I recently saw this: “25 Healthy Snacks for Kids” from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Not to be all sour grapes about it, but this seemed a tad out of touch. Millions of US children suffer from food allergies, which have skyrocketed in the last two decades. Every item on the ADA kid-snack list has wheat, gluten, dairy, peanut, or other nuts in it.
None of the kids in my practice can eat those snacks. Some have nut allergies ranging from life threatening (as in, even proximity to nuts may trigger hives or breathing problems) to annoying (stomach pain); others have gluten sensitivity, celiac, or allergies to myriad foods, from corn and soy to dairy and sesame seeds. Needless to say, this advice from the AND – which goes out to tens of thousands of dietitians in clinical practice – won’t do much for them, or the 8-10% of kids in the US with food allergies.
Part of my job is coming up with what kids can eat, and helping families transition to new options. It’s a challenge when a child has many disallowed foods at once. In my practice, I work to keep as many foods as possible in a child’s rotation. I also use gut health supports liberally, which may help a child tolerate more foods eventually, either without ill effects or with much-reduced ill effects. I pick probiotics that best suit a child’s situation (there are dozens of brands, blends, potencies, and strains to choose from), liposomal glutathione or glutathione boosters (a healthy intestinal wall is rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant; while an inflamed gut can be depleted of glutathione), and supplemental, non-inflammatory protein sources as medical foods. All these tools and more can enhance gut wall tissue repair. But kids still need to eat. So, in that spirit, here are some snack suggestions for kids with food allergies:
1. Hummus (chick pea, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt; add tahini if sesame is tolerated) to dip into with crisp bell pepper strips or cucumbers, rice crackers, celery, or carrot. Add extra olive oil for kids needing to boost calories from healthy fats/oils. Allow corn chips if tolerated too.
2. Other non-dairy dips: Babaganoush (baked eggplant dip, similar ingredients as above; available pre-made like hummus for busier families), white bean dip with crumbled bacon (recipe in Special Needs Kids Eat Right), healthy refried beans with minced olives and scallions. Use for dipping or roll in soft corn tortilla or soft rice flour tortilla.
3. This can be a meal, snack, or dessert: Gluten free crepes with cooked fruit fillings, or savory vegetable fillings, or scrambled egg and Daiya cheese with salsa. Gluten free crepes are easy to make as long as your child tolerates eggs. A hand blender tool makes this job simple. The Gluten-Free Italian CookBook by Mary Capone is my favorite source for this recipe – and many others! If you have time to peel and saute apple slices with ghee (clarified, casein free butter), cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little sugar, fill crepes with this for a delightful special treat. If not, look for high quality, organic juice-pack canned fruit, organic if possible; heat gently, spice to taste, and fill crepes. Savory items that kids often like in crepes are breakfast sausage (minced) with cheese (see Daiya cheese substitute above; or try goat milk cheese, which many children tolerate over cow’s milk varieties); zucchini sauteed with onion, tomato, oregano).
4. Stir honey, coconut yogurt (plain), dash of vanilla and a spoonful of tahini together to a smooth consistency for dipping. Add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg. Dip in fresh fruit chunks of melon, banana, celery, or avocado.
5. Guacamole and gluten free bread for dipping. Bakeries like Udi’s, Rudi’s, and Outside-The-Bread-Box are just a few among newly emerging ones specializing in gluten-free sandwich breads, bagels, and pita breads. A local favorite for Boulder is Kim and Jakes baguettes – which are taking our restaurants here by storm. A panini press can help kids transition to GF sandwich bread. Make their regular favorites into panini’s, and they may like the new taste. Spray bread lightly with olive oil, stack with your child’s favorites, and press.
6. Gluten free oats make the same delicious oatmeal cookies as regular oats. Use a gluten free flour blend, hemp or rice milk, and Earth Balance margarine for kids with dairy and nut sensitivities. Add raisins, dates, sunflower seeds, or even dark chocolate chips.
7. Soften corn tortillas and fill with leftover baked chicken, minced and heated in garlic, olive oil, and lime juice. Add a dash of sugar if you like.
8. Pick up some fresh vegetable sushi from your local grocer. Many supermarkets now make their own. Avocado, carrot, cucumber or cooked crab roll are often kid favorites. Use wheat free tamari instead of the pouch of soy sauce that comes with it (this will contain wheat).
9. Power shake: Fresh or canned organic peaches (unsweetened), teaspoon Pharmax Finest Pure Fish oil or cod liver oil (orange flavor), a local organic egg (drop it in raw, from a source you know and trust), ripe cantaloupe melon chunks, 2 ounces whole coconut milk. With or without crushed ice.
10. Power shake 2: Half a ripe avocado, 2 scoops So Delicious chocolate ice cream (coconut based, dairy and soy free), vanilla almond milk 4 oz (hemp, coconut, or rice milk if necessary), 1/2 scoop Ultra Care For Kids powder (rice-based medical food for kids), dash gluten free vanilla. If you’re willing to make it a mocha, add 2 oz black decaf coffee. Skip sugar entirely by using unsweetened cocoa powder (2 TBSP) and a dash of stevia powder instead.
11. Blend 1 tablespoon Barlean’s Omega Swirl with 1 teaspoon coconut oil and 1/4 cup apple, orange, or pineapple juice. Toss over berries, cantaloupe, banana with shredded coconut, sunflower or sesame seeds, and chopped figs.
12. Gluten free toaster waffle (like Van’s) spread with sesame tahini, or any tolerated nut butter (cashew, almond, macadamia), and raw honey or fruit spread. Make it a sandwich and add banana slices in there too. Gluten free quick bread, like the pumpkin bread recipe in Special Needs Kids Eat Right, can be baked in 1-inch muffin tins for packing into lunch boxes. Corn bread, chocolate zucchini bread, or berry-filled muffins are other ways to sneak in calories, ground flax seed, or gluten free oats for added fiber.
13. What’s not to love about avocados? Cut soft ripe chunks into a bowl and toss with lime juice, olive oil, and salt. You’re done, eat it. Or make it more hearty: Add leftover salmon or tuna (if you eat these), sunflower seeds, and chopped cherry tomatoes. Toss with more olive oil, citrus, and salt to taste.
14. A more allergy friendly trail mix: Dark (dairy and gluten free such as Enjoy Life brand) chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, chopped dates, coconut shreds, dried pineapple, dried mango, raisins
15. Rice Crispie bars made with whole grain brown rice cereal. A good recipe for this can be found in the Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook, along with many other health promoting and delicious recipes that are free of gluten, dairy, and egg.
16. Last but not least: Sometimes pudding is just right. Rebecca Reilly’s Gluten Free Baking has a fast chocolate pudding recipe for kids who can manage soy but not dairy. It uses soft tofu, honey, fruit syrup, and cocoa powder. See the Silk Pie recipe on page 143, and just pour the pie filling into pudding cups, chill, and serve with fresh raspberry on top.
17. Visit two of my favorite recipe blogs for kids (or anyone) with food allergy and sensitivity: Renegade Kitchen and Food Sensitivity Journal. Both of these were created by professionals – one a chef, the other an attorney – with food allergy themselves, and both offer inspiring strategies for eating well. More favorite recipe hangouts for me are PaleoPlan.com and BalancedBites.com.