I've never really explained why my son can't have dairy. For a long time I've looked at it as a personal detail about him and I've intentionally kept it vague for his privacy. Some people choose to share a lot of information about their children on their blogs, and while their faces and names are very much a part of Poppy Haus, I try to keep their personalities and private information out of the conversation. With that said, I've decided to talk about this aspect of his life today, as part of a larger discussion about feeding kids with food allergies.
When he was about 5 we launched into an elimination diet to see if we could pinpoint a food allergen that might be exacerbating some common negative behavior that included the lack of impulse control and tantrums he'd always had, but seemed not to be growing out of. He does not have ADHD, or any other behavioral disorders/conditions. He has always been a very gregarious, confident person, but as he grew older he seemed more moody, he was quick to cry, and hard to console. We were worried something might be wrong. He also appeared to be congested all the time, even when he didn't have any other cold or allergy symptoms. For many reasons, I suspected dairy was the culprit. I used to be congested in the same way after consuming dairy, and he ate a lot of dairy. And perhaps more compelling, I learned that my husband had similar behavioral struggles that his mother attributed to dairy and managed successfully with his diet. So when his pediatrician dismissed our theory out of hand we did what parents do and tested it out anyway. We implemented a strict elimination diet and after a week or so his behavior had a marked improvement. He just seemed like he felt better, he was more content, he stopped crying so much, and we were less frustrated.
He does not have a true allergy to cow's milk. People with allergies to milk can go into anaphylactic shock if they consume dairy. He is not lactose intolerant. That's a condition where a person lacks the enzyme needed to digest milk, and experiences intestinal discomfort. We feel he has a sensitivity to the proteins in dairy. In general I am pretty skeptical of the "sensitivity to food" concept. It feels a little unscientific to me, but this is my child, and he seems to thrive without the milk products so what am I to do? Fortunately for us, our current mainstream, traditional pediatrician agrees with our approach, and has reassured us that there is no medical reason why he should be drinking cow's milk anyway. More on that in a bit.
I have had to modify the way I cook for our family, because we like to eat together. I've experimented with non-dairy milk options for recipes and decided against having him drinking soy products whenever possible, because of the inconclusive data on the effects of phytoestrogen in little growing bodies. So here's how I manage it:
Earth Balance in place of butter,
almond milk for cereal, and drinking,
coconut milk for thickening where it calls for cream, and
rice milk, which is flavorless, for baking. Here's how I make buttermilk:
We have pizza night every Friday and I make his (and often ours) without cheese. Non-dairy cheese is quite yucky. For birthdays we use Cherrybrook Kitchen brand chocolate cake mix, Trader Joes Vanilla cake mix (subbing Earth Balance for butter). I often have to make him a pizza and cupcake combo pack to take with him to birthday parties. We have to help him edit out his Halloween candy. We keep non-dairy treats in his classroom for days when someone brings in birthday cupcakes. It's a pain in the ass, but it's kind of the least we can do for him. The nice thing is, kids with allergies or sensitivities are really great about advocating for themselves. He would never eat something if he thought there might be dairy, he always asks and then just declines it if they aren't sure. He seems content with the fact that he feels better if he doesn't have dairy, because when he accidentally (or intentionally) does, he immediately has symptoms, and he's aware of them.
I have a handful of friends with children who suffer from rare, life threatening and life altering food allergies and digestive conditions. Our situation is not nearly as serious, but we treat it with similar caution, because we want him to be a happy, healthy person. The verdict isn't out on whether milk actually does a body good anyway. Here's a Harvard School of Public Health article that looks at the pros and cons of dairy consumption. I write this from the heart of Sonoma county dairy country, where happy cows really do frolic across lush green hilltops. I dole out sippy cups of milk to my toddler every night before bed, and the truth is, I love artisan cheese, buttered bread, and a healthy serving of half and half in my coffee every morning, but I'm pretty sure that dairy should be consumed in moderation, if at all. We've all grown up in a milk drinking culture, and the health benefits of dairy have been so ingrained in us. I'm curious to see what you think.