• 7 Tips for Parents of Children Newly Diagnosed with Food Allergies – Insight from Paige Wagner, RDN, LD

    Hi there!

    My name is Paige Wagner, Registered Dietitian, and I work closely with individuals of all ages for nutrition counseling. I specifically focus on food allergies, vegan and vegetarian foods, food service sustainability, and culinary nutrition. I currently work with chefs to teach cooking classes and analyze menu’s at Bowling Green State University. I work with a variety of students who have food allergies, eating disorders, auto-immune diseases, and more. My passion is developing and implementing allergen free recipes so students living with allergies can enjoy delicious, easy meals that are hassle-free!

    Currently, there are 32 million Americans that are living with food allergies, which is a 377% increase between 2007 and 2016. Approximately 1 in every 13 children has a food allergy (that is about 2 in every classroom). The most common allergens (also known as the Top 8), include fish, shellfish, soy, milk, egg, peanuts, treenuts and wheat and sesame has now become known as the 9th top allergen (FARE, 2020).

    Food Allergy Epidemic Infograph

    Image from foodallergy.org

    There are so many different topics that I could discuss about food allergies, including treatments, eating at home, away from home, back to school, new research, etc. However, I thought it may be best to start with kitchen tips for parents of newly diagnosed children. Newly diagnosed food allergies can be very terrifying for not only a child, but especially for the parents who cook their food. Not only are children often picky eaters, but throw a food allergy into the mix and you may constantly have anxiety around mealtimes. Here are a few tips that when implemented may help ease anxiety and fear around dinner time for you and your little:

    1. Familiarize with food labels: Make sure you know how to read food labels and train anyone who may be preparing food for your child on how to look for the allergen. For example, sometimes gluten can be hidden as modified food starch and it is also often found in soy sauce. For more tips on how to look for your child’s allergen, click here: https://www.foodallergy.org/resources/how-read-food-label
    2. Separate safe and unsafe foods. If you have family members who may still be consuming the food allergen that your child has (such as peanut butter), make sure that you assign labels to any of the foods that contain the allergen and keep them separate from allergen free foods. If your child has access to grab their own snacks, try using a colored sticker system on boxes so they know what is safe (green sticker) and not safe (red sticker).
    3. Keep separate utensils for foods that contain the allergen and foods that do not. It may help to write on the utensils or use a color system, along with labeling drawers. Make sure that anyone who may use them knows what color is used for what item.
    4. When cooking, make sure all family members wash their hands. Scrub down the counters with soap and water because soap must be present to remove the protein that causes the reaction in food allergies.
    5. Always avoid cross-contact. For example, do not batter fish in breadcrumbs and then use the same bowl of breadcrumbs to batter chicken. The fish protein that your child is allergic to will then contaminate the chicken that you were planning for them to eat.
    6. If you have children without food allergies, make sure that you educate them on not sharing food with their sibling who has the allergy. It may be helpful to adapt family rituals, specific seating arrangements, etc.
    7. Train all family members and anyone who may be with your child during a mealtime on how to respond to an allergic reaction.

    Phew, that was a lot of information! On a lighter note, I wanted to share a few of my favorite cookbooks that I use daily. Also, below you will find one of my personal favorite recipes for allergen-free chocolate chip cookies!

    Easy Allergen-Free Drop Cookies



    • 1 ¼ cup quinoa flour or banana flour
    • ½ tsp xantham gum
    • ½ tsp baking powder
    • ¼ tsp baking soda
    • ¼ tsp salt
    • ½ cup dairy-free, soy-free buttery spread, such as earth- balance
    • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/3 cup brown sugar
    • 1 Tbsp dairy-free milk beverage
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 to 2 cups vegan chocolate chips (enjoy-life brand is great)


    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    2. Whisk dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
    3. Put wet ingredients in a stand mixer or large bowl. Using the stand mixer or a hand mixer, beat until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
    4. Add dry mixture to wet mixture. Stir until dough sticks together and is well combined. Stir in chocolate chips. For softer, thicker cookies, refrigerate dough for 10 minutes.
    5. Place ¼ cup size spoonful’s of dough onto the baking sheet. About 3 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes for soft cookies, or until edges are golden brown.
    6. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
    7. Serve, storing leftovers in an airtight container for 3 days at room temperature and any extra cookies in the freezer.

