So you’re used to be able to eat anything you like, and the biggest challenge at meal times is juggling the various likes and dislikes of family. Dinner time is ruled by taste buds, not medical needs. And then…your child wants their friend to come over. The one with allergies. Your shoulders drop because, frankly, it’s all rather a hassle to deal with a child with allergies. Part of you wonders how serious it really is, ‘everyone’ has allergies these days. It was never like this when you were young. First off, you’re right – it wasn’t like this when you were a kid.
A few facts
Allergies are on the increase, and there is a lot of research going on in an attempt to understand this. Taking a quick look on the Allergy UK site they quote Mintel ‘44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise, growing by around 2 million between 2008-2009’. The EAACI 2016 say ‘Current prediction is that by 2025 half of the entire EU populations will be affected’. So allergies are on the increase, and until we figure out why, they are here to stay. Food allergies are a chronic illness that, in its mild form is like food poisoning, in its more serious form is deadly. Asthma, Hay Fever and Eczema also impact sufferers’ quality of life significantly but nothing impact socially in the way that food allergies do.
How it impacts
This is why, we parents sometimes sound exhausted, or exasperated when discussing our child’s food allergies. There really isn’t any other chronic illness where the sufferers get dismissed as ‘fussy’, or where people feel it’s quite alright to question the seriousness of the condition. For sure the media doesn’t help – the fat asthmatic kid trying to keep up in a race, or the fussy eater, are all images our kids get exposed to.
Due to the rise of Veganism there are more choices for allergic people, and don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful to Vegans. It’s down to Vegans that there are so many baked goods we can eat out in restaurants now. But there is something wrong when a diet choice gets more support and sympathy than a diet dictated by medical needs.
There are a lot of products available now that help allergy sufferers so your job, as the host, is easier. I was allergic to dairy, egg and wheat as a child. It was a nightmare to eat out, or at anyone’s house. My life was one brown bag experience after another, always having to take my own food I’m thankful Molly has so many choices now that she’s older.
So…back to the question – how to host an allergic child?
Here are some pointers:
- Keep it simple. The child isn’t there to have a fine dining experience, they are there to play/hang out.
- Ask about the allergy and ask for suggestions for meals. Don’t risk making a child sick, don’t minimise the allergy. Very often parents ask ‘does Johnny like ABC’ – do the same with an allergic child.
- Remember a little bit might hurt! You may not see the reaction, nor hear about. One of the many anxieties parents have is that their children will be excluded if it’s all ‘too difficult’ so they may not tell you if their child has a reaction.
- Don’t use the allergic child as an excuse not to have treats. Molly often heard ‘we can’t have ice cream because Molly is here’. Just say no, today we are having jelly, fruit, sorbet etc.
- If you are serving a pudding that your guest can’t eat, then get an alternative that they can have. The volume of options in supermarkets is huge so it is possible, if you don’t want to do that, then do warn the parent so they can send their child with a cake of their own. For an easy pudding you can’t go too far wrong with jelly.
- Don’t go on about how hard it must be, no child wants to hear that it’s awful they can’t eat eggs, or have ‘proper ice cream’ or ‘real’ cake, or peanut butter.
- If the allergy is severe don’t have the item ‘on show’, so no peanut butter sandwiches if the guest is peanut allergic. You don’t want to increase the child’s stress, and cross contamination is really a thing you need to be aware of.
- Avoid too much prepared food and prepared sauces – fish fingers, burgers, sausages and pizza’s, ready meals etc often have gluten, dairy and egg in them to varying degrees. Yes you can get a vegan pizza, or spend your time squinting at the tiny print detailing the ingredients, but life is easier if you just go for straight forward food.
- Grilled meat/poultry is your friend. Chicken, salmon, pork chops, grilled and served with rice or potatoes and veg is easy. You can go crazy and add bbq sauce, or honey and mustard if that’s a safe option.
- Unless there is a tomato allergy then bolognaise is a good option, tomato and basil if there are vegetarians. There is so much good gluten free pasta out there that it’s easy to adapt. It’s not a big deal to do two pots of pasta instead of one.
- Jacket potatoes as super easy and you can do all sorts of fillings – chilli, tuna, mushroom and cheese, heck even just plain old Heinz Beans. There are lots of dairy free cheeses around – Daiya is great and Vitalite dairy free margarine is fab.
- Stir Fry – With chicken, beef or pork served on rice. Simple and kids love it. Just make sure there isn’t a soya allergy as most stir fry recipes call for soya sauce.
- Taco’s – fill with vegetables like courgettes and mushrooms, stir fried chicken and a bit of salad. Corn taco’s should be gluten free (but obviously check)
- Stews – Beef or Chicken. Use gluten free flour or corn flour to thicken if gluten is an allergy.
- Gammon steak with pineapple is quick and simple to do.
- Homemade oven chips are easy – just cut up the potatoes, toss in oil, salt, pepper and 1 tbsp of corn flour and pop in a hot oven for 40 minutes. Check on them and turn over after 20 minutes. Give them a grill pork chop or grilled salmon with some vegetables and you’re done.
At the risk of sounding cheesy (!), the ingredient that matters most is understanding. Making the child feel welcome is the most important thing you can do. Creating a great supper, but complaining about how hard it is to accommodate the allergy, isn’t fair or gracious. Parents, and the child, will be forever grateful if you make them feel like a welcome guest in their home.