I’m sure anyone with limitations of some kind finds that there are specific emotional issues that come into play in addition to logistical ones. I’m starting a 3-part mini series about how to deal with the emotional aspects of food restrictions. Just remember, I’m right in the throes of figuring this out, but here’s what I’ve discovered so far. 10 years from now hopefully I’ll know a lot more.
First I’d like to address the caregiver, since that’s the perspective I deal with on a daily basis. As caregiver, you probably don’t know exactly what your family member is going through unless you have been there, no matter how you try to empathize. So don’t act as if you do. But here are a few things you can do to help.
Be positive. Try not to act inconvenienced by having to prepare special foods or change the way you cook to accommodate those with allergies. I’ve succeeded at this some of the time and failed some of the time.
Be as creative as you can with the resources you have. Just keep trying things within your family members’ limitations. Don’t become discouraged if something is a bust or if no one likes it. Pick yourself up and try again. I have a (albeit short) running list of foods that were a big hit. I’m rotating them back through the meal plan. I also have a list of things they don’t like or are tired of. I’m always on the lookout for new things to try. I keep a list of those on my fridge, along with where I found the recipe for future reference. This is constantly at the forefront of my mind when I plan meals, shop, and think about food.
Offer non-food rewards and treats. The kids and I came up with a long list the other day, which I’ll post this week. Gently move your family away from the idea that celebration always means food.
Honor the grieving process. Your family member hasn’t lost a loved one, so of course it’s not that kind of grief, but they have experienced a loss. Throughout history and cultures, food has held an important place in memory, celebration, and tradition. There’s so much emotion tied to food memories and experiences. When your child realizes that he’ll never again be able to enjoy Grandma’s famous peanut brittle or eat cousin Johnny’s birthday cake, it brings feelings of isolation and loss. Be gentle and understanding. Don’t take it personally if your family member is angry or sad. This doesn’t mean you have to coddle them, just respect their feelings.
Focus on atmosphere. You might not have a lot of variety on your table, but you can still clean the dining room, light a candle, put on some soft music, add a pretty centerpiece, and use real dishes. Offer a blessing. Guide the family toward uplifting conversation at the table. At our house we each share the best thing that happened that day. We’ve also enjoyed conversation starter games. Good conversation and a pleasing atmosphere can make even a simple meal fun. The table should be a safe and positive place. Will this happen 100% of the time? No, but it’s something to shoot for. Remember Proverbs 17:1: “Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting—and conflict.”