Monday, October 24, 2011

New Ebook: Managing Your Child's Food Allergies at Halloween

Looking for some guidance right before Halloween kicks off?

I've written a short ebook on the subject that is sure to help you, particularly if you are nervous or this is your first Halloween dealing with food allergies.

It covers things like:
  • Safety tips for trick-or-treating
  • What to do with the candy they get trick-or-treating
  • Halloween alternatives
  • The class Halloween party
  • And more!
The cost is just $5.95!

Buy Now

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Scariest Day of the Year

It's hard to believe but the leaves are already changing and it means Halloween is right around the corner.

I like to call this "The Scariest Day of the Year." The only problem is it's the treats that I'm afraid of and not the tricks!

I am a big advocate of planning ahead to effectively manage food allergies. This leaves the "flying by the seat of your pants" part out. That just doesn't work with food allergies. Even though it's 6 weeks away, consider this your invitation to start planning!

Here are some things you can start thinking about (and it has nothing to do with the costume!)

1.) Will you let your child "Trick or Treat?"

2.) If your child does "Trick or Treat," will you let them eat the "safe" candy or not?

3.) What alternatives will you have when unsafe food and candy is present?

4.) Will you be involved in their Halloween class party? (This is a great way to be an encouragement when "unsafe" food is around.)

5.) Will you "skip" Halloween altogether and put your focus elsewhere on October 31st (family, helping others, etc)

These may not seem like deep questions but they all involve some sort of planning. Last year was the first year we let my son, Tyler, go to a bunch of houses (the traditional "Trick or Treating"). At each house he and his friend told people he was allergic to peanuts but he still ended up with peanuts in his bag!

What are your plans for Halloween this year? Have you thought about it?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Acorns: The Overlooked Tree Nut

Did you know that an acorn is a tree nut? Yep, those little things that run rampant in the fall and are often found in piles of leaves are actually a tree nut. If your child is allergic to tree nuts they may or may not be allergic to acorns.

The good news is, according to FAAN, is that there are no cases of anyone actually having a serious allergic reaction to acorns. This is probably at least partly because people don't actually eat acorns. (Well, they've never my "eat very bizarre things" 4 year old!).

I have always made it a rule just to stay away from acorns for my peanut and tree nut allergic son. There's really no need to play with, giving his medical history. It's also a great opportunity for us to talk about what exactly a tree nut is. I think these conversations where we see the "nuts" on the ground and can look up at the tree have helped him understand what a tree nut is more than anything else I have ever said. For that, I'm thankful for the acorn.

With fall upon us, it's a good reminder that acorns are out there. If nothing else, let them be a great conversation starter if your peanut allergic child also deals with tree nut allergies. It's a perfect "teachable moment" when it comes to food allergies.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eating Out with a Food Allergy: Have a Plan

If you missed part 1 and part 2 of this series, be sure to check them out.

If you're not a planner when your child is first diagnosed with a peanut allergy, you quickly learn you need to become one. It's certainly one of the most important aspects of effectively managing a food allergy, particularly when it comes to eating away from home.

Finally, that little personality quirk I have pays off! :)

Things don't always go as planned when it comes to food and your job, as the parent, is to quickly adapt so your child can eat safely without too much interruption.

Here are a few more tips to eating out with a food allergy as we finish up this series on eating out with a food allergy.

1.) Have a Backup Plan. Always think ahead. If that means bringing extra food even when you think safe food will be present, do that. Anytime we visit a place I'm not 100% sure will have safe food, I scope out all the fast food places near the spot we will be visiting. It's not unheard of for me to leave when I'm not sure food is safe and go to where I know I can find safe food (such as McDonald's, etc).

2.) Be Aware of Cross Contamination. We have a rule in our house that Tyler never eats desserts at restaurants because most places have nuts in desserts. Even if a place tells me something is "safe," I just don't want to take the chance because the risk of cross contamination is so high. Along the same lines if a salad or a main dish has nuts in it, you need to ask lots of questions to see if there could be possible cross contamination.

3.) Be Prepared. I always carry safe candy in my purse. I have no idea when we might be somewhere and be in a situation where my other child might receive something Tyler can't have. By having his favorite candy on hand, he's usually content when can't have something but he gets his special candy. Being prepared goes much further than being prepared for what you know is coming, it extends to the things you don't know are coming.

4.) Trust Your Instincts. This is something I can't stress enough. It's hard to put into words, really. Moms know what I'm talking about. God gave Moms a "Mother's Instinct" for a reason. If you feel like your child might be in danger, ask questions. Don't let them eat something. Do what you have to do to keep them safe. Trust those instincts!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eating Out with a Food Allergy: Think Ahead

If you missed part 1 of this series, you can find it here.

When you eat out with a food allergy, one of the most important parts of it is to think ahead. When I'm visiting an unfamiliar restaurant, a good chunk of the planning should be done before you ever step foot in the restaurant.

