Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Positive Parenting with Food Allergies September 29, 2017

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Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lyndsay Edwards of Allergy Blog Awards UK.  In her podcast, she asked a lot of thought-provoking questions on the topic of parenting a child with food allergies.

 

Because of the challenges and risks associated with food allergic reactions, it is critical to raise food allergic children to be confident, resourceful, and self-advocating.  And all of that begins with a good attitude towards food.

 

Here is the transcript of Lyndsay’s well-crafted podcast [or listen here: Allergy Blog Awards UK – Allergy Shmallergy Living Positively with Food Allergies].

 


 

So, I know your son was diagnosed with a dairy allergy at 6 months old and other allergies by the time he was just 15 months old, can you just take us back to that time and what it was like for you getting the diagnosis?

 

Despite his eczema, acid reflux and asthma (conditions that I now understand to be related to food allergies), I was in denial.  Even though I followed her instructions to the letter, I scoffed at our pediatrician’s recommendation to avoid feeding my son a whole host of allergens as we introduced first foods.  “He’s probably not allergic to any of these!” I remember saying.

 

When she called us to discuss the results of my son’s blood test, revealing that he was allergic to eight different foods in addition to environmental allergens, I was completely overwhelmed.  I couldn’t stop wondering:

 

What does this mean Not only the test results, but also in a bigger sense:  what does this mean for his life?  Will he have a normal life?  And more importantly, what can I feed him for dinner tonight?!!

 

I found myself grieving for the hopes and dreams I had imagined for my child (like baking cookies and spontaneous trips to get ice cream), but then my husband snapped me out of it.  He reminded me that we would find work arounds.  And, if they didn’t exist, we’d create them!  Very quickly, THAT became my focus.

 

 

How do you cater for your son at home?  Do you all eat the same?

 

Because my son was allergic to so many foods, I had to learn how to cook (and fast!).  Unbelievably, he’s my most adventurous eater.  He loves everything seafood (no matter how crazy the dish), sushi…  and he’s consistently adding requests to his list.

 

These requests inspire me to learn how to cook all kinds of intimidating international cuisine.  No one who knows me would have EVER guessed that I regularly cook Chinese food or Persian or make all kinds of sushi.  In high school, I once burnt soup!  SOUP!

 

When he was a toddler (and an only child), I was making separate meals for my son.  But being a short order cook isn’t my strong suit and I didn’t want my son to feel like I was treating him differently because of his allergies.  In his own home, he should feel safe and included.  As I got better at reading recipes, swapping out his allergens for substitutes, I started serving only one meal (what a relief!).  I also began finding meals with optional parts (like tacos that you could stuff with cheese or not and make-your-own pizza night).  I now have quite a collection of tried and true recipes that are free of peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy and in many cases egg (an allergy my son has since outgrown).

 

 

When did you start your blog and what inspired you to do so?

 

It was very important to us to raise a confident child who felt capable in the world.  Food allergies are very stressful.  I wanted to share simple solutions with other parents and put out useful information so that families can remain calm and make informed decisions.

 

 

One of the things that really stood out for me on your blog is how you focus on teaching your son about his food allergies in such a positive way so that he doesn’t feel left out or sad, can you just explain how you do that and what has worked for you and your son?

 

We have repeated the message that everybody deals with something – sometimes that “something” is invisible to the eye, like food allergies.

 

We try to downplay the importance and emphasis on food.  For example, we try to reward achievements with activities rather than treats.

 

And, we remind all of my kids that the best party of any party is always the company, hardly ever the cake.

 

Involve your kids in problem solving.  We can’t control the fact that my son has food allergies, but I can give some control OVER them by getting his input on overcoming obstacles.

 

Prepare, prepare, prepare to provide special treats in anticipation of special events.  Bring a gluten-free cupcake to the party; pack a sesame-free hamburger bun for the barbeque; carry a little dairy-free butter out to dinner.  Create positive experiences around food and demonstrate how easy it is to overcome challenges.

 

Let him vent!  We’ve taught my son the names for his feelings and encouraged him to talk about them.  First, children need to know the language to use to express their emotions.  Then they can engage in an open dialogue to release stress and give parents an insight into how they are experiencing the world.

 

 

Ok, before I get to my last question, can you tell everyone where they can find you on social media, your website, etc?

 

Yes, of course!

[You all know where Allergy Shmallergy is! shmallergy.wordpress.com]

Twitter: @shmallergy

Facebook:  Allergy Shmallergy

Instagram: shmallergy

 

 

And my final question is if you could give allergy parents one tip, what would it be and why?

