Monday, December 28, 2009

Future Me Says It’s Going to Be Okay

by Kelley Lindberg

2009 is winding down. For that matter, so is the decade.

It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of this decade (and century, and millennium, by the way), I was still feeling like a brand-new mom. My son was a year old, but I was still discovering a million inadequacies in my mothering skills – he was already well-established as the Human Whirlwind, he’d added walking to his repertoire of things that could propel him into disaster, and as the only mid-thirties mom I knew, I was feeling wholly isolated and incompetent.

And just think… I was still about four months away from discovering that he was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. As overwhelmed as I already was, I was completely unaware that in a few months my “overwhelminess” was going to double.


If I could go back in a time machine and sit myself down for a little heart-to-heart chat (okay, we wouldn’t have been able to sit – one of us would have been up walking in circles with him in our arms, or chasing along behind him trying to keep him out of trouble), there are a lot of things I would tell that younger me.

The most important thing I’d say, though, would be that it would all turn out okay eventually. That’s the thing I most needed to hear then, because it was the thing I least believed.

I needed to hear that, as stubborn as he was, he would never surrender to the concept of turning around to crawl down stairs backwards, but that eventually his little legs would be long enough that he could walk down steps forwards without falling. And that would be okay.

I needed to hear that eventually he would sleep all night long, and in his own bed.

I needed to hear that he would always be quickly frustrated, but that eventually he would find ways to solve problems without hitting someone else (at least most of the time).

I needed to hear that I would find wonderful friends who would support me, encourage me, understand me, commiserate with me, and celebrate with me.

I needed to hear that the bundle of energy that seemed so destructive and taxing back then would evolve into a highly intelligent, highly enthusiastic, highly entertaining kid who would make me laugh far more than he would make me growl. Eventually.

And I needed to hear that living with food allergies would add a layer of challenge to our lives, but it certainly wasn’t impossible, and that it would get easier as he got older.

So now he’s eleven years old, I’m a little older and wiser (okay, a lot older and only a little wiser), and a new decade is starting again. This new decade will include his teenage years, dating, driver’s education, high school graduation, and even the beginnings of college, all of it made more complicated by his food allergies.

I have to admit, it looks awfully daunting from this point of view. So I’m going to hope that somewhere in the future, there’s an older me looking back, wishing she could tell me now that it will all turn out okay.


Here’s to you, Future Me. Thanks for the encouragement. I’m going to need it.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

More Allergy-Free Holiday Candy Ideas

by Kelley Lindberg

Thanks for the great comments with ideas for safe holiday candy. Here are a couple more hints that I got in emails, and I thought I’d post them here so more people can see them. (But don’t forget to read the “comments” from last week’s post for more great ideas.) While it’s probably too late to order for Christmas (and Hanukkah is over), it’s still good to have some ideas for the next time you need safe treats.

From Debbie B:
“For our holiday candy, we plan to stuff my son's stocking with the same yummy earth suckers and gummy bears we used for Halloween. In my mind, it isn't very Christmassy candy, but I think it is all we have to work with. My son has a corn allergy, so we are very limited in our choices. FYI the Yummy Earth candy is available on Amazon for much less than it is from the Yummy Earth website or from the health food stores. If you go to however you can get extremely detailed allergy information. All of their foods are flavored with natural flavorings. My son is allergic to orange and they even have details on which natural flavorings are used in which products, so we can weed out the ones that are bad for him. I hope this helps everyone. For anyone with a corn allergy, I have discovered that rice syrup works just as well in candy recipes as corn syrup. We even made ‘caramel rice’ using rice syrup for the caramel and puffed rice from the grocery store. It tasted just as good as caramel corn, but didn't have any seeds.”

From Michelle F:
“As always, I LOVE Peanut Free Planet. Click on the Christmas/Hanukkah link or search by ingredients to avoid. They carry great holiday items from numerous allergen free companies and are very fast and easy to order from. One pitfall is the $8.95 flat shipping fee - so if you just want to order $10 worth of candy it can be pricey to spend another 10 on shipping but maybe worth it if you find what you want. I try to order a lot all at once to make it more advantageous-stock up on Sunbutter, snack bars, etc. I saw nut free gingerbread house kits for Christmas (and at Halloween they had nut free candy corn)!”

Michelle also sent a link to Sweet Alexis (Dairy-free, Egg-free, and Nut-free Baked Goods).

Thanks, everyone! Have a wonderful season of light, comfort, hope, peace, and love.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Holiday Candy Round-up

I was hoping to go shopping for holiday candy ideas before today, but as usual, life had other plans. The human whirlwind is on the couch with a sore throat, I hosted one party Saturday night, I’m hosting a party tonight, I have family coming into town on Wednesday (not staying here – staying at my parents’, but we’ll still spend most of our time together)… you know how crazy things get this time of year.

So I didn’t get a chance to do much in the way of candy shopping. So I’m going to list a few things here that I found, but I’m hoping the wonderful readers of this blog will post other “finds” so that we can all save some trips and some brain cells looking for those last-minute treats.

One great member of UFAN wrote to tell me this good news: “I found candy canes at Walmart by Spangler Candy Company that say ‘This product does not contain peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat or gluten. It has been manufactured on dedicated equipment.’” I LOVE it when manufacturers go the extra mile to be proactive. So if you’re hunting for candy canes, support this company! Their website says the equipment contains a trace amount of soy oil, but that the oil is processed to be free of proteins, so read the allergen statement on the website for the exact wording and make your own decision accordingly if you're soy-allergic: Spangler Candy Company Candy Canes.

If you’re not fond of peppermint, I’ve also found that some of the fruit-flavored candy canes are safe, so check labels carefully and you may find some that tickle your fancy.

If you’re looking for chocolate, try the great online vendors that make our allergic lives a little sweeter, like:
Vermont Nut Free
Amanda’s Own Confections
Chocolate Emporium (This site has both Christmas and Hanukkah chocolates)

I also heard that Walmart in Layton is now carrying the complete line of Enjoy Life! Foods, including the Choco Choco Boom chocolate bars. (They have crisped rice in them, so they’re like Nestle’s Crunch bars). Enjoy Life! Foods are free of the top 8 allergens, and I haven’t found these chocolate bars anywhere else, so this is good news! I haven’t been to Walmart to check it out myself, though, so let me know if you find them there.

If you’re only avoiding nuts, some Hershey’s kisses are safe this year, but some of the flavored ones aren’t – check the packaging carefully. I’ve bought the caramel, the dark, and the cherry cordial flavored kisses, but the peppermint and some others aren’t safe because they’re made in a different factory.

Looking for one of those fun ornaments filled with candy? My son received a “Smarties Chewies” tin ornament ball that doesn’t contain any of the Top 8. A Nerds Rope is fun for a stocking stuffer, as are the usual standbys like Starbursts and Skittles.

Okay, that’s my starter list. Anyone have any great finds that are fun, different, unexpected, or holiday-themed? Share with us!

And one last thing… Since candy tends to be everywhere this time of year, especially in little bowls on the service desks of just about everywhere you go, including dentists, car repair shops, and boutiques, you might tuck a few safe candies in your purse or coat pocket to stave off a temper tantrum when your little one gets offered a treat and you have to decline. You’ll be the coolest parent around if you can whip out a safe treat to offer instead. Yeah, I know, candy isn’t a healthy treat, but it’s the holiday season, right?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Mandarin Orange Upside-Down Cake

I’ve gotten used to cooking for a certain set of food allergies and issues within my normal circle of friends. No milk, eggs, nuts, seafood, sesame seeds, raw tomatoes, or raw peaches, and some of the adults in the group have some other food preference issues we work around. After ten years, it’s become second nature to cook around those restrictions.

Friday night, I got to explore a completely different set of restrictions, and it was a stretch, but it was also fun.

I was getting together with five other friends for dinner at one’s house. We usually eat at restaurants, which lets everyone order their own food with their own particular restrictions. This time, it was a potluck. Here were my new parameters: No gluten, dairy, chocolate, nuts, fruit (except for citrus – lemons, limes, grapefruit, or orange are okay), and as little refined sugar as possible.

Being the adventurous (and masochistic) type, I volunteered for dessert. I considered dessert ideas for several days, making a phone call or email here and there to double-check problem foods. Finally, I hit on making a pineapple upside-down cake, except without the pineapple (a problem food), and using mandarin oranges instead. Never mind that I’ve never made a pineapple upside-down cake before, never cooked gluten-free, and didn’t know if mandarin oranges would work instead of pineapple. See what I mean by masochistic?

Because I’m completely unfamiliar with gluten-free baking and I didn’t have time to do a lot of experimenting with gluten-free flours (I’ll get around to it someday, but not this week!), I went looking for a Cherrybrook Kitchen gluten-free yellow cake mix. The stores I usually haunt didn’t have it, but I discovered a new Betty Crocker gluten-free yellow cake mix! I was surprised and delighted to discover a mainstream brand is finally joining the fight against food allergies/diseases!

The cake turned out beautifully, although it took about twice as long to bake as the instructions said. Here’s what I did:

Put 4 T of melted dairy-free margarine in the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Sprinkle with ½ c. brown sugar. Drain a can of mandarin orange slices, reserving the liquid, then arrange the slices in a round pattern on the bottom of the pan.

Next, make the cake batter according to the box’s recipe, although I substituted the reserved liquid from the oranges for the water that the recipe called for, and I replaced half of the gluten-free vanilla extract with orange extract, and I added the zest from half an orange. (Okay, I know, I’m one of those people who always have to mess with recipes. I’m sorry.)

