Having one child with a special dietary need is a challenge. Adding siblings to the mix with or without special dietary needs of their own can be extremely difficult.
Currently, in our home, there are many children with special dietary needs of varying natures. Some of these needs are life threatening and/or conflicting with special dietary needs of others in the house. One child has a severe milk protein allergy, which reacts with simple contact. This child also reacts to rice milk, almond milk, soy milk, etc... Two other children have milk allergies, but not as severe. Three children have no milk/dairy allergies, and one has a Vitamin D deficiency. Surprisingly, except for a few baby bottle mishaps, we've been able to keep everyone safe.
One child is allergic to many vegetables. But one he's NOT allergic to and LOVES, is one that another child IS allergic to, yet still loves. Both are toddlers and very skilled at throwing food on the floor and across the table.
When our son was first diagnosed with 30 food allergies, I was on a quest to find as many recipes as I could that our entire family could enjoy. Many items were removed from our home. Some still are today. But as time has passed, and more children come, I'm learning it's very difficult to juggle every one's diets and nutritional needs. The children who don't have special dietary needs may not eat the foods that our son can. One of our children has Asperger's and will only eat very specific foods, some of which his brother is allergic to.
Over time we've come up with some basic rules and routines in our home to keep people safe.
1. Only water is allowed in sippy cups and/or, which can be taken anywhere in the house.
2. Food and drinks are served at the table only.
3. One must ask an adult for permission before opening the refrigerator.
4. Children are positioned at the table based on their special dietary needs.
5. All snacks and meals are served by adults, at times with some assistance from children.
We've found it very helpful to have a raised table top and to store all food in cupboards above the counter. With so many young children, it's been wonderful to have a routine eating schedule of meals and snacks, so there is no munching in between.
There are still MANY Foods omitted from our home: eggs, oats, sweet potatoes, beef, pork, etc... But we do have milk and cheese, peanut butter, strawberries, and peas. At meal time I find myself cooking at least two meals, if not three, with a choice of vegetable and side dish. I've found that options keeps everyone happy.
We still have occasional meltdowns over broccoli and macaroni and cheese, but we've come a long way. When we have special treats, most often they are allergy friendly for everyone. At times we do have ice cream sundae nights though. Those allergic to dairy/milk usually get special allergy friendly chocolate bars or cookies. (Even alternative ice creams aren't safe for everyone. And one child in particular, suffering from sensory issues, will not eat anything cold.) It's a real juggling act.
As you can tell, the solutions we have come up with are very specific to our situation, and it may not be advisable to do things the same way we have done them, since every situation is unique. We may also find new challenges presenting themselves as the kids get older, and the potential changes in tastes and tolerances that come with growing up. Introducing new kids could also present new challenges, especially older kids who might not be so willing to give up on some favorite things out of concern for another's special dietary needs. The keys to continued success will be flexibility and quick adjustments before potential problems present themselves and get out of hand. Lots of communication, negotiation, and praise will be important components as well. As always, reducing the emphasis of food and eating as a central part of the day and shifting the focus to family fun and activities will aid in the process as well.
Now it's your turn:
1. How have you managed the challenge of keeping your child with special dietary needs safe while also being sensitive to the tastes and preferences of others (especially siblings) who may be asked to do without a favorite food? What was the most difficult thing about this and what has been the most rewarding aspect of trying to find this very delicate balance in your family?
2. Our experience is primarily with children ages 5 and under, so we are interested in learning how things change or have changed for your family's food needs as the children have grown older. Do things get easier because the kids can communicate more clearly and be kept safe more easily? Or, do tastes and preferences become stronger and less negotiable? How have you adapted to these changes and were there any surprises that you have encountered along the way?
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