What's your best advice for a mom struggling with cooking for children with food allergies?

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32  Answers

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Keep it simple! Use recipes that you already know are your child(ren)'s favorites, and just modify the ingredients to YOUR specific dietary needs (e.g. replace cow's milk with soy milk; use dairy-free margarine instead of butter; try almond butter in place of peanut butter, etc.).

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Read the label. It seems so simple but many times we make assumptions about the safety of products. And just because the last time you purchased something it was fine, remember processing facilities can change at any time.

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Buy a few allergy-friendly cookbooks and research some food allergy-friendly blogs that offer many great recipes. I have trouble finding the time to cook all the recipes I'd like to cook for my son - there are so many good recipes out there!

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Your child can eat almost anything they want to, you just need to get creative and find new ways of preparing those foods. I made a promise to Jazlyn that I would do my very best to make her anything she's ever wanted. So far I've been able to keep that promise. I've made her funnel cakes, corn dogs, mock York Peppermint Patties, mock Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, etc.

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Check out the Top 25 Food Allergy Mom blogs and the other bloggers who entered the contest. They will be your best friends when it comes to finding information and recipes. It can be frustrating to cook for someone with food allergies, but don't give up! Those of us who blog about these sort of things are here to help.

I would also join FARE and other sites like that to get food recall alerts.

Also, ALWAYS double check labels and don't be afraid to call or email companies for more information. The more you do, the more they realize how important proper labeling is. Make your voice be heard.

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For moms struggling with cooking for their children with food allergies, realize that it is a process. At first it may seem impossible and frustrating, but with time and education hopefully it will become doable and less stressful. Here are some tips:

-start off cooking with fresh produce and meat and less processed foods. Processed food often has many allergens and you cannot control their manufacturing practices. If you make meals from fresh fruit, vegetables, grains and meats you will be more in control of the ingredients;

-always read the food labels. Ingredient labels can change without warning. Read them at the grocery store and review the labels prior to cooking, especially if a new product;

-check out the many cookbooks, websites, APPS and social media networks that have great recipes and helpful substitutions; and

-involve your children! Show them how to read a label. Have them check to see if they think a food is safe. Ask your children to suggest fruits, vegetables, recipes or combinations to try which will help to empower them.


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I would recommend taking advantage of the wonderful resources that are available today. The best place for a food allergy mom to begin--especially for a child who has multiple food allergies--is the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation (www.kidswithfoodallergies.org). KFA has fantastic support forums, information, tips and recipes. There are also quite a few excellent food allergy cooking and recipe blogs, sites, and cookbooks as well.

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This is the most difficult struggle following a food allergy diagnosis. Whether you are omitting one allergen or eight allergens, learning to cook for your child with substitutions is incredibly challenging and overwhelming. This was one of my biggest struggles following our diagnosis. I love to cook anything and everything. Watching the Food Network and trying new recipes was a hobby of mine, even a way for me to unwind. After my boys’ diagnosis, I felt discouraged and restricted. I focused way too much on what my boys couldn’t eat rather than focusing on all of the foods that they could eat. Watching the Food Network would make me cry as I mourned all of the yummy foods that my boys couldn’t even try, let alone enjoy. If this is you, I understand. These feelings are normal. It’s part of the grieving process.
Here are my words of advice:
1. Learn how to shop for your child. Learn all of the different terms/words for your child’s allergen (ex. dairy can also be casein). Learn how to read labels accurately.
2. Learn the appropriate substitutions for your child’s allergen. Of course with each and every recipe, there will be some trial and error as you find which substitute works best. (ex. egg substitute=applesauce, mashed bananas, flax seed, etc.)
3. Find some good cookbooks that already omit/substitute your child’s allergens. My favorite cookbooks are: Sophie-Safe Cooking (by Emily Hendrix), Allergy-Free For Mommy and Me (by: Sharissa Greer) and The Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book (by: Kelly Rudnicki). Be sure to check out my blog and the other Top 25 Food Allergy Mom Blogs. Many of them include some wonderful recipes.
4. Connect with another mom/dad dealing with food allergic children or join a local support group. Other parent’s can be a wealth of information and can give you encouragement.
5. Last but not least, don’t give up! It won’t be long before you’ll be a pro at cooking for your child. You’ll learn how to shop, substitute and cook all sorts of things. I’m not saying that you still won’t feel sad as you watch Food Network, I know I still do.

