Post by Melissa Antal, MPH/MBA
Medical and nutrition professionals are really good at making nutrition complicated.
Most children, even those who have multiple food allergies, are still able to get the nutrients they need by eating a balanced diet.
But, what does a balanced diet mean? It’s actually more than eating “healthy” foods.
For kids this means learning to trust their body to know when they are hungry and full and learning to try a variety of different safe foods.
Parents have a role too; we must trust that our kids will eat what their bodies need and we have to stay cool (we’ll get to what this means in a moment!)
Let’s break down nutrition into what to eat and how to feed.
Our favorite tips to guide the ‘what’’
Multiple studies have shown that kids with food allergies are at risk for poor growth compared to kids without food allergies. This is because the mainstay treatment for food allergies is an elimination diet and that can put your kid at risk for nutritional deficiencies.
So, don’t eliminate foods your kids can eat and keep mixing up your go-to meals.
Try these tips:
Tip 1: Eat colorfully
This is a plug for fruits and vegetables. Does it matter what kind? Not really, as long as you are guided by the rainbow. It’s a fun way to challenge your family to try new things.
Red= Red peppers, Beets, Rhubarb, Strawberries, Raspberries
Orange= Carrots, Mango, Sweet potato, Pumpkin, Orange, Cantaloupe
Yellow= Pineapple, Mango, Summer squash, Grapefruit
Green = Leafy greens, Zucchini, Asparagus, Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, Celery, Grapes
Blue= Eggplant, Blueberries, Blackberries, Purple cabbage
Tip 2: Mix up your protein
Every week get a mix of protein. Try fatty fish like salmon, meat, eggs, tofu, dairy, nuts, and legumes like beans or lentils. If you are following a plant-based diet- legumes, beans, and tofu are great. Knowing that a lot of these foods are no-go’s if your child is food allergic, if you can pick 2 or 3 that are ok, work from that.
Tip: Swap out your protein base with a common meal your family loves. For example, if a go-to meal is chicken tacos, swap out the chicken with beans.
Tip 3: If you get stuck in a rut, be kind to yourself
That’s ok! We all know some weeks are more hectic than others. But you do want to mix things up. Let the rainbow guide you. Do some protein swaps. Can you add one new vegetable to the dish you always make? Riced cauliflower usually can be added with minimal disruption of taste and time.
Now onto the “how”
It’s one thing to know what to eat, and let’s assume you’re doing everything you can to provide balanced meals. So, what do you do if your family doesn’t want to eat new things? I’ve got you.
Tip 4: Get prepared to introduce new foods
As you expand what your family eats, try not to make dramatic changes all at once. Always have at least one favorite or familiar food at every meal. There is evidence that if your kid has something familiar with a new food he/she is more likely to try.
Here are some more tricks:
- Ask your child to put everything on his/her plate. If he doesn’t want to try the new food, he can put it in a second bowl.
- Ask your child to lick the new food, touch it to feel the texture. Will he/she hold it in his mouth for a second? Ask about flavors and textures. Remember, your child doesn’t need to eat it the first time.
- Don’t give up, some kids take over 10 tries before they ‘like’ something
- Smile! If you make a yuck face when you eat broccoli, your child will probably not want to try it or think it’s gross too. Actually, if you give food with a smile, your kid is more likely to eat it!
Tip 5: Remember your role is to provide food, that’s it.
This one is hard. It means it is up to your kid to read his or her body to eat what is needed. This theory is called ‘division of responsibility’. Here are the big things to keep in mind:
- Really your only role is to provide food and a comfortable place to eat it.
- Never beg a child to eat. Repeat. Don’t do it.
- Don’t freak out: If your kid refuses to eat, just say OK. You need to establish that you are not a short order cook.
- Only serve 1 meal: Be firm about what you serve for meals and trust that your kids will get what they need.
Tip 6: Food is not bad nor is it a treat.
Please never call a food bad or good. It is important to label foods safe and unsafe, and those labels are OK. The aim here is not to elevate certain foods to a higher status. What does this mean? Try not to offer dessert as a reward for eating vegetables. It teaches your kids that ice cream is better than brussel sprouts. Some experts recommend offering dessert at the same time you offer all the other foods and letting your kids even have it first. It normalizes it. Experts recommend keeping dessert to just one serving.
Feeding kids is hard, and you’ve got this!
Parents take on a lot when they are managing a kid’s food allergy. Many parents tell me they want to become an expert in their child’s allergy. Awesome! Don’t forget the food part of it!
If you want help to master this part of balancing a food allergy a registered dietitian can help get you there.
Remember, a registered dietitian is an expert in food and special diets and they are uniquely positioned to help with food allergies. Many professional groups including the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology actually recommend it. It you need help finding one, ask your allergist, pediatrician or check out my company Foublie if you want to meet someone virtually.
You’ve got this!
Want to share with me how you manage the food part of a food allergy? I’d love to learn all about it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to read more about the professional orgs recommendations? Links are here:
The Joint Task Force on Practice Parameters representing the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), and the Joint Council of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology (JCAAI) recommend nutritional counseling and growth monitoring for all children with food allergies, and especially meeting with a dietitian for growing kids on elimination diets, those with multiple food allergies, or poor growth. Read their recs here.
World Allergy Organization when releasing cow’s milk protein allergy recommendation include involving a dietitian to help manage elimination diets and ensure parents know acceptable options and adequate substitutions in a way that is adapted to each patient’s situation.
Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Food Allergy in the United States: Report of the NIAID-Sponsored Expert Panel: Though they do not specifically mention an RD, “The EP recommends nutritional counseling and regular growth monitoring for all children with FA.”
Melissa Antal is the CEO and co-founder of Foublie, the virtual hub on baby and mom nutrition. Melissa has worked with families across the world- from Michigan to Zimbabwe – on how to feed kids better. Every family can make small changes! She is an expert in behavior change and nutrition. She has an MPH from George Washington University and an MBA from Georgetown University.
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