How to Stop Catering to Your Food Allergic Family

6 Ways to Streamline Family Meals

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Cooking for your family is great, unless you're catering to them. Wonderlane/Flickr

Have you become a short-order cook? Do you find yourself catering to your food allergic family? Parents may get caught up in catering to their family members with food allergies, offering up alternative food items on the whims and food preferences of their children, rather than streamlining mealtime. From picky eating to teenage experimentation with nutrition, all children proceed through predictable developmental patterns.

However, the food limitations associated with food allergies make catering a common reality in food allergic families. Catering may lead to a frustrated parent and a child who has few foods in his diet. While common, this isn’t the best way to feed the food allergic family. What’s the best solution? You need to know how to stop catering to your food allergic family.

Take a look at these scenarios:

“I make an alternative entrée or side dish almost every night for my son with milk and wheat allergy.” 

“If I don’t make what my daughter likes, she won’t eat it, and she’s already very thin and allergic to egg, milk, and peanut.”

“Samantha didn’t eat her dinner, so I let her have her favorite cereal before bedtime. I feel guilty if she doesn't eat.”

Catering to your family’s food allergies is a must-do, but catering the entire meal, including offering food alternatives or back-up meals doesn’t work in the long run.

The harder you try to please each individual of the family, the less pleased (and more demanding) your family will be. And this only makes feeding your food allergic family harder.

Ideally, the best way to feed your food allergic family is to use a “one meal for all” approach. Here are 6 ways to pull it off:

Make meals allergy-friendly. Whether it’s a milk allergy, fish allergy or a soy allergy, you know what foods your family must avoid, and your menu items need to reflect this. Meals will be more successful when everyone eats safe foods and they are included for everyone. Don’t tempt an allergic reaction by offering food allergens at the table.

Try family style meals. Place food items in the center of the table on platters and in bowls and allow each family member to serve himself. As mentioned above, meal items must be allergy-friendly. The benefits of family style meals are many: they allow your child to pick and choose what and how much he wants to eat from the foods you have planned for the meal, they encourage independence, and allow children to have some control at the table. The more food variety you place on the table, the higher the odds your child will be successful at finding something to eat.

Include the basic food groups, within the constraints of your family’s food allergies, including protein sources, grains, fruit, vegetables, dairy (or non-dairy substitute) and healthy fats.

The more food groups on the table, or good alternatives for allergens, the better. It means you’re more likely to meet your child’s different nutrient needs.

Double up on nutritious foods, especially the ones your child likes and can eat safely. If you’ve got a fruit lover, offer two types at mealtime. If you’ve got a starch lover, offer peas and pasta or corn and rolls. Try to make starches nutritious, offering a whole grain starch and/or a starchy vegetable. Since the idea is to get ½ the plate covered in fruits and veggies, make sure there are ample options on the table.

Keep it simple. You don’t have to make a complicated spinach soufflé, casseroles loaded with vegetables, or gourmet foods to get your family to eat. Raw and crunchy veggies with an easy side dip will do the trick for most kids. Fresh fruit, bread and butter, and a gallon of milk (or milk substitute) will satisfy most children and cover many of their nutrient requirements. Shift your mind-set: Kids prefer less complicated food rather than foods they cannot identify or are foreign to them.

Let your child do the work. In other words, stop doing everything for them! Older children can peel a banana or orange. They can pop the tops off strawberries, and can eat a whole apple. Support the younger child as needed, but periodically challenge him to do some of the work at the meal table. You may be surprised to see your child delight in eating a peeled whole carrot (even with the tops attached!) over the brown sugar-coated, sliced, cooked version. Not to mention, you’ll be teaching independence and food skills at the same time.

The bottom line is this: catering to your families picky eating tendencies or food requests only makes you work harder and limits your child’s diet, potentially more than his food allergies already do. The goal is to feed your family a meal that covers nutritional requirements while considering food allergy limitations. This doesn’t have to mean catering, or making several different meals each night. In fact, everyone will be better off in the long run if you have one meal in which everyone can partake.

How do you get your family to eat one meal? What are your biggest struggles at mealtime?

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