It's also best to hit the restaurant when they are able to accommodate you and make it a good experience for everyone involved.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with the waitstaff to have as good of a food allergy experience as possible:

1.) Eat at Off Peak Hours: I don't know about you but when my kids ask me for something when I'm in the middle of cooking dinner, they have really bad timing and are likely to get a less than desirable response. The same is true of restaurants. Don't hit them when they are at they're busiest and ask them to accommodate a life-threatening food allergy. Wait until they're not busy and can give you child's allergy the time it deserves. Also, less mistakes happen when people aren't busy. 'Nuff said.

2.) Be Polite This tip goes a loooooong way when it comes to food allergies. No one wants to help a rude person. Yet, as a parent, it's easy to want to bash someone over the head who doesn't immediately understand your child's food allergy. But if you're rude to those serving your child at a restaurant, they are much less likely to help you. Plus, you're actually helping them form an opinion of food allergies in general that can impact future encounters with food allergy sufferers. Use the "Kill 'em with kindness" approach to ask questions and educate when needed.

3.) Reward Good Service We were at a restaurant once where the chef went out his way to accommodate the two nut allergic people in my family. He made them a special dessert that was safe and even came out to reassure my nervous 5 year old who had never eaten dessert away from home and was a little worried. Did we thank him? Yes! But we also wrote the corporate offices where he worked to let them know how great he did. When someone excels at food allergies, point it out so everyone knows just how important it is.

4.) Be Loyal. I often say food allergy moms are some of the most loyal people I know. When we find a brand we trust, we stick with it. If you have one or even a handful of places you trust to eat out, you probably love those places. If you haven't branched out that much, I encourage you to try it. There are places out there that are safe. Check the menus online and once you find a place or two, stick with them.

We have one more installment in this series on eating out with food allergies. It's all about being aware of things around you...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Eating Out with a Food Allergy: Communicate with the Chef

One of the harder aspects of dealing with a food allergy, particularly when you are newly diagnosed, is eating out. Being at home and eating with food allergies is scary enough for a parent. But eating out with allergies is down right terrifying.

When you are first diagnosed, you wish you could have a magic bubble around your peanut-allergic child to protect them from every speck of peanut the world may throw at them. But it’s important to get to the place where you can eat out once in a while.

Over the next 3 days I will cover several things you need to consider when you eat out when you or someone you love has food allergies.

1.) Check the Menu in Advance. I honestly don’t know how I would have managed my son’s food allergy before the Internet. Most large chains have their menu online and many of them have allergen information. A few clicks of the mouse can tell you if a place is safe before you ever leave home.

2.) Call Ahead. At times when I haven’t had access to the menu, I have actually called the chef of a restaurant and spoke with them about my situation. It’s important to speak with the chef. Talking to a waitress or hostess will probably not yield great results because they are not as familiar with what goes on in the kitchen. The chef knows exactly what’s in the food and what all it has touched (cross contamination issues).

Chefs has come a long way in the last several years since Tyler was diagnosed in 2006. I used to get blank stares or stutters when I asked a chef about these things. Now, more often than not, I get clear, confident answers from chefs that really seem to understand food allergies.

3.) Tell the waiter or chef. Even if you know a dish is safe, it’s still a good idea to tell the waiter or chef (the waiter should communicate the information to the chef) about the food allergies. This helps them be extra vigilant when they handle your food. It’s just one more layer of protection for you or your loved one.

4.) Bring a chef’s card. You can purchase chef’s cards online or create your own. These are pieces of paper that simply tell your chef what you are allergic to. You can also add any other special information you want to communicate to your chef. If you make your own, it might be helpful to laminate it so it’s easy for your chef to read and handle while they cook.
There are several other things to keep in mind when eating out with food allergies. We’ll visit those tomorrow…

Friday, July 1, 2011

Food Allergies on a Budget: Meal Planning

Food allergies are hard. I don’t think anyone will disagree with that. But sometimes an overlooked part of it is how expensive they can be. Of course we would spend our last dime on our food allergic child but there is a way to live on a tight budget with a food allergic child.

Plan Ahead

I’m a planner by nature so planning ahead came pretty easy to me but not all of the food allergy moms I know have this luxury. When Tyler was diagnosed at 13 months old with milk, egg, and peanut allergies, I had no idea what to cook for the poor child! (Note: He outgrew the milk and egg allergy at the age of 3.)

After the initial shock wore off, , my planning nature kicked in and I was able to come up with a 4 week menu rotation that was safe for him. We repeated the menu over and over again because I had so few options. On the occasion we deviated from it I would give Tyler something else safe like Tyson chicken nuggets.

By menu planning and repeating the same things over, I was always buying pretty much the same groceries and using them up. This saved us a great deal of money.

Meal Planning Made Easy

Does meal planning come easy to you? If not, it doesn’t need to be difficult. I promise you can do it!

If you are dealing with several food allergies, it’s practically a necessity.

1. Determine how many weeks you want in your meal plan. This may be pre-determined for you like it was for me due to many dietary limitations. Or, you may just pick however many weeks you want your family to rotate.

