Food Allergies & Healthy Eating

Food Allergies and Healthy Eating

Guest Post by Jessica Smartt

My son Sam has food allergies. Every so often, I meet another mom who manages food allergies. It’s like I’ve found a soul mate.

We lock eyes and share a sympathetic smile: “You, too? Wow!” And we sort of fight the urge to hug each other.

We know what it’s like. We know how overwhelming it is at first, when you wonder, what in the world will he/she eat? We know the fear and stress that follow you to restaurants, play dates, and birthday parties.

It’s not easy. I’m glad to see a growing public awareness for “grain” issues, such as wheat allergies, gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. While dealing with grain sensitivities is surely a challenge, there are growing resources for snacking, baking, and meal-planning.

But what happens when the allergen is something many consider to be “healthy”?

I know the benefits of butter, whole milk, nuts, and eggs. I wish I could feed them to my son Sam.

But I can’t. To Sam, these foods aren’t healthy or beneficial; they’re life-threatening.

So, what’s a mother to do?

For us, at first, it was survival mode. We scoured the edible landscapes for allergy-friendly products and found many foods he could eat. Hot dogs, deli-meat, rice milk, frozen chicken nuggets, margarine, jello, Oreo cookies, “butter-flavored” crackers – all were apparently safe for his allergies.

But, of course, we eventually realized: just because Sam can eat something, doesn’t mean he should.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve slowly come up with a diet that is not just safe for Sam, but also nourishing for our whole family.

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I finally feel that my son’s diet is not unfortunate or second-rate, but nourishing and healthy – a diet that anyone would benefit from.

Here are the staples of our dairy, egg, and nut-free pantry:

  • Organic Coconut OilI use it for oven-roasting, stir-frying, baking, stirring in oatmeal, and more.
  • Palm Oil Shortening. I use this healthy fat in place of butter or shortening for muffins, cookies, cakes, pie crusts, and cornbread.

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  • Coconut Milk. Almond and hemp are other good alternatives. We avoid soy because of health worries, and stopped using rice milk due to concerns of arsenic.
  • Virgin Olive Oil
  • Local, Grass-fed Beef. We get our meat from local farms. I believe quality meat from good farms is so important!
  • Pasture-raised pork.
  • Organic or local chicken
  • Beans
  • Lots of Vegetables and Fruit

When I make dinner, these foods form the basis for one dinner for everyone. Because Sam’s allergies are severe, I stopped cooking with cheese and milk in our home. (That sound in the background is my husband sobbing.)

But in most things, you can’t tell the difference. I make a yummy chicken pot pie, shepherd’s pie, and even creamy baked pasta, all dairy free. Here are a few more dinner favorites around here:

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Of course, my kids love snacks. I view every snack as a chance to pack them with real-food nourishment. Here are a few of our favorite snacks:

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When I first discovered Sam’s allergies, I felt so overwhelmed and lost. I never dreamed I’d be able to bake, saute, and simmer up such delicious foods without allergens! Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Breakfast is the hardest meal! Everyday, my boys eat Berry Banana Oatmeal and all-natural turkey or pork sausage. Do I wish they were getting more protein? Maybe. But I feel it’s the best we can do.
  • Add calcium for those who eat dairy-free. Young children need 800-1000 mg per day. We do calcium-fortified orange juice or a dairy-free calcium supplement.
  • Be liberal with fats. I pile on the olive oil and coconut oil on everything for my boys. I spread it on bread, drizzle it in a bowl of soup, spoon it in oatmeal, and add it to smoothies.
  • Make your own substitutes. Store-bought cheese and butter substitutes aren’t nearly as nourishing as the dairy-free substitutes you can make. I’m also interested to try making my own coconut butter, since coconut oil is so beneficial for your health.
  • What if you have a picky eater? Perhaps I’m not the best to address this, because my boys come from a line of good eaters! But if dinner’s not a hit, I usually have success offering a real-food dessert treat as a reward. The boys love coconut ice cream such as So Delicious brand (or make your own), apple crisp, or even a handful of chocolate chips and raisins.

