I’m a former journalist and the mother of three kids, all of whom have food and environmental 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 children the right foods and how to remove allergens and toxins from my family’s environment.
Food was the big issue, because we all have to eat thrice daily. I dropped dairy from my family’s diet, then gluten, then soy, then corn, then oranges. It was a slow, bumpy process.
But what to feed my children when gluten and dairy were banned? It was a troubling problem that took me years to sort out.
Fortunately, eliminating gluten became fashionable, so gluten-free foods began to multiply in stores. The vegan diet became popular, so it became easier to find dairy-free ingredients, like dairy-free yogurt and dairy-free cheese. After 15 plus years, I can cook just about anything without dairy or eggs or cheese or gluten. (I’m still struggling with low-sugar baking, but I’ll get there.)
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 sugar, maple syrup 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.
Creating an Allergy-Friendly House
When my child’s allergies were diagnosed, mold, pollen and dust were declared the enemy to be banished. In short order, HEPA filters appeared in every bedroom. All carpeting and rugs disappeared to be replaced by washable cotton throw rugs. Down comforters and pillows were packed off to the attic, along with wool blankets and replaced with polyester filled comforters and pillows and cotton blankets. Any furniture containing particleboard was given away or put out with the trash.
I bought water filters, removed curtains, pillows and fluffy stuffed animals that collected too much dust. I covered mattresses and bed pillows with dust-mite proof covers. I washed all our bedding and the kids’ clothing in hot water to kill dust mites. I damp mopped the floors in my child’s bedroom every day. I put books and toys behind glass in cabinets or dust-able containers.
Scented candles, chemical cleaning products and personal care products, like shampoos, were replaced with natural versions or simple ingredients like vinegar and baking soda. We used “green” building products, such as zero-VOC paints and floor finishes when re-doing our kitchen. The cabinets we purchased were made from solid wood, not particle board.
I’m still working on making my house greener and safer for all of us. It’s an ongoing struggle to keep toxic chemicals out of our house. Our artificial Christmas tree is made of plastic, hardly a natural product. But my child couldn’t tolerate the mold that’s on real Christmas trees, so I endure the plastic tree, which only comes out of the attic once a year.
Change Is Hard
Cleaning allergens out of our house was the easy part. Kids don’t care if their blankets are wool or cotton as long as they’re warm. But changing my family’s diet was a long process. Initially, I tried to cook separate gluten-free, dairy-free meals for my very 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 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.
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, allergic or not. 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.
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 diary. 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 diary. 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 and a novice photographer (that should be obvious, since I take all the photos on this blog). I also garden when I can. I try very hard to keep chemicals out of my home and my family’s diet. I love to eat delicious meals, but 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, all of whom are healthy now, in large part because of our allergy friendly home and diet.
PLEASE NOTE: 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 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 and how to keep our home healthy and safe.
This blog does not address life-threatening food 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.