How to Survive Holidays with Food Allergies

Over four years ago, I realized my dairy allergy. Adjusting to the massively food-limiting restriction was rough. One of the biggest issues: how to handle holidays.

I dropped all dairy just before Halloween 2013. Bad timing for my taste buds — as I only enjoy chocolate candy and dislike fruity treats — but appreciated by my waistline. It was a hardship that first Halloween learning to abstain from all of the fun-size goodies, but I did. I knew it’d get easier with time. And it did.

Then came Thanksgiving. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, pies, green beans, corn, rolls, even the turkey are more likely than not to contain dairy. Around the holidays, milk/butter/cheese/cream/whey is in everything. I mourned missing out. It was a death, of sorts. I thought Thanksgiving was dead.

At first I adjusted by making and bringing some of my own dairy-free versions of traditional dishes and — my then-omnivorous self — asked for the turkey to be made dairy-free. My family kindly obliged. However, despite all loving intentions, I got inadvertently dosed with dairy that year. It was awful; a holiday meal wasn’t worth a week of suffering, especially when I had an infant and a toddler to wrangle.

A month later, Christmas came and I tried my approach again. Fail! Dosed yet again, I decided from then on not to attempt others’ contributions unless the cooks, themselves, were dairy-free.

AirBrush_20171118140450

The next year, I made more side dishes to bring, ate beforehand, and stuck to my meal offerings. No accidental dairy dosing! I had my new holiday survival technique. This was key, now that two of my children accompanied me on the dairy-free journey.

Three years later — now a dairy-allergic, gluten-free vegan — I will absolutely maintain my tried-and-true holiday survival technique. It’s my safest route.

Is it hard not being able to eat everything? Not really, anymore. Once I shifted my focus from food to people, it made a world of difference. The day after a holiday, I won’t look back on the celebration remembering how the green beans tasted or how the squash was flavored. I’ll reflect on the people, the experience, the laughter (and eye rolls… because what’s a family gathering without that balance?) And that’s where my focus should be.

So what do I bring? This year, I will bring herbed green beans sauteed in olive oil, baked squash (delicata, butternut, and acorn) seasoned with herbs and Earth Balance, and a garlicky lentil-mushroom dish. Often, I bring dairy-free rolls and herbed carrots. Usually my belly is too full for dessert after Thanksgiving dinner, and I’m too busy wrangling my tiny trio while helping with dish clean-up to indulge, but if I did want to bring a sweet to enjoy it’d probably be this.

Looking for some gluten-free vegan holiday recipes? Try here. On the hunt for sweet recipes? Look here for some vegan dessert finds.

When it comes to food allergies, there’s no dish worth risking a reaction, no matter how delicious. It is hard at first but, like any adjustment, it gets easier. Life is about so much more than just food.

 

Advertisements

Product Find: Vegan Yogurt

On the hunt for a creamy dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan yogurt without the weird aftertaste or powdery mouthfeel? I found it!

Back in my dairy-eating days, I ate yogurt most mornings. Whether straight out of the small peel-and-lick-top container or scooped into a bowl with fresh berries and dry cereal, it was my go-to morning meal maker. Then, my dairy allergy hit.

Lots of product sampling later, I landed on So Delicious. Their dairy-free yogurt alternative was a good option. It was accessible, my kids loved it, and it was a passable yogurt substitute. Still, I didn’t crave it like I did dairy yogurt. Then, I found this:

AirBrush_20171116203531.jpg

Game over. Creamy, smooth mouthfeel, no weird tangy flavor, zero powdery texture, no sugar headache, and just the slightest yummy hint of lemon and vanilla. Kite Hill’s vanilla yogurt could easily go spoon-to-spoon with Dannon vanilla yogurt.

Kite Hill, you win again.

Fudgy Gluten-free Vegan Brownies… from a box!

Want the ooey-ooey, indulgent tasting brownies without all the added fat of eggs and butter, or the gut-busting gluten? Well then, make these… STAT.

AirBrush_20171111125718

Warm, fudgy, chocolatey brownies, is there anything better? The answer is no. No there’s not.

Being a gluten-free vegan, I thought my days of delicious, fudgy brownies were behind me. Then I came across Wegmans Double Chocolate Gluten-free Brownie Mix. I contacted Wegmans to ask if the mix was vegan, waited anxiously for a reply, and happily got the all-clear. Cue the shameless happy dance!

I ran out and bought the box mix the next day. Then contemplated how to veganize the required butter and egg additions. Flax egg and Earth Balance (or coconut oil) seemed like the logical path, but what’s the fun in that? I had some leftover baked yam and an awkward portion of unsweetened vanilla coconut yogurt staring at me from the fridge. So I put them to work. Then (im)patiently awaited the results.

AirBrush_20171111125933

Verdict: WIN!!

So, wait no more. Bake yourself a batch and savor the deliciousness of homemade brownies (without all of the badies.)

