I often get phone calls and emails from newly diagnosed parents with lots of questions. Below are some of the questions that I get asked most often and my responses. I hope you find these answers to be helpful and insightful. I love to hear from my readers and I love to help newly diagnosed parents navigate through the uncertain waters. Feel free to leave a comment or email me with any specific questions.
What’s your best advice for a mom struggling with cooking for children with food allergies?
This is the most difficult struggle following a food allergy diagnosis. Whether you are omitting one allergen or eight allergens, learning to cook for your child with substitutions is incredibly challenging and overwhelming. This was one of my biggest struggles following our diagnosis. I love to cook anything and everything. Watching the Food Network and trying new recipes was a hobby of mine, even a way for me to unwind. After my boys’ diagnosis, I felt discouraged and restricted. I focused way too much on what my boys couldn’t eat rather than focusing on all of the foods that they could eat. Watching the Food Network would make me cry as I mourned all of the yummy foods that my boys couldn’t even try, let alone enjoy. If this is you, I understand. These feelings are normal. It’s part of the grieving process.
Here are my words of advice:
1. Learn how to shop for your child. Learn all of the different terms/words for your child’s allergen (ex. dairy can also be casein). Learn how to read labels accurately.
2. Learn the appropriate substitutions for your child’s allergen. Of course with each and every recipe, there will be some trial and error as you find which substitute works best. (ex. egg substitute=applesauce, mashed bananas, flax seed, etc.)
3. Find some good cookbooks that already omit/substitute your child’s allergens. My favorite cookbooks are: Sophie-Safe Cooking (by Emily Hendrix), Allergy-Free For Mommy and Me (by: Sharissa Greer) and The Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book (by: Kelly Rudnicki). Be sure to check out my blog and the other Top 25 Food Allergy Mom Blogs. Many of them include some wonderful recipes.
4. Connect with another mom/dad dealing with food allergic children or join a local support group. Other parent’s can be a wealth of information and can give you encouragement.
5. Last but not least, don’t give up! It won’t be long before you’ll be a pro at cooking for your child. You’ll learn how to shop, substitute and cook all sorts of things. I’m not saying that you still won’t feel sad as you watch Food Network, I know I still do.
What’s your favorite allergy friendly product?
I have many favorite go-to allergy friendly products. As always, each child’s food allergies are different. So be sure to read the package ingredients before serving these items to your child.
Go-To Quick Food Items: Yummy All Natural Chicken Nuggets, Ian’s Frozen Foods (chicken nuggets, mini corn dogs, French toast sticks, etc.), and Hormel Natural Choice Oven Roasted Deli Turkey
Go-To Quick Snack Items: Back to Nature Products (Honey Graham Sticks, Apple Cinnamon Oat Graham Crackers), Annie’s Homegrown Honey Graham Bunnies, Cinnamon Graham Bunnies and Chocolate Bunnies, Divvies products (they make great cookies-but they do contain soy), EnjoyLife chewy bars (Cocoa Loco, Very Berry, Caramel Apple and Sunbutter Crunch) and Envirokids Cereal
Baking Products: Cherrybrook Farms Baking Mixes are a must have and EnjoyLife chocolate chips, flaxseed meal (egg substitution when baking) and Earth Balance Natural Buttery Spread (soy free)
Favorite Cookbooks: I mentioned these above but my favorite cookbooks are: Sophie-Safe Cooking (By: Emily Hendrix), Allergy-Free for Mommy and Me (By: Sharissa Greer) and The Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book (By: Kelly Rudnicki)
What’s the biggest challenge raising a child with food allergies?
There are many challenges that come with raising a child with food allergies. Learning to cook for your child is just the tip of the iceberg when discussing major challenges. Both of my boys are still young, so the biggest challenge that I’ve found is keeping them safe when we are away from home. I do the best that I can to educate extended family, friends and babysitters on their allergies, how to read labels, what symptoms to look for and how to use an epi-pen but I’ve learned the hard way that I still need to read everything, label everything and educate, educate and re-educate. As you probably already know or are quickly finding out, the learning curve is great following the diagnosis. To expect others to pick up on everything and get it “right” is, many times, too much to ask. If your child is anaphylactic then you know that there is no room for error. So for me the hard part is learning who I can trust and what I can trust them with. This has been a big adjustment for me. For example, I can’t go to the gym during the day and place my boys in the childcare for fear that some child has already been in there with milk or other food and has handled the toys without washing his/her hands. I can’t take my boys to the grocery stores for more than a couple items because they can’t ride in the cart (due to the fact that food is now served in most grocery stores). I can only get what fits under my stroller. I know that the challenges will change and morph as my boys get older. I’m already seeing a bit of the emotional side from my oldest (3 ½ years old). He is beginning to get upset when his friends or cousins are eating something that he can’t have. Although we’ve been open with him about his allergies it still doesn’t make it easy when certain foods look good and he can’t even have a taste. Each stage and age will be different. Continue to listen to your heart, find a support group or another parent with a food allergic child and stay strong. Remember that God gave these children to you for a reason: He knew that you could do this and do it well!