Family Feeding

Family-style Meals with Food Allergies: Part 2

To the many families living with food allergies, this post is for you.  I want to discuss different ways to address serving dinner in a family-style way when you have food allergies to deal with.  I understand that there are so many different situations out there and many ways that people deal with them.  What works for one family will not for another.  This is why I want to give several options.

First a talk on family-style meals.  What does it mean and why do I recommend it?  A family-style meal is when you serve food on the table.  Each person selects what they want and how much they want on their own.  Everyone serves themselves.  This is an important activity.  It teaches children table skills and manners.  It also presents food in a non-pressure environment.  Nobody has to take something they do not want to.  I know all you vegetable pushers are freaking out here, but listen.  Over time, this method is much more successful in developing healthy, diverse eaters, than forcing children to eat specific foods.  Do not be confused though.  I am not suggesting you cater to your children and serve them whatever they want- no, no, no!  You decide on the meal and serve it.  They decide how much they want to eat and what they want from what you offered.  This may mean they eat only pasta one night and hamburger the next.  It’s ok.  This is how they learn to try foods and listen to their hunger signals.  As long as you are providing healthy meals in a non-pressure setting, you have done your job.

As far as food allergy families go, family style eating can be more tricky.  I will first touch on the safest route. This means you avoid all allergens of anyone in your house.  If there are peanuts, fish and egg allergies, there are none of those items in your home.  Nobody consumes these.  Your home is a “safe” place for everyone.  This is especially ideal when young children are in the home and you are concerned about accidental exposure. In this instance, serving a family style meal should be straightforward.  Since all the foods are safe for everyone, any person can choose what they like from what is offered.

Another option is to allow foods that some family members are allergic to on your table.  This will likely result in having 5-7 food options at every meal to accommodate everyone.  This may not be appropriate if you have severe allergies and/or small children who can accidentally take an allergenic food.  I would recommend this for families who have a variety of food allergies that become overly restrictive when you remove all the foods that everyone is allergic to and also for those who are comfortable keeping food allergen foods in their home.  This is not for everyone.  This is also an opportunity for older children to interact with their allergic foods as they will have to do this outside of the home.  It is good for them to learn to identify their allergens and avoid them.

The third option is a bit of a hybrid between the two listed above.  This would mean permanently excluding certain foods (severe allergens) but allowing others.  I will give an example from my own house.  Our allergens include peanuts, tree-nuts, shrimp, pork, turkey, eggs, chicken as well as a dairy intolerance.  We never buy peanuts or shrimp.  While the kids have never had an anaphylactic reaction to either, they did react enough that we think they have no place in our home.  At dinner, we do eat chicken about 6 times a month.  The child who is allergic to chicken either eats multiple side dishes or a protein he can tolerate.   He knows he can’t eat it and has no desire to even touch it.  This works for us but it is a family by family decision.  I am very comfortable with my kids’ knowledge of their allergies and how to treat others with allergies different than their own (hand and face washing after eating, etc.)

I want to stress that all of these options are ok.  Every family has to decide what works for them.  Read this information from FARE regarding this here.  If having allergens in the house makes you a nervous wreck, do not do it!  If there have been severe reactions in the past, I also do not recommend keeping allergens in the home.  Unfortunately, past reactions do not necessarily predict future reactions.  Mild reactions in the past may still become anaphylactic in the future.  Again, if you do not feel comfortable, do not do it, it’s not worth it.  Always consult with your allergist and hopefully a registered dietitian nutritionist, who can help you navigate your specific food allergy situation.

Rachael Costello, RDN, LDN, is a registered dietitian. The materials and content contained on this site ( are for general educational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Persons with serious medical conditions should consult a physician before beginning or modifying any diet, exercise or lifestyle program. The use of any information provided on this site is solely at your own risk.
Family Feeding, Health, Meal Plans

Family Style Eating with Food Allergies, part 1

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.



Family Feeding

Starting Good Eating Habits Early

I am asked many times for “tricks” or “tips” to get kids to eat more healthy foods.  Unfortunately, a simple trick won’t do it.  Besides, the goal is for children to develop lifelong healthy eating habits.  If we trick them into eating right,  they will never have really learned what it takes and what it means to eat healthily.  I do believe we can set them up to make better choices and develop tastes for healthier foods, but parents need to be engaged and committed to this idea.

Children are constantly growing.  Their nutrition needs are much greater than adults.  Growing is a lot of work, and work needs calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.  This means they can be hungry quite often.  Think about how frequently a baby nurses or bottle feeds.  They are at the most rapid growth stage in their life.  Children do slow down as they get older, however they still need to fuel those bodies for growth.

