When Kim Lutz’s oldest son, Casey, was diagnosed with severe allergies to milk, eggs, nuts and peanuts at 6 months old, she realized feeding him wasn’t going to be easy. The shelves at Whole Foods offered only two cereal choices and Lutz found that everything from bagels to crackers contained dairy, which inflamed Casey’s skin so badly he scratched until it bled.Unwilling to give up their favorite foods or quit entertaining, Lutz became creative. Between working part-time as a grant writer and running after her two sons, she spent hours in the kitchen perfecting her favorite peanut, nut, dairy, egg, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish-free recipes. Last November the Chicago resident self-published them in her first cookbook, Welcoming Kitchen: Allergen-Free Recipes for Snacks & Goodies.
"Many moms just give up," says Lutz, 39. "They say ‘my child can’t have that.’ I couldn’t give up. There are things I can’t help. But for the things I can, we figure them out."
The cookbook includes 48 recipes for foods ranging from hummus and chipotle guacamole to blueberry muffins and chocolate brownies. The recipes are quick, easy and don’t require any appliances you probably don’t already have in your kitchen. Better yet, you most likely won’t be able to notice a difference from regular recipes.
"For the most part, I don’t think you have to tell people the recipes are allergen-free," says Lutz. "People try what I bring and say ‘you didn’t make that.’ You are crazy if you think I’m going to bring something my family can’t eat. Of the things we’ve perfected, there’s very little difference in taste."
Of course, allergen-free recipes have their drawbacks. They’re more expensive and often don’t stay fresh for long if you use organic ingredients. But for kids with allergies, they’re one of the best, and only, options available. "One of life’s great pleasures is to share food together," says Steve Lutz, Kim’s husband. "We don’t want our kids to miss out on that and be afraid to eat."
Still, Lutz constantly worries about Casey’s exposure to foods containing allergens, which could lead to an anaphylactic reaction and death. Even something as simple as a kiss from someone who just ate a food containing dairy products could cause Casey, 5, to have a reaction.
"You don’t ever get used to the constant stress of it," Lutz says. "We’re terrified when he goes to school. Even well-intentioned people don’t really understand it." The Lutzes don’t know if their youngest child, Evan, 2, has any allergies yet. But they’re not exposing him to any of the eight common allergens until he has tested negative for them.
Two other allergen-free recipe books are on the way. Lutz is cooking up meals for comfort, like dairy-free macaroni and cheese, and special occasions. She plans for the books to hit the shelves by next fall. Although Lutz’s recipes expand the appetites of people who suffer from allergies, she remains modest.
"I’m no chef," she says. "I’m just a mom."
Emmalee Miller, a senior at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, is an intern at Chicago Parent.