All I want for Christmas is... Mac 'n cheese!

Why, you ask, is my daughter making that face while eating one of the most treasured kid foods in America?  Alana, my 5 year old, is frowning because the vegan cheese at a local pizzeria DOES NOT look nor taste remotely like real cheese!  She really tried to like it, but she just couldn't do it.  So began my mission to find a kid's taste-worthy alternative to dairy cheese.  We have tried well-known and not so well-known brands of vegan cheese, nut cheeses and soy cheeses but NONE of them have passed the test.  A few months ago, we thought we hit the jackpot with "Go Veggie"'s vegetarian mozzarella cheese but, (sigh) it was not vegan.  It contained casein, the milk protein that specifically worsens asthma and allergies!  There is a vegan "Go Veggie" cheese, but it is not sold anywhere in North Texas and they do not ship!  Argh!  

Backstory:  Before Zari, my 7 yr old, was diagnosed with Asthma this summer, both of my girls ate cheese like it was going out of style!  Why?  Because cheese is the "go-to" kid food!  It was an easy weeknight dinner option, breakfast option, any time of the day option!  They ate so much cheese, I referred to them as "my Minnie Mice"!  It was cheap, it was a "good source of protein" and I could count on them finishing any meal without any problems! It also however, caused abdominal pain and constipation (who can bear their child crying on the potty?!) 

Both my girls were already taking allergy medicine for their eczema and allergies.  Alana started taking low dose pepcid for heartburn at the beginning of summer.  Things seemed to be controlled until Zari started playing soccer this summer.  We decided to take her to their doctor (yes my girls have a great doc who is NOT me!) after she kept asking to be taken out of the game for chest pain.  Zari was diagnosed with asthma and began treatment.  A few months later after picking up THREE asthma/allergy meds one night, my husband and I decided to make some changes.  Could it be the cheese?  They don't drink cow's milk and we don't cook with it.  Any other exposures to it would be at school or daycare, so we sat them down and explained why we wanted to try stopping cheese for a little while.  At first they looked at me like I had 3 heads, but realizing we were serious, they went along with it.  

It has been a few months now since we decreased their dairy cheese intake and, though it has been a rocky road, (see picture above) they have survived.  Zari broke down only once, actually at the pizzeria shown above.  She looked at her sausage pizza with vegan cheese, threw down the slice and sobbed, "I will never, ever, ever, be able to have regular pizza ever again in life!"  But now my girls no longer complain about not having cheese.  They order plain burgers with ketchup (remember they are NOT vegan!) or tacos with rice, beans and chicken.  They actually prefer the spaghetti with veggie meatballs which is spicier than the regular beef ones.  Alana no longer has reflux and Zari is weaning off of Flovent!  

While they still have traditional pizza once a month at their daycare, it no longer worsens their asthma or allergies and they can still go to the bathroom without straining!  No more complaints of abdominal pain!  So maybe letting them have it every once in a while will still be sufficient for them to be a "normal American kid" without the "side effects".  For Christmas,  Zari requested home-made mac 'n cheese.  As a show of good faith and appreciation for their willingness to try so many new foods this year, I agreed.  Guess what?! Both girls ate only 1 helping!  Zari went back for seconds, but she returned with a plate full of veggies- greens and green beans and black eye peas!  I think this means their taste buds are changing! (At first I thought it was because I messed up the recipe, but nope- other family members finished off the rest!) What a great Christmas gift!  

Alana and Zari though good sports, are VERY vocal in their reviews of dairy foods now.  They give thumbs up or thumbs down during a meal...often.  If anyone has any recommendations for a healthy replacement for cheese, PLEASE share-  I have 2 girls who are all ears!

Author Dr. Stephanie Cudjoe, M.D.

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