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  • And if you need food advice, pray. I know that seems like a generic tidbit. However, I’m often amazed at how the Lord answers my simple prayers for wisdom on how to feed my boys. He made our children, after all!

Do you have food allergies in your family? What are some foods you rely on to keep your family nourished?

 Top image by Lotzman Katzman

*Disclaimer: Some writers at Keeper of the Home have convictions about not eating pork and other Biblically “unclean” foods, while others include them as a regular part of their whole foods diet. We don’t believe this is a firm rule or a moral position, and each family will have to decide whether to include these foods in their diet or not.

PlanToEat 125x125This post is sponsored by Plan To EatPlan To Eat was born from our desire to eat real food — great food — prepared at home, together as a family. Plan to Eat is an online menu planner that uses your recipes, scheduled for the days you want them, automatically generating your grocery list, organized the way you like to shop. Eat well. Eat together.

About Jessica Smartt

Jessica Smartt is a former middle-school teacher who lives in beautiful North Carolina. You can find her at www.smarttereachday.com where she enjoys poking fun at the everyday challenges of motherhood, sharing delicious allergy-free recipes, and rejoicing that God still loves her no matter what phobia she has recently developed. She is blessed beyond belief with two Smartt little boys and a husband who can fix anything.

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Comments

  1. I just found your site via Pinterest and I am so glad I did. My son, who is almost 2, was diagnosed with quite a bit of food allergies at 15 months old. He’s allergic to eggs, peanuts, dairy, wheat, gluten, soy, corn and sesame. Along with some fruits which are easier to avoid. Add that to my allergies and we’ve eliminated A LOT of foods! I am about to read through your whole site. Thanks for helping all of us in the same boat!

  2. This is a really well written article for families about food allergies. Thanks for your thoughts!!

  3. Hi there! It is very encouraging to see others write about allergy issues. We have been dealing with allergy issues with my son since he was about 2 months old (now 18 months). He is very allergic to dairy, egg, and peanut, and were told by chiropractor/naturopath possibly sensitive to gluten. It has been an huge adjustment!! But I can now say that I am now used to it. We did allow dairy and eggs in the house for awhile, but my son is just too sensitive, so we have now removed all from the house. I would say that eating out is the hardest for us. We have 1 option that has not been a problem for our son. We don’t eat out often, but we like to every once in a while and that is hard to do. I am so going to try out the palm oil shortening. The other obstacle I have come across is baking. I am a huge baker and I am still working on my vegan baking! :) Vegan, gluten-free baking is hard, but we have re-introduced gluten back into our diet and just dealing with vegan baking, which is still not an easy task. :) Thanks for the post and the encouraging words. This is definitely an ongoing challenge and a journey!

  4. Your post was very timely! I was just thinking this week that I wished I could brainstorm some new ideas for my daughters allergies. I will enjoy checking out all your recipes! I often avoid most allergy sites b/c often times they are just about surviving not what is actually healthy. My daughter is allergic to all nuts and seeds, coconut, milk, eggs, wheat, peas, lentils, and chickpeas (and we are not advised to try any seafood) so I often feel like all the healthy options are out (or that I am very tired of the few healthy options we use all the time). So I am looking forward to some new ideas! Thanks for the post it helps me not feel so alone!

    • Wow, that is quite the allergy set! Yes, check out the blog, and I’d love to brainstorm some more ideas with you…if want want a like-minded friend to chat with, you can email me at jessicasmartt (at) gmail.com. I know how you feel!!

