Creating a healthy packed lunch may be the best way to ensure that children with food allergies have allergen-free food to eat while they are at school or otherwise away from home. All the principles of providing a balanced, nutritious meal apply to packed lunches, too. There are a couple of things that are especially worth mentioning, though, if you have a child with allergies:
It is generally recommended that you include some calcium-rich food in your child’s packed lunch and, for most children, one of the easiest options is often dairy. If your child has to avoid dairy, you can still include calcium-rich foods by packing homemade fruit smoothies made with fortified milk alternatives; serve a small pot of dairy-free plain yogurt with fruit on the side or mixed in; include canned sardines or salmon in salads or sandwiches; use tahini or almond nut butter as a spread, or stir them into dips such as hummus. You can also pack some toasted seeds (sesame, poppy, chia, sunflower or pumpkin), or use cooked beans and lentils or cooked tofu in salads. Look for fortified breads when making sandwiches.
Whole grains and starchy vegetables, such as sweet potato, beetroot, carrots and peas, are all great options for supporting your child’s energy, as well as providing fibre for digestive health, which is so important for immune balance. To make a change from sandwiches, try wholegrain rice or quinoa in a salad, or make use of soba or rice noodles. Serve gluten-free crackers, rice cakes, or buckwheat crackers on the side with some lean protein or dips. Sweet potato wedges, corn tortillas, corn chips, popcorn and gluten-free oat cakes are all great portable options.
With dairy and carbs sorted, be sure to include healthy protein, plenty of vegetables and a little fruit (think colour), and a bottle of water. Water is by far the most healthy drink for children regardless of their allergy status. Flavour it with a slice of cucumber, or lemon or lime, if you wish.
The packed lunch week
Use these ideas to create variety in your child’s packed lunches over the course of a week.
• Green smoothie (blend banana and handful of spinach with 150ml coconut water and 100ml dairy-free milk)
• Carrot and cucumber slices
• Cooked chicken slices
• Rice cakes or buckwheat seed crackers (see p.000)
• Apple wedges
• Gluten-free pitta with homemade meatballs or falafels with dairy-free yogurt dressing
• Cherry tomatoes
• Vegetable crisps
• Fruit salad
• Homemade pasty
• Red pepper and carrot sticks
• Berry kefir shake
• Rice, salmon and vegetable salad
• Ginger oaty cookie (see p.000)
• Roast beef and sauerkraut gluten-free wrap (see sandwich-filler recipes)
• Baby sweetcorn and mangetout
• Strawberries and dairy-free yogurt
Sample week meal plans
The following tables use recipes in the book to create sample meal plans for two different allergen-free weeks, and a week of boosting the immune system and restoring gut health. Remember that all the recipes in the book are gluten-free (as long as bought ingredients are certified gluten-free, too). Use these representative weeks to get you started, then mix and match to create a healthy and varied diet for your entire family – one that everyone, not matter what allergies they have, can enjoy.
An extract from Christine Bailey’s new book My Kids Can’t Eat That – practical tips and mouthwatering recipes for dealing with allergies & intolerances in kids.