Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Carnitas Salad Lunch

Yum! Around here, carnitas is a favorite dinner. And it makes excellent lunch leftovers! To make the carnitas, I use a recipe similar to this one, except for mine I skip the garlic (since Beaker is allergic to garlic) and use my onion powder instead, and my own homemade broth. And I add a generous pinch of black pepper and ground red pepper for a little spice. The results are delicious, and SO easy. I just have to drop the meat in the crock pot with the spices and broth in the morning and by evening we have a delicious dinner, almost ready to go. It is also really good with a beef roast instead of pork.

Another super easy way is to just dump the meat in the crock pot and cover it with a good coating of ground black and red pepper, cumin, coriander, a dash of cayenne, and a sprinkle of onion powder. No liquid necessary, just let it stew in its own juices all day. Then pull the meat out and shred it at the end of the day. Done! This method is fantastic with beef or chicken.

For dinner, I like to serve the shredded meat with cilantro, diced onions, lime, shredded cabbage, sour cream and guacamole, and black beans, with lightly softened corn tortillas. SO yummy!

For lunches, the leftovers make a great salad!

This is just shredded cabbage with carnitas on top. A few halved cherry tomatoes decorate the corners.

On the side is a cup of salsa and some seven layer bean dip, with a tasty fruit salad. The container lid fits pretty flush, but to be extra certain that the bean dip stayed where it's supposed to I dropped a couple of silicone baran pieces on top. I also included a smaller container full of crispy tortilla chips for crunch.


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Friday, August 23, 2013

Mini Sausages for the Lunchy Win

Recently my younger three kids have become somewhat obsessed with these little mini sausages. They've always been a favorite, but lately it's what they are requesting every day for lunch! The sausages are free of all of Beaker's allergens, but not terribly healthy, so I put some limits on them and let the kids have them one or two days per week. The kids like to eat them cold, which makes them pretty nice to pack for when we have to go places or for school. Here are some of their recent mini sausage lunches:

A handful of popcorn and chocolate chips for dessert, with pasta salad, grapes, watermelon, and mini sausages with ranch for dipping.

This one has garlic-free, gluten-free pasta salad for Beaker, with watermelon balls and mini sausages with ketchup.

He also has halved grapes, sunflower seeds, mini allergy safe chocolate chips, and carrot sticks.

In this one, the mini sausages come with BBQ sauce for dipping, and carrot sticks with cheesey ranch sauce. There is also watermelon pieces with grape halves, popcorn and chocolate chips.

On the side is a small green salad and a serving of Italian pasta salad.

This at-home lunch has mini sausages with ketchup for dipping, strawberries with yogurt for dipping, a handful of carrot sticks, and an allergen-free brownie bite for dessert.

We love these little sectioned plates. They are perfect for serving a preschooler! The different sections keep his food separated and help with portioning sizes.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fancy Salads

Alternately titled: Why I Love Gardening!

A vegetable garden can be an investment, both of time and of money. But the rewards are delicious! In high summer I can plan lunch and dinner by walking out into my backyard and grabbing a handful of this, a few of those, a bowl full of that... and voila, a great meal, just add protein!

And one of the best summer lunches is a simple (or fancy!) salad, full of fresh veggies and other tasty toppings. Here are a few of the yummy salads I have packed for lunches on the go this summer!

This salad is one of my favorites. It's a simple pear and gorgonzola with pear vinaigrette on the side. Just mixed greens, chunks of pear, and a handful of gorgonzola cheese crumbles. Yum!

On the side I have a handful of mixed berries and a scoop of yogurt with gluten free chocolate granola sprinkled on top.

For this salad, I started with a base of fresh greens from the garden. I added homegrown cherry tomatoes and a few sliced mushrooms from the store. A sprinkle of shredded cheese and some smoked pepper salmon finish off this delicious salad. There is also dressing on the side, and some berries and chocolate for later.

Smoked salmon salads are rapidly becoming the Dude's favorites!

This salad is a very simple garden salad. It's just mixed greens with cubed carrots, sliced cucumbers, and bits of diced cheese. I put the dressing on the side to keep the greens from getting soggy. Cut pears are a nice crunchy sweet dessert with no fat and few calories.

