It started with eczema and constant scratching. Then stomach aches followed. Sluggishness, nausea and extreme fatigue were next. Finally, my previously healthy, active, nine-year-old son was so tired that he couldn’t make it an entire hour without needing to lie down. Participating in class discussions involved too much work and exhausted him. I knew we had a serious problem. What I didn’t know was that the source of the problem stemmed from what was going into his mouth. Ultimately, after hours of online research, countless visits to the allergist, and my frustration with a lack of information, true answers started to emerge. A doctor of integrative medicine confirmed what I already knew. My son could not eat gluten. The extensive testing done by that physician showed that there were other dietary culprits as well, including dairy, soy, navy beans and various nuts. We were all ecstatic to have an answer. Then, sobering reality set in. We suddenly felt like we were confronted with a culinary death – the death of eating out, the death of enjoying snacks, the death of indulging in favorite foods. However, that was not the case! Thanks to the proliferation of alternatives, my child with a food allergy and dietary restrictions could still enjoy a variety of edible options.
According to statistics published by foodallergy.org, approximately 15 million people in the United States have food allergies. So it’s no wonder that companies have taken notice and provided choices. Many grocery stores now have natural and organic food sections. Often this is where you can find allergy-friendly food brands.
Enjoy Life Foods offers a variety of allergy-free snacks, including chocolate chip cookies.
Bread was a huge obstacle for us, but Food For Life helped us tackle it. In addition to their gluten-free brown rice bread, they offer pasta, cereal, and waffles, among other items.
Maple Grove and Bob’s Red Mill offer great gluten-free mixes to bake your own recipes at home. Udi’s has a variety of products, from frozen pizzas to breakfast sandwiches to granola, all allergy-friendly. The key when shopping is to be vigilant when reading ingredients. I was shocked to see how many items contain dairy or soy, and how many adjustments we had to make!
We learned we could shop allergy-free, but when it was time to cook various meals at home, it was sometimes painful to discover that a much-loved recipe or a favorite entrée contains allergens. However, in addition to buying items like the ones I just mentioned, you can substitute ingredients to achieve allergy-free results. Swapping items in a recipe for those that are free of allergens is a good start. There are a plethora of butter substitutes on the market that can work for someone allergic to dairy, without compromising that buttery taste. We used almond milk for a number of recipes, as well as at breakfast in cereal. As I stated before, there are several gluten-free flour mixes on the market, if you feel like baking, and leaving the gluten behind. You can also remove the offending items in a specific dish. Taco night at our house works great with gluten-free chips, plenty of fresh veggie toppings and no cheese. Or occasionally, we use a dairy-free cheese, like Daiya brands.
Eating at home was covered, but soon enough came the big test: could we dine out allergy-free? It took some effort, but I realized that options that appeal to kids were available in several restaurants. Chick-Fil-A, our favorite fast-food restaurant, was a hit with grilled nuggets and fruit cups. Recently, they’ve added gluten-free sandwich buns to the menu. Truett’s Pizza Café offers gluten-free pizza crust, while Partner’s Pizza and Your Pie also offer dairy-free cheese. Taste of Gluten Free is based in nearby Griffin, and Broadway Diner offers some of their items. And of course, there are items that are naturally gluten-free like salads, fruits, and meats without breading, just to name a few. A word of caution — although a restaurant may champion gluten-free options, the food may still be prepared on the same surface as products containing allergens. For those who suffer from severe allergies, you may need to find a restaurant with an entirely separate cooking space for allergy-free items.
Altering any diet can be a slippery slope to navigate, especially for a child. We’re thankful we have been able to reintroduce some foods over time, but still do so cautiously. After all, removing some of their favorite foods from the culinary line-up does take some adjustment for them – and for you. However, the great news is with a little creativity, there are ways that gluten-free and allergen-free, doesn’t have to mean taste free.
This ranch chicken salad recipe from Hannah Wright includes homemade ranch, which can be used on salads as well! Her inspiration for the dish is found here.
RANCH CHICKEN SALAD
3 to 3 ½ cups chopped or shredded chicken breast
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 1 sweet bell pepper
- ¼ cup sweet yellow onion, chopped
- ½ cup mayonnaise (I use Just Mayo to make this gluten, dairy, egg, and soy free)
- 1 Tbsp. dry ranch seasoning (I make my own using rounded measurements of ½ tsp. chives, ½ tsp. dill, ½ tsp. parsley, ¼ tsp. onion powder, ¼ tsp. garlic powder, 1/8 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper)
Mix the chicken, mayonnaise, and seasoning together in a medium bowl until well blended.
Stir in the celery, peppers, and onion until evenly mixed.
Chill 1 hour to let flavors meld and enjoy!
LARGE STUFFED BELL PEPPERS
Hannah Wright and her family love this gluten-free recipe she makes from this site.
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
- ½ small yellow onion, diced
- ½ lb ground pork
- 6 oz. can tomato sauce
- 6 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- Small handful of basil, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add diced onions and cook a few minutes until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring so that the garlic doesn’t burn.
Add ground pork and cook until no longer pink.
Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes. Stir and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low and simmer 15-20 minutes or until sauce starts to thicken. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Remove from heat to cool.
- 5 large bell peppers
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
While the meat sauce is thickening, begin working on the peppers.
Preheat oven to 400°/200°C.
Slice peppers in half lengthwise and remove ribs and seeds. Place pepper halves on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes on the middle rack.
Remove peppers from oven. Peppers have a high water content so if you find that there is a little water sitting inside the peppers after you remove them from the oven, just drain the water and blot the insides with a paper towel.
Sprinkle a little sea salt inside each pepper before adding the meat filling to absorb any excess moisture. Fill each pepper with ¼ cup tomato meat sauce.
Spoon 2 Tbsp. of ricotta cheese on top of the meat sauce in each pepper cup. Pour an additional 1-2 Tbsp. meat sauce on top of the ricotta cheese.
Top each pepper with 2 Tbsp. mozzarella cheese. Bake in the middle of your oven for 12 minutes.
Remove peppers from oven. Top each pepper with about 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of Italian seasoning. Bake for 5 additional minutes on the top rack or until the cheese is golden.
Here’s a simple taco recipe from Melissa Cochran, who makes her own taco seasoning to eliminate some allergic reactions. She notes that you can choose toppings that work for you.
- 1 lb ground turkey or beef
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 2 Tbsp. organic Mexican spice
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. garlic
- Toppings and Wraps (as tolerated)
- Leafy romaine lettuce
- Corn or flour tortillas
- Black beans
- Red and green pepper, chopped
- Shredded cheese
- Sour cream
Brown the meat in a saucepan. Drain all grease after cooking.
Add in all of the spices. Simmer together for several minutes. Enjoy