How often do your kids look in the fridge or rummage the pantry only to call out" Hey, mom! There's nothing to eat here"?
It's normal to hear occasional whining from the gang when they're looking to snack or eat but "How could that be?" is my immediate response, after all I shopped just two days ago and stocked both the fridge and pantry. Well, in a gluten-free kitchen it is a constant concern because the choices are limited to the amount of time you can spend on baking and cooking and filling up your freezer.
There are few breaks and few shortcuts when you must have a 100 per cent gluten-free kitchen. This means having to prepare snacks and meals 365 days a year. It is not a choice, but one of those things you HAVE to do. There is breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks all day long, everyday....Celiacs and people with gluten intolerance are lucky in that they don't need to take medication, and that by following the "gluten-free diet" they can lead normal lives.
Eating out or picking up is not always safe or an option. I have had to become resourceful and over time I have learned how to manage the restrictions in such a way that my kids can always find something to eat. If I can offer up advice or ideas that other moms or dads who are doing all of the preparation can find helpful I'm totally into that.
Here are some helpful tips, things I do in my own home that should help you so you can enjoy less time in frustration and more time enjoying your family.
1. Healthy snacking: You can never go wrong when you keep an abundant assortment of your kids' favourite fruits and veggies on hand. Cut them up in bite size pieces and pair them up with dips, cheeses, olives, crackers or whatever else they like. When you come home from the grocery store, wash, cut and make little snack packs that are easy to grab and go. If I don't do this right away, I end up not doing it at all and wasting my produce. Make it accessible, ready and fun to eat. They may always search for chips and cookies, but having this out on the counter sways them away from the pantry.
2. Shop with kids: Don't leave your kids at home while you shop; include them in the grocery experience! Choosing the foods and treats they bring home will ensure much better cooperation from them to eat what they chose. Send them to hunt for items that they like or may want to try. Ask them to read labels and figure out if it's a safe food for them. Make it fun and interesting for them so that they will shop with you more often. This will be essential for them as they grow up and become responsible for their own food preparation.
3. First time taste test: Buy a "new" food they have never tasted and make it a family game for everyone to try. Do this every couple of weeks so you can tickle their taste buds on a regular basis until they develop a liking to some of them. It's a great way to discover new foods. Often kids who go to restaurants will try things on their mom or dad's plate but for kids with allergies or food intolerances they don't frequent restaurants as often. This is a way to open your child's palette and see what other foods and textures they may like.
4. Frozen cookie dough baby!: Freeze home-made cookie dough and watch them swarm the kitchen when it goes into the oven. There are many ready-made snacks on the market and those are fine, but something freshly baked gets them every time. Make your dough, scoop it into balls, wrap them in 4s or 6s and freeze. The next time you hear "there's nothing to eat!" grab some out of the freezer and in 10 minutes you can bake and serve.
5. The beloved leftover!: Whenever you cook or bake double or triple the recipe for leftovers. I always prepare food in batches because I love to freeze leftovers, or use them in next day lunches. Wrap well, label with date and name of food so you don't forget and either baggie it up or to take it one step further - freeze in microwaveable TV dinner trays or single size containers so they are already ready to eat in portion size.
6. Banish "I don't know": Ever ask your kids what they want to eat and they just shrug their shoulders or say I don't know? And then you end up playing the painful game of going through every food item on hand only for them to vehemently shake their heads "no" to everything you suggest? Here's a trick I use. I make a list of snacks ideas and meal ideas with my kids. We think of everything we can and keep the list on the wall. We add everything new that comes to mind after our initial brainstorming. Then when it's time to plan a meal or choose a snack they choose something from the list. For young kids I found it helpful to use pictures by cutting up magazines or photos from the internet and displaying them on our kitchen wall.
7. Two is better than one!: All parents I know are super busy and cooking and baking ends up taking a back seat. When possible, I plan a cook/bake day with a friend, so we enjoy each other's company and prepare enough goods to split and have some variety. Pairing up with someone else with similar allergies or intolerances makes cooking much more fun to do. If schedules don't permit pair up by having your friend make one dish, you make another and share. Variety is the spice of life and helps avoid the "do we have to eat that again" scenario.
When asked, every mom I know running a gluten-free kitchen agrees that a well stocked fridge, freezer and pantry is the way through to their GF kids' hearts. Life gets easier when you are organized, prepared and creative about having food accessible for your kids and feeding becomes a more pleasurable experience for all.
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