A pretty turkey rose with crunchy gluten-free crackers are tucked up to the side of the salad. The turkey and crackers were added to the salad before eating, to keep the crackers from getting soggy and the turkey from making the lettuce brown too fast.

This last salad could be called "clean out the crisper salad". I grabbed random veggies out of the fridge that needed to be eaten and tossed them all in a salad. There is broccoli, cucumbers, sliced pepper rings, carrot curls, mixed greens, and some zucchini strips all tucked in there. I also put a side of dressing and a heart full of sunflower seeds and small crackers for a little crunch. There is sliced grilled chicken for protein, and up in the corner are some pear chunks and watermelon flowers for dessert.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Allergy Safe S'Mores Crispy Treats

Feeding a kid with food allergies can sometimes be a challenge. Finding safe desserts is a search more difficult than the quest for the Holy Grail! There are plenty of delicious gluten-free options available, but almost all of the ones I have found so far have either soy, nuts, egg, or dairy... or all of the above. So for Beaker to have a sweet treat it pretty much has to be homemade.

A few weeks back, G-man had some friends over. For dinner, we put up a fire in the backyard fire pit and let them roast hot dogs. And what follows roasted hot dogs better than S'Mores? Not much! So I picked up graham crackers and chocolate and marshmallows and let the boys roast them up. Delicious!

Except Beaker could only eat the marshmallows. Which is fine, he loves them... but he was clearly sad to miss out on the crunchy chocolatey gooey goodness that is S'Mores. I haven't been able to find a single brand of graham cracker that is free of all of his allergens, and no chocolate bars either. Mini chocolate chips are excellent, but they don't work so well for smushing on a cracker with a hot mallow. I knew there had to be a way to make a Beaker-safe version of this delicious camp classic, but how? I turned it over in my head for a little while, then hit the kitchen. And this is what I came up with!

Allergy Safe S'Mores Crispy Treats Recipe

2 cups rice cereal squares
2 cups corn cereal squares
4 cups crisp rice cereal
40 regular marshmallows
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 - 1 1/2 cups allergy safe chocolate chips

Pre-coat a large baking dish or muffin tins lightly with coconut oil or cooking spray. Warm coconut oil in a large pan over low heat. Add marshmallows and heat until melted, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and add cereal, tossing thoroughly to coat. Allow to cool for a few minutes (but not too long) and then add the chocolate chips. Mix in well.

Spread mixture over baking pan or scoop small spoonfuls into muffin tin. Allow to cool until set. Store in tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

Notes: The ingredients I used are safe for my son's allergies. They are free of gluten, soy, nuts, eggs, and dairy. When making food for someone with allergies be sure to take their specific allergies in to consideration. If you don't have to worry about allergies at all, you can substitute regular chocolate chips. This recipe could also be made vegan very easily just by using vegan marshmallows, but some alterations to the amount of marshmallow used might be necessary. For the pan, I like to use a mini muffin tin to make bite sized treats, just the right size for little hands.

Beaker was my little taste tester for this recipe.

He heartily approves!

To get a wider range of opinions, I took a big platter of them to a get together with friends. They were a big hit! I came home with a completely empty platter that had been nearly licked clean. The Dude said that if he hadn't seen them being made he never would have guessed they were made with allergy safe chocolate. A high compliment from him!

They also work great as a small sweet treat packed in lunches. 

For this lunch I packed Beaker some mini sausages with ketchup, GF pasta caprese salad, a peeled and segmented Cutie orange, and a bite-sized S'Mores Crispy Treat.

The caprese salad is made with gluten-free brown rice pasta, a bit of diced sweet onion, halved cherry tomatoes and shredded basil from the garden, and bits of mozzarella cheese. It also has a dash of pepper, and some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It's a nice, light summery salad, and Beaker loves it.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Ninja Buns

A lunch for me! Pretzel bun-pastrami sandwich with broccoli, snap peas, ranch for dipping, and some kiwi slices.

Not only do these pretzel buns taste delicious... they're also ninjas!

