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Helping Kids Through Restricted Diets

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Helping a child adjust to being on a restricted diet has special challenges all its own.  Suddenly it's not just the mental hurdles of constructing safe recipes but a marathon of emotional corner-coaching and social logistics management that call on the height of your parenting skills.  The good news is that your little prince or princess -- and you -- are not alone.

Current estimates are that as many as 8% of American children have food allergies.  Thousands more have intolerances, marked by symptoms ranging from stomach aches and low growth rates to uncontrolled tantrums and "brain fog", and conditions such as celiac disease.  Meanwhile, while it remains controversial, many medical studies have tied childhood conditions such as ADD/ADHD and autism to gluten and cassein (the proteins in wheat and milk).  And both the absolute and diagnosed rates of known food reactions among children in the U.S. and other developed countries are growing every year.

The causes for this increase remain subject to hot debate and scientific research, but what is clear is that millions of parents find themselves having to figure out how to get their precious little ones through it.  Whatever food restriction you're dealing with, the first step is to work with your child's medical team to get a proper diagnosis.  It's really, really important to know if that stomach ache whenever Johnny eats a bagel is caused by celiac disease or just a gluten intolerance.  And it's really important to know if Jane's itchy mouth when she eats peanuts is from an IgE-mediated peanut allergy or just oral allergy syndrome.  There are many different medical reactions your child could be having, to many different components within the foods she eats, and some of these can have very severe medical consequences, such as anaphylaxis in the case of food allergies and increased risk of stomach cancer in the case of celiac disease.

Once you have your diagnosis, the work is just beginning.  For all the challenges adults confront in taking on a restricted diet, with kids they just get exponentially more so.  Figuring out safe alternatives to a robust, diversified adult diet is quite a bit easier than swapping out go-to items from a child's typically more-limited pallette.  Then there's the social push/pull for young kids of desperately wanting to eat what everybody else is -- or for older kids of not wanting to eat something different.  Add to these complexities the logistics of making sure that your child stays safe from temptations and inadvertent exposures alike -- and not just at home but at school and other environments outside of your direct control.

The good news in the daunting statistics is that you are not alone. Here are a few of the things you can do on freedible.com to help get your little one started:

  • Check out this space and our blog for tips that have served us well in helping our own little ones through the trials and tribulations of food restrictions, and to come out the other side justly proud of how they've taken responsibility for their own little bodies' needs.  
  • Join one of the parenting groups in our community to meet up with other parents working through similar issues.  
  • Use our Recipes Advanced Search to find kid-friendly recipes that avoid whatever ingredients your little one will have to go without.
  • Visit our New Diets Survival Kit for meal-planning exercises, a guide to surviving your first few weeks on the new diet, food challenge FAQs and more.

Most of all, do not despair.  Food restrictions are tough, it's true.  But hopefully once you've mastered the logistical ropes and gotten through the first few weeks, you just might find life a whole lot easier (and in any event safer) than it was before you knew what you were dealing with.  Some of us even have the unexpected bonus of watching our picky eaters become more adventurous as their food-driven symptoms subside.  But you'll never know until you try...