There are so many different times in life that prompt us to step back and think, then often make a change in our life. As a dietitian, I often get involved when these times spark a change in your health or more specifically a change to your diet. I know better than most that the word ‘diet’ is perceived as a forbidden 4-letter word, often for many wrong reasons. In reality, diet is just the general term for what and how you eat, regardless if that includes a plan, specific structure, or even just eating whatever strikes your fancy and happens to be available at the moment. Yes, that is right, candy and pizza also make up a diet, just not a diet that is recommended or usually planned.
We all have many of these life or health events that can inspire a diet change. Perhaps you have planned a diet change in your life as a New Year’s resolution, after a health concern or new diagnosis, or even due to a general life event such as a birthday or milestone that inspires you to change. One thing that all of you reading this most likely have in common is that you have embarked on a diet change due a medical concern or food allergy diagnosis, either for yourself or a loved one.
A diet change for any reason is usually just considered for the family member who needs the diet change alone. This is the main reason why many who require a special diet often feel alone, deprived, and are ultimately unsuccessful in incorporating a new diet as a lifestyle vs. a momentary change. This is also why so many people perceive the word ‘diet’ as a forbidden 4-letter word to be avoided at all costs.
Instead of all the negative connotations that come to mind when thinking about a diet, what would it be like if this new diet change needed for your family member was celebrated and embraced? Taking it one step further, what if the whole family participated and enjoyed the same allergy-friendly foods? Let’s talk about 4 quick reasons why you should be an allergen-free family if possible, where everyone digs into and savors the same allergy-friendly foods required by a family member.
Reason #1 – Good Role Model
First, and maybe the most important reason, is that children learn by example. Being a good role model is by far the best way to teach little ones any lesson, and particularly true when it comes to teaching good dietary habits. If your child sees you enjoying the required allergy-friendly foods and avoiding the items that are not allowed because of their food allergy or are inappropriate for their medical condition, then they will be much more likely to make the same choice and mimic the same behaviors of their role models when they are outside the home. Imagine the effect this might have on your loved ones if the whole family could model this behavior!
This can be especially powerful when applied to how parents relate or talk about food. Imagine if those allergy-friendly foods are celebrated and savored by the entire family. They will quickly become family staples and welcomed by all. So perhaps try to present allergy-friendly food items to the whole family with gusto and excitement and see what happens.
Reason #2 – Provide Support and Acceptance
When the whole family dines allergen-free, the family members with the particular diet need will also feel supported and accepted. Many times a unique dietary need can feel lonely and isolating. While each of us is unique, differences can also help us stand out from the crowd for the wrong reasons. And everyone wants to feel accepted at home if nowhere else. Imagine how easy a diet change would be when the whole family is there with you and supporting you in this new change. No longer are you the only one at the table eating a particular food item or, worse, not able to enjoy the food item or dish that the rest of the family is sharing. Instead everyone in the family will be involved and can all dig into the same allergy-friendly foods as a family meal together.
Reason #3 – Eliminate Accidental Exposure
Having an allergen-free household also means the food allergens of concern are not even present in the household. This can be especially helpful as little ones explore their surroundings and become more mobile. We all know that babies and toddlers typically learn by putting new items in their mouth whether that item is edible or not. If the food allergen is not available, little ones are less likely to accidentally eat something that they are allergic to or even have cross contamination of that item into other dishes and foods. This can be a literal lifesaver if your family member has severe food allergy reaction, such as anaphylaxis.
Reason #4 – Delicious Food
Finally, and maybe the best reason, is that allergen-free foods can be just as delicious. Food should be enjoyed and savored. I chose to be a dietitian for many reasons, one powerful reason being that I love food and love to eat. I follow the “live to eat” philosophy in life rather than eat to live. If you follow the same mentality you know that taste is important, and delicious food is a delight. Allergy-friendly foods can be just as delicious or better than their counterparts that contain the allergens dangerous to you or your loved one.
Need some ideas or inspiration? Check out our Neocate Footsteps Recipe book. We also have a variety of Neocate recipes on our Neocate Pinterest page, our Neocate YouTube channel, and Neocate Facebook page. Many of the recipes and videos on our Neocate YouTube channel are available in Spanish as well.
Tell us, in what ways has your whole family embraced becoming an Allergen-Free Family? What worked well for you that you would like to share with other families? Are there any allergy-friendly recipes that you would like to share? Please let us know in the comments below.
-Kristin Crosby MS, RDN, LDN