On Monday my friend was asking me about all my free-from cooking – where I got ideas from, how I learnt how to bake without all the normal ingredients… I don’t tend to think about it much – and put on the spot I struggled a little. Now I’ve had some time to consider I think that there are a few contributing factors – the main one is perfectly expressed by this quote from Plato. “Necessity, is the mother of invention”, especially when it comes to inventing free-from recipes for your severely allergic child.
It was a basic necessity – I needed to find a way to feed my son safely. He was allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts, kiwi, blueberries, cranberries, cucumber, peppers, chickpeas, lentils, sesame seeds, courgettes, peas… the list was never ending. When I was weaning him he reacted to food after food, I HAD to pare everything back to the basics and work from there. It was necessary if I wanted my son to be healthy and able to eat safely!
For me, Plato’s quote explains our situation perfectly; necessity is highly motivating. Aaron needed to eat, and he needed to eat food which was safe for him and his extreme dietary requirements. There were a few free-from cookbooks on the market twelve years ago, but there was nothing for a parents who’s child was allergic to multiple foods. (It felt like he was allergic to everything – and I had never personally come across food allergies before Aars!)
We began experimenting with the basic of all basics – bread. Most of the bread in shops at that time contained milk, so we started baking our own bread every other day. Aars would help me – choosing which safe seeds he fancied adding and pouring them in, squeezing honey and dumping out cups of flour, drizzling oil… it was relaxed and it was fun. We enjoyed baking bread together.
I was lucky that I worked from home when Aars was six months old until after he turned ten. I wrote for a charity based in the Middle East, initially part-time and slowly increasing my hours to full time as he grew older. But my working hours were always flexible and I sold paintings through local galleries to supplement my income; this meant I had time and energy to play around with the ingredients we had found Aaron could eat. Time and energy are essential for any creative process.
Aaron and I started playing with the ingredients we knew were safe for him. We did it together so he could see everything that was going into his food and could be confident that all of it was safe for him. He was involved in the process from the beginning. It meant it took longer and was messier than it would have been if I’d been doing it on my own; but it gave him confidence to try the new creations we came up with. He loved licking the bowl out at the end and choosing the cookie cutter shapes and seeing the end result ready to eat. My reward when we had successes was greater than the financial gain I got from my writing or my art. I saw the grin on my son’s face as he ate his first drop-scone, his first biscuit, his first cake, his first pizza, his first pancake… all of them things we’d not only made but had imagined up. It was incredibly rewarding and motivating.
The process of creating these recipes together and baking removed food from of the scary, stressful place it had lingered in during weaning. Slowly food became part of a fun, enjoyable, delicious and safe shared experience. As a result Aaron’s confidence with food slowly grew and he was very conscious and aware of the process of making food with different ingredients. When he was three, a close family relative wanted to make him a smoothie. She put bio yoghurt in it and thanks to his awareness he pointed out to her that it had dairy in it. It was empowering for him to know that he was aware of what was safe and what was not. He had confidence to speak up because he had a lot of experience in our safe kitchen. The process of inventing and creating was an education for him as well as for me, as we worked out what worked and what did not! I am grateful that we had that time together to play with ingredients and find ways to bake free-from all the allergens he was allergic to.
This blog was born as a result of the allergy clinic at hospital requesting recipes from me every week to support their patients parents. I thought if I got them all online then parents could access them when and where they needed to freely and easily.
If you have a child living with severe food allergies, baking with them is not just a bonding, messy, tasty experience; it also builds confidence and empowers your child. Hopefully it can help transfer food from a stressful, scary area into a fun, relaxed and enjoyable shared experience.
I understand that sometimes as parents of children with severe food allergies and anaphylaxis we need support and encouragement and confidence to cook for and with our allergic kids. If you’d like to have a lesson baking free-from please get in touch – I provide lessons via Skype or at my home.
I also think we need to know we’re not alone; that there are other mums and dads out there struggling the same way we are. I meet up with a couple of individual mums, with younger children on the beginning of their anaphylactic journey, from time to time. It’s helpful to be able to share struggles with someone who genuinely understands and has been there too. You are not alone, please feel free to contact me if you need an empathetic ear.
Happily there are increasing numbers of free-from items for sale in shops like Tesco, and more free-from recipe books and online resources than ever before. There are also escalating numbers of children impacted by food allergies so hopefully you can find a positive support network in your area. Otherwise you are always welcome to get in touch.
Peace and smiles to you,
Rai & Aars x