A Gathering of Allergy-free Tips

Young family making a meal

A lot of bynature.ca customers ask us about allergy-free cooking. I am really lucky that my family members and I don’t have food allergies, but Nature Mom has to be more cautious about gluten-free, egg-free, and dairy-free meals. Since I’m no expert in this area, I have gathered tips for you.


Food Allergy Basics

  • Food allergies seem to be on the rise
  • The top 8 allergens account for about 90% of food allergies
  • There are a BUNCH of really excellent resources for you. You are not alone


Dairy-free Cooking

  • There are a lot of drinking options available in many stores with soy, rice, and almond milk
  • For light baking, honey and molasses will help
  • For more dense baking (like cookies), vegetable shortening or margarine will help


Wheat-free Cooking

  • Try breads & crackers of soy, rice, potato, or corn
  • Look at ingredients, since wheat is often used as a thickener
  • Fast food? Just don’t. Even French fries are often dipped in wheat-based batter before deep frying


Egg-free Cooking

  • Don’t assume egg-substitutes are egg free
  • You will need to adjust differently for cookies, cakes, and other baking. There are great ways to avoid eggs in each
  • Look out for egg-free shampoos and cosmetics (yes, really!)


Allergy-free Birthday Cakes

  • Soy milk and vegetable oil are common substitutes for dairy in cakes
  • If you aren’t attached to cake itself, try a frozen dessert cake (yogurt or ice cream)
  • Better yet, go to a local vegan bakery. They have figured it out, and you won’t have to fuss.


Ask Your Buddies

Even given all of the great resources available, I still find that talking with peers gives me the in-depth reviews I crave. When a mother asked on Facebook for egg-free recipes for cakes, cookies, and pancakes, our followers rushed in with suggestions for recipes sites.

Looking for recipes or advice? Ask your friends. Ask on the Parenting by Nature Facebook page.

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Allergy-free Birthday Cakes

First birthday cake

For both of my children, their first birthday cakes were their first solid foods. That means all at once they covered their faces with milk, eggs, wheat, and other potential food allergens. A lot of us take the chance that our baby won’t have a reaction or sensitivity to birthday cake even if we are careful introducing new foods slowly otherwise.

If you are introducing your baby to new foods at a birthday party, at least simplify the birthday cake recipe to reduce the number of potential food allergens.

Wheat-free Cakes. If you aren’t attached specifically to the idea of having a cake, frosted rice krispie treats have that cake feel without wheat. An ice cream or frozen yoghurt cake could also be a wheat-free treat if you aren’t also avoiding dairy.

Egg-free Cakes. If you are avoiding eggs, avoid egg substitutes unless they are egg-free. Check the label. You may need to look online for vegan cooking ingredients. If you are lucky enough to have a local vegan bakery, even better. Save yourself the time and support a local business.

Dairy-free Cakes. Some cake mixes are dairy free. If you have a favorite homemade recipe, a simple substitution of soy milk may be enough. Wacky cake is a common and much loved dairy-free and egg-free cake that uses vegetable oil for moisture and binding.


Cake Flavors

For babies who have been eating solids foods, they may already know carrots, zucchini, applesauce, and bananas. All of these make great additions to cakes. The cake will just push familiar flavors a little. Since a lot of the sweetness in these cakes comes from the fruit or vegetable, you won’t need to add so much sugar.

You may also want to avoid chocolate, peanuts, and tree nuts. Until you have introduced these foods and know that you child has no problems with them, you can easily flavor your cakes without them.


Frosting

If you are avoiding buttercream frosting, there are several ways you can create that frosting feel without adding a slab of butter and powdered sugar to your cake.

Cream cheese frosting is sweetened with powdered sugar and made loose enough to spread with milk. If you want to avoid adding sugar, try mixing yoghurt and cream cheese until it is a texture you like. You could also use whipped cream, but don’t put it on the cake too long before you serve since it can lose its firmness and soak into the cake.

Or, avoid frosting altogether. A light sprinkling of powdered sugar or fresh-cut strawberries dress up a cake.


Check with the Guests

Your child isn’t the only person you should look out for when you are making a birthday cake. Either make a note on your invitation to let you know about any food allergies or just call the guests. Sometimes it is easier to speak up about food sensitivities when it feels like a casual question. When I receive a dinner invitation, I dread the conversation when I say, “I can’t have dairy or this or that.” I often wonder if my saying that will be followed up with, “Oh, don’t bother coming, then.”

Make it easy for your guests to speak up.


