Managing Dietary Concerns

In this day and age, intolerances and allergies to foods are becoming more and more common. When you are trying to feed 6 different kids, all who may have different dietary needs, how do you manage? Some careful planning and thinking ahead is required, and it can be a pretty steep learning curve, but it really is manageable!  My son is gluten, dairy and soy intolerant, and goes to a nut free school, so I’m speaking from experience here :)

When dealing with allergies, the first thing to do is find out how severe the allergy or intolerance is. If it’s an anaphylactic allergy, then clearly you need to avoid it altogether in your home. Nuts, peanuts, shellfish, fish and eggs seem to be the most common anaphylactic inducing items.  If you have a child with a severe allergy in your care, ensure you talk to the parents about the severity, the signs, and the symptoms you need to watch out for. Then, make sure you know how to use an epipen if one is required.  Many kids who have food allergies cannot have the item themselves, but it does not cause issues if those around them have it.

Once you know the severity of the allergies, then you can plan accordingly. Look through the recipes/menus you usually use to feed the kids, and see if you can adapt them to fit the needs of the kids in your care.  I’m going to talk about accommodating and adapting for: Gluten, Eggs, Dairy, and Nuts.

Gluten intolerance or celiac disease can be accommodated for by using Gluten Free products. 10 years ago, this would have been really complicated, but these days, being Gluten Free is really common and the alternatives are plentiful. Most grocery stores have a section where they house their Gluten Free items (Safeway and Superstore), or they mark them clearly with labels on the shelves (Save on Foods).  From our personal experience, the brands that seem to do the best job of Gluten Free alternatives are Udi – their bread, muffins and buns are the best in our opinion  Glutino – they make great pretzels, granola bars, english muffins, and boxed baking mixes. The pie above was made with Glutino pie crust mix, and it was delicious!! EnviroKids makes yummy cereals and granola bars. For a flour substitute, our favourite is made by HighWood Crossing. Bob’s Red Mill and Bulk Barn also make quite a good flour – just be sure you use Xanthan Gum with them.

Egg allergies are tough, because they add a whole other level of challenge to baking. There are a number of websites out there with egg-free cooking themes. One of them is Google “baking without eggs”, and you will get a lot of hits. You can also buy egg substitute, which works relatively well, or you can make “flax eggs”. This is quite common for vegans to use. You need to grind flax, and add water. 1 TBSP of flax + 3 TBSP water = 1 egg. Then let it sit in the fridge for about an hour to bind together. Then you can use it instead of eggs in baking.

Dairy, when substituting for milk, is quite easy as there are a lot of options. Almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, hemp milk, coconut milk and rice milk are all options. Each has their pros and cons. The one that we have settled on in our house is an Almond/Coconut blend – its YUMMY!  When baking, you just use it cup for cup, no difference. When trying to substitute cheese, its gets trickier. Many use soy cheese, but you have to watch it with soy, because it often has whey (dairy protein) in it!!  The best completely dairy free alternative is called Daiya – its a tapioca based cheese alternative. The taste is a bit different, but if you are mixing it with other stuff, for example, to make macaroni and cheese, you really can’t tell the difference. Daiya comes preshredded in bags, or more recently, they have released “cheese” slices and blocks as well.  If you are trying to substitute cream cheese, you can use dessert tofu, or even avocado works well!

Lastly, but probably the most talked about with kids, and often the most severe, is nut allergies. Depending on the allergy, there are quite a few alternatives. For just a peanut allergy, Almond Butter and Cashew butter are delicious and fairly easy to find. If you are talking about ALL nuts, tree and peanut, there are less alternatives, but you can find them. We have found the best flavoured nut free butter is called WOW butter. Its a soy based product, and especially in baking, you really can’t tell the difference. I’ve also heard that Pea Butter, made from golden brown peas, is quite good.

At first, having a child with food allergies seems completely overwhelming, but with a bit of careful planning and shopping, it really is manageable. It is particularly important that you read ingredient labels when shopping, as many pre-packaged items have the above foods in them. One of the accommodations we make for our son is to send the bread, muffins and milk he likes to the dayhome so we know his needs will be taken care of, and so that our “Aunty” doesn’t have to shop especially for him. If you have any questions about accomodating for special dietary needs, send me an email or at, and I’ll do my best to help you out!

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