Hi, I’m Sarena from The Non-Dairy Queen. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to share a little bit of my thoughts on the struggles of living with food restrictions due to allergies and intolerances here…
It’s kind of funny how my thoughts have changed over time since I was first asked about how I cope with the challenges of a dairy free diet. In our household, we don’t just deal with dairy allergies, but soy and gluten are all problems here too. I have lived dairy free for 9 years, soy free for 2 and my husband was diagnosed with celiac disease 2 years ago. Out of everything we can’t have, the one thing we miss the most, is convenience. We just don’t have that when it comes to food any more.
Since when did getting around the grocery store become so difficult or how about how complicated it is to grab a quick healthy bite to eat while you are out running errands or on a trip? I’ve been grocery shopping for my family since I was 15 years old. I grew up in the kitchen. Cooking and baking were an every day event for me. I even went to culinary school because of my love of food and cooking. Now, after all of these years, I have had to teach myself how to cook all over again.
My allergies are mild, but my intolerance to dairy is extremely high. I get rashes, shortness of breath, anxiety and the usual stomach issues that go along with having food allergies. I have gotten used to shopping and cooking for myself. I rely on soy free vegan products and have learned how to bake things from scratch using these new to me alternatives. I have actually fallen in love with vegan baking. Most people cringe at the term vegan when it comes to baked goods, but really, unless you tell them, they would never know there’s no dairy in what they are eating.
My husband’s issues, however, are far more serious than mine. Not only do his problems affect him physically now, but they cause damage for him later on as well. When we found this out, I had a whole other side of baking and cooking that I had to educate myself on. This was not completely new territory for me since my grandmother has celiac as well, but I never really worked with gluten free flours until my husband was diagnosed. For me, living without was something that I learned to deal with and I just worked around it. For my husband though, living without all of his family favorites was just not an option. My heart broke for him and I just wasn’t willing to let that happen.
With his diagnosis is where grocery shopping became even more fun.
Luckily, I love the grocery store. I spend a lot more time there looking at labels for crazy ingredients. We never really bought a bunch of processed food to begin with, but when you are told you can’t have something, that’s when you start to crave them. Where things get harder, is when you are looking for any of your favorite quick snacks. We have started going to the store together (which I really like). We tag team reading and looking up what is in everything. By the end of looking up all these crazy ingredients, we have forgotten who is intolerant or allergic to what. I have always been more of a whole food person, so when we pick up a bag or box of something and it has only three ingredients, all of which you can identify, we feel like we have hit the jackpot!
Another trick we have learned is that you should focus on the things you can have and not what you can’t have. On our first trip together to the store after we learned about my husband’s diagnosis, he decided to buy better cheeses from the deli department. He felt like it would be more of a treat to have something really great than to buy something else that was trying to mimic something that he loved. There is a balance you have to achieve when you have to give up things that you love. You can find alternatives that will make you just as happy even if they aren’t exactly the same. We have decided to make things simple for now since baking gluten free can be a bit confusing when you don’t know where to start. Everything has a different flavor or texture than what you are used to. There are great products out there, as well as, great resources to get more information. Don’t get overwhelmed by the “giving up” aspect of food restrictions. I have started researching one product or ingredient at a time. I use it in different ways so I know what works and what doesn’t work. It will come together…it just takes some time. There will be failures, but there will also be successes. I work with smaller batches so I know that I won’t be wasting too much if something doesn’t turn out the way I had expected. There have been numerous batches of muffins that have been fed to the birds, but there have also been cakes and loaves of bread that turned out better than our gluten filled favorites. Bob’s Red Mill products have been a lifesaver. I love the information they have on their website about the different products, as well as the recipes to guide you through using these ingredients.
As for traveling or meals when you are out, we have learned that you have to be prepared. I have a list of foods that I always prepare for trips. If it is a longer drive where meals need to be eaten on the road, I will take my gluten free dairy free oatmeal cookies, gluten free sausage balls (my husband’s favorite easy meal at hand), cinnamon bread (a family favorite), fresh cut vegetables and fresh fruit. If we know we will be going out somewhere, we try to look at the restaurant’s website to see what they offer and what we can eat. Most restaurants, even fancier places, will happily accommodate those with food allergies.
This has been a long road for us and I have a feeling that our children are going to be on this journey with us at some point, but I find comfort knowing that we have the support of companies, like Bob’s Red Mill. I like to think of baking and cooking for restrictive diets as an adventure and try to learn from it as opposed to thinking of it as a curse.
We’ll have more posts about food allergies and gluten intolerance in the coming months. I hope you enjoyed Sarena’s post as much as I did. I encourage you to visit her lovely blog, The Non-Dairy Queen to read more about her experiences and experiments with gluten free, dairy-free cooking.