Pour the batter over the oranges, and bake at 350 for … hmm… it was probably close to an hour, even though the instructions had said about 30 minutes. About half-way through, the top of the cake was starting to look way too brown, so I covered the outer edge of it with a long strip of foil, like you do on pies to keep the crust from getting too brown. When a toothpick finally came clean in the center of the cake, I removed it from the oven and let it cool for about ten minutes. Then I turned it out onto a cutting board, and it was perfect!

Frankly, I was shocked.

Although I like to experiment with baking, I throw away a LOT of disasters. A LOT. Like two-thirds of everything I try. I was so convinced that this would flop, I actually had also bought some dairy-free Italian Ice from my neighborhood Zeppe’s (great place, very aware of allergies!) and baked some gluten-free cookies from a Cherrybrook Kitchen mix.

So I ended up with not just one dessert, but three. I took them all, and they were all a hit, even with the non-allergic women, who couldn’t believe the cake and cookies were gluten-free.

Wow. I don’t know what I did to deserve such good luck on my first gluten-free baking adventure. Of course, given my baking karma, that probably ensured that the next ten things I try will fail in horribly creative ways. But that’s okay. The one friend with the most restrictions was thrilled to actually get to eat a dessert at a party, so that made it worth the worry.

It seems like it should work well with a regular cake mix, too, so I’m going to give it another try this weekend, using a nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free mix with regular flour. If you try it, let me know.

Here’s to more adventures in baking!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Positively Red Robin

Last night, my husband, son, mother-in-law and I went to Red Robin for dinner. We’ve eaten there before, but usually my son has eaten off the kid’s menu, and we’ve asked about nuts and peanuts in the alfredo sauce and the chicken fingers, and we’ve been fine.

Now that he’s getting older (he’s eleven now!), he’s getting more adventurous and he wants to order things off the regular menu. My friend Kim had told me that Red Robin has an extensive list for allergic customers of what to order and how to order it, broken down by the eight common food allergens. Of course, we didn’t go by the house before deciding to get dinner, so I couldn’t check the list she’d emailed me.

When we got to the restaurant, I asked the waitress about “the list” and she told me she’d go check. In a minute, the manager was at my table asking about our needs. I told him, and he ran off to get the list, printed it off, and brought it right back to me. He told me it looked like my son could order the burger he wanted, just without the Red Robin Seasoning on the patty or on the steak fries.

So that’s what we ordered. In a few minutes, the waitress brought our food out, and said the manager was making sure my son’s burger was cooked correctly. Sure enough, in about thirty seconds, the manager walked out with my son’s plate. Then, several times during the meal, the manager and waitress both stopped by to check on us.

I have to tell you, I was impressed. I don’t recall ever getting such gracious attention for my son’s allergies at a restaurant before. They seemed to go out of their way to take us seriously, to do everything they could to help, and to keep checking to make sure we were doing well.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law was even more surprised than I was. Not being around us more than a week or two each year, she is still surprised at how much effort it takes to avoid peanuts and tree nuts. She has seen me order for my son and ask about allergens, but she’s never experienced anything like the service we got last night. When she was raising children, of course, few people had food allergies, and fewer still would have known the first thing about handling them. She’s learned a lot from our experience. And as she watched the manager and waitress cater to us last night, she remarked at how much more aware everyone seems to be now than when we started this odyssey ten years ago.

What a difference a decade makes.

This morning, I sent an email to Red Robin’s comment section on their website complimenting the waitress and manager. I also asked a question that is bothering me. The allergen list that the manager brought me said that for peanut allergies, we should ask for the burger and steak fries without the Red Robin Seasoning. However, the bottle of “Red Robin Seasoning” sitting on the table said nothing about peanut contamination, and listed “Soy” as the only allergen. So I asked if the seasoning on the table is different from the seasoning in the kitchen, or if the bottle on the table should include a peanut warning. I will let you know what I hear from them.

In the meantime, I checked their website for the list of what and how to order for each allergen, and the only one they had online is for wheat and gluten. (See Red Robin's Wheat/Gluten Menu List.) For all other allergens, you must send them an email through the Red Robin General Inquiry contact form. Be specific about which of the 8 common allergens you have, and allow at least a couple of days to get the reply.

If you eat at Red Robin, I hope your experience is as positive as mine was!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Climate Change Increasing Food Allergies

I’ve written before about oral allergy syndrome – the concept that allergen proteins, whether in pollens or in foods, belong to a limited number of protein families, and that many pollen proteins are similar enough in structure to unrelated food proteins that a sensitivity to one can make you susceptible to the other, even though the two plants aren’t technically related. For example, an allergy to birch may make you allergic to peanuts, because some of the proteins found in birch pollen is similar in structure to some of the proteins in peanuts. So even though the two plants aren’t related at all, the birch pollen, which gets into your lungs freely because it’s airborne, can eventually trigger an allergic reaction to peanuts. (See "Regional Differences in Food Allergies.")

I also talked about how this oral allergy syndrome may explain why different foods are the allergic culprits in different parts of the world – because the weeds and trees in England are different from the weeds and trees in Africa, for example, the common food allergies also vary between the two regions.

Now there are starting to be several studies that show this oral allergy syndrome affect is increasing because of global climate change.

In a nutshell, researchers are discovering that with the longer warm seasons and melting ice caps, more land mass is staying warmer longer, producing more and more plants. Ragweed, for example, is thriving for more weeks every year in some parts of America. That means not only a lengthening of hay fever season for pollen sufferers, but also more exposure in expanding areas where people can become susceptible to the corresponding food allergens.

Australian scientist Dr. Paul Beggs was awarded the OSMR Jamkie Callachor Eureka Prize for Medical Research in Australia this year (Australia’s most prestigious science award) for his research on the effect climate change is having on allergens. As explained in the article “Global Allergic Reaction” from the Australian Museum, which awards the Eureka Prize, “Dr. Beggs published the first academic papers on the possible impacts of increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns on asthma; air-based allergens (such as pollen) and plant food allergens such as peanuts.”

Dr. Beggs isn’t the only one researching these links between climate change and allergies. For example, other scientists have shown that people exposed to higher levels of ragweed pollen and ozone together are more likely to suffer from allergies than from either substance alone.

The scientific literature is filled with studies showing direct, distinct correlations between climate change and various elements of human health, and the link between warming temperatures and both airborne and food-borne allergens is astonishing.

Just something to think about the next time we food allergy sufferers have an opportunity to do something proactive for the environment.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Gluten-Free Resources in Davis County

Yesterday, the Bizarro comic strip in the local newspaper was a cocktail party scene where a bunch of superheroes are standing around with little plates and drinks in hand. Wonder Woman says to Superman, “These are delicious! Have you tried the kryptonite puffs? Oops!... Sorry.”

Superman has a food allergy! Who knew?

For all you Super People in Davis County, Utah, for whom gluten or wheat is your own personal kryptonite, I have good news for you: I’ve found a couple of stores in Layton that stock gluten-free foods and supplies (like flour), as well as a new gluten-free bakery opening next week in Kaysville.

Gluten Free Foods in Layton is a completely gluten-free store! They’re located at 1596 N Hill Field Rd, in Layton, and they’re open Tuesday through Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday). Drop in and talk to the friendly owner about her great selection of gluten-free foods. 801-776-1330.

Harvest Moon Health Foods is a health food store whose owners avoid gluten in their own diets, so they have a good selection of everything from tortillas to bread to pastas, as well as lots of gluten-free protein drinks and supplements. They’re located in Layton at 2146 N Main in Antelope Square (in the strip mall next to Kmart), and they have another store in South Ogden at 1735 E. Skyline Dr. Layton store: 801-825-1389; South Ogden store: 801-479-9474.

Craving gluten-free treats like cookies, cupcakes, mini bundt cakes, or brownies? Your dreams are coming true! At our meeting last Wednesday, Allison Regan, owner of the gluten-free bakery Sweet Cake Bake Shop came to introduce herself and she brought free samples! Trust me, her chocolate chips cookies were unbelievably delicious. Big, soft, chocolaty, and yummy! She’s planning to have her bakery open next week, just in time to fill orders for dried bread cubes (to make gluten-free stuffing, and she’ll provide the recipe!) and gluten-free pie crusts for those holiday pies.

It’s really wonderful to have a resource like hers in this area. She said a grown man actually had tears in his eyes when he tried her chocolate cupcakes, because it had been so long since he’d had a good chocolate cake. When you can bring happiness like that to someone, you know you’re on the right track! Her store is located at 237 W. 200 N., in Kaysville. 801-444-3288.

If you have other food allergies, like nuts, milk, or eggs, note that Allison and other manufacturers often use nut flours in their baked goods, as well as milk and egg products. Allison did talk to us a lot at our meeting about products she could use that would eliminate milk from her baked goods, because so many people who have gluten issues also are allergic to milk. So that may happen in the future, but for now, know that if you have additional food allergies, call ahead to these stores or to Allison to find out if they have any products that are safe for your family.

But for people with celiac disease or wheat allergies, these resources may help bring a little sunshine into their lives! Enjoy!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Way to Go, Wonka!

Four weeks ago, I wrote about calling the Wonka candy manufacturing company to ask about their labeling (see “Reading Halloween Candy Labels for Fun and Profit”) because I found bags of the same Halloween-sized candy at different stores that were labeled differently – one bag had cross-contamination warnings, and the other didn’t. When I called, the man who answered was really helpful. He read me information about the Wonka allergen protocols and asked if he could send me a letter explaining it in more detail, along with some coupons. I said sure.

Many times, when I call a food manufacturer to ask about food allergies, the person who answers is truly stumped. Other times, the person simply reads the ingredients label and says, “Well, it doesn’t look like it has peanuts.” (Thanks, I can read labels myself.) It’s rare that a company actually goes to the effort to 1) have a stringent food allergy protocol, and 2) inform their customer support about that protocol.

