Allergy free cooking for kids
Gluten? Lactose? Peanuts? In recent years, the list of potential food allergies and sensitivities for children (and adults) has morphed into a different approach to cooking, eating, and shopping for families across the globe. Overhauling your pantry and finding allergy free cooking recipes can be a stressful process in the first few weeks or months you are adjusting to your child’s revised nutritional needs.
Do your best to see your child’s diagnosis as an opportunity to improve the eating and lifestyle habits of your family as a whole. Use the following A-Z guide as your personal cheat sheet of practical tips on what to explore (and avoid) in the adventurous world of allergy free cooking for kids.
An A-Z Guide to Allergy Free Cooking for Kids
A: Almond flour or meal is a gluten-free baking alternative. To prevent spoilage, freeze excess amounts in air-tight containers.
B: Barley is an often overlooked gluten source. Give yourself adequate time when grocery shopping to read food labels carefully.
C: Chickpea flour combined with 2 tablespoons of warm water can be used as a substitute for 1 egg in most recipes. Cornstarch is another suitable thickening agent if preparing egg- or dairy-free pudding and/or pie fillings.
D: Dairy-free, gluten-free, and soy free chocolate chips actually exist! 100% free of the most common food allergens, the chocolate chips are semi-sweet and “naturally sweetened with evaporated cane juice.”
E: Expiration periods greatly vary for conventional allergy free cooking ingredients. For example, non-dairy and other lactose-free milk tend to have a longer shelf life than regular milk whereas flaxseeds and flaxseed meal (a typical substitute for eggs) tend to go rancid quickly, especially if kept at room or warm temperatures. Educate yourself on proper storage methods for allergy free cooking ingredients prior to purchase.
F: FALCPA is the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act that mandates the clear labeling of all food containing the eight top allergens (eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soybeans, tree nuts, and wheat). However, this act does not enforce disclosure of cross-contamination that may have occurred during production or the presence of gluten.
G: Gluten-free and casein-free diet (GFCF) can have beneficial effects on kids with ADHD and autism by isolating “problem proteins,” thus allowing for improved “concentration and social skills.”
H: Honey (made locally) has the potential to decrease the effects of seasonal allergies. It can replace white sugar 1:1, but lower the baking temperature in your recipe by 25°.
I: Increased energy and a stronger immune system are two major benefits to allergy free cooking. Key steps to this include buying local and organic foods when possible and avoiding manufactured ‘natural flavors’ found in many processed foods.
J: Job’s Tears (also known as coix seed or adlay) is an Asian tropical plant which produces a grain that is gluten-free. It is cooked like rice and the taste is similar to barley.
K: Kombu is a sea vegetable that can be added to whole grains and beans while cooking to provide additional minerals, reduce acid formation, and prevent gas post-consumption.
L: Lactose intolerance is different than having a dairy allergy because it does not trigger a counter-attack by the body’s immune system. The symptoms experienced by a lactose-intolerant child whom consumes dairy can range from moderate to severe, but will not be life-threatening.
M: Millet is a gluten-free small grain with a subtle nutty flavor that contains a variety of nutrients such as fiber, protein, and B-complex vitamins. To cook, use one cup of millet to 2 ½ cups of water. Adjust water amount for desired consistency (i.e.: Add more water for a texture similar to mashed potatoes).
N: Non-dairy milk options include almond, coconut, flax, hemp, oat, rice, and soy varieties and are available sweetened, unsweetened, flavored, etc. Many major retailers now offer their own ‘house brands’ of these products, making these items more affordable to consumers.
O: Oatmeal/hot breakfast substitute in the gluten-free category is corn grits. It is made similar to oatmeal and tastes great with butter, cinnamon, and/or sugar as a topping. Gluten-free oats also exist (Be sure the product has been certified gluten-free before using).
