Monday, December 26, 2011

Monday Menu Planning

I apologize for leaving you all blowing in the breeze without a menu plan last week.  Between the upcoming holiday and a three day migraine, last week was largely unscripted at our house.  The only plan was to stay upright until the children were all tucked snug in their beds. I could post a summary of what I fed the family, but...well. That'd just be embarrassing.  Suffice it to say no one starved, and this week I'm making a plan to help keep us on track.  

Lunch: leftovers (ham, mashed potatoes, clementines)
Dinner: Quinoa pasta with spaghetti sauce and ground turkey, green beans, beets, applesauce

Breakfast: Apple Cranberry Crisp, Sausage balls
Lunch: sunbutter and jelly sandwiches, grapes, mixed veggies
Dinner: Squash soup, oven roasted cauliflower, watermelon, dinner rolls

Lunch: sunbutter and jelly
Dinner: salmon, sugar snap peas, mango

Breakfast: Baked sweet potatoes and breakfast millet
Lunch: dunno yet
Dinner: Pizza night!

Breakfast: Cereal
Lunch: veggie soup and grilled cheese

Breakfast: hash browns with veggie saute
Lunch: Ham, oven roasted veggies, raspberry applesauce, gf pumpkin pie
Dinner: see lunch  (family gathering, all day grazing anticipated)

Breakfast: Donuts
Lunch: leftovers
Dinner: veggie pot pie

Please note: I post a link to the original recipe whenever possible, but this does not show the modifications I make to each recipe.  Modify each recipe as you need in order to make it safe for your own dietary restrictions.  Enjoy the last week of the year!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Menu Planning

Here it is, Monday again.  Goodness how the week flew by!  Happy to report that last week was much simpler at meal time with a plan in place.  Hope this week will prove to be the same.  Here is the weekly line up, with links where applicable. (Remember that these are the original recipes, and do not include the modifications I make to adapt to our families dietary restrictions.) No frills, just meals. Let's cook.

Breakfast: Oatmeal or Grits
Lunchbox: Lettuce/Ham wraps, carrot sticks, grapes
Dinner: Split pea soup w/hambone, cornbread, peaches

Breakfast: Cranberry Apple Crisp (yes, really!)
Lunchbox: sunbutter and apples, green beans with pumpkin seeds, raspberries, popcorn
Dinner: Chili Mac, peas

Breakfast: Baked sweet potatoes with cider millet
Lunchbox: sunbutter and apples, melon, peas, terra chips
Dinner: Vegetable Chili, flatbread

Breakfast: Blueberry muffins
Lunchbox: veg chili
Dinner: Shrimp shish kebabs, corn salad, broccoli, blueberries

Breakfast: Sausage and oven roasted veggies
Lunchbox: ham/lettuce wrap, corn salad, grapes
Dinner: Mandarin pork, roasted cauliflower, carrot salad

Breakfast: Pumpkin waffles
Lunch: leftovers
Dinner: spaghetti with meatballs, california veggies

Breakfast: hash browns with sauteed veggies
Lunch: sunbutter and jelly on gf bread
Dinner: Veggie pot pie, salad w/cranberry dressing

Note: Unless I run out, all lunch boxes are packed with a v-8 fusion or 100% juice juice box, a smoothie, and fruit snacks.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday Menu Planning

Raise your hand if you frequently find yourself standing in the middle of the kitchen with every cupboard door open, blankly staring at the contents within as if a volunteer will miraculously hurl itself from the shelf and shout "Me! Pick Me! I would make a GREAT dinner!" C'mon now. No one is looking, you can put your hand up.
While I know that dinner needs to be prepared every night, it still seems to creep up on me until WHAMMO. It's witching hour, the little people are cranky and hungry, and I'm still trying to decide what to make.  
Honestly, though, staring into the cabinets waiting for inspiration to strike is far less perilous than googling dinner recipes. That is just a time warp guaranteed to end in a bowl of emergency cereal to hold the natives over until dinner is actually *made*.  I could recipe surf for hours.  And I have.
In an effort to return a small amount of sanity to my life, I have decided to embrace menu planning.  With this powerful tool I will eliminate the nightly debate, avoid dinner delays, feel less inclined to wine while the children whine.  Well, maybe we won't get that carried away. But knowing what to make for dinner really could alleviate some of the last minute decision making stress that happens here, so it's worth a try.
Going forth, I shall post my weekly meal plan here on Monday.  I hope it will help people to see that while I do avoid a lot of foods in my home, we still eat pretty typical fare.  And if nothing else, I'll have a much better grocery list for shopping on Wednesday!
I'll link to the original recipe when I can, but please understand that I modify most of them to meet our dietary needs.  You can cook along with me if you'd like.  