So mucho props to Wonka (a division of Nestlé) for understanding the seriousness of food allergies, for having a protocol that they document and follow, and for making a real effort to inform their customers about it. I’m sure they won’t mind me posting their letter, since they send it out to customers who ask. I’m just helping spread their news. Thanks, Wonka! (And all other food manufacturers, take note.)

Dear Ms. Lindberg,

Thank you for contacting us. Your comments regarding Wonka® Mix-Ups are very important to us.

In regards to your inquiry, there are eight major food allergens, including milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts (such as walnuts and almonds), soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Labeling regulation requires that all ingredients added to products be listed in the ingredient statement. For those eight major allergens, Nestlé ensures that they are labeled, regardless of the amount or whether a supplier may have added it to their ingredient. It is the responsibility of Nestlé to ensure that these ingredients are properly labeled by their common or usual name in the ingredient statement.

We want to help our consumers avoid inadvertent ingestion of their specific allergens of concern by accurately informing them about the product ingredients and by following Good Manufacturing Practices in our factories. All factories using a critical allergen as an ingredient must take all reasonable precautions to avoid cross-contact of products that do not normally contain these allergens and products that do not carry a specific mention in the ingredient statement. These precautionary measures include efficient cleaning of production lines and equipment and strict separation of materials that may contain critical allergens. If an allergen does not appear on the ingredient statement, then it has not been added to the product and the likelihood of cross-contamination contact is so extremely low that the risk is insignificant.

We appreciate the opportunity to be of service to you and hope your inquiry was handled to your satisfaction.

Consumer Response Representative

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Shot Heard ‘Round the iPod

Did you feel the planets align today? The earth shake? The mountains move? The cosmos shift in their timeless tracks?

Why would all these momentous things be happening, you ask? Because my son started allergy shots today for his environmental allergies (pollens, molds, animal dander, etc.).

Really, this is big stuff. The last time he had a shot was three years ago, and it took me and four nurses to hold him down, a half-hour of hysterics, and a margarita (that was for me) to accomplish it. That’s right, the human whirlwind of energy and adventure was transformed into a thrashing berserker by a little ol’ needle.

So starting immunotherapy shots today was bigger than big.

In addition to his peanut and tree nut allergy, my son is also allergic to almost everything that blooms, sheds, or slimes in Utah. Molds, trees, grasses, weeds, critters – they all gang up on his respiratory system year ‘round, and he’s on a small battery of daily medications to keep his lungs reaction-free.

So after thinking about immunotherapy for a couple of years, we finally decided (okay, I decided) the time was right to start building up his body’s own immune system so that he can hopefully wean himself away from the medications.

Yeah. Easier said than done.

Being a practical mom, I’m not above bribery. In fact, I keep the bribery option firmly seated in my parenting toolbelt for just such occasions, and I’m not afraid to use it.

This one required the big bribe. The open-ended whatever-you-want bribe. The I’ve-got-to-be-out-of-my-mind bribe.

We started small several weeks ago. It’s been building up ever since. Finally, on Thursday, we came to an understanding. A new iPod Nano. And it had to be orange.


“Trust me. This will hurt me more than it will hurt you,” I told him. Fortunately, his birthday is coming up soon, so the bribe became both bribe and birthday present. Still painful.

Today was the big day. I didn’t tell him this morning before he left for school, because I didn’t want to give him a whole day to agonize over it, or I’d never be able to drag him out the door. When he got home from school, I sprung it on him. His shoulders drooped. But he quietly scooped up his new Legos magazine and followed me out the door.

At the office, the nurse said, “How are you today?” He stared at the floor.

“He’s a little nervous,” I said. Like it wasn’t obvious.

She swabbed his arms (he needs two shots – one in each arm – oh, the horror), sprayed a little numbing spray on them, and reached for the needles. A minute later, it was all over, and he was standing there surprised.

“Was that okay?” I asked.

He nodded. Clearly, he’d expected it to feel something like a nastily barbed lightning bolt from truly angry Greek gods. But it was a piece of cake. A really expensive, orange piece of iCake.

On the way to the car, I told him I think I’d gotten the short end of the deal. He grinned.

So if you felt that little tremor in the fabric of space and time today, don’t worry about it. It was just my son making his peace with a tiny little half-inch needle that will, with any luck, put his immune system on the road towards wellness (and his ears on the road to music nirvana).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Trick-or-Treatig Safely

That ghouly, ghostly holiday every kid loves is just around the corner. So it's time for my annual posting of Halloween tips...

For us parents of food allergic kids, Halloween can be stressful. Should we let them go trick-or-treating? Should we have a party instead? Should we stay home, lock the doors, and turn out the lights? What about that giant bag of unsafe candy?!!

In our family, we’ve discovered that the candy is really the least important part of the holiday. The adventure is the best part. Candy seems like the goal (“I’m going to fill this WHOLE bucket!”), but it’s really just the excuse for dressing up, running around the neighborhood in the dark squealing with flashlights, and getting together with friends.

Focus on the adventure, and create your Halloween traditions around the parts of the holiday your kids love best. If they like to trick-or-treat, don’t be afraid of that. There are plenty of things you can do with unsafe candy afterwards, and if the kids know about the rules ahead of time, it will be surprisingly easy to keep them safe while doing it.

Here are some tips for safe trick-or-treating:

Tip #1: No one eats anything until everyone gets home and the parent reads the label on every piece of candy. That way, no one is eating unidentified foods and having a reaction while you’re out in the dark a block away from home. Make sure the kids agree, understand, and agree again. No one sneaks anything (not even Dad).

Tip #2: If you child is super-sensitive to an ingredient, you might have them wear gloves with their costume, so that any allergenic candy that touches their hand on the way into the bag doesn’t cause a skin reaction. Toss the glove in the wash or in the trash when you get home.

Tip #3: Unlabeled candy is assumed to be unsafe. Period. The only exceptions are brand-name candies that you are already familiar with and know are safe. (For example, I know Starbursts and Skittles are okay for my son, so I’ll let him keep those.) If there is a type of candy that he’s particularly interested in, I might promise to look for it at the store the next day, and read the ingredients there. But it goes into a separate container until we’ve seen it at the store and verified its safety.

Tip #4: Before you head out on your adventure, talk about what you’re going to do with any candy when the night is over. Here are some ideas:

1) Go trick-or-treating with a friend, and at the end of the night, dump both kids’ candy together, then make two piles – a “safe” pile for the allergic kid, and the other pile for the non-allergic kid. If they both know about this plan beforehand, they are usually more than willing to do this.

2) Buy a bag of safe candy ahead of time, and at the end of the night, let your child “trade” you for all the unsafe candy he brought home.

3) “Buy” the unsafe candy from your child – but establish a price ahead of time, such as a nickel a piece, a dollar a pound, or the whole kit and caboodle for a new DVD, a small toy, a trip to the movies, a night out with Dad, a visit to the dollar store, or other such treat.

4) Look for a dentist or other business in your area that buys candy from kids on the day after Halloween. There’s at least one dentist in Layton that does. The kids get money, and the dentist donates the candy to a children’s hospital, I think.

5) Let the child “donate” the unsafe candy to Mom or Dad, so they can take it to work and share it with their coworkers.

6) Let the child donate the unsafe candy to a local women’s shelter, food bank, homeless shelter, or family of an Iraqi soldier – the soldiers always seem to appreciate candy that they can share with friends or give to Iraqi children.

Don’t let Halloween spook you. There are plenty of ways to celebrate safely – have a party at your house, go trick-or-treating with a plan for replacing the unsafe candy, visit a haunted house or Lagoon’s Frightmares, or rent The Nightmare Before Christmas and snuggle up together in the dark.

Whatever your family Halloween tradition becomes, I hopes it’s spooktacular!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Contemplating Pumpkin Pie

I goofed on at least one candy label in last week’s post, as “Infant Bibliophile” pointed out very, very gently (thanks for being kind!). Twizzlers, of course, are made with wheat flour, and I was trying to keep my list free of the top 8 allergens. I’m so sorry I let that one slip through. And I’m so glad that other people are out there to help back me up and spread that safety net a little farther for all of us.

But I guess it does just goes to show… you can’t trust anyone but yourself, and even then, it’s a good idea to double-check yourself! Sigh.

Preparations for Halloween are continuing. I bought a couple of cans of pumpkin yesterday, with the wildly optimistic notion that I might try to make an egg- and milk-free pumpkin pie again this year. I tried last year, and the 3 or 4 pies I attempted were NOT successful. Ick. I’m pretty sure even that guy on the Bizarre Foods television show wouldn’t have touched those pies with a ten-foot anthill-poking stick.

So this year maybe I’ll try again. I’ve run across an allergy-friendly recipe or two for pumpkin pie, so I’ll give them a shot and see how they turn out.

Yesterday, I made an apple pie. All those yummy apples are everywhere now, and my husband brought some home from a work buddy, so I cheated and bought one of those Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts (love those babies, and they’re milk-, egg-, and nut-free). Then I put on my Martha Stewart hat (no, not really), and I whipped up an apple pie. It tasted delicious, but it fell apart badly when I dished it up. I called it “train wreck cobbler” instead of “apple pie,” so it sounded like I meant to do it that way. Everyone fell for it. Sure.

Oh well. Maybe a pumpkin pie really isn’t in the cards for me this year. Who needs the stress? Perhaps I’ll make pumpkin cookies instead of pumpkin pie. Sounds safer. Or I like to spoon some pumpkin into my safe pancake mix and make pumpkin pancakes this time of year. That’s easy, and my family likes them.

Or maybe I’ll just let those cans of pumpkin sit in my pantry until next year. I’ve still got a costume to make, after all.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reading Halloween Candy Labels for Fun and Profit

Okay, I lied about the fun part. And the profit part. Unless you count safety as profit (and I guess we all do). But reading labels is still something I have to do.