Are you ready to make your cake?
Do you know what you plan to avoid in a recipe? The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network has a free allergy-free recipe database with cake after beautiful cake that you can use to introduce your baby to the joy of birthday cake.


Resources

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Tips for allergy-free cooking – Egg free!

Wheat-only pasta

Egg allergy is the second most common food allergy in children after cow’s milk, and it is more common in children than in adults. About 2% of children have some form of egg allergy. Sometimes a baby will show allergic reactions to eggs then grow out of that allergy by 5 years old. Breastfed babies with egg allergy can react when the mother eats eggs, as is true with other allergens, so both members of the nursing pair should avoid eggs.

I grew up until I was 5 years old on an egg farm, and I have local organic eggs delivered to my house every week. I’m a huge egg lover. I say that to make it clear that, unlike with cow’s milk allergies and wheat allergies, I have no personal experience with egg allergies. If you have experience you would like to share, I would love to hear from you.

Still, I offer a few tips I’ve gathered from others who do avoid eggs in their diets.


Egg Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms are similar to other food allergies where the body is fighting what it sees as a foreign invader: a skin reaction such as hives or rash; a respiratory reaction, including congestion and even allergic asthma; a gastrointestinal reactions, such as nausea and stomach cramps; or anaphylaxis. For some, this can be a life-threatening food allergy, but for others it causes a bit of inconvenience. The seriousness of the allergy for your child or other family member should determine how careful you are about avoiding eggs in foods.


Avoiding Eggs

Avoiding eggs in foods is difficult. Egg nog, egg noodles, and egg rolls may be obvious enough, but you need to watch out for mayonnaise, marshmallows, breads and crackers, glazed breads like bagels, cream pies and doughnuts, ice cream, pudding, battered foods, and more. Even some root beers and wines contain egg products.

Eggs are so commonly used that you will undoubtedly find yourself reading labels closely. Eggs are required to be listed on food labels, but they aren’t always listed as “Eggs.” Also egg-derived ingredients, such as: albumin, apovitellenin, globulin, lecithin, livetin, lysozyme, ovalbumin, ovoglobulin, ovomucin, ovomucoid, ovotransferrin, ovovitellin, phosvitin, silici albuminate, simplesse, and vitellin. If the ingredient is “ov-” anything, as in ovum or egg, avoid it.


What to use in baking?
Corn starch, potato starch, arrowroot powder, or soy powder can all be used as egg substitutes in baking. Usually for bread, though, it’s just as easy to find a different recipe that isn’t intended to include egg.

You could use an egg substitute, but some of them include egg whites, in which case you might ask how much of a substitute it is. Most egg substitutes are meant to lower cholesterol rather than egg proteins, so this is not an appropriate food for those with egg allergies unless it is specifically egg-free.

What to use in brownies? “Use 1½ tablespoons (22.2 milliliters) oil and 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of baking powder for each egg,” suggests KidsHealth.org.

What to use in cookies? Rather than just using your old recipes and substituting ingredients, try some of the amazing egg-free recipes at EgglessCooking.com. They have a lot of recipes for cookies and other baked desserts.

What to use in a cake? A banana or a cup or applesauce can act like a binding agent. Still wondering what to do with the zucchini from harvest (I have a freezer full of it), use it in cakes and forget the eggs. Cakes are generally more forgiving of ingredient changes than breads.

What to use in pasta? Just choose or make pasta without eggs. Most dry pastas are just wheat and water, but fresh pasta often uses eggs. Labels, labels, labels.

What to use for shampoo? Check the label. There are plenty of non-egg choices, but there are shampoos that include egg products. I even remember putting a raw egg mixture on my hair as a teenager. (It was a very long time ago, and I don’t remember why that was supposed to be a good thing.)

What to use for creams and ointments? Check the label. As with shampoo and other cosmetics, there are plenty of choices. Just find one that doesn’t include the long list of egg-derived ingredients.

Whether to give your child vaccinations should be discussed with your doctor. Flu vaccinations in particular are often cultured in eggs.

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Tips for allergy-free cooking – Wheat free!

Corn tortillas are wheat-free and easy to find

Corn tortillas are wheat-free and easy to find

Wheat. Staff of life or source of abdominal and other disorders? Wheat is one of the most common food allergies. Many children outgrow their sensitivity to wheat, but for some avoiding wheat can remain a lifetime challenge.