Breakfast: Pumpkin Pie (yes, really), hot tea or cider
Lunchbox: cubed ham, carrot sticks, grapes, V-8 fusion, fruit snacks, smoothie
Dinner: Spaghetti marinara over quinoa pasta, california mixed veggies, pineapple chunks, orange juice

Breakfast: cereal
Lunchbox: sliced apples with sunbutter, grapes, carrot sticks, zuchinni muffin, V-8 fusion
Dinner: Hearty potato soup, buttered bread, mandarin oranges, cranberry juice

Breakfast: sweet potato and black bean saute
Lunchbox: sunbutter and jelly on bread, mandarin oranges, smoothie, terra chips
Dinner: sauteed salmon with mango salsa, oven roasted beets, steamed broccoli, orange juice

Breakfast: Pineapple coffee cake, hot tea or cider
Lunchbox: salmon salad, smoothie, fruit snacks, beets, grapes
Dinner: Pulled pork, oven roasted cauliflower, honey glazed carrots, pineapple chunks

Lunchbox: bratwurst, apple slices, carrot sticks, V-8 fusion, fruit snacks
Dinner: Irish Cottage Pie, grapes

Breakfast: Pumpkin Donuts
Lunch: quinoa pasta with squash sauce and navy beans, peas
Dinner: Pumpkin and mushroom soup, flatbread

Breakfast: Sauteed potatoes and vegetables, cantaloupe
Lunch: leftovers
Dinner: Baked orange roughy, green beans with pumpkin seeds, cherries

Granted, this may not be the most nutritious week we've had, but I tried to keep it easy this week.  Come back next week for more!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Attitude to Advocate

My allergic daughter recently underwent an upper GI scope, to check for EE among other things. The hope was that we would discover the reason for so many of her persistent tummy aches. Thankfully she does not show any signs of EE at this time, and we were able to rule quite a few maladies out.
One discovery that I did make that was quite startling is that the medical facility we used seemed inadequately prepared to care for my food allergic kiddo. There were mis-steps throughout our visit that added up to a picture of inadequate food allergy knowledge among the staff. My husband and I were surprised and upset by this, but we maintained our focus of getting my daughter calmly through her procedure.
Once home I had the ability to reflect upon our experience. Anger and frustration bubbled just under the surface. The things that could have happened played through my mind. Action needed to be taken. Determination to address the issues took hold.
My first step? To reach out to my fabulous food allergy support group. I sent out an email to the group, currently 150 families, to ask them to share their experiences with this facility and ask how they had addressed any issues. Before approaching the hospital, I wanted to understand how they had dealt with past complaints so that I could properly prepare myself. I was prepared to hear stories of families that had voiced their concerns and been ignored or dismissed, I was prepared to get angry and take my complaints past the hospital to the public eye. I was raring for a fight! Go!
My allergy support group didn't let me down. They sent their experiences, their stories of how food allergies were not properly accommodated. Yes! I knew it couldn't be just me. This problem really IS systemic.
The down side? When you have a child in the hospital the focus is on getting your child through whatever brought you there, not on tackling administrative issues. Very few, and I mean VERY few, of my fellow allergy parents had addressed their issue with the hospital.
The anger in me fizzled out, and the logic took over. There can be no attack on an unprepared administration. Obviously if they are unaware of the problems, they can not take steps to correct them. My new approach: bring these issues to the hospital and give them a chance to respond.
Step one: Write a letter. I included not only what had happened that concerned me, but offered to work together to find solutions. I included quotes from other allergic parents about their experiences to illustrate that this was not an isolated incident. I was very specific about the issues that were unacceptable, and very firm in requesting corrections, and very positive in offering to help. As this problem is bigger than one person, I sent my letter to...well... more than one person. Twelve, in fact. Anyone in administration who I thought would have an interest in correcting systemic problems.
My letter got a response. Yeah me! I was invited to a meeting at the hospital to discuss my experience and my ideas for improvement. Woot!
Really? I expected a combative mood at the meeting. I expected to be patronized, patted on the head, and told that they had their policy under control, thank you very much. By the way, sorry for your isolated experience. This is what I expected.
Preparation was key in my mind. The need to walk in with credibility, and the desire to stay focused on the issues at hand. First up? Put my recommendations in writing. I drafted a paper that focused on changes that could be made throughout the hospital to improve their ability to care for food allergic patients.
I printed FAAN's guideline on how to establish food allergy procedures in a hospital setting. (Which, by the way, is quite good.)
When I walked into that meeting I was dressed professionally, so as to be respectful of the professionals meeting with me and to be taken seriously by them. I sat down with a handout for each person in the meeting (and a few extras, just in case) that included my original letter to the hospital as well as my ideas for improvements. I handed each of them a copy of this, I put the FAAN publication out for them to scan, and I started by thanking them for meeting me.
The conversation was inquisitive, positive, and encouraging. Every person at the table was actually listening to me! Granted, I did note varying degrees of skepticism, but no defensiveness or hostility. The atmosphere in the room was of sincere interest in improving their processes, and genuine curiosity about my ideas. It was fabulous.
I have gotten several follow-up letters detailing changes that are being made based on the discussions at that meeting. I am impressed not only with the facility for being so open to making improvements based on customer feedback, but with myself. I am proud to have approached such a large institution with my requests in such an organized and professional manner. I am ecstatic to have impacted the experience of food allergic little people that will be staying there in such a positive way.
The lesson here? I was ready to be irate and demanding, which would likely have gotten me exactly nowhere. Stepping back I was able to approach with logic rather than emotion, suggest solutions and build an attitude of teamwork rather than merely point to problems and demand change. This situation could have been much different, but my attitude made a world of difference in the way I was received. Remember when you are advocating for your child to be respectful, come to the table with solutions, and focus on being a team player. Together, we can make a safer world for our food allergic children.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Teach the Teacher about Allergies

