Preschoolers: They put the AW in FAAW

I had the honor of speaking to the delightful children at Elena’s preschool yesterday for food allergy awareness week.  The kids were excited and energetic and they participated in every aspect of the presentation.  What a blessing to be able to interact with this age group.  By this I mean, thank goodness they were not middle schoolers.

These kids were so smart and fun.  One of them even got my goat when I asked who knew what hives are.  He answered confidently, “They are where bees live.”  Talk about smart.  I had to concede that he was indeed correct, but there is at least one more meaning to the word.  I also loved it when one kiddo told me he was allergic to all yucky food.  Well played, little one.

We began by talking about what allergies are and what kinds of things people can be allergic to.  The kids came up with quite a list, including cats, dogs, pollen, bees, grass, poison ivy, smoke, and of course, germs.  We talked about what can happen if someone eats a food they are allergic to, which of course spurred a discussion about not eating dogs and cats if you are allergic.  Seriously, if you haven’t ever held audience with a group of preschoolers, you are missing out on something special.

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Two of our favorite food allergy books…and my toes. Oops.

We read ‘Cody The Allergic Cow’, which opened up to conversation about medical alert bracelets and Epipens, both of which Cody has.  The book is absolutely perfect for this age group and there are others in the series, which I will be getting my hands on soon.

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We use the Ergo pouch for carrying Epipens and Benedryl. This is Elena’s customizable AllerMates Bracelet.

One thing I found interesting was the kids response to the idea of talking about allergies with their allergic friends.  When I held up the bracelet, they were very interested.  I asked what they could do if they saw a bracelet like this on a friend.  Should they maybe ask their friend about it?  Both groups I spoke to said, “NOOOOOOO”.  I’m not sure if they thought it would be rude or unkind, but the initial response was that they should not talk about it.  I let them know it was OK to talk about it and that they should always ask questions if they are wondering about a food allergy.  I asked the children who had announced they have allergies if they would mind their friends asking questions and, of course, they said they would not mind.  What better way to learn how to help out your friends than to ask them what is safe and unsafe for them?  I hope that giving them  “permission” to talk about it will open up the doors for better understanding.  Although, I must say, these kids were pretty well informed already.

Next we played a little game of, find the hidden allergen.  The allergens I chose were not so well hidden, but keep in mind the age group.  I held up groups of three foods and the kids identified each food.  The sweet potato and rice cakes gave them the most trouble.  Then I asked them, which of these foods is hiding milk/nuts/wheat/etc.  They did really well with this and it was fun to see them so engaged.

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Find the hidden milk.

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Find the hidden wheat.

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Find the hidden tree nuts. (yeah, ok. Not so hidden. I told you it was easy.)

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Find the hidden peanuts. (I called this peanut butter and covered up the label because I knew they would be familiar. With an older group, I would have just used it to find the hidden soy.)

Since all of the allergies in the school are within the top 8, I was able to do a little taste test.  We talked about safe alternatives to common foods.  Just because your friend can’t eat your “bread”, does not mean they can’t eat any “bread”.  I showed them a bag of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and told them they are made with food allergies in mind to be safe for people with certain allergies.  Then they each tasted a few and I asked them if they tasted the same as the ones they are used to eating or different.  Most said the same and a few said different, but they all wanted more.

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Half a bag for the kids to share and half a bag for the presenter. Sounds fair to me.

I left them with a mission for the day.  Each of their teachers got a stack of helping hands.  I challenged each student to earn a helping hand by doing something to help keep their classroom safe for friends with food allergies.  Together, we came up with this list of things they could do…

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-Wash hands after eating.

-Keep food in food areas.

-Clean up food areas after eating.

-Never share food.

-Do not touch other people’s food.

and my favorite…

-Don’t feed your friend something they’re allergic to.

Kudos kiddos!

I hope they all earned their helping hands.  I enjoyed the talks so much and the enthusiasm of these wonderful students is infectious.  A great big thank you to CIC Preschool for letting me share this important information with them and for keeping our children safe every single day.

School Lunch: Keeping it simple.

School lunches are a challenge for many parents.  Especially those who find themselves attending a school that enforces mandatory exclusions to protect other children from allergens.  If you are not used to avoiding certain foods, it’s even more difficult to pack a lunch without them.

