Chick-fil-A: Today’s the Day!!!

Chick-fil-A is one of the most controversial kid spots among food allergy parents we have encountered.  Some are adamantly against setting foot inside the door, while others insist that there is no risk of a reaction.  The real issue is whether or not 100% refined peanut oil poses a threat to those who are allergic to peanuts.

In a nutshell (pun intended) the debate is as follows.  Allergic reactions are caused by food proteins.  The process of refining peanut oil is said to remove all peanut proteins, leaving a product that is very different from peanuts or peanut butter, from an allergy perspective.  Some trust the process, while others remain skeptical that the process could be completely flawless, yielding a hypo-allergenic refined peanut oil.

Here is how Chick-fil-A addresses the controversy… http://www.chick-fil-a.com/Food/Ingredients-Peanut-Oil.

For us, Chick-fil-A has always been a sore spot.  We have subscribed to the “don’t set foot in the door” camp since Elena was diagnosed in September of 2009.  Being anaphylactic to egg and dairy, as well as all nuts didn’t help our comfort level.  Considering the fact that their nuggets and chicken strips contain both dairy and egg ingredients and their buns are processed on shared equipment with milk, we would pretty much be left with a fruit cup.  It was an easy stance to take.  After all, who is going to take even the slightest risk just to take your child into a place where other kids are enjoying mounds of delicious looking nuggets with all sorts of wonderful dipping sauces, fries, ice cream cones, etc., and all they can have is a fruit cup?  Not us.

The tables were turned for us with two recent changes.  We can only assume that someone put a bug in that cow’s ear.  Chick-fil-A made the switch from peanut oil to canola oil for their fries.  Mind you, this switch was only for fries.  The chicken, which contains our other allergens anyway, is still cooked in peanut oil.  But now, the fries are safe.  Suddenly we are at fries and a fruit cup.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Next, Chick-fil-A came out with their grilled nuggets.  We knew these had potential to be safe.  After I emailed the company and received allergen information on the new grilled nuggets, we turned a corner.  We now have fruit cup, fries, grilled nuggets, and let’s not forget polynesian sauce for dipping.  Yes folks, that’s a full meal.

A couple of weeks ago, we ventured into Chick-fil-A for the first time with our 3 ½ year old.  She ate, she dipped, she played.  She talked about it for days as if she had been to Disney World.  She since has been a handful of times and every experience has been wonderful.  She gets the grilled nuggets kids meal with fruit and apple juice.  We haven’t done the fries yet, but I’m not afraid of them.  “I’m afraid of fries” seems like a funny thing to say to most people, but I know you other food allergy parents feel me.

 

Chick-fil-A is almost a rite of passage for kids in our region.  It is a special treat, a reward for good behavior, a place to play and eat, a play-date spot, a daddy daughter date night destination, and for us, it is now an option.  It’s so amazing to add even one food option to your list when you have a child with life threatening food allergies.  Also, people start to recognize you.  After several visits, we quickly became known as the grilled nugget family.  We all get grilled nuggets and try to keep our table as safe as possible.  Among us, there are probably 30 grilled nuggets at the table and fruit cups galore.  What a blessing to be able to experience this rite of passage with our little girl. 

Cunningham family, you have successfully added Chick-fil-A to your safe dining repertoire.  What are you going to do next?

We’re going to Disney World!!!!!

Seriously, we’re going to Disney World next week.  Check back soon for some truly magical blogging from the happiest place on earth.

Bittersweet Best Case Scenario

Well, the time has come to have our youngest, Olivia, tested for food allergies.  I have suspected an egg allergy for a while, but it’s so hard to trust my emotionally charged observations.  Olivia does have occasional minor flare ups of eczema, but not as bad as Elena did. I have suspected egg would give her trouble based on reactions I have seen after eating egg myself, then nursing.  It’s always hard to tell exactly what is going on with any baby, though.  A diaper rash can be caused by any one of about 30 things, a runny nose can mean they are sick or not, spit up happens with and without explanations, and teething can look like anything else under the sun.    How can I be sure any symptom was caused by the egg I ate?  It’s easy to hold on to little rays of hope, but also scary to go into an assessment clinging too tightly to that hope.   