FUDGY GLUTEN-FREE VEGAN BROWNIES (from a box)

AirBrush_20171111130228

Fudgy Gluten-free Vegan Brownies

Ingredients:

1 box Wegmans Double Chocolate Gluten-free Brownie Mix

11/4 cup baked yam (skin removed)*

1/2 cup unsweetened dairy-free yogurt (such as So Delicious Dairy Free Yogurt Alternative)

1/3 cup water

*Drained canned yam or canned pureed pure pumpkin may be used in place of baked yam.

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Using a hand mixer, beat the yam in a large bowl until the yam is smooth.

Add in the yogurt and beat until blended with the yam.

Gradually pour in the dry box mix, beating on a low setting until there is no more loose powder in the bowl.

Once the dry ingredients are incorporated into the wet ingredients, increase the mixing speed, adding the water if needed to thin out the batter to reach a standard brownie batter consistency.

Mix on high for 1 minute.

Once smooth — except for the chocolate chips — transfer all of the batter to a greased, square baking pan.

Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes for extra fudgy brownies, or bake for the full 28 minutes noted on the brownie mix box for firmer brownies.

Let cool before cutting in a hashmark pattern.

Enjoy!

 

What Halloween Taught My 4-year-old: Life as an Allergy Mom

No one wants to be an allergy mom. But you really have no choice in the matter. It’s your life. It’s your child’s life. Deal with it.

20171027_074441

My middle son’s severe peanut allergy became glaringly obvious when he was not even a year old. I was at work a state away, my husband was at home simultaneously trying to send work emails and wrangle our not-yet-3-year-old daughter and our 11-month-old son. Our daughter took that opportunity to act upon our often-ignored requests to share with her brother, and gave him a nice big bite of her PB&J. Hives covered his tiny body — scalp, face, legs, feet, ears — he vomited, his bowels evacuated, Benadryl didn’t touch the reaction. My husband called me at work. I called the pediatrician, rushed home, raced to the pediatrician’s office, and they called it: peanut allergy. Just to be safe, they ordered a blood allergy test. He reacted to 5 of the 7 peanut proteins. He was severely allergic. He also had an egg allergy that he, like our daughter and eventual second son, outgrew by the age of 2.

We were Epi-Pen carrying allergy parents. Crap. And I had once been that snotty know-nothing teen who bemoaned the lack of free peanuts on planes. How inconvenienced I felt to be handed pretzels instead of overly salted legumes! Clearly karma was biting me in the ass. Those same peanuts I now regard with the same level of mortal dread as a rattlesnake.

By 2.5-years-old, “pants explosions” as we called them (sudden, explosive diarrhea) and rash made our middle son’s dairy issues clear. In an odd twist of fate, I had developed not just a milk aversion during his pregnancy but a dairy allergy after his birth. So, I had been the initial dairy-free guinea pig. By the time his dairy problems undeniably presented, I had dairy-free living down pat.

Then came our daughter’s dairy issues. First it was the undereye circles, the belly distention, the moodiness. All foolishly excusable… poor sleep, seasonal allergies, toddler stature, potty-training. Then constipation gave way to belly pain and bowel evacuation. Clearly, dairy was her body’s enemy. We were now 3 for 5 on dairy issues, and The Hubs’ belly was already firing warning shots after cheesy quesadillas and ice cream sundaes.

Then came Halloween. With two kids unable to eat dairy and peanuts regarded as asbestos, the holiday was tricky. We rehashed the “no eating candy until we sort it” rule and showed them examples of what candy to avoid verses choose if presented the option (Snickers = bad, Starburst = good, Milky Way = bad, Swedish Fish = good.) Then we handed them their empty candy collection sacks and off we went — a pint-sized airplane pilot, unicorn-mermaid, and a flamingo — going door-to-door for treats.

20171031_181848

Midway through the venture my middle son looked up at me, unicorn-horn-topped rainbow wig obscuring his blue eyes, and said he didn’t want anymore candy. I asked why. He said, “All I get are peanuts and dairy.” My heart sank. I felt so sad for him. It was true, those two delicious allergens were prevalent in his loot bag. “I still want to trick-or-treat though,” he said. The sadness left and my heart filled with pride.

He happily continued the outing, bouncing up to each door — rainbow wig dancing with each step, green scaly fin-bedecked leggings glinting in the jack-o-lanterns’ light — and chirped, “Trick-or-treat!” With his empty hands clasped in front of him. Every so often, if he saw a bowl contained only safe-for-him treats, he’d grab his bag from me and open it happily for the giver’s goodies. Otherwise he enjoyed the holiday in his own way.

20171031_182352

That night my 4-year-old learned a valuable lesson: how to enjoy a celebration without letting dietary restrictions get in the way. Could he eat all of the candy he received? No. Did he still have fun? You bet! And that is truly what matters. The memories, the fun, the enjoyment… not the food.

Will he remember that pink Starburst a day, a week, a year from now? No. But he sure as heck will recall the pirate who answered the door with a treasure chest of treats or his sister’s teacher (our neighbor) who so warmly invited us into her home. Those are the keepsakes.

As food-centric holidays unfold, this lesson will be invaluable for him. Not everything will be centered around his dietary needs, but that doesn’t mean he can’t enjoy himself. Food is not all there is. The company and the experience mean far more. Enjoy what you can and forget the rest.

I guess he is a pretty smart kid after all.