Living with Food Intolerances

Remain positive, be creative, embrace the challenge and remember it is about what you CAN eat, not what you CAN'T eat!

My whole family eagerly contributed to put together our gluten-free and dairy-free favourite family recipes! It reflects nearly 20 years of the challenges of living with multiple food intolerances and allergies.

In the beginning, we quickly realised that we needed to relax about this diet, which helped to free up our creativity in the kitchen. By not shying away from trying out new ingredient combinations, we had FUN! Boldly adapting our favourite family recipes from cookbooks we already had at home, we found we were soon creating new habits around food.

Also, we set aside a little time over a cup of tea each week, to carefully plan our weekly menu. We found that feeding the whole family on a special diet, did not have to be too expensive, but planning was essential to keep within our budget! It also meant we were less likely to run out of the staples, like gluten-free flours.

Importantly, having children with food intolerances meant it was handy to keep cupboards well stocked. We tried hard to have all our usual alternatives ready for the week's school packed lunches and after school snacks when tummies were rumbling noisily! As busy parents and carers, there is nothing worse than running out of those handy, ready-to-eat, free-from staples like biscuits, crackers, nuts, dried fruit, fruity snack bars, fruit juices or smoothies when children are ravenously hungry after school and need a quick energy boost! 

It's also good to be aware that children can sometimes find it hard to be open and honest at school about their special diet. Kids do not want to stand out as different ... for any reason!  So we took the time to teach our children how to confidently, but respectfully, defend their diet. We explained to them the importance of sticking to their diet and kindly reminded them of the unwanted effects on their bodies if they do not stick to it!  However, when their friends saw the delicious home-baked goodies in their school packed lunch boxes they quickly became envious of this tasty 'special' food!

Another tip is not be afraid to ask for help. Family, friends, health food shop assistants and trusted online sites and bloggers, can all be 'tapped in to' to expand or develop the knowledge we already have about providing a special diet. There is always something new to learn! We picked up many money-saving tips that helped with our budget! Making a habit of researching and reviewing from time to time the cost of our alternative ingredients, also helped us to keep within budget. The ever-fluctuating prices in shops and online shops, can be huge, so it is always worth shopping around! Buying in bulk online can also save money on products, but also on fuel costs, as you don't have to drive around sourcing your special foodstuffs from various locations. 

Remember too, that sometimes we may not have the time to home-bake goods and fill up the cake tin! At times, we all have those unexpected visitors, appointments to run to or days when we just do not feel well or simply are tired. So we found the value of gradually building up a brief, written list of our usual free-from ingredients and where to get them from, together with a basic menu 'ideas' sheet. This meant that when the main chef in the household was out-of-action, the rest of the family was not stuck!  They could still put a delicious meal on the table!

Additionally, a lesson we learned was to teach everyone in the family, including aunties, uncles and grandparents, how to read food labels and spot the taboo ingredients. This helped everyone to feel they had an active part in the diet and that they could make safe choices around food.

Do not forget that knowledge is empowering, bringing with it a confidence that we can make the right and safest food choices! 

Finally, our last tip would be to encourage eating out socially every so often, particularly for special occasions and family get-togethers. Helping family members see they can still eat out, whilst making good and safe choices from a menu, can boost morale and confidence.  Some menus will clearly state if a dish is 'gluten-free' or 'dairy-free' or 'vegetarian.' We usually contact the restaurant owners directly beforehand, to ask if they cater for special dietary requirements. One venue informed me that if I gave the Chef three days notice, he would buy-in the special ingredients for adapting particular dishes on their menu, for a small extra cost!  

"Although these tips work for me and my family, you will definitely develop your own additional ways of coping with food intolerances.  Whatever you do, I hope at least some of the above has been useful on your own exciting journey, to adapt to life with food intolerances"