The addition of a pair of candy eyes turns a regular pretzel bun into a ninja, hiding in the broccoli and snap pea bushes, just waiting for a chance to attack. Princess LOVED this lunch. Usually she eats only a little of her lunch at school or when we're out and saves the rest to eat when she gets home. She would rather talk and play at lunch time than eat. But this lunch she ate almost the whole thing, because "It was a ninja, Mom! I like ninjas. They're sneaky and fast. Ninjas are cool."

For her lunch, Princess has a ninja bun, broccoli and snap peas with ranch, a piece of chocolate, grilled chicken pieces, and fruit salad.

For the Dude, a pretzel bun sandwich with provolone and thin sliced roast beef, multigrain chips with 7 layer bean dip, and a handful of raspberries mixed with some chocolate almonds.

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Friday, August 16, 2013


I cannot even tell you how excited I am. Tomorrow we are going to a local outdoor music event. We will see a whole long list of bands, including the advanced jazz band from the high school Brick is entering next month. But the one I am most excited about? The whole reason we bought tickets? One of my all time favorite bands ever?


Oh yes. Everclear. One of the very best music groups to come out of the 90s. One of my personal favorites. Creators of some of the bestest songs ever.

There are just not words to express how incredibly excited I am to go see them tomorrow! And also all of the other great bands which be playing... but... EVERCLEAR! Dude, I am all sorts of over-the-moon here! I love them. The ringtone on my phone? 'Volvo Driving Soccer Moms'. So excited.

And of course that means I had to make the Dude a lunch to celebrate and anticipate:

The cherry and grape tomatoes and the lemon cucumber in the smallest segment of the Easy Lunchbox are from my garden, picked fresh today. Lemon cucumbers, if you've never had them before, are delicious! They have a lighter, crisper flavor than regular cucumbers.

Under the 'Wonderful' chocolate chip cookie, he has a sliced peach. I used silicone baran like these to protect the cookie from peach juice, keeping it from getting soggy.

For the main dish, he has shredded cabbage topped with slices of Italian sausage leftover from dinner, and cheese letters spelling out the title of one of Everclear's most popular songs.

I was also very impressed with the group who is in charge of the event. The festival is a family friendly local event and some of the proceeds are being donated to support local music for children. There will be activities for children at the event, and children under a certain age get in free. The Dude and I have instilled a deep love of music in our children, and they are almost as excited to go as we are. However, there is a strict rule against outside food or beverage at the event. 

And that is where we almost came to a screeching halt. When you have a kid with food allergies to food ingredients which are extremely common, you can never just assume that there will be safe food available for purchase. Unfortunately, there almost never is safe food available from food vendors. And even if they have a gluten-free item on their menu, we have to be absolutely certain that allergy-safe food handling procedures were followed to eliminate risk of cross contamination. Also, many gluten-free snack foods have soy and/or almond flour, are cooked in soybean or peanut oil, contain soy lecithin or garlic... the list of possible dangers goes on and on. Not bringing his food is not an option. 

Full of hope, but not expecting much, I emailed the event coordinators to ask whether exceptions were made for food allergies. In less than five minutes they had emailed me back, assuring me that they most certainly do make an exception for food allergies. They instructed me to let security at the gate know that one of our party has food allergies and there will be no hassle with bringing his food in. Their speedy response and clear reassurance were fantastic and I was very impressed!

Can't wait 'til Saturday! 

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Allergy Friendly, On the Go

As most of my readers know, my youngest child has some pretty serious food allergies. For those who might be new to this blog, this is Beaker:

Beaker is a sweet, fun, super awesome four year old. With food allergies.

His list of allergens include wheat, soy, garlic, hazelnuts, eggs, dairy, and shellfish. So far we have established that soy (in all forms, including soybean oil and soy lecithin) is VERY bad for him, and wheat also makes him quite ill. Garlic is another to which he definitely reacts. He isn't dairy allergic, but is lactose intolerant - he can eat small amounts of cheese, but milk or ice cream make his stomach miserable. And trace amounts of egg in baked goods is fine for him, but we haven't yet tested egg in any other form. The test for hazelnuts was inconclusive, so for now he is still completely tree nut and peanut free, just in case. Best not to tempt fate with that one! We haven't tested shellfish yet. 