Every year we food allergy parents spend quite a bit of time helping the new classroom teacher learn about allergies, and how to keep our allergic kiddo safe.  Whether you are the first allergic student for the teacher, or the fifteenth, the education is the same.  Why?  Because in the world of food allergies everyone has a different comfort zone, different precautions, and different approaches to safety.  So every food allergy parent has to be thankful for receptive teachers, and gently determine how much knowledge the teacher already has or may need to acquire.

To help you out, I have compiled a short list of things I give my teachers before school starts each year, to help everyone start a little closer to the same page.

1) How a child may describe an allergic reaction.  This is important especially for younger kids who have not yet mastered the ability to recognize the beginning of a reaction, or know how to explain it.

2) Ten things kids with food allergies want you to know.  This is a great way to offer a bit of insight to the teacher about what it is like to experience an allergy from a child's point of view.  Teachers are generally compassionate, and this will help them to see more clearly how much impact allergies really have for children.

3)  The Nut Allergy Handbook.  This is a great 8 page handout created by Dr. Ham Pong for Allergic Living Magazine in 2008.  It gives great information about nut allergies specifically, but can be generalized to any allergy.  It explains anaphylaxis, cross contamination, the non-linear nature of food allergic reactions, how to recognize an allergic reaction, ingredients that indicate peanuts are present, on and on and on.  A lot of information packed in, and I have no idea if Allergic Living still has this available!  I could not find a link to it online, but they may be able to dig out a back issue upon request.

4) A food allergy action plan.  This is a detailed plan that tells the teacher what steps to take when allergic symptoms are displayed.  I always run copies on brightly colored paper so it is easy to find, and put a copy of a recent picture so that substitutes will easily identify my student.  Your allergist may have one they prefer, and most will help you fill it out if you are uncertain of what instruction to give the teacher.

These are my must haves.  Every year I end up adding a few extras.  I also take the time to explain that sanitizer DOES NOT remove allergens.  A better solution is washing hands, or wiping with baby wipes if hand washing is not practical.  Have your teacher imagine doing an art project with glitter.  Now, have that teacher imagine the effectiveness of giving each child a pump of sanitizer for clean up.  Yep. She'll get it. Soap and water baby.

Make sure to find out how information is shared among staff, so that the cafeteria workers, gym, music, and art teachers are all aware of how to react to allergy symptoms.

Make sure to have an IHP (individualized health plan) or a 504 in place with your school. These can help make sure everyone is on the same page, and the guidelines for accommodating your child are in writing should there be a staff change, or confusion about what was agreed upon.  These do not have to be combative plans!  They are simply a tool to make sure everyone is clear about what processes to follow in order to maintain the safest learning environment for your student. Those, however, are an entire post unto themselves.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Back to School with Food Allergies

I've been thinking a lot about the food allergy families out there that are currently in the midst of one of the most stressful times of year.  Back to school time.

While the Staples commercial that shows dad dancing through the isle picking up school supplies with wild enthusiasm is hilarious, it is far from the experience of allergy mamas and papas.  Sure we pick up all the supplies from the list the teacher sends us.  And then some.

Our commercial would show us frantically raiding the pharmacy, stocking up on epi-pens, fast acting antihistamine, and inhalers. (There is a wonderful new product out there to help your school nurse keep this easily accessible:  I wish I had thought of it! Be a dear and support a small business, don't make your own. Thanks.)

In addition, the paperwork that allows our allergic kiddos to have all of their medical supplies at school makes tax time seem breezy.  Three forms for the epi-pen: one to allow it to be present at school, one to allow your child to carry it on their body, one to detail when/how to use it and who is allowed to be trained.  Two forms for the inhaler.  One for the antihistamine.  One for the topical eczema cream. An allergy action plan, in duplicate, on fluorescent paper with child's school picture attached. The IHP, the 504. All signed by your doctor.  The good news? No form needed for wine. Go ahead and pour yourself a glass now.

