How to Eat Around Allergies

By Cheryl Sternman Rule, "How to Eat Around Allergies," September/October 2007

Cooking for people with food allergies and special diets.

Eating with food restrictions (or cooking for someone with them) is far from easy, as I learned firsthand. Still, as I also discovered in the early weeks of Alex’s allergy ordeal, many people do it every day, or at least know someone who does. I have a new appreciation for their challenges. I’ve also come to view acquaintances who keep kosher or follow vegan diets with new respect. After all, it’s hard enough to restrict your diet when forced to by medical necessity, but they choose to do so for religious and personal beliefs.

Following Alex’s initial diagnosis, I learned to cook creatively with the staples of an allergy-friendly diet—less-familiar grains, like quinoa, plenty of fruits and vegetables, fewer processed foods. The exercise was both eye-opening and a good lesson in nutrition.

As it turns out, we were among the lucky ones. Alex’s symptoms were never life-threatening and we eventually got the green light to reintroduce many foods under careful supervision. Today, his diet is close to normal—a surprisingly quick turnaround that’s hardly typical among food-allergy sufferers. This whole ordeal even had a silver lining: together, Alex and I discovered a wide variety of new, healthful foods we might not have encountered otherwise. In fact, his favorite breakfast is still banana-oat pancakes, which are wheat-, egg- and dairy-free. And his dinners include more nutrient-rich grains and vegetables than ever before.

In the days when Alex’s eating was most restrictive, I came up with what I call “One Dinner Everyone Will Love,” a menu of three recipes that contain none of the Big Eight foods, so they’re appropriate for many allergy sufferers (as well as vegans and people with celiac disease). Even better, those without food restrictions can enjoy the same meal without ever suspecting that anything’s “missing.”

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