It’s not easy creating tasty but healthy lunchboxes for children at the best of times but it gets even harder when there are foods that may harm or even kill your child if included in their lunch. It’s not only what’s in your child’s lunch to consider either but how you keep your child’s lunch from becoming contaminated too.
Firstly, let’s look at the lunchbox from a nutritional standpoint. The main food groups that should be included in a balanced lunchbox are:
So far so good. Now let’s consider what to do if you have a child with a food allergy. The most common food allergies fall into a list of 14 food items. These include: gluten, eggs, dairy, soy, nuts, lupin, celery, peanuts, mustard, molluscs, fish, sesame seeds, crustaceans and sulphur dioxide.
What’s left I hear you ask? Well, from my perspective that’s not the question we should be asking. It’s what can we do with the foods that are on the Green For Go List (not “oh look at how many ‘normal’ foods are on the Red For Danger List”).
Take the foods that your child can have i.e. the Green For Go List, and let’s get creative:
Carbohydrates: There are many non-gluten containing starches and grains that can be used for energy. These include root vegetables such as sweet potato, butternut squash and beetroot, quinoa, buckwheat, potatoes, corn and rice. Whilst there are lots of gluten free pasta’s which are allergy-friendly you can also think about making up safe falafel or vegetable burgers for example. These Sweet Potato Falafels are delicious and very well received by children:
- 400g cooked sweet potato
- 100g cooked chickpeas
- 2 tbsp gram flour
- ½ tsp ground coriander (optional)
- 1 tsp ground cumin (optional)
- Juice of ¼ lemon
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Put all ingredients except the oil into a food processor and whizz to combine to a smooth but thick paste.
Leave in a fridge for 24 hours.
Make into small falafel balls
Heat the oil in a frying pan.
Lightly fry the falafel until crispy on the outside but fluffy and sweet on the inside.
Drain using a piece of kitchen towel on a plate.
Muscle building and repair foods include red meat, poultry, beans and lentils. It is best to avoid processed versions such as hams and ready cooked chicken due to possible allergens or cross-contamination but if you’re cooking these ingredients as part of a main evening meal then aim to cook too much then keep the left-overs for the next day’s packed lunches.
This is admittedly a little harder without some of the obvious calcium-rich allergens but as green vegetables tend to contain easily-absorbed calcium these can be used in allergen-free pesto on safe pasta, alongside safe noodles or in soups or smoothies. Figs and oranges are also a great addition to the calcium-containing foods in a lunchbox. Finally, white beans which make a great ingredient in home-made baked beans but can also be added to stews and soups and served in a small Thermos as a hot but safe cooked lunch also provide a useful source of calcium.
Vegetables and Fruit:
These tend to be straight forward but you do need to be aware of potential cross contamination. For example vegetable crisps may be produced on the same line as other foods and could be contaminated. Also some fruits outside of the top 14 can be a problem for a child allergic to other foods. You might need to be aware of what’s produced on the same factory line as your child’s seemingly safe product.
Seriously, water is the best drink there is. It may seem boring and if that is the case then you can ‘pimp it up’ with fresh fruit. There are also a range of non-dairy milks on the market too. These can be made into the most delicious milkshakes with non-allergenic fruits such as banana, blueberries and the addition of an avocado really does help make a creamy texture.
Can allergy free lunches be made even easier? Yes, they can!
- Use whole foods rather than processed foods. You know what’s in an apple. You don’t know what’s in an apple dessert. The more processed a food is the more likely the chances of contamination at some point in the process.
- Use a bento box such as those by Yumbox. These help you work out what food groups need covering to create a balanced lunch and they make it easy for your child to work out what’s what in the lunchbox. It’s also more visually appealing and likely therefore that the food you do provide will get eaten.
- Your child’s lunch doesn’t have to be or look boring! Use shape cutters to make her/his lunch even more appealing. It’s hard enough feeling different. If you can feel different for a ‘cool’ reason then that helps.
So, in summary, allergy free lunches do not have to be boring lunches and they can be made even simpler by having a set of guidelines to follow in your head or on a chart on the wall. It might even help to go through the food groups together with your child on a weekly or monthly basis so they can ‘buy-in’ to what foods will be in their lunchbox. That way they feel more involved and are more likely to enjoy their food.
More articles on the management of allergy in schools
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