We bring food for him pretty much everywhere we go. Like most four year olds, Beaker is growing fast and often has a big appetite. With his allergies and sensitivities, we can't just stop at any drive thru to pick up a snack for him if we're out and he gets hungry - very few restaurants have food which is truly contaminate free and safe for him to eat. Even grocery stores can be tough to find easy snacks for him sometimes, since fruits and veggies need to be washed and cut, and that's hard to do if you're stuck in the car running errands. Pre-portioned individually wrapped snacks that are safe for him are also usually very expensive. And that's IF we're lucky enough to be able to find a grocery store near wherever we happen to be. It saves us a huge amount of time, trouble, and expense to simply pack up meals and snacks for him to bring with us.

These are a few examples of the allergy-safe meals I pack for Beaker:

Mini sausages with ketchup for dipping, carrot bits and cheese bites, pieces of pear, and an EnjoyLife allergy-free cookie.

I also included a small cup of applesauce on the side for a snack. Beaker likes to dip pears in applesauce. Apparently they just taste better that way!

For this lunch, Beaker helped me pack an Easy Lunchbox with his favorite turkey-cheese rolls. He also chose a pair of allergy safe cookies, some carrots and cucumbers, halved grapes, and pear chunks.

Cucumbers from the garden are one of Beaker's favorite snacks. It tickles him that they can go from growing on the vine to his plate in five minutes.

Another favorite is Thomas the Tank Engine. Here is another Thomas meal, this time with shredded chicken, carrot and apple slices, Beaker-safe trail mix tucked into the little treasure box, strawberries from our garden, cheese bits, and a broken up allergy safe cookie.

This one came to the lake with us for a fun fast beach lunch. The main box is a robot clip-lid box I found at Target for less than $2, and the side dish is a round Thomas container that I think was $3, also at Target.

The side dish holds his snack ~ mango pieces, Tings, and an EnjoyLife allergy safe brownie bite.

For lunch, he has Canadian bacon slices, strawberries, cheese bits, Van's Say Cheese crackers, and another brownie bite.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

(Mostly the) Same Ingredients, Different Lunches

As you can imagine, sometimes it can be difficult feeding a kid with food allergies. Especially when nobody else in the family has those same restrictions. Sometimes - frequently, actually - I have to make an entirely separate meal just for him, and follow stringent rules for cleaning and food handling to make sure no cross contamination occurs. It can be a lot of work! But other times, it is pretty easy to make a meal for Beaker that is similar to what the rest are eating, just by leaving out an ingredient or substituting something else.

Like these lunches! The lunch for Beaker and the lunches for Princess and Bean are pretty much the same. They contain mostly the same ingredients, with just a few minor changes for preference and allergies. To make all three lunches took roughly fifteen minutes total, so not much extra work at all.

For Beaker, a pair of ham rolls secured with a skewer are a great alternative to a sandwich. He also has gluten-free pretzel rings, strawberries from our garden, sliced cucumber and carrots, and some grapes and watermelon.

Cutting watermelon hearts is an easy way to make lunch special. Just slice the watermelon and use a mini cookie cutter to pop out shapes ~ it's that easy! You have to cut it to put in the lunch anyway ~ the extra step takes pretty much no extra time.

The pretzel rings are one of his favorite snacks. They are made by EnerG, and they are gluten-free, soy-free, vegan pretzels. They taste pretty good, actually, and Beaker loves them.

For Bean and Princess, ham-and-jam sandwiches (ew, but they love it) are cut with a CuteZCute sandwich cutter for a sweet little extra special effect.

They also have pretzel sicks, strawberry slices, cucumber and carrots, just like Beaker. Princess added a couple of grape tomatoes from the garden, and Bean has a handful of raspberries she picked in the morning from our berry bush.

Tasty, well balanced lunches don't have to be difficult or time consuming, even when dealing with allergies. With just a little effort and thought, they can be pretty easy!

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