips for 7 months.  He enjoyed Foxes Glacier mints for Christmas lunch, a “fake” cake for his birthday and a passable rice-flour biscuit for Easter; but we were all fully aware that none of them could possibly replace the role of cake in so many celebrations.  PV-2The harsh reality of so few ingredients has meant that even at my most inventive, a successful cake replacement has just not been achievable, but with the re-introduction of apple in the last couple of weeks, M’s dream of cake could, and has, finally been fulfilled.

It is all thanks to one of the lovely Mums that I have become friends with through FABED and whose son, under the care of the same consultant as us and who M met during his hospital stay last December, is a few weeks ahead of M with his food reintroductions after time on the elemental diet.  R and I have spent time chatting, texting and e-mailing about the boys and where we each are along our respective journeys, sharing stories and giving tips whenever possible.  Having gained the advantage of those few extra days, R has had some useful tips when it’s come to preparing food for M, the best one being this M-friendly cake recipe that I was able to try out at long last.20150626_144401

Apple purée is a popular egg-alternative, though not one I have previously used in my M-friendly baking as I have preferred to bake with ground flaxseed meal or mashed banana. With banana being a definite no for the time-being and flaxseed being low in our priorities of new foods to trial, it was finally time to put apple purée to the test. The first job was to prepare some apple purée before having to deal with the tough task of stopping M devouring it all at each and every opportunity that arose until I had a chance to actually try out the cakes. Despite his best efforts and enjoying lashings of purée with his rice pudding, there was just about enough leftover for these delicious apple and rice flour cakes.  The recipe is simple, easy to follow and perfect for anyone with such limited safe foods and, what’s more, I’m certain that it would be easy to replace any of the ingredients with an alternative that suits your particular dietary needs. The cakes are deliciously moist and have been a huge hit with M, who is asking for them morning, noon and night and are definitely a great addition to his school lunch-box.

Dinner Plans

The beauty of staying in the amazing Applause apartments in East Aldgate was the ease with which we could accommodate M’s current dietary requirements at mealtimes.  Every morning, he and G enjoyed a bowl of safe cereal and rice milk for breakfast, whilst Mike and I had coffee and brioche before we headed out for the day.  Once breakfast was done, the children and I would finish getting ourselves ready and Mike would make and pack lunches for us all.  The ability to prepare packed lunches was just what we needed as not only were we able to meet M’s extreme food requirements, but also the dairy- and gluten-free needs of G.

20150414_174629On our first day there, we stumbled across a fantastic shop called “Planet Organic“, where we were able to pick up some previously undiscovered M-friendly bits and pieces, including mini rice-cakes, which are perfect for his lunchbox.  Of course, with the packet now nearly empty, the race to find them closer to home is on before he finishes them off.  The brown rice noodles have also been a massive hit and make mealtimes just that little bit more interesting than they have been over the last 3 months.  Sadly, the one thing we had been hoping to find, rice pasta, was sold out and so my search for that alternative continues.

The more interesting task was that of our evening meal.  One of the things we have always loved to do is eat out as a family and it is one of the things that M in particular has found hardest about having his tube.  We have had a wealth of experience over the last decade of finding restaurants that will accommodate the ever-changing dietary needs of G, M and even me and we had settled on a few firm favourites that we knew would almost always meet our requirements.  Of course, the option to cook dinner where we were staying was great to have, but Mike and I were both looking forward to having a break from the monotony of 3-ingredient dinners and decided to do some focussed research before we even left the comfort of our own home.  We spent hours one evening trawling the internet, finding restaurants in the areas of London we were likely to be near at meal-times, looking at their menus and investigating whether they had allergen information readily available to read then and there.  To our delight, we found a few where we knew we could cater for G and where it seemed probable we would also be able to order safe food for M, and we couldn’t wait to put our selection to the test.

20150408_181702Our first was Giraffe, which is just round the corner from GOSH and a popular choice for our post-appointment dinners.  When we got to the restaurant, I asked the waitress at the door whether they would be able to cook safe food for M before she had time to find us a table and the response was fantastic.  She turned out to be the restaurant manager and headed off in the direction of the kitchen to talk to their chef and find out exactly what our options were. The chef assured us he could cook plain, boiled rice and grill a chicken breast for M without using any oil, so, feeling hopeful that this could prove a success, we found a table to enjoy our first family meal out for 5 months.  M was delighted with the plate of food that arrived for him and had no allergic reaction to any of it, reassuring us that Giraffe is a safe choice for the future.

IMG_0940As it turns out, Giraffe was the only restaurant we ate at that was able to cook plain rice for M, but we enjoyed 2 other great meals out and  both restaurants were more than happy for M to munch away on his own rice-cakes to accompany his chicken and cucumber.  The second restaurant was Bella Italia, a popular restaurant chain found across the UK and we had dinner at their St Martins Lane branch.   Again, our waiter worked with the chef to ascertain exactly what could be prepared for M and this amazing plate of food arrived – M joked that he thought they had cut him up a whole cucumber to make up for the lack of variety on his plate.  We were also impressed with how much their gluten-free offerings had improved since the last time we ate there as G was able to enjoy some GF garlic pizza bread alongside her GF margherita pizza with pancetta and ham with goats cheese.

