First published Autumn 2018


 

Catherine Morgan finds out about the challenges of a trialing a dairy-free diet for children

We are doing a trial elimination of dairy for my eldest — under professional supervision and for health reasons, not because I am anti-dairy. It’s relatively easy at home — there are lots of dairy-free options available, and most of the time my swaps go unnoticed (although on the rare occasion he has breakfast cereal, he now prefers it dry!). But it is somewhat harder when we’re out and about, mainly because Child 1 can’t make the same food choices as Child 2, who is a bit of a cheese-fiend.

But credit to our four-year-old, who takes it all in his stride (most of the time), who doesn’t have tantrums when he can’t have what he wants (most of the time), and who learnt, very quickly, to question the suitability of unfamiliar foods (again, most of the time).

Although many places now cater for people with food restrictions, some menus can still be a bit tricky to navigate, and choices can sometimes be a bit limited, especially in smaller outlets. But in the grand scheme of things, he really doesn’t miss out. It just takes a bit of extra planning on my part and a bit (sometimes a lot) of understanding on his.

Of course, going dairy-free does have its challenges, and one family’s struggle may be different from the next; but there is a host of resources and support available for those who need it. For me, a major concern is ensuring Child 1 maintains a healthy relationship with food — I don’t want him to develop food fears or hang-ups, or to feel isolated from his peers… I’m therefore quick to stress that this is a trial period, and to focus on things he can have rather than those he can’t. I also take it as an opportunity for us to experiment together in the kitchen, finding out what he likes and what he doesn’t. Plus, I try not to be too alarmist when a dairy-laden item accidently makes its way into his mouth (this obviously wouldn’t be the case if it was a diagnosed allergy, of course).

“If going dairy-free is making a difference, then they will feel so much better in themselves within a couple of weeks...”

Naturopath and functional medicine practitioner Lucinda Miller, aka The NatureDoc, agrees that it is important to tell children that it is just a trial, and to set out a time frame that the child can associate with.

“Interact with them during this trial period to check in to see how they are feeling,” she says. “If going dairy-free is making a difference, then they will feel so much better in themselves within a couple of weeks. In the case of tummy aches for instance you can track how frequently they are occurring, and if there are less then point this out to them.” And it is for exactly this reason that Child 1 is showing such willing.

Miller also offers some advice when eating out or attending parties: “Call ahead to a restaurant to check they can provide dairy-free options, and pack a cardboard party box with lots of lovely healthy dairy-free goodies for parties so they feel this a bit more special than their normal lunch box.”

Another thing I am conscious of is calcium intake; and this is one of the top parental concerns Miller hears in clinic, along with worries about finding child-approved dairy-free alternatives.

“Calcium is something to be mindful of,” says Miller. “A child’s minimum daily intake should be 350 to 550 mg for a younger child and 800 to 1,000 mg for adolescents.” A good option for breakfast are calcium-rich oat-based cereals, she says, in the form of porridge or oat-based muesli. Chia, sesame and poppy seeds also contain good levels, so add to cereals, puddings and baked goods.

But calcium isn’t the only nutrient to consider. “What is forgotten is also the importance of iodine, vitamin D and protein,” says Miller. “Iodine sources include seaweed, strawberries, cranberries and potatoes. Vitamin D is best gained through sun exposure but is also in shiitake mushrooms, oily fish and eggs. It is important to find good dairy-free sources of protein such as eggs, fish, meat and poultry as well as beans, nuts and seeds.”

Our dairy-free journey has had its ups and downs; but things are getting easier. For anyone about to start one of their own, do remember to seek professional advice — and to join a network of like-minded people for support. If you’re looking for inspiration, there certainly isn’t a shortage of books and bloggers showcasing their free-from creations — some of which will be a hit, and others that won’t; but surely, when it comes to children, that’s just the norm, dairy-free or otherwise.

Lucinda Miller’s recipe book, The Good Stuff, has a section on eating healthily with allergies and food intolerances. She has also provided clever swaps in all the recipes to make them dairy-free.

www.naturedoc.co.uk/thegoodstuff/

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