    – Paige Wagner RDN, LD

  • Family Style Serving – What’s the big idea?

    First of all, what is family style serving?

    Family style serving involves presenting foods via a platter or bowl and passing the dishes around the table to that everyone can help serve their own portion onto their own plate.

    Wondering why this might help your learning eater? As always, remember exposure is key, it is each and every repeated exposure to a new, novel or non-preferred food that bring us forward on the journey to accepting new foods.

    Wondering what this might look like?

    We LOVE using Melanie Potock, MA CCC-SLP’s “Big Scoop, Small Sample” strategy. This strategy utilizes a big serving spoon (e.g., think a classic serving spoon) and a small serving spoon (e.g., this can be an ice cream tasting spoon, a child-size or infant spoon, a teaspoon, maybe even a plastic popsicle stick!).

    Next, as per Melanie, you establish the family rule: “We ALL put a bit of everything on our plate.” Don’t worry if you’re late to the game starting this routine, it’s okay to tell your little one “we have a NEW family rule” and then explain!

    *PLEASE NOTE* – the rule is placing a “bit” of food on our plates, the expectation is not a bite of every food – it’s simply to tolerate having new and novel foods on our plate. Remember, this is the first step working in the direction of one-day someday tasting a new or novel food!

    Once you’ve established the rule and talked about it with your family, it’s time to get started! Add the big and small spoon to each bowl when you serve family style that night. Help your little one feel empowered in their ability to make a choice about what goes on to their plate by offering them the choice, “do you want a BIG scoop or a TINY scoop/sample?” Feel free to remind them of the family rule before you get started and it can often help to serve yourself first as a visual model. This might sounds like: “Don’t forget our new family rule! We all put a bit of each food on our plate! I’ll scoop first, I’m taking a big scoop of noodles tonight, here honey, do you want a BIG scoop or a tiny sample of noodles? First it’s your choice and then daddy will choose if he is going to take a big or tiny sample!”

    Remember –

    It can be helpful to start by serving one of your little one’s preferred foods first (e.g., mac and cheese) – “I have a tiny taste of mac and cheese on my plate, here, would you like to get a big scoop or a tiny scoop?” to get the new routine going!

    Want more information on this strategy?

    Don’t miss Melanie’s posts here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CCrjrv8BB7A/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link & https://www.instagram.com/p/CCRrXaAhfUC/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

    Want more information on why family style meals matter?

    Check out Melanie’s article on The Today Parenting Team here: https://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/the-pandemic-the-return-of-family-mealtimes

    Don’t miss this quick clip discussing how family dinners make good readers here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88JOFbrA9F0

  • A Sensory Splash!

    Make a splash this summer with a giant sensory bin!

    Grab a giant bucket from your local hardware or dollar store and fill it up with different shape and textured rocks, then fill the remainder up with water.

    Practice dipping your hands (or toes!) in while practicing using that neutral descriptive language!

    Working on animal sounds? Why not add a few animals in there! Working on colors? Add colored stones and help your little dig for “yellow treasure! now blue treasure!”

    A Look at Language:

    “Look! this rock is so bumpy!” 

    “Wow! My toes feel wet!”

    “Brrr… this water feels cold and wet like an ice pop!”

    “Look this rock is so slippery!”

    “Woah! That splash felt just like when I pop a grape on my BIG teeth!”

    Practicing your descriptive language outside of mealtimes can help make that neutral descriptive language flow easily and naturally come meal/snack time! So go ahead and DIVE in! 🙂

