The 1 Thing Every Family — Food Allergies or Not — Should Do Before Making Dinner

Reprinted from Pure Delicious by arrangement with Pam Krauss Books and Avery Books members of Penguin Group (USA) LLC A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2016 Heather Christo LLC
Reprinted from Pure Delicious by arrangement with Pam Krauss Books and Avery Books members of Penguin Group (USA) LLC A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © 2016 Heather Christo LLC

After a scary trip to the emergency room with her daughter, Pia, food blogger and chef Heather Christo had to face a reality she had been stubbornly refusing for years: the presence of food allergies in her family's life. Lover of cheese and other ingredients — eggs, gluten, cane sugar, nuts — that she and her two daughters would have to give up, Christo was thrown into uncharted territory.

Despite being a chef who could "bake a wedding cake with her eyes closed," she had to relearn everything she knew so well about being in the kitchen to accomodate her family's new lifestyle and to serve delicious and healthy food that is also allergen-free. She spent a year creating and adapting recipes, and her creations have been turned into a cookbook. Pure Delicious ($30), she told POPSUGAR Moms, was created as a resource "so that all of the families going through this lifestyle change — or just people who want more than gluten-free recipes — could have something to turn to."

Scroll through to see some of the beautiful photos of allergen-free recipes in the book and to hear some of the best tips she shared with us to help others struggling to adapt to living with food allergies.

On the hardest part of this new lifestyle:

"The worst part of this is the fear. The fear of not being accepted, or the fear of not getting to have food that tastes good anymore, or of being made fun of or ostracized.

"Once you get past that, it’s really just about logistics, so I think the hardest thing — the biggest change — was that I had to start cooking a lot more. That sounds weird, because it seems like all I do as a chef, but every normal family — even mine — falls back on takeout or going out to dinner, or even just picking up a packaged food to make things easier. So I really had to get into cooking meals for my family from scratch, which was for sure the biggest challenge."

On adapting classic, delicious recipes that everyone loves:

"The recipes absolutely stemmed from foods that everyone — kids or not — love and want to eat. Every kid wants a birthday cake, so I had to figure out how to adapt that, as well as things like cupcakes and Christmas cookies. I wanted to still eat pizza! It might not have cheese on it these days, but it can still taste good.

"It’s symbolic of normalcy to have these types of foods on rotation — I sent my girls into school today with adapted pizza because it’s pizza day at school and I don’t want them to be the weirdos that miss out. I really just thought about all of the foods that my husband, my kids, and I wanted, which were typically the 'fun foods,' but then I also had to think about what was realistic — like salads and soups rather than spaghetti and meatballs and pizza every night. I made sure there was a lot of 'real-life' food."

On her top tip for families — whether they're dealing with food allergies or not — to help adapt to a new food lifestyle:

"If you plan ahead — look at your week and say, 'I’m going to make this for dinner and have it leftover for school lunches the next day, or as leftovers later in the week,' or if you can bake something that can act as both breakfast and an after-school snack — that is going to be the thing that makes all of this seem less daunting. If you have everything you need to make a healthy, delicious meal in the house because you planned well when you went to the grocery store, most of these recipes will take you as long, or less than it would to order and get delivered a pizza.

"I wanted to build a sustainable lifestyle for my family, so I had to figure out how to create things that revolved around real food but only took maybe a half hour to make so you could have a meal on the table for your family without seven dirty pots and pans and an hour and a half of cooking time. I did truly try to make everything approachable and achievable and easy."

On the best "hack" for birthdays and parties:

"I’m a huge proponent of freezing baked goods — you’re not going to want to whip up a whole batch of cupcakes the night before an in-school party or on a Saturday morning before a birthday celebration.

"The chocolate cupcake recipe in there is awesome — I freeze those, and sometimes I’ll make frosting fresh and add it to the defrosted cupcake. I freeze brownies that I put chocolate ganache on and stick them in cupcake liners inside a tupperware. And I always have cookies or granola bars with chocolate chips in the freezer."

On where families new to food allergies should begin:

"The best thing you can do is to get everything you can’t eat out of the house so you really have the opportunity to start fresh. Cook meals that the whole family wants to eat — moms get really caught up in accommodating everyone and become like short-order cooks, especially if they have one child with an allergy and the rest of the family doesn’t really want to eat "that way." If you can find recipes that everyone likes, it makes this possible.

"If you focus less on what you can’t have and think about all of the things you can have, it’s probably a lot. People don’t even realize they’re eating 'without' the other things. My husband doesn’t have any allergies but he doesn’t even know the difference between this food and what he used to eat. He doesn’t mind meals without certain ingredients because everything is delicious."