Monday, April 5, 2010

KUTV Channel 2: “Easter With Food Allergies”

by Kelley Lindberg

Last Friday, my son and I had our fifteen minutes (okay, more like three minutes) of fame. We got to represent the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN) on the KUTV Channel 2 News at Noon show. Debbie Worthen interviewed us in the studio for tips on enjoying Easter get-togethers even if you have food allergies. (UPDATE: I finally found a link to the video. Click here for the Easter with Food Allergies clip.)

I had about three days’ advance notice, which was about three days too long. It gave me that much time to get nervous. My son, on the other hand, was completely relaxed. The idea of getting nervous over a little thing like being on TV completely eludes him. He just shakes his head at my nerves and says, “Oh, Mom,” in that exasperated, “look what I have to deal with” way.

The interview went fine (despite my nerves), and we got to talk about several topics. The main idea I wanted to convey was that the most wonderful gift you can give a food-allergic person is to make them feel loved, wanted, and welcome in your home. And the best way to do that is to make sure the food you’re serving won’t make them sick or send them to the hospital. After all, nothing ruins a family gathering like having to dial 911 in the middle of it.

I also explained that the problem with food allergies is that you don’t have to eat a food allergen to get sick – even skin contact can cause a severe reaction. So it isn’t enough to say “Tell Little Johnny not to eat the casserole with nuts on it.” If everyone else in the room has eaten that casserole, they all have the nut proteins on their hands and lips, and if they touch Little Johnny or kiss him goodnight, that can be enough to cause him to have a reaction.

That’s probably the biggest learning curve for most families. Relatives often don’t understand why parents of food-allergic kids get so worried at family parties. They figure if the child just doesn’t eat the food, he’ll be fine. That may not be the case. They forget, or don’t understand, that the food proteins can get spread around the room and on toys, and that makes the risk of a reaction from skin contact sky-rocket.

I’ve actually heard kids say things like “Why did Aunt Betty bring that dessert, when she knows I’m allergic to it? Doesn’t she love me?” It’s a heart-breaking question to hear, and a challenging one to answer, since sometimes it seems that Aunt Betty is being deliberately obtuse, insisting that the holiday will be ruined if she doesn’t bring her traditional dish. To those of us with food allergies, it seems like a trip to the ER would ruin it even more.

That’s why I was glad I had the opportunity to talk about ways to find safe substitutes for common allergens in traditional recipes. The single most important tip is simply to call the person with the food allergies and say, “I’m thinking of cooking this recipe.” Then read them the ingredients, and ask, “How can I make this recipe safe?”

It’s surprising how many times a regular recipe can be made safe by eliminating or substituting one or two ingredients. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing a brand – using chocolate chips without milk or nuts, instead of your usual brand, for example.

We also got to talk about Easter eggs themselves – how egg-allergic kids can’t touch hard-boiled eggs, but they still like to decorate eggs, so look for paper-mache, plastic, foam, or wooden eggs at the craft store to decorate with paint, glitter, stickers, or ribbons. And instead of filling plastic eggs with unsafe candy for the big egg hunt, fill them with tiny toys or even coins. As my son explained on the show, coins are great if you’re planning a trip to someplace like DisneyLand, and you want the kids to have some spending money while they’re there.

I didn’t have time on the show to go into details about specific safe substitutes to use in recipes, so on the next two Mondays, I’m going to post some ideas for safe substitutes for milk, eggs, nuts, and wheat – some of the most common allergens used in some of the most common “party food.” And if you have some great ideas, feel free to share them in the Comments section, too.

Thanks again to KUTV for letting UFAN be a part of their 2News at Noon Easter newscast. For those of you interested in safe recipe substitutions, stay tuned…

1 comment:

Jamie Stern said...

Hi Kelley, I watched the segment and thought you did great...your son was a natural! Good Job!