Over the past twenty years or so, there has been a dramatic rise in food allergies diagnosed in children. There are likely many factors involved in this increase, but as a parent of a child with one or more food allergies, the reasons aren’t that important. It can be a daunting task just figuring out how to feed your child a healthy balanced diet when you know that your child can’t eat many of the foods that are recommeded by pediatricians and nutritionists. But don’t despair – it can be done!
Upon learning that your child is allergic to one or more foods, it’s important to figure out just how sensitive they are to a particular allergen. This can be accomplished through allergy testing,
and also by monitoring symptoms you may have discovered when your child has eaten the allergen. Some children have severe reactions to certain foods – such as peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish – and these foods must be avoided at all costs. A small percentage of children do outgrow these severe allergies, but the majority do not. Other children may test positive for certain food allergies – like dairy, soy, potatoes, beef – but are able to tolerate small amounts of these foods on occasion, but not every day. Your allergist, pediatrician, and/or dietitian can help navigate you through the maze of allergy information, supervised food challenges, and test results.
Children grow at an incredibly fast pace in the first three years of life, and continue growing for another fourteen to sixteen years. Their bodies need many nutrients to grow and develop appropriately; having food allergies can make meeting these nutrient needs a challenge.
All nutrients, vitamins, and minerals play important roles in development, so it’s impossible to pinpoint the most important ones. In terms of children with food allergies, however, here is a short list of nutrients that can be lacking in the diet: calcium, vitamin D, iron, magnesium, zinc, vitamin A. These are just some of the very important nutrients needed to build strong bones and teeth, keep our muscles and nerves working properly, help our tissues to heal, keep our skin healthy, and help our bodies use other important nutrients.
Milk allergy is common in young kids, affecting about 2 to 3 percent of kids younger than three. Many children outgrow this allergy. If a child is allergic to dairy (which includes foods like cheese, yogurt, milk, ice cream, and other foods containing whey or casein), we would need to find alternative products that will supply them with adequate calcium and vitamin D. Thankfully there are some substitutes on the market for milk. You can try soy, rice, almond, hemp, goat, and coconut milks. As long as the product is enriched with calcium and vitamin D, they can be great alternatives to cow’s milk. Products like calcium-fortified orange or apple juice can also help meet requirements for calcium, as can dark green leafy vegetables.
If a child cannot have peanut products, there are some great peanut-free peanut butters such as almond butter, soynut butter, and sunbutter. All of these have a similar texture to real peanut butter, and are great sources of protein and healthy fats. For a child with an egg or beef allergy, iron can be a challenging nutrient to obtain in adequate amounts. Foods like cream of wheat, fortified breads, and cereals, fish and chicken, dried fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables can help.
Ultimately, creating healthy, balanced diets for kids with food allergies is a challenge, but it can be done.