It’s been a good while since I last shared a GFE Virtual Gluten-Free Support Group (VSG) post. If you’re new to gfe, these are the posts where I recap one of the meetings of the actual gluten-free support group I lead here in Virginia—as a “virtual” support group meeting. Do you remember my post from the July Self-Care Retreat on Saying No with Unexpected Wonderful Results? I talked about how I’d decided to take a break from being the one to host all of the meetings of my gluten-free support group and how several members of my group had graciously stepped up to the plate. Well, I took the same sort of hiatus from my VSG. It’s been a great break, but I’m ready to share some of the wonderful meetings and presentations that we have enjoyed the last several months. I’m starting with Sunny Busby’s, the author of And Love It, Too!, presentation to my group and I’m also making a few changes to my VSG format. I will continue to share the food, the presentation, and the giveaway, but I’m no longer going to commit to hosting a linky within the VSG post each time. I might include one from time to time when we have a special food theme for my “real” support group meeting but, otherwise, I’ll leave the linky part to all the expert bloggers who do gluten-free linkys each week (like my friend, Linda of The Gluten-Free Homemaker, who hosts Gluten-Free Wednesdays).
The food at our gluten-free support group meetings is always the very best! Our meetings are potluck events and as I said, we sometimes have food themes, sometimes not. Not having one allows members to make dishes based on local seasonal ingredients and many of them have their own vegetable gardens, grow their own herbs, etc. All of these folks really do use the gfe approach. That means they focus on real food/whole foods and recipes made from them first and foremost, then mainstream foods that are gluten free and, finally, a few gluten-free specialty items. You can really see that by looking at our “spread” below.
The Food: Kathi’s Great Salad; Carrot and Red Cabbage Salad; Sweet Potato Chili; Green Garden Salsa and Tortilla Chips; Chicken Curry Balls; Grilled Pizza Chicken; Brownies; Peach Cobbler; Perfect Pound Cake (made by one member as a birthday cake for her husband—see photos); Deanna’s Snickerdoodles; Pumpkin Bars; Assorted Complimentary Treats from Lucy’s Cookies (e.g., Brownie Snacks, Chocolate Chip Cookies); and an Edible Arrangement (also for the birthday celebration; read Edible Arrangements FAQ).
Sunny Busby, the very sweet genius behind the blog And Love It, Too!, was our guest speaker via Skype. Sunny hosted the Healthy Lunchbox series on her blog for two years, so having her speak to my group at the beginning of the school year seemed ideal. But, healthy lunchboxes are always needed and even if we gathered great ideas at the start of the semester, right about now we’re in need of some new inspiration. In fact, National School Lunch Week was just held recently. We all know that it can be really easy to get into a rut with lunches and when busy even to skip them. Having a Healthy Lunchboxes approach can help you avoid doing both.
Per my request, Sunny first told us about the meaning of her blog’s name. Her motto is: “Don’t just have your cake and eat it, have your cake and love it, too.” Simply put, she wanted gluten-free cake, dairy-free cake (and any other food/recipe) to taste great enough for you to not just “have it,” but for you to love it, too! She talks about the meaning of her blog’s name and her overall philosophy in her “three-year blogiversary” post. There truly is no deprivation with Sunny’s gluten-free, dairy-free (and “more free”) creations.
Sunny’s well known for re-creating old favorites (and always welcomes reader requests for those). Her re-creations also include knockoff recipes for the key components of so many recipes. For example, she created gluten-free, dairy-free, refined sugar free, and vegan Sweetened Condensed Milk so she could replicate a “safe” version of her Chocolate Pecan “Toll House” Pie.
I always ask our speakers who are gluten free to tell their personal stories—at least in way of introduction if it’s not the focus of their presentation. I am convinced that personal stories lead individuals to diagnosis and/or going gluten free more than any other single method.