While gathering medical supplies and forms can be frustrating and time consuming, most of us are confident in our ability to handle it.  Experience has given us a system, and we are on it.  More harrowing are the parts of the new year that we can not control, or even forecast.  Each new year brings a new teacher, which means a new person to train in allergy safety and precautions.  Will this teacher be receptive?  Will this teacher 'get it'?  Will the parents in the room be supportive or combative about food restrictions?  Do you have a new nurse? (Turnover is high in the school nursing field.) Will she work with you, or be a hurdle to get over? Aaaack.  And all you want is what every mom wants: to trust that your child will be safe while they are at school.

We haven't even gotten to the food part.  Where will your child eat? How will that space be kept safe? What will you pack for your child to eat? Will there be food in the classroom? How will it be checked for safety? What safe snacks will you leave at school in the event the celebration is not safe?  Is there emergency food in case of an extended shelter-in-place emergency?  Oh, the details.

Back to school can be stressful.  My wish for everyone is a smooth transition into their new grade, a healthy working relationship with the new teacher and classroom parents, and a chance to relax once that first week is behind you.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

More on Grocery Shopping

During my stay overseas, I was living in an urban setting with no car.  Apparently, most insurance companies are leery about guaranteeing that Americans will remember which side of the road to drive on, how to interpret the VERY different road markings, and how to find and follow the picture based road signs that bear little resemblance to any instruction you would see in the States. Hmph.

Grocery shopping for a family of 5, with three little people in tow, is an adventure when you know you must carry all of your groceries home.  Luckily, grocery stores are sprinkled generously throughout town, so I only had to walk about half a mile to shop.  We shopped almost daily, as the children ate like ravenous teenagers rather than their typical small selves.  (I put that down to the large amounts of fresh air and exercise obtained during our stay.) We carried home enough to last about a day and a half, which works out quite nicely because the fridge in our flat was only moderately larger than the average dorm fridge.  I found that with such a small fridge, we were encouraged to use all of our supplies, nothing got pushed to the back and forgotten, only later to demand emancipation.

Imagine my great delight when I discovered ONLINE grocery shopping!  That's right.  You browse the selections, put things in your virtual cart, and a personal shopper bags it and DELIVERS IT TO YOUR KITCHEN.

Yes, I was skeptical at first.  How would it be possible to shop online? I need to read all the labels.  How can I trust someone else to get the right product?  Will they chose the produce as carefully as I would?

I found that each store had a full ingredient section, along with 'allergy advice' section for each product right there on their site. Awesome!  I could read every label while the kiddos played happily.  No whining about how ready they were to move on, no chasing each other up and down the aisle screaming like madwomen, scaring all of the childless people.  What a relief!

Each store allowed the customer to indicate whether substitutions were allowed, or not allowed.  You could make a general choice for your entire order, or you could indicate by product.  Fabulous!  So, I can make sure they do not change the bread I have selected, but the bag of baby carrots could be replaced if needed.  As an added bonus: You can make a note on each product about the type of substitution acceptable.  So, when I said yes, you can substitute the organic bacon I chose if it is not in stock, I was able to indicate what allergens they needed to check for in order to replace it.

Delivery was free with most stores if you met their minimum purchase amount (which was very reasonable).  There was a marked difference in the quality of service from store to store, the same as you would expect here if you shop Whole Foods versus Aldi or Publix.  (In case you care to know, Waitrose won the service award hands down. I was blown away at the extra care they took in product selection, packaging, and the service oriented attitude of their delivery person. Just fabulous.)

The only disadvantage I found with online delivery?  It was so easy to over order because your visual catalog of how much is in your cart is so different.  When shopping to fill a dorm size fridge, it doesn't take much to overdo!

Next time I go over, I will be shopping prior to my flight, and scheduling delivery to arrive shortly after I do.  How wonderful would it be to skip grocery shopping with jet lag? Ahhhh. Let's all take a nap to celebrate, shall we?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Grocery Shopping in Scotland

After much (ok, not that much) research on Scotland's labeling, I was convinced I could safely feed my daughter while there, even with her many allergies.  Really, if it came down to it we could have lots of fresh fruits, veggies and meat.  We'd all come away healthier for having less processed foods.

One food that I was certain I would have to give up for the trip was butter.  Having a dairy and soy allergic daughter, among other things, there is really only one butter on the market that I can use.  I lived without butter for quite some time before my current margarine (Earth Balance Soy Free) hit the market, so I knew I could do it again.  That does not mean I was looking forward to it.