 

Help prepare your child to negotiate the real world: practice asking questions, allow them to speak to a waiter, in short: EMPOWER them!  Give them the tools to tackle the world!

 

And, provide a safe place for them to come home to. A safe home environment (free of allergens) as well as a safe space psychologically where they can relay their triumphs and articulate their frustrations without judgment or anxiety and find support.

 

That’s two tips (sorry!), but I hope they’re both helpful!

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6 Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies March 7, 2017

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Spring break is on the horizon!  Can you smell the fresh air already?  Are you mentally packing your bags? (I am!)

 

Here are a few tips when traveling with food allergies:

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  1.  Call your airline and inquire about their food allergy policy in advance.  Ask specifically about early boarding and in-flight announcements.
  2. Most airlines will allow passengers to board the plane early in order to wipe down surfaces (this includes seat backs, seat belts, tray tables and knobs, armrests). Be sure to bring enough baby wipes or antibacterial wipes (such as Wet Ones) to cover all the legs of your travel.  Again, ask about pre-boarding at the gate.
  3. Carry your epinephrine auto-injectors and antihistamines ON BOARD.  Do not pack these away in your luggage.  [*ALLERGY SHMALLERGY TIP*: Zyrtec makes dissolvable tablets which eliminate the worry over bringing liquids through security as well as anything spilling in your bags.]
  4. If you’re traveling to a warm weather destination, you’ll need to remember to keep your epinephrine auto-injectors at room temperature – even while enjoying the beach or pool.  Pack a cool pack (like this one) and an insulated bag (like this cute lunch bag).  Store the cool packs in your hotel’s mini-fridge (who needs a $15 bag of M&Ms anyway!?) or plan on ordering a to-go cup of ice to keep the medicine cool poolside.
  5. A hotel or resort’s food services manager can usually help you navigate menus.  On our last vacation, the food services manager had food allergies himself and was invaluable in hunting down ingredients and safe alternatives for our family.  Befriend this fantastic person!
  6. If you’re planning on visiting an amusement park, taking a hike or being similarly active, consider packing a backpack into your luggage (or use one as your carry-on!).  You’ll need to bring your epinephrine auto-injectors wherever you go – especially on vacation when you’re away from home cooking, familiar restaurants and local knowledge of hospitals and doctors.  Backpacks can make carrying it easier depending on the activity – simply slip the insulated bag into your backpack and go!

 

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Two more notes:

  • Airline travelers should bring their own snacks/meals on board flights to ensure their safety.
  • Refrain from using airplane blankets and pillows as allergen residue may reside there.
  • Bring a baby or antibacterial wipe to the bathroom to wipe down door  and knob handles.

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season: 504 Plans April 15, 2016

 

Fall and the start of school seem far away – I mean, who can think about going back to school when summer is just around the corner?!  That said, many of you are now sitting in front of a pile of forms thinking about 504 Plans for your children for next fall.

 

504 refer to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  These plans are set in place to provide accommodations to school age children with disabilities (food allergies are listed among the qualifiers) to ensure that they are afforded equal access to learning and academic success as their peers.

 

These plans are created in collaboration with your child’s school and spell out food allergy management.  In addition to a Food Allergy Action Plan, 504 Plans can cover a broad range of topics such as snacks and meals, storage of emergency medication, addresses classroom issues related to food allergies such as science projects and other manipulatives, as well as hand washing policies.

 

Many people, including school administrators, get 504 Plans confused with IEPs.  An IEP is an Individual Education Plan which allows students with disabilities (often learning or cognitive disabilities) to receive specialized instruction and/or related services.  IEP qualification is determined both at meetings and in conjunction with standardized assessments, as well as other data collection.  504 Plans are determined by looking at medical records. Both are federally funded programs: 504 Plans guarantee access to education while IEPs provide supplemental academic services.

 

I recently came across an incredibly thorough and helpful article written by Vivian Stock-Hendel on fellow blogger, Sharon Wong’s blog “Nut Free Wok.”  Entitled, Food Allergy 101: 1, 2, 3…504 , you will learn everything you need to know about completing a 504 Plan and what to do if you need both a 504 and IEP.

 

Keep in mind, both plans can be used at schools which receive federal funding.  If your child attends private school, ask someone in administration if the school makes food allergy accommodations through 504 Plans or by another means.

 

Best of luck!

 

Additional Resources:

FARE: Advocacy – Section 504 and Written Management Plans

Food Allergy Action Plan Template

 

Sweet Surprise Cake Cookie Sandwiches (Nut-Free) April 10, 2015

You guys already know this:  Desserts are tough to rely on for people with food allergies.  The typical bakery will almost never guarantee that your dessert doesn’t contain or hasn’t been cross contaminated with nuts and most are made with dairy, eggs, wheat, and even corn and soy.

