Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
He has something to say about what we eat.
This month at Bellator, as we experience the liturgical season of Lent, we are exploring the themes of food, eating, nutrition, fasting, dieting, meal planning. And, as always, we are praying for God to show Himself to us in our reflections on these important topics.
Our family has a complicated relationship with food.
In 2011, our 13-month-old son had an anaphylactic reaction to milk. Further testing would determine that he was severely allergic to all nuts, dairy, and eggs. I recall walking out of the appointment overwhelmed and discouraged. Food, the means by which we provide physical sustenance for our bodies, just became one of the greatest dangers to my child’s life.
What would he eat? How could I provide budget-friendly and allergen-free meals for my family that everyone could eat? I met with nutritionists, sought out advice and support from fellow allergy moms, and scoured the internet trying to find all the answers to my never-ending questions.
Several years and a few kids later, including another child with a severe egg allergy, and I think I have settled into a routine of coping with and managing the various allergies in our home. Recently though, I noticed that it had been several days since my son (now 9) had eaten any dinner. Food was becoming a daily battle for him, and understandably so. “I don’t like this anymore?” “Why can’t I have cheese or ice cream like everyone else?” “I only want to eat chicken nuggets.”
These were becoming constant refrains in our home.
My husband and I quickly realized this wasn’t just about the food. It was about something deeper, namely our son’s relationship with food. He was starting to come to the understanding that food for him was different. He was starting to realize that he was missing out on some really good things as a result of his allergies. Because let’s be honest, soy cheese just doesn’t have quite the taste as fresh mozzarella on a homemade pizza. And this realization was causing him sadness.
A sadness that was now motivating him to try and control food in the only way he could, by refusing to eat it.
My husband and I began brainstorming various ways we could help our son. Early on with his food allergy diagnosis, we made the decision that our entire family would not eat the same diet as our son and that we would also keep allergens in the house. Now, this is not to say that we prepare our son a different meal each night because we don’t. However, if we do make a meal that contains an allergen, we provide the appropriate modifications so that he can always eat some version of what the rest of us are consuming.
I realize this is not the right decision for every family, but it is what works for our family.
With medical guidance and support, we have been successful in maintaining a safe environment for our son while also allowing others to eat the foods that are dangerous to him. With this in mind, we decided that this Lent might be a good time to adopt (for the short term) a completely allergy-free diet for the entire family.
I have to admit I was slightly revolted by this suggestion of a diet change.
I basically live on a diet of cheese and eggs, and not a morning goes by that I don’t sip on a deliciously warm cup of coffee mixed with heavy whipping cream. The thought of changing the entire way I eat for six weeks seemed daunting and unappealing. As I lamented and listed all the reasons that a Lenten diet change would never work, my son approached me and said,
“Mom, I know it will be hard, but just think you just have to give it up for forty days. I have to give it up my entire life.”
Mic drop. I was quickly convicted of my selfishness and laziness and responded to him that he was correct while thinking to myself how quickly I flee from suffering. Oh, how quickly I refrain from helping others carry their crosses because of the discomfort it causes me, and how often I need gentle correction to prompt me to choose a better path.
As I have been preparing for our Lenten menu, a menu devoid of dairy, egg, and nuts, I attempt to use the time to pray for my son and daughter who suffer from food allergies. I pray that they can embrace the cross of food allergies with joy. I pray that they can find enjoyment and refreshment in food. I pray that they do not live in fear of food or in isolation of others due to fear.
So this Lent, I am thankful for the opportunity that food is giving our family to help encourage and support one another with our challenges.
For most of us, the opportunity will be the challenge of denying ourselves our favorite foods. For our son, whose Lenten penance is to eat one helping of every meal prepared for him, it will be learning gratitude and acceptance. Hopefully, we all will gain a deeper appreciation for food and the blessing that it is to our bodies. May we all give thanks to God for his gift of food and the ways it nourishes our bodies, even when it comes with a measure of sacrifice. May the meals we share together become a source of enjoyment, encouragement, and thanksgiving for us all.
Need some help finding family-friendly, healthy, and allergen-free recipes? Check out my favorite website for meal planning: https://weelicious.com/