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Cooking festive food for children who suffer with allergies can be a challenge. But one mom shares her solutions.

It’s difficult preparing meals for those with allergies, and even more difficult when it comes to preparing festive food. It’s a journey that has led Mom Leela to find creative ways to prepare festive food that works around her son Blake’s severe food allergies.

Blake is a normal, happy little boy, but soon after his birth, his parents discovered that he had severe food allergies and eczema. The first tests came back with two pages of foods that Blake couldn’t eat. When he was three years old, Leela found out that he was also allergic to grass, sweat and hay, among other things. Blake’s reactions, from chronic eczema to leaky gut, meant that Leela had to make some big changes to his diet. And rather than cooking two meals every night, she started the whole family on the Gaps Diet. This diet, consisting of soups and broths, along with plenty of probiotics for Blake, made a big difference.

Leela took the diet a step further. “Baking is my happy place,” says the mom of three little boys. So she taught herself to bake without sugar, dairy or gluten, and recently added egg yolks to this list. Blake adjusted easily – he understood that certain foods made him feel sick.

Parties and holidays present a problem

Blake’s allergies do make holidays and parties a little challenging. For parties at home, Leela makes all the snacks. For Christmas, she’ll make biscuits that the children can decorate. Holidays are important for Leela and her family, and while many hotels do cater for allergies, there is still plenty of preparation needed. They usually go with self-catering, but even at hotels Leela makes pancakes or toast for Blake, and takes it to the dining room so he can eat with the family.

Leela makes most of their food from scratch, although she does keep gluten-free bread in the freezer for emergencies. She has learnt a lot about foods and allergens, and reads the ingredients on every label. Blake loves sausages on the braai, but these contain gluten and MSG, so Leela wants to start making her own (even though she is vegetarian). She chooses organic meat, tree nuts and makes her own almond milk. She has had to learn to bake again, using all of these ingredients. But her children are happy with the new food and proud of their mom for making healthy ice cream and even sugar-free muffins for baker’s day.

Getting rid of sugar and gluten

Leela’s recipes are mostly sugar- and gluten-free and, where possible, give substitutes for common allergenic foods. All of her recipes are double tested and child-approved.

Read more about food allergies here

Gluten- and dairy-free Christmas cake


  • 500g mixed dried fruit: 150g dried apricots, roughly chopped into small pieces
  • 150g dried dates, roughly chopped into small pieces 100g dried prunes, roughly chopped into small pieces
  • 100g glacé cherries, roughly chopped
  • 150ml amaretto, or alcohol or juice of your choice
  • 150g coconut sugar or xylitol
  • 125g vegan butter or coconut butter (butter if you can eat dairy)
  • 125g virgin organic coconut oil
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 175g plain gluten-free flour
  • 2 tsp ground flaxseeds (I do mine in my coffee grinder)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 6 free-range eggs, beaten (substitute for 6 flax eggs if you can’t eat egg)
  • Place the mixed fruits into a large bowl and cover with 150ml alcohol or juice. Leave to soak for at least six hours.
  • Meanwhile prepare your tin. Line a deep 20cm round cake tin with two layers of baking parchment. Wrap two layers of baking parchment around the outside of the tin too and secure with string.
  • Once the fruit has soaked, take a huge pan (I use my pressure cooker) and melt the coconut oil and butter, along with the sugar.
  • Once melted, remove from the heat and add the spices, orange and lemon zest and juice, vanilla extract and soaked fruit. Stir well.
  • Add the remaining dry ingredients and stir well again.
  • Finally add the beaten eggs and stir to combine.
  • Place the mixture in your prepared tin and place in a pre-heated oven at 150°C (130°C fan) or gas mark 2, for two hours.
  • Remove from the oven, spike all over with a skewer or fork and drizzle with two tablespoons of alcohol or juice of choice.
  • Leave to cool in the tin before wrapping in the baking parchment and storing away in an airtight container.
  • I “feed” my cake every two weeks with two tablespoons Cointreau. Use whatever alcohol or juice you like, as this will ensure it is lovely and moist. Remember to wrap the cake back up and store in the container after every “feed”.
  • Leave the cake for a week without “feeding” it before icing to make sure the icing sticks.
Gluten-free gingerbread men
  • 2½ cups almond flour
  • ⅓ cup ground flaxseed
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 Tbs ground ginger
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp each of ground nutmeg, ½ tsp ground cloves and vanilla powder
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten (or flax egg for a vegan substitute )
  • 50g sugar-free white chocolate, melted
  • Combine almond flour, flaxseed, baking soda, ground ginger, fresh ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and vanilla powder in a large mixing bowl and stir until well combined.
  • Add coconut oil, honey and egg to the bowl with the dry ingredients and mix until well combined.
  • Roll mixture into a ball and wrap in cling film. Put in freezer for 30 minutes and then transfer to fridge for another 30 minutes.
  • Remove the dough from the cling film and place between two large pieces of baking paper.
  • Roll the dough out to around 3mm thick. Cut into shapes with a  gingerbread cookie cutter. The dough is delicate so it is best to remove the remaining dough from the outside of the cut-out cookie and take a sharp knife or metal spatula under the cookie and carefully place on a tray lined with baking paper.
  • Bake for 10 minutes at 160°C or until golden. They should still be slightly soft when they come out of the oven.
  • Allow the cookies to cool completely .
  • Melt the white chocolate and add to a piping bag with a thin nozzle. Pipe on the chocolate to decorate the cookies with your favourite design.

