I’m a former journalist and the mother of three kids, all of whom have food allergies. One of my kids got very sick very young, so I shelved my plans to go back to work and stayed home to be a caregiver. I spent more than 15 years figuring out how to feed my allergic family the right foods. I dropped dairy from my family’s diet, then gluten, then soy, then corn, then oranges. It was a slow, bumpy process. I’ve never been a fan of processed foods, but some foods like boxed breakfast cereal (gluten-free) hung around far too long until I figured out they were nutritionally worthless and full of sugar.
I make food my family likes to eat using healthy ingredients everyone in my family can eat. I bake cakes, cookies and bread with little sugar and without gluten or rice, I cook without butter or milk or cheese. Our pasta and breads are rice and gluten-free. I cook with olive and coconut oils, with chicken broth, with dairy-free cheese, dairy-free butter. Instead of sugar I use xylitol, stevia, vegetable glycerin, combined with some coconut or date sugar for flavor. I buy lentil pasta and bread and cookies made with gluten-free, rice-free flour. I don’t buy any food without reading the ingredient list from top to bottom. An extra-long list of ingredients makes me put the item back on the shelf.
Change Is Hard
I won’t pretend transforming my family’s diet has been easy. Initially, I tried to cook separate gluten-free, dairy-free meals for my allergic child, but I quickly abandoned that futile effort. I gathered my family and told them “We’re all in this together, and when we’re at home, we’re all going to eat gluten-free, dairy-free meals.” My husband, the only one in the family who is not sensitive to gluten or dairy, climbed on board right away. My other children, whose allergies at that point were yet to be discovered, grumbled at first. I was careful to find and make gluten-free, dairy-free substitutes for their favorite foods before I removed those foods from our family’s diet.
It’s still a challenge to cook and eat gluten-free, dairy-free meals every day. I read cookbooks voraciously, but most of the recipes must be transformed into gluten-free, dairy-free, low-sugar versions before I can attempt making them. I have to replace butter, cheese, wheat flour, and milk in recipes and make sure they still taste great. I’m constantly tinkering with recipes to get the balance right.
It’s Getting Better
Fifteen years ago, I tucked home-baked gluten-free cookies into my child’s lunchbox. When my child complained because the other kids’ moms fed them Oreos, I drove for an hour to a small store that sold gluten-free Oreo-look-alikes. Now, gluten-free sandwich cookies, non-dairy milks, gluten-free flours and many other allergy-friendly foods are available in most supermarkets.
Eating in restaurants is always a challenge for my family, but more and more restaurants are sensitive to customers with allergies. My teenagers were ecstatic recently when we found a fabulous gourmet pizzeria that makes homemade gluten-free crusts a mere half-hour’s drive from our house.
Sugar Isn’t Sweet
My family loves sweets, but I’m always trying to cut back on sugar, a food additive that tastes great but is unhealthy for everyone. I avoid buying foods containing added sugar. I make exceptions for birthdays and holidays and emergencies, such as when I don’t have time to make ingredients like homemade, sugar-free ketchup, a staple in my house. (Recently I rejoiced when I found sugar-free ketchup in my local organic supermarket.)
Refined sugar lurks in too many “healthy” products. Read labels and you’ll see it hiding as sucrose, organic dried cane juice, fructose, dextrose, brown rice syrup, and others. It’s a terrible, delicious, cancer-feeding ingredient that I struggle to remove completely from my family’s diet.
Pure Food, No Chemicals
My husband likes to say, “When in doubt, leave it out.” That’s my philosophy about food additives. Artificial colors, preservatives, flavors and pesticide residues won’t kill you, but why would you want to eat them? One of my children is very sensitive to chemicals in our home and to additives in food, so I keep our lives as chemical-free as possible. It’s difficult to find organic versions of everything we eat, but I do my best.
Every recipe on this blog is free of gluten and dairy. Most people who can’t tolerate gluten or dairy are also allergic to other foods, soy in particular. My youngest child can’t eat rice, almonds, peanuts or pineapple. My oldest child can’t eat oranges or egg whites. My middle child can’t eat dairy. I can’t eat pears. Cooking in my house is like swerving through food traffic. Shopping is even worse. There are many gluten-free foods available now, but most contain rice or almonds or butter or another ingredient my family can’t eat, or they are crammed with sugar.
Do Your Best
I’m a writer, a home cook, a gardener and a novice photographer (that should be obvious, since I take all the photos on this blog). I’m busy and not young. I take shortcuts because I have to. I’m careful to keep chemicals out of my home and my family’s diet, but I don’t have time to fuss with long lists of ingredients or elaborate preparations. I create food that tastes great and can be eaten by everyone in my family. We’re healthy now in large part because of what we eat.
Do we eat junk food every now and then? I’m afraid the answer is yes. French fries are terrible for you, but my child loves them, so I buy them on occasion at a stand at the farmer’s market. Sugar is the first ingredient in most gluten-free cookies, but I purchase them for my family now and then. Why? Because they taste good, and prohibiting foods is not the right way to teach self-discipline when it comes to diet. I would drive myself and my family crazy if I forced them to eat the healthiest diet available all the time. It’s not possible to be perfect, and I’m old enough to know better than to try.
PLEASE NOTE: This blog does not address life-threatening allergies or celiac disease, both of which require avoidance of allergens at the molecular level. My family avoids eating gluten, dairy and other foods because of non-life-threatening food allergies. If your allergies are life-threatening, please seek guidance from a licensed health professional.
I’m a home cook interested in the intersection of diet and health. I have no medical training and am not qualified to offer medical advice. I have a bachelor’s degree in the humanities from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from New York University. I research everything I post, but scientific research about diet and nutrition changes frequently. I use published studies, advice from professionals and my own experience to draw the best conclusions I can about what to feed my family.