20150411_152613My final recommendation is Jamie’s Italian and I can’t begin to tell you how impressed we were with the excellent service provided at their Canary Wharf restaurant.  From the greeter who listened to our initial needs to the manager who came to answer our questions before we even got to the table, they were keen to reassure us that they could meet all our requirements.  As for our amazing waiter, Tom H, he listened carefully and patiently to what we needed, made sensible suggestions based on M’s safe foods, checked with the chef that everything could be prepared safely and treated M just like any other child eating in the restaurant.  He was delighted with the plate of food that arrived at the table as it was presented in the exact same way as G’s dinner and his unparalleled attempt to eat almost all of the food served earned him the same prize that G was awarded for eating her salad – an achievement that we rarely manage at home.

All in all, our trip to London proved to be a fantastic and unexpected success when it came to our dinner plans for our stay.  We found 3 restaurants who were prepared to go the extra mile, make the effort and help us enjoy some great meals out.  Even better, M had the opportunity to feel more “normal” than he has done in a long time, which, for us, was absolutely priceless.

And that’s a wrap

cookery

I don’t know about you, but I frequently find that mealtimes can get a bit repetitive, especially when we’ve had to cut yet another staple from M’s diet.  Much as I love to cook and bake, sometimes I really, really hate having to decide what to prepare for dinner.  Add into the mix the need for packed lunches on a daily basis, which are generally formed of the same key ingredients due to a restricted diet and I end up pulling my hair out in desperation.  M’s recent longing for a prawn mayonnaise sandwich meant that I had to seek inspiration and work out whether it was possible to create something even vaguely similar or not.

prawnsThe easy bit, believe it or not, was the prawn mayonnaise.  Using a squirt of some Really Not Dairy original mayonnaise, a dash of Heinz tomato ketchup and a generous serving of prawns, I was able to whip up a reasonable prawn cocktail. I diced a chunk of cucumber, grated some carrot and threw a handful of sweetcorn in to add a couple of portions of vegetables to the filling too.  This mayonnaise is egg-, dairy- and soya-free and tastes more like salad cream than traditional mayonnaise, but it does the job and has been a great find for M.

Next came the more challenging aspect, the bread.  G is able to enjoy Genius bread, which is the best gluten- and wheat-free bread we’ve tried, but unfortunately it contains both egg white and potato starch which are now excluded from M’s diet. 20140317_171113 M’s sandwiches are usually made from Sakata rice crackers as his bread is really only edible when toasted, but these are small and don’t lend themselves to being a critical part of a prawn mayonnaise sandwich!  Mike and I both enjoy eating wraps, either for lunch or filled and baked for a Mexican inspired dinner and at last year’s Allergy and Free From show we stumbled across the amazing Bfree gluten-free wraps.  These taste delicious and both children enjoyed them whilst we had some.  Unfortunately, they are incredibly difficult to source in the UK, though most larger Asda stores do stock them now and I headed to our nearest shop with my fingers tightly crossed to see if they were available.

Part of my regular shopping routine, even when buying foods that I’ve bought before, is to scan quickly through the ingredients list for anything that isn’t M-friendly.  Recipes do change, even on tried and tested products, so it’s worth those few extra minutes to avoid days or even weeks of pain because of a missed offending food.  To my dismay, I noted that the wraps contained potato starch, which is now a forbidden food for M and I thought my chances of buying a good alternative to satisfy M’s cravings were over.  I went home and even attempted to make some M-friendly wraps, but the rice flour didn’t lend itself to the recipe and the kids understandably turned their noses up at the finished product that was presented to them.

20140317_170320It was a couple of weeks later when I was in our local Waitrose, that I spied a new-to-me package on their free-from shelves, Newburn Bakehouse gluten-free wraps.  I picked it up to cast my eye over the ingredients, fully expecting to find either egg or potato flour or both lurking there, but to my delight, this new product contained nothing that wasn’t M-friendly and I quickly snapped up the remaining pack to take home and try.

I prepared M’s lunch using one of the Newburn Bakehouse wraps and a generous spoonful of my home-made prawn mayonnaise and called him to the table.  He was overwhelmed to see his much longed-for sandwich waiting for him and made short work of devouring it all.  He relished every bite and, what’s more, requested a second wrap, something that doesn’t happen all that often in our household.  The wraps looked and tasted good and, with 3 to a pack, there was enough left for his school lunchbox on Monday.  Both M and I award them with a much-deserved 10 out of 10 – a great product, delicious to eat and suitable for a MEWS-diet, what more could a Mum ask for?

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