National Food Allergy Awareness Week: A Roundup of Allergy-Friendly Dishes

This week is National Food Allergy Awareness Week, and, as a present to all of you who have food allergies, I am posting a roundup of some of my recipes that avoid common allergens. I’ve been interested in this topic for a long time, and one of the reasons I started this blog was to create and share recipes that can be enjoyed by people on almost any diet, whether you’re vegan or have celiac disease, are lactose intolerant or have a serious nut allergy. Very few of my recipes avoid all allergens, but almost all avoid several of them, and I include a list with every recipe.

I first delved into this issue in college, when I wrote an article on food allergies for a local magazine. One of the things I loved about working as a journalist was the excuse it gave me to ask total strangers all sorts of questions and, as a result, hear fascinating stories about their lives. This particular article led to some of the most interesting interviews, particularly with one mom whose son had a severe peanut allergy. Any contact with peanuts at all could send him into anaphylaxis, a potentially deadly allergic reaction in which his throat would swell, cutting off his air supply. And he didn’t have to actually eat any peanuts in order to trigger the reaction. Simply touching a surface that had peanut oil on it and then touching his eyes, nose, or mouth could lead to an allergic response.

Food allergies, including serious ones like this little boy’s, are a problem for a growing number of people. In fact, there was an 18 percent increase in the number of people with food allergies between 1997 and 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reaching a total of 15 million Americans in 2013. The cruel irony for this little boy and his family, though, was that they loved Major League Baseball, and they flew all over the country to watch games. A peanut allergy may not seem like it would prevent you from going to a baseball game, but this story just goes to show how everyday actions that most of us enjoy can become death traps for people with severe food allergies, especially children. For this family, every time they got on a plane or sat down in a baseball stadium, they were surrounded by peanut oil, which was basically a deadly toxin for their son. The mother told me about having stewardesses request that fellow passengers not eat any peanuts on the plane and the dirty looks and grumbles they so often got from those around them. She told me about wiping down seats with sanitary wipes, asking people seated near them at ball games to please put away their peanuts, and about the time her son rubbed his eyes during a game and ended up in the ER. Luckily, he survived.

Stories like this made me realize how incredibly difficult it is to parent a child with severe food allergies. So often those of us without allergies take it lightly, not realizing that this is far more serious than a diet. One mistaken ingredient can send these children to the hospital. Or worse.

I had a chance to experience this myself on a much smaller scale when our doctor recommended we take my daughter completely off of dairy for a short time to diagnose some health problems she was having. It turned out she wasn’t allergic to dairy, but the experience was eye opening for me. I thought it would be easy, as I rarely used dairy products at home, but I quickly realized how difficult this was going to be in social settings. It was so hard to explain to her why she couldn’t have a piece of cake at a party (even though I would bring a special dairy-free treat for her), and I felt incredibly annoying every time I had to explain to other parents that she couldn’t eat anything with dairy. That meant no yogurt or cheese or milk, of course, but it also meant pretty much no processed food at all, like crackers or bread, since they almost always contain whey or some other milk ingredient. And I had it easy. I knew if my daughter did eat dairy on accident, the worst possible outcome would be her throwing up. I can’t imagine sending my child into the world each day, knowing they will be surrounded by, and often offered, something that could kill them. For such parents, the statistics are frightening: Every 3 minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER, for a total of 200,000 visits each year, according to FoodAllergy.org. For those of you who do this all the time, you have my highest respect, and I hope some of the recipes on this blog will make it easier for you to make family favorites that jive with your child’s allergy.

If you or your kids have allergies, I’d like to know: How can the rest of us support you?

Whether you have allergies or not, what are your experiences dealing with food allergies, either in your family or with friend’s/colleagues?

In honor of National Food Allergy Awareness Week, and, as a present to all of you who have food allergies, I am posting a roundup of some of my recipes that avoid common allergens. Some avoid many, some avoid several or all. The top 8 most common allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, soy, fish, and shellfish.

So that I don’t have to write it out after every recipe, here’s a list of acronyms so you can tell which recipes are for you:

Dairy free: DF
Egg free: EF
Wheat free: WF
Soy free: SF
Peanut free: PF
Tree Nut free: TNF

None of these recipes contain fish or shellfish. Please note that many of these recipes are only dairy and/or or soy free if you use the correct kind of milk (such as almond milk, which is what I use most of the time). Also, for recipes labeled “potentially WF,” the recipe calls for flour in order to thicken the sauce. However, you can easily use cornstarch as a thickener instead. Simply use 2 to 3 T of cornstarch in place of 3 T flour. Place in a small bowl, add some of the liquid (about 1/3 to 1/2 C) and whisk until completely smooth. Then add back into the rest of the liquid in the pan and whisk until smooth. Note, also, that to be gluten free, most of these “wheat free” recipes will need to use gluten-free versions of ingredients such as rolled oats, which can be contaminated if processed on the same machinery as wheat products. Lastly, it’s always important to read labels. For instance, there are brands of soy sauce that are wheat free, but many are not. In all of these recipes, it’s important to make sure the indidivual ingredients are versions that avoid allergens, too.

Main Dishes:

Mango Salsa (DF, EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Tostadas (DF, EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Lentil Shepherd’s Pie (DF, EF, potentially WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Roasted Butternut Squash and Tofu with Pineapple Glaze (DF, EF, WF (if you use wheat free soy sauce), PF)
Parsnip Gratin (DF, EF, potentially WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Venison Stew (DF, EF, potentially WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Easy, Creamy Potato Soup (DF, EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Quinoa Dill Salad (DF, EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Sweet Potato and Kale Skillet (DF (if you omit the feta cheese), EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)

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Desserts: (For all recipes that call for chocolate chips, it will only be dairy free if you use dairy-free chocolate chips, like the Trader Joe’s brand)

Healthy Peanut-Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (DF, EF, WF, SF, TNF)
Key Lime Custard Cups (DF, EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Dark Chocolate Mousse Pie (DF, EF, WF, PF, TNF (if you omit the almonds on top, which are unnecessary))
Cherry-Kissed Chocolate Cups (DF, WF, PF, TNF)
Never Fail (Dairy-Free) Pie Crust (DF, EF, SF, PF, TNF)
Decadent Mint Chocolate Truffles (DF, EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Healthy Pumpkin Cookies (DF, EF, SF, PF, TNF)
Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookie Cups (DF, EF, TNF)

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Lighter Desserts:

Cardamom-Cranberry Applesauce (DF (if you serve without ice cream, hence the “light” classification, EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)
Pumpkin Pie Breakfast Pudding (DF, EF, WF, SF, PF, TNF)
For eitherof the recipes above, I would suggest topping them with a dollop of Coconut Cream (find the recipe here) instead of a dairy topping, if that’s the allergen you’re avoiding.

This is just a small sampling of recipes with few or no allergens. You can always look up recipes by category, using the tabs on the right-hand side of the page.

Happy (allergen-free) Cooking!

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