Elimination Diet Lunchboxes
Elimination diets are becoming more and more common these days as the rates of food intolerances, asthma and digestive issues in children are steadily rising.
It’s fantastic that our GPs are recognizing the need for elimination diets as part of a gut healing programme, but although the theory sounds good in the GP’s office (and we nod our heads agreeing that an elimination diet is most definitely the answer to our problems) the practice is something else.
The thought of putting together a lunchbox that is enticing and nutritious as well as free of gluten, dairy, egg, nuts, soy and package free is enough to send any busy mother crawling under the table with a glass of wine and bar of chocolate at 8am on a Monday morning.
With five years of experience in the ‘elimination diet’ lunchbox arena under my belt, I do feel great sympathy for any parent about to embark on this challenge. Let me give you these words of encouragement though, “It will be worth it. You will survive. Your child will get better.”
I know that these words will speak to those of you that need them because they were the words I needed to hear myself. You will find the inner strength and reserve to keep going because the option of having a sick child with stomach cramps, rashes, asthma attacks and food reactions is a far greater emotional toll than supporting them on an elimination diet.
When it comes to elimination diet lunchboxes here are a few pointers:
Your child is going to come home and say “Everyone else has chocolate and sandwiches and cheese in their lunchboxes. I’m the only one that’s different.” This may or may not be true, but you’re going to have to stick to your guns and firmly reply that this is just the way that it is for the next few weeks (or months) and that’s the end of that.
From experience, there will be one to two other children in your child’s class who also have sensitivities. Get to know those children’s parents so that you can bounce ideas off each other and get support. It helps the child to know that someone else in their grade can’t eat cheese either.
Speak to your child’s teacher so that they know what’s going on. This is particularly important if your child’s teacher uses lollies or food in class as rewards or to demonstrate maths. They will need to have other options such as pens or toys as rewards for your child. (Ideally this conversation will open up the idea of moving away from food altogether as rewards in the class)
Try to remove all eliminated foods from the house as much as possible (i.e. chocolate biscuits, chips) so that your child doesn’t feel excluded from the family. Don’t let your other children have treats that your child on the elimination diet can’t have.
Move away from food as rewards and instead use toys, games or special 1:1 time. We used to keep a reward chart for our daughter. If she got through the whole week of her elimination diet then she got a special toy.
There are loads of healthy food options around these days. Take that brave first step into the health food store and ask the assistant to show you some options. Gluten free breads, wraps, pastas are all common these days.
Be careful to read the labels on ‘gluten free’ products. Many of these are high in sugar or additives, which will not help your child’s gut to heal.
Here are my top lunchbox fillers for children on elimination diets:
Move away from the idea of sandwiches and instead introduce a thermos (funtainer brand is my favourite) with hot meals in it such as soups, Bolognese with gluten free pasta, chicken meatballs, etc.
Small tins of tuna (pour into a small plastic container if your school doesn’t allow tins)
Make up a dairy free smoothie with banana, rice milk, avocado, frozen berries and a little honey. Pour into a plastic bottle, freeze it the night before and it will be nice and cold by lunchtime.
Cucumber sticks with guacamole or hummus
Get creative with your baking. You can still make amazing biscuits, cakes and slices with gluten free flour, rice milk and ‘no egg’ replacements (see my recipe book Sugar Free Baking or visit my website for heaps of recipes).
Small bags of popcorn
Bags of roasted chickpeas (available in the health food section of the supermarket)
Gluten free pizza bases topped with your favourite toppings