So I just spent a couple of hours reading the labels on bags of Halloween candy at Sam’s Club and at Smith’s (a Kroger store). I have bad news and good news.

First, the bad news. The big bag of Wonka Mix-ups candy at Sam’s Club, which has always been my stand-by for candy that’s free from the top eight allergens, is sporting a new warning about factory cross-contamination of egg and wheat for the Nerds, SweetTarts, and BottleCaps in the bag. Only the Laffy Taffy is still warning-free. As I wandered around the store, I checked the labels on other Wonka candy – most of them didn’t have the warning. Hmmm. Curious, and worrying.

Then I went to Smith’s and they had a smaller bag of Wonka Mix-ups, with a different combination of candy inside – instead of the Bottlecaps, this bag had Runts. I checked the label. No allergen warning on any of the candies. Did this mean there were different factories involved? Or did they leave off the warning inadvertently on some of their bags?

When I got home, I called the factory. I talked to a nice man who was quite pleasant and went looking for the information. When he returned to the phone, he read me a very long and informative letter about the labeling laws, the difference between a “cross-contamination warning” and a “contains” warning, and the importance of reading ingredients labels each and every time. (It was actually really good information that someone new to allergies would need, so I was glad to hear someone at their factory took it seriously.)

Then, still reading, he explained that some of their factories – and they have multiple factories – do process products with Top 8 allergens, so they do have to put cross-contamination warnings on their products. However, he also said they do perform thorough cleaning and they use strict preparation guidelines when they’re using an allergen. But they still put the warning label on the food.

So he explained that the bag without the warning was made in an allergen-free factory. The bag with the warning was made in a factory that also processed wheat and egg. This also explains why the box of Nerds in the vending aisle at Sam’s didn’t have the egg and wheat warning. Those Nerds were made in the safe factory. Okay, now I get it.

I told him my biggest concern now was when my son brings home his trick-or-treat candy. Always before, the little boxes of Nerds and Runts were safe. Now we can’t be sure. Will each individual little box or package have the allergy warning on it? He assured me that yes, each tiny package will include an allergen warning if it was made in the allergen factory, and it WON’T have the allergy warning if it was made in the safe factory. (Okay, I know you know that my son is only allergic to nuts and peanuts. But I like to hand out candy that’s free from all allergens, so that any allergic kid in our neighborhood gets at least one treat he/she can eat. So I told the guy my son was allergic to eggs and wheat, just to make the discussion easier.)

So… Once again I’m reminded of the importance of reading ingredients labels each and EVERY time I buy a product, no matter how many times I’ve bought that product before.

Now the good news: I found lots of candy that’s free from the big 8, both at Sam’s Club and at Smiths. They all contain food colorings, and most contain corn syrup, however, so if those are your issues, this list won’t help. In that case, a couple of wonderful UFAN members recommend lollipops from YummyEarth. They’re free from the big 8, and use natural colorings and flavorings. They’re available in health food stores, but they’re cheaper on here: YummyEarth Organic Lollipops.

Here’s what I found at Sam’s Club:

Betty Crocker Fruit by the Foot (They have Monster Flavors: Boo Berry and Frankenberry, like the cereals!)
Mars Mix bag (Skittles and Starbursts)
Member’s Mark Zoo Animal Fruit Snacks (box of 72 pouches for $8.98)
Betty Crocker Fruit Roll-Ups
Kellogg’s SpongeBob Fruit Snacks
Spangler Dum-Dums (360 for $6.98)
Laffy Taffy Ropes (canister of 48 individually wrapped)
Laffy Taffy (165 for $6.22)
Wonka Stretchy & Tangy Laffy Taffy
Twizzlers (180 for $6.98)
Otter Pops
Del Monte Fruit Chillers (like Otter Pops, but made with fruit)
Jolly Rancher Lollipops (100 for $9.22)
In the vending aisle, there are packages of candy with 24 – 30 individual packets inside. If you have smaller crowds at your house, check out that aisle for vending machine-sized products like Swedish Fish, Twizzlers, Hot Tamales, Mike & Ike, Wonka Fun Dip, Wonka Shockers, Wonka Nerds, Wonka Giant Pixy Styx, Wonka Giant Chewy SweetTarts, Wonka Laffy Taffy Ropes, Baby Bottle Pops, and Push Pops.

Here’s the Halloween candy I found bags at Smith’s:
Mix of Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids
Mix of Mike & Ike and Hot Tamales
Jujy Fruits
The safe mixed bag of Wonka Mix-ups

I made my son really happy by discovering the mixed bag of Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids. So that’s what we’re handing out to the kids in our neighborhood this year.

I hope my shopping expedition will make your shopping a little easier this year. Have fun!

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Great Candy Corn Hunt

Last year, you may remember that I went searching high and low for nut-free candy corn for my son. I couldn’t find any for sale, but I did find a vegan recipe for candy corn at “The Urban Housewife” blog. (It does call for soy milk, but maybe you can substitute rice milk if you're allergic to soy.)

This year, however, I have exciting news to report: Nut-free candy corn exists!

My friend Kim finally found nut-free candy corn from the manufacturer Blueberry Hill (warning: it does contain soy and eggs). There’s an interesting discussion on the Food Allergy Buzz blog about whether Blueberry Hill’s manufacturing process should be considered nut-free, however, because they do process peanut products in their facility, but the area where they produce the nut-free products is separate and they actually have a food-allergy protocol where an outside organization tests for allergens (and their testing has not turned up any allergens).

While there is plenty of debate on that blog about whether this should constitute a “nut-free” environment, for my own son, I’ve made the decision that I am comfortable with their candy, because any company that actually has a food-allergy protocol, maintains a separate allergen-free manufacturing area, and can show allergen testing results tells me they’re probably more aware and concerned than the average manufacturer. Read the Food Allergy Buzz blog for more information including emails from the companies involved, and make your own decision, of course.

I found Blueberry Hill candy corn at Honk’s dollar store in Layton. Peanut Free Planet carries Blueberry Hill Harvest Mix Assorted Mellowcremes (which contain soy and eggs) as well as Sunrise brand candy corn (which is in identical packaging to the Blueberry Hill Harvest Mix, but made in a nut-free factory in Mexico, so I don’t know what their connection is). Since Peanut-Free Planet strives to carry only products that are manufactured in nut-free factories, I assume the Sunrise product is equivalent to the Blueberry Hill product, but I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for it.

I also found nut-free candy corn (but it, too, contains egg and soy) available by the pound at The Chocolate Emporium. I haven’t bought theirs to try, but it’s worth a shot if you can’t find it elsewhere.

If you can find the Blueberry Hill candy corn, it’s pretty tasty. Not quite identical to Brach’s version, but definitely passable, and my son loves it.

Not everyone loves candy corn, and if you’re allergic to eggs, you still can’t eat the ones I found. So with that in mind, I did a quick survey of other Halloween treat options online, and here’s what I found:

1. Nut-free: Lots of nut-free Halloween treats at Vermont Nut Free and Peanut Free Planet.

2. Nut-free, milk-free, egg-free: Yummy-looking chocolate ghosts at Divvies.

3. Nut-free, egg-free, milk-free, gluten-free (and certified Kosher parve): Lots of chocolate and candy treats, including chocolate ghost pops, foil-wrapped chocolate pumpkins, etc., at the Chocolate Emporium. Not all their products have the same allergens, so check ingredients carefully.

Next week, I’ll try to have suggestions for allergen-friendly candy to hand out to those little trick-or-treaters.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cloudy With a Chance of Food Allergies

My husband took my son to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs yesterday. I’d heard there was a scene in it where someone has an allergic reaction to peanuts. I didn’t tell my son about it – I wanted to see his reaction when he got home. In fact, what I really wanted him to do was write about it for my blog today.

The interesting thing is, he was able to describe the scene to me just fine, but when I asked him what he thought about it, he shrugged. “I don’t have any feelings about it at all. It was just a scene in a movie, Mom.”

“But did you think it was kind of neat to see food allergies show up in a movie, or did they make it too silly?”

“Mom, I told you. It was just a scene. I didn’t laugh, I didn’t cry, I didn’t go Arggg!”

Hmmm. “But do you ever see characters with food allergies in any of the cartoons or movies you see on TV?”

“I wouldn’t say it was normal. They don’t usually say that people have allergies in a movie or show. It was just a scene in a movie; I didn’t think much of it.”

I’ve been reading a few comments online about this scene, and it’s mixed. For the most part, parents of food allergic children are annoyed or downright horrified that 1) the reaction is depicted as comical, 2) the smart allergic heroine carries a Doppler radar thingy but not an EpiPen, and 3) it’s unrealistic, yet still scary for little ones with reactions, and 4) it makes light of the whole thing. On the other hand, there’s that old saw about “any publicity is good publicity,” so some parents are saying it’s good to see that food allergies are common enough that they can be used as a major plot point (I brought this up a while back in a posting about allergies in the movie The Game Plan) or even as a throw-away piece of dialogue (like in an episode of the TV show Reaper). Only a few are saying it’s no big deal either way. I guess my son is one of those.

He’s ten, of course, so maybe older kids are simply able to recognize that it’s silly, unrealistic, and as absurd as the entire rest of the movie, and therefore not to be taken seriously. I would be willing to bet that kids his age are probably better equipped to let things like this roll off their backs than we parents are. We parents take everything seriously when it comes to our children.

So if you’ve seen the movie, what did you think of it? And more importantly, what did your food-allergic child think about it? Did it help, hurt, or was it “just a scene in a movie”?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Regional Differences in Food Allergies

I came across a story in New Scientist magazine about possible reasons why people in different parts of the world are prone to different food allergies (“Food Allergies Get Curiouser and Curiouser.”) The peanut is a common allergen in the United States, but not so common in other countries. Melon is a more common problem in Greece. Apples are the culprit in Italy.

