At that moment when you realize that your child has food allergies and can no longer eat a particular food or ingredient, it can be very overwhelming. Your first instinct will be to hit up the closest health food store where you will be smacked in the face by the smell of patchouli oil and hundreds of brands you’ve never heard of. You will pick up a box of allergen-free crackers, shriek at the $6 price tag, then toss it into your cart anyway because you are willing to spend whatever necessary to nourish your child. Then when you get home you will take a bite of a cracker, spit it out and throw that over-priced box of inedible nastiness right in the trash.
The process of finding food substitutions (and ones that actually taste good!) is very stressful and can require a lot of time, time that most moms simply don’t have. Fortunately for you, I have been doing this for years. Here’s a few allergen-free shopping tips I can give you from my personal experiences.
- You do not need to go to an expensive, all-natural grocery store to buy allergy-safe foods. As food allergies are becoming more prevalent in our society, many chain grocery stores are starting to carry a greater variety. I typically only shop at specialty stores for a few specific items I cannot find elsewhere.
- Most grocery stores will have separate aisles for specialty foods, e.g. Gluten Free, Vegan, etc. Look in these sections and see what you can find.
- The best place to look for allergen-free foods is mixed in with regular products. There are so many nationally-known brands that are starting to offer different options, like Gluten Free or “simple” ingredients. I have found that these bigger brands have much better tasting products than some of the smaller, more expensive specialty brands.
- Keep checking labels. Though it is time consuming, I can’t tell you how many times I have picked up a product I have read a dozen times, only to find that the manufacturer had recently removed allergens from the ingredients. If you see me doing a happy dance down a grocery store aisle, this is why.
- There are SO many foods that are naturally allergen free. By that I mean the product is not a specialty food made with substituted ingredients, rather the product has never had the allergens in the ingredients to begin with. Like Rice Chex, for example; this brand of cereal is naturally wheat, dairy and soy free, and is a staple in our household.
- When reading a product label, MOST of the time the top food allergens will be listed out separately at the bottom of the ingredients, e.g. MILK, WHEAT, SOY. If the label says “may contain” an allergen, this means that the allergen is not a part of the ingredients; however, there could be cross-contamination from manufacturing equipment. Depending on the severity of the food allergy, this may or may not be an issue. Check with your allergist to be sure.
With all three of our boys having food allergies, at one point or another we have avoided most of the top food allergens in our home. And I’ve personally tasted it all. If your kids are anything like mine, they aren’t going to eat chickpea crackers and tofu sandwiches. They want Cheez-Its and chicken nuggets. Here is my compilation of the best-tasting allergen-free foods and substitutions that your kids will actually eat.
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