One of the most common questions I get when I tell people what all Elena is allergic to is, “What do you feed her?”  In fact, that’s the question I had in my own head when I first got her diagnosis.  We started with the basics and had a lot of fun with it.  We do a lot of “cutting board” dinners in the summer.  I just go to the cutting board and prep all kinds of produce and sometimes bread.  It’s simple, quick, healthy, and I don’t have to heat up the oven or stove at all.  We do this a lot using muffin tins, ice cube trays, or other sectioned containers.  The girls love it.

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One of our muffin tin lunches last summer. I can’t believe how little the girls looked.

The lunches I pack for school are very similar to this.  I love doing it this way because I can just throw in whatever we have in the fridge.  She likes the variety and she rarely has the exact same lunch twice.  I always give her a juice box and usually a fruit puree pouch, which we call “smoothies”, or “moosies” if you’re Olivia.  Here are some of Elena’s actual lunches she has taken to school.   You won’t believe how simple it really is to pack an allergy friendly meal.

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This is a Hummus dipper lunch. Get a single serving pouch of safe hummus, or spoon some into a small container. Then all you have to do is give some crackers, veggies, or other dippers. Of course, our usual “smoothie” and juice box are here as well.

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Bento style lunch. Fruits, veggies, craisins, and pasta in this one. Anything goes.

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Pasta salad with veggies and mixed fruit. Yes, the pasta is heart shaped. I usually just use bowties or penne.

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Here we have edamame, berries, crackers, tomatoes, and turkey jerky bites. Ok, so it’s not ALL healthy. The tomatoes are in a silicone cupcake baking cup. I use them as dividers a lot.

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Obviously, this one was from Valentine’s Day. Cucumbers, red peppers, and a sandwich. I don’t remember what kind of sandwich this was, but probably either turkey or sunbutter and jelly.

I also always try to throw in a special napkin.  I get character napkins from the party section at Target or use the extra party napkins from various celebrations.  She really likes having a colorful napkin, since we don’t typically use those at home.  Elena also has a very special way of reminding me to send a fork.  I owe a big apology to her teachers for those days I forget.  I know it doesn’t slow her down one bit…

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Mother’s Day is Not for Sissies

Mothers Day is so much better when you’re the mother.  I know that sounds shallow and selfish, but it’s not just for the obvious reasons.  As a mother, you can finally understand what all your own mother went through.  More accurately, what you put her through.  You can finally appreciate what it was like for her to have to cook your dinner every single night and to read all of those books to you over and over again and to pretend like your singing was the most wonderful sound she had ever heard.  Celebrating my own mother took on a whole new meaning after I became a mother myself.  I have an appreciation for her that I could not have had before I lived it.  I hope I can do this most important job half as well as she was able to.

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Having said that, Mother’s Day is also bittersweet.  My first Mother’s Day as a mother was wonderful and exciting and I really felt special.  It was nice knowing the day could be all about me and I was allowed to be a little selfish.  My second Mother’s Day, however, was not so wonderful.  We made the weekend all about me and Elena ended up having her first and worst allergic reaction to this day.  (Get the full story here… https://allergenmenumom.com/2011/09/19/happy-mothers-day-this-is-your-wake-up-call/)

I’m not exactly sure what happened that day.  We let our guard down a little, trusted the server without digging deeper, tried to pretend like we were a normal family who could just go and eat out anywhere, and we had very little experience to rely on to get us through.  We failed to use appropriate restaurant precautions, which we really didn’t even understand at that point.  We failed to recognize the signs of anaphylaxis.  We hesitated to use the Epipen when we should have since there was an ER only 3 minutes away, which still nauseates me every time I think about what could have happened.  We basically did everything wrong.

On my second Mother’s Day, Elena could have been taken from me by a simple dinner in a cafe.  I was still fairly new to motherhood and very new to food allergies.  I know how lucky we were to walk away with only one night in the ER and a few days on a steroid.

Of course, I still want to be selfish on Mother’s Day.  I still want to be pampered and get a break from the cooking and cleaning.  I want my kids to be good all day just because they want to.  Better yet, I want them to be having loads of fun somewhere with their Daddy where I am not.  I want to have a day off from the stress and chaos of being a stay at home mom.  I want a day that resembles what Dad’s get on Father’s Day, or as I like to call it…”every day of the week”.  (Sorry, Justin.  I couldn’t resist.)

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Good luck, Daddio!!!

