I wanted to write a little about being a parent of food allergic kids. The challenges are real and daily. Our view of food changes from being something life-giving to something that can take a life away. We can become overwhelmed in worry- so many what-ifs. Once you begin feeling more in control and understand the allergy and all the precautions necessary, you start to feel more capable. You still worry but you know that you have this figured out. But sometimes, by trying to be so safe, we restrict our children’s meals too much and the chance for nutrient deficiency arises. As a dietitian, I am always stressing family style eating and not catering to certain family members by making them special meals. I truly, truly believe in this approach. I have, however, struggled with it on a personal level with my own children. It is quite difficult to make a meal that everyone can eat here because of the variety of food allergies. No two kids have the same allergies in our house. Don’t get me wrong, there are meals that are totally allergy free for us but we are definitely limited. So how do I walk that fine line between catering and providing wholesome meals for everyone?
I think two practices really help us- meal planning and family style meals. When I spend the time to plan out our meals in advance, I can be strategic. I can look at the week as a whole and spread out various proteins and side dishes. This prevents us from eating the same meals over and over as well. After doing this for years, I really know which meals will have leftovers. I used to plan out seven new meals a week. I quickly learned that a lot of food waste happens that way. I plan for at least two nights of leftovers a week.
By serving our meals family-style, I am able to have various food choices on the table. If one of the children is allergic to a dish being offered, she can choose something else. Now I understand this practice does not work for all families. Depending on the age of the child and the severity of the allergy, you may not even allow the food allergen in your home at all. We are able to keep some of the foods in the home, not all though.
So what is catering and why is it a bad thing? Catering is making a specific food or foods for a family member because you know they will eat it. It allows them to eat something different than the rest of the family. This happens a lot in families, not just families with food allergies. Kids put up a fight about the dinner being served and the parent gives in and serves them their own meal. Over time, children learn to demand foods and resist trying new ones. Food allergy families can fall into this trap more easily because of the limited diet. While it can prove to be even more difficult for these families to provide wholesome meals that everyone can enjoy, it is important to do so. People with food allergies are already at risk for consuming a diet is nutritionally inadequate. By not offering a variety of safe foods, the risk becomes greater.
As a food allergy parent myself, I challenge you to try new meals with your family. It may take time to see acceptance, but that is ok. Keep offering new, healthful, and safe foods. Not that there is anything wrong with serving family favorites as well. Adding variety, even slowly, will increase the nutrient consumption and you will see new meals become favorites.
Stay tuned for my next post which will delve more into how to serve family-style dinners for food allergy families.