Okay, I Can't Eat Something... Now What?
It's so easy to feel overwhelmed when you suddenly have to eliminate some food from your diet - especially if it was something that brought you a lot of joy (I miss bread every single day). But, if you take things step by step, one day at a time, it is totally figure-out-able! And you will find food-happiness again, I promise. ;)
I've had to go through this process 4 times in my life. Admittedly, the first time it happened I was two years old, so I have no memory of what it was like to suddenly find out that nuts could kill me. Luckily my mother is also anaphylactic to nuts, so there weren't any in the house anyway, and she already knew what to do. The second time was when I went vegan, about four years ago - and that took a BUNDLE of my go-to foods off the table (I also still miss cheese every single day). Then, finding my soy allergy - and you can imagine as a vegan how much I missed soy right away, and finally learning I was gluten-intolerant right at the end of the first year of the pandemic.
I'll save you my ode to breads and cheeses for now, but suffice it to say, you can find the willpower to not consume things that make you sick - and you can still miss the taste of things you no longer eat.
If you've just discovered you have to (or decided to) no longer eat a certain food, this can be your info-hub for now, and below are some quick tips to help in your first couple weeks!
Tip #1: At least for the first couple weeks, get that food/allergen out of your house. This is of course totally optional, but it really is true when people say 'out of sight out of mind'. If you're worried about being tempted to eat something you can't consume any more, or just found out you have a severe allergy to something and cross-contamination is a concern, clear that thing out of your kitchen. That food item specifically, and anything that has it as an ingredient in it too. You don't have to eradicate it forever, but while you're learning, adjusting, and probably trying new foods and recipes, it's so much easier to know for sure that everything in your kitchen is okay and safe for you to eat.
I know this is easier said than done, especially if you're cooking for just yourself. But if having that food around is putting you at risk, you're worth everyone going without it for at least a couple weeks. And if getting rid of everything right away isn't an option, at least put it all together in one cupboard or section of the freezer and keep it all completely separate so that you know *most* of your kitchen is a safe space for you.
This is not to say you should throw out a bunch of food - look into donating non-perishables to your local food bank (when I went gluten-free mine got a load of pastas and flour from me!), and gift anything that could go to waste with family and friends that don't live with you.
Tip #2: Start reading, listening, and learning. There are so many resources for people who need to learn about food allergies and dietary restrictions - many, *many* more than there used to me!
If you or someone you love has just been diagnosed with a food allergy, you can check out Food Allergy Canada, Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), and AllerGen. If you're newly gluten-intolerant or Celiac-diagnosed, I'd start with the Canadian Celiac Association (CCA). and the National Celiac Association. And if you're interested in going vegan, I can recommend PlantYou for recipes and tips for eating more plant-based, the Vegan Society of Canada for starter resources, and if you're down for some movies, What the Health and The Game Changers are both informative and engaging watches.
Tip #3: Find the online & in-person communities in your area! I promise you, no matter what it is you're dealing with in the world of dietary restrictions, you are not alone and you are *definitely* not the only one. Start by searching on Facebook for FB Groups in your area centered around your restrictions or allergies, and join a couple of the ones that look the most active and engaged. If nothing else, you'll have a forum full of experts who *GET IT* that you can post questions in and gather info from - or you might even find your new favourite recipe or store-bought food item from someone else's recommendation!
You can look for nation-wide or even world-wide online communities too, but my favourite FB Groups that I'm a member of are the ones that are specific to my city and the surrounding area - like Gluten-Free Barrie, or Barrie Vegans/Vegetarians, for example. It's great to have support in your hometown, but also practically, when someone posts a new vegan or gluten-free product in the group, I know I'm driving distance to that product if I want to grab it too. *shrug*
Tip #4: Talk to people that have already travelled this road in front of you. Possibly the biggest advantage of tapping into the non-profit organizations linked above and your local community groups is the ability to access the knowledge of those that have been there before, and have been doing this for a while. There's no one who knows how to manage a nut allergy better than someone who's managed their own allergy for 30+ years. They'll have stories, alternative food suggestions, restaurant recommendations, tips, tricks, and more all from years of life experience - and most of us are happy to share to prevent others from making any mistakes we've made along the way. Tap the lessons-learned of those around you - and remember you can always contact me to ask your questions too. And absolute worst case scenario - if we don't know the answer already, the chances are very high we will know where you can find it for yourself!
Now that you know the basics, here's one of my favourite super-simple crowd-pleaser recipes that is top-10-allergen free - and all you'll need are avocados, tomatoes, and the spices you've already got in your cupboard! Whether I'm hosting people, going over to someone else's house, or just need a filling snack for myself, I know my Guacamole is going to be a hit. ;)
THE BEST GUACAMOLE OF YOUR LIFE
(vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free)
- Fresh avocado (at least one full one - use more if you're making it for a bundle of people)
- Diced tomato (go for a 2:1 ratio of avocado to tomato - eg. if you're using just one avocado, only dice half a tomato)
- I measure everything in this recipe with my heart (you'll get there too!), but here's a guideline for the spices:
1/2 tsp of sea salt (err on the side of more sea salt - the best guacamole is SALTY)
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
cayenne pepper to taste (start with a little and add more if you like things spicy)
Optional: I like to add a dash of cilantro, but I know cilantro isn't for everyone
1) Once your tomato is diced, set it aside, and then peel, pit, and mash the avocado in your intended serving bowl (you might as well make this in the bowl you're serving it in).
2) Add the diced tomato to the mashed avocado, along with all the spices, and then mix well with a metal fork.
3) Serve ASAP with corn chips (most are only made with corn, salt, vegetable oil, and lime, but always check the ingredients!), pieces of celery, other chopped veg (broccoli, peppers, carrots), crackers, or whatever you'd like!
4) Hot tip for storing guacamole to eat later - to keep the avocado from turning brown, sprinkle the littlest bit of lemon juice on the top of the guacamole, then cover with plastic wrap so no air is able to get to the avocado, and keep refrigerated. I've been able to keep guacamole over night and eat it the next day by doing this!