Eight years ago, when my son was first diagnosed with food allergies, I was a terrible cook. Truly terrible. If you saw the Discovery Channel documentary, you may have noticed the burnt spoon that had caught fire when I “blackened” chicken noodle soup. That’s right: I burnt soup. Take a moment: I know you’re all very impressed.
As soon as the doctor listed my son’s food allergies (at that time: peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy, eggs, soy, wheat and corn), I was thrust into a whole new world. One in which I would have to cook. And, the result would need to be edible. (Gasp!)
Now, many years later, I actually enjoy cooking. I can’t have enough cookbooks and I love the challenge of turning something that isn’t initially allergy-friendly into something safe and delicious.
But the biggest bonus must be the understanding and innate sense of what goes into a dish. It has helped me innumerable times to determine what is safe for my son while we’re out enjoying the world!
It’s important to have a sense not only of ingredients, but also of the process in the kitchen. A sampling of questions, I’ve needed to ask are:
- Can you check the breading on fish? Or, the breadcrumbs in the meatballs? Breadcrumbs very often contain sesame seeds.
- Are the chicken nuggets/calamari/fried zucchini coated with egg?
- Is there egg in the salad dressing? Some contain either eggs or mayonnaise.
- Does that sauce contain flour? Many are thickened with gluten flour.
- Is there parmesan cheese in the marinara?
- Do you add milk to your scrambled eggs/omelet/pancakes?
The more hands-on experience you have in the kitchen, the more you’ll understand what kinds of things you may need to look out for in others’ kitchens. You’ll be surprised at how often you save yourself from a potential reaction. So, cook and speak up!
Here are a few tips for starting out:
- If you’re brand new in the kitchen, don’t feel overwhelmed by trying to make a main dish and sides. It’s okay to try ONE new recipe and buy preprepared sides or make a new side dish and buy roasted chicken.
- While looking at recipes, don’t be put off if they include your allergen. Simply do a little research to see if there’s a safe alternative and/or omission. We just omit peanuts from our Kung Pao Chicken dish. And, we sub-in soy milk for regular in pancakes.
- In choosing a recipe: read the recipe in full once before you even go shopping. It may call for “1 garlic clove, minced” which you could mince yourself or buy pre-prepared.
- And, while reading the recipe, take note of prep time as well as cooking time. Ingredient lists often list ingredients that have been pre-prepared like garlic noted above, a pie-crust pre-baked, or “3 cups spinach, sauteed”. This translates to time, so simply be aware and plan accordingly. This was tricky for me for a while. I can’t tell you how many times I served a meal a whole HOUR after I thought it would be ready.
Good luck, watch your soup, and send me picts (and samples – mmmm!) of your best recipes!