Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting Creative with School Lunches

by Kelley Lindberg

When I was a kid, school lunches were so terrible you only bought one if you absolutely had to. Just about everyone brought a sack lunch from home instead. It was actually embarrassing to have to eat school lunch.

Nowadays, even though kids assure me that the quality of school lunches hasn’t improved much, almost everyone buys one anyway. We’ve apparently become so addicted to fast food, instant gratification, and convenience above all, that it seems this generation is completely flummoxed by the idea of making a home lunch every day. “What? And take those extra five minutes? That’s inhuman!"

But when our kids are diagnosed with one or more food allergies, sending a lunch from home may suddenly sound like the smart thing to do – and although it sounds awful at first to add one more thing to our frantic morning schedule, we soon find that the extra five minutes is worth the comfort of knowing our kid will have safe food to eat and less risk of a reaction.

Like everything else, making a lunch for school soon becomes a regular part of our routine day. And then we discover that finding that extra five minutes to throw one together isn’t the hard part.
No, the hard part is coming up with ideas for healthy, safe lunches that our kids will actually eat. So what’s a parent to do if their kid is sick of the same ol’ sandwich every day for lunch?

I went hunting for ideas, and here are some links to websites with lunch ideas. The main thing to remember is balance – try for a serving of carbs, a serving of protein, a serving or two of fruit and/or veggies, and something with calcium (some fruit juices are fortified with calcium, if dairy is off the list). Things that dip in dressing, barbecue sauce, apple sauce, or Sunbutter are often a hit (cooked meatballs, veggies, sliced fruit, etc.). Last night’s leftovers can be great if you heat them up, and then put them in a good lunch-sized Thermos. Get wild with sandwiches – add fruit to that Sunbutter and jelly sandwich, add diced apples or mango to your safe chicken salad recipe, make a Mexi sandwich with bean dip and olives, or use safe tortillas or safe rolls from last night’s dinner instead of sliced bread.

For more ideas, check out these links:
If you and your child decide to give the school’s lunch program a try (I sure hope they don’t still serve those Army-drab-colored peas from when I was a child!), be sure to read FAAN’s article called “Consider School Meals.”

If you have a great idea for school lunches that your kids love, please share it with us!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mainstreaming Allergy-Friendly Foods at the Grocery Store

by Kelley Lindberg

Last week, the Smith’s Food and Drug store in Layton, Utah, had a grand re-opening. They’ve moved some aisles around, hung new signs, increased the variety of produce, and given the whole place a shiny new paint job. Nice, but pretty standard stuff for a grocery store remodel, really.

Except for this: Now there’s an entire aisle devoted to health food, organic food, gluten-free food, and allergen-free food.


Eleven years ago, when I found myself thrust reluctantly into the world of food allergy when my toddler turned red after eating a bite of a peanut butter sandwich, my resources were few. Grocery shopping was frustrating and tear-inducing. Ingredient labels were vague and confusing, with around 30 names for possible milk proteins alone. Avoiding an allergen was like walking through an unmarked minefield. And my husband suddenly found himself in a peanut-butter-free house, which he took awfully stoically, seeing as how peanut butter had been a major food group for him for decades.

As the years have gone by, the outside world has become more aware of allergies. We now have a law that food manufacturers must list the top eight allergens in their ingredients labels, and they have to use the word “milk” instead of just “casein,” “whey,” or other non-obvious words. Manufacturers are responding more and more to their allergic customers. For example, Chex cereals used to have barley malt in them, so those with gluten problems (or a barley allergy, like me), couldn’t eat them. Now Chex cereals are proudly advertised as “gluten-free” and they’ve become a staple for people avoiding gluten. (They’re great crushed and used as a breading for chicken!) Every year, companies are making more allergen-free foods like cookies, cake mixes, and bread mixes.

And the day I discovered Sunbutter was the day my husband did a happy dance.

But still, finding all those allergy-friendly foods was challenging. Health food stores and Whole Foods Market are the most reliable sources, but if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area that has those stores, your shopping trip might include a lot of driving or expensive online orders. So when regular grocery stores like Harmon’s, Albertson’s, or Dick’s Market began expanding their allergy sections, it was always a cause for celebration.

But a whole aisle? Wow! This is big news in Layton! Now people in this part of Davis County no longer have to drive to Salt Lake City to find products like Sunbutter, Tofutti soy sour cream and cream cheese, Silk Live yogurt, Earth Balance margarine, or Enjoy Life! Foods.

But this development at Smith’s isn’t just good because it makes my own life more convenient. (Although I’m very grateful, Smith’s!) It shows that food allergies are becoming mainstream, with an estimated 12 million Americans living with them every day. On the one hand, that’s a bummer, because we all wish food allergies would simply vanish (tomorrow, if possible!). But on the other hand, since food allergies ARE becoming mainstream, it’s great to see mainstream retailers and manufacturers accept that we’re a growing target customer base and begin to carry more of the items we need, crave, and thrive on.

Being mainstreamed into regular grocery stores means more convenience, more variety, and less expense. For those of us with restrictive diets, those are huge benefits.

If you have a grocery store near you that seems to be beefing up their allergen-free shelves, find the manager and say thank you, or drop a thank you note in the mail.