  5. Aw, I can really relate to this post. All four of my kids came out of the womb with dairy, egg, and nut allergies. We feel it was because we had undetected mold in our house. I remember being baffled that they could eat hot dogs, Oreos, chips, everything unhealthy, but we had to avoid the healthy things like loaded weapons. Which is what they are to us, loaded weapons. It took me a loooooong time to be thankful for this circumstance in our lives, believe me a long time, but I’ve come to the point that I can be thankful because it spurred me on to learn how to cook healthier for their already compromised immune systems. Bone broth was the best thing I could have learned how to make for them. It’s so similar to milk in the calcium and mineral profile, I use it to cook everything and I can rest assured they are getting their calcium. Plus, the broth has gelatin, which we are always looking for more protein since they are allergic to so many main protein sources. Thanks for the article, it was really touching and so relatable.

    • Thanks for your comments! I just discovered bone broth, as well! I’d love to hear some of your ideas for how you use it! (Besides soups, casseroles, etc…) :)

  6. Narelle G. says:

    Yes, we have a Nut allergy kiddo…and…she is also allergic to beans! As in any kind of legume bean…scary stuff! And now they are turning beans into everything…even “corn chips” Yes, they are super healthy…for others…for her, they land her in the ER, and we have to carry epi-pens and benadryl everywhere…

    • I bet that is so challenging to communicate to people, sometimes… Who would think that a bean could be so serious, right?! But I do feel your pain… we go nowhere without our medical bag!

    • Robyn Bradford says:

      Wow beans! My son is allergic to them also (the entire legume family).. people always look at me so funny when I tell them of this restriction.

  7. For those allergic to eggs, has anyone tried quail eggs as a substitute? I have one friend whose egg-allergic child can tolerate quail eggs just fine, so I thought I’d mention it.

  8. Boy, oh, boy, does the food juggling get so tricky! In our home of 7, we have so many allergies and intolerances, it makes my head spin. I’m the one who can’t eat gluten, and I feel my own symptoms returning as I realize I’m not paying enough attention to my own diet, in favor of feeding all the children and the dear hubby. Sometimes I wish we only ate what is OK for us ALL, but then we’d be left eating meat, rice, and cooked veggies for all 3 meals per day. It’s definitely causing me to lay down my desires over and over and ask God for help.

  9. Jessica says:

    This has been a breath of fresh air. My son is allergic to dairy, soy, eggs, wheat, nuts, kiwi, & COCONUT! I’ve been coping with most of the allergies, but really wish he could eat coconut, as it is such a good replacement for milk and butter. Thanks for your idea of Palm Shortening, where do you get it from? Also, thanks for the input about rice. I had no idea it contained arsenic. My sons lives on rice. Now I guess I have to find another milk alternative. Does anyone know of any good noodle alternatives? That’s his favourite, so I’d hate to take it completely away.

    • I purchase my shortening from the link above if you click on the “organic palm oil shortening.” Tropical Traditions often has great sales on this item! Have you tried hemp milk with him? I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard that people like it…Stephanie has a recipe for it somewhere on Keeper of the Home, I believe, if you search for it. As for as the rice noodles…how often does he eat them? THey did a study on the amounts of the arsenic in rice products, and milk was higher on the list. I’m not sure where the noodles would be. Perhaps they would be okay once a week?? I’m sorry; I know it’s frustrating when they are already on such a limited diet!!

  10. I think you’re great – a great mom and a great writer.

  11. A friend pointed me to your site and I am so excited to read about your experiences. We’ve been learning to cook with no eggs or peanuts due to many accidental exposures/cross contamination making life miserable for my son due to severe allergies. The past year and a half were survival mode while I figured things out in the kitchen and this year my goal is to actually make his diet healthier :) This post helps a lot!