So if kids are growing so much and need so many calories, why is there a current health issue related to overweight and obese children?  Many factors play into this, including food and exercise but we will save that topic for a later post.  The point I will make is that kids need lots of healthy foods and guidance from family to try new foods.  Nutrient dense foods should make up the majority of their diet.

In an ideal situation, kids would be offered a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein sources (animal or plant), healthy fats and whole grains everyday, in a no-pressure, comfortable, reliable setting.  Treats or desserts would be included from time to time in moderate amounts.  Foods would not be used to reward or punish behavior.  Children would learn to serve themselves and listen to satiety signals from their bodies.  This is a great model to follow and can be the basis for a very healthy view on food and feeding.  This also takes work, as most parenting does.  It is completely worth it though.  Nutritionally, socially, and emotionally, this is worth it.

There is a lot to know about family feeding but it is attainable. The time you put in now to help your children develop healthy eating habits will benefit  them throughout their life.  I would love to help your family get on track today.  Follow my blog, instagram and facebook.  Send me an email to ask questions about nutrition education and if it is right for you. Make an appointment with me, we can discuss your family’s needs and put together a plan that will work for you.  We will talk about portion sizes, reading labels and healthy choices. All families are different and need different care.  I hope to hear from you soon!



Book an appointment today!

Family Feeding

Mini-Series Part 3: Healthy Kids

Welcome back for the final post in my mini-series.  Since this is just a mini-series, I am going to keep it short and simple with my top ten tips for feeding healthy kids!


Ten Tips for Feeding Healthy Kids

  1. Teach your kids to cook and let them help!  I mentioned this before but it truly is the foundation for healthy eating.
  2. Make dinner (or any other meal that everyone is home for) a priority as family time in your home. Eating together has an amazing impact on families nutritionally, emotionally, and socially.
  3. Offer variety, and try new foods.
  4. Do not force children to finish their meal.  They are learning to listen to their body signals.  If they are truly full, they should not have to finish everything.  This can lead to many eating issues down the road.
  5. Snack on fruits and vegetables and do not allow snacking close to meal times.
  6. Do not make foods “for the kids.”  Everyone should be eating the same foods at meals.  Kids may take a few tries before liking a new food, but they are very capable to eating and liking “adult food.”  Do not become discouraged when you offer something 5 times and they do not like it.  It can take many more attempts.  Just continue to offer new foods.
  7. Lead by example- eat healthy foods yourself.  Kids are very good mirrors…
  8. Allow treats from time to time.  If you restrict certain foods, there becomes a greater desire to indulge in them.
  9. Exercise!  Playing outside is exercise- promote physical activity.
  10. Menu plan- when you take the time to plan your weekly menu, you will have healthy choices ready every night, instead of grabbing that frozen pizza at the last minute!


Thank you for reading, and watch for my May posts about the upcoming Food Allergy Awareness Week, May 14-20.





Family Feeding

Mini-Series: Eating On the Go

Thanks for stopping in for part two of my mini-series: Eating On the Go.  We live in a go-go-go society.  We have little free time and have to multi-task to get everything done each day.  Often times that means eating on the go.  Unfortunately, the choices we make when we are out are not usually healthy.  Drive-thrus, convenience foods and high calorie drinks are easy and quick to pick up.  Since our lifestyles do not seem to be slowing down, here are some tips for eating healthy when on the go.

  1. Bring your own food!  This takes preparation but will make a huge difference in your health and pocketbook.  It gets expensive to eat out all the time.  You can pack breakfast, snacks, and lunch.  (More on packable ideas later)
  2. Always have water with you. It is your best choice for a beverage.  There are other good options: tea, sparkling water, coconut water to name a few.  If you are a coffee drinker, make it at home and bring it along.
  3. Eat a healthy breakfast before you leave the house. (or lunch, or dinner depending on when you leave) If you can eat a full meal before heading out, you will not feel the need to snack so soon.
  4. Do not wait until you are starving to eat.  Poor choices are often made when we are very hungry.  If you know that 10am is a normal snack time for you, plan to have a snack around that time.

So you are ready to pack your food and avoid the fast food line.  What do you pack?



Breakfast Ideas:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Fruit
  • Greek yogurt and fruit and/or granola
  • Granola bar
  • Oatmeal
  • Smoothie (my favorite breakfast idea!)




  • Veggies and hummus
  • Almond butter and carrots
  • Nuts- unsalted
  • Fruit
  • Dried fruit
  • Granola bars, homemade if possible!
  • Nut mix- like almonds, raisins and dark chocolate chips





  • Salad packed with protein and healthy fats:  like seeds, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and avocado
  • Veggie wraps with hummus
  • Tuna and cucumbers
  • Chicken sausage
  • Leftovers from dinner the night before


Thanks for stopping by, keep an eye out for part three of the mini-series later this week!



