We’re SO excited to be introducing interviews to our blog page and our very first interviewee is Zoe Williams of My Allergy Kitchen.
Zoe T. Williams is passionate about supporting families with food allergies, having two daughters and a husband with multiple food allergies and intolerances. Right now, she is busy in the kitchen concocting new allergy-friendly recipes for her blog, My Allergy Kitchen. Her book, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Food Allergies is out now on Amazon and aims to take allergy parents from overwhelmed to empowered in easy bite-size chapters. Download a free sample chapter of The Busy Parent’s Guide to Food Allergies.
Have you always prioritised healthy eating?
Yes and no. In my twenties I used to think I ate healthily because I didn’t have takeaways and fast food every day. But looking back I relied a lot on convenience foods, like jars of ready-made sauces, cereal bars and instant porridge. Foods that, on the surface, seem healthy – but in reality, contain a lot of hidden sugars and additives.
After my eldest daughter was born and time was short, I found myself relying on quick foods – cereal for breakfast, toast for lunch and pasta for dinner. A lot of wheat and not a great deal of fresh fruit and vegetables. I felt terrible and had such low energy, but I never made the connection. Once my baby was ready to try solid foods, I naturally wanted to make sure she got the best start in life. I started to transition to a more ‘whole foods’ diet, and became interested in the paleo diet too. I suddenly had a lot more energy and felt better than ever!
Do you notice a difference in your mood when you eat well?
Absolutely! I have suffered from anxiety and depression since I was a teenager. Eating healthily makes such a huge difference to my mental health and that motivates me to keep going. I’m not 100% perfect but I would never go back to the way I used to eat. I know that I have lots more energy when I eat 5+ portions of fruit and vegetables daily. And I’ve also found that including healthy fats and protein in my diet keeps my blood sugar stable – which helps prevent mood swings.
How have your family’s eating habits changed since having a child with food allergies?
My youngest daughter was diagnosed with multiple food allergies at around 1 year of age – milk, soya, wheat, eggs, oats and legumes. This meant she was basically allergic to all processed and pre-prepared foods. This forced us into cooking everything from scratch. People would say “What on earth does she eat?” – well in fact she had a very healthy diet based around potatoes, rice, meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
Having to read food labels has made me realise how many foods contain hidden ingredients and also a surprising amount of sugar. Free from foods are usually heavily processed and are filled with unpronounceable ingredients and additives, so we rely on fresh foods as much as possible. Thankfully she has now outgrown a few of her allergies, which gives us more flexibility. But I try to be mindful of what foods I allow back into her diet, now I know more about what’s hidden inside a lot of common foods.
How do you ensure your children get a balanced diet, despite their food allergies?
I try not to get bogged down too much by worrying about specific nutritional requirements. The recommendations seem to change every couple of years anyway. I mainly focus on getting as much variety as possible into their diets. I try to offer them a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables, and a range of different grains and protein sources, along with healthy fats. I also make sure we have suitable treats in the house, so they don’t feel like they’re missing out on anything.
I don’t ban any foods, because they have such a restricted diet already, and I think forbidden foods just seem all the more appealing. We do talk about how there are foods we eat to keep ourselves strong and healthy, and other foods that are just for fun.
What are your tips for packing a healthy lunchbox?
I always plan ahead to ensure we have what we need. I do a meal plan and online food shop every Sunday. I check the cupboards and make sure we’re stocked up. When I’m putting together a packed lunch, I try to include one grain, one protein, one veg, one fruit and one ‘treat’. Lower sugar treats include fruit snacks, popcorn, fruit puree pouches, bliss balls and so on. Instead of a boring sandwich every day I mix it up with things like pitta breads or breadsticks and houmous, pasta salad, chicken drumsticks or prawns. Many things can be frozen which means you can give your children variety without wasting anything.
How do you prioritise self-care when looking after young children?
I think sometimes there is a perception that self-care is about things like bubble baths and getting your nails done. But when you’re a mum you might not even have time for that. It may not sound very exciting but for me going to bed early is really important. If I don’t get enough sleep I struggle to function. And both my kids are early risers, so I’m usually in bed by 10pm at the latest. If I’m really tired I’ll go to bed even earlier – I call it a ‘reverse lie-in’ to make myself feel better about it!
Making the most of every moment is important too. When your kids are really small you sometimes only get 1-2 minutes at a time where nobody needs you. Rather than getting busy checking my social media, it’s really nice to take a few slow deep breaths and relax, or look out the window and notice the clouds floating past. It’s such a small thing but it can give you a feeling of space and of ease in your life.
And finally, exercise – I definitely feel loads better when I exercise. I like running because I don’t have to do it at a set time, I can just throw on my trainers and head out the door. I also love yoga and now my kids are both at school I try to practice daily – if you can’t get to a class I highly recommend Yoga with Adriene on YouTube.
You can buy her excellent, easy to read, new book – The Busy Parent’s Guide to Food Allergies at Amazon for only £11.99.
If you have any questions for Zoe or us here at Treat Trunk, please leave a comment below.