Sunny shared that she had once weighed 300 pounds, but in a matter of months she was down to 115 pounds. Like many of those who go gluten free, her journey to health took a number of twists and turns. She was first diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) in 1999 and with celiac disease 10 years late, in 2009. Sunny pointed out that PCOS has only been defined as an autoimmune condition within the last 5 years. She said that had she known that PCOS was an autoimmune condition, she would have started much earlier in her quest for health and wellness. Sunny also has had symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune thyroid condition.
Sunny’s daughter had been diagnosed at 17 months old with a severe dairy allergy. This diagnosis led Sunny to “engulf” herself in all things nutrition education and learned the “power of food,” both to harm and heal. Therefore, she was able to recognize when her youngest who was still nursing was having negative reactions to the foods that she herself was eating. When Sunny’s own chronic illness was becoming overwhelming, she decided to go on an elimination diet, and with clear indications that she reacted adversely to gluten (and more), she pushed to be tested for celiac.
Sunny shared that she was gluten free first; then gluten free and then dairy free; then gluten free, dairy free, grain free, and refined sugar free; then paleo; and was (at the time of the support group) following the autoimmune paleo protocol (AIP) (to determine any other possible food sensitivities). She explained that the AIP adds nightshades, eggs, nuts, and seeds (optimal) to the list of foods to be eliminated, in addition to what the traditional paleo diet eliminates—grains, dairy, sugar, and legumes. Sunny’s weight is getting close to her ideal and she’s feeling great these days. She looks fantastic, too, although admittedly the Skype screenshot I’v shared does not do her justice.
Sunny told us that her husband has been eating the paleo way as well. He’s lost weight and has much more energy. At one point, he decided to re-introduce dairy in his diet and quickly determined that his body could not handle it.
Sunny and her husband have five children—both biological and adopted—two 14-year old sons, a 12-year old daughter, a 9-year old daughter, and a 7-year old daughter. Sunny’s life is full of children as she’s also a teacher by trade. At the time she spoke to my group, she taught 380 students each day.
Sunny is also the originator of the fabulous Healthy Lunchboxes series, which was one of the reasons I invited her to speak to my support group as the school year began. Observing children’s lunches daily, she saw the need for healthy lunchboxes and she was looking to both give inspiration to and get inspiration from her readers. Sunny told us about the daily lunch of one of her students—a Dr. Pepper with a Pop Tart. She never saw him eat either fruit or vegetables. He was overweight and had learning difficulties. She would have liked to have been able to “help” in some way but, as Sunny stated, she couldn’t advise him or his parents in her position as his teacher.
Sunny’s and her husband’s success were certainly exciting to hear about it, but it was probably her one son’s—her oldest child—health changes that surprised our group the most. He had been diagnosed with ADD and had severe vision issues and his vision issues kept getting worse. At age 11, he was diagnosed with borderline glaucoma, and then later he tested positive for glaucoma. There was no history of glaucoma in her family. With the help of her optometrist and her son’s psychiatrist, Sunny discovered something very interesting. All kids with ADD and ADHD who are on medications have some added pressure to the eyes. It was this added pressure that was creating such an issue with her son’s vision and his prescription glasses were getting stronger and stronger.
She wanted to get him off medications and stop the damage to his eyes, so she knew it was time to pursue dietary changes for him. As Sunny and her daughter were both on a gluten-free, casein-free diet and had both seen great success, she suggested to her doctor that her son should go on the same diet to treat his glaucoma. His doctor’s response was: “It will never work.” Oh, but it did. Sunny put her son on a gluten-free, casein-free diet and after only 18 months, he no longer tested as a definite positive for glaucoma, he only tested “borderline” for glaucoma and his prescription actually improved. He was still considered “at risk” for the glaucoma at the time, but was no longer on any prescription medications and was doing well (getting As and Bs) in school.
Sunny later shared a fantastic update with me. As of August 2013, her son no longer tests positive for glaucoma and is no longer even considered “at risk”! She reported: “While his prescription increased since last year, it was a minimal increase versus the large jumps his prescriptions had previously and his eye pressure now falls within normal range! He is no longer on any prescription medication, follows a refined sugar-free, dairy-free and mostly grain-free diet and is still getting A’s and B’s in school. There is no doubt that food is power.”