  12. My 3 year old reacts to egg & dairy. He “tested” negative for allergies at the medical doctors office, but the naturopath we see told us to cut dairy when he was 3 months & I was nursing him. She also said he’d “likely” have a problem with eggs. I went dairy free while nursing and his hives, fussiness and constipation cleared right up. When he started eating baby/solid foods, we continued to avoid all dairy for him but I didn’t worry about eggs as an ingredient in foods. I just never fed him a plain/scrambled egg. He seemed fine. One day when he was 2 and 1/2 we were in a pinch for a meal and let him have some scrambled eggs- after all, he’d been fine with egg noodles, muffins with egg in them, etc. all the last year. It was so SCARY. He didn’t have anaflactic shock, thank God, but within a few hours he was stuttering and stammering so terribly (which he had NEVER done) that he couldn’t finish a 3 or 4 word sentence. He also broke out in flaming red patches of eczema on his elbows and behind his knees. Got him to the naturopath as soon as we could and, yep, it was eggs. Now we have removed all traces of egg & dairy from his diet and he is doing wonderful. It made me realize I can’t take things my naturopath says lightly just because a pediatrician may disagree or others may consider it being overcautious. It scared me to do research and learn that some kiddos who have had stuttering following a severe allergic reaction never stop stuttering. Praise God, my son’s stuttering cleared up within 48 hours. Now I also have a 9 month old baby and when he was crying inconsolably at the hospital, the first thing I did was cut dairy/egg out of my diet. He still continued to have hives, so I hauled him to the naturopath & it turns out he’s intolerant to gluten as well. So, now I am gluten/egg/dairy free since he’s nursing. I feel like I was just getting the hang of the dairy/egg free cooking, so GF threw me for a real whirl. It has been 7 months since I’ve gone completely gluten/egg/dairy free (NO CHEATING- I took communion once and the piece of cracker smaller than a pea caused my infant severe misery and hours of crying- once again, I realized, this is not to be taken lightly!) and it gets easier & easier. For me, there were 2 major hurdles: at the 3 week mark I thought for sure I was going to starve to death or lose my sanity. At the 3 month mark I felt sure that things would never get easier or better and I’d never have variety or comfort/snack foods again. Let me tell you, that’s all in the past now and the more you focus on what you CAN eat instead of what you CANNOT eat, the more possibilities you find. Personally, I search a lot of vegan/gluten-free recipes because they remove the egg/dairy so I don’t have to sub that. Also, I’ve figured out that there are many ways to substitute egg: baking soda/oil/water combination, flax meal, Ener-G powder, applesauce, etc. and there are guidelines to let you know which to use. Subbing butter isn’t too hard since it’s a fat, but I do find I often need to add more salt to accomplish something closer to a “traditional” taste. I use almond milk (brand names make a HUGE difference in taste/thickness). Another thing I’ve learned is that if your food restrictions/substitutions are costing too much money, it’s probably because you’re trying to eat the same foods you’re used to, only made with different ingredients. For example: I do not eat cheese or yogurt at all. Too expensive and not so tasty. Also, when it comes to grains, a lot of people who start using GF breads/cereals/etc. may discover that they don’t feel so great- either constipation, irritable, or fatigued- it is likely because they are so high in processed starch. No, gluten may not be good for you, but hey, those other ingredients may not be either. The longer you are off of certain foods the less you miss them (if at all) and the more you will actually start LOVING and CRAVING good, wholesome fruits and veggies. No lie. And that’s coming from someone who could have previously lived on pizza, ice cream and baked goods without blinking twice. There is hope; take heart and keep on keeping on!

  13. We’ve been working through our son’s food allergies. He’s only actually reacted to dairy, but his skin and blood tests came back positive to peanuts and eggs. We made it through an egg challenge and now he is eating eggs regularly but I find it hard to cook without dairy. We use a lot of dairy in our diet and going dairy free for the whole family is beyond our financial needs. But buying coconut milk, almond milk and the occasional coconut yogurt (wow, is that stuff expensive) I feel like 1/3 of our grocery budget is just for him and he’s only 1 year old. For breakfast I give him oatmeal with apple sauce and hemp seeds and sometimes wheat toast with homemade sun butter. We’ve begun buying more meat because too many beans can be upsetting to his stomach. Mostly I just get tired of making two meals all the time. So far my favorite is chili. It’s easy and he loves it. Plus i’ll make him his own batch of cornbread with coconut milk.

