Cooking for a toddler with food allergies is challenging. Everything pre-prepared seems to be manufactured in a facility that also processes nuts, soy, dairy and the like so you’re often cooking from scratch.
One of our company co-founders knows this all too well. At around six months, her son was diagnosed with a dairy, egg, tree nut, and peanut allergy. We consulted with her to round up a list of the best swaps for milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat as well as her insider tips on what has the most nutritional value. Whether your kiddo has a milk allergy, an egg allergy, a nut allergy, or a combination of those and more, keep reading for some of her personal favorite replacements.
Cow’s Milk & Dairy Allergy
If you have found that your kid has an allergy to cow’s milk, you’re not alone. About 2.5% of children are allergic to cow’s milk. Most children outgrow their allergy to cow’s milk, but if you’d like to be certain that your kiddo will outgrow it, it is possible to test for how many cow’s milk antibodies are in their blood. There are a broad range of symptoms indicating a cow’s milk allergy; mild cases may present as hives and severe cases can present as anaphylaxis.
When choosing a substitute for cow’s milk and dairy, it is key to look for a replacement that is high in fat and protein to replicate the effect of cow’s milk as much as possible. If a substitute is “enriched” or “fortified,” great! That means that they have added calcium and Vitamin D.
Cow’s Milk & Dairy Substitutions
Soy milk provides almost as much protein, vitamin D and calcium as cow’s milk, making it a great alternative. But, if your little one is allergic to soy; rice, cashew, almond, and oat milk make great alternatives as well for drinking. (We personally have found that a splash of oat milk in mom’s coffee tends to brighten her day too!) As for baking, rice, almond, coconut, cashew, hemp, pea and soy milk all work well.
What about substitutions for other dairy products? For butter, margarine soy butter, sunflower oil, or any vegetable oil of your choosing work well. There are so many great non-dairy yogurt alternatives such as coconut, soy, almond, and oat. It’s a good idea to opt for a yogurt with added calcium. There are a variety of alternatives for cheese that you can find on grocery shelves, but keep an eye out for some sneaky allergens (like tree nuts).
Egg allergies are the second-most common allergies in kids (you guessed it; cow’s milk is the first!). Most children outgrow egg allergies, and similarly to cow’s milk allergies, there are a range of symptoms to signal an allergy, from hives to anaphylactic shock. Unlike cow’s milk, eggs are often found in less obvious places, like pretzels and pasta.
Fortunately, there are several methods to replace eggs in recipes! Ranging from tofu to apple sauce, check out the following (each is per 1 egg called for):
- ¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce with ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ½ tablespoons of water, 1 ½ tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon of water with 1 teaspoon of oil, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder
- Egg substitutes found in stores
- ¼ cup pureed soft tofu (great for scrambles!)
- 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed and 3 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar (best used for baked goods)
Another common allergy is a peanut allergy. Peanuts are not the same as tree nuts (look below for information on tree nut allergies!). Peanuts grow underground, and are therefore considered a legume. Other legumes include lentils, beans, peas and soybeans. If your child has a peanut allergy, it does not mean that they are more likely to be allergic to other legumes. However, biological siblings are more likely to be allergic to peanuts as well. Only about 20% of kids with peanut allergies eventually outgrow them, but there are some terrific substitutions out there.
Sunflower seed butter – or Sunbutter - is one of our favorite substitutes for peanut butter. Sunbutter is simply made of ground roasted sunflower seeds. Sunflower seed butter is healthier than peanut butter and is a better source of healthy fats, Vitamin E and magnesium. Roasted chickpeas are a lovely alternative to roasted peanuts as they deliver that crunch and are an excellent source of protein.
Tree Nut Allergy
Tree nut allergies are common in adults and kids. Fortunately, brands are legally required to list tree nuts on their packaging (within the United States) as they been deemed one of the eight major allergens. Tree nuts include cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, walnuts, and almonds. 9% of children with tree nut allergies eventually outgrow them. It is often recommended that people with tree nut allergies avoid peanuts as well, due to possible cross contamination during food preparation. Like with peanuts, biological siblings of kids with tree nut allergies may be at greater risk of also having the allergy. Check out below for some nut substitutions.
Tree Nut Substitutions
Usually, we just leave the nuts out of recipes, but if your little one is craving a “peanut butter” and jelly sandwich, or you want to put a safe “nut” bowl out for guests, here are some of our best recommendations! Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds work great in granola bars and breads, as well as in “butters”. Beans are wonderful replacements for peanuts in a “nut bowl” (try chickpeas!). Hemp seeds and hearts work well, and watermelon seeds (roasted) are delicious as well. Look for sprouted versions of these seeds as they retain more of their nutritional value.
Wheat is the most common grain in the United States. It can be tricky to avoid, but fortunately, about two out of three of kids who have wheat allergies outgrow them by the time they are 12 years old. It is considered one of the eight major allergens, and is listed on all food packaging within the United States*. Wheat allergies and gluten allergies (Celiac disease) are not the same.