Sunny’s 7-year old daughter doesn’t test allergic to anything, but she has never enjoyed gluten-filled snacks like her classmates. When I asked Sunny for more details, she shared that her daughter had gotten gluten-filled treats in her first-grade class (last year). “She told me that she didn’t like eating the crackers and cookies the other kids brought to share because they made her belly ache. Up until this time, she had eaten gluten-free foods for more than a year. Despite the fact that she has not tested positive for any food allergies at this point, it is obvious that she can’t tolerate processed foods like many other children. This may be a byproduct of eating a diet rich in whole foods or it may be symptoms of sensitivities that have yet to fully reveal themselves. Either way, I was proud of her for telling her teacher that she didn’t want the cookies or crackers being shared. She would rather have whole fruits and vegetables and spent the remainder of her first-grade year encouraging her classmates to bring and share healthy whole-foods to class. Truly a girl who is wise beyond her years.”
With a subsequent diagnosis of candida, Sunny and her middle daughter’s journeys to good health have continued on. You can read more here and stay tuned to Sunny’s blog for future updates. Here Sunny gives even more info on candida on this resource page on her site.
Healthy Lunchboxes are Simple
Sunny first urged us to start with a good lunchbox. She said that Sistema lunchboxes have been readily available at Old Navy and are a good choice. She says that water is the best drink for lunch and recommended small Lifefactory beverage bottles. These are glass beverage containers housed in a silicone sleeve to prevent breakage. (I’m a fan of the Lifefactory bottles as well; here’s my midnight blue one.) Sunny also advised the use of little metal thermoses. Her favorite lunchboxes are the Sistema lunchboxes, specifically the Sistema Klip It Lunch Storage Cubes (which are made of BPA-free plastic) and Tiffins (which are made of stainless steel). (Interesting note: Apparently, Tiffins have gone pretty mainstream, because I saw that there’s even a Hello Kitty tiffin!)
Sunny reminded us of the old, but good advice, to Keep It Simple, Silly. As she said, “a balanced meal of protein, whole fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to be complicated.” As an example, she shared one of her favorites lunches: hard-boiled eggs, blueberries, grape tomatoes, carrots and celery slices paired with a side of Roasted Red Pepper Paleo Hummus.
Another option she offered was: lettuce wraps with wild-caught tuna salad, uncured turkey (or uncured bacon), tomato, and homemade mayonnaise. Sunny said to “fill the rest of your lunchbox with in-season fruits and vegetables, making sure to always have a few cucumber slices to finish your meal and you’ll never go hungry!” (Read why she recommended cucumbers, in general and as the “finish” to one’s meal.)
Sunny likes to use the mayo recipe from Melissa Joulwan’s Well Fed cookbook, both of which are favorites of mine as well! She also relies on her dehydrator for making healthy dried fruit and beef jerky.
For great sources of real food, Sunny cited CSAs, local farmer’s markets, and Bountiful Baskets. The latter is a volunteer-based organization, which is always looking to expand. (Note that there are many states and areas it is not available in yet.) The quality is great and the cost savings is significant. She told us that she spends about $60 to $100 for $200 to $300 worth of produce through Bountiful Baskets. The savings can vary according to the individual items in the basket, but she said the savings are always very worthwhile. One of her favorite produce items is Hubbard squash. Huge in size, but sweet like other squashes, such as pumpkin, she says that these squash are a great value because they are pretty inexpensive from the start and they offer two to three more times the meat/flesh of a regular pumpkin. She’s been known to get exceptional bargains on Hubbard squash at her farmer’s market.
For ready-made gluten-free (not paleo) bread products, Sunny highly recommended Local Oven, which is based in Dallas, and offers their products for sale in a number of grocery stores, restaurants, and online. Most of Local Oven’s products are dairy free as well. Sunny told us that their products are not only excellent but also reasonably priced.
Sunny’s family’s grocery bill is around $1000 a month, but for a family of seven that works out to be less than $1.50 per meal. And that’s for meals that focus on grass-fed meats and organic fruits and vegetables.