  • TOMATO – 20 Ways to Play

    1. Make your own salsa – Make sure your little one is as involved in the preparation as is age-appropriate for them!
    2. Build a ladybug with cherry tomatoes and black olive pieces OR use large tomato slices as wings for a butterfly!
    3. Try a farmers’ Market scavenger hunt to find different tomatoes and colors 
    4. Read “Too Many Tomatoes” and write notes to share with others along with a basket of tomatoes 
    5. Scoop out the inside of tomatoes and use them as bowls 
    6. Count how many seeds you can find in a tomato 
    7. Make kebabs with cherry tomatoes and your choice of toppings 
    8. Play “hot tomato” to the tune of “hot potato”
    9. Grow your own potted tomato plant 
    10. Bob for tomatoes in the summer heat (use large tomatoes )
    11. Make your own tomato shapes with cookie cutters! 
    12. Craft a tomato with a paper plate and crayons, markers, or paint!
    13. Feeling extra creative? Use tomato juices to make your own paint for your tomato craft or for any artwork!
    14. Play “Find the Tomato.” Use three cups and hide the tomato under one! Mix them up and guess where it ends up! 
    15. Cut up your tomatoes or use cherry tomatoes to practice making letters! Arrange letters to learn about sounds like “t” for “tomato! 
    16. Play “red light, green light.” Elect one person to be “it” and go back and forth between green and red tomatoes being held up high. When green is in the air, run! When red is in the air, STOP!
    17. Make your own pizzas and spread that tomato sauce together!
    18. Tomato sauce face paint – can you both make a silly clown nose? Why not some red lipstick? How about a polk-a-dot tongue!
    19. Squeeze a tomato together and sample fresh tomato juice? Is it sour? Sweet? Tart?
    20. Expose, Expose, Expose! Remember, consistency is key!
  • Oh My Stars – Sensory Bin Fun!

    ⭐️ What we used:
    -star shaped mini marshmallows
    -fun little star shape toys
    -a *magical* star wand

    💫 It was a magically, marshmallowy good time playing in this! With our little ones we discussed:

    +How squishy these marshmallows are!

    +How soft and fluffy they are!

    +How easy to tear with our hands!

    +How many fun colors there are to find in this bin!

    🤚 We like to use sensory bins to help our little ones “warm up” before heading to the table. This gives then time to engage with a food (in this case marshmallows) with the focus exclusively on play! Sensory bins are a a great way to expose your little one to new and novel foods, scents, textures, etc!

  • S’more Summer Tips!

    We’re embracing the outdoors and aiming to soak up all of the sunshine we can here in Michigan this summer! Join us for s’more fun tips!

    S’mores are a summertime favorite. We love putting a BERRY fresh twist on your traditional s’more by smashing berries (think raspberries, blackberries, etc)& spreading them onto our crackers!

    Need a calorie booster? Try spreading coconut oil or adding a nut butter spread – maybe even use a peanut butter cup with your nut butter spread!

    Sometimes a little change of scene can go a LONG way in helping your little one feel more comfortable exploring new foods with you! Pack up a picnic & head to a park (or even into your own backyard!), let your little help you pack the picnic and set it out! 

    Let your little one help you collect sticks of varying shapes and sizes from your backyard (or maybe a park near you!). Enjoy building forts or pretend play building “fires” together – this is a great opportunity to develop pretend play skills, teach comparative size (e.g., big, small, tiny, long) &locational (e.g., on top, under, by) concepts (e.g., “look! I can put the little tiny stick – on top of the big long one!). Keep practicing that language and relate what you can to foods (e.g., “look! this stick is brown&thick like a sausage, let’s pretend to roast it!).

    Stay Cool!


    Ashleigh, Natalie and Molly

  • July Food Fun!

    ❌⭕️ Looking for a fun way to engage your little with novel foods?

    Why not play a fun round or two of Tic Tac Toe!

    We used some fun cut-outs and a couple different foods from a variety of food groups to play an awesome game!

    This is such a fun, simple way to get our littles hands on with foods!

    💡 Bonus: it can also be an easy way to work on shape recognition and turn-taking!

  • I’m Learning About…KALE

    1. Make your own instruments! Place kale pieces into containers and shake them around like maracas! Bonus: Name your band something simple such as “Kale Crew”
    2. Use kale in food art! Make the kale grass or leaves on a tree! 
    3. Place kale into a smoothie! Do a science experiment to slowly add a little bit more and compare the colors as you go! 
    4. Make kale chips! Have your Little help you prep in the kitchen! 
    5. Put together a kale bouquet! Fill a small cup with water and place kale pieces inside together! 
    6. Create your own kale sensory bin! Have your Little practice ripping up pieces and place them into a container. Use toy animals to have a pretend farm!
    7. Have a kale race! Use kitchen tongs, a chip clip, or a clothespin to pick up a piece of kale and race it to the other side of the kitchen! 
    8. Play hide and seek! Take a large piece of kale and hide it around! 
    9. Put together a sensory bottle with kale! Fill a bottle up with water, kale pieces, and other ingredients of your choosing such as other greens or even food coloring! 
    10. Use kale pieces as paint brushes! Paint with dips or other condiments! Hold the brush in your hands or even between your teeth for a silly time!