Family Feeding

Mini- Series: Healthy Home

Today I am starting a mini-series on how to feed a healthy home.  I get many questions about picky eaters, healthy food choices for kids, eating on the go and meal planning.  I am going to address meal planning first as I think it is an important first step for anyone trying to be healthy.


What is meal planning??  Meal planning is a way to think out what will be prepared for a set amount of time.  I personally meal plan for 1-2 weeks at a time but it can be whatever length of time works for your family.  This is an important step to living a  more healthy life.  Planning ahead can keep you out of the fast-food drive thru and from resorting to convenience foods.  When you know what you are making and have the ingredients on hand, you are much more likely to prepare a nourishing meal.

Here are the steps to follow for successful planning:

  1. Decide what length of time you want to plan for.  I recommend starting with one week at a time. Have your calendar available so you can plan around different events on your schedule.
  2. Decide if you are planning 3 meals a day, just dinner, or any combination.  
  3. Brainstorm meals you like to prepare, meals the family enjoys, meals you want to try.
  4. Review your schedule: If there is a night when many activities are going on, it would not be a great night to prepare a thanksgiving-style turkey dinner!  Plan the more involved meals for days when you know there is adequate time.  On busy nights, either plan a make ahead meal, have a leftovers night or sandwiches night.
  5. Write down what you will have each night, using meals you wrote down in step 3.  Variety is great, so try not to serve similar meals consecutively.  Take into consideration your schedule.
  6. Review the meals and determine what needs to be bought at the store and what you already have on hand.
  7. Post your menu in the house so the whole family can look forward to meals of the week!

Other considerations:

Let your kids and other family members get involved.  Ask for their ideas and assistance.  When you involve the family in the process there is a much higher rate of acceptance at the dinner table.  Planning, shopping and cooking with kids is my #1 tip for avoiding picky eating habits.  When the kids have a hand in cooking, they want to try the food and they want to like it!  I will have a future post dedicated to cooking with kids, so look for that soon.

Be creative.  Try one new meal a week.  It is easy to get into a rut and prepare the same meals over and over.  If new foods are being introduced regularly, kids will learn to try new things.  Also, consider non-traditional dinner foods.  Breakfast for dinner, soup and sandwiches, or appetizers are examples of thinking outside the “dinner” box.

Enjoy making the time to sit down and eat together.  Turn off electronics, focus on each other and your meal.  Planning your meals is worth it, I hope you will try it!







Family Feeding

Why I am not a Short-Order Cook

There are six people in our house with a variety of food allergies and aversions.  Three of the kids have food allergies, none of which overlap.  The fourth kid is incredibly picky with a very strong sense of smell.  So how can we all eat together at dinner???

When the kids were small, we figured out quickly that we needed to all eat the same food.  Making multiple meals is too time consuming and prevents young taste buds from discovering new foods.  We have the mentality, “this is not a restaurant.”  At the same time, we do not force anyone to finish food they honestly do not like.  It is unrealistic to expect a child to love every food.  Adults have likes and dislikes, and so do kids.  We do continually offer healthy foods in a variety of ways, which has led to greater acceptance.

Since we have multiple allergies, there are some foods we completely avoid.  There are no peanuts or shellfish in our home.  However, our youngest is allergic to chicken, turkey, pork and eggs.  These are more difficult to make the whole family avoid.  We do have chicken twice a week and pork twice a month.  Turkey is rare and eggs are avoided at dinnertime pretty easily.  So on the chicken nights, our little guy will either eat the same meal as us, minus the chicken or I substitute leftover beef or fish from the night before.  This is not ideal to me because he is being singled out, so we have been more adventurous in trying new meals everyone can enjoy.

This is working out well and is positive for all of us.  The kids LOVE quinoa, and most vegetables.  They get excited for stuffed peppers and salmon.  I am looking forward to adding more and more foods to our repertoire.  I think that by making meals for everyone to enjoy together we all benefit.  The kids have learned to try and like so many more foods than they probably would have if we were allergy free. I have learned new cooking techniques and broadened my own palate!

I hear parents complaining all the time that their kids will only eat chicken nuggets and pizza.  They talk about having picky, unhealthy eaters.  This is so common.  I have so many ideas and resources to help you help your kids.  It starts with  not being a short order cook!  If this is you, follow my blog for new posts to get your family eating together and trying new things.  If you are really ready to make a change, check out my services page and schedule a free 15 minute discovery phone call to see if nutrition counseling is right for you.

How do you feed your family?  What works in your house?

I would love to hear from you!