To my surprise, there were not one, but several choices waiting for me!  Pure offered a choice of spreads based either on sunflower oil or olive oil if you prefer.  Best of all? None of the pesky pea protein that so many of the allergic families I know are avoiding.  I wanted to buy a case and have it shipped home to my support group for distribution among the families that are still butter free.  There were also store brands that were sunflower based, with more added ingredients, but still safe.  What's that sound? Yes, it is angels singing.

Bread is another food that I figured would be out of the question.  I was so certain, in fact, that I ordered a bread machine from Amazon UK and had it shipped to a friend so it would be ready for us on day one.  Bread is something that I so rarely am able to find here that I bake my own on a regular basis, so I assumed that life would continue as usual.  Not so.  There were several organic loaves that were safe and tasty as well.  Nice!  Of course, I still made a few loaves.  Nothing is better than fresh bread, both for flavor and aroma.

Sunflower butter is something I assumed would be easy to find, since there are several on the market here.  Alas, it was not to be.  There was ONE store that carried it (one brand available), the store my husband refers to as "The Hippie Store".  Yep.  I loved the store.  Loved. It.

Hemp milk is another assumption I made, with so many on the market here, I assumed that I would easily be able to find it there as well.  Nope.  I bought the last two the hippie store had, and had to mail order two more.  Apparently no one buys it (per the manager), and there is only one maker.  Good Hemp was a good stand in, even with quite a bit more sediment than most hemp milks I have used.  The good news?  Other alternative milks were readily available if you can use them.  Soy (or soya as they refer to it), almond, rice, and goat's milk were all plentiful. We stuck with hemp, just carefully rationed.

Stay tuned... my grocery adventures are not yet done!  More coming.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Traveling Scotland with food allergies

My husband loves to travel.  He was born in Italy, as an army brat, and travelled extensively growing up. When he took a job that required a great deal of travel, it was no great surprise to me.

Occasionally we were able to bring the family along on work related trips, and eek out an extra few days of "vacation" and a bit of extra time together as a family.  He has asked me for several years to bring the children and join him for an extended stay in Scotland, on business.

Having an allergic kiddo, with many allergies, I have been resistant to traveling abroad.  Traveling with small children can be it's own challenge, adding food allergies to the mix can really complicate matters!  In the States, I have learned how to be quite flexible when traveling as I know what stores to purchase my specialty food items at, what the labeling laws are, what the 'secret' words for our allergens can be, and how to adapt based on my knowledge.

Traveling to a foreign country? Oh my. New labeling laws to learn, new words for the same ingredients, and some of my most trusted products being unavailable. I have turned down the opportunity many times.

Meanwhile, my husband has been snapping pictures of food labels in Scotland and sending them to me.  I have been online learning about labeling and manufacture practices. Slowly growing my comfort level.

This year I finally said yes.  I have gotten quite good at adapting recipes in very creative ways.  I also know how to drop back to the basics.  A long period of living on whole foods without packaged and processed options may not be the most exciting diet, but it would certainly be healthy!

I told my husband I was finally ready to try it.  The kids are old enough that traveling is easier, my comfort with the food supply was high, and my confidence is our ability to enjoy our visit was was finally in line with his enthusiasm for taking us along.

I will try to write the next few posts on our experiences navigating food allergies in a foreign country.  It has been an enjoyable visit, and I'd love to encourage every family with food allergies to entertain the idea of traveling.  It can be done safely!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Zucchini Carrot Muffins

If muffins were not such a dietary staple at our house, I would not be nearly as obsessive about trying to pack every bite with maximum nutrition. The reality is, though, that I serve muffins five out of seven days most weeks. My children consider it a punishment to eat cereal for breakfast! Spoiled the little monkeys, haven't I?

Honestly, I love the portability of muffins. Grab one on the way out the door and eat en route to school. They double nicely as snacks. I can make them the night before and wake up to breakfast waiting for me. And really? Is there a more perfect breakfast for someone avoiding the standard breakfast fares (no eggs, dairy, or oats here, in addition to the other foods we avoid). Freeze the leftover muffins- if there are any- for a lazy breakfast another morning.

The problem is that most muffins are high in sugar and low in nutrient density. Most people eat muffins occasionally, so this is not a problem in their diet. We live on them. We need some oomph!

My latest push is to incorporate more veggies in our breakfast, and reduce the sugar even more. That means veggies in our muffins. I've had a few flops. But this recipe? None left. None. The inspiration for this latest twist came from a basic banana muffin recipe that the kids love, modified to pump it up of course!

I've got to invest in another muffin pan, so I can just double the recipe. It would really simplify freezer cooking.