2. Actually put a list of the meals in front of your, as well as a blank calendar. I suggest using a blank calendar (no dates) and just start entering the meals on it. To make it easier, you can make each night have a theme. For example, Monday might be Mexican night, Tuesday might be Italian night, etc.

3. Enter your meals into a rotating calendar program (optional). You don’t have to do this step, but it will make your life easy if you can. I highly recommend Google Calendar. There are several other types of programs online you can use, too. Then you can just print out each week and your menu is created for you!

Meal planning, and just planning in general goes a long way when it comes to being successful with food allergies. The days of “flying by the seat of your pants” are over.

Do you plan ahead? Do you use meal planning as a strategy for coping with food allergies?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

New Traditions

Can you believe Thanksgiving is just a few days away? I know, me neither!

Growing up and through graduate school, Thanksgiving was not complete for me until I had my Granddaddy's pecan pie. No one...and I mean no one...could make a nut filled pie like that man could!

My Grandfather was a father figure to me. The world lost one of its great heroes when he passed away in 2000. But, life changes, and mine has changed a lot. I often wonder what the man who could make the most incredible nut-filled desserts would think of my nut free life today. I have no doubt his love of Tyler would eclipse what he could do with a nut in the kitchen.

As I carry on the tradition my Grandfather established, I now cook and host Thanksgiving at my home. His love of cooking was contagious and I caught the bug in the worst way.

New challenges (like nut allergies) seem devastating when you discover them. They threaten the very core of your family traditions.

Do you know what that means? It's time for new traditions!

Last year, I made Sunbutter cookies for Thanksgiving. (You should have seen the looks I got at first because they looked just like peanut butter cookies!) They were such a hit, I've decided to make them a new tradition in our home.

New recipes are also are fun! Pumpkin pie seems too boring this year. So I'm uping stakes and making a Pumpkin Cream Pie. Will it become a tradition? Who knows? But I'm experimenting. I'll never know unless I try.

My sister in law makes a cookie that was loaded with peanut butter chips before peanut allergies entered our lives. She still makes them, only with butterscotch chips. They're very tasty and a way to keep an old tradition with a new twist.

Growing up, we never heard of nut allergies in our family. Each sweet treat I remember from the holidays had some form of nut in it. But, were my Grandfather alive today, I feel confident he would be all for establishing new traditions to keep the holidays safe for my son.

If your family is not to this point yet, be patient. As with most things in life, change is a process. Don't expect changes over night. But, when they come, you might find you like them better than the original!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Positive Peanut Allergy Parent

This summer was filled with many fun, friend-filled things. One thing we really enjoyed was playdates with a group of kids from Tyler's preschool class. Many of these little guys and gals would be attending his school and could possibly be in his class.

One playdate was going very well. It was communicated by the organizer of the events that everyone was to bring a peanut free lunch. Tyler was the only child with a peanut allergy but you can only imagine how touched he and I both were by this gesture.

However, on this particular playdate, I overheard two moms talking. I wasn't eavesdropping but I was sitting on the bench next to them. The conversation caught me a little off guard.

"It's so annoying having a child with a peanut allergy in your child's class," said parent # 1.

"Yes, I agree!" said parent #2.

At that point I stopped listening and moved to another bench. Was I mad? Not really. I was more annoyed they respected me so little to say it so close to me.

Yet, I knew I had a choice. I knew one parent had a child Tyler's age. They could be (and are now) in the same class. I knew my reaction that day could affect Tyler for years to come. And I knew since they did not have a child a child with a peanut allergy they would never fully comprehend all that's involved.

Confronting those ladies would do no good. I was not going to convince them it wasn't annoying because I'm sure it is. Providing nut free snacks for the class takes a little creativity.

Maybe it's the people pleaser I am but I am determined for people to meet me and not have a negative view of peanut allergy parents. I feel like being positive and non-confrontational not only helps Tyler but other children these parents may meet in the years to come. It only takes one bad encounter to color these people's view of ALL food allergy parents.

I know we all feel like we need to change the world's view of food allergies. Some people we truly can make an impact with. But we also need to be willing to accept some people will never "get it," no matter how much we tell them.

Obviously, the first priority is to keep our kids safe. But another priority we often neglect is to be positive about food allergies. It helps our children and it helps all of those we come in contact with be less anxious around us.

So even if you want to bash someone's head in when they don't "get it," stop and think about how this will affect your child and other food allergic children. And kill 'em with kindness!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stress and Food Allergies: What's Coming

I'm back! I've spent the last few months trying to get my health back on track and really focusing on where I want this blog to go. This has been and always will be a mom blog. And, as I mom, life gets in my way and I get distracted for a day or two on other things. Thanks for sticking with me!!

I'm going to start using video on this blog. Let me know what you think. Is this helpful for you instead of reading all of my rants? Listen to the video and I'll talk about what is coming up this week. We'll talk about stress and food allergies but the video will give you a glimpse into who I am and what has been going on with me.