How We Navigated The School Thanksgiving Luncheon Without Food Additives

We got the memo and order form for the school’s Thanksgiving luncheon a little while back.  The choices were:  “No, my child will not be participating” or “Yes” and then a space for the number of parents and kids coming, along with the price.  I wanted my daughter to participate, but with our food sensitivities, we couldn’t actually eat the food they were serving.  Like most schools, ours does not make every little thing from scratch…stuff is delivered by a distributor and reheated.  I had to assume that the stuffing, gravy, canned fruit, milk, and even the meat could all have synthetic additives to help them make the journey.

I scrawled a note across the form, explaining why we don’t neatly fit into one of the check boxes…something like “We’re coming but bringing our own food due to allergies.”  And then the menu planning began.

My daughter requested turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, some kind of bread, and a pumpkin muffin.   My first thought was, “How the hell am I supposed to pull this off?!”  

If you’ve read some of my posts then you know that I’m no great shakes in the kitchen.  If I ever post pictures of what I’m cooking on Facebook, it’s because I’m SHOCKED that it turned out to be edible, not because I’m one of those bento lunchbox artist foodie moms.  

I could have just bought some deli turkey, boxed potatoes, a jar of gravy, boxed muffin mix, and bakery rolls, right?  


Since finding out how many food companies spray chemicals into their packaging and foods, I’ve been making most of our meals from scratch out of necessity (and the whole family’s sanity).  Meaning, I use way fewer pre-packaged, processed “easy” things (some safe replacements can be found through the non-profit Feingold Association, if you must use convenience items).  As I said last week, I do get tired of cooking.  Plus, I like restaurant food.  Plus, I have a couple dozen other things on my ongoing To-Do List that rank higher than meal planning.  Plus, meal planning is boring.  But this event was a once a year kind of thing, and it was for my kid, so I jumped into the unknown.

I think I’ve only prepared one Thanksgiving feast my whole life, and it was more than a decade ago, long before we knew what was really in our “food”.  I still have nightmares about that dry turkey.  All of a sudden two days ago, I decided that I MUST brine a turkey, and found what I judged to be an acceptable recipe.  Let me just say, I am not fond of handling raw meat.  I heard myself apologizing to the turkey several times, calling him “Dude”, etc.  Giving nicknames to poultry is probably not the best idea for a newbie.

Yesterday I asked around for roasting recipes from my Facebook friends.  In my usual way, I pieced together my own method from many different sources.  Turkey dude did well with salt, pepper, sage, thyme, marjoram, sliced onions, and some bay leaves under the turkey. The Smart Grain stuffing mix from Whole Foods was okay but I had to add loads of broth, turkey gravy, and herbs.  The mashed potatoes, made with coconut milk because we’re dairy-free, turned out so smooth and creamy that it looked like frosting.  And my first homemade turkey gravy was so good, I almost started drinking it from a bowl.  

This morning I made the requested steamed broccoli and homemade dinner rolls.  We made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins for dessert.  I want to go on record as saying that Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips are the best I think I’ve ever had, and they’re Feingold approved (which means their manufacturer uses quality ingredients and safe packaging practices).

Nothing burned!  Nothing caught on fire!  And yes, I posted pictures on Facebook and Instagram.  It may never happen this way again.  If only I could capture the aroma online…

One thing you don’t know about me is that I’m habitually late for just about everything.  But after learning so much about my daughter and myself, and after living in a huge city for three years, I’m getting better at padding the schedule with extra prep time.  

I’m happy to report that I made it to the school luncheon with a huge cooler bag in hand, without forgetting a single thing…and early.

Once a year event, indeed.

Oh, and we actually made our own stock from the leftover turkey parts.  Crazy stuff.  But I’m still no bento queen.

My daughter walked down the hall with her class, watching other parents greet their kids, with that look on her face like, Where’s MY mom?  I loved her reaction when she saw me holding our feast…she literally squealed, “MOMMY!” and jumped up and down and squeezed me tightly.  It was almost like, Oh thank God you made it, with the agreed-upon menu items, and in time for us to actually find seats next to eachother!  Yeah, my kid knows me well.

My huge cooler bag got some looks from others who were happily munching on their styrofoam tray offerings.  But it all looked delectable as we scooped up mounds of potatoes, dressing, and gravy onto our 10-month old leftover dolphin-themed birthday party plates (as I said, I haven’t jumped on the bento train).  I smuggled in some cans of Whole Foods ginger ale for some extra excitement, since I rarely if ever give my kid soda.

We chatted and laughed and she drank half the can of soda before touching her food, then proceeded to steal my dinner roll.  We ended with the pumpkin choccy chip muffin and a visit to the school’s book fair.  She loved it all.  My only struggle was getting her to hand over the pretend makeup compact eraser she bought at the “book” fair until after school.  Glad to see some things never change…I still have a little cassette tape shaped eraser circa 1983 which shall never be used for its intended purpose…

And after school she performed well in a fun dance recital with a good group of kids and parents.  No big fuss when it was time to leave.  We came home and ate the feast leftovers.  She even did some extra credit writing work, which she usually struggles with or avoids.

It was a good day.  Funny how a year ago I used to measure how good my day was by the number of tantrums or desperate telephone calls for help.

So in the end, a couple days of preparation for one sweet little social butterfly to feel included, worked out alright.  I say I don’t like cooking, but I’m thankful for the fact that I have the resources to provide healthy meals for my kid.  Plus a few treats too…I look forward to finishing off that homemade candy corn with her this week.

You may also like:

One Moveable Feast: Serve Up Organic Meals Without Blowing Your Budget

My 1-Year Blogiversary, Second Dye-Free Halloween, And Feingold Diet Update

Or maybe this creepy Pilgrim dude who wants you to count your damn blessings…


5 Responses to “How We Navigated The School Thanksgiving Luncheon Without Food Additives”
  1. Our “Fall Feast” is next week. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Ugh. They have each parent sign up for something on the list. I’m in charge of 1 of 2 “turkey” – deli turkey, I think they’re expecting. I might just have to pack her a lunch, since if we can’t get a sitter for the baby, I won’t even get to go. 🙁

    – from a “Bento Queen”

  2. Are you on a private Instagram account? I couldn’t find you as IndieMama or DieFoodDye

  3. This is so inspiring! If you can do that, I can find a way to make candy canes. 🙂
    yourfriendrobin recently posted..candy cane tearsMy Profile

  4. Mary-Karen Bierman says:

    Total Thanksgiving Awesomeness!!! You’re a great mom for doing all of that for you daughter. My 7YO son is ADHD and has been on the Feingold diet for about one year. I will do anything to help him feel like he’s not so different from the rest of the kids in his class who (as he sees it) get to eat whatever they want. I stick to my guns and explain to him that if he eats that food he’ll be in for a not-so-good day. He gets it but it’s still hard to watch the other kids eat the pretty turkey cookies while he has one of my way more delicious but boring looking Snickerdoodle cookies. I love your blog and your work towards an artificial dye/preservative-free world!!! Keep up the good work 🙂

  5. Jennifer says:

    You did great! Coming up with appropriate substitutes will get easier over time. When my dd was first diagnosed with food allergies as a baby (12 years ago) it was very, very hard. There weren’t a lot of options except for costly organic items. A lot has changed in 12 years and it is so easy to accommodate her allergies now. There is a movement going on now with the artificial food dyes and things in food. It reminds me of the food allergy movement a decade ago. In a few years things will be different and easier. And you will be so used to cooking from scratch to accommodate your families needs that you won’t even think twice about taking on something like this.
    Jennifer recently posted..Frugal Tuesday Tip | Week 96My Profile

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