Why are there so many regional differences?

This article discusses studies that show a possible reason: many plant pollens that cause hay fever contain proteins that are very similar to the proteins in certain foods. While the plants and foods aren’t actually related, the molecular structure of the proteins are similar enough that a sensitivity to one (in the form of hay fever) might “prime the pump” and make you more susceptible to developing an allergy to the other. The article uses the examples of birch pollen allergies, which may make northern Europeans more prone to apple allergies, dust-mite feces that may correlate to shrimp allergies, and mugwort allergies that may link to carrots, celery, and sunflower seeds.

There have been studies in the past that have tried to examine reasons why regional differences exist in food allergies. In November 2008, I wrote about a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology that compared Jewish populations in the U.K. and Israel and their very different rates of peanut allergy. The study used Jewish populations in both regions to try to control as many cultural variables as possible. Their conclusion was that since the Israeli population gives infants more peanuts and has a lower rate of peanut allergy, perhaps everyone should introduce peanuts to infants earlier and in larger quantities. But that goes contrary to other studies that seem to show it’s better to prevent peanuts from being introduced until later in life.

But the study didn’t seem to take into account environmental pollens in the two countries, which would be vastly different between the two climates. The New Scientist article brings up an interesting new angle on that older study – what if the reason the U.K. children have more peanut allergies is because their bodies are already primed to react by a pollen that is prevalent in the U.K., but which doesn’t exist in the drier environs of Israel? It would be interesting if someone could go back to those original U.K. and Israeli populations and cross-check the existing pollens in those two areas to see if a new pattern emerges from that.

So once again, we still don’t know very much about the causes of food allergies. We are still bombarded by theories. We still feel like we’re grasping at straws. However, there is some good news: more and more studies ARE being conducted. Only after many years and many individual studies that test different aspects of allergies will scientists be able to look back, gather up all the thousands of puzzle pieces from all those studies, and begin fitting them together into a whole picture. And only then will we start to see what we’re really facing and how to deal with it all.

On the one hand, it’s frustrating to feel like we still know so little. On the other hand, I have to remind myself that we know a lot more now than we did a decade ago, and in ten more years, we’ll know even more. Each new study turns over another puzzle piece on our table. And that gives me something to hope for.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Fighting Battles Together

Last week, at our Davis County chapter meeting, we talked with a member who’s having trouble getting any cooperation from her food-allergic child’s elementary school teacher and principal. She came to our meeting because she wanted to talk with other parents who’ve “been there” and who understand what she’s going through.

Over the last ten years, I’ve seen so much progress in the world of food allergies. Many more people know about food allergies now than a decade ago. More restaurants understand. More neighbors “get it.” More news reports deal with it. More cookbooks address it. And more schools understand and accommodate it. But not all. Not yet.

This mom’s school insists her daughter is the first they’ve ever had with a severe food allergy. Unfortunately, she won’t be the last. They can try to put their collective heads in the sand, but that’s not going to stop the fact that the incidence of peanut allergies in children has doubled in the last five years and shows every sign of continuing that disheartening pace. While it’s no consolation right now for the mom who has to go through all the battles at this school first, she’s blazing the way and making the trail safer for all the kids who will be following her daughter into that school system.

In the meantime, those of us who’ve already gone through some of those battles can encourage each other on, applaud our successes, and learn from our failures. We can support moms like this one by sharing what we’ve tried, what we’ve learned, and what we’ve gained.

Some of the things we’ve learned:

1. When people insist food allergies aren’t that big of a deal, or that we’re making up the seriousness of food allergies, it’s usually because they’re confusing food allergies with pollen allergies (hay fever) or with lactose intolerance (a completely different illness). It’s an understandable confusion. For hay fever or lactose intolerance, you can often take a pill and be fine. Explaining how those ailments are completely different diseases from food allergies is the first step to getting those people to understand.

2. Often, just saying, “You’re making me feel sad and helpless” directly to the person who’s making our life difficult snaps them into realization, and they will sometimes make a new effort to help, where before they were unthinkingly callous. Try it. Being honest about our own fears can bring out the best “hero syndrome” in others, even those we could have sworn would be enemies forever.

3. There are legal recourses if all else fails. Our kids can be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act and by 504 plans.

4. Honey catches more flies than lemon. No matter how frustrated we are, we need to try to remain positive and helpful. Throwing a temper tantrum will never win anyone over to our side. (Now if I could just convince my son of that!)

5. We’re not alone. There are 12 million people in the U.S. alone with severe food allergies. One out of twenty kids has a severe food allergies (that’s about one per classroom). Once we start talking about our food allergies, we discover more people than we ever dreamed are in the same boat – we find neighbors, teammates, classmates, church members, business associates, and even celebrities who are going through the same trials as we are, and we can draw strength and inspiration from each other.

For everyone who’s out there feeling like they’re fighting this battle on their own, know that there are plenty of kindred spirits who are going through the same things. Over time, we’re finding each other and creating support groups that help, whether online, or in meetings, or standing in the grocery check-out line. Reach out for help, or reach out to help. More and more, there’s strength in our numbers.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tomatoes, Tomatoes Everywhere – Drying Them

I love the taste of sun-dried tomatoes with pasta or on salads, so last year, when I was overwhelmed with cherry tomatoes, I researched how to make sun-dried tomatoes. I was a little dismayed to learn that sun-drying tomatoes requires setting them outside in hot, dry weather for 2 or 3 weeks, covered in screens to keep the bugs and other critters out, and bringing them in and out if it rains. Ack. That’s way too much work for me.

Then I discovered it’s much easier to dry them in the oven, and it only takes a day. And, what’s even better is I don’t have to chase bugs or birds away from them when I use my oven! That works for me!

You can oven-dry any sort of tomatoes. My mom dries her Roma tomatoes and then snacks on them like healthy potato chips during the day. I like to dry my cherry tomatoes because they are about the size of raisins – perfect for tossing into salads or into an alfredo sauce for pasta.

Drying tomatoes is really easy, but it’s a little time-consuming, so don’t start when it’s nearly bedtime (which seems to be when so many of us mothers start projects, doesn’t it?).

1. Use a cookie sheet with raised edges (so the tomatoes don’t slide off the tray when you’re taking them out of the oven – voice of experience here!), and line it with parchment paper. (Tomatoes react with aluminum, so you really don’t want to use aluminum pans.)

2. Slice your tomatoes thin (if you’re using cherry tomatoes, cut them in half), put them on a paper towel to drain for a couple of minutes, then place them on the parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. (Drain cherry tomatoes on the paper towel cut side down, then place them cut side up on the parchment paper-lined cookie sheet).

3. Sprinkle the tomatoes very lightly with sea salt, seasoned salt, garlic salt, or other seasoning, depending on your taste. It’s easy to over-salt them, so go easy.

4. Turn your oven to its lowest setting (200 degrees is ideal), put the cookie sheet in the oven, and let the tomatoes dry at 200 degrees for 8 – 10 hours for regular sized tomatoes, or 5 – 7 hours for cherry tomatoes. The time will vary depending on the thickness of your tomato slices, and how hot your oven is, so check them after a few hours and keeping checking them every hour after that. If your oven only goes down to 250 degrees, that’s fine. Just don’t cook them as long.

5. The tomatoes are done when you think they’re done – I like mine the consistency of raisins (a little chewy). My mom likes her Romas crispy. Some tomatoes will be done earlier than others, so take them off the tray as they get done, and let the others stay in the oven a little longer if necessary. When you’re finished, they’ll stay in a container at room temperature or in the fridge for a few days, or you can store them in zippered plastic bags in the freezer for months.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Tomatoes, Tomatoes Everywhere – Freezing Them

I spent all yesterday in my kitchen again, trying to stay ahead of the mound of tomatoes and peppers that keep rolling in from my little garden. I’m probably not the only one – the media keeps reporting that many more people planted gardens this year in an effort to save money. If you didn’t plant a garden, you probably noticed that farmer’s markets have been springing up in many more towns this year, so your opportunity to get fresh produce is still better than usual!

So, just in case you or someone you know has a garden this year and are wondering what to do with all those tomatoes, I thought I’d share a couple of ways I save them for use during the winter. This week I’ll explain how easy it is to freeze them. Next week I’ll show how I oven-dry them (which is so much easier than sun-drying them, and just as tasty!).

To freeze tomatoes, you simply skin them, chop them into chunks, and put them in a quart-sized zippered freezer-style plastic bag, then toss them in the freezer. Really, that’s all there is to it. To skin them easily, drop them in boiling water for one minute, then plunge them into ice water. The skins will peel right off. Then I cut out the core near the stem, chop the tomatoes into bite-sized chunks, and put them in a colander to drain a little. Then I put 2 cups of the tomatoes into a quart-sized bag. Two cups is about equivalent to a can of tomatoes, so when I use a recipe calling for a can of tomatoes, I can just use a bag of my frozen tomatoes. Here’s a photo of several pints of my yellow-colored Lemon Boy tomatoes ready for the freezer.

In case you’re wondering, freezing peppers is even easier. (No skinning necessary!) Simply wash them and pat them dry, cut off the stem end, then slice them open and remove the seeds. Then dice them up and put them in a zippered freezer-style plastic bag. When I freeze them, I lay the bag flat so that the diced peppers don’t all freeze in a big clump. If they’re spread out flat when they freeze, it’s easier to shake out just a few when I need them later for a recipe. I plant Anaheims and Jalapeños each year, and I freeze both of them the same way.

Got any great allergy-friendly recipes for using up some of those garden veggies? Share them with us by posting them in a Comment!