For those of us used to swimming around in those dark, scary backwaters, it’s good to find ourselves being welcomed into the mainstream for once.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cancelled – Fun in the Sun Carnival

Due to problems securing a location, the UFAN Fun in the Sun Carnival has been cancelled. So sorry for the disappointment, but UFAN will be holding the extremely popular food-free Halloween party in October, so we’ll look forward to that instead!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Time to Re-Test for Food Allergies?

by Kelley Lindberg

My son’s best friend was re-tested for food allergies two weeks ago. We were all anxiously awaiting the results. He’s been allergic to several foods since he was a baby, and every time he’s re-tested, we all keep our fingers crossed that he’ll have outgrown even one or two. Although he’s 13, we were once again hoping he’d outgrow some of them this time.

So the big day came, and he went to a trusted board-certified allergist for a skin-prick test.

What the doctor learned is that he is still extremely reactive to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. We all have to admit, we were keeping our fingers crossed, and the fact that he is still allergic to so many foods is disappointing, even though we were emotionally prepared for that. And to add insult to injury, it looks like he might be allergic to flax now. (There is a greater risk for being allergic to flax if you’re already allergic to peanuts, I’ve heard.)

On the other hand, the doctor said it looks like our friend might be able to try raw tomatoes and sesame seeds in a food challenge to see if he can tolerate them now. So we were happy about that!

When it comes to food allergies, we are more than ready to celebrate even small victories. Being able to eat salsa made with fresh tomatoes will be a real treat for this boy (who loves commercial salsa with its high-heat processed tomatoes, which he can tolerate). And being able to tolerate sesame seeds will make finding safe hamburger buns a little easier for him, too.

So even though his big allergies (milk, eggs, nuts, fish) didn’t go away and he might have gained a new one, at least this time we’ve got a couple of his food allergies that we can be optimistic about. And if he has developed an allergy to flax, it’s better to find out in the doctor’s office and prepare for it, than have a sudden reaction somewhere and not have a clue what’s causing it.

His experience is a good reminder of how important it is to periodically re-test for food allergies, no matter how old the child (or adult) is.

Most allergists recommend children get re-tested once a year, but check with your allergist for your own particular needs. If it’s been over a year, it’s probably time to schedule a test with your allergist. Even if your child hasn’t outgrown any of his or her allergies, at least you’ll know for certain, and that brings its own type of confidence. And you never know… if he or she has outgrown one or more of her food allergies, that might make life just a little easier (and tastier) for both of you!

And that’s something worth celebrating.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back to School Food Allergy Shopping List

by Kelley Lindberg

Don’t ask me where the summer has flown to, but it’s already back-to-school shopping time! This does NOT make my son happy. The mere sight of all those brightly colored school supplies lined up on the shelves of all the local department stores sends him into a deep blue funk. But whether he likes it or not, school is just around the corner, and I’m stocking up on paper and pens.

Of course, I also have to stock up on a few extra items because of his food allergies. So if you, too, are preparing a back-to-school shopping list for the food-allergic student in your life, don’t forget these essentials:
  • Epinephrine Injectors – Have yours expired since last year? It may be time to get new ones. I get a pair to leave at the school’s office, and a pair for him to carry in his lunch box (along with instructions). (EpiPens and Twinject are the two brands used in the U.S.) Be sure you check the expiration dates on the new ones to make sure they’ll last through the school year.
  • Antihistamine (Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, etc.) – Like with the EpiPens, I put some in the office, and some in his lunch box. Again, check the expiration dates.
  • Lunch Box – He always takes a home lunch and sits with his food-allergic buddy.
  • Thermos for hot foods – He lives on noodles, but these are great for safe soups, chili, and casseroles, too.
  • Food Containers – Invest in a few plastic containers that will fit inside the lunch box for things like salads, dressings, sandwiches, fruit, etc. They’re more economical, more ecological, and far less “squishable” than plastic baggies.
  • Beverage Thermos or water bottle
  • Handi-Wipes – I always put a couple of individually wrapped Handi-Wipes in his lunch box so he can clean off the table if he needs to.
  • Food Allergy Action Plan – Make an appointment with your child’s allergist or pediatrician now, and have them fill out a Food Allergy Action Plan to give to your school. I attach a current photo of my son, and then I make a few color copies of it. I give one to the school office, one to each of his teachers for them to hang in their classroom, and one to the school cafeteria manager for her to hang in the kitchen, so that the lunch workers will know him and recognize him if he has a reaction. If your doctor doesn’t have their own form, use this Food Allergy Action Plan from FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network). It’s probably the most widely used form in the U.S., and most doctors recognize and use it.
  • Medical ID Bracelet or Necklace – If your child will wear one of these, it’s a great idea. It is a visual reminder for teachers of your child’s allergies, and it’s an instant help for EMTs who might be summoned if your child has a reaction.
  • Clean-up Wipes – I always take a couple of tubs of wipes to his teacher, for cleaning desks. (I usually take tubs to the teacher throughout the year, too, since they often go through them quickly.)
Do you have any other great suggestions for allergy-aware back-to-school supplies? Be sure to share them with us!

Happy shopping!