Healthy Lunchboxes are Fun
Sunny emphasized that “treats are okay!” She lets her kids take treats at least once a week. She admitted that her treats are much healthier than what many might consider to be treats though. The vanilla cupcakes—a well-known staple for school treats and parties—that she sends to school with her kids are not your usual sweet treat by any means; they’re actually Yellow Squash Vanilla Cupcakes.
Sunny shared another recipe with my group that she had not yet published on her blog at the time of our meeting, her new grain-free, nut-free, sugar-free, and nightshade-free granola. Now you can find her recipe for Paleo/Autoimmune Granola here.
Like Sunny told us, one would never guess that any of her goodies are no sugar (or low sugar), high in protein, and packed with nutrition. Those are the best options for healthy lunchboxes for sure!
Read more of Sunny’s thoughts on a healthy lunchbox in her kickoff to the latest Healthy Lunchbox series and see all 31 contributions to the series in the final roundup, Healthy Lunchbox The Ultimate Collection. She summarized her previous series and shared all the posts in this Healthy Lunchbox Roundup.
Incidentally, I was happy to participate in all of Sunny’s Healthy Lunchbox events to date, sharing “The Cagey Old Bachelor” Philosophy … A Tapas Approach to School Lunches” in the first series and more tips (you won’t want to miss the apple rubber band trick) and a recipe for Chocolate Nut Butter Oat Cookies in the second series.
Many, many thanks to Sunny for being willing to share her family’s story, her terrific Healthy Lunchboxes, and her overall excellent presentation!
UPDATE: This giveaway is now closed. Winners are shown below and will be contacted via email.
As always our giveaway is a mix of items related to food from the actual meeting and/or the presentation.
~ Lucy’s Cookies—As indicated in the menu above, Lucy’s Cookies sent my group some of their products to sample at this meeting. If you’re not familiar with their products, they are gluten free, vegan, peanut free, tree nut free, non-GMO, all natural, ingredient tested, and made in a dedicated facility. Sunny and one of her daughters eat gluten free and paleo, but four of her kids do not. She said: “Lucy’s Cookies have been a favorite of all of theirs.” Lucy’s Cookies include bean flour and soy, neither of which I usually eat, but I thought the Maple Cookies tasted great. And while I have not eaten Lucy’s cookies very often, I’m pretty sure that Lucy’s Cookies saved my life once while I was on travel. I was famished and exhausted after an early morning wake-up call, a cross country flight to Seattle, a train ride, and pulling my suitcase up several hilly blocks when my friend Diane and I ventured into a Starbucks. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I spied Lucy’s Cookies and enjoyed several in rapid succession as I also rehydrated with my favorite beverage, H2O. So I’m happy to say that Lucy’s Cookies is giving one reader five boxes of their cookies—Sugar, Maple Bliss, Oatmeal, Ginger Snap, and Chocolate—a $25 value. Please leave a comment if this prize is the one you’d like, telling me which flavor of Lucy’s Cookies that you’d like to try or which flavor that you already love. (This giveaway is sponsored by Lucy’s Cookies; however, the opinions expressed are strictly my own.)
The winner is Serina. Her comment was: “Thank you so much for your blog! I am very recently diagnosed as gluten and wheat intolerant. I have Lupus and this felt like one more blow! I have been gluten free for 2 weeks now and still struggle to learn. I would love to try Lucy’s cookies, I’m really missing comfort foods! Your blog has been my lifeline right now, thank you so much!”
~ Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat by Melissa Joulwan–I purchased this book for myself when it first came out. It’s terrific! It has 4 ½ star ratings on both Amazon and Goodreads and on each has over 700 reviews! Just so you know, the less positive reviews come from folks who don’t like Melissa’s love of spices (cumin is her favorite and it’s mine, too!), others who point out issues with the book binding (many early copies had physical quality issues, but those have been resolved), and another group of folks who think she’s too snarky. However, I like her honest and entertaining writing and appreciate her telling her personal story, which includes a family life that centered around food and a thyroidectomy before learning about the value of food in her own health journey.