So, every couple of weeks, I would spend an afternoon baking and frosting cupcakes for my son to bring with him to birthday parties, class celebrations, and dinners out.  Sometimes, he’d have the occasion to gobble up a whole batch (minus a few for Dad) before I could even freeze a few!  But I began noticing he wasn’t really eating the cake part.  Which started making my labor of love a lot less lovely.

“Yeah, Mom….” he began one day, “I don’t really like the cake part.”  I thought I would die.  Do you know how much time I had been spending baking cupcakes?!

Turns out he was just using the cupcakes for the frosting.  So, I had to find a new vehicle to get frosting into that kid’s mouth (but ONLY for special occasions, much to his dismay!).  Thus the Cookie Sandwich was born!  At first I used store bought cookies (influenced by my son’s inexplicable objection to my baking).  As they are, they are a humungous hit when I send them into school for both my boys’ birthdays.  And, it’s embarrassing when moms ask for the recipe because it’s so insanely simple.  But this week, the Cookie Sandwich has been upgraded.

Meet the soft, perfectly proportioned, Sweet Surprise Cake Cookie Sandwich:

 

And, may I point out that it’s frosting to cake ratio is ideal!  It’s just simple math.  These are perfect for taking with you to birthday parties, serving as class treats, and offering to guests.  I made them for my husband’s birthday this week and plan on making more for a May Day celebration.

Here’s how to begin (based on a suggestions from the Betty Crocker site):

1 box cake mix (I used Betty Crocker’s Rainbow Chip Super Moist Mix)

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 Tbsp milk

1 egg

1 can frosting

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix all ingredients together until soft batter forms.  Scoop onto ungreased baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.

[Tip:  You want to remove the cookies from the oven before they begin to turn golden.  I took mine out at 8 minutes sharp.]

Cool completely.  Frost generously on the bottom of one cookie and top with the bottom of another.  Serves 12.

Notes:  I use Pillsbury frosting because it is dairy-free (a holdover from when my son was very allergic to dairy).  Although this recipe isn’t dairy free, I’m certain it would be delicious using dairy-free butter and very vanilla soy milk in lieu of regular.  As is, it’s good for kids who are approved to incorporate baked milk products into their diet.

Optional:  I liked mine with the sprinkles IN the cookie, but you would use another cake mix and roll the frosted cookies in sprinkles, chocolate chips or nonpareils to mix things up!

Quick someone get me a napkin, I’m salivating from TYPING about them!

 

Valentine’s Day: Safe List of Nut-Free Candy February 4, 2015

If your sweetheart is allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, be very careful what you’re giving them for Valentine’s Day.  Candy is certainly not an essential part of Valentine’s Day, but if it’s on the menu you’ll want to make sure you’re giving them a safe treat rather than a trip to the ER.

The Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board compiles a list of peanut and tree nut free candy that could save the day!   As always, double check the ingredient lists to verify that there have been no changes in ingredient lists or manufacturing practices.  And, pay particular attention to candy that has been miniaturized or made larger as that often has manufacturing (and therefore, food allergy) implications.  Some of the items are available online but many are commercially available.  Among the many items they list, are:

  • Skittles
  • Dum Dum lollipops
  • Haribo Gummies
  • Peeps (I’ll remind you of this one in another couple of months)
  • Laffy Taffy
  • Wonka’s Nerds
  • Dubble Bubble
  • SweeTarts
  • Twizzlers
  • Tootsie Pops and Tootsie Rolls
  • Rolo
  • Starburst Fruit Chews, Lollipops, and Jelly Beans
  • Junior Mints
  • Lifesavers
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Hershey’s plain chocolate kisses (not King Size or Holiday/Seasonal Bags)
  • Hershey’s plain chocolate bar personal size only (not King Size or Minis)
  • Smarties
  • Hot Tamales

Peruse the full list here:

The Bay Area Allergy Advisory Board’s 2015 List of Peanut and Tree Nut Free Candy

           

 

Allergy-Friendly, Actually Helpful Holiday Dinner Gadgets November 23, 2014

The holidays are here!   If you’re still struggling with how to make your holiday meal safe for all of your guests, check out these helpful tools and tips:

 
 

Char-Broil Big Easy – $146.96

If you like the idea of deep-frying a turkey but don’t want to mess with Peanut oil, this oil-less, propane Turkey fryer might be worth a try:

 

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Char-Broil Big Easy Fryer

Buy Char-Broil Big Easy Fryer at Amazon

 

Fry turkeys the safe and healthy way with the Char-Broil The Big Easy Propane Oil-Less Fryer. Since this fryer uses a 16,000 BTU burner, there is no oil to buy, pre-heat or dispose of, making your cooking preparation effortless. Cool-touch handles help protect your hands during operation, and a pull-out grease tray makes cleanup a snap. Cooks up to 16 lb. of turkey, 8 lb. roast, ribs and more.