Will I get it?  Probably not.  That’s ok, though, because I know I am so incredibly lucky to be celebrating Mother’s Day with my three beautiful babies.  They are the absolute loves of my life and they are worth every ounce of chaos that we live in.  I will take the jumping and screaming and having lunch out with kids who melt down on Mother’s Day just like any other day.  I will smile and pretend to enjoy the girls screaming made up “Happy Mother’s Day” songs from the back of car, as if the random screeches are not starting to give me a headache and make my face twitch.  I’ll try, against all reason, to get a good photo of myself with the kids to commemorate the holiday.  Someday I will be wishing they were all right here with me for every second of this day, rather than wanting to spend a day by myself, enjoying the peace and quiet.  It won’t be today.  Probably not next year either.  Someday though.

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Chaos? What chaos? This is completely normal.

Food Allergy Awareness Week Challenge

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“FOOD ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK 2013…WOOT WOOT!!!!!”  Yeah, it doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Spring Break 2013…WOOT WOOT”, but humor me.  Food allergy awareness week is May 12th -18th.  Well, obviously, every week in our house is FAAW, but for one week it hits your house too.  Since people who have food allergies are already pretty aware, my goal is to help others get a glimpse into our world.  This will be quite a challenge, and most people will not have any interest in participating, but I can’t wait to hear from those who do.

I saw an idea in a post on my support group’s message board (thank you, PAK Charlotte) for a subtract campaign.  The idea is that people without food allergies subtract a common allergen from their diet to help gain an understanding of what it’s like.  Sounds crazy, right?  Why would anyone want to do that?  I’ll tell you why.

The hardest thing for most of us to understand is that food allergies are about more than just food.  By eliminating foods, we also are limiting other experiences.  It’s something that is hard to grasp until you try living it.

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The idea of this is not deprivation.  If your kids are in a situation where they really want a special treat that they would normally get, go ahead and let them have it.  Just make a mental note of what that situation might have been like if you had to tell them no because the ingredient list was not available to you.  If you can’t think of anything to fix for breakfast that does not have the allergen you chose, go ahead and go with what you would normally eat, but take a moment to consider what it would be like to face that obstacle every day.  Remember, the idea is to increase awareness and empathy, not to suffer deprivation.  It should be an educational challenge, not a slow form of kiddy torture.

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This is not the goal at all.

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Owl be so sad if you let this happen.

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For crying out loud, give this poor little man the goldfish cracker.

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I think we’re missing the point here.

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“No cheese and sour cream with dinner? Am I in trouble?”

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Somebunny is really sad you didn’t give her cow’s milk today.

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This is taking it way too far.

The scale of your “subtraction” is completely flexible.  You might decide to eliminate one or more of the top 8 allergens (egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish) for a week, a day, or for one dinner.  Obviously, if your kids don’t really eat shellfish, it won’t increase anyone’s awareness much to choose that one.  Choose something you think you all will notice, then talk about it.  Let them know you want them to think about what it feels like to be careful about the food they eat and the food around them.  Again, don’t make them do anything they’re not ready for.  If they need the ranch dressing in order to eat their vegetables, give it to them, but let them know it is not safe for people with egg, dairy, and possibly soy allergies.  Pay attention to labels and think about what it would be like to have to read every single one every time you go grocery shopping.

Don’t think I’m getting off easy.  I’m going to do it too.  Even though we have eliminated 4 of the top 8 food allergens, there are many families with far more restrictive diets than ours.  We will be eliminating one more.  I’m going to go with one that seems difficult, as I’m asking others to do.  Goodbye wheat!!!!  I will let you know how it goes.

I’m not worried though, I’ll just stick to my regulars…hummus and crackers.  Wait, no crackers.  I guess I’ll just do a simple pasta salad.  Errrrrr, no that doesn’t work.  Do you expect me to survive on bread and water alone?  Right, no bread.  Oh well, I guess I’ll just have a beer…DOH!

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All kidding aside, the most important thing is to talk about the experience.  Talk about it with your family and with anyone you know who lives with food allergies.  Ask questions about what they would do in certain situations you faced during your challenge.  Let them know what you found difficult and what you found interesting.  You might even notice some positives, like knowing every ingredient in everything you feed your family.  We love hearing those too.  Visit Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) for resources and information to get the conversation started.

Use the comment section below to share your experience.