Zucchini Carrot Muffins

1 c grated zucchini (you can also use yellow squash), generous
4 oz jar stage 2 carrots (baby food)
1/4 c oil or margarine of choice
1/2 c raw sugar
1 c all purpose flour
1 c spelt flour (I often use a mix of whole grain flours here)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon

Cream sugar and oil/margarine. Grate zucchini and add. Add pureed carrots and stir well. Whisk together dry ingredients and add to wet. Stir to combine. Depending on the flour mixture you use, you may need to add additional liquid if the batter is too stiff. I add carrot juice, hemp milk, or warm water, one tablespoon at a time. Spoon into greased or lined muffin tins and bake 25 minutes at 360. Enjoy with butter or honey, or even plain!

This recipe is vegan, dairy free, nut free, soy free, egg free, guilt free and delicious. Approved by all three munchkins! How can you beat that?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We're not nuts

Yesterday my allergic kiddo came to me with a concern. Someone in her class had brought breakfast from the cafeteria to the classroom.
This is not an unusual occurrence, as breakfast is provided free to all children, and they often take it to class in order to avoid being tardy. The reason it made her nervous yesterday, though, was that the child brought honey nut cereal to the classroom. Her school has been fabulous about keeping nuts, and nut products, out of the classroom so that she can have a safe environment in which to learn.
When I questioned my daughter it came out that she did not think the teacher was aware of the situation. I kindly reminded her of her need to speak up and help the teacher to maintain a safe environment by pointing out nut products in the classroom. I asked her if she would like to speak to the teacher, or if she would prefer me to address it. I am trying so hard to give her the opportunity to advocate for herself, without making it a required burden just yet. At her request, I stopped in before school to bring it up.
The teacher was apologetic, immediately concerned about safety, and expressed her discomfort with children bringing breakfast to class. She requested that I speak with the principal and nurse as well, to make sure the problem was addressed at all levels.
I stopped by and had a friendly word with our school nurse, who has been so incredibly supportive in every aspect of keeping the classroom a safe zone.
By the time I got back to the front of the building I met the principal, who was just returning to her office, right outside her door. I asked if I could take a minute of her time, to which she smiled and replied "It's already handled."
What? I finished speaking with the classroom teacher less than 5 minutes ago! Unbeknownst to me, the classroom teacher had gone straight to the principal to share my concern. The principal had proceeded directly to the cafeteria to check the ingredients of the offending food, and immediately pulled it off the shelf. Pulled it off the shelf. Decided not to serve it again.
I never would have requested the school to stop serving this. Ever. I only ask that no nut products come into the classroom. For our principal to take the safety of allergic children in the building so seriously, without any prompting, is moving beyond words. Honestly, I teared up a little driving home. I'm tearing up now, just thinking about it. No arguments, no debates, no justifications needed from me. Just an incredibly forward thinking principal making a decision that student safety comes first, and understanding that she can offer other cereals in her building.
I love our school.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Creamy Basil Pesto Sauce

I love fresh basil. I love dried basil. I just love basil in any form really. Yesterday I was craving a light pasta dish with a basil pesto sauce, something that is light and fresh and makes you think of summer. In the middle of winter with no beach or sunshine in sight, sometimes you need to try little tricks to give yourself a mental burst of sunshine and fresh air. This was just that. Light, fresh, raw... all things summer.
My husband describes the flavor as 'earthy', which is quite accurate really. I wanted light, but because winter is so cold I crave comfort foods that are warm, rich and creamy. My thought was to make a creamy sauce that has more staying power without adding complication, kitchen time, or allergens. My solution? Toss in an avocado. It adds some healthy fat to give this dish staying power while adding a touch of creamy comfort to my nod at summer ease and lightness. Compromise.

Creamy Basil Pesto Sauce

1 small container fresh basil (3/4 ounce)
equal amount fresh baby spinach (to pump up nutrition, or use more basil)
1 clove garlic
squeeze fresh lemon juice (about 1 tsp, to preserve the pretty green color)
drizzle of olive oil (about 1 Tbsp)
1 avocado
sea salt and pepper to taste

Add basil, spinach, and garlic to food processor. Squeeze lemon over the top, and drizzle with olive oil. Pulse to combine until finely chopped. Add avocado and process until smooth. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Use as a pasta sauce, or as a dip for veggies and chips.

This recipe is free of the top 8. Gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, egg free, nut free, soy free, hassle free, vegan, and raw. Let me know how you use it.

Allergy to go bag

When you have a child with food allergies you need to be a little more prepared than the average mom. Your diaper bag tends to weigh a bit more. And we're not talking extra diapers.

The good news: your bag eventually gets lighter, because you get rid of those diapers. The bad news: that's about all you get rid of.

So, what's a mom to pack to get her allergic kiddo out the door and safely around town? Here's a quick peek at what I carry (aside from the obvious baby accessories like diapers!)

