Diagnosing Common Food Allergies in Children
More often than not, clinicians can be too quick to eliminate foods that present as allergies or sensitivities in children. This can be difficult to navigate, since diet modification must be implemented with caution to prevent a cascade of other issues. To do this, the elimination of foods should be monitored closely by a dietitian. The registered dietitian is trained to eliminate only the necessary foods with the goal of liberalizing the diet for optimal nutrition. This is not an easy feat. In fact, eliminating foods due to food allergies or sensitivities can lead to a decline in the child’s health both physically and mentally. (This is also the case for adults.) So, I’ve put together my top 10 tips for navigating the common food allergies in children.
Diet modification must be implemented with caution to prevent a cascade of other issues.
10 Tips for Handling Common Food Allergies in Children
1. Test, don’t guess.
Use reliable tests and data prior to eliminating ingredients or whole foods groups. Reducing the diet to a handful of foods is no longer necessary with the advancement of testing. Utilize specialized testing to create a diet modification that is specific to your child’s needs.
2. Go slow.
Eliminate foods one at a time to evaluate the child’s response to dietary changes. It is important to slowly implement change to help identify if a diet modification is helping or worsening symptoms.
3. Make sure to eliminate hidden sources of the food allergen too.
Monitor hidden sources of the food allergen or food sensitivity to ensure the effectiveness of the dietary change. Improvement may be stalled if the child continues to consume the allergen in small quantities in other foods. Learn how to read labels and ask questions when consuming food outside the home.
4. Replace the lost nutrients.
Incorporate other foods with similar nutrient profiles of those foods that have been eliminated. Identify the vitamins and minerals present in the eliminated food so you can make sure the child is consuming it through other sources. This will minimize the risk of nutrient deficiencies and prevent the onset of other symptoms.
5. Do regular follow-ups and lab testing.
Monitor potential nutrient deficiencies with regular lab testing. Request regular review of micronutrients to ensure that your diet is adequate. If the diet is not adequate, supplement as necessary.
6. Avoid labeling food.
Limit talk of “good food” or “bad food” to avoid fear of food or picking eating. Focus on the foods that the child can eat.
7. Focus on the good.
Incorporate the child’s preferred flavors and textures in her diet for increased satisfaction. This will allow the child to enjoy her diet and prevent boredom if her diet is limited.
8. Incorporate high quality fats and calories.
Utilize higher calorie foods like healthy fats to ensure the child is meeting her energy needs. Nuts, seeds, olives and avocado are a few examples of easy to find fats that children often enjoy. Make sure to avoid any fats that are identified as an allergen or food sensitivity for your child.
9. Inform and build a support team for your child.
Educate the child and all of her caregivers (including teachers) regarding her dietary needs. Diet modification for children requires education and a team approach. You cannot expect a child to implement these changes independently. The child requires constant support to avoid food allergens and sensitivities.
10. Find swaps or replacements for the allergen or sensitivity.
Get in the kitchen and create her favorite meals with allergen friendly recipes. Just because she can’t have eggs doesn’t mean she can’t eat baked goods or other recipes that include eggs. Just because she can’t have peanut butter doesn’t mean she can’t have a “peanut” butter sandwich. Just because she can’t have wheat doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy pasta. See below for my favorite egg replacers, non-peanut butter spreads and wheat-free pasta brands.
Food Swaps for Common Food Allergies in Children
When you remove a food from a diet, it often feels like you’re “missing out” on fun meals, desserts, or snacks – especially as a kid. Luckily, there are lots of swaps or allergen-free replacements in the supermarket nowadays. Here are some of my favorite:
Egg replacer options
- Flaxseed egg
- Aquafaba (the liquid leftover from cooked/canned chickpeas)
- Vinegar and baking soda (1 TBSP Vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda, works well if you just need to replace one egg in a baking recipe)
Non-peanut butter spreads
- Almond butter
- Sunflower seed butter
- Cashew butter
Wheat-free pasta brands
If you find yourself needing assistance in navigating the additional nutritional requirements for a child diagnosed or suspected of a food allergy or sensitivity, as a registered dietitian focusing on pediatrics, I can help. Send me a message and let’s talk.