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This is a photo of Olivia about 6 hours after I ate egg. Her cheeks became red and she got some small bumps on her face.

We decided to go ahead and have Olivia tested for the top 8 food allergens and goat’s milk (thinking ahead to her first birthday transition).  We did not have any solid evidence, but living in a house that is free of egg, dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts and not ever eating fish or shellfish due to age doesn’t give a lot of opportunity for exposure.  We wanted to know what precautions are necessary for Olivia, rather than just imposing on her the same ones we use for her sister and hoping for the best.

We went in for the testing and our allergist decided to go with the skin test rather than the blood test.  Whew!!!  Seeing as how the blood test we did on Elena at 9 months was one of the most horrific experiences I remember, I was glad to hear this.  Olivia did very well and, although her little body jerked with each of the 11 pricks on her back, she never made so much as a whimper.  Actually, I should not say never.  She screamed hysterically when they were weighing her, but who can blame her for that?  I can relate.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, the moment of truth.  What you see below is a textbook case of an allergic reaction on the histamine (control meant to elicit a reaction so you can compare to others).  That’s right ONLY on histamine.  My second born is showing no allergic reaction to the top 8 food allergens.  [exhale]  

  

We are so thrilled and so pleasantly surprised.  I’m ecstatic that we won’t have to worry about Olivia touching, eating, reacting to the foods in her environment.  I can’t help but feel sad for Elena, though.  She has lost her teammate.  She had already begun talking about how she and Olivia could not eat certain things and they were just alike.  They are alike in a lot of ways, which I tried to point out to her after the appointment, but not in this way.  Ultimately, Elena decided she is glad she doesn’t have to worry about her sister’s food like she has to worry about her own, but I’m sure this is something she will struggle with.  I can’t imagine how lonely she must feel in all of this.

To add insult to injury, Olivia will be bringing her food into Elena’s safe haven.  The allergist told us that it is best to introduce all of the top 8 and give them frequently, now that we know Olivia isn’t allergic to any of them.  He said that by introducing them and then waiting months in between exposures, we would actually be increasing the chances that she would develop an allergy.  I suggested not giving them to her at all, but the idea did not seem to be in Olivia’s best interest.  I guess I knew it before I asked, but I had to ask.  Now that I know the extent to which food allergies interrupt and limit Elena’s experiences (not just with eating), I can’t impose the same restrictions on Olivia unnecessarily.  If it were just the food, that would be doable, but as you all know, it’s so much more.

I am worried that Elena will resent her sister or that people will prefer Olivia’s company to Elena’s because of the ease.  I also worry that Elena will begin to feel excluded and less safe in her own home.  I recently read a blog post where a mother described the constant battle of evening the score between her children due to experiences, treats, and privileges involving food.  It seemed like a full time job.  I know this is the lesser of two evils and I am so thankful for these results.  It’s time to learn a new dance and I’m sure my girls will help me figure it out as we go.

For now, I just want to celebrate these results.  I need to celebrate Olivia and all of the possibilities that have been opened to her today.  She will never have to struggle with being hungry and not being able to figure out if the food she has available to her will do anything more than ease her hunger.  She will never have to fear parties and celebrations because of the food that will be present.  She will be able to visit friends without having to establish a plan of action for meals and snacks ahead of time.  She will not have to know the feeling of having an Epipen pouch accompany her everytime she leaves the house or the panic that comes with forgetting it.  My Olivia can be fully engaged in life without having to sidestep social situations because of food.  She will be able to appreciate all of these things fully because she will know the alternative better than most, as she will be playing her own role in helping to keep her big sister safe.

Thank God for His many blessings!
Elena shares her thoughts on Olivia’s test results.
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