The allergy-free lunchbox

Packing an exciting and nutritious lunchbox for your little ones every day can be a challenge at best. But when they have food allergies and intolerances, finding healthy snacks can be a really hard task. Wellness Warehouse's dietitian Melissa Gomes is on hand to help.
The days of packing peanut butter sarmies are over. Nobody is completely sure why, but more children are facing food allergies than ever before. Half of children allergic? Melissa, who has worked as a dietitian for10 years, has noticed a major increase in food allergies, intolerance and sensitivity in South Africa. Some put the increase in allergies down to a rise in genetically modified crops like soya and corn, others attribute it to changes in the way we grow food crops like wheat, which now has higher levels of gluten. Still others are concerned that due to antibiotics our gut flora is out of balance, which makes it difficult for us to digest certain foods. According to the 'hygiene hypothesis', a child's environment can also be too 'clean', leading to an unhealthy gut. We need exposure to germs to build up our immune systems and excessive cleanliness interrupts this, inhibiting the normal development of the intestinal system. 'The increase in food allergies, in children in particular, is likely a combination of all of the above, and there may well be other factors we're not yet aware of,' says Melissa. 'Either way, the most important thing for us to do now as parents is learn to deal with allergies.' Know your labels There are now more foods available to children with special dietary needs than ever before. The trick is to know what they are, where to find them, and, most importantly, how to read labels. 'When it comes to labelling, in the past South African legislation has lagged behind that of many European countries and that of the US,' says Melissa. 'Things have improved and we are now more up to speed. The Department of Health passed Food Labelling Regulations in 2012 and it is now compulsory for South African manufacturers to list allergens on their labels, so if you have children with sensitivities and allergies you need to shop carefully.' There's more awareness surrounding some allergies than others, too, meaning you have to be more careful if your child had a severe gluten sensitivity than you would if your child was allergic to tree nuts. There is a lot of awareness surrounding tree nut allergies, specifically, as they pose a serious allergic threat, and products containing nuts are usually carefully labelled. Products containing gluten, or which have been 'cross-contaminated' by coming into contact with gluten during processing in the factory, may not be labelled (although it is a legal requirement). ALLERGY/INTOLERANCE What's the difference? Judith Johnson, consultant dietitian at Wellness Warehouse on Kloof, unpacks the difference between food intolerances and allergies. A food allergy is an immune response to a food, usually a protein. It happens when the body's immune system identifies a protein as harmful because it can't break it down. This triggers an allergic response reflected in skin, digestive or respiratory problems. Nut and shellfish allergies are examples. A food intolerance is a negative response to a food that doesn't trigger an immune response. Symptoms often come on gradually and they don't involve the immune system. They can be caused by the absence of enzymes needed to break down food. Lactose intolerance is an example. A food sensitivity is similar to a food intolerance, but without long-term symptoms. It's usually related to the way your body can digest food at the moment and can vary depending on how much of the food you eat. For example, beans might cause gas but no long-term ill-effect. Outside of the box The same rules apply when choosing snacks for all children. Opt for items that are low in added sugar, low in salt, and naturally high in vitamins and minerals. 'A good rule to follow is: the fewer ingredients in a food, the better. When you serve something with a shorter ingredient list, it's easier to know what you're giving your child,' says Melissa. Children love eating with their fingers, so encourage them to try new foods by scaling them down. Experiment with carrot sticks dipped in hummus, cottage or cream cheese, or give them slices of apple with peanut butter. Give them dried fruit in moderation (it's high in sugar!) and experiment with different kinds of fruit and veg. Remember, though, that while you want to limit the amount of processed food your child eats, you don't want them to feel left out. Give them a treat every now and then. FOOD LABELLING HELP Food labels can be very daunting. Judith Johnson explains what South African parents need to know. What's required: The new labeling laws in South Africa now require all packaged food items to be labelled with the list of all ingredients as well as the macro nutrients, (carbohydrate, fat and protein) if the product makes a claim (like it's low fat, for example). Labels must clearly list allergens. Watch out for: If a child has allergies, a concerned parent needs to watch out for foods that appear to be homemade or if the packet is poorly labeled. The ingredients are listed according to quantity of each ingredient with the highest being first. If you have a slight intolerance to something and it is listed as one if the last ingredients, it might be fine to eat. NEED A TREAT? Nut-free Braw Blackcurrent Bar Dairy-free Alpro Soya Chocolate Custard Gluten-free Organix Finger Foods Organic Raspberry & Blueberry Rice Cakes Sugar-free Diablo Sugar Free Coconut Cookies IS YOUR CHILD NOT EATING HIS OR HER LUNCH? Is the lunchbox wrong? Children want to have the same lunchboxes as their friends, so make sure your little one has a lunchbox they can be proud of. Is the lunch boring? Don't pack the same thing every day. It's easy to get in a rut with school lunches, especially when your child has special dietary needs, so plan ahead if you find yourself running out of inspiration. Is the food fiddly? If you've noticed your child doesn't like getting sticky hands, for example, pack peeled oranges.

“Wellness Warehouse strives to help you live life well but because we are retailers and not medical practitioners we cannot offer medical advice. Please always consult your medical practitioner before taking any supplements, complementary medicines or have any health concerns and ensure that you always read labels, warnings and directions carefully, prior to consumption.”