A post showed up in my Facebook feed today about how to make a gluten-free diet feel “normal” for a child at a birthday party. And I found that I had a lot of big feelings about this subject.
First of all, our entire family eats dairy, soy, gluten, corn and egg free about 90% of the time. Daddy and Sofi, who can tolerate those kinds of things, might get a treat of one of them here and there, when we are out at some special occasion. This is NORMAL for our family. We talk extensively about how some people eat some things, while others eat other things. In our family, we approach our food allergies the same way that we approach the fact that Daddy and Elliott love spicy food and the rest of us do not so much. If the boys and I eat one of our allergens, it makes us feel yucky – just like it makes Sofi, Walter or me feel yucky if we eat spicy food. It is a choice we make to feel healthy and good by not eating food that our bodies don’t like. Just like our family chooses to eat healthy foods in general, to help our bodies feel good.
Again, this is NORMAL for our family.
I think that there are a few key components to our normalization of eating our diet in our family.
*Our entire family eats the same diet. We do not segregate some people’s foods from other people’s. Therefore, we don’t have a lot of issue with one person envying what another person has. The only exception to this is that Elliott does not tolerate any milk substitute we have found so far but hemp milk, and Walter cannot tolerate the hemp milk. We are hoping to buy a high quality blender this year to allow us to make our own almond milk that everyone can tolerate.
*We do not apologize for or overly explain our dietary needs. If we were Jewish, we would not feel the need to apologize for eating Kosher. If we were Catholic, we would not feel the need to apologize for not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. And just because it is for medical reasons instead of religious, we don’t apologize for sticking to our diet. If someone offers us something that we can’t eat, we simply say “No thank you,” and don’t dwell on it.
*We don’t talk wistfully about the foods we can’t have; we enjoy the foods that we can. For my sons, they have always eaten their allergen diet – with the exception of gluten and eggs. We gave up gluten when Walter was 2 and eggs last summer when my throat started swelling shut from being next to egg mayonnaise. So there are a very few foods that the kids can remember eating that we can no longer have in the house. I, on the other hand, remember cheesecake fondly! I don’t talk about it in front of the kids, though. We don’t talk about breads, cakes, cookies, pretzels, brownies, Ben & Jerry’s, or cornbread and how we can’t eat them. We talk about Enjoy Life brand, Kettle Chips, So Delicious, and the foods that we can have.
*We eat normal foods. There is a giant misconception by the public at large, that families who have food allergies subsist on dry rice cakes and beans – and nothing else. Now, don’t get me wrong here. My kids can take down some dry rice cakes, and I have formed a love affair with beans during this pregnancy. However, the majority of the time, we eat foods that appear on the menu at most American homes. The difference is, we cook most of our food from scratch instead of buying boxed components. My biggest piece of advice for families eliminating a food from their diets is to take their favorite recipes and Google search, “recipe (allergen) free (name of recipe)”. Chances are pretty good that you will find several great recipes for the food you are already eating.
*We don’t try to replace everything. Some things just can’t be replaced. In my world, scalloped potatoes are one of them, but Sofi isn’t convinced. At any rate, if you just can’t find a good replacement for something, accept that and move on. The upside is that different companies are coming out with new products every day. Chances are good that you’ll be able to find a replacement eventually.
*We act like it is normal to eat this way. Because it is. It is normal to eat in a way that makes your family feel good. The world over, people eat differently. When you are in cultural centers, where people from many different areas or cultures gather, you will see so many different types of foods. And the guy eating African bread and beans isn’t looking around at the guy eating enchiladas and wondering if it is weird that they are eating different things! They are eating what is normal for them. They are respecting that one another are eating what is normal for them. And they are acting like what they are eating is normal. And that is how we approach our diets – with confidence and a matter of fact attitude. Our children have learned this same attitude from our modeling.
*We work, in every area of our lives, to appreciate what we have, what we love, and what our own goals are in life, instead of comparing to those around us. I think this probably plays a large role in helping our children to not be concerned about what the other kids at the table are having when we go to a party.
And believe it or not (because most people don’t), my kids are completely happy with what they have and get! When they get a big pile of candy at a holiday, they just gather it up and give it to their cousins. They don’t even blink about it. In fact, I’ve gone to look over their things and found them with a bag already prepared with foods that they know we can’t eat. They don’t crave the birthday cake that everyone else is eating. For the most part, they don’t like super-sweet white sugar cake anyway. They don’t care that every other kid at the party is eating blue ice cream and they have to eat coconut ice cream. And that is what normal is all about!