Going on 20 years now living with food allergies (or food restrictions), I have learned a lot. I am more confident today in how I manage meals outside of the house but it is still not without its challenges. I still get nervous asking a friend or relative if it’s ok if we bring our own food or prep something in their kitchen. There are always lots of questions, but it always turns out beautifully, and more often than not we introduce new food ideas to the people in our lives.
As a parent the most challenging social settings for me to navigate around is birthday parties or events outside of a home, where the typical foods are off-limits for the girls. I used to dread birthday parties because my little one would get very upset about being left out, not being able to have the birthday cake or pizza, even though she knew it made her sick. She HATED being the idea of bringing a safe, special cupcake or snack because she would be different. She doesn’t like to stand out or be noticeably different than her friends. Unfortunately after a horrible year of repeated hospital stays and many missed school days, she realized she is different and it is ok. When we first imposed the food restrictions it was tough and in the first month or so, she opted to miss a few parties. Over time she realized she wasn’t the only one with food restrictions and the impact some of these foods were having on her health. It became very black and white for her, she could either eat her preferred, mom’s homemade vegan pizza and cupcake, be a little different but still have fun and feel good or she could have the other pizza and cake that she didn’t even like that much and potentially have to go to the hospital, get needles and miss out on school. It became a no brainer for her.
Bringing our own food became our new thing for parties and play dates and it hasn’t been a big deal for anyone. Our friends and family know that we have certain food restrictions and most of the time people go out of their way to accommodate. I get how difficult eating gluten and dairy free can be. But by doing a little prep work and communicating with hosts/friends you can eliminate any stress or worries.
I have found a few things really help. First, let the hosts know of our food restrictions. For parties we let them know that we will be bringing food for our girls and we ask what they will be serving so we can try to bring along a similar food. For a play date we offer to bring an allergen-friendly snack for all the kids to eat. We also try to schedule play dates not around meal times so it feels less intimidating for the kids and their host. If the girls will be somewhere else for mealtime, we send them a few slices of bread for sandwiches or the ingredients for a gluten-free and vegan pizza.
Another fun thing to do is involve the kids more. Mine go to my cookbooks and pick out one of their favorite recipes for us to make and bring to their friends. Most of my recipes freeze well, so often we make a big batch of cookies (Recharge Cookies, Vanilla Biscotti, Nicer Krispie Squares), brownies or cupcakes (Zucchini Chocolate Cupcakes, Super Yummy Brownies (photographed above and in my upcoming ebook), Spinach Vanilla Cupcakes, Red Velvet Cupcakes, Carrot Cake Cupcakes) and freeze half for future (or unexpected) birthday parties or events. This way I am prepared and less overwhelmed with needing to bake or cook for every event.
We also always have a pre-made gluten-free pizza crust (Trader Joe’s has a good one!) or gluten-free pita bread in the freezer so we can whip up meals to go quickly. The great thing is, so often the girls’ friends have wanted what they are having or asked for a bite. Our girls love sharing their treats and this has also helped them realize that they aren’t missing out. Their food is the best choice for them.
So if you are new to navigating the world of food sensitivities or restrictions, know that you have options. Sometimes it may take a little more planning and prep work but in the end it is worth. We are all different. We have different needs and it’s important to be true to what those needs are.