This article on Kids Food Allergies is a collaboration between Dr Jennifer Cohen and Little Peeps Eats.
For many years I was visited by parents in my private practice about kids food allergies. When families came to me it usually wasn’t about giving them recipes for their kid’s who have food allergies it was to make sure that their kid’s nutritional intake was still good. Kids with food allergies, especially with multiple food allergies, must avoid lots of foods. Avoiding foods, especially whole food groups means that there are some common nutrition issues that I always looked out for in kids. In this blog post I talk all about nutrition and kids with food allergies.
Kids food allergies – what you need to know
There are multiple reasons why kids are on restricted diets. This blog post is not just about kids food allergies. This is for kids who are avoiding foods and food groups due to food intolerances, Eosinophilic Oesophagitis, FPIES, low FODMAP diet and those trialling an elimination diet. Families with kids with allergies and other conditions that mean they remove whole food groups from their diet, work even harder to make sure their child gets the right nutrition.
1. Good Growth
Childhood is such an important time for growth and development. This development is not just about growing taller, this is about brain development as well. Good nutrition helps to fuel this growth. Quite few studies that have shown that kids with multiple food allergies have a higher risk of reduced growth, though this is more likely if a child has 3 or more foods that they are avoiding.
Kids who have proper supplementation have less of a risk of poor growth. What we don’t know is whether this poor growth is due to avoiding certain food groups, leading to a low energy intake or is due to an issue with absorption or inflammation increasing a child’s nutrition needs. Many parents are concerned about their child’s protein intake but there is no evidence that kids with allergies don’t have enough protein intake.
There have been very little studies looking at long-term growth in kids with multiple food allergies. One study did suggest that kid’s who had were on a cow’s milk elimination diet may be at risk of being above their healthy weight range as they got older but this has not been proven.
2. Vitamin D & Calcium
The bone mineral density of young adults who grew up with a cow’s milk allergy has shown to be low. Luckily this can be reversed with a good calcium and vitamin D intake. Vitamin D is especially important for not only bone health but plays a role in our immune system. Kids with a cow’s milk protein allergy have shown to have a lower risk of vitamin D deficiency than kids the same age without an allergy.
3. Fussy Eating
Fussy eating in kids with allergies is an area that is starting to be recognised. A child’s long-term eating patterns and habits start from a young age. Kids who avoid a long list of foods are likely to avoid those foods when they are older even if they no longer need to lead to fussy eating.
We know that the more stressed a family is about their kid’s food intake the fussier eating issues the child is likely to get. Parents of kids with allergies have shown to have a lot of stress around their kids eating with very good reason. Mealtime behaviours of kids with allergies have shown to be more stressful than kids without allergies.
4. Other nutrients
The jury is still out about whether kids who avoid multiple foods have poor intake of vitamins and minerals, such as iron and B12. From my experience, many kids with allergies tend to eat a better variety of food than other kids their age. The tend to eat less processed foods and eat a bigger variety of foods. As kids with food allergies get older it is likely that their intake is no different to that of their peers, and in some cases, they may have a better diet.
Top Tips for Parents of Kids with Food Allergies
- Add lots of Good Fats: Ensure you are adding lots of good fats into your child’s diet when they are young to make sure they are getting a good energy intake. Good fats include extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, avocado, fatty fish and nut-based products (if you don’t have a nut allergy)
- Good Calcium Intake: Make sure that any milk substitutes you use have added calcium in them and encourage calcium-rich foods such as chia and sesame seeds, leafy green veggies, beans and lentils, almonds and tofu
- Consider a Vitamin D Supplement: It is very hard to get enough Vitamin D from foods and we have to be careful about how much sun we give our kids. You may want to consider a Vitamin D supplement
- Avoid Forcing Your Child: Having a child with an allergy can be very stressful but pressuring your child to eat may make their eating worse. Check out my blog post which has lots of hints for dealing with fussy eating.
- Keep up Variety: Pinterest has so many great recipes for kids with food allergies. It is so important to make sure your child has a good variety of foods, even if they avoid some foods. Being creative with your cooking and trying new meals and foods is so important for your child’s eating habits.
There are a number of resources for fussy eating available on our site that may be of interest to you.
Dr Jennifer Cohen, is a paediatric nutritionist, dietitan, foodie and mum to 2 gorgeous young boys. Her passion is to help busy families, like you, to feel less stressed at mealtimes and to help you to give your children the best start in life.