Since Isaiahs' diagnosis in 2007, Silvana has devoted herself to "developing realistic solutions to ensure that her son does, in fact, have a normal, safe childhood." Silvana is here to share her passion and talent for cooking for kids with special dietary restrictions.
Guest Interview with Silvana Nardone
Silvana, not only do you cook gluten-free meals, you also have to cook without dairy, soy and peanuts. What tips can you share on how you cook meals that your whole family really enjoys eating- without using any of these ingredients?
Silvana: The easiest way to make a family meal everyone loves is to keep it simple. For my family, that means a protein, a vegetable and a starch. This could be barbecue ribs with green beans and olive-oil mashed potatoes. Tonight it’s a one-skillet meal: fried rice with chicken, peas and bacon.
Allergen / food intolerance meal planning, day in and day out is a huge challenge for parents. What creative tips can you share on how to make special diet meal planning easier?
Silvana: I make sure my pantry is full and that I have backup for ingredients I use every day. I also like to get ahead for weekday breakfasts by making extra batches of things like pancakes and freezing them for later.
With a background as a professional baker, can you share any trade secrets on creating the ultimate, great tasting, great looking birthday cake without using gluten, dairy or soy products?
Silvana: My secret is to make cakes that require very little flour. Anytime you can add dry ingredients like cocoa powder or ground almonds to a small amount of gluten-free flour, it really helps the cake’s texture.
How do you get your son Isaiah involved in the educational process of learning which foods are safe to eat and which foods he has to avoid?
Silvana: Isaiah watches me read every food label at the supermarket, and when he wants to try something new, the first thing he does is read the label himself. He doesn’t always get the answer he wants, but he’s learned what foods are likely to deliver good news.
What are some of Isaiah’s favorite school lunch box allergen-free foods?
Silvana: Lunch has been tricky. For a while I packed him chili, minestrone with rice pasta or other hearty stuff, but I’d often find the lunch sitting in his backpack that evening. We talked about it, and he explained that he didn’t want to eat lunch with a fork or a spoon. We moved on to almond butter and jelly sandwiches made with gluten-free bread, but the bread would crumble by lunchtime. Now he just wants snacks—anything he can eat with his hands—so I pack him things like rolled lunch meats, popcorn, tortilla chips, carrots, cherry tomatoes, fruit and Cocoa Loco Enjoy Life bars.
When you’re planning meals for Isaiah, what calcium-rich foods do you cook with to make sure Isaiah is getting enough calcium for his growing bones?
Silvana: Isaiah loves salmon, peas and carrots. He’s not a huge fan of broccoli or spinach, but I try to get some of those in there, too.
What are some of your favorite gluten-free grains and do you have a favorite gluten-free bread recipe you could share with us?
Silvana: Isaiah likes to eat food that he knows and loves— all the dishes and desserts he’s grown up on, so I stick with neutrally-flavored white rice flour in my cooking and baking. We’ve tasted many breads on the market with not much success. The only bread Isaiah will eat is Food by George’s English Muffins for sandwiches and the Cinnamon Currant English Muffins for French toast. I’ve been trying to crack the code on bread for some time now. I’m getting closer!
Do you have any favorite brands of fast and easy allergen-free mixes that you have had good experience cooking with?
Silvana: I use Gluten-Free Pantry’s Beth’s Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour and Cherrybrook Kitchen’s Pancake & Waffle Mix.
Can you share some favorite snack and travel food ideas that parents can prepare for their special diet kids when they are away from home?
Silvana: Between Isaiah and my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Chiara, we are a snack-happy family. When we travel, I like packing many of the same snacks that I do for Isaiah’s lunch. Other things that get tossed into the bag are grapes, pistachios, fruit leather, cut-up chicken hot dogs, lollipops …
Silvana, if you had just one tip to share with parents cooking for kids on special diets what would it be?
Silvana: I remind myself all the time that Isaiah is just a kid and he wants to fit in with his friends. I do whatever I can to make him feel good about himself. In our house that means the fridge is always full of things Isaiah can eat any time of the day—if homemade banana bread is in there, all the better!
Whether you're raising a child on a gluten-free diet, or like Silvana, you're raising a child with multiple food intolerances, I hope you have found this busy moms' creative, sensitive and practical cooking tips insightful. Thanks Silvana!
Learn More About Food Intolerances and Food Allergies-