The craziest thing happened. My child became my patient! Early last summer, my 5 year old woke an hour or so after going to sleep complaining that he was itchy. In the dim lights of his room I could tell the poor little guy had large raised hives all over his body. This had happened once before and we had written it off as a probable environmental allergen (his doctor thought maybe new detergent or rolling in the grass). This seemed similar, so I snuggled him back up and went off to bed. A few minutes later her returned complaining that “he didn’t like his mouth like this.” Still relatively calm, I switched on the lights to see his mouth swollen up like a botched botox job! I knew enough as a medical practitioner to panic – and went into crisis mode. I ran him to the local ER, worried he may be going into anaphylactic shock (gotta love a midnight ER run). Luckily, he was not having trouble breathing and he did not need an epi pen. It was, however, obvious he was allergic to something- and it was definitely an acute (or quick) reaction. After a dose of steroids and benadryl, they sent us home with the suggestion to have him food allergy tested.
How do I know if I have a Food Allergy?
This, my friends, is a very loaded question. The term food allergy is very overused and maybe even inaccurate in many cases. A food allergy is an immune system reaction that occurs soon after eating a certain food. Even a tiny amount of the allergy-causing food can trigger signs and symptoms such as digestive problems, hives or swollen airways (1). Those individuals with severe, life -threatening, allergies typically know exactly what causes there reaction. With others, however, it is not always a clear case. There are a few tests you can take to try and determine your allergy, but most often, as with my son, it is very trial and error.
Can’t I just get a Food Allergy Test?
This is where things get really confusing. Historically, there are several types of food allergies – if you really want to dweeb out you can read this in depth article. A classic type I allergy is when the immune system produces specific IgE antibodies (immune globulins of the subclass E). These antibodies lead to an immediate allergic reaction. Allergy testing is typically not needed for this category as the patient typically knows the culprit food.
With other allergies (type ii, iii, iv), it’s not so clear.
After being tasked with the assignment to get my son allergy tested, I struggled with where to go and what tests to pursue. Eventually, I took him to a trusted physician. He did the tests, and they came back with the results that my child was allergic to DAIRY! I was dumbfounded. This child of mine LIVES on dairy. How could one day he be “not” allergic and the next day swell up in hives. For some reason, my momma gut took control and I checked up on the tests he had done.
It turns out, the tests were not the gold standard of food allergy tests, because there isn’t exactly a “gold standard.” Allergists depend on several factors to diagnose food allergies including skin prick, blood tests, and symptoms. Even with a positive skin prick, a person may have no symptoms with those foods.
The type of allergy testing I took my son to get was called an IgG. According to the Mayo clinic, it is not even recommended for food allergies. Here’s why… “In the context of food, IgG signifies memory through exposure to a food. Because a normal immune system should make IgG antibodies to foreign proteins (to include foods), a positive IgG test to a food is a sign of a normal immune system, and suggests tolerance or “memory” of the food rather than food allergy. Therefore, IgG testing is not recommended for evaluation of food allergies” (2). So, essentially, my child had a “memory” of dairy since he eats so much. They literally say on the website “If the patient has previously eaten the food (milks, eggs), he or she would likely have IgG to the food”. Which is not an allergy.
So why did this physician give this test? Because it is really one of the only tools he has! There are very few definitive tests for food allergies. Many physicians (and dietitians) do similar tests as a starting point. So, since we had nothing else to go on, I decided to give it a go. We removed ALL dairy from my son’s diet for 3 weeks. This is what came about from my dairy removal: The best dairy free recipes for kids! Since dairy is a major ingredient in so many foods, it was a real effort to remove it. Thank goodness the internet is here to help. Let’s get down to the dairy free recipes for kids. Side note: skip to the bottom to find out what he was actually allergic to (or at least my best educated guess)!
What foods have dairy?
Here is a really good place to start. Since dairy is found in such abundance in our diets, we must first establish what foods we can’t eat. Here is a short list of the foods we removed (just kidding it is long).
