By Amanda Liptak, RD, LDN
March is National Nutrition® Month 2016. This year's theme is "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right!" For those of us avoiding the top 8 food allergens, it’s a time to focus on the importance of a balanced daily diet for the entire family.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tells us to take time to eat wholesome foods, eat mindfully and enjoy the pleasures that food brings to our lives. And yes, it is possible for families with food allergies to get excited about food and still enjoy new discoveries at mealtime! But how?
Making sure that everyone gets a balanced and nutrient-rich diet can be missed in the daily hustle of life. The elimination of one or more food groups can result in loss of important nutrients that kids with food allergies need. Additionally, non-traditional foods can taste different. Some parents with newly diagnosed children may find it challenging to prepare flavorful meals for the entire family.
Using the 4 P’s for Planning Allergy-friendly Meals
With some help from the 4 P’s - Positivity, Patience, Planning and Pairing - you can create a plan that not only packs a nutritional punch, but one which you can all enjoy!
Have a Positive Attitude
Stay Positive about your child’s diet. It will help their ability to try new foods, as well as how much they eat. For example, a child newly diagnosed with gluten allergy accustomed to eating wheat bread may be reluctant to switch to a gluten-free variety. Highlight the positives by using words or phrases such as “I’m excited to use!” or “I can’t wait to try!”
Your child picks up clues from you about how to feel, so choosing positive words to describe new foods will also help their own attitude.
So what if they try it and do not like it? It’s okay! Be Patient and don’t give up. It takes most children an average of three times to try a new food before they make up their mind. And that’s for children without food allergies.
Children with allergies who may have suffered a recent food allergic reaction may be more reluctant to try new foods. Children diagnosed with food allergy at an older age need time to adjust to new tastes. And children who have been living with food allergy from an early age, and only know certain foods, may just be going through a phase.
In any case, if you are met with defeat the first time, reintroduce the same food in a different way. This will encourage kids to expand their taste buds. Keep encouraging new foods and try not limit foods beyond what is necessary.
Set an Example with Planning
Consider Planning a day of the week when the whole family can prepare and enjoy a wholesome meal from start to finish. This is a great way to get your kids excited about a meal. Serve a meal that is safe for the whole family to eat if you can. Buy and plan enough to make double or triple servings and stash in the freezer for later. That way you have enough for when you are too busy to cook. And, it sets an example that everyone is included when everyone enjoys the same meal.
Punch Up Nutrition with the Right Pairing
We all know that Pairing certain foods together can bring out wonderful flavors. Did you know that putting the right foods together on the same plate can bring out the best nutritional value? This is critical when you are preparing a meal that omits traditional foods such as cow’s milk, eggs and wheat, for example.
A grain like quinoa offers a great source of energy and is high in iron. It is gluten free and a good source of B vitamins, magnesium and zinc. Pair it with a plate of vegetables that are high in vitamin C to enhance iron absorption. Try broccoli, cauliflower or sweet bell peppers. Can’t get your kids to eat “little trees?” Offer an orange, such as a “Cutie", or ¼ cup of sliced fresh strawberries to finish off a meal!
If your child is dairy free, find ways to add calcium. Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium. Pair a fortified dairy-free milk with foods naturally higher in calcium. Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, are high in calcium.
How to get kids to eat their veggies? Sneak them into smoothies and popsicles made with enriched soy or other safe milk or yogurt.
“The Blue Popeye” Popsicle Recipe
1 cup of fresh blueberries
1 ripe banana
1 ¼ cup fresh spinach or kale
1 ½ vanilla coconut “yogurt” alternative
1 TBSP honey to taste
(Note: honey is not safe for children age one and under)
Directions: Combine all ingredients in blender on high until completely mixed. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Makes approximately 6 popsicles.
This Mexican-inspired quesadilla highlights highly nutritious food pairings. You can make it many ways, based on your family’s specific dietary needs. (Here’s a recipe idea to get you started – just adapt as needed.) Plus, kids love foods that they can pick up, eat with their hands and dip in sauces. This quesadilla offers all of that.
- Grab your favorite cooking skillet and one all corn, gluten-free tortilla.
- Add cooked cubed or shredded chicken, seasoned lightly with Mexican spices that are safe for your family.
- Add some thinly sliced and sautéed yellow and red bell peppers, about ¼ cup.
- Add approximately ¼ cup dairy-free shredded cheese.
- Add another tortilla to the top of your quesadilla and grill on low to medium heat. Flip and cook lightly on the other side.
- Cut into triangles and arrange on a plate.
- Add a dab of dairy-free sour cream and a tablespoon of avocado.
- Include some of your favorite allergy-friendly salsa for dipping!
Last but certainly not least…there’s a place for that quinoa we’ve been talking about. Add about ½ cup to the corner of the plate and we are in business!
Looking for a breakfast smoothie that the whole family can enjoy? One that’s quick to prepare and full of nutrients to start your day out right? Check out this Creamy Orange Smoothie recipe. This smoothie tastes just like an orange creamsicle and is packed with vitamin C!
So start with a Positive attitude, add a dash of Patience, a tablespoon of Planning and a cup of Pairing, and you’ve got just what you need to “Savor the Flavor” allergen-free!
- Bell peppers are high in vitamin C and their sweetness appeals to kids.
- Alternatives to cow's milk cheese: Look for brands that are labeled dairy, lactose and casein free, and brands that melt and spread.
- Avocado is rich in healthy fats, vitamins and dietary fiber.
Amanda is a registered dietitian nutritionist and mother to a 5-year-old son living with life-threatening allergies to peanut, tree nut and green pea. In November 2015, Amanda established the Greater Cleveland Allergy Connection, a local support group created to foster and develop relationships for parents and children who are living with and managing food allergies. She also serves as a resource to the Northeast Ohio Food Allergy Network. Amanda has a B.S. in dietetics from the University of Akron and is currently pursuing her master’s degree. Amanda lives outside of Cleveland with her husband Jeff and son Landon.