Monday, October 25, 2010

More on those insulated thermal food container thing-a-ma-bobs

Because my daughter is a vegetarian in a class where there is a peanut, treenut and fish ban, I spent far more time than is good for me this past August trying to find the perfect thermos for her. Homemade soups and pastas are lunch box staples for us. Why, what better food is there than minestrone soup? It gives you a wide variety of vegetables, protein in the kidney beans (or chick peas), and carbohydrate in the noodles. Plus it's cheap, a cinch to make in large batches, and is delicious.

But getting back to August. We live in a small city and we looked everywhere for the perfect thermos to no avail. Sure there were old fashioned glass thermoses at Zellers and Canadian Tire, but having broken my way through more than my fair share of those as a child, I refused to lay down my cash for one. We did see numerous stainless steel Thermos brand "Funtainers," but we weren't drawn to them for a couple of reasons: 1. despite their small size, it seemed as if getting a soup spoon into them would be awkward because of the depth to mouth-width ratio, and 2. the designs we could find locally were all based on Disney movies and my daughter is decidedly anti-Disney after a couple of attempts at watching their movies scared the living bejeebus outta her. We would have slapped down money for a "Funtainer" if we could have found this one, but no one in my town carried it:Hello Kitty: you always make me smile even if you have strayed so far from your roots.

Eventually we stumbled into the uber-trendy kitchen store downtown where they assured me they were getting in a shipment of the best stainless steel food containers on the planet! --that came in great, child-friendly designs! --that also happened to be Canadian made! --and that had a fun product name: Otter Bottle! "Wha-hoo," I thought. "I gotta see these."

One week went by. Then two. Then we were into the first week of school. At long last, the shipment arrived. The result? Well, not exactly what I had hoped for but ok. In fact, they're not all that different from the Thermos-brand Funtainers and have the same depth to mouth-width ratio problem. They are Disney-free, though, and my daughter was quite keen on this one:

The design should grow with her longer than the Funtainer designs would, so that does make up for their slightly higher price. The kicker for me, though, is despite this being a Canadian company, the first thing I had to do was peel off a "Made in China" sticker from the bottom. I guess that's just the state of the world these days. Ho hum.

Now that the Otter Bottle has been in use for nearly two months, I can report back to say that it works just fine. It seems to keep her food hot enough and she still likes the shiny-pretty of the thing. My daughter has no problem opening and closing it, but I do know that another girl in her class had to get a new thermos because her hand wasn't big enough to handle the width of the lid--this was on a Funatainer and not an Otter Bottle but there really isn't a size difference between the two products, so keep this in mind if you have a child with small hands.

I bought a larger size Otter Bottle food container for myself and, while I like it a lot, I sorta wish I had gone for the smaller size, because pouring chunky soup from it into a bowl at work is a risky business of noodle-to-face splashing. Each time I feel the spray, I am reminded why the Funtainer and Otter Bottle (small size) design is optimum despite my initial misgivings about the width of the mouth.

So there you have it. My take on insulated thermal food container thing-a-ma-bobs. The point of this post: don't transfer your anxiety about your child starting school into consumer indecision. Just buy a friggin' food container already. Your child may end up hating school with a passion but at least she'll enjoy her lunch.


Note: no companies have endorsed this post nor have I been given any kind of product, coupon or money to write it. In fact, neither company realizes I'm alive--which is just fine by me.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Freenut Butter

My son was about 20 months old when we realized he had a peanut allergy. I was eating an english muffin with peanut butter on it and he wanted to try a bite, so I shared. He broke out in hives instantly. Thankfully it didn't progress further to anaphylaxis. I hastily administered a dose of liquid antihistamine and made an appointment with our family doctor. A few weeks later we had an official diagnosis of peanut allergy with the always-present potential for anaphylaxis. He is now 11 years old and carries two Epipens with him everywhere.

I am happy that our school has a peanut and nut ban. It's not foolproof, as lunches are only checked for rogue nut products in JK and SK. Alas, having a stated nut ban is still a deterrent and it helps to protect the many children in our school with peanut and nut allergies.

I know not being able to send peanut butter is a pain in the arse for some parents. I know some kids live on the stuff. I was one of those kids who brought a PB&J sandwich to school several times a week back in the 70s. As a parent of a kid with peanut allergy, I am grateful to the many parents who abide by the no nut policy, even if they don't like it very much.

So what can you do if your kid loves the spreadable nutty goodness but you can't, or don't want to, send the real deal.

Freenut butter!

Despite what the labelling claims would persuade you to believe it is not "just like peanut butter." The two brands we have tried are made of soy and golden peas, respectively. My friend whose kids don't have allergies once had the golden pea version on toast at my house. She took a bite and then turned to me with a skeptical look. "It's clear to me that you haven't had peanut butter in a very long time if you think that tastes authentic," she said wryly.

Okay, the golden pea version is a bit of a stretch but the soy version is very close in texture, taste and smell, save for a faint soy-tastic aftertaste. And I never claimed authenticity, people. I just said that it's better than nothing!

My kids actually like the freenut butter a lot. Granted, my son doesn't remember what real peanut butter tastes like but his sisters do and they are fine with the creamy impostor. I use it just like you would use peanut butter:

- Spread it on whole wheat bread with a little honey or jam on top
- Stuff it into that lonely hollow in raw celery sticks
- Layer it between crackers for a stackable snack
- Smooth it on a rice cake with some raisins sprinkled on top

You get the idea. There are lots of possibilities. I have even baked with it. Chocolate covered bonbons at Christmas tastes very authentic. Peanut butter cookies are more of a stretch, but if you add in lots of chocolate chips? Not too shabby.
I live in Canada and both the versions I have pictured here are available through certain regular grocery stores. I know that most health food stores carry some form of freenut butter, too.

Some day my son will be an adult living in his own home. At that point my husband and I will likely invite real peanut butter back into our lives. Until then, the freenut butter is a handy substitute on those days when I haven't got a clue what to send for lunch.