In 2010, my youngest daughter, Sammi, was diagnosed with a disease called eosinophilic esophagitis. Though it turned out that this diagnosis was incorrect, we didn’t learn that for three more years. During the first year of her diagnosis, we had to eliminate dairy, soy, eggs, nuts, and wheat from her already-vegetarian diet. During that time, these ten foods became the most important staples in my kitchen, making me grateful beyond anything I had ever known before. If you or someone you love is following the “six food elimination diet,” these foods might be just the things you need, too.
1. Daiya Shreds
As luck would have it, this company’s products began to show up in my supermarket just after Sammi was diagnosed. A non-dairy cheese substitute with its base made of pea protein, Daiya shreds were the only cheese substitute that actually melted on tortilla chips in a way that looked and tasted appetizing. We put it on tortilla chips and on refried beans and makeshift pizza with makeshift crusts and anything else we could think of.
2. Basmati Rice
Though I found that I could cook complicated foods with relative ease, for some reason, plain old rice eluded me. I’d try it and end up with it either crunchy or so mushy I could spread it on toast. With almost all of our more common grains taken out of the running, though, I needed to work on my rice game.
Thankfully, my friend C grew up with a very close friend whose family hailed from Pakistan and who had taught her a foolproof way to make basmati rice. Her method included no measuring and very little attention. I tried it once and was hooked. From then on, I made a huge batch at the beginning of each week, and we ate it with almost everything.
Fill a bowl with as much rice as you want. Cover it with water so that all the rice is submerged. Wait at least 30 minutes, drain the water off, and pour the soaked rice into rapidly boiling water. Boil for 5 minutes, drain again, drizzle vegetable oil and salt over it, and fluff it with a fork.
THAT’S IT. The rice that saved my behind week after week.
I’ve talked on and on and on about lentils. I’ve said prayers of gratitude to lentils literally dozens of times, and I can’t deny that I might have hugged a bag of lentils I found in the back of my pantry on a particularly trying day. I was just so happy to see them! There’s too much to say in one list item; you might want to just read the entire blog post I’ve dedicated to my love of lentils.
4. Oat Bran
During the most restrictive phase of Sammi’s diet, I felt really constrained by the tiny number of protein sources available to us. Most alternative milks have relatively little protein (remember, we couldn’t have soy or nut milks), and we weren’t allowed any meat or eggs either. It felt like all we ever ate were beans and lentils. Breakfast cereals — the few we found that were nut and gluten free — tasted strange with rice milk, and Sammi was getting really tired of them. Desperate to get protein into her before school each day, I happened to just stumble upon a box of oat bran.
Did you know that oat bran has SIXTEEN GRAMS OF PROTEIN PER SERVING!? I sure didn’t know that until I saw it! Sammi ate hot oat bran cooked in oat milk, mixed with lots of brown sugar, almost every day for breakfast. She went off to school with a belly far fuller than the Fruity Pebbles and rice milk she’d been eating before. Whew!
A friend of mine whose family has several members with Celiac disease turned me on to this brand of gluten-free pasta. Tinkyada was the only brand of many that we tried that tasted nearly the same as gluten-based pasta. Between this and the soy-free margarine below, I was able to give Sammi “buttered noodles” for dinner on nights when I didn’t have a lot of other time to cook.
Finding a “butter” substitute without dairy in it is pretty easy. There are a lot of brands that offer one. Finding one without dairy AND without soy was really hard! I nearly wept with gratitude when I saw that Earth Balance — whose soy-based product was already a staple in our house — offered a version without soy. It tasted great, melted exactly like other similar soy-based spreads, and became our go-to fat source for sautéing, spreading, and baking.
7. Homemade sunflower-seed based chocolate spread
My daughter really hated gluten-free bread. (It turns out that she hated all bread, really, for good reason — it got stuck in her esophagus when she swallowed! But that’s a story for another day…) The only way she agreed she’d probably eat it was if we put Nutella on top. For obvious reasons (dairy and nuts among them!), that wasn’t an option. I wondered, though, if I could make an alternative that would work for her.
I began by finding a local source of sunflower seeds that were not processed on shared equipment with nuts or soy. Even the “allergy-friendly” store brands of sunflower seed butter shared their equipment with soy, so they were not an option for us. When I found a good source, I ground sunflower seeds in my food processor with a little bit of salt and vegetable oil. Once I had a mostly-smooth “butter,” I followed The Nut-Free Mom Blog’s recipe for nut-free nutella.
It came out great! All of us loved this spread. It was expensive to make, but worth every cent to watch Sammi licking it from her fingers.
8. Totally Unhealthy Over-Sugared Cereal
There were some times — more than I liked — during the course of the elimination diet when I rejoiced at the words “artificial colors and flavors.” The reason for my elation was that those words meant I did not have to call the manufacturer of the product at hand to find out whether it contained any of the foods Sammi was avoiding. The alternative — “natural colors and flavors” — could have included some of the items on our list.
As a result, Sammi got to eat things like Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles, Apple Jacks, and Lucky Charms. I also used those cereals for desserts, mixing them with marshmallows and soy margarine to make crispy treats. A baggie of them made a great last-minute snack, and even in the middle of nowhere, I could always find somewhere that carried them.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. Thank you, sugar cereals!
9. All the Vegetables
Thank you to broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, green beans, spinach, swiss chard, peas, corn, carrots, squash, cucumbers, mushrooms, and every other vegetable that allowed me to say YES.
10. All the Fruits
I would like to thank all the strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, grapes, bananas, canteloupe, watermelon, mangos, avocados and tomatoes which passed through our mouths that year. More YES. More things to try and ways to try them!
(NOTE: If you’re coming to this page because you, too, are following the six food elimination diet for yourself or or preparing food from it for someone you love, please be sure that all the things I mentioned above are still allowable under the diet your doctor has prescribed. Ingredients on packaged foods change over time, so always read the labels.)
Some of these foods have stayed in our diets. Some of them never returned once the things they had replaced came back into our lives, but even passing by them at the grocery store, I blow a mental kiss their way. That I had the money to buy them and the time to prepare them and a child willing to try them is lucky indeed.
The famous food writer M.F.K. Fischer once said, “First we eat, then we do everything else.” She’s right — and these foods got us started so that we could, indeed, do everything else. I’ll always be thankful to them!
This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post brought to you by Kristi Campbell of Finding Ninee and Kenya Johnson of Sporadically Yours. This week’s prompt is a five-minute stream of consciousness on “Thankful/Thanksgiving.” Oops, this was way more than five minutes. Oh well.