I still have not tried all the recipes in this book and I believe my copy (which is also our support group’s copy) is currently out on loan, but my favorites are the Olive Oil Mayo (yes, it’s easy and so good!), the Cumin-Roasted Carrots, the Caramelized Coconut Chips, and a few others which I can’t remember without the book in front of me! By the way, Sunny did a review of Well Fed, and even shares Melissa’s delicious recipe for Country Captain Chicken (with permission, of course). And FYI, now there’s a sequel out! Check out Well Fed2: More Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat! Finally, I’m giving away one hardcover copy and two Kindle copies of the original Well Fed. If you’d like to win this prize, please leave a comment telling why this cookbook interests you and if you’d prefer the hardcover or Kindle version. Note that you don’t have to have a Kindle to use a Kindle version; they also will work on your smartphone and your computer. (This giveaway is sponsored by me/gfe.) The winners are as follows:
LeAnn Stowell won a hardcover copy of Well Fed. Her comment was: “I love Lucy’s cookies. I am a sugar cookie fan. I love cookbooks and have been trying to incorporate more Paleo type recipes into our diet. I would prefer the hardcover.”
Sheila McSweeney won the Kindle version of Well Fed. Her comment was: “Would like the lunch tote to secure my lunch, the kindle version of well fed & either chocolate or cinnamon cookies. Thank you!”
Wanda won the Kindle version of Well Fed. Her comment was: “I would love a copy of your cookbook, I have been GF for awhile now but never make anything fun because it all seems so complicated and overwhelming.”
~ Lunchboxes: Sistema Klip It Lunch Food Storage Cubes—Made in New Zealand from BPA-free virgin polypropylene, these lunch containers are very popular. Many of my blogging friends recommend them! Each lunchbox separates into two sides. Side 1 is partitioned into two sections and is great for smaller food items and snacks. Side 2 will hold something larger like a sandwich or wrap. These lunchboxes are also dishwasher safe, microwave safe, freezer safe, and airtight (but not liquid tight).
The first winner is Keri. Her comment was: “I would love to win the cookies or well fed lunch boxes. I find that I eat too many of the same foods over and over again since I have been gf. It would be nice to have more variety.”
The second winner is Luci. Her comment was: “I would love to win any of these prizes. My 13 year old is gluten intolerant and I’m always looking for great tasting alternatives for the things she loved before her diagnosis as well as good GF recipes.”
The third winner is Stephanie. Her comment was: “Thank you for sharing the story of your & your family’s journey toward health. I sent a link to this page to each of my friends who struggle with gluten sensitivities or other food allergies. Hooray for your son! Please enter me to win a food storage cube. I own the Well Fed cookbook and refer to it often. Whenever I fly I make sure to bring a bag of Lucy’s cookies with me so I never have to feel deprived when everyone else is snacking away. Thank you again for sharing your story.”
The fourth winner is another Stephanie. Her comment was: “Fascinating story about the improvement of her son’s glaucoma! Once again it demonstrates there is *nothing* in our bodies not affected by the food we eat. I would love to have the Well Fed book. I most enjoy flipping through real pages, so would prefer the hardback, but I do have Kindle for Mac. And, the maple or ginger cookies look yummy!”
Four winners will each win one Sistema Klip It Lunch Food Storage Cube. Leave a comment sharing your or your child’s favorite lunchbox meal. (This giveaway is sponsored by me, gfe.)
If you’re interest in all of these prizes, please leave a single comment where you talk about all of the ones you would like to win. This giveaway ends Friday, November 8, at midnight Eastern. Winners will be contacted via email and will have 24 hours to respond. If there is no response, a new winner will be chosen.
GFE VSG Disclaimer: Please understand that I, and others whose advice is cited here, have no expertise when it comes to your personal medical issues. Some who are quoted here do serve as medical professionals, but they have no knowledge of your specific medical needs and situation. Please consult your own health care professionals for medical guidance as needed.
Originally published November 1, 2013; updated September 28, 2022.