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I talk about this in my e-book--it's a big topic! While every child has different tastes, I like to cook simple, tasty meals using as many unprocessed foods as possible. Veggies and fruits in season are great to use. I cook a lot and freeze foods so that I have something to offer on those busy nights when everyone seems to have a different extracurricular activity. Moms should develop a go-to guide and outline menus to make it easier on themselves. This is extra important when dealing with food restrictions. The other suggestion I have is to involve kids in the cooking process! They will need to learn this skill and it gives them a good attitude toward food when they see that they are able to create yummy meals at home. The other thing is to never be afraid to check with a company and find out how a food is made. Labels don't always tell the whole story. You will find your favorite "safe" brands but you need to do some research.

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Hang in there and keep at it!

There are tons of resources for families managing with food allergies now. When I started cooking for my son there were very few... and I was a very bad chef (I once burnt soup!). But with his many food allergies, I had no choice but to learn. You'd be surprised how many recipes are naturally nut, dairy, and egg-free, for example. And, once you get the hang of how to substitute for your children's allergens (like using dairy-free margarine for butter, or safflower oil for sesame seed oil), playing with recipes becomes much easier!

I would also recommend finding parts of a meal that are pre-made (even frozen grilled chicken or a safe rice mix) to make meal preparation easier. Having to concentrate on cooking only one new piece of a meal is much easier than trying to properly cook and time two or three!

I frequently thank my son - without him I would still be hopeless in the kitchen and my family wouldn't be eating nearly as healthy.

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The most important thing is not to give up. I have cooked so many terrible meals but after a year or two of really exploring new foods and new recipes, I have started to whip up some pretty delicious top 8 allergen-free meals and desserts (no milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, tree nuts, fish or shellfish). You will need to do some investing in the right tools as well, for example, a high quality baking sheet and a mixer. You will also want to buy a few cookbooks. I like Colette Martin's new book as well as Cybele Pascal. Follow some allergy-free cooks/bakers on-line, some of these communities are great. Don't be afraid to fail. Try new replacements, experiment. Then when you get something right, share it with all of us!
I am actually writing an article for Allergic Living due out in December about my reluctant transition from reservation-maker to home chef! Look for it!

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It can be overwhelming at first to cook for a child or children with food allergies. I’m of Italian heritage so most of the foods that I’d learned to cook contained ingredients my daughter is allergic to. It was like I had to learn to cook all over again.

My best advice is to:

• Focus on what your child can have instead of what they can’t have. Truthfully, the healthiest foods are often foods that most children with food allergies can eat. Fresh fruits and vegetables paired with meats and/or grains are simple, healthy options.
• Experiment with new spices to infuse flavor.
• Get to know common substitutions for your child’s allergen(s), then remake traditional dishes using these substitutions.
• Spend some time online reviewing allergy-friendly recipes. Many of the blogs listed here have great recipes. I try to post recipes that I think will be helpful.
• Invest in a couple of allergy cookbooks.
• Hang in there. Over time, you will begin to build a new repertoire of foods for your family.

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First, take a deep breath! There are many great resources online and you can make substitutions for pretty much everything! Start with simple ingredients and work your way up from that point. Luckily, my daughter is not a fan of "mixed foods", so I don't have a need for fancy lunch or dinner recipes. As for baking, there are so many allergy-friendly cookbooks available, but a wonderful place to start, when stocking your kitchen cupboard, is Cybele Pascal's book, The Allergen-free Baker’s Handbook.

Remember that there are plenty of children in the world that eat the same food all the time, so don't feel too bad if your child eats the same rotation of foods. If you feel like you're in a rut, cut the foods into fun shapes or arrange them in entertaining ways on the plate.