Happy harvesting!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Safe Muddy Buddies Recipe

Sometimes, parties just call for something sweet and chocolaty. This weekend, one of my son’s friends had a birthday party, and since she invited my son and another friend who both have food allergies, her wonderful mom made safe treats for the party. Rice Krispie Treats (made with milk-free margarine), hot dogs (with safe ingredients), and Muddy Buddies were all on the menu.

Remember Muddy Buddies? Those chocolaty, peanut-buttery, sugary bite-sized snacks made from Chex cereals? How could those possibly be milk-free, egg-free, and nut-free? Turns out it’s pretty easy – if you substitute safe ingredients. Use Sunbutter or a similar sunflower spread instead of peanut butter, safe chocolate chips (Kroger’s Value brand at Smith’s are milk-free and nut-free), and safe margarine (like Nucoa), and you’re in business. Many thanks to Kim for adapting this recipe to make it safe, and more thanks to Lena for serving it to the kids (and us grownups) at yesterday’s party! (And thanks to Betty Crocker® for the original recipe!)

Milk-free, Egg-free, and Peanut-free Chex® Muddy Buddies®
9 c. Rice Chex (or other safe bite-size cereals)
1 c. safe semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 c. Sunbutter sunflower spread
1/4 c. safe margarine (such as Nucoa)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar

1. Measure cereal into a large bowl; set aside.
2. In a 1-quart microwaveable bowl, microwave chocolate chips, Sunbutter, and margarine uncovered on High for 1 minute. Stir, then microwave about 30 seconds longer or until mixture can be stirred smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until evenly coated. Pour into 2-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag.
3. Add powdered sugar. Seal bag and shake until cereal is well-coated. Spread on waxed paper to cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to School Tips

My baby went to school today. Okay, so my baby is in fifth grade – he’s still my baby, and I can pout if I want to! I miss him during the days he’s in class, believe it or not, especially after we’ve had so much fun during the summer doing everything from swimming to movies to field trips to playdates. But, school is just one of those facts of life that we take like medicine – we know it’s good for us in the long run, so we put up with the icky taste.

What makes it especially hard on us both this year, though, is that the rest of the county doesn’t start back to school until next Monday. Boy, is there a dark little cloud over my baby’s head today. Ah well.

Last week the Davis County chapter met to discuss back-to-school issues for food-allergic kids. We welcomed a new member, as well as a visitor from Michigan who stopped in to see if we had any suggestions she could use in her child’s school back home. Kim and I talked about the things we’ve done, experienced, and learned over the years that our kids have been in school.

Most of my tips are the same ones I post about this time each year. So I’ll repeat them here, in the hopes that they help smooth the way for other parents this week and next. Good luck, and enjoy these remaining few days of summer, if you’re one of the lucky ones with a week left!

(Remember, there are links to several school-related resources on the Utah Food Allergy Network's website, so check those out, too.)

1. Volunteer a lot, so the staff knows you and counts on you (not just for allergy issues). If the only time they see you is when there's a food allergy, then you may start feeling like they're whispering "Oh no, here she comes again." But if they see you as a "Gosh, what would we do without her" kind of volunteer, then the occasional food issue will be coming from a great mom who's making a reasonable request.

2. If someone else is already the class mom, or you can't volunteer for that position, tell the teacher you really need to attend all parties and field trips because of the food allergy. The teacher may want to let the other parents know that you'll be selected for all the special events because of the food allergy, so that they don't think the teacher is playing favorites or something.

3. Ask the principal if there are other food allergic kids in the same grade, and if they can be assigned to the same teacher. That makes it easier for the allergic parents to trade off field-trip and party chaperone duties, it puts all the kids in the same class so that the classroom can be more allergen-free, and gives you some backup in food issues. (It's nice to NOT be the only one.) Statistically, about one in twenty kids has a food allergy, so chances are good there will be more kids than just your child.

4. Volunteer to shop for all the snacks or food materials for classroom parties or food educational units (like making noodle necklaces or gingerbread houses, etc.). Tell the teacher if she'll collect money donations, you'll go buy all the ingredients. They're usually delighted to get out of having to shop.

5. Make several copies of your Food Allergy Action Plan (available on FAAN’s website) and ask to hang one in the office, the cafeteria kitchen, and the classroom, so that your child's photo and "What to do in case of a reaction" instructions are handy no matter where he is. Your doctor needs to fill this out, so make an appointment asap.

6. Practice with your child what he should do if he "feels funny." Role-play and pretend you're the teacher, and have him come up and tell you what's wrong. Often our kids are too shy about asking for help, so have him practice with you, and with the teacher if possible. Not only does that give your child words to use if something happens, but it helps impress upon the teacher how important it is.

7. I get on my principal's staff meeting agenda at the first of the year and give a 5-minute talk about allergies and demonstrate the EpiPen. I also give a presentation to my son's class, and all the teachers and aides he comes into contact with. If you're not comfortable doing this, ask if there are other allergic parents that you can contact. Talk to them about ways to teach the teachers -- maybe another mom would be willing to give the presentation if you make the photocopies. It's easier when there are two of you involved!

8. Remember, In Utah, your child can legally carry his EpiPen. But he probably can't administer it to himself in an emergency, so make sure the teachers and everyone else know where it is and how to use it. My son carries his in his backpack so that it's always in the classroom, and I also fill a second prescription and they keep it in the office. So he has two sets at school. (I also attach a luggage tag with his photo on it to his backpack, so the teacher can find his backpack in a hurry.)

9. If he's going to be having lunch at school, talk to the Lunch Lady and cafeteria monitor. Introduce your child, tell her what your child is allergic to, and let your child know that the Lunch Lady is a friend that will help keep him safe. Then remember the Lunch Lady and the cafeteria monitor on holidays with little thank you cards or gifts to show you appreciate them. Few people do that. But it will help keep your child's food issues fresh in their mind, and they'll get to know him well.

10. Ask about setting up a food table just for allergic kids. All that’s required is a table with a sign that says allergies only, and the cafeteria monitors clean it with a separate marked bucket and cloth. Don’t let them make your child eat in a separate room or the principal’s office. He shouldn’t be punished just because he’s allergic to some foods! Ask the principal to mention the allergy table in a newsletter or other information that goes home with kids at the beginning of the year. You may find other kids with allergies expressing an interest in sitting at the table if they know it’s available.

11. Ask the parents of your child’s friends to send safe lunches with them every once in a while, so they can eat with your child. Make it a fun place to be!

12. Most peanut-allergic kids don’t react to the smell of peanut butter in the air, but a few do. If you are worried if your child will react to the air in the cafeteria, ask to take him in for a “practice run.” Sit in the cafeteria for half an hour and see if he reacts. If he doesn’t, cross that worry off your list.

13. Eat lunch with him for the first few days. That will reassure both of you that you can both handle this!

14. Talk to the teacher about which cafeteria door your child should use to avoid peanut butter contact (usually the one furthest from the playground), where to put his lunch bag after lunch, and where his EpiPens will be.

15. Remind your child NOT to throw away his lunch trash. Tell him to bring it home in his lunch bag, so that he can avoid using the trash can. If another kid slam-dunks a half-full milk carton in the trash can, you don’t want your milk-allergic child to get splashed.

16. Be aware and be prepared, but don't panic! School is going to be a lot of fun, and your child will do just fine. And believe it or not, so will you!

17. If you and your kid want to, you can order medical alert jewelry to alert teachers and other staff about your child’s allergy. Sometimes, it’s a good visual reminder to the teacher to stop and think about food. (But not always – sometimes you see something so often you stop seeing it, you know what I mean?) If you’d like to order one, I like the sports band versions at American Medical ID. They come in lots of colors, and are especially cool for boys, who don’t usually like the regular bracelets. They also have lots of other kids' selections, so look for the kids' section on their website.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Garden-Fresh and Kitchen-Bound

I was a slave to my garden this weekend.

I love having a garden. I love the taste of a fresh tomato still warm from the sunshine. I love thinking “this recipe would be great with a little fresh Anaheim pepper and oregano,” then walking outside to pick some. I love watching veggies ripen day after day until they’re just perfect.

I also enjoy planting different kinds of tomatoes – varieties you don’t get at the grocery store – just to see what they look and taste like. This year, in addition to my usual Sweet 100s (cherry tomatoes) and Early Girls, I planted a Yellow Boy (big, sweet, gorgeous yellow globes) and a Pink Girl (pale red beauties).

The only downside to having a garden is that it all seems to come ready to pick at once, and then I actually have to DO something with all that great produce. It seems like overnight I go from waiting impatiently for a few tomatoes to finally ripen so I can make a batch of salsa, to suddenly having piles of tomatoes that overwhelm my countertop – enough to make a dozen batches of salsa!

That happened this weekend. My peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, and yellow squash all got harvest-ready at once, and a neighbor’s apricot tree was being ravaged by birds, so I ended up with a couple of mixing bowls of them, too (the apricots, not the birds). So I spent the last two days in the kitchen. I made salsa, chocolate zucchini bread, and apricot pie. For breakfast, I made a baked apricot pancake, and omelets stuffed with cherry tomatoes, peppers, onions, basil, and oregano. We had zucchini casserole, apricots with whipped cream, and fresh tomatoes and mozzarella sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and garnished with fresh basil.

My husband accused me of turning into Martha Stewart. We don’t usually eat this well, because I don’t usually have so much fresh produce that I have to try to think up new ways to prepare.

