Allergy-Safe Alternatives That Saved Us
Safety aside, the hardest thing for me to accept about my kids' food allergies at first was the idea of them growing up without sharing in traditional childhood moments that involved food. A kid without a birthday cake, Christmas cookies... doughnuts on a Saturday morning? Well, guess what I learned, allergy moms and dads - we've got this! Cooking outside of the lines is something I do everyday, and it's possible thanks to a handful of lifesaving allergy-free ingredients. Once elusive, these products are now common in grocery stores everywhere, and if you don't have your hands on them yet, you need to get to the store now.
Here are the top five items that my food allergy family could not live without:
1. Enjoy Life chocolate chips: God bless this company. They make a plethora of snack foods, including cookies, snack bars and baking mixes, and everything they produce is free of the top eight most common allergens. Their cookies, in particular, have been such a bright spot for me when I've been in a pinch, needed a safe treat for my boys, and didn't have time to bake anything (a conundrum we allergy parents understand all too well!). But, the one item of theirs that I can't imagine life without is their chocolate chips. Enjoy Life makes three varieties - small morsels, large dark chocolate morsels and chocolate chunks. I have unique uses for each, but love them all equally.
2. Ener-G Egg Replacer: This. Is. Huge. While I appreciate all the creative tricks out there for baking without eggs (and use a variety of them), there's an authenticity about egg replacer that makes me reach for it first. It is a powder, and when whisked with warm water, it becomes the consistency of a beaten egg white. Throw that into whatever you are baking just as you would an egg, and voila! I couldn't make a cookie without it, and I've had tremendous success when using it to alter unsafe recipes. This stuff is incredible.
3. Earth Balance butter: While I am so very grateful all the dairy-free alternatives out there, I'll be the first to admit that they don't always taste as close to "the real thing" as I'd like. But, Earth Balance makes a dairy-free butter that has completely taken the place of real butter at our house, even for my non-allergic family members. I use it in all of my baking and cooking, and my whole family uses it for buttering toast and bagels. It is a fantastic alternative. They even have a soy-free version, which is what my family uses.
4. Dairy-free milk: Okay, I do have a preference in this category, but let me begin by saying I'm an equal opportunity fan of dairy-free milk. I've cooked with soy, rice and hemp milk, and they all do a stellar job of blending into a recipe that calls for dairy milk. Taste-wise, soy milk tends to be the sweetest of the three, while rice is mild and hemp is nutty (something to think about, depending on what you are cooking). But, the one that I have really taken a fondness to lately is hemp milk. In an effort to try and lessen the amount of soy that my dairy-allergic son was consuming, he started drinking hemp milk, so when I started baking with it also, I was pleasantly surprised by how fluffy and light it made my baked goods (particularly my pancakes). Bottom line: don't let dairy-free milk scare you. Pick one and embrace it!
5. Silken tofu: Tofu? Yes, tofu. You would not believe the magic in this soybean offspring. Not only is it a a great egg substitute, but it serves as a perfect replacement for heavy cream when put in a blender and liquified into a thick consistency. This is a surprising staple for me.
So, listen... it will take some trial and error with these products (a process I know very well - it's okay!). Just TRY. I promise you will be amazed at what you can work around in cooking, and the smile on your kids' faces when you give them a safe brownie will melt your heart forever!