We learned of our son’s severe food allergies when he was just six months old. Exposing him to the tiniest bite of bread induced hours of swelling and vomiting, symptoms I later learned were part of his anaphylactic response to wheat. The years that followed were a crash course into restrictive diets as we slowly learned of other food allergies and a whole list of intolerances. Our lives were further complicated when our daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) at just two weeks of age. CF is a genetic disease impacting the lungs and pancreas, and we suddenly found ourselves overwhelmed by the allergic demands of one child and the medical treatments of another.
There was little that I could control when it came to my children’s conditions, but what I could control was what we ate and the quality of the food that I served. Avoiding GM foods, eating mostly organic, purchasing pastured meats, buying locally when possible, growing many of our vegetables in my home garden, and raising our own organic eggs became important and necessary pieces of my children’s integrative care. I further refined our diet when we decided to avoid grains, sugar, and dairy, a diet that met the restrictions of my son and supplied a deeply nourishing way of eating to help maximize my daughter’s health and longevity.
But there was a major challenge that came along with my commitment to optimal nutrition: I was having to cook… a lot. I was prioritizing healthy meals, but the time commitment felt unsustainable over the long term. I knew there had to be a better method, so I started strategizing ways to streamline the meal prep process through meal planning, bulk and batch cooking, eating leftovers, freezing foods, and shopping in bulk. I’ve provided details of this system in my cookbook, The Grain-Free, Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free Family Cookbook, but I want to share some specific tips for packed lunches since I know this is a topic on most every Mom’s mind now that the summer is coming to a close. Using the suggestions below will help you pack delicious and nutritious lunches without all of the stress.
- Planning out your packed lunches before you grocery shop will save you stress, frustration, and ultimately, time.
- Pack lunches the night before since mornings are often chaotic.
- Invest in a good leak-proof lunchbox, preferably a bento-style box that keeps wet foods (i.e. sliced fruits and vegetables) separate from dry foods (i.e. muffins).
- Rethink quantity when cooking dinner since many leftovers are easily packed for lunch the next day. For this to work, you have to prepare twice as much for dinner.
- Freeze a few items in advance for grab-and-go when leftovers aren’t ideal. For example, muffins, green smoothies, grilled chicken, pancakes, and even bacon can be frozen and simply pulled from the freezer as needed.
- Start by packing a protein and healthy fat to satisfy hunger and then fill in the gaps with carbohydrates.
- Homemade muffins are your best meal-packing friend. I’ve included my kids’ favorite muffin recipe below that happens to be free of grains, sugar, dairy, soy, and nuts. Muffins can be prepared in bulk on a Saturday or Sunday, stored in the refrigerator for the week, or even frozen for much later. Kids love muffins for their flavor, but you’ll love them for their convenience.
- Sliced vegetables like cucumber, red pepper, carrots, and celery, and fruits like apples, oranges, berries, and melons are extremely simple (and nutritious!) lunch additions.
- Keep storable items on hand for backup such as frozen organic lunch meats, canned tuna, olives, nuts (if allowed), seeds, nut butters (if allowed), canned beans, frozen hummus, ferments like carrots and pickles, plantain chips, crackers, and other quick foods for when you have nothing available.
Providing our children with a balanced and nourishing school lunch will help ensure that they’re being supplied with the nutrition they need to concentrate and make it through a long day of school. Be sure to grab a copy of The Grain-Free, Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free Family Cookbook if you found these suggestions to be helpful and are looking for more meal planning and prep suggestions.
(with pecan bread variation)
This recipe is from Leah Webb’s The Grain-Free, Sugar-Free, Dairy-Free Family Cookbook (Chelsea Green Publishing, April 2019) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Yield: 24 muffins (or 2 loaves of bread)
Leftovers: Keeps in the refrigerator for 1 week and in the freezer for 1 month
How often do I prepare these muffins? Every week. Why? Because they’re that good. Plus I love having a guiltless bread product to pair with breakfasts or serve as a snack for the kids. These muffins are so moist, fluffy, filling, and flavorful. And I love the fact that they’re plenty sweet, even without the addition of any sugar. The plantains need to be ripe, which means yellow with some black spots. If the end product isn’t sweet enough and is slightly on the dry side, you’ve used the plantains too early. If it’s mushy and doesn’t seem to set properly, the plantains were too ripe. You may have to make this recipe a few times to get the hang of it, but it will be well worth the effort!
1 cup (145 g) raw sunflower seeds
1¹⁄₂ tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¹⁄₂ teaspoon salt
4 ripe plantains, peeled and sliced into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces
¹⁄₂ cup (100 g) coconut oil
¹⁄₂ cup (120 ml) water
Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
Grind the sunflower seeds into a flour using a high-powered blender or food processor. Do not overblend or the seeds will start to turn into a seed butter. If using a high-powered blender, 5–8 seconds of blending should be adequate, but it will take closer to 30 seconds in a food processor or less powerful blender. The flour will have the texture of almond flour. Scrape down the sides and corners after blending to free any lodged flour.
Add the remaining ingredients to the blender or food processor in the order listed in the ingredients list and blend just long enough to form a smooth batter.
Pour the batter evenly among 24 silicone muffin molds or paper-lined muffin pans, filling the cups about three-quarters full. The exact volume of batter depends on the size of the plantains. If you have excess batter, pour the remainder into additional muffin molds (if available) or into a greased bread pan for a long, flatbread that can be cut into quarters or thirds depending on its size.
Bake the muffins for 25 minutes or until firm to the touch. If you have excess batter in a bread pan, this may take an additional 5–10 minutes to cook depending on its size.
Allow the muffins to cool for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.
For a delicious Pecan Bread variation, add 1½ cups (170 g) chopped pecans and pour the batter into two greased bread pans. Bake the bread for 55 minutes or until completely set.
Batch Cooking and Leftovers: For batch cooking: Grind flour for both batches first. Then proceed in two batches (blenders are too small for a double batch).
Freeze muffins for quick snacks or packed lunches.
Make It a Meal: Serve with Garlicky Greens and diced tomatoes, or fried eggs and Dill Pickle Kraut for a sweet and savory nutritious breakfast.