I still have bowls of tomatoes and peppers left on my counter, and tons of them still on the vine, so I’ll be making more salsa and marinara sauce as the days of August and September go by. And maybe I’ll try making gumbo or jambalaya with my tomatoes, okra, and onions. I’ll be freezing tomatoes and peppers so I can make more during the winter, when the store-bought veggies taste something like a hybrid between tennis balls and cardboard. And sun-dried tomatoes (okay, they’re really oven-dried) are great on salads and in pasta sauces during the winter. I may even try to oven-dry some herbs this year.

So if anyone needs me in the next few weeks, I’ll be buried under a big pile of tomatoes in my kitchen. If you’ve got a great recipe or two for me to try, send it along. I’ll be running out of ideas sometime around Wednesday, I’m sure!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Highlights from Dr. Jones’ Talk, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about some of the food allergy topics Dr. Douglas Jones covered at our July UFAN chapter meeting. This week, as promised, I’m sharing more.

FAHF-2 research: FAHF-2 is the Chinese herbal compound that is being studied to see if it really helps prevent anaphylactic reactions to peanuts. While the compound has shown remarkable success with mice, it’s only in Phase 1 of clinical trials with humans. So while we are all keeping our fingers crossed, it will be several years before we’ll have scientific evidence that it works as well in humans as it does in mice. (Several drugs for other diseases have been successful in mice, only to prove ineffective in humans, so it really is too early to tell.) Phase 1 gathers safety data only (does this compound harm the human body?) and doesn’t test whether the compound is actually doing what it’s supposed to do. Phase 2 will measure doses and their effect on the body (more safety studies). Phase 3 will finally address the drug’s actual effectiveness against allergies in a limited group of test subjects. Phase 4 will expand to include a much larger group of test subjects, and Dr. Jones hopes to be a part of that phase, should the compound make it that far.

Probiotics: At this point, studies seem to show that probiotics don’t perform any better than a placebo in preventing food allergies. They may help eczema acutely, but there is no lasting effect beyond a month. There is data that shows giving probiotics to a woman a month before delivery and to the newborn for the first six months of life helps reduce food allergy, but ONLY if the child was delivered via C-section. If it is a vaginal delivery, then probiotics do not seem to be any better than placebo. So at this point, Dr. Jones feels like probiotics are safe, they probably won’t hurt anything, but they probably won’t accomplish anything either. More testing is needed.

Blood Serum (IgE) Testing: Formerly known as RAST, these blood serum tests measure the level of IgE antibodies in the bloodstream. In general, higher numbers indicate the likelihood that the person will react to an allergen. But interpreting the numbers on a blood serum test becomes tricky because there are three different companies that build the testing machines, and a recent study showed that the numbers produced by the three different machines can be very inconsistent. So comparing numbers from the other two machines is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. Most studies for food allergy have been done on an ImmunoCAP® machine and those are the numbers that should be used in determining when a food is to be reintroduced by food challenge or not. In Utah, Quest Diagnostics is the only lab that uses the ImmunoCAP® machine, and they accept all insurances except IHC. Most doctors aren’t aware of which labs use which machines. So don’t try to compare your blood serum numbers to your neighbor’s numbers. It’s probably better to use the results as broad guidelines, not as a firm indication of whether it is appropriate to do a food challenge on the child. Food challenges should only be done by an allergist in their office.

Once again, I can’t thank Dr. Jones enough for coming to share his knowledge with all of us. If you want to contact his office for an appointment, here’s his information:

Dr. Douglas H. Jones, MD
Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma, Immunology
1660 W. Antelope Dr ., Suite 310
Layton , UT 84041

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Highlights from Dr. Jones' Talk, Part 1

At our July UFAN chapter meeting, we were fortunate enough to have Dr. Douglas Jones come speak to our group about the latest food allergy news in testing, treatments, and research. As the only full-time board-certified allergist in Davis County, he discovered when he opened his practice almost a year ago that people in this area have a dire need for accurate, up-to-date information about food allergies. Our group was no exception – we may be more well-informed than many of the people he sees, but we were still anxious to learn more, and he obliged beautifully!

Dr. Jones covered a wide variety of topics for us, and delved into both the science and the regulations that affect research and testing. He covered so much that I’m going to mention a few highlights from his presentation this week, and more next week.

How early can children be tested for food allergies? Dr. Jones said there’s no specific limit on when a child can be tested. It’s more important to look at the child’s and family’s history of reactions, what they want to learn, the family’s needs, and so on. Theoretically, you can test anytime if the child’s history really warrants it, but it’s a case-by-case decision. Dr. Jones recommends retesting every 6 to 12 months for younger kids, less frequently for older kids.

Should you avoid common food allergens when pregnant or nursing to avoid causing your baby to have allergies? Dr. Jones doesn’t feel there’s enough good data to base a decision on. He says it’s probably more important to continue to eat a healthy diet and not worry so much about the allergens in it, because the fetus needs the nutrition. He stresses to mothers: “It’s not your fault!” As for nursing, there is some evidence to suggest nursing for 4-6 months may be beneficial. As far as mothers avoiding foods while nursing in an effort to try and prevent food allergies, there is no data to support this. If you can identify a pattern with nursing and reactions, then that’s one thing, but avoiding things to try to prevent allergies is not recommended. He says it could be more likely that children develop food allergies through accidental skin contact (Uncle Fred forgot to wash his hands after eating those peanuts) rather than through breast milk. Until there’s more data, it’s another case-by-case decision.

Eczema: Apart from Dr. Jones’ discussion, the group had a general discussion about eczema, and why so many pediatricians don’t seem to realize that most cases have an underlying root cause, and most often that root cause is food allergies. Dr. Jones didn’t have an answer for why this is unrecognized or ignored by primary care doctors. But, we all know people whose children have suffered for years with eczema, and their doctors have simply prescribed steroid creams and sent them away, before the parents finally went to an allergist and had their children tested. Often those children’s skin is clear in a matter of a couple of weeks after eliminating the offending food – often milk or eggs – from their diet. It's such a simple thing to test for and cure, yet these children suffer for years sometimes because their doctors don’t know or won’t accept that food allergies could be the cause.

For More Information: Dr. Jones recommended a book called Food Allergy Survival Guide, by Vesanto Melina, Dina Aronson, and Jo Stepaniak.

Those are some of the topics we discussed, and we all learned a tremendous amount. Next week I’ll write about more highlights from his talk, including blood serum testing, the latest news on the Chinese herbal study, and more. Many, many thanks to Dr. Jones for coming to share his knowledge with all of us. If you want to contact his office for an appointment, here’s his information:

Dr. Douglas H. Jones, MD
Rocky Mountain Allergy, Asthma, Immunology
1660 W. Antelope Dr ., Suite 310
Layton , UT 84041

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sonoma Valley Musings

I’m back! OK, so you probably didn’t even miss me. But I tried really hard to post a blog column last week from Sonoma Valley, California, but I couldn’t get my wi-fi connection to work, so I could never get online. So I apologize for the long break between postings.

Last week was my husband’s and my twentieth anniversary, so we went to Sonoma to celebrate. It was our first trip alone since our son was born ten years ago, and we enjoyed spending time together and being extremely lazy. We’d picked a destination where we wouldn’t feel guilty about not having our son with us – he’s such an avid traveler that most of the places we considered we worried we’d spend the whole time saying, “Oh, I wish he were here to see that!” Then we hit upon Wine Country and decided that would be perfect. It was about the only place in the world where he would be bored out of his mind and we grown-ups would be happy as little clams.

We were right.

While my husband and I were sitting on patios overlooking acres and acres of vineyards, tasting decadent Bordeaux-style reds, smooth-as-silk Zinfandels, and crisp Sauvignon Blancs, our son was having the time of his life staying with his best friend’s family, going to swimming pools, movies, parks, batting cages, and birthday parties. And since his best friend is food-allergic, too, we didn’t have to worry for even a second about whether or not he’d be safe. The mom he stayed with, Kim, has been my partner in the food-allergy battle for nearly ten years now, and she’s the ultimate mom anyway – I wanna be just like her when I grow up!

Knowing my son was safe under Kim’s wing made it easier to relax and enjoy my husband last week. We spent a lot of time talking about wine, the funny people we encountered at the wineries, the lack of tourists for this time of year (the bad economy was great for our vacation, bad for the winery and restaurant owners), and why I don’t cook like the California gourmet chefs at all the restaurants in Sonoma and Napa. (I have a lot of good excuses, believe me.)

We also noticed things about allergies here and there, and were surprised at how often they came up. For example, the bed and breakfast where we stayed was absolutely delightful – it’s called the Thistle Dew Inn, and it’s one block off the main plaza (town square) in Sonoma. My husband had been a little leery of staying in a B&B because he knows many of them use a lot of potpourri and perfumes, and he’s allergic to those types of scents. When we arrived, the welcome paper we received explained that this B&B was fragrance-free, and asked guests to please refrain from using perfumes and colognes. That was great for us! We told the owner she should put that on her website, so that fragrance-sensitive travelers will know to choose her establishment over others. Her welcome sheet also asked guests to please let her know about any food allergies so she could accommodate them in her fabulous breakfasts. Enlightened!

Other things we noticed about allergies on our trip:

  • Many wineries set out little trays of almonds during the wine tastings.
  • Californians love avocados, so I had to remember to ask about avocados in menu items frequently (I’m allergic to them).
  • Trader Joe’s carries a sunflower-seed butter that looks a lot like Sunbutter. I bought a jar but haven’t opened it yet, so I’ll let you know when I do if it’s similar.
  • Trader Joe’s also carries an aluminum-free deodorant that uses cotton, similar to the Adidas deodorant I’ve been using that is difficult to find in stores. (I’m allergic to aluminum.) I bought a couple of canisters but haven’t tried it yet.
  • I hear a rumor Trader Joe’s might be opening in Utah soon – I can’t wait!
  • A romesco sauce is made of ground nuts (often almonds or hazelnuts) mixed with ground roasted peppers and olive oil, but the peppers can hide the taste of the nuts, so don’t ever order anything without asking what all the ingredients are first. (Fortunately, since our son wasn’t with us, nuts weren’t a problem for us, but I’m glad I’ve learned what romesco sauce is anyway!)