    • I feel your pain with the budget! Have you tried making your own coconut kefir? That would cut the cost of those yogurts! There’s no two ways about it, though…whole, healthy, allergy-friendly food is too darn expensive! :)

  14. This post caught my eye as I have just found out that I am allergic to “everything”. Dairy, egg, gluten, grains, nuts, even a few fruits and veggies. But I just have to share a resource/diet with you that my ND recommended I go on. I just started it and I am excited about getting to the root or “gut” of my problems. It is the GAPS diet. http://www.gaps.me
    Now when you first look at the book and it’s subtitles, you may be like me, and say “but that’s not the problem I’m dealing with” as in autism, dyspraxia, A.D.D, A.D.H.D, dyslexia, depression and schizophrenia. But do some research and you will discover that it is also an effective way to clear up food allergies that are not life threatening by addressing the root cause, a compromised or leaky gut.
    While the diet looks overwhelming in a way, I am glad to be able to not have to deal with these food allergies for the rest of my life. Since I’m 32 its not likely I will “outgrow” them as children can.

  15. thank you for this post. I’m allergic to all of those foods plus several more. it’s helpful to see someone is able to eat a nutrient dense diet with all of those restrictions.

  16. One of my sons is extremely sensitive to dairy. Didn’t show up on any the allergy tests (which was crazy) but even the allergist agreed it was a bad reaction & told us to eliminate it. I’d already eliminated dairy from my diet when my son was 3 months old, but the recommendation helped me know I’d made the right choice. It was hard. Now that my son is weaned, it’s a different ballgame. He hasn’t outgrown the sensitivity, and he’s extremely sensitive to soymilk too – he breaks out in terrible eczema if he drinks any. So he’s on a soymilk-free and dairy-free diet, and I’m attempting to limit other kinds of soy as well because even with dairy + soymilk eliminated, his eczema isn’t completely gone. I did find that raw milk/cheese doesn’t affect him – awesome! Except it’s not legal in our state and it’s pricey stuff.

    It’s frustrating sometimes to explain to others why he can’t have certain foods. Or why he can’t have milk at all, since it’s not life-threatening, you know, so I’m “just over-reacting” and “a little bit won’t hurt him”. Sometimes I wish people would stop and think – if they had that non-life threatening reaction to a particular food…say, oh, I don’t know, severe eczema with intestinal cramps and diarrhea for three days afterwards? Would they still want to eat that food all the time? I doubt it.

    So yes, it’s a kindred moment when I meet someone else who has a child with food allergies.

  17. DanaMinby says:

    Ahh, so helpful and encouraging. My son just turned one and is starting to eat more solids. I’m gluten-free and he reacts strongly to dairy, eggs and peas. Who knows what else . . . he hasn’t had much in the way of solids other than fruits & veggies, so I’m a little nervous about branching out. Nursing him forever sounds like an easier option at the moment :) Well, apparently he’s at least not allergic to paper. That’s what he’s eating at the moment . . .

  18. It is wonderful to meet someone who understands, isn’t it? My 4th child was finally diagnosed with about 10 allergies after 6months of me trying every cream I could buy or make to combat his eczema. He only kept getting worse and that’s when we finally discovered the allergies. Between ages 1-2 he was allergic to tree nuts, coconut, peanut, egg, dairy, wheat and corn. He also shows sensitivity to tomatoes and citrus. Ugh. As soon as his allergens were identified, I went on an allergy free diet with him since I was breast feeding. Te improvement was amazing.

    Now, at age 2, he has outgrown the dairy and corn allergies. Yay! I’m hopeful that he may continue to improve.

    It is a real challenge to restructure all your favorite meals. We have decided to keep using some of his allergens for the rest of the family members since his allergies aren’t life threatening and his diet is so restricted. So I will allow my older kids to eat peanut butter as long as hands are washed afterward and things are cleaned up.

    Glad to read your story, especially with your focus on real food. I do see so many moms of allergic kids turning to safe but still processed junk.

    • Oh, my husband and I still sneak a scoop of peanut butter here and there… :) And kudos to you for adapting your diet while nursing! That is not easy!