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I’m a stay-at-home mom in Switzerland now, but I remember what it was like having 10 minutes to put dinner on the table after getting home from work. If you don’t have the time, energy or interest in preparing meals for your family, I recommend quick recipes with few ingredients. You can easily make delicious allergy-friendly foods like roasted root vegetables with olive oil, oven-baked chicken in barbecue sauce or fried rice with whatever meat and veggies you have in the fridge. And, you can’t go wrong with fresh produce that needs little embellishing. Keep it simple.
You’ve probably heard this before, but try to stay positive and focus on all the good food out there your child can safely eat. Consider this a time to be creative. Have fun exploring new ways of cooking and new ingredients. It’s certainly been a struggle giving up milk, eggs, nuts and sesame, but we’ve found so many wonderful recipes, and our search continues.

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Food allergies are incredibly overwhelming. Surround yourself with other moms (either locally and/or via online through support groups and allergy blogs) who have children with allergies. Chances are they will be happy to share advice, products, recipes and support! They know and understand what you're going through and you aren't alone!

Cooking for your child will get easier over time. Instead of focusing on what your child can't have, focus on the foods they CAN have. Now is a great time to start introducing and experimenting with new foods. Allow your child to help you prepare their new food if possible. Kids are more likely to eat or try new foods if they've helped prepare them.

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Make sure you have a very clear discussion with your allergist about what food is safe. You need to know if it is safe for you to be able to eat food that is made in a facility with your allergens. Your doctor should be able to give you a list of safe foods while you are working on finding new recipes and products. Start with one or two recipes to try each week. Don't give up, keep pressing on. The learning curve can feel long but you will get through it and learn so much along the way.

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Other moms are going through something similar if not the exact same thing, so don't get frustrated. Read the labels on everything, learn which brands to trust, and cook for the entire family. For example, 1/5 of the folks in my household have a gluten-intolerance. We all eat gluten-free. Cross-contamination doesn't exist in our house as a result. Finally, if you don't know what it is, google it! Google may overwhelm at first, but it can provide invaluable information to help you deal with this issue.

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My motto is: Make a plan for everything! Keep records and notes of all the details. Staying organized and planning ahead is the key to keeping your sanity when you can't rely on take out as a back-up. Lucky for us, it's much healthier, too! ;) Create a weekly menu plan that is flexible for unexpected changes. Schedule bake sessions for larger batches and keep things like muffins, cupcakes, and cookies in the freezer for last-minute parties and even extra meal portions for emergencies. There is a natural learning curve to transition through, and as the title of my blog "Nourishing Journey" hints, it is a life long journey. So don't get overwhelmed in the process, but enjoy the "ups" and learn from the "downs." As you learn to plan ahead and create your routine, it will get easier. Always focus on what you can have, not what you can't - and most importantly - have fun! Food cooked with love tastes all the better! :)

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Find other moms managing the same food allergies.  They have walked in your heels. They are your future. Believe it or not, but one day you too will turn and help another overwhelmed mom.

Thanks to the Internet, we can meet other mothers 24/7 on-line to share stories, offer support and recipe successes and failures!  Not only do we need recipes, but need support and understanding on how to call manufacturers, what recipes are kid winners, which travel well, Holiday ideas, etc.

I enjoy cooking blog sites that give opinions on what ingredients do NOT work, such as when an egg replacer just isn't enough, or that soy milk can be over powering in some gluten free baking.

The day I met our allergist 12 years ago, he explained that I will learn the most of what I need to know from the other food allergy moms attending the same support group meeting.  He was absolutely right!

I was the luckiest food allergy mama on the day a food allergy Mom, who I had just met, dropped off a bag of safe foods at my front door.  She simply explained, "I know you are overwhelmed and here are some groceries to get you started." She was right, I did not know what to cook for my son right after diagnosis.

Her kind gesture sparked an entire program of purchasing safe foods for newly diagnosed families in my town.

Her child had a very similar list of allergens and the feeling of relief and gratitude brought tears to my eyes.  I truly felt blessed and welcomed into the food allergy community.  She included foods that had never crossed my mind and that I didn't even know existed.

Wild Oats (no longer operating in Nevada) partnered with my local food allergy parent group to help us create a program of meeting up with newly diagnosed families at the grocery store to help them read labels and discover safe foods.

