Ask any kid and you’re bound to hear: there are just too many rules. They’ll sigh as they relate how mom and dad get to decide what they wear, how they behave, and especially what they can (and cannot) eat.
Parents, for their part, must contend with dinner table battles, and often despair about getting the good stuff, such as carrots and broccoli, into their kids. For food allergy families, when fussy eating meets foods that must be avoided plus label reading, it appears a recipe for numerous parental headaches. And, let’s face it, from snacks to birthday parties and bake sales, food is simply everywhere these days.
But as someone who has studied food, runs a healthy food consultancy and is the mother of two girls, including one with multiple food allergies, allow me shake up this thinking.
Simple & Well-Balanced
You see, eating a diet that is both healthy and allergy-friendly is not paradoxical. Nor, does it need to be hard. It’s actually about simplifying. When you think about the very ingredients that grandma would recognize – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, meat and poultry – these are all inherently allergy-friendly, and anchor a well-balanced diet.
You do need a can or a packaged food on occasion. But this doesn’t need to be onerous. In my view, reading labels and staying vigilant about ingredients presents educational opportunities in matters of food and joyful living.
When we shop together, my 8-year-old, who is the allergic one, checks labels for allergens before tossing items into the cart. This also gives us an opportunity to talk about the other fields on the label – sugar, sodium and fiber, my other top considerations.
Our dialogue leads to my daughter’s empowerment when choosing and eating food, and her deep understanding, rather than deep-seated fear, of ingredients and food products. Other added benefits include positive food associations, careful inclusion in celebrations, and, yes, even cake!
To help you develop your own positive outlook with food allergies, Allergic Living asked me to share my top tools, tips, substitutions and a few easy, crowd-pleasing recipes. Our family thrives on mashing, blending and baking together. So remember to involve your kids in the cooking, too. They’ll be more likely to try the finished product, and even take pride in doing so, if they helped to make it themselves.
May you and your family enjoy the fruits of this approach as much as my family does. Following are some of my favorite healthful go-to food categories. First, let’s start off with kitchen musts.
My Go-To Tools
- An avocado masher
- A garlic press
- A quality, high-speed blender – worth its weight in gold to whir frozen fruit into creamy, silky concoctions.
- An ice-cream maker or ice pop molds to create healthy, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, soy-free frozen delights.
- Glass storage containers of varying sizes. They go from fridge (or freezer) to a lunch box or the oven.
Embrace the Smoothie
Store-bought smoothies are often loaded with sugar. But homemade versions are a gateway to fruit and veggies that satisfy, in a few big gulps, the checklist of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
To introduce these to your repertoire, first stock up on frozen fruit, an economical option that is also never out of season. My family loves wild blueberries, organic strawberries, cranberries, pineapple, mangoes, but any fruit will do.
Keep a handy “freezer fruit rescue bag” for chopped over-ripe bananas, blemished berries, and all the uneaten fruit that comes back in lunch boxes. (What looks sad, tastes great in a smoothie!) Bananas are a terrific texturizer and sweetener, so store ripe ones on your kitchen counter, or toss them into the freezer bag if not used in time.
Don’t forget the veggies. The beauty of a smoothie is that the sweetness of fruit masks the bitterness of dark, leafy greens like kale and spinach (which will turn a red smoothie purple). Start veggies slowly and increase as growing taste acceptance allows a shift of the fruit-to-vegetable ratio. Blend with hemp, oat or quinoa milk for a refreshing after-school snack with no sweetener necessary.
Another trick? Turn a smoothie into dessert by omitting the vegetables and adding a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa.
POWER PURPLE SMOOTHIE
1 cup dairy-free milk beverage
1 ripe banana
1/4 cup frozen wild blueberries
1/4 cup frozen pineapple
1/4 cup frozen organic strawberries
1/4 cup fresh or frozen kale
For extra protein, add a tablespoon of unsweetened sunflower butter, ground flax or chia seeds.
Method: Blend until creamy and well-combined. Taste. If more sweetener is necessary, add ½ banana.
Makes: 2-3 servings
Creamy and fiber-rich, avocados are packed with B vitamins, vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin C, potassium and copper. Rest these unripened fruits on your counter until slightly soft to the touch, then move to fridge until ready to use. Delicious in a sandwich, or atop salad, versatile avocados can be added to smoothies, or substituted for eggs and dairy in creamy desserts. And don’t forget fresh guacamole, a crowd favorite, that’s only minutes from masher to table.
2 tsp finely minced white onion
Sea salt to taste
2 ripe Hass avocados, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped ripe tomatoes
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp chopped cilantro optional
1 tsp seeded, chopped jalapeño (optional)
Method: In a medium-sized bowl, mash onion and salt, plus cilantro and jalapeño, if using. Add avocados and mash; the texture should be chunky. Fold in the tomatoes and lime juice, and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve with raw vegetables or organic tortilla chips.
The powerhouse of baked goods, a muffin makes a filling breakfast or satisfying on-the-go snack. Load yours with fiber, good fats and complex carbohydrates by swapping whole grain for white flour, ground flax for egg, and extra virgin olive oil for butter or vegetable oil. Add sunflower seed butter, chia or hemp seeds for an extra protein kick, and don’t be stingy with the vanilla or cinnamon, since both add sweetness without extra sugar. Try maple syrup in place of white sugar, and reduce sweetener to taste.
Try Allergic Living’s recipe for Customizable Allergy-Friendly, Gluten-Free Muffins.
Both a kid and adult favorite that can be served with quinoa, rice or alongside your favorite vegetables, meatballs offer a world of flavor and ingredient combinations. Use ground poultry, pork, beef, lamb, or a blend, but swap half the meat with shredded zucchini, carrots or chopped organic spinach. Add ground flax and season liberally with crushed garlic, fresh peppercorns and other spices.
And finally, let them eat cake! Synonymous with joy, cake is meant to be enjoyed at birthdays and other celebrations, and why should allergy kids go without? See below for an easy-to-make, Depression-era cake, once known as Wacky or Crazy Cake, and made without butter, milk or eggs and top 7-free, hooray! (My version does use wheat flour.)
ONE BOWL VANILLA CAKE WITH CHOCOLATE GANACHE
1 1/2 cups + 3 tbsp pastry flour
1 cup cane sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp white or apple cider vinegar
3 tsp pure vanilla extract
5 tbsp olive oil
1 cup water
Method: Preheat oven to 350° F. In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients. Make three depressions in the dry mix, pouring vanilla in one, vinegar in the second and olive oil in the third. Add water to the top and mix well. Pour mixture into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Bake for 35 minutes. Cake is ready once toothpick comes out clean. Cool and top with chocolate ganache.
4 oz allergy-friendly chocolate chips
1/4 cup dairy-free milk beverage
Method: Place chocolate chips in a small bowl. Heat milk alternative in a saucepan on medium-high until it’s steaming. Pour liquid over chocolate chips, then let stand 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Cool to lukewarm, then pour ganache over cake, using spatula to gently spread over cake. Refrigerate for 45 minutes, to set the ganache.
Natalya Murakhver is the co-founder of Apple to Zucchini, a healthy family-eating company based in New York City.