How to Feed a Family with Allergies

Pure Delicious by Heather Christo
Pure Delicious by Heather Christo. Heather Christo

Two and a half years ago I was a classically trained French chef and caterer turned food blogger who was merrily cooking and eating everything! I believed that I knew the key to happiness in life and it involved living and eating with gusto- even if I was sweeping some less than stellar health under the carpet while I did it.

But when my two daughters who had been chronically sick since birth only continued to decline with no explanation from doctors, I knew I had to take their health into my own hands. After some semi-successful experimentation with diet, I took things a step further and had both of them tested for food allergies, as well as myself. When we got the results in January of 2014, it completely turned our lives upside down. All three of us were allergic to the magical trifecta of Gluten, Dairy and Eggs, and then each of us had many other personal allergies, combining to total over 30. It was mind blowing. Where did we turn for help? Who would show us the path to dealing with this? Which recipes would be an introduction to eating this way? Well, in fact, we hit a dead end. There was no road map for families like us. There were very few resources and there certainly was no cookbook that could address our new reality. So I dove in and decided that I would create our own game plan, our own “new normal” and our own arsenal of recipes to navigate these complicated waters.

Because food was such a large part of my professional life and our personal life, there was a lot of anxiety about letting go of beloved foods and the emotional attachment we had to what they represented. In our minds, certain dishes were representative of family, of traditions and celebrations. There are also so many things that I didn’t want my children to miss out on- every child should be able to have a birthday cake and an occasional weekend donut without worrying that they will be sick. I didn’t want my kids never being able to have slices of pizza or Thanksgiving Pie, and how about a sandwich in their lunch!?

So we really started the process by making a wish list of all the foods that they wished that they could have, but which were temporarily off the table (literally.) One by one I worked to recreate them into an allergen free state that was still delicious, some even better than the original versions! Besides the special kid requested treats like cupcakes and Sunday waffles, we also revamped the way we were eating on a daily basis. I always marvel at the transition in the way we eat. I find that we are finally eating in the way that I had always “mom-fantasized” that we would. You know, where you sit down to a meal of whole non-processed healthy food? It’s colorful, nutritious and totally delicious, plus we are all so much healthier for it.  We are eating big salads (even my kids!) cozy soups and pasta dishes packed with fresh veggies. Pizzas are loaded with wonderful ingredients and fresh baked biscuits and breads brimming with ingredients like pumpkin and sweet potato. My children (and my husband!) have learned to be open minded about trying new ingredients and adventurous in their eating.

I believe it hasn’t been about taking things out of our diet, but about an exchange of ingredients. It has been an endless exploration of new techniques, ingredients and flavor combinations which has really expanded our knowledge as well as our excitement about the possibilities of food.

As for the health of the family? My children were cleared of all their health problems within 8 weeks of eating this way, and so was I. My husband who was just along for the ride, lost 20 pounds. Pia, the sickest of us all has not even had a head cold in two years. They are thriving and happy and I love that they have been so involved in their own delicious journey to health.