  19. Great post, Jessica! We have gluten, dairy, egg and tree nut allergies here. It’s quite the challenge! Plus, my hubby doesn’t like coconut, so I have to cook differently for each of us sometimes. Thanks for the great recipe links!

    • Erin, I didn’t realize you had that whole allergy set! I guess I was just thinking it was the gluten! And limiting the coconut…that IS a challenge! ;)

      • Yes–the gluten is the “easy” part! LOL I find egg most challenging. Dairy isn’t too bad except for the cheese. Oh how I love cheese! My hubby is the one allergic to tree nuts, but we’re recently determined that our second probably is as well.

      • And I am with you–breakfast is by far the HARDEST meal of the day! I am curious where you source all your meat since we live semi-close to each other!

    • Oh food allergies have kept me so stressed out. My kids are both allergic to corn. And very sensitive. We have recently discovered my husband is as well. Corn is quite literally in 99% of our food to some extent. We are unfortunate enough to have kids who react to every derivative. Meat, yes even organic, is washed in a corny wash. Vegetables are washed in it often. Processed foods are a dream. To buy yogurt sounds nice. I buy most things at a farmers market or from farmers. We have to do withoutvsome things like cheese which i have yet to find a safe version of for my kids except perhaps one kind they have occasionally at Trader Joe’s.
      So I feel your pain about foid allergies. It is so difficult and at times stressful.

      By the way, to the commenter who has a husband who dislikes coconut oil, I recommend Tropical Trafitions expeller pressed. My hubby hayes normal stuff but is fine with this. It is quite tasteless.

  20. Thank you so much for this post. I have a friend in my church who faces almost the exact same issues with her son. I may be making some big changes with my family as well since we’re facing a food sensitivities test in the near future. It feels a little daunting but I am also looking forward to the mystery of my daughters’ sore tummy being solved

  21. KristiM says:

    It’s so “encouraging” to read how others deal with these allergies, also. Not that we’re glad for each other, but it’s comforting to know we’re not alone!! My daughter has these same allergies, and it can be so challenging. Looking forward to checking out the links to the recipes! Thanks so much for this post!!

  22. Thank you, Adrienne! That is exactly something we’d love! Chia is something I’ve been wanting to try…you’ve motivated me! ;)

  23. HI Jessica. We have the same problem here. My oldest is allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, almost all nuts, and sesame seeds. Maybe we should connect! I bet we would enjoy each others’ recipes! Sometimes we have chia pudding for breakfast and I’ve taken to adding grass-fed gelatin to coconut milk w/ sweetener for a “protein shake.” Here is a link to my Chocolate Chia Pudding. Hope you like it! http://wholenewmom.com/recipes/chocolate-carob-chia-pudding-dairy-free-sugar-free/

  24. Ashley R says:

    I have two terrific kids with allergies. Both are allergic to nuts.
    My daughter is also allergic to soy, beans, and fish.
    Food allergies are definitely hard! But, like you said, sometimes you find that the extra effort actually leads to healthier eating. Soy is really hard to avoid at all in the US. However, I have learned that if we moved to the UK my daughter could eat many things because they don’t add the soy in the products. We make a lot of things from scratch now!
    For people that are interested, there is a group on FB called: Terrific Kids with Food Allergies. A group of parents that are struggling through this and helping each other by sharing experiences and advice.

  25. WONDERFUL post! Thank you so much for sharing these amazing ideas that sound yummy. I have JUST discovered organic, virgin coconut oil and was so encouraged to see that you wrote about it. Have you tried baking with the coconut oil but found the palm oil shortening to be better?
    Blessings,
    Shan
    The How to Guru

    • Hi Shan,
      I actually haven’t done a comparison of coconut vs. palm oil…that is an interesting idea! :) I have been able to find the palm oil cheaper than coconut, so I use it more frequently in baking. I have been happy with how coconut bakes in everything I’ve used it for, though! I am intrigued now to compare the two in the same recipe. Hmm…

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