As a teacher, I have learned a lot over the years about food allergies and intolerances, and I was excited to take a look at Amanda Orlando’s new cookbook Everyone’s Welcome: The Art of Living and Eating Allergen-Free and ask her a few questions too!
While I was very impressed with the book, especially the detailed index that lists each recipe and what ingredients it’s free from, I knew that since we are lucky enough not to have food restrictions in our home (and, let’s be honest, a lot of our meals come out of boxes) my sister-in-law would get much more use out of it. Her three daughters each have their own dietary issues (celiac disease, lactose intolerance, Type 1 diabetes) and cooking safely for them is very important.
Some of her thoughts on the book:
- the recipes are super easy to follow
- she and the girls got great ideas like different ways to eat an avocado, a blender sorbet recipe and pasta and salad recipes, including different ingredients that can be added to them
- a couple of recipes that she’s tried and recommends are the crispy baked salmon and Italian style roasted peppers
- she loves how the book is put together, with tips for avoiding cross-contamination and entertaining
- it includes trusted brands to look for at the grocery store
- there’s a detailed explanation of each allergy
- it has alternatives for cow’s milk and wheat – she never realized (nor did I) that there are flours like rice and coconut
My sister-in-law says the book has now taken a place of honour on her coffee table as she picks it up daily to flip through for ideas.
Because this is such an important topic, I was happy to have the opportunity to ask Amanda, the author, a few questions too:
What are your top tips for parents who want their children to avoid allergens while not missing out (e.g, parties, sleepovers, restaurants, etc.)?
I always say that I’ve never done anything “normally” in my life, and I say this with pride! My parents made it a priority for me to participate in as many activities as possible, from restaurant meals to summer camp. I always just did it a little differently than the other kids, and only if we could ensure it would be safe. My mom had slices of safe birthday cake frozen individually in our freezer, so I could grab and go whenever there was a birthday party. For restaurants they called ahead and only brought us to places that seemed competent in food allergy language and processes. As a kid I liked to go into the kitchen after our meal to thank the chef. Sleepovers were a tricky one, so I was allowed to have friends sleep over at our house instead.
Don’t be shy about bringing your kids their own food to events, or to skip the food if you/they aren’t comfortable. Ensure you always have snacks in your bag or in the car. Know your action plan for in case something does go wrong, and ensure your child’s Epi Pen is always on their person, not stored away in a locker or change room. Instead of assuming they can’t participate in something, think of it as an opportunity to figure out the puzzle and be creative. Often it just comes down to logistical challenges where advanced consideration and planning is required. Despite taking care, sometimes things don’t go to plan, and your child may have to be their own advocate or make a decision about whether or not a situation is safe. Teach them to be confident in their decisions and their knowledge of how to carry out their reaction action plan.
What about parents whose children don’t have any allergies, but worry about entertaining others (e.g., child’s best friend has peanut allergy and comes to visit)?
Communication is key. I cannot say this enough. I can imagine how overwhelming and worrisome it can feel to have an allergic child in your home when your family does not have food allergies. The concept may be foreign to you, and you might not know where to start or what poses a risk. Start out by having a good chat with their parents about what the allergies are (and write it down), what foods are off limits, how you can prepare, and what to do in case of an emergency. Take some simple measures to ensure your kitchen and dining spaces are clean; use a sanitizer to clean down surfaces and handles, put out a clean sponge and tea towel, clear crumbs, run glasses and cutlery through the dishwasher, etc. Ask the parents if they prefer to send their own safe snack. When they arrive, locate the child’s Epi Pen and make sure it stays in a visible and accessible spot, and know how to use it. Avoid serving that child’s allergens to other kids during the visit to prevent cross-contact, and have the kids wash their hands before touching any food or drink. Consider whether any other surfaces may be “contaminated”, and clean them. For example, do your kids eat pb+j sandwiches while playing video games? Sterilize those controllers! If you have a mindful approach and are open to communication and education, it shouldn’t be a scary experience. And don’t be afraid to ask for help from the allergic child’s parents or caregivers; I’m sure they’ll be happy to work together.
My niece with celiac disease is off to university in the fall and wonders about your tips for avoiding allergens in that situation?
Moving away to college is such an exciting time! My first tip is to not let fear or anxiety about food overwhelm you. You’ve got this! Approach this change with positivity and an open mind.
The first thing I would do is contact the school to learn about their food allergy and celiac disease procedures regarding cafeteria food. They may have processes in place to make separate, safe meals for those with dietary restrictions. If they don’t, you will have to advocate for your needs. This is why it’s important to look into it ahead of time.
One way to advocate for yourself is to request an apartment-style dorm room with a kitchen, like I did when I was in school. Contact the Accessibility Department to arrange this, and they might even match you with roommates who also have dietary restrictions. Being paired with another food allergy girl in an apartment style room was such a relief for me when I went to university. Bring a mini fridge to keep in your room and stock it with all your favorite safe foods and snacks, and replenish it as needed. One of the great things about living in dorms is that people often gather and eat together, but bring their own food or order takeout. In these cases, it’s easy to just bring your own meal.
Educate your roommates and your RA about your dietary restrictions right away. It might seem like an awkward conversation, but it’s important to keep yourself safe in a shared space. Do some further research about local restaurants in the area and which ones can accommodate celiac disease. That way, when you want to go out for a bite with your new friends, you’ll know where to go. And finally, have confidence in your ability to manage your celiac disease on your own. You’ve likely been living with it for years, if not your whole life, so you are your greatest asset in determining how to navigate new situations!
For more information or to purchase Amanda’s book: Everyone’s Welcome: The Art of Living and Eating Allergen-Free
For more from Amanda Orlando: EverydayAllergenFree.com