Sue's Blog

Failsafe family food tips and tricks: guest blog from a dietitian


As a Dietitian who works in the field of food chemical sensitivities and now having a 5-year-old, navigating the world of preservatives and natural chemicals has been another challenge indeed. I wanted to share my experience to help others.

First, I would like to mention that myself and my child are not, or do not seem, overly food sensitive, especially compared to the families I see. It is likely because I control the food side of things reasonably well, I personally am a little particular with some foods and eat sometimes foods, infrequently.

With my little one, when he was still cooking, he did become more active when I ate more spices and tomato-based foods. So, I knew there was a chance he would be at least a little sensitive and babies often are anyway.

When he came out, from day dot, the hospital food offered was not something I could possibly stomach after a major physical trauma like childbirth. Spicy, rich tomato and who knows what preservatives were in it. When asked about my dietary preferences in my 25 hour no sleep, post birth haze, all I could think of was no pepper, which was of course ignored.

I knew I would likely have trouble breastfeeding if I did not have some home-cooked meals brought in. So, I was prepared. Bub gave me just enough time from officially starting maternity leave to sending me the signals he was coming that night for me to cook 2 lasagnes for freezing (one bland for me and one tasty for my husband) and chicken schnitzel with veggies for dinner and for leftovers. I had my packed snacks and did eat some hospital food, mostly sandwiches and breakfast options.

I stayed in hospital for the minimum 2 days before being able to get back to my home-cooked food and have nursing support for successful breastfeeding. I did have a little trouble breastfeeding at first, but who doesn’t, particularly with the first child. It is all a big learning curve and it sometimes hurts! At first bub lost a little too much weight but he was kind of big to begin with so my dietitian head was not really that bothered. However, I did what the nurses suggested and attempted expressing milk for top up feeds. My days were feeding for 20 minutes on both sides each, so 40 minute feeds in total, approximately 3 hourly and I ended up using a nipple shield which really helped until I was ready to no longer use it.

At 5 months of age, bub got sick for a few weeks and was challenged with super strong flavours in medications, at the time, when his system was more sensitive. A bit of a mistake, but hindsight is a great thing. We gave him flavoured medication which disrupted his sleep. It took 1 week to cause the sleep disturbance due to the build-up effect and another week off the high flavours to allow his sleep to settle again. From then on, I crushed up his plain Panadol, dosed as per health professional instructions and put it on a spoon with some golden syrup or home-made pear jam, just like the good old days.

In the first year I could tell if I, or he had eaten anything too spicy, tomatoey or citrusy as it affected his spit ups post feed and sleep.

As we toilet trained super early, with the help of reusable nappies, by the time he started childcare at 1 year old, he was doing 1 normal poo pre-breakfast every day. I tried to tell childcare a couple of times to limit certain foods but I did not think they listened.

Fast forward 2-3 years with childcare 3 consecutive days a week, by Friday evening he would often have urgent loose poos for a day or 2 also depending on if we were eating out with family or friends. He was also doing 2-3 poos daily and walking a little at night and developed with trouble with bedwetting. A lot of people say this is normal for toddlers, but with my insight into what he had been eating and what his normal was, I know this was the impact of the food and this was not normal for my child. Again, hindsight is a great thing!

Being a good cook, I have a lot of tricks I use. I made a lot of pumpkin based meals like pasta salad, risotto, pumpkin soup, and even used pumpkin soup as a stock in casseroles. For some reason he still does not like pumpkin, but we keep trying.

I make nomato sauce with beetroot and various veggies. Adapted it to make BBQ sauce, just by adding Parisian essence (a browning colour, always check for preservative) and freeze some jars for later where we would use for spaghetti bolognaise, dinosaur pasta sauce, pizza sauce, BQQ meat sauce aka ‘marinade,’ stock for casseroles or soups, or just as sauce on the plate. I make ‘soy sauce’- salt, water and Parisian essence and home-made hommus is also a winner.

When out and about, even on holiday we plan our meals and snacks and take packed lunches. On hot beach days we take home-made ice-blocks, frozen or fresh fruit and iced water. We eat before we go out sometimes and often take our own food when visiting friends and family for all to share.

Managing kids’ parties and Christmas/New Years time is really tricky. Because symptoms are mild, I found myself lately not saying ‘no’ as much as I would like for numerous reasons: I am the one who has to say ‘no’, ‘sometimes foods’ are offered everywhere you go by everyone, people do not feel food is as important as I do, it seems like a hassle and I don’t want to be an inconvenience, symptoms are mild and not too frequent compared to other children so I can put up with washing the sheets and not using the bed wetting alarm so we all get enough sleep. And there are always other contributing factors to symptoms too.

However, in saying this I know that I am the only one who can tell that Master 5’s concentration, big emotions and hyperactivity at times, is impacted by the foods he eats. This is because I know what he eats, what is in what he eats and I spend the most time with him and know what his normal baseline of symptoms are. Other people just don’t see what I see.

The evidence does show that most younger children react to additives so giving feedback to kid’s party venues and talking to parents is something that I do. Encouraging fresh, healthy, and less processed foods, which will likely have less preservatives is often well received. Kids have small attention spans at parties and do not need a huge banquet of foods offered. A fruit and veggie platter, with cheese or dip and crackers or popcorn would keep them happy. And traditionally have the birthday cake for the special treat.

It is difficult, and even exhausting to have control over what is in all the foods offered by everyone, all of the time, and keep up with juggling work and everything else in life. Having lots of tricks up your sleeves definitely helps. My hat goes off to families with food sensitive individuals. It really is a struggle and painful at times, but having the whole family feeling happy and healthy is so valuable, the persistence is worth it!

Carin Clegg Accredited Practising Dietitian and Personal Trainer

Bright Diets (NSW Central Coast)
0407 492 278 (Mon-Thurs)