Gluten-free doughnuts

* Makes 12–15 mini doughnuts or 6 regular sized ones (depending on how much batter you eat during the prep time).

Ingredients for the doughnuts
  • 2½ cups blanched almond flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • a bit less than ½ tsp salt
  • 6 Tbs honey
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, softened or liquid
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 3 whole large eggs, kept at room temperature
Ingredients for the coconut caramel topping
  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk (about 1½ cups
  • ½ cup mild flavoured honey or maple syrup
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 1 rounded Tbs ghee or butter (or use palm shortening or coconut oil)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup finely shredded coconut, plus 2 more tablespoons for garnishing
Ingredients for the dipping chocolate

1 sugar-free chocolate slab, I used my homemade one (melted in a double boiler)

  • Preheat your mini doughnut making machine or preheat the oven to 180°C if you are using a regular doughnut pan or making into muffins.
  • In a large bowl, mix together the almond flour, baking soda and salt.
  • Use a second bowl to combine the honey, oil, vanilla, lemon juice and eggs.
  • Add the oil and honey mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix till just combined.
  • Add about 2 tablespoons of batter to each mould in the doughnut machine or scoop the batter into a ziplock bag, twisting the other end to close it. Snip the end off of one of the corners. Start with a small cut. You can always make it bigger if you need to. Squeeze batter into moulds.
  • Close the lid and allow to cook for about 2 minutes. Times will vary with each machine.
  • Open the machine and flip over each doughnut using the forked “skewer” that comes with most machines. Close the lid again cook for about one more minute.
  • Remove doughnuts and let cool on a wire rack. Repeat with the rest of the batter.
  • If using a regular doughnut pan, fill each well-greased mould about ¾ full. Smooth the tops if needed and bake for 10–12 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
Method for the coconut caramel
  • In a small-medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan, bring the coconut milk, honey and salt to boil over medium high heat, ensure that they are well combined. Reduce to a medium heat, and let the mixture boil down for about 35–40 minutes.
  • Add the ghee and vanilla, stirring it in till well incorporated. Continue cooking for another 5 to 15 minutes or as long as needed until it is a deep caramel colour. Most importantly, don’t rush the process. Depending on how hot your burner is, this process could be faster or slower. Stir often toward the end to keep the bottom from burning too much. A little burning is fine as long as you are stirring it into the mixture. It will give it a darker flavour.
  • Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and let cool for 5 minutes then stir vigorously until it’s creamy, shiny and smooth.
  • While the caramel is cooking, spread the coconut out on an ungreased cookie sheet and toast the coconut in a 160°C oven. Stir often till golden, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  • Mix the toasted coconut into the caramel minus a tablespoon or so for garnishing later. Use coconut caramel while still warm for best spreading results. Caramel can be made ahead of time (without the shredded coconut) and reheated in a double boiler.
  • I dipped the underneath with chocolate and then placed in the fridge to set. I then glazed the top and set that in the fridge, and finally decorated with melted chocolate on top.

Coconut snow cookies

  • 1 cup apple sauce
  • 2 Tbs chia seeds, ground
  • ½ cup each of coconut nectar (or use pure maple syrup), coconut butter, melted, coconut oil, melted
  • ¼ tsp each of almond and vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • ⅔ cup each of arrowroot powder, coconut flour and almond flour
  • 1½ cup shredded and unsweetened coconut
  • 1 cup powdered xylitol or erythritol (blend into a fine powder, to look like powdered sugar)
  • Preheat oven to 180°C.
  • In a large bowl, mix together apple sauce, chia seeds, coconut nectar, coconut butter, coconut oil and extracts.
  • Once mixed, add in arrowroot, coconut flour, almond flour and coconut.
  • Beat with electric mixture or work with hands.
  • Roll dough into balls, flatten between hands, placing cookies on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 15 minutes
  • Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.
  • After 10 minutes of cooling, roll in powdered sugar and leave to fully cool.

Tamlyn Vincent