Family Feeding, Food Allergy, 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

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!