Symptoms of wheat allergies can range from typical allergic symptoms such as hives, congestion, or stomach cramps through to more serious symptoms like irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and even anaphylactic shock. Celiac disease is not an allergy but a gluten-related auto-immune disorder that is relatively common, effecting .1-1% of the population in North America. While sensitivity, allergy, and auto-immune disease are all different, the implications for diet are similar.

As with any food allergy, you need to read the labels. Sometimes, especially if you are dealing with a serious allergy that could result in anaphylaxis, you need to go beyond the labels. Kamut and spelt, for example, are sometimes marketed as wheat substitutes, which they certainly are, but they are not safe for those with wheat allergies because they are close relatives to wheat.

Also, some people with food sensitivities and food allergies are not able to eat the common wheat substitutes. This was true for my best friend who could not eat wheat, rice, soy, potato, or corn. We avoided the starches altogether. If you need to avoid starches, don’t use the substitutes listed below.

What to bake bread with? A combination of flours often works well. Try soy, rice, and potato flour.

First Nations breads are made with white corn, maize, that is heavier and more hearty than the sweet corn most of us are familiar with. The hull of this corn must be dissolved before the corn is digestible. From corn tortillas and tamales to tight, heavy loaves of Iroquois corn bread, native corn breads can be a welcome, slow food for those who must avoid wheat. If you are going to make your own tamales or corn bread, look for “masa harina” (flour from maize) rather than “masa de trigo” (flour from wheat). Watch the label so you don’t end up with a mix.

What to use for cereal? Wheat-free rice cereal, flax seed meal, corn meal, and tapioca can all be used as substitute cereals.

What to use for crackers? Try rice cakes. There are many types of seed crackers available, often with a rice base.

What to use for pasta? Glassy rice noodles are a great substitute for wheat pasta in some dishes. Rice noodles can be made using just rice or a combination of rice, potato, and corn flours. In addition to the common wheat substitutes, amaranth and tapioca can both be used to make pasta that is closer to the texture of wheat pasta.

What to drink? Most beer is out, but wine is still in.

What fast food to eat? I know it isn’t enough to just say, “Don’t!” But, because there are a lot of hidden ingredients in processed foods and ingredients lists aren’t always easy to come by, be careful with fast food. Most french fries, for example, are battered before deep frying, and those batters include wheat.

What to use for batter? Fish can be dipped in egg then cornmeal before frying to make a nice, crispy coating.

What to use for tacos? Use corn tortillas rather than flour tortillas. Check the ingredients. Best of all, find a local market that uses high quality traditional maize.

What to use for seasoning? Avoid soy or steak sauces when wheat is used as a thickener. Plenty of great sauces have no wheat ingredients, so just check labels and try new flavors.

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Tips for allergy-free cooking – Dairy free!

Soy milk

I am familiar with milk-free, dairy-free cooking because I don’t, shouldn’t, can’t eat dairy. But I still do, and that’s a problem.

Ice cream. I love it. Sadly, ice cream doesn’t love me—and it’s starting to be clear that it doesn’t love my children either, though they are still happily in denial. This fact punched me in the stomach again over the weekend when my family had ice cream and I had a few bites. Yes, I know better. I’ve spent my whole adult life avoiding dairy, but what I have is a food sensitivity rather than an allergy. Both need to avoid dairy, though for parents who need to create 100% dairy-free meals, the consequences of a few bites are far greater.

Whether you are avoiding milk and dairy because of intolerances or you need to completely change your way of cooking and eating to cut out all traces of dairy, here are a few tips on allergy-free, dairy-free meals for children and the whole family.

What to drink? Soy milk, rice milk, and almond milk all have a light, mild enough taste that you could drink them. My dairy delivery service offers all of these, and I have both soy milk and orange juice delivered with our local milk.

What to put on cereal? Though you could go with soy, rice, or almond milk, I find that cereal with orange juice suits me better.

What to put in sauces? I use light coconut milk. We eat curry a lot, and that taste works really well in some other sauces.

What to use for baking? Oil when your recipe uses molasses, honey, or other liquids. Nut butter when you can beat enough lightness into the batter. Margarine or vegetable shortening when you are making dense baked goods like cookies.

What to spread on toast? Peanut butter*, homemade or sugar-free jam, Marmite (takes a strong constitution or a British nostalgia), tree-nut cheese (like cream cheese), or Tofutti (like cream cheese).

*An allergy to peanuts is uncommon (about 1% of the population) but severe. Use peanuts or even tree nuts as milk substitutes carefully until you are sure your child shows no signs of allergy.

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