Having a child with extensive food allergies can be devastating. Fear of anaphylactic reactions can be overwhelming. An inability to socialize around food or eat in restaurants can truly hinder social interactions. Never being able to grab a bite to eat can be extremely inconvenient.
Because of my son’s food allergies we always have to make arrangements and plan ahead. We accept the fact that he simply can’t eat certain things and we take our family’s situation in stride. Lately I’ve realized our family lifestyle has benefited from dealing with multiple food allergies.
1.) Healthy Diet Standards. More than a dozen years ago when my son started to eat solid food, I realized all of the medical professionals and nutritionists were ill-prepared to advise me on his diet. His allergies were so extensive they didn’t have the answers I needed. The situation forced me to study childhood nutrition. I read every book in the library. A friend loaned me appropriate textbooks from her nutrician degree. I took extensive notes and developed a list of food sources and products which would help me meet his minimum daily requirements. The situation educated me on the healthy balance every child needs.
2.) Home Cooking. In order to insure my son ate well, the whole family eats the same dinner. For over a decade, take out has been a rarity. If we had to cook for my son, we might as well make enough for the whole family and eat at home. All these years we’ve known exactly what we were eating and could make sure to have lean meats, healthy vegetables, and whole grains at every meal. The family’s diet was elevated and we also saved money because cooking at home is less expensive.
3.) No Preservatives. Almost everything is homemade. We make all our baked goods and dinners from scratch. No boxes with chemicals and additives. Our meals and baked goods have a minimum of sugar and we use healthy fats.
4.) A Sane Family Schedule. Because we couldn’t grab a quick takeout meal between team practices, lessons, and meetings, we had to limit extra curricula activities. In the long run, this has provided a more relaxing schedule for the whole family. Having to be home to cook the evening meal each day limits hectic driving around town.
5.) Alternative Products. We had to shop in local organic markets to seek out vegan, soy, and rice products. Having to shop in three different stores regularly introduced many new food items which we might not have discovered otherwise. Any product without allergens was worth a try. Vegan foods are usually safe. We were eating quinoa long before it was publicized to be the “miracle protein food of the future”. Different types of whole grains were added to pancakes, muffins and cookies. We would eat buffalo, various beans, and all sorts of seafood. The family always looks forward to these new finds.
6.) Creativity With Food. When we discovered my son’s food allergies, every single recipe in our house was unusable. Whenever I wanted to make something, I had to figure out substitutions and then make changes in the other ingredients to compensate. Now I create most meals and baked goods based on a few recipes. I glance at two or three ingredient lists and decide on the right amounts and method. I never worry about being without an ingredient because I can always find something else to substitute. This generates a real sense of freedom in the kitchen.
7.) Outdoor Exploration. Because we could never eat out on vacations, we began to camp. This outdoor life allowed us to cook exactly what my son could eat at every meal. A camper allows us to refrigerate and freeze food. Our adventurous trips have brought us to magnificent National Parks and many places of true natural beauty. We often bike and can pick up fresh food to cook over the fire. The local possibilities from farmer’s markets are endless and I would not have traded any of these vacations for more “civilized” alternatives with restaurants.
8.) Young Chefs. Both my boys learned to cook and bake at a very early age. They know the origins of their food, how to follow a recipe, and appreciate the work involved.
9.) Learned Responsibility. My son has to plan and make a week’s worth of food when he goes away to summer camps. He’s been handling a full week’s menu since he was 12. He’s also had to learn to speak to servers and food handlers for the few items he can sometimes purchase at a restaurant. While navigating school and activities he needs to be able to explain and advocate for his own well-being. These experiences have necessitated a strong ability to communicate at a very young age.
10.) A Strong Sense of Family. We’re all in this together. Meal times are a standard. Nightly family dinners keep us at the table together each day. Even when my husband served on a White House council he came home for dinner each night then went back to work. Our boys know how important the family dinner time is to all of us. We don’t schedule other activities which will interfere or answer the phone. For this I am probably most grateful.
Multiple and extensive food allergies bring many challenges, so I’m accepting these blessings as well.