- Milk (in all forms including condensed, derivative, dry, evaporated, goat’s milk and milk from other animals, low-fat, malted, milkfat, non-fat, powder, protein, skimmed, solids, whole)
- Ice Cream
- Cake, cupcakes, brownies, cookies (yep, eggs)
- Lactose (on packages often milk is labeled as Lactose)
- Milk protein hydrolysate
- Whey (in all forms – again often on packaging)
What are the Best Dairy Free Recipes for Kids?
So, with what’s left, how do you even feed a child! The truth is – once we started it wasn’t all that difficult, but I DID worry about my child’s caloric intake and satiety (his feeling of fullness).
Let me list the foods we focused on to make sure and keep him full and growing!
- Nuts and nut butters
- Complex carbohydrates including whole grains
- Healthy fats including avocado and oils
- Meat, poultry
- Dairy substitutions including almond milk and coconut milk ****
- ***** I must take one minute here to recognize that cow’s milk is NOT THE SAME as plant based milks. Not only do they have different macronutrient levels (namely protein and fat), they also differ in micronutrients (Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Zinc). The Journal of American College of Nutrition even published an article on the unique micronutrients of cow’s milk. Luckily, he enjoys almond milk and I can put coconut milk (full fat) in smoothies for him to get enough nutrients.
Dairy free breakfasts for kids.
We concentrated on whole grains for breakfast- mainly oatmeal made with almond or coconut milk and some added nut butter. We also added in mashed or whipped bananas. He wasn’t as big of a fan, but guess who was – momma! It tastes amazing. We also did a lot of smoothie bowls. Our kids (ages 8, 5 and 3) ALL love a smoothie bowl. I add granola and it’s always a hit! Try these dairy free breakfast recipes:
Dairy free snacks for kids.
The most difficult change for my kiddo was cutting out cheese! We are a bag of cheese-sticks a week kind of family. The best substitute i found was no substitute at all! Ha! Sorry – but vegan cheese just won’t cut it for my 5 year old. Instead I found offering a variety of sliced veggies or chips to dip in guacamole was a good option. A few of my favorite dairy free snacks were also pre-made energy balls and fruit kabobs!
Try these dairy free snack recipes:
How about dairy free meals for kids (lunch box and dinner meals!)
Luckily our dairy free trial was in the summer, and I truly feel for all the guardians out there trying to pack lunches for the babes with allergies. It is HARD. I see you in my office and I see you on the socials – you are doing a good job. For me, the lunch and dinner meal was actually the easiest to change since we were at home. A few dairy free lunch meal ideas below. My kids LOVE hummus so that one was an easy win.
Easy Dairy free desserts for kids
Believe it or not, our dairy free days gave me quite a few new dairy free dessert recipes! The following are a few of my favorites, including the best dairy free brownies for kids! We have made this one several times even after introducing dairy back into his diet.
Next on my to-do list is making these dairy free cupcakes– haven’t gotten around to it yet!
Bottom line, although it is definitely hard work, living dairy free is completely doable. I felt like by including plant based milks and focusing on food for fuel, we didn’t even miss milk (much).
And about my bebe… after removing then reintroducing dairy we realized that dairy was truly not the culprit. After MUCH research, my educated guess is that he actually has what is called oral allergy syndrome. This is not uncommon, but also not something anyone mentioned to me at the pediatrician, or at the ER, or in graduate school. I’ve since done some investigating and in both instances of hives/swelling my little guy had been rolling around in grass and had eaten watermelon. Turns out those are classic Pollen- Food triggers. Isn’t that CRAZY! I mean C-R-A-Z-Y. This is an excellent article by the Mayo Clinic on Oral Allergy Syndrome and I certainly plan to delve deeper into this topic in a subsequent blog post. Needless to say, we don’t do watermelon around here anymore and have also omitted cantaloupe and honeydew to be safe. As for dairy, I am happy to report that we are all guzzling milk again and are back to our usual full dairy foods.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear your experience with food allergies and what your best dairy free recipes for kids have been?
Anyone else have oral allergy syndrome? Tell me more! firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/food-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20355095
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: https://acaai.org/resources/connect/ask-allergist/can-igg-blood-testing-check-delayed-food-allergies