Call It Chopped: Allergy Mom Edition

in Managing Allergies, Your Stories
Published: May 26, 2020
Illustration of a family cooking together.
Photo: Getty

With a hodgepodge of ingredients and my family’s armload of allergies, I had to get creative in the kitchen. This article is from Allergic Living’s 90-page digital magazine “COVID-19 & Allergies.” Read the free e-magazine here.

WE’VE learned during life in a pandemic that individuals with special needs are particularly challenged. Dietary restrictions, including food allergies, don’t allow for the kind of flexibility that is helpful in such times. The result is that creativity in the kitchen has taken on a new meaning since the outbreak of COVID-19.

“Quarantine cooking” has made me the unwitting contestant of a Chopped-like reality show – Allergy Mom Edition – in my own kitchen. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of preparation for the challenge. Through an otherwise stressful time, I have confirmed a few truths: necessity truly does breed creativity; we all do get by with a little help from our friends; and there are at least 200 more ways to flavor chicken than I knew! 

I have been cooking for my family of five with various food allergies and dietary restrictions for nearly 10 years. Since I’m dealing with two children with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) on food elimination diets, as well as confirmed food triggers and IgE allergies, I’m no stranger to cooking with imagination. 

I’ve been baking from scratch, making ingredient substitutions, adapting recipes and making three-ingredient treats, for most of my parenting life. But to make this happen, I’ve always had the opportunity, and the privilege, to source and refresh safe, specialty ingredients. In the face of COVID-19 lockdown measures, daily fresh ingredients became a thing of the past.

My family’s been fully self-quarantined since March 14. Because we have a high-risk child, we’ve relied on grocery delivery services since then. As these often proved unreliable, I turned to social media early on. 

Friends’ Shopping Favors

After a single post to Facebook inquiring about local poultry availability, I had six deliveries of chicken to my doorstep over the following two days! These came from friends and acquaintances alike.

Many more people contacted me about the post over the next week. Some did so from the grocery store, to relay the day’s available stock, and to ask if I needed anything dropped off. Some bought and stored allergy-safe items for us, until we had room for them. The feeling of community and care has been truly tangible and heartwarming. 

With a well-stocked pantry, allergy-safe grain staples, spices, and some frozen meats and vegetables, I’ve managed to create surprisingly good meals since we’ve been staying home. 

Like an episode of Chopped, dinner prep each night tends to revolve around a hodgepodge of ingredients. Poultry is always the base ingredient as it is our family’s collective single safe protein. But it can get tedious. Pantry “shopping,” as well as refrigerator foraging, ensues. 

Anything that needs to get used, gets thrown into the mix. It turns out that old oranges, apples, open jars of jam and dried fruit all work deliciously baked with chicken!

Kids Help to Play Chopped

I try to involve my children – ages 9, 12 and 14 – in these preparations and flavor decisions. Somehow their participation makes the final products more enticing – and my challenge more meaningful. 

I know that this experience of the pandemic quarantining, as stressful and unwelcome as it has been, is full of life lessons for us all. Particularly for my food-allergic children, I know that resourcefulness, kitchen know-how, and basic cooking knowledge are crucial life skills. In our extended time together, I’ve been offered many teaching opportunities.

These are unequivocally strange and stressful times. But food allergy life and medical-parent life has prepared us well. We are certainly not the first to experience food-sourcing challenges, as many people regularly face this for various reasons. 

We will make our lemonade out of lemons – if I actually get an Instacart delivery date sometime soon. If not, well, we’ll just make our lemonade with something else. 

COVID-19 and Allergies Cover

This article is excerpted from Allergic Living’s 90-page digital magazine “COVID-19 & Allergies.” Read more great articles in the e-magazine.

Christina Ilardi is a nurse and advocate in the rare disease and allergy communities. She founded the Facebook group READ, to help patients find and comprehend scientific research.

Related Reading
13 Kitchen Pantry Hacks: See digital magazine, Page 9
Allergy Shopping, Cooking Tips for Coronavirus Times
Taming Food Allergy Stress During COVID-19