Food sensitivities tend to travel in families. Meal preparation can get dicey when you’re juggling multiple allergies, intolerances, or other reactions. Here are 5 tips to help you navigate food sensitivities.
In addition to a host of drug reactions and environmental allergies, my family presents a minefield of food sensitivities. Between the five of us, we have severe allergic reactions to cow milk, eggs and chicken, as well as lactose intolerance and fructose malabsorption ranging from mild to severe.
We also have an autoimmune gastrointestinal condition triggered by food, and a cardiac condition triggered by eating too much food at one time. Reactions run the gamut from eczema and fatigue to random vomiting and anaphylaxis.
Here are my 5 tips to bringing this overwhelming list of food sensitivities into a manageable plan of action for healthy, low-cost, and relatively easy meals that everyone loves:
1) Avoid Processed Food
Prepackaged food, or boxed meals, are dangerous to have in the pantry of a family with food sensitivities. Same goes for any fast food.
While the FDA requires that even trace amounts of the top eight allergens be disclosed on food labeling, you can’t be fully certain that other offending foods aren’t included in the ingredients.
Even if you do know what all of those multisyllabic terms that make up the ingredient list mean, certain terms like “natural flavor” or “spices” can cover a multitude of possibilities. I have had way too many reactions from foods supposedly not containing chicken meat but that do contain natural flavor.
If you do have prepackaged food in your house, you must be certain it’s safe. An allergy-friendly store is more likely to carry boxed meals your family can eat.
2) Beware of Casseroles
Without processed foods, you’ll be buying mostly fresh, whole foods that have been refined as little as possible and contains no additives. Even your few processed items will likely be mostly singular ingredients like rice or tortillas. You will know what exactly is in your food because you’ll be making most of it from scratch.
When making meals that accommodate multiple food sensitivities, the less mixing the better. I have found that while casseroles are super convenient, too many recipes contain at least one common offending food. The same goes for many gravies and sauces.
The better meals are those that don’t mix foods, like these examples:
- Baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and other vegetables sliced into strips drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and baked at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until desired tenderness.
- Broiled hamburger pattie on a wheat bun with condiments of choice, served with steamed green beans and a baked potato.
- Brown rice seasoned with olive oil and salt, combined with thawed frozen peas and tailless shrimp and onions sauteed in coconut butter.
- Soft wheat tortilla drizzled with mustard, sprinkled with cheese (or spread, in the case of soft goat cheese), overlaid with sliced ham and lettuce leaves, and rolled up — served with a spot of ranch dressing to dip into.
You get the idea. Go for simple ingredients and simply made.
3) Create a Tally of Convenience Foods
Some meals just have to be prepared fast. There’s only so much time between school and soccer practice! Making meals from scratch doesn’t generally translate to convenient, but some ingredients are more convenient than others.
I was sad when I learned I was allergic to chicken meat, not only because it’s so delicious but also because it’s so convenient! Nearly every quick casserole has chicken as the protein, and it was so easy for me to pop a dish of chicken breasts in the oven for supper.
But I’ve since found a substitute: shrimp. They’re easy to prepare and can be eaten as a stand-alone protein or mixed into rice, lettuce salads, or other foods. Shrimp is more expensive, but the convenience factor is certainly worth the cost. All-beef hot dogs are also a delicious protein substitute that can be used in multiple ways.
You can make a convenience list for all food groups, like baby carrots for vegetables; cheese sticks for dairy; apples for fruits; and popcorn for grain. Whatever you choose, the idea is that you have these food items on hand for evenings when you have to make a quick meal and can’t rely on processed food to make that happen.
4) Offer Snackie Meals
Snackie nights, as I call them, allow all the members of your family to eat whatever safe foods they want to eat regardless of whether another person is sensitive to it. I love these meals, which I often pair with movie night.
Everyone gets to pick out the different finger foods they want to eat. Because there is so much variety, no one feels left out if they can’t eat something. So, I’ll have cow milk cheese that only me and my son can eat. But I’ll also have deviled eggs (made by my husband) that I can’t eat but everyone else can have. There are also plenty of finger foods that everyone can choose from.
The possibilities are endless, but some of my snackie night staples include: blueberries, grapes, apple slices, cow milk mozzarella cheese pearls, goat or sheep cheese slices, beef sausage, salsa and corn chips, hummus and pretzels, potato chips, homemade juice smoothies, wheat crackers, mixed nuts, and raw vegetables like carrot sticks, mushroom slices, sugar snap peas, and sweet bell pepper.
Anyone can take all or none of the food items offered. So someone might not take a certain food if they’re sensitive to it. But they may also skip that same food if they just don’t feel like eating it. Snackie nights are inclusive.
5) Make Treats Special
With severe egg and dairy allergies in the house, we don’t have many dessert options. There’s almost no dessert recipe that accommodates all the food sensitivities. Most recipes require at least one of the two severe food offenders capable of sending someone to the hospital.
Treats are one area of food preparation that I do make multiple dishes for the same meal.
If we’re having ice cream night, my daughters have coconut ice cream while my son has frozen yogurt, and me and my husband have cow milk ice cream. When we make cookies, I will make a regular batch and another batch where cream cheese substitutes for the eggs. On the nights when we eat s’mores, my oldest daughter gets two marshmallows because she can’t have the milk chocolate that the rest of us can have.
It’s hard not being able to have desserts when we visit friends or go to a meeting serving refreshments. I figure that if there’s one meal where I’m willing to make multiple dishes for the same event, it’s going to be dessert because treats should be enjoyed by everyone.