San Francisco-area chef Amy Fothergill had to put her training to use in a different way when she had two children with food sensitivities. Daughter Kate, 9, has flare-ups of her eczema when she eats gluten or dairy. Her son Santo, 11, has intestinal reactions when he has gluten.
Five years ago, her family went gluten-free. Three years ago, they also eliminated dairy and eggs, but have since added back in eggs. While they never confirmed that Kate has celiac disease, they did do genetic testing that found that both Fothergill and her husband are carriers for the genetic mutation that people with celiac disease have. She’s also noticed that she has better digestion, more energy, more restful sleeping and overall improved health without gluten.
Fothergill, who has a book, “The Warm Kitchen: Gluten Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love,” offers these suggestions for parents who have children with food allergies or intolerances — particularly gluten — about how to adjust to school and social activities.
Have good communication with teachers and other parents. Be vocal about what your child’s food needs are and proactive about finding solutions. However, don’t expect that the teacher or parent will change what they are planning to suit your child. It’s nice when it happens, but not realistic to depend on that.
Try to preplan with similar food alternatives. Fothergill finds out ahead of time when there will be a party at school or what a birthday party host will be serving. If it’s not what her children can eat, she will make her children the gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free equivalent if that is possible. A teacher even asked her to make the whole class gluten-free spaghetti for an event, so that it wouldn’t be an issue.
Try to always have food on-hand. Fothergill keeps a freezer of food — especially baked goods — for parties. She also sets up teachers with either pre-packaged cookies or frozen cupcakes they can keep in the freezer at school for when parties happen. Of course, on the occasion when her kids don’t have access to an alternative, they learn that “they can’t always get what they want,” she says. “Sometimes you have to wait.”
Eat before an event. If her kids are headed to a play date, she has them make a gluten-free sandwich beforehand. If there aren’t good choices at the event, they won’t be hungry.
Bring something with you. She also tries to have snacks on hand wherever they go.
Learn where there could be cross-contamination. They stopped eating things like corn chips and fries because of the cross-contamination that happens when a restaurant fries the onion rings or the chicken nuggets in the same fryer as the chips or the fries. She’s also learned to always ask questions. Even if you would think something like a risotto would be gluten-free, you may find out that a particular chef puts flour in his risotto. She’s also learned to look at beauty products as well.
Empower kids to be their own advocates. It gets easier with time, but her kids have learned how to talk to adults and their friends about their food needs. “It makes them independent,” she says.
That’s not to say there are never hitches. Last year, her son went on an overnight field trip. She had checked about what food was going to be served in advance and had made arrangements for some gluten-free alternatives, but when the actual trip happened, her son didn’t have access to the gluten-free food, and he didn’t want to ask about it. He paid the price the next day with discomfort.
Here is Fothergill’s recipe for cupcakes her kids can eat:
Dairy and Egg-free (and Gluten-free) Vanilla Cupcakes
1 Tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup milk substitute
1/4 cup applesauce
2 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. water
2 cups Amy’s Gluten-free Flour Blend
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 cup coconut oil or vegetable shortening, melted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cupcake pans with liners or grease a 13-inch-by-9-inch pan.
Measure the milk substitute and add the vinegar or lemon juice. Mix the applesauce, baking powder, oil and water in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and xanthan gum together. Add the milk substitute, egg substitute, coconut or vegetable oil and vanilla. Mix together until smooth.
Using a hinged scooper, portion batter into cups, filling 2/3 full. Bake about 15-18 minutes. Cupcakes will spring back when they are done. For cake, bake for about 27-30 minutes.
Cool pans on wire racks for 5 minutes then remove cupcakes from pans, place cupcakes back on rack and cool to room temperature before frosting, about an hour.
Keep the leftovers refrigerated after one day so the cupcakes or cake stays fresher or freeze for future use.
Amy’s Gluten-free Flour Blend
3 cups brown rice flour
1 cup tapioca flour or starch
1 cup potato starch (not flour)
1 cup millet flour
Mix together and keep in an air-tight container.
Note: If you can’t find or don’t want to use millet flour, you can substitute with an equal amount of white rice or brown rice flour.
Dairy-free Creamy Frosting
1 cup vegetable shortening, softened
4-6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tsp. milk substitute
In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the shortening for 30 seconds. Add 4 cups of the sugar, vanilla and milk substitute. Mix until blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Add more sugar if the frosting is too thin.
Makes enough for 24 cupcakes or one large cake.
— “The Warm Kitchen: Gluten Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love,” Amy Fothergill