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If your children are among the nearly 6 million children in the U.S. who have food allergies, you know avoidance is the first step. Yet if the foods your kids are allergic to are also a significant source of nutrition, it’s important to know what food substitutions they can eat to get the vitamins, minerals and key nutrients they need.
Here are 8 of the most common food allergens and food substitutions to consider in your child’s diet.
A cow’s milk allergy is the most common food allergy in babies and young children. About 2.5 percent of children under the age of 3 are allergic to milk, according to FARE.
Cow’s milk is found in many obvious foods like butter, ghee, cheese, yogurt and sour cream as well as chocolate, baked goods and even tuna fish.
Milk is a good source of calcium but there are plenty of healthy food substitutions like plant-based milks such as coconut milk, almond milk and cashew milk. Other calcium-rich foods include leafy green vegetables, sardines and tofu.
When I was a child, it seemed that the only thing kids ate for lunch were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. With the rise in peanut allergies however, all that has changed. It’s estimated that up to 5 percent of kids have a peanut allergy, according to a 2014 study in the The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Plus, kids who are allergic to peanuts have between a 25 and 40 percent chance of also being allergic to tree nuts, one study found.
If your child is allergic to peanuts and peanut butter (but not allergic to tree nuts), try soy butter, sunflower seed butter, almond butter, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds.
Eggs are a tricky food allergy especially since they’re used in many foods like baked goods or freshly prepared, ready-to-go meals you’ll find in the grocery store.
Eggs are an excellent source of protein and choline, but if your kids are allergic to eggs, try kidney beans, beef, salmon, turkey or chicken breast which also have these nutrients. When baking, any fruit puree or ground flaxseed makes for a good egg substitute.
4. Tree Nuts
Almonds, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts and Brazil nuts are a good source of protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. They also make for a healthy, easy and convenient snack for summer road trips or when you’re running around after-school.
The good news is that your kid may be allergic to certain tree nuts and not the others. If he’s allergic to all of them however, you can get the same nutrition that you get from nuts with seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, and chia seeds.
If your kid is allergic to wheat, has Celiac disease or is gluten-free for another reason, it can be tough to find a food substitution.
But gluten-free flours like coconut flour and oat flour are easy swaps for baking and gluten-free grains like rice, millet and teff, or seeds like quinoa provide plenty of fiber and B vitamins kids need.
6. Fish and Shellfish
About 40 percent of people with a fish allergy and 60 percent of those with a shellfish allergy experience their first reaction as an adult, according to FARE.
If your kid is allergic to either one however, he’ll have to find other sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs, beef, poultry, lentils and beans are all great foods to fill the void.
About .4 percent of kids have a soy allergy so avoiding foods like tofu, tempeh and many processed, packaged foods that contain soy will help keep your child safe.
To replace the nutrition from soy, add in beans, lentils and quinoa—all of which are high in protein and fiber.
Sesame isn’t usually considered a top allergen but experts say although it’s unclear how many kids are allergic to sesame, it’s on the rise in the U.S.
The scary truth about sesame is that federal law doesn’t require food manufacturers to list sesame as an allergen on their packaging. It may not always be possible to avoid packaged foods but it’s the best way to prevent an allergic reaction.
Sesame is a good source of protein, fiber, calcium and magnesium but you can get these nutrients through other foods such as pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flaxseeds and green leafy vegetables.