My youngest was unnaturally crabby as a baby. She didn’t smile much. She was always getting sick-mostly ear infections (even with tubes). Doctors said she was healthy. Still, I sought the services of a naturopath and ended up getting her tested for food sensitivities. The lab report made me cry every time I went shopping for food. We had a new diet: no eggs, no dairy, no soy, no peanut, no kidney beans, no gluten. Nothing we ate except fruits and veggies could stay in her diet.
Food sensitivity diets do not help everyone, but for us, the diet changed our baby girl. She was healthier and happier. Eventually, she outgrew all the sensitivities but for 3 years she at soy-, egg- ,dairy- and gluten-free. For 5 years she ate gluten free. It was long enough to feel the burden of eating. And when I combined her diet with my diet for diabetes, I started to hate food. Social events, airports, and restaurants were stressful. And I didn’t even have to worry about the forbidden foods killing my child. I have a strong memory of packing an entire suitcase of food for my Bug when we went to Honduras. The constant diligence was exhausting.
Do you know a sweet family with one or more members on special diets? Their burden is heavy. Here are ways to bless them.
1. Talk to your kids about special diets. My Bug was relentlessly confronted by a boy at school. He insisted she stop being rude. To his mother’s credit, he knew it was polite to eat what was served. But every time someone brought a birthday cupcake, my daughter went to her locker and got her own treat. She was shy and felt unable to defend herself against this insistent boy. With 30 kids in the class, the teacher never noticed. So when your kid starts school, have a chat about special diets. If you like to share through stories like I do, look for the following books at your library: The Bugabees: Friends with Food Allergies by Amy Recob, Allie the Allergic Elephant by Nicole Smith, or Eating Gluten Free with Emily by Bonnie J. Kruszka and Richard S. Cihlar
2. Invite the kid with a special diet to the party anyway. You may not know how to feed a classmate with a special diet. Invite her anyway. The family and the child will handle the food. Our hearts broke when a girl told Bug she wasn’t inviting her to a party because Bug couldn’t eat cake.
3. Learn about the diet and then provide food for the family or the child. One of the greatest gifts I ever received was from a friend who cooked a birthday meal for me. She made the meal low-carb and gluten free to accommodate my daughter’s sensitivities and my diabetes. And she made two desserts, a low-sugar cheesecake for me and a gluten-free cake for my girl. You don’t have to be this extravagant though. I never expected friends or groups to accommodate our diets. I knew our diet belonged to us and was too expensive and confusing for most people. But when someone did accommodate us, I felt blessed and my burden eased. Providing a snack is just as life-giving as meal. But do your research first. Call up the family and learn the details of the diet. Follow their instructions to a T and have labels ready so the mom can feel confident. Then when the child shows up to your church for VBS, provide special snacks just for her. Such simple actions bless a family immeasurably.
4. Inform the family about what kind of food will be served. Sometimes we would show up to church, MOPS, or preschool events where I was sure no food would be involved. Then food would show up and my girl could only eat the emergency fruit leather I carried around (they don’t crumble or leak in a purse). Often, the cracker snack for Sunday school would be replaced with a brownie. The gluten-free crackers I always brought were a disappointment compared to a brownie. I hated giving my girl crackers when everyone else had sweets. Older kids need to learn to deal with these realities but I wasn’t ready to make my 3-year-old face them.
5. Don’t complain. Be compassionate. It is annoying when one or two kids’ diets mean a ban on peanut butter in the lunchroom. And it can be disappointing when your kids can’t bring their favorite treat, peanut butter cups, for the Halloween party. But if your child could potentially die from exposure to peanuts, would you want the school to keep allowing peanut butter? If you demonstrate compassion when your child complains, they will learn volumes and that girl with the peanut allergy? Well, she just might feel more accepted.
*peanut image courtesy of criminatt/free digital photos