  • Baby wipes- I still carry them, and my allergic baby is now 8. They come in handy for wiping off restaurant tables, picnic areas, random kids at storytime sporting pb&j fingers and faces, and of course wiping off those annoying mystery rashes caused by unknown contact with allergens.
  • A safe snack- because stopping for a snack while out is often not an option. When you have multiple allergies, making a quick stop for food at the corner store or local burger joint is just not a reality. Prevent meltdowns by being prepared. Yes, I have a box of safe crackers and a box of safe fruit snacks in my trunk, just in case.
  • Inhaler. With spacer. Asthma and allergies often go hand in hand. (Although, in a pinch, the epi will stop an asthma attack as well.)
  • Epi-Pen. Remember to ALWAYS take a two pack. I have one in my purse even though my daughter now wears one, just in case. Because an allergy mom is a lot like a girl scout: always prepared.
  • Benadryl. For those random reactions that aren't quite serious enough to warrant the epi, but a bit to serious to ignore.
  • A change of clothes. Yep, even now I have one in the trunk for all of my kids. First because they are kids, and you never know when gravity will overcome their ability to remain upright near a mud puddle. Secondly because allergies sometimes require a change of wardrobe. Maybe because someone decided that going down the slide with their milk chug was almost as funny as the part where it spilled all over the milk allergic kid standing at the bottom. Maybe because the last allergic reaction caused vomiting and diarrhea. You just never know.
  • Band-aids. For the cracked open and oozing skin that comes from eczema, also a lovely companion of allergies.
There you have a run-down of my bare minimum. Granted, since my baby is 8 the snacks and the change of clothes can stay in the car now. What do you carry? What did I forget? I'd love to hear about it!

Epi-Pen Primer

I remember when my daughter was first diagnosed with allergies. I remember how overwhelming it was to think about the ways this would effect what we eat at our house. And I remember how very little help or guidance was offered by the allergist, and how few questions I had, largely because I did not know enough to understand how little I really knew.

I had a new set of restrictions around what we would eat, and an epi pen. I knew that the epi pen could save her life if she ate something she shouldn't.

I did not know that anaphylaxis does not need to be the dramatic gasping for breath as your airways close that I envisioned. In fact, it was much later when my allergist was listening to me describe a very scary reaction to accidental ingestion that I found out anaphylaxis can take many forms. He looked at me at said so matter of factly, "You should have used your epi-pen." What?! Really?! Crap. I didn't know. Her airways did not appear to be effected. Crap crap crap.

If you have recently been gifted with a life saving epi-pen, talk to your allergist about when to use it. Be specific. Make sure you feel comfortable with the answer you get. Understand what anaphylaxis can look like. For my daughter it was blistering lips, 'burning' tongue, vomiting, diarrhea, and extreme fatigue that my allergist thinks was most likely a blood pressure drop. I knew it was a horribly bad reaction. I was terrified watching her. I did not know that the epi was the thing to do. Now I understand so much more. Talk to your doctor, google it, and know what to watch for and how to treat it.

Next, make sure you get a two pack. Do NOT split them up. Those pens are clipped together for a reason! You need to carry two epi-pens at all times for several reasons.
  1. In case of a misfire. You don't want to have a faulty pen with no back-up.
  2. In case of a bi-phasic reaction. This is when the initial shot works to calm the reaction, but the reaction starts again without warning. This can happen up to 8 hours later.
  3. In case one shot is not enough medicine to stop the reaction. You can give the second shot if the reaction has not stopped progressing within 5 minutes. This is especially important if you have an epi jr and a child who is approaching the upper limit of the weight boundary.
Determine who needs to carry the epi-pens, and how many sets you need. When my daughter was little I carried a set in the diaper bag, because it went with her everywhere, and had an extra set at home. Now that she is older I have a set at home, a set in my purse, a set in the nurse's office at school, and she wears a set. I know that no matter where she is she will be covered, even if she forgets to wear her epi. You may need one at the sitter, one with carpool, one with Grandma, whatever. You determine where they need to be to keep yourself, or your little one, covered.

If you use your epi go directly to the ER. You want to be in a place with the resources to treat a bi-phasic reaction. They can also treat the many complications that can arise from a severe allergic reaction and administer additional medicine as needed to help control the many systems that can be involved in a reaction. Expect to stay a minimum of 6 hours, often 8-10. Do not let the ER staff send you home after an hour. You are the expert, you live with and deal with allergies everyday, and you know that a longer period of observation is needed. Insist. And make sure to leave with a script for a refill.

When in doubt, get the epi out. Really. The epinephrine in a single shot will not hurt your child. It will make them jittery for 15-20 minutes if it was not needed. It wears off quickly and there are NO contraindications for giving it. Relief starts immediately when the epi is given. If you wait, the allergic reaction can sometimes be managed without the epi, but the reaction will drag on for much longer than it would if the epi had been utilized.

