Keeping an Allergy-Friendly Kitchen

in Basics, Food Allergy
Published: September 1, 2010

kitchenPhoto: Thinkstock
You’ve been given the list of foods to avoid and the task of reading the labels on everything in your kitchen.

You may be wide-eyed at the task ahead, but with a little preparation (OK, a lot at first), and maybe a few new tools, you’ll soon be able to make safe, nutritious meals for you and your family.

Yes, you’ve got to read through all those ingredients on food labels. Start with the help of a friend: have one person read the label while the other person checks the list of items to watch for with your allergen. You’ll get the hang of it with a little practice.

Consider too, whether an item may have become contaminated by another item. Did someone use a knife smeared with peanut butter to dig into the jam? It’s not worth it to keep 35 cents worth of jam if there’s a chance of a reaction. Face it, you will throw away food.

Will you keep some allergens in your home for those who don’t have the particular allergy? This is a personal decision that is based in part on necessity, part preference. Can the nutritional requirements of all family members be met on a diet restrictive of all allergens?

Since being prone to allergies in general runs in families, but you don’t inherit specific allergies, some families find that several members have different allergies. To accommodate all, they need to keep some allergens in the home.

If this is the case, special care must be taken to ensure there is no accidental exposure. You can employ:

Special drink; special cup
Kids love to have their own special items. Having a cup for each child means they won’t drink from the wrong cup by mistake.

Be alert when handling dangerous foods!
Some parents have been known to implement rules such as: “No white liquids when Mommy is tired.” Keeping foods in different looking containers is helpful. If you purchase your soy milk by the carton, consider buying milk by the bag.

Color code
This is great for the young child who can’t read but has mastered colors. A system of green (OK) and red (not OK) dot stickers works well. They can quickly find a safe snack by themselves and you have a built in system for recognizing which food is safe for whom.

Storing foods side-by-side can increase the risk of contamination by spills. A plastic container kept in the fridge and labeled with the individual’s name is a handy way of avoiding this issue. Babysitters will appreciate a container full of safe snacks in the cupboard that can be given out. Keep some safe foods at levels the children can reach and store allergens up out of reach.

Allergy-Friendly Kitchen Gear

Since you won’t be eating out or buying as many convenience foods, splurge on special tools to make meals easier. Think of it as an investment if need be!

Extra measuring spoons, wooden spoons, ladles
This is especially important if you are keeping allergens in the home. There will be times when you need to cook two similar dishes to go with the rest of the meal and these will come in handy.

Can openers
Maybe it’s just me, but how do you clean them thoroughly? I run ours through the dishwasher but, all the same, I prefer having an extra one, especially when allergens remain in the home.

Extra cutting boards
Everyone needs a few extra cutting boards for keeping meats and veggies apart, why not for keeping allergens apart? I’ve even opted for large craft mats from the Dollar Store to put down so that I have a clean surface to work on.

Pots and pans
A separate, easily identifiable set is handy if cooking separate foods.

Duplicate casseroles
For freezing and reheating meals. Make larger portions and freeze meals for those days when you don’t have time to cook.

Slow cooker
Efficient and economical – cooks your dinner while you do other things!

Meat slicer
If you can’t find safe cold cuts with your allergens and don’t trust the deli counter, this is a handy item to have. Great for slicing tomatoes, too.

Bread maker
Get one that has a delay timer and you can wake up to fresh bread! You can also make pizza and pasta dough in it.

Pasta maker and ravioli mold
Not necessary, but fun.

Susan Clemens is an allergy mom and food allergy advocate.