Now we’re home, reunited with our son, and life is slowly returning to normal, whatever that is. Gone are the five-star meals, the housekeeping service, and the lively little walking-distance town square with its luscious restaurants and party-atmosphere farmer’s market.

Oh well. Guess I’ll have to start brushing up on my gourmet cooking skills now. Do tacos count as gourmet cooking?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Nights at the Ice Cream Stand

My childhood memories of summer include lots and lots of hot, muggy nights driving to the ice cream stand with my parents and my younger brother. My dad loves ice cream with a passion other men might reserve for things like women or NASCAR racing. So when the temperatures rose to somewhere around “blistering,” we’d be in the car headed for a favorite ice cream haunt.

Where we went depended on where we lived. When I was very young, we lived in upstate New York, and our favorite place was a stand that served fresh peach ice cream. I remember driving there in the dark with the car windows down, the smell of lilacs streaming by in the night, then standing around the parking lot waiting with other patrons for our hand-dipped treat. There were probably fireflies and the sound of crickets. There was sometimes heat lightening. I know there was giggling, and drips we tried to catch before they fell from our cones onto the hot pavement.

In other places, our stand-by was Dairy Queen or Baskin-Robbins. You can’t go wrong with 31 flavors.

When my son was born, I looked forward to keeping our ice-cream-stand summer evenings going. But then we discovered his nut allergies.

Baskin-Robbins went right out the window. Can’t trust all those scoops in the same murky dishwater, moving from the Rocky Road to the Mango Sorbet. Dairy Queen has a big sign on the door saying everything they sell may be contaminated with nuts.

So, our ice cream evenings changed. We buy safe ice cream at the store and serve it at home on the patio. It’s nice, but somehow it’s just not the same thing as piling in the car, headed for a delectable treat, noise, and other good-natured ice cream lovers. But it’s just not something that was in the cards for us and our allergic son. It was easy to let go, because he’s more important than a hot fudge sundae (most days), but still, it was sort of sad.

But guess what? There’s a new place in town! Zeppe’s has opened up on Main Street in Layton, and they serve Italian Ice (gelato – kind of like sorbet, in wonderfully rich fruit flavors). I had some of their Italian ice last week at a birthday party, and it was delicious. So I stopped by there this weekend while out running errands and checked out the place, and sure enough, they have a few tables, a couple of chairs on the sidewalk, and a whole array of luscious-sounding flavors.

The best part is this: because their Italian ices are nut-, egg-, and dairy-free, my son’s best friend can also eat there.

Suddenly, I foresee a Friday night in my future that involves all of us – and my son’s best friend – piling into the car and heading out for a frozen treat, just like I did when I was a kid. I’m so ready for my long-lost summer tradition!

Now if only Utah had fireflies…

Monday, June 29, 2009

Food Allergy Snapshots

Sometimes I’m amazed at the places I go and things I do that make me think about life with food allergies. Here are a few snapshots of things that brought food allergies to mind in the last couple of weeks:

  • On the Metro in Washington D.C., as well as on TRAX here in Salt Lake, you’re not allowed to eat or drink anything. That’s a blessing for food-allergy sufferers – one less place to worry about getting spilled on or sitting in crumbs.
  • At a birthday party, the mom served Italian Ice from a new place in Layton called Zeppo’s – it’s milk-free, egg-free, and nut-free, and quite yummy!
  • Another friend called twice to check on ingredients for a birthday cake to make sure the two allergic boys there would be okay at that party. Don’t you love friends who care?
  • In the ultra-cheesy movie “The Game Plan” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (not my usual movie fare, but it was late and I was too lazy to find the remote), the big climax is when his newly discovered daughter suffers an anaphylactic reaction to nuts in a dessert that he fed her without remembering that she’d mentioned her nut allergy earlier in the movie.
  • At the Utah Arts Festival, a vendor was hawking free samples of those roasted almonds – and my son was nervous about standing at the art booths next to the vendor’s stand because the smell made him worry he might have a reaction. (He didn’t.)
  • Southwest Airline’s peanut policy makes me nuts. (Ha.) They hand them out to every passenger without even asking. I had to be quick to tell them not to give us any before they plopped them down on my tray. On a longer flight, they also offered other snacks as an additional treat, but nearly every one had a nut warning.
  • Hershey’s Dark Bark recipe makes great chocolate for making S’mores:
    1 (8-oz.) package of Hershey’s Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, broken into pieces (if you can’t find Hershey’s baking chocolate, substitute 3 T Hershey’s cocoa melted and blended with 1 T shortening or oil for every ounce of baking chocolate); 1/4 cup plus 1 tsp. shortening; 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract; 2 cups confectioners sugar.
    Grease 9x9-inch pan. Set aside. In medium bowl, microwave chocolate and shortening on high for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until mixture is melted and smooth when stirred. Add vanilla extract. Gradually stir in sugar. If mixture becomes too thick, knead with clean hands. Spread out in prepared pan. Cover tightly. Refrigerate until firm. Break into pieces. Store, well covered, in refrigerator.

What are some of the places and events that have made you think of food allergies this week?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sightseeing in Washington D.C.

Last Monday, when I should have been posting a new blog column here, I was walking around the Mall in Washington D.C. with my son and his friend. We’d gone to Baltimore to visit that friend and his family for a few days, and we’d decided to sneak in a super-quick jaunt to D.C., too.

In six hours, we managed to meet up with my high-school friend Shari, wander around Capitol Hill, visit the Supreme Court Building, marvel at the ornate beauty of the Library of Congress’s Jefferson Building atrium and reading room, stroll through the National Art Gallery’s Sculpture Garden, and dash through two of the 19 Smithsonian museums – the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History.

It was a fast and furious spin through some of the most remarkable buildings in our country that represent so much of what makes up the U.S.A. – our laws, our government, our history, our literature, our science and technology, our creativity, and our land’s natural wonders. I didn’t plan it that way – but when I sat down and thought about what we’d seen, I realized we’d somehow encapsulated a stunning sampling of America’s greatness in a single day’s adventure.

My son’s only frustration was that I kept hurrying him through the museums – he would have happily read every plaque and studied every exhibit… and we’d still be in the first room of the first museum if I’d let him. So I’ve promised him that in a few years we’ll go back and spend an entire week in Washington D.C., hitting more monuments and museums. At the top of his “next time” list? The National Spy Museum.

I’m so grateful my son has inherited my love of travel. And the older he gets, the easier it is. I have to pack fewer toys to keep him occupied, for example. And, of course, he’s unlikely now to grab random food and taste it while we’re at someone else’s house. He knows to read labels. He knows what foods to shy away from. He even reminded me to use Wet Wipes to wipe down his arm rest, tray table, and seat belt on the airplane before he touched anything (and on, where they give everyone peanuts whether they ask for them or not, that’s important!). At 10, my son’s becoming an equal participant in his own safety, and that’s a wonderful thing.

It makes me feel like all the years of teaching, protecting, and warning him are beginning to pay off, preparing him for the years ahead when I’ll have to let go and rely on his own sense of self-preservation to keep him safe. As comforting as that is, however, I’m in no hurry for those years to get here. I have to admit, after our fast-paced day in D.C., the mother in me still loved it when he curled up on my lap – all 90 pounds of him – and fell asleep on the Metro ride back to Baltimore.

It’s nice to know that he still needs me.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Making Up for What's Missing

Last week, I went to the UFAN Salt Lake City chapter meeting. The speaker was Sharlene Coombs, a Registered Dietician at Primary Children’s Medical Center. She’s one of the few pediatric dieticians in this area that knows a lot about food allergies and how to ensure a child with food allergies is still getting the nutrition they need.

It’s a common problem – and one we tend not to think about as much when our child is first diagnosed with food allergies. There’s so much emphasis on what the child can’t eat, that we forget to think too much about what they’re missing when we cut out those foods.

The obvious example is if we eliminate milk, of course there will be a reduction in the amount of calcium the child is getting. That one’s easy to spot. You can supplement calcium with calcium-fortified fruit juices, but that doesn’t supplement the Vitamin D that is also missing. Hmm. I hadn’t thought about that Vitamin D problem.

We humans get a lot of different types of nutrition from a wide variety of foods. If we start eliminating some of those foods, we start missing out on different vitamins, minerals, proteins, and maybe even the healthy bacteria that live in our stomachs and aid digestion.

So what do we do about it? A great place to start, said Ms. Coombs, is by tracking the foods our child IS eating every day. There are websites that can help you do that – you enter the food you or your child eats every day, and the website will calculate where you might be missing out. The "My Food Pyramid" website is a good example. Go there, then select MyPyramid Plan to get a general idea of how many calories and servings of different food types you should be eating. Choose MyPyramid Tracker, and you can enter all the foods you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours to see where you’re missing out on vital nutrition.

From the information you gather, you can begin to see where you might be deficient in certain vitamins or other nutrients, and you can begin to research ways to add those nutrients back into your diet.

If you need more help, you can go see a dietician like Ms. Coombs. She recommends that you go armed with a list of everything your child has eaten during the previous three days, including the little extras like sugar sprinkled on fruit, the margarine on that piece of toast, etc. Then the dietician can get a better image of how the child eats and what might be missing in his or her diet.

Not that we needed more to worry about, but it’s good to know that there are tools (and experts) who can help us find ways to keep our children healthy.

And it won’t hurt me to find out what my own diet is lacking, either. (I’m guessing MyPyramid won’t much like that half-bag of potato chips I ate yesterday.)