P: Polenta can be used as an allergy free cooking alternative crust for pizza (A quick and easy egg, soy, nut, and gluten-free meal option). Cut a tube of organic prepared polenta into 12 mini-rounds; top with tomato sauce, cheese, and other items such as herbs, veggies, etc.; and bake at 400°F for 10-12 minutes. *Additional tip: If you use vegan mozzarella cheese in place of standard mozzarella, this meal also becomes dairy-free!*
Q: Quinoa is thought of as a grain, but is actually a seed. A popular gluten-free family staple, it contains essential amino acids and is considered to be a complete protein. Using 1 cup of grain to 2 cups of water yields the best results when cooking.
R: Rice wine vinegar provides a great allergy free cooking base when making stir-fry or creating dipping sauces with an Asian flavoring.
S: Seeds and Seed Butters (including flax, sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin) are often appropriate substitutions for nuts and nut butters, but are safe to consume for individuals with peanut and tree nut allergies.
T: Tapioca flour and starch are gluten-free ingredients that can be used as thickening agents for gravies, pies, puddings, sauces, soups, and stews. And, yes: Tapioca pudding is almost always 100% gluten-free!
U: Umeboshi plum vinegar is derived from pickled Japanese plums and its natural flavor is a potent hybrid of salt and citrus. You can use it as an additive (in very small amounts) in dairy-free entrees to infuse a cheesy taste.
V: Vegetable stock is an allergy-friendly way to increase the seasoning and nutrient level when preparing a variety of foods such as beans and legumes, grains, soups, and stews.
W: Whole-wheat couscous is often thought of as a grain, but in reality is “tiny, quick-cooking pasta.” Because it is made from wheat, it should not be consumed by anyone on a gluten-free diet.
X: Xanthan Gum plays a crucial role in most gluten-free baking (as the ‘binder’ and ‘thickener’). To use, add ½ teaspoon for each cup of gluten-free flour when making yeast-free items. The ratio changes to 1 teaspoon for each cup of gluten-free flour if yeast is also an ingredient.
Y: Yellow Miso Paste is another way to add a cheesy flavor to dairy-free and gluten-free dishes. However, it is good to keep in mind that yellow miso is made out of fermented soy, so it is unsuitable for anyone on a soy-free diet.
Z: Zucchini has diverse potential in allergy free cooking recipes. Check out one of my personal favorites here.
If you are in the initial stages of making the appropriate allergy free cooking modifications in your pantry, be sure to keep in mind the following factors that could potentially affect attempts to change dietary behaviors in your home:
- Insufficient knowledge about potential allergy free cooking food substitutions
- Poorly established eating habits & high daily caffeine or sugar intake
- Financial limitations
- Irregular and hectic daily schedules (i.e.: inconsistent meal times)
- Willingness of spouse, partner, or siblings to alter current dietary habits/food purchases
- Current psychological state (i.e.: the child or the parents having an abnormal level of anxiety about the food allergy or sensitivity)
Check with your healthcare provider, a registered dietician, or a certified health coach if you need additional suggestions on how to further educate yourself and your child about how to identify allergy free cooking choices. In addition, you may find the following websites useful in reshaping your family’s approach to nutrition and allergy free cooking: www.slowfood.com, www.celiacdisease.net/gluten-free-diet and
- Allergy-Friendly Food for Families: 120 Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Nut-Free and Soy-Free Recipes Everyone Will Enjoy by the Editors of Kiwi Magazine
- Clean Start: Inspiring You to Eat Clean and Live Well with 100 New Clean Food Recipes by Terry Walters
- Gluten-Free Cooking for Dummies by Danna Korn
Rachel Werner is a Lactation Education Counselor and a Dr. Sears Certified Health Coach. She is the creator of the Green Mom Cooking series currently held in Madison, WI. Her previous occupations have involved parent education, safe environment counseling, and internet safety training. Her most valuable education, however, continues to be motherhood and evolves everyday thanks to her delightful toddler at home. Connect with her via Twitter or Pinterest.