Raising a family has plenty of magical moments, but back-to-school season means saying goodbye to the relaxed routine of summer and kicking life into high gear again. In my house, besides making sure my kids – Isaiah, 13, and Chiara, 4 – are happy and healthy, feeding them wholesome, nourishing meals can be tricky. Add to that food sensitivities and you might think I’ve got a feeding frenzy in the making. Fear not: I’m sharing my foolproof allergy-free food strategies for keeping your family – and mine – sane and safely well-fed this school year.
Stock your kitchen with gluten-free and dairy-free pantry items
While I’m not a natural-born planner, it’s the only way I know to keep from slipping into mommy chaos mode. Organizing my pantry is step one. Just commit to the idea once and you’ll see how it changes the energy in your house. Through the years, the freezer has unquestionably become my best friend — open my freezer door and you’ll see why. I’ve got homemade banana pancakes, vegetable soups, baked pastas and brownies in there, and I can make them dairy-free or gluten-free to accommodate my family’s food sensitivies. Once you’re all stocked up, all you have to do is make a weekly trip to the supermarket to round out your pantry with fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables, meats and fish. I like to leave a magnetic pad on the refrigerator for the family to jot down anything they want to add to the shopping list.
My top 10 gluten-free and dairy-free pantry items:
- All-purpose gluten-free flour blend
- Gluten-free pancake mix
- Non-dairy milk (soy milk, almond milk, etc.)
- Vegetable shortening
- Vegetable or olive oil
- Corn or rice pasta
- Rice cereal, processed into crumbs
- Frozen bacon slices
- Canned tomato puree
Develop a healthy allergy-free snack strategy
When Isaiah was about 3 years old, I made him “snack areas” in a lower kitchen cabinet and in the fridge. It gave me the control to choose healthy food and drink options for him and it gave him his first taste of independence. Food allergies or not, we’re still a snack-happy family. I learned back then that pre-packing snacks into single-serving portions not only saves waste, but money, too. When it comes to school lunch, I remind myself all the time that Isaiah just wants to fit in with his friends. He has also let me know that he doesn’t want to eat lunch with a fork or a spoon. He just wants snacks — anything he can eat with his hands.
Our top 10 gluten-free and dairy-free snacks:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Steamed broccoli
- Deli meat roll-ups
- Chips (gluten- and dairy-free)
- Fruit twists
- Chocolate chip cookies (made without gluten and dairy)
Make satisfying, allergy-free family-friendly meals
Sometimes the experience is more important than the meal itself. The easiest, fastest way to get dinner on the table and make a meal that everyone loves is to keep the food simple. For my family, that usually means a protein, a vegetable and a starch. This could be roast pork loin with roasted sweet potatoes and asparagus, or maybe a one-skillet meal like chicken-and-rice tetrazzini. A trick I use to get my family out of our dinner rut is to make breakfast for dinner. It always surprises the kids and breaks up the routine.
Our top 10 gluten-free and dairy-free family meals:
- Potato-crusted bacon and egg pie with salad greens
- Gingerbread gluten- and dairy-free pancakes with apple slaw
- Oven-fried chicken fingers with spinach florentine cake
- Spaghetti and meatballs
- Sausage pizza
- Skirt steak with mashed potatoes and broccoli
- Barbecued ribs with cornbread and green beans
- Grilled salmon with corn pudding pie
- Black bean enchiladas with rice and guacamole
- Chicken potpie soup
With a little planning and culinary inspiration, you can keep your sanity while also keeping your family well-fed with satisfying meals that are allergy-free.