Last month we shared Dessa’s long and complicated journey through food allergies and sensitivities. Right now, she doesn’t technically suffer from any food allergies, but we have discovered that she does have some sensitivities to dairy and tomatoes that we are trying to straighten out to get her gut on track. There’s a chance that she could eat those foods without issue when she’s older, but we are cutting dairy and tomatoes out of her diet completely for at least a few months while we try and restore her digestive tract. Since we shared that story, a few people have asked us exactly what we feed our toddler and that’s a very good question. When you stop to think about it, dairy and tomatoes are staple ingredients in a lot of recipes (and tomatoes were one of Dessa’s very favorite foods before we had to cut them from her diet). Today’s post is a breakdown of Dessa’s diet with her food restrictions in place and a look at how her diet affects our family’s meals together.
What Dessa Ate When She was Just Dairy Free
When Dessa was just dairy-free (before the tomato sensitivity showed up) we ate the same dinners as Dessa at least four nights a week. Everyone in our family loves tomatoes, which meant that spaghetti, stuffed peppers, chili, and Mexican foods with plenty of salsa were always in the rotation. It was easy to feed Dessa the same foods as us because she loved them so much. Her toddler pickiness would still come to visit when we tested out a new dairy-free recipe, but that didn’t happen every day and it wasn’t a big deal to throw some healthy finger foods her way when she didn’t have much interest in our family dinner.
Life without Tomatoes or Dairy
The tomato sensitivity certainly threw Dessa’s diet and our family meals for a loop. I asked for recipe suggestions in an Instagram Story a while back and received so many helpful tips. I tried a few of them and had very little success getting Dessa to eat more than one or two bites of the new recipes. It often takes a dozen attempts (or more) at introducing a new food before a toddler will finally give it a chance, but I did not have the energy to persist with recipes that weren’t my absolute favorite, either. Especially if there was no guarantee that Dessa would ever actually enjoy them.
Now that we are finally settling into a routine and have a better sense of what Dessa will and will not eat, our dinnertime meals have evolved. Rob and I haven’t given up dairy or tomatoes ourselves, but we accommodate Dessa’s food sensitivities as often as possible when we plan and prepare our family meals. This often just means that we sprinkle a little cheese or tomato onto our plates separately. Most nights, Dessa has at least one thing on her plate that is the same as Rob and I – especially the meat, vegetables, or potatoes that we are having as a family for dinner. Other nights, Dessa has a special variation of the food on our plate (like when Rob and I eat pizza with tomato sauce and mozzarella and Dessa eats baked pizza dough with melted vegan cheese, topped off with fresh tomato-free guacamole – sounds weird, but she loves it!)
It helps tremendously that there are so many great dairy-free/vegan alternatives available in stores right now. Dessa might not be able to drink cow’s milk or enjoy cheese and butter, but life is so much easier thanks to a few of our favorite dairy-alternatives. Specifically, almond milk, Daiya cheese, vegan butter, vegan cream cheese, and Amy’s Dairy-Free Mac & Cheeze. We go through these products regularly and substitute them regularly for the “real thing” when we prepare Dessa’s meals.
Here are a few of our favorite meals that feed the whole family:
Lemon Spaghetti (we add the parmesan cheese separately to our plates.)
Quinoa salad (tomatoes are added separately to our bowls.) This is one of Dessa’s favorite things to eat.
Hamburgers (Dessa can’t have ketchup but loves dipping her burger into Honey Mustard dressing.)
Roasted chicken with potatoes, onion, and carrots.
Grilled chicken with grilled vegetables and baked potatoes.
Roast beef with potatoes, carrots, and onions.
So what else do we feed Dessa? Here’s a quick breakdown of Dessa’s favorite dairy-free and tomato-free foods that make up 95% of her weekly diet. We try to eat the same family meal at dinner as often as possible (usually about 5 nights a week), but anything goes for breakfast and lunch.
Crackers – most crackers have milk in them, but these don’t!
Club crackers (they also make Club Minis that are the perfect size for toddler hands)
graham crackers, which we call “special crackers”
oatmeal with almond milk and fruit mixed in – Dessa’s favorite!
bagels with “special cheese” (aka vegan cream cheese)
toast with vegan butter
french toast made with almond milk
Amy’s Rice Mac & Cheeze
instant mashed potatoes – prepared with vegan butter and chicken broth instead of milk
steamed baby carrots
canned green beans
Dr. Praeger’s Broccoli Littles
tuna pasta salad
corn tomato and avocado salad (made without tomatoes)
“Cheesy eggs” – scrambled eggs with Daiya cheddar style shreds
tofu (hit or miss)
black beans/refried black beans
guacamole (made without tomatoes)
Wholly Guacamole Minis have been a lifesaver!
honey mustard dressing
Desserts & Treats
any and all fruit
Angel food cake
almond or coconut-based ice cream
almond or coconut-based whipped cream
Dining out at restaurants has proven to be the biggest challenge of keeping Dessa on a dairy-free and tomato-free diet. Children’s menus tend to be full of cheesy (mac & cheese, grilled cheese) or tomato-based foods (spaghetti and pizza), which makes it hard to feed Dessa. We always try to order one thing off the menu for Dessa to enjoy, but it’s not uncommon for her to only be able to eat one item on the menu. Rob and I almost always bring an assortment of finger foods into restaurants for Dessa to eat and we have never had an issue with our server or restaurant manager complaining about outside food for her. We always explain when we order that Dessa can’t eat dairy or tomatoes and I think that little disclaimer has given us a lot of extra grace when we eat out.
When we select a restaurant to dine as a family, we often go to diners that we know are most likely to have the following Dessa-friendly foods on the menu: hot dogs, french fries, baked potato, scrambled eggs, or steamed vegetables.
We all get tired of eating diner food, so we often mix in take-out from Chipotle (Dessa eats black beans and white rice with our own guacamole on the side just to make sure there aren’t trace amounts of tomato in the guacamole). We were also pleasantly surprised to recently discover that Applebee’s has several dairy-free options on the menu that don’t have tomato. Dessa LOVES going to Applebee’s and actually requests it by name when we discuss going out to eat. The other type of restaurant that’s a hit with the entire family and one of the few places that can fill our big little eater’s tummy without a single food brought from home is Japanese. Dessa LOVES when we walk to our local sushi resturant. Dessa doesn’t eat the sushi but loves eating miso soup, rice, teriyaki vegetables, and eats every bit of pickled ginger that comes with our sushi.
If you find yourself suddenly facing a mountain of foods you or your child suddenly can’t eat due to allergy or food sensitivities, we know that the struggle is real and we are right here struggling with you. We can also reassure you that it does get a little easier each time you discover a new recipe or pre-packaged food that is tasty and safe to eat. Dessa’s dietary limitations have just become part of our daily routine, but we are crossing our fingers that she outgrows the sensitivities one day.