Thursday, May 3, 2012

Allergen-Free Lunch Ideas for Kids

Elizabeth Barbone
Growing up with severe food allergies meant my lunch never, ever looked like what the other kids were eating. While they munched on peanut butter sandwiches and oreo cookies, I ate soup, fruit, and yogurt. Nowadays, a peanut-free lunch is the norm in many schools.

As the school year draws to a close, here are some allergen-free lunch ideas to help you end the school year on a high note.

Soup for lunch is near and dear to my heart. It’s what my mom often sent in my lunches. Today there are several gluten-free canned soups available, but if you prefer to make soup from scratch like my mom did, here’s how:
Make a batch of soup and allow it to cool. Once cool, divide it into single portions and freeze*.  The morning before you plan on sending soup for lunch, remove the soup from the freezer and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. The next day, heat the soup and put it into a warm thermos.

*Soups thickened with cornstarch don’t freeze well.

Rice or Quinoa Salads
Whenever I make rice or quinoa, I usually make extra, about one cup. With the “planned leftovers” at hand, I can easily make a simple cold salad for lunch. Here’s a basic recipe:

Toss about one cup of leftover rice or quinoa with a basic vinaigrette. The amount of vinaigrette you’ll need varies based on the rice and quinoa (they tend to absorb different amounts each time). It’s a good idea to start with one tablespoon of vinaigrette and go from there. You want the rice and quinoa moist, not dry.

Then have fun! Add some beans and lots of vegetables. Black beans are fabulous; cucumbers, red pepper, and tomatoes are great, but the best? Whatever your child enjoys and will eat. Rice and quinoa are great blank canvass. It’s hard to go wrong.

Like a sandwich, you can fill a wrap with almost anything. A friend of mine sends her middle school-aged daughter to school with the ingredients for lettuce wraps. In one container, she puts crunchy iceberg lettuce leaves and in another, the roasted vegetables and grilled chicken. At lunch, her daughter has fun assembling the wraps.

If your children are a little too young for “make your own wraps,” do the work for them. Since premade lettuce wraps would get soggy by lunch, use soft gluten-free corn tortilla wraps instead. Fill them with fresh or roasted vegetables and grilled chicken or tofu. Or you could make a wrap using “traditional” sandwich fillings: ham and cheese, egg-salad, or tuna.

Bento Boxes
Bento boxes are common in Japanese cuisine, usually containing small portions of rice, protein, and vegetables. For kids that love to nibble, moms and dads have made this traditional Japanese meal a common sight in the lunchroom.

To make a bento-style box, grab a divided container. Fill a compartment or two with fresh fruit, vegetables, and a healthy yogurt dip. In the other spots, you could add a hard-boiled egg, some leftover chicken, or a small portion of rice or quinoa salad.

Bento boxes are a great way to introduce new foods to picky eaters. They allow kids to try “just a little” of something while still enjoying their other favorite foods packed into the bento.

Peanut Butter-Free Peanut Butter Sandwich
And, if your child still just wants a peanut butter-like sandwich? There’s hope! Lots of companies now make peanut and tree nut-free spreads such as peabutter, sunbutter, and soy butter. While they are all similar to peanut butter, each has a unique flavor, so you might need to try a few before deciding on a favorite brand. 

To get you started, here’s an easy wrap recipe from my new cookbook How to Cook Gluten-Free: Over 150 Recipes That Really Work.  I filled the book with lots of family-friendly recipes that kids of all ages enjoy! This chicken wrap is great cold and makes a perfect school lunch. If your child doesn't love spicy food, reduce or omit the chipotle powder in the mayonnaise.

Recipe Roasted Vegetable and Chicken Wraps

These chicken wraps had me at the first bite. When I make them, I usually use zucchini,
yellow squash, onion, and red pepper. Changing the vegetables, however, changes the flavor
of these wraps. Use whatever vegetables you like. Roasted asparagus and tomatoes are also
especially good.

1 large zucchini, diced (about 2 cups)
1 large yellow squash, diced (about 2 cups)
1 large onion, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
1 large red bell pepper, cored and cut into strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
11/2 pounds chicken tenders
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile (more or less
depending on how spicy you like it)
8 (6-inch) corn tortillas
8 slices provolone cheese

1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and
preheat the oven to 400ºF.

2. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss together the
zucchini, squash, onion, and red pepper with
about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. You just
want the vegetables lightly coated with oil. You
don’t need much. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes,
stirring about halfway through, until the
vegetables are golden brown and soft.

3. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a
grill pan or large (12-inch) nonstick frying pan
until shimmering. Season the chicken lightly
with salt and pepper. Cook undisturbed for
5 to 7 minutes. Using tongs, flip the chicken
and cook until brown, 4 to 6 more minutes.
(Remember not to crowd your pan. If you need
to cook the chicken in two batches, that’s fine!)
Remove the cooked chicken from the pan
and place on a clean plate. (For a how-to on
cooking chicken, see page 45.)

4. In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise
and chipotle with a spoon.

5. Remove the roasted vegetables from the oven.
Leave the oven on. Place the tortillas on a clean
baking sheet. Warm them in the oven for 3 to
5 minutes, until they are soft and starting to

6. Spread a thin layer of chipotle mayonnaise on
each tortilla and top with 1 slice of provolone.
Divide the vegetables and chicken among the
tortillas, wrap, and serve.
Makes 8 wraps

About the Author

Despite being born with life-threatening food allergies, Elizabeth Barbone graduated from the Culinary Institute of America where she learned how to cook delicious meals for herself and other people with food allergies.  Today, Elizabeth develops delicious recipes for the food allergic and gluten-free communities through her site GlutenFreeBaking, a weekly column on SeriousEats, and regular television appearances.  She is also the author of "How to Cook Gluten-free" and "Easy Gluten-free Baking". She lives in Troy, NY.

No comments:

Post a Comment