Hopefully you have lots of unused expired epi-pens. What to do with them? My favorite solution is to use them for training anyone and everyone who might have a reason to use it. Buy a bag of oranges and let the teachers, the in-laws, the best friends, and the neighbors all practice using a real epi-pen with an orange. For those of you who have used a live epi you know it feels different from the trainer. It sounds different. An orange makes a great simulator for practice so no one will be surprised by the difference if they need to use the real thing.

This should cover the basics. You now have rudimentary epi-pen know how. Let me know what questions you have, I'll try to answer. Let me know what details I forgot to mention. Mostly make sure you feel comfortable with that pen, it is the most important thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Empower your School Age Kiddo

For many families it is time to seriously begin preparation for their allergic kiddo to enter school for the first time. There are so many things to think about for any child entering school, but the list gets even longer for parents that must also consider how food allergies will effect their child's classroom experience.
I am not going to launch into a long list of ways to prepare today. Today just one idea: teach your child that it is perfectly acceptable to tell ANY adult in the building no. And to stand their ground. Let me explain.
I remember getting my daughter off of the bus one afternoon, shortly after she started kindergarten. She had her mouth slightly open, and her lips looked vaguely like she had spent the day in the Sahara. I thought it was just the beginning of cold weather chapping. No.
My daughter looked at me and said, through immobile lips, "Mommy, do you know why I'm not moving my mouth? Because I had to touch cheese today and I'm afraid that if it got on my hands and I touched my mouth, it could get in my mouth." My daughter had spent the afternoon in terror that she might have an allergic reaction.
I took her home, washed her hands and mouth, and listened to the whole story. Apparently there was a substitute teacher in class that day, and the lesson plan left for math class involved using goldfish crackers as a manipulative. When she told the teacher that she was allergic to the goldfish and should not have them, he told her she must participate. My daughter is very respectful and somewhat timid, so she did as she was instructed, even though it terrified her.
My first call was to the principal to let her know what had happened. The matter was, thankfully, addressed promptly and with the seriousness that it deserved.
My second course of action was to help my daughter understand that SHE IS ALLOWED TO SAY NO to any adult, anywhere, if it is to keep herself safe. As long as she does it politely. Further, I let her know it is fine to ask to speak to another adult about the situation. She can request to talk to the nurse or the principal, and she is allowed to leave the room and go do so without permission, provided she thinks it is to keep herself safe and she has politely advised the teacher of her intention.
Please make sure that your children know they are allowed to disagree with authority figures at school, and it is always ok to keep themselves safe. It is a valuable lesson that I overlooked initially. My daughter is now comfortable with this concept, and I know she will act appropriately.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tomato Free Sloppy Joe

As the mother to a very allergic kiddo, I do a lot of cooking. A lot. I have notebooks full of recipes that I have created, copied, and modified laying around the house. The computer holds a zillion and three bookmarks for recipes that I have used or want to use. And my head holds the all important card catalog of where to look for the recipe I want to use, and the modifications that will need to be made to make it safe for our family.
I know that in the past I have written about how important it is to train someone to safely prepare meals for your family in your unexpected absence. And I have been slowly working toward that, but not with any degree of respectable efficiency. Until recently.
Several things happened in my life all at once that made me realize that I can not continue to be the sole source of information control on all things food in my home. If I am going to be a truly successful mama, I need to make sure that no matter what, my allergic kiddo can eat safely and thrive even if I am not there.
I apologize for my lack of blogging lately, I have been focused on updating my files, creating an up-to-date cookbook and menu plans that anyone could step in and utilize in my absence.
This little non-recipe is one that I have been making a lot lately, because it is so quick and easy, and the kids love it. I was surprised when my husband decided to make dinner one night and asked me where to find the recipe. So. Here is my little non recipe, just so you can try it too.

Tomato Free Sloppy Joe

1 lb ground turkey
1 small zucchini or yellow squash, chpd fine (I use a grater.)
1/3 small onion, chpd fine
1/2 red bell pepper, chpd fine
1/3 green bell pepper, chpd fine
1/2 envelope Simply Organic Sloppy Joe Seasoning
1 jar stage 2 Carrot baby food

Brown turkey, onion and zucchini in large skillet. (I often shred additional veggies and throw them in too!) While that is browning, add half the envelope of seasoning mix, the jar of baby food and 1/3 cup of water to a small bowl and stir until dissolved. When ground turkey is cooked through, add seasoning and simmer to desired thickness. Serve over tater tots, french fries, pasta, or buns of choice.

*edited 9-17-13 to add:
I have long since quit using the Simply Organic seasoning this recipe called for, due to the formulation being changed to include soy.  I now use a variation of the recipe here.