I can honesty say that learned and continue to learn the most from other food allergy families.   Thanks to the Internet, we can meet other mothers 24/7 on-line to share stories, offer support and best of all....recipes!

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I was a horrible cook and a mediocre baker 7 years ago. I have come a long way to creating a blog that shares my recipes. I never would have imagined. It's all about practice, practice! Start where you are comfortable, learn tips online, and progress slowly. The important things is keeping food safe, not making them gourmet. I am ever learning and expanding my food offerings. If I can learn, anyone can...ask my husband! ;)

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Keep it simple. Steamed vegetables with a dipping sauce are the perfect everyday dish. Remember to stay with real foods.

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Always have a list of what your child CAN eat handy. It's the American way that everyone sits down for dinner together. In our house the kids eat first. I cook almost 3-4 different dinners a night just so everyone can eat. My husband and I typically don't eat until the kids have gone to bed. We are very available while they are eating. I'm always in the kitchen with them while they eat. It works for us.

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Take it day by day! Work on being creative in how you present their food! You don't have to reinvent the wheel, seek out other moms who are in the same position and see what works for them! We are all in this together!

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I understand it's a struggle and can be overwhelming. Find some support online - although I would be wary of some forums. Providing healthy, allergy-free foods for your children is certainly a priority, but you don't want it taking over your life. I would spend some time perusing the Top 25 Food Allergy Blogs. They are full of wonderful support!

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Get your children involved! My daughter is my 'sous chef' in the kitchen. She loves learning about the food groups, why we eat healthy foods, reading recipes, and having fun with mom while doing it. It's a great bonding experience and also educational (teaching her fractions, measuring, etc).

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Be patient- with yourself, with your child and with others. This will be a never-ending learning process and you will have to expect good days and bad days. Don't dwell on the bad days- take them as learning devices. Only surround yourself with people that are willing to help you and continue to be patient with those that don't.

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What helped me was finding moms in the same position as me. I needed the support, someone to talk to that really understood what I was experiencing, and already knew how to cook for food allergies. Also, find blogs that are allergy friendly, someone's already paved the way for you and their recipes are free. Take it one day at a time, or one type of food at a time. Don't expect to make awesome gluten-free bread right off the bat, but know that with practice it can be done. And remember even us experts have had plenty of failed attempts...and you can always talk to one of us blogger moms and we'll help!

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Be creative! Resist the urge to let the allergies make you feel limited. There is always a way to recreate a favorite and make it allergen free, but sometimes it takes a little thinking (and cooking) outside of the box!

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Take a deep breath and KNOW it GETS EASIER!!
If you can, try the baby step approach...replacing one beloved food at a time (sometimes symptoms to not allow for this!).
Arm yourself with a handful of standby recipes that you can always rely on....many foods are naturally free of allergens....it is the processed foods that get you into trouble!
Most foods found in the PERIMETER of the store of whole, real foods that don't have sneaky allergens tucked in somewhere
Find support in the form of online bloggers or your local community....everyone needs an outlet for what can be a trying journey. People like me GET IT, we have been in there in your shoes before and would love to help you and hear you vent! It is why most of us started blogs ourselves!

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Just take a look at the Top 25 Food Allergy Moms - they have posted amazing recipes. You are bound to find many things your family will love.

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The first step is to really get to know some of the great food alternatives out there. Second, look for ways to augment your favorites meals to keep them in your diet. Third, check out some cookbooks at the library or order them into the store at Barnes & Noble. Scour over them before investing. Lastly, while food allergies can be expensive, you don't HAVE to buy cookbooks. You can easily find plenty of free recipe sites and blogs for food allergies. Check out the blog list to see the latest in favorites and there are always so many more up and coming.

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I want moms to know that cooking "without" can be as delicious and kid-pleasing as cooking "with." No matter the ingredient, there is almost always a way around its inclusion -- or a specialty product somewhere that's a viable substitute. My two youngest, Curlytop and Snugglebug, are both allergic to Red Dye, and I'm allergic to seafood, dairy and eggs. We've had great success with using natural food dyes and cooking within a vegan diet, which omits the seafood, dairy and eggs. Still, guests to our table will tell you they never knew what was missing!

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