The Vegetti – $20.55

Buy the Vegetti Pro at Amazon

Have a vegan coming to dinner?  Someone going gluten-free?  The Vegetti takes ordinary vegetables and turns them into good-for-you spiral spaghetti.

 

 

 
 

Buy Mini Chalkboards at Amazon

These would be a perfect way to alert guests of appetizers and dishes that are gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free, etc.

 
 
Brown Kraft Paper – $10.97

Kraft paper is so great – there are so many clever uses! My favorite – no surprise – is to use the paper as a runner or tablecloth and label all the dishes right on the paper tablecloth!  I also love the idea of displaying the menu/main recipes as decoration (and, for those with food allergies, important information).  And, of course, the most fun way to use kraft paper?  Place crayons in small tin buckets and let the guests doodle away!

 

Kraft Paper - brown roll tablecloth

Buy Kraft Paper Rolls at Amazon – these are heavy, definitely have it delivered!

 

 
 

There’s still time to grab one or all of these items! You and your guests will use them again and again!

(Thank you in advance! A portion of the proceeds of the affiliate links go toward AllergyStrong.org – an organization aimed at helping at risk families with food allergies.)

 

Now What? What To Do After Receiving a Food Allergy Diagnosis April 25, 2014

 

The child of a friend of mine was just diagnosed with a peanut allergy.  Until I began to discuss what this meant with her, I had forgotten just how overwhelming the initial part of this process can be.

 

So, what DO you do upon learning you or your child has a food allergy?  Where to begin!?  Don’t panic, take a deep breath and follow these few steps to get started:

 

1.  Find a recommended allergist; preferably one who specializes in food allergies.  Often times, food allergy diagnoses emerge from a pediatric/internist visit or a trip to the emergency room.  And while these professionals are knowledgeable, it’s important to touch base with an allergist who is on top of ever-changing information and treatment.  Our fabulous pediatrician not only has a child with food allergies but is food allergic herself.  And despite that, even SHE defers to our allergist!

 

2.  Fill your prescriptions and learn how to use your auto-injector.   There’s no wrong answer when it comes to choosing which auto-injector to use (see: Auvi-Q vs. EpiPen: Which Is Best for You?) .  And you can learn how to use them here:  Familiarize or Refamiliarize Yourself With How to Use an EpiPen and Auvi-Q: Watch and Learn.  While you’re at the pharmacy, I would pick up a couple of boxes of Benadryl (for kids, at least two liquid packages) to keep in your house and at school.

  

3.  Review your pantry and devise a labeling system.  It’s important to make your home a safe space to eat.  Begin by reading ingredient lists and separate safe and unsafe foods.  Put that dining room table to good use!  And, don’t forget: manufacturing being what it is, many products are made on equipment that contains your allergen and should be put aside until you speak to your allergist.  An example of a labeling system can be found here.

  

4.  Create an Emergency Action Plan and an Emergency On-the-Go Pack.  An Emergency Action Plan eliminates questions and increases your confidence about what to do when certain symptoms arise.  You can have your pediatrician/internist or your allergist fill one out for you. Make a few copies to keep at home, school, in the car, on the fridge, in your On-the-Go Kit, etc.  The more, the better!

 

An Emergency On-the-Go Pack corrals all your emergency medication, including your auto-injector, plus your Emergency Action Plan and a copy of your insurance card into one pouch.  You’ll always know that you have all of your necessary supplies when you leave the house.  Plus, it will make it super-simple to pass your pack between bags or to another caregiver and know that everything your child needs to stay safe is at hand.

 

A few notes:  Jot down questions as they arise in this early part of the process.  Use your questions as discussion points and get clear answers from your allergist.  Please refer to Allergy Shmallergy’s SCHOOL category to get ideas of how to handle allergy issues at your child’s school, starting with Back to School Food Allergy Checklist.

 

Most of all, remain calm!  Managing with a food allergy certainly requires a different perspective on life.  But, it doesn’t need to be stress inducing.  Staying informed and answering each challenge with simple solutions will allow your family to thrive.