My egg-allergic son had an allergic reaction when he was 2 years old because of a club sandwich from a restaurant. I’d carefully ordered it for him without mayonnaise, yet mayo turned out to be there.
Egg is one of the sneakiest allergens, and mayonnaise is just one of the unexpected foods where it will turn up. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: “Eggs are a hidden ingredient in many foods, including canned soups, salad dressings, ice cream and many meat-based dishes, such as meatballs and meatloaf.”
To say our adjustment to a food allergy diagnosis was difficult, would be an understatement. I was a first-time parent, with no food allergy experience. Suddenly, I was dealing with an 11-month-old newly diagnosed not just to eggs, but peanuts and tree nuts as well.
It felt like my job description completely changed from one day to the next. I became scared to feed my son anything at all. As careful as I was, one month after receiving his diagnosis, I gave him a slice of pre-made lasagna from a grocery store. I did not realize it was made with egg noodle!
Eventually, I did find my groove. If you’re just starting to manage an egg allergy, I’m here to offer hope – it does get easier.
Grocery shopping wasn’t as daunting as I first expected since egg ingredients have to be listed on packaged foods, thanks to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA). In the U.S., egg is one of nine top allergens that must be labeled.
I also figured out egg-free substitutions for making everything from meatloaf and chicken tenders to salads and cakes. In a lot of cases, these substitute versions are tastier (and usually healthier) than the originals.
6 Surprising Foods That Contain Egg
This led me to the question: Why are these foods made with egg in the first place? Turns out, there’s typically a good (enough) reason.
Mayonnaise: According to HowStuffWorks.com: “Mayonnaise is made with oil, egg yolks, lemon juice or vinegar, and seasonings.” The yolks serve as an emulsifier to keep the oil and vinegar from separating. Tartar and hollandaise sauce, Thousand Island, Ranch and Blue Cheese dressing also use mayonnaise as a base, which means they also contain egg.
The good news is, there are a growing number of egg-free mayonnaise alternatives available today. Vegenaise is by far the best substitute I’ve found for mayonnaise. Not only does it taste better than regular mayo, but it’s also much better for you. I was so happy to discover it. Vegenaise meant I could make my son tuna fish sandwiches, which is something that I ate a lot of as a child.
Ice Cream & Custard: Consumer Reports summarizes FDA standards on these treats. “While both ice cream and frozen custard are made with a foundation of milk, cream, and sugar, custard should contain 1.4 percent egg yolk solids by weight of the finished food.”
You can safely assume that custards will always contain egg while some ice creams do, and some do not. This depends on the brand and the flavor (for example, cookie dough). As well organic or homemade ice creams will often include egg as an ingredient.
Meatballs & Meatloaf: Meatballs and meatloaf use eggs as a binding agent to get the dish in a stable form. According to SeriousEats.com, eggs both bind and “add flavor, richness, and moisture.”
Egg Allergy vs. Kid Favorites
Noodles: Egg noodle is used in lasagna (as I learned the hard way). With an egg allergy, be aware it can turn up in Asian foods and chicken noodle soup. Egg noodle is supposed to be more resilient than traditional noodles which are made from just flour and water. This relates to the protein from the egg.
According to TheWoksofLife.com, “the fat in the eggs also enriches the dough for a silky texture and richer flavor.”
Chicken Tenders: Egg is used to get the crunchy breadcrumbs to stick to the chicken, but you can also brine it in milk and apple cider vinegar as in this recipe. Be aware that restaurants likely will not do this, as making an egg wash is faster.
Cake: This is perhaps the most painful item to contain egg for a child. Egg is used as a rising, versus a binding agent, in quick breads such as cake. So it is hard for the average person to get them to rise using bananas or applesauce in place of egg. It’s usually a safe bet to order from a local bakery that makes vegan (or at least egg-free) cakes if aesthetics are important for the occasion.
Our Good News on Egg Allergy
My son’s food allergies made me learn a few lessons the hard way. Yet today, I’m a better planner, advocate and, especially, a better cook because of it. His diet needs forced me to use the art of improvisation.
For instance, that one time when I had an eager roomful of 4-year-olds ready to eat cake. Unfortunately, the box mix of brownies I made with bananas in place of eggs, didn’t really “rise” as they should have. So, I did what any other resourceful host would do, and made cake pops! (Well, sans the sticks – brownie balls!)
Navigating food allergies now compared to eight years ago, feels so much easier. And best of all, my son has officially outgrown two of his three allergens – including egg!
I’m rooting for you, dear reader, as you follow your own journey. This parenting and allergy path is truly taken one good stride at a time.
Katie Moreno is a food allergy advocate based in Wisconsin. She has authored several articles for restaurants about the benefits of, and strategies for achieving inclusivity among food minority groups. Read about Katie’s journey as a food allergy parent here.