Sunday, 2 June 2013

Cheat's Guide to Gluten-free Cooking for Kids!

I enjoy cooking and baking when I have the time and energy. I would love to be able to spend time every day buying and cooking fresh, delicious and nutritious gastronomic delights. The reality is, I don't have the time or energy to cook fresh stuff every day, and even if I did, my family's favourite meals seem to be the ones that are easiest and contain the least number of fresh vegetable and/ or 'green stuff'.
Sometimes I feel guilty that I resort to bunging frozen stuff in the oven, or using a jar instead of chopping my own onions and mixing spices, but then I think, ah, sod it, I'd much rather have a cuddle with the girls watching and talking about Peppa Pig!

So, when the diagnosis of Coeliac's came I had worrying visions of having to buy copious amounts of raw ingredients, making everything by hand, and never touching another packet of mix or sauce again. However, it's not that bad!!

I do cook fresh dinners (and freeze portions) on a regular basis (honest!), and I could post some day to day recipes here. However, there are lots of really good websites with lovely gluten-free recipes already on t'internet, so I thought it might be useful  to share the easy, quick-win products I have found useful for feeding a gluten-free child. All of these products I have found in my local Asda, Sainsbury's or Tesco supermarket, so should be easily available.

We've tried lots of options for the first meal of the day. Alexandra had eaten Weetabix before she got sick, and I haven't come across a substitute for this. I got very excited when I found  Asda instant gluten-free porridge sachets, but this went down like a lead balloon, despite (or maybe because of) stories about bears. The big breakfast hit (although I promised to never buy 'those sugary children's cereals' in my idealistic pre-parentship days) is Doves Farm Chocolate Stars. Alex usually eats them with yoghurt or milk, but is happy to eat them dry too, so they can't be too bad. We also get various supermarket own brand GF cornflakes or rice crispies every now and then for a bit of variety, however, they usually end up mixed in chocolate and spooned into paper cases!

In my bag:

I usually have:

  • snack packs of raisins
  • fruit puree pouches (I know they're not great, but although I keep trying fresh fruit, Alex is not very keen)
  • American Muffin Company Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins.  These muffins are great for kids and for transporting because they are small, individually wrapped and not too crumbly.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not always stuffing food in my children's faces when we're out and about, but I always have something in case we're caught unawares (like the time our local play group had a party of sandwiches, biscuits and cakes which I didn't expect and poor Alexandra sat and watched all the other kids eating!)

Popping around for coffee:
If I'm visiting a friend with Alex in tow I will often bring some GF biscuits. Most are fine, but kids always love pink wafers and Rivington Foods do Pink Panther Gluten Free Wafers!

Lunch out:
If we are going to a friend's for lunch I always check with them before hand if they want me to bring food for Alex, but regardless I usually bring a jacket potato and a tub of Heinz Baked Beans Snap Pots, just in case. These are portable, not perishable and as long as the person has a microwave, no real contamination issues.

If we end up going 'out' out, I will usually look for somewhere that does a jacket and beans. The only caveat if you're eating a jacket potato out is that some pre-grated catering cheeses contain gluten as they use flour to stop it from sticking together.

Lunch in:
Scrambled eggs, baked beans, Orgran Tinned Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce on GF toast are all quick and easy. Mrs Crimbles Cheese Crackers are a hit, but unfortunately don't come in small packets, so once opened need to be eaten fairly quickly. Nairn's Gluten Free Oatcakes are great (although make sure you get the right ones, they also do non-gluten free oatcakes), and are wrapped in small packs, so easier to keep/ take out on a picnic.

I used to always have Walkers Cheesy Wotsits in the cupboard until they very irritatingly changed their factory and cross contamination became an issue (gutted doesn't describe how I felt- didn't leave the house for about a week!!). Now the crisps of choice are either Pombears or Bob the Builder/ Fireman Sam Snacks by the Dormen Food Company-they come in smallish packs and are very attractive to kids- good for a treat from time to time.

There are lots of GF pastas available. For the first 6 months or so after she was diagnosed Alex refused all of them (I think she knew what had been making her sick, she had begun to refuse things like bread and pasta in the run up to the hospital stay). The turning point was Bob the Builder Corn Pasta Shapes, made by Fun Foods. These are shaped like characters from the programme and very attractive to toddlers! (personally, I think they taste awful, but both my girls love them.)
Dietary Specials Pizza Bases are great for making your own pizzas- Alex loves choosing toppings and making patterns with them! You can also get pizza bases on prescription for children with Coeliac's.
I usually have Young's Gluten Free Fish Fingers in the freezer, along with Birdseye Potato Waffles or Asda carrot and potato waffles.(Not all own brand potato waffles are GF, so watch out!) I also stash Doherty's Gluten-free Pork Sausages in the freezer, which the girls eat, however, fresh sausages are usually nicer. Debbie and Andrew's Harrogate Sausages are our top pick, although Asda's own brand are also good.
When making sauces etc, Knor Reduced-salt Stock Cubes are gluten free and Kikkomen do a GF Soy Sauce. For pre-made sauces, most of Lloyd Grossman's sauces are gluten-free and tasty.

The Food and Drink Directory that Coeliac UK ( put together is fantastic for checking what products are gluten-free and for getting ideas when scanning through. If you are newly diagnosed with Coeliac's, you can get 6 months free membership, with the directory included. It's updated every 6 months or so, so I have given my old directories to family members- they're not fully up to date, but still handy to have!

Gluten-free cooking has not been as challenging as I'd initially feared, although vigilance is always required (it's so easy to pull out a store cupboard staple and dash it into the pot only to start cursing 2 minutes later because it's not GF). As with cooking for any child, we've had to keep encouraging Alexandra to try new stuff, and it's still a battle to get her to eat her greens. I would love to be able to say that my children eat only the best, healthiest of meals, but as you can see from this post, it's not quite true. I'm happy to compromise though, and spend the time saved playing princesses!

Do you have any other quick and easy favourites for feeding gluten-free kids?