Jess Crossan Family

How food allergies taught me about Baby Lead Weaning, “picky” eaters and lead me on an adventure with Culinary Nutrition!

Do you have a picky eater??  Generally, I feel that the term “picky eater” isn’t entirely helpful.  Children develop their eating habits just like any other habits – by example and practice. Babies aren’t born picky, but often the experience of eating can create bad habits for them as they learn.  With the exception of actual food allergies, I believe most children can learn to appreciate all foods if they practice!

My oldest daughter is allergic to tree nuts like pistachio, cashew, walnut, pine nut and pecans but can eat peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds no problem!  My youngest was allergic to eggs until she was 1, anaphylactic to dairy until she was 2 and to this day (she’s 3.5) is allergic to peanuts but can eat ALL the tree nuts her biggest sis can’t!  When she was first diagnosed with the dairy allergy she was 7 months old and had been flagged as “failing to thrive” by her doctor (which, in my humble opinion is a TERRIBLE thing to say to a mother about their baby!) which generally means there is insufficient caloric intake to support optimal growth. This news made me feel like I was failing her as her mum!  At that point she was exclusively breast fed and happily nursed 6 times a day and was in the beginning stages of baby lead weaning where she was given small, soft pieces of pretty much whatever we were eating (one new item at a time obviously!) because she had ZERO interest in purees! She wanted what the big girls were having! Because she was still nursing frequently, sleeping well, hitting all her other developmental milestones, was happy, alert and just a generally content baby who loved being part of our chaotic life, to be told she was “failing” at anything felt awful!   She was going to be referred to a developmental paediatrician and we were told to start supplementing what she was getting with formula. I had switched our oldest two girls to formula for less than 2 months before they were old enough to move to homogenized milk because they had both self-weaned around 10 months. My third daughter refused anything besides breast milk from ME (so no cups, bottles, straws etc!) until she was almost 1 so she never really did formula. Regardless, I had picked up a tub of the kind of formula I had used with the oldest two and thought I would add it to the baby’s cereal to see if she even liked it….well, she broke out in a rash all over her face!  I thought maybe it was a lactose intolerance and bought her the hydrolysed formula for lactose intolerant babies….and we ended up in the ER!! Her face, neck and ears swelled up and looked like she had tomatoes stuck to her head instead of ears and she had hives from head to toe and started coughing like she couldn’t breathe! Funnily enough (although not funny at all….) when you arrive at the ER with an infant having and obvious food reaction, they move you through triage fast!! That night, the ER doc basically told us it looked like she was allergic to dairy and to stop giving her the formula and go back to breast feeding….only breast feeding had landed her in the “failing to thrive” camp.

Turns out, not knowing she was allergic to dairy meant I was still consuming it. Which meant she was not actually getting enough nourishment from me, even though she was nursing 6 times a day she was pooping most of it right out. Yep, that makes a mama feel pretty terrible!! Hydrolysed formula for lactose intolerant babies means that the dairy proteins are already broken down, making them more digestible and helping to alleviate the gas often associated with babies who are lactose intolerant. But when your baby is allergic to that protein? The hydrolysed protein is just absorbed faster and brings on the anaphylactic reaction faster! It was a pretty rough night…..

This is where I am eternally grateful for the community I have through my Epicure family! I reached out to other consultants who are dieticians, Holistic Nutritionists and other Culinary Nutrition Experts (before I was certified!) and received so much help and support that it was overwhelming!  We spent time researching non-dairy and egg-free options. Found so many resources on Baby Lead Weaning (BLW) and had so much help that by the time the baby finally got into the appointment she had with a registered dietitian at the hospital (here in Ontario we have a great healthcare system, but because it’s covered by our provincial government we wait a long time for non-essential appointments sometimes….) we had more info for her than she had for us!!  And 10 weeks after our first appointment with the paediatrician where we were told to feed her things she was allergic to and that she was “failing”, we were discharged because she had gained nearly 10lbs and was doing absolutely amazing!

A week after our trip to the ER we had another appointment with the paediatrician to discuss ways to help get the baby back onto the growth chart (she’d dropped from 95th percentile at birth weighing nearly 9lbs to below 5th percentile by 7 months old having not gained any weight at all between 5 months and 7!) so that she could start “thriving” again.  I keep using that term in quotes because on the outside she was such a happy little thing that we hardly felt she was failing but we’re going by what the doc was saying here.  So we arrive at our appointment and are promptly told that in order to “fatten” her up we should start giving her formula, cheese, yogourt and butter…..right…..but we’ve just established (and confirmed with an allergist!) that she’s allergic to ALL those things!

Part of our adventures in food allergies is what led me to pursue my certification in Culinary Nutrition. So I can offer help and support to others learning a new normal.  My love for food has always made me pursue cooking from scratch so being an ambassador with Epicure has helped me to offer practical solutions to anyone looking to incorporate more scratch cooking in their daily life as well.  In my adventures with food, children with food allergies and baby lead weaning I learned a few things that I have found to be extremely helpful in encouraging children to eat well, without arguments so that everything is on the table – except what we’re allergic to of course!!

5 Easy Tips for Helping Your Child Become a Confident and Adventurous Eater

  1. Include them in the prep! This is my #1 tip for sure!  The more they participate in the making, the more they’re willing to try it!  Obviously in the beginning, the baby wasn’t hands on in the kitchen with me! But these days she’s as eager to get involved as her big sisters!  You can join us in some adventures in the kitchen over on YouTube too!
  2. Deconstructed dinner – set up a buffet-style with all the parts of what’s for dinner and involve them in the process of choosing.  Taco Tuesday, DIY pizza, build your own nourish bowl etc.  This way you allow them to choose what they want to eat without catering to them specifically and having to offer (and cook!) multiple options. Check out some of the great BYO options in the Good Food Real Results Guide
  3. Pair favourites with new foods – use dips, condiments or sauces they like along with something new and they may be more willing to try it.  Be mindful of what’s in your dips, sauces and condiments though!  And when you can, make your own!
  4. Eat with them! Sit at the table with them, and let them see you eating the same foods.  They are much more likely to eat it WITH you than to have you dictate or force them to eat something they don’t see you eating.
  5. Relax! I know it can be hard introducing new foods or working with a picky eater, but if you are calm, cool and collected they will be too.  They can sense your stress and are more likely to get defensive if they feel you are wound up!

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