You really don't have to make two sets of meals
by Noël-Marie Taylor
inding a meal that will please the entire family is often difficult. But what if you ALSO have to take into consideration someone's food allergies? Even an old standard like spaghetti or macaroni and cheese may no longer be an option if your child is allergic to wheat or dairy.
Initially, you may decide to make separate meals for the allergic child, and feed the rest of the family normally. After a while, however, this gets REALLY old--twice as much cooking, and you may still be getting complaints of "I don't like that!" from both sides.
While the task may seem daunting at first, it IS actually possible to modify many standard dishes to remove allergens. In our house, we've been doing this for three years now--dairy-free items for the whole time (my son reacts even when I eat something with milk, and then nurse him), and then six months of gluten-, soy- and potato-free as well. (Gluten-free is worse than wheat-free; you also have to eliminate many other flours.)
Here are some of our favorite standbys--foods everyone can eat, which are easy to make without specific allergens--suggestions for substitutions, and recipes that have been specifically modified to avoid certain allergens.
NOTE: in this article, we will talk about avoiding and substituting for only a few of the many allergens to which your child may react: Dairy, gluten/wheat, soy, eggs, corn, nuts, and peanuts. For information about avoiding other allergens, and other generally useful allergy information, contact the Food Allergy Network--their cookbooks are magnificent!
Summer meals are the easiest to do when avoiding allergens, in my opinion--salads, fresh fruits and veggies, simple grilled items. Our favorite meal that avoids all the major allergens is a simple stirfry. Cook up some chicken and vegetables (or just vegetables) in a pan with a small amount of oil and lots of spices (we generally use garlic, ginger, chilis, and whatever else seems good that day), add some extra water and rice flour to make a broth, and serve over rice.
Another simple thing to do is serve your usual baked or broiled meat, but with rice instead of potatoes or pasta. Rice is highly non-allergenic (although I have heard of people who are allergic to it).
- When baking, use shortening or dairy-free margarine for butter.
- When milk is needed in a recipe, use water, soy, or rice milk.
- Cream sauces can be made with soy or rice milks and creams.
- Instead of ice cream, try a sorbet or fruit popsicle (though some of the commercially sold brands of each DO contain dairy, so make your own or read carefully)
- MOST Italian and French breads are dairy-free, while most standard loaves are not
- When thickening a gravy, use rice flour
- Rice and other non-wheat noodles can always be used instead of standard wheat-based noodles. Use them in pasta salads, spaghettis, soups.
- When in doubt, serve rice instead of bread or pasta.
- Some cholesterol-free egg substitutes are in fact egg-free (not all of them, however).
- When a recipe calls for an egg, substitute 1/2 cup tofu, 1/2 banana, or 1 tablespoon of cooking oil.
Finding the ingredients for allergen-free cooking can often be difficult. Try a local health foods store or specialty store (for instance, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, or food co-ops). Indian and Oriental grocers often carry many non-wheat flours and noodles.
For mail or online orders, my favorite source is Miss Roben's; in addition to flours and specialty ingredients, they also carry premade snacks (such as wheat-free pretzels) and mixes that can often be a lifesaver for last-minute bread or dessert preparations!
Noël-Marie Taylor is a freelance writer located in Columbia, Maryland. Her work has appeared in many magazines, including PC Magazine and The Mother Is Me. A stay-at-home mom to two children, she is also the designer of several cross-stitch kits for children.