The best wheat bread substitutions are rye bread, sourdough bread, corn tortillas, or any gluten free bread. There are so many excellent flour alternatives to all-purpose flour including amaranth, barley, corn, oat, quinoa, rice, rye and tapioca. There are also wheat and gluten free flours for baking which are made of a combination of grains. Personally, oat flour is an excellent alternative for baking.
*What are the 8 major allergens?
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that manufacturers label toe following allergens on food packaging: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.
Summary of the Best Substitutions for Common Food Allergies in Children:
Though managing your child’s food allergies is not easy, knowing the perfect substitutions can is a game changer. Here’s a handy summary of common food allergy ingredient substitutions.
Soy milk (has the most calcium)
Oat milk is the tastiest alternative for cereals, drinking and most importantly, for your coffee!
If possible, opt for organic oat, milk, soy, and almond milks as these crops are often heavily sprayed with pesticides otherwise.
Look for something fortified with vitamin D and calcium
Coconut milk yogurt
Cashew milk yogurt
Soy milk yogurt
Look for something fortified with vitamin D and calcium
Be sure to check the labels for sugar!
Coconut oil makes a great alternative to butter in baking.
Look for vegan recipes as they are specifically crafted without butter.
We don’t love margarine as it’s heavily processed, but it’s a solid tasting butter alternative.
¼ cup unsweetened apple sauce with ½ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ tablespoons of water, 1 ½ tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon of water with 1 teaspoon of oil, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder
Egg substitutes found in stores
¼ cup pureed soft tofu (great for scrambles!)
1 tablespoon ground flaxseed and 3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar (best used for baked goods)
Peanuts & Tree nuts
Sunflower seed butter (sunbutter) for peanut butter
Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Watermelon seeds (roasted are delicious)
Hemp seeds or hearts
Sunbutter is a healthier alternative to peanut butter!
Roasted chickpeas are a toothsome alternative to cashews and peanuts in stir-fry
Try to find sprouted seeds as they’re highest in nutritional value
Add hemp seeds to smoothies for added protein and Omega3s
Gluten-free bread (make sure it doesn’t contain wheat)
Brown rice bread
Food for Life’s Ezekiel bread (in the freezer section) is a highly nutritious option and has an extensive gluten-free line.
Gluten free all-purpose flour
Almond flour on it’s own is not a great alternative to all-purpose flour. Mix with a grain flour for better results.
Pro tip – the best way to bake with wheat free flours is to find recipes that call for the alternative flours. It’s not always foolproof to swap! Baking is a tricky science!
Allergies are personal for us.
As an allergy-conscious company, we work hard to make sure that all kids can have the care they need, despite any possible allergies. We eliminate almond oil, an ingredient commonly used by other natural skincare brands, to ensure that all children have the care that they need.
Sources & Further Reading
Children, Youth and Women’s Health Service Nutrition Department. Cow’s Milk, Egg, Wheat and Nut Free Diet. Government of South Australia, Mar. 2011, www.wch.sa.gov.au/services/az/other/nutrition/documents/Cows_Milk_Egg_Wheat_Nut_free.pdf.
Conrad, Zach, et al. "Nutrient intake disparities in the US: modeling the effect of food substitutions." Nutrition Journal, vol. 17, no. 53, 17 May 2018, nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12937-018-0360-z.
Food Allergy Research & Education. “Common Allergens.” foodallergy.org, 2020, https://www.foodallergy.org/living-food-allergies/food-allergy-essentials/common-allergens.
Food Allergy Research & Education. "Substitutions for Common Allergens." foodallergy.org, 2017, www.foodallergy.org/resources/substitutions-common-allergens#:~:text=Rice%2C%20almond%2C%20coconut%2C%20cashew,over%20cereal%20and%20in%20coffee.
Gál, Kat. "11 healthful alternatives to wheat bread." Edited by Natalie R.D., L.D., ACSM EP-C Olsen, MedicalNewsToday, 29 Oct. 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323498.
Johnson, Jon. "Dairy alternatives: How to replace milk, cheese, butter, and more." MedicalNewsToday, edited by Katherine LDN R.D Marengo, 23 Oct. 2018, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323411.
Parker, Sarah Jane. "Healthy Nut Alternatives For People With Nut Allergies." The Fit Cookie, 10 Sept. 2013, thefitcookie.com/healthy-nut-alternatives/.
"Recipe Substitutions for Peanuts and Tree Nuts." Recipes & Diet, Kids With Food Allergies, 2020, www.kidswithfoodallergies.org/peanut-nut-allergy-recipe-substitutions.aspx.
Reiss, Dawn. “16 Gluten Free Flowers (And the Best Times to Use Them).” Kitchn, 15 Dec. 2019. https://www.thekitchn.com/16-gluten-free-flour-alternatives-22943791.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “What You Need to Know about Food Allergies.” 26 Sept. 2018. https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/what-you-need-know-about-food-allergies.