Excerpted from Food Allergy Survivors Together Journal (no longer in print).
Food is Fun Food!
by Melissa J. Taylor
Many people eating allergen-free report that they are “bored” with the diets they are on. (Believe me, I don’t blame you!) In addition to being highly discouraging, this is also a reason some people with allergies engage in dangerous and potentially life-threatening cheating on their diets.
Making allergen-free food as fun as possible is necessary, because you will find your diet much more limited than most people’s. If you find that your food is fun, you will become less tempted to cheat on it, and thus will become healthier.
Being exposed to normal foods from a young age, we're used to them being flavor-packed, rich, and greasy. The foods you will switch to will have less flavor, less grease, and will pack less of a “punch.” The texture itself will also be different and something to get used to. Allergen-free foods-especially baked goods-are often dryer and more crumbly, and can even be a little more difficult to swallow.
The first thing to know-especially if you are a teenager or adult who recently got back that intimidating test from your allergist showing that you have allergies-is that, for a while, the allergen-free food you eat is going to taste very, very bland. Perhaps you will even deem it “gross,” “tasteless,” or “suitable only for the garbage disposal, and that’s where it’s headed.”
The good news is that the more you stick with your diet (which is important anyway . . . who wants to be sick?) the less you will crave those “normal” foods that are a part of your past. You will get used to more natural foods that are less greasy, less sugary, less flavor-enhanced. Even though it may take years, that’s a promise! Many people with food allergies report that they find they are eating healthier and actually appreciate knowing they aren’t harming their bodies with unhealthy foods. Besides, for those of us with allergies, those foods are unhealthy in two ways. Firstly, they hurt our bodies because we are allergic to them and, secondly, they hurt our bodies because they aren’t healthy foods to begin with.
But even then, you are bound to become bored (at least at times) of this more limited way of eating. Spicing it up with fun ideas is a great way to make your meals more enjoyable and less of a “chore.”
Plates and Bags
If you will be eating food on the go, at work, or school, try a retro lunch-box or designed fabric cooler that’s a little goofy. Chances are, your allergen-free foods will get looks from others anyway, so having a fun bag or box can become what you focus your conversation on.
A quick and easy thing to do is to make sure everything you prepare the food on is fun. If you have to force yourself to eat sometimes, have a special bowl and plate (or two) with fun cartoon characters on them. You can find children’s melamine plates in many stores; buy one (or two, or three, or four . . . ) that makes you smile. Regardless of age, it’s tough to feel bad and bored when you're eating off something that's a little silly. I sometimes have to force myself to eat, and enjoy using my special bowls and plates on those days. They’re especially fun for preparing snacks.
With meals in general, if you can concentrate on changing just one dish, it can add to the enjoyment of a meal. For example, my family always drinks the same thing for dinners and our dinners are often virtually carbon copies of only several standby dishes. However, during the summer we usually have something different for our drink: fresh lemonade, pink lemonade, or smoothies. Suddenly it's a “special summer meal,” even if the meal itself is the exact same thing we eat during other seasons.
If there is a food you consider your “staple” and eat daily because it’s one of the few things you like, keep in mind that the more you eat it, the more likely it is to become a food on your “this food tastes worse than last week’s leftovers” list. Rotate your foods so that you don't tire of your favorites. This serves a dual purpose in that some people have reported developing new allergies from over-eating on certain foods. Although this isn’t necessarily a given, I am one of those who has experienced this. I had absolutely no allergy to soy, but after eating a lot of it over the years, I began to have severe reactions within only one to two hours after ingesting it.
This is one of the biggest struggles for those with allergies since we have such limited diets anyway. Many of us tend to find one or two things we really like and then eat them every day! To avoid falling into this potentially dangerous trap (dangerous with boredom at the very least; developing new allergies at the worst), try to look around in supermarkets, cookbooks, online, and in mail-order catalogs for new food ideas as often as possible.
Be a Gourmet for a Day Try offering a printed menu to your family, with choices of frozen leftovers or beverages.
Try something different and silly. You know how gourmets often serve vegetables in funny slices, piled high to the sky? The way a food is served may help take something old and revive it into something new. Something as simple as getting a new “slicer and dicer” kitchen gadget can add to the way food is prepared, and the results add interest to a meal.
Don’t be afraid to be a little goofy. It will help make your food time all the more enjoyable.
Pack it Up and Picnic It!
To make it even more fun, find reusable lunch packs/lunch bags you like. I have three lunch packs . . . one I designed myself and had printed up (check with your local specialty printing company), one for adults (featuring a frog), and one for children (featuring a sea turtle). Although this sounds ridiculously excessive, the variety adds to the experience because I can pick and choose which one I want to use or which one is appropriate (for example, one holds enough food for two). Although the food inside may be the same, the packaging is different!
One of the easiest ways to make your “boring old allergen-free food” interesting during the warmer months of the year is to pack it all up and take it to a new scene. Try a park, or think of a more unique place, such as a zoo, or a remote area you and your friends find while out hiking.
Most of us stopped worrying about our lunchboxes when we got out of grade school, and then we brown-bagged it when we had to, or stopped by a restaurant. But if you take the time to find a special bag-one you are quite partial to-you will realize the value of having one all over again.
This article appears in Food Allergy Survivors Together Journal (no longer in print). Click here for more information: http://www.angelfire.com/mi/FAST/journal.html