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.