Approximately 27% of U.S. children live with chronic health conditions that affect their daily lives and normal activities. My son Caleb is one of these children. Caleb has Crohn’s disease and is on a special diet to manage his illness. These diseases and the dietary restrictions that often follow, contribute to not only missed school days, hospital and doctor visits, but ongoing social anxiety and psychological fallout. Providing allergen friendly food for children with dietary restrictions is important to create “quality of life” for our children.
Chronic Diseases in Children on the Rise
These chronic diseases, along with learning and developmental disorders, are on the rise. They are not limited to:
So, if you have a child with a chronic illness, a severe allergy or learning disability, and they are on a special diet, how does that play out for the child social and psychologically? It’s easier to quantify and understand the results of diet therapy physically, but when a child is on an elimination diet and can’t eat anything with nuts, grain or gluten, how do they manage? What does it mean on a day to day basis for that child?
The Psychological Implications of Diet Therapy
Food is everywhere. It’s part of our everyday life, as well as at the heart of almost every celebration, holiday, and special event. It’s woven into most traditions and celebrations across cultures. Food is also emotional—it’s how we care, love, celebrate, and socialize. Celebrating a birthday without cake, Halloween without candy, or Thanksgiving without apple pie can seem impossible.
Eating is also a social activity. It always has been and always will be. Who we eat with, who eats first and certainly what we eat, all have social implications, especially for children and young adults. Food and social interaction are deeply entwined in the human psyche, a fact which we tend to ignore in our daily lives.
As a result, for children on special diets, this can lead to depression, anxiety, social alienation and a host of other psychological problems. I know for Caleb, even at 15 years old and a mature 15 years old at that, he still struggles. He has wonderful friends who support him, but it still breaks my heart when all of the kids go out for ice cream or pizza and Caleb just sits by and watches. I am grateful that at least he is willing to go and not stay home.
Every Child and Diet is Different
For some children with severe allergies, even being in close proximity to a food with nuts, sugar or egg can be life threatening. For others, like Caleb with a chronic illness, he simply can’t eat 99% of anything served or sold in public.
With all of this said, it’s important to keep expectations reasonable.
Some children aren’t bothered by their dietary restrictions, while other children struggle. Also keep in mind that their attitudes may shift over time as they grow and mature. It’s important to set your child up for success and modify the environment whenever possible to help them cope with their restrictions. Pushing too much will create stress for the whole family.
I know personally, even with my best intentions, with Caleb as a teenager, it’s often best for me to lay low and let Caleb handle his food in public. He doesn’t want me asking the waitress the entree ingredients or suggesting options on the menu etc. I guess he finds it embarrassing and humiliating. I can understand that.
But, with that said, he is still learning and my job as his mother is to ensure his health and safety. So, there is still conflict and stress. There is nothing easy about any of this. We try to keep an open line of communication (or at least I do) and share with him why I make the decisions I do. We are both constantly evolving and growing with this diet and disease.
Why I Created Caleb’s Cooking Company
When Caleb and I started The Specific Carbohydrate Diet, it was overwhelming, to say the least. I quickly realized how little there was to buy in the supermarket, as almost all gluten free product have sugar and preservatives and most other organic, preservative free products have grains.
So, I started cooking. And cooking. And cooking.
At first, Caleb was hungry all of the time. I figured out pretty quickly how to fill him – using healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil and lots of protein. His inflammation markers soon dropped and he fell into remission. We were relieved. The diet was working.
But Caleb became depressed.
He kept telling me that he wanted to be like a “regular kid” again.
The weekly bake sales at school, pizza parties, ice cream outings and sleep overs were getting to him.
It was then that I knew I needed to do something to help not only Caleb, but all of the kids struggling with chronic illnesses or allergies on special diets.
That was when I decided to create Caleb’s Cooking Company. We would manufacture allergen friendly food for kids (that all kids – no matter what kind of diet they were on) could eat. It would be traditional food kids love – like chicken nuggets, and be fully cooked and frozen (for the exhausted parents tired of cooking).
We’d sell it in stores, but more importantly, provide it in schools, universities, hospitals, camps, hotels, amusement parks – wherever kids went and wanted to feel like “regular kids”.
So, that’s what we’re doing. We launched with our allergen friendly chicken nuggets and we’re now rolling out our BBQ and Buffalo nuggets. Caleb has come up with a whole list of products that we intend on producing – enchiladas, mac n cheese, lasagna and more (all completely allergen free).
We sell our nuggets in 24 stores in the DC/MD/VA area, including:
If you would like to follow our progress, please join one of our social communities. We are also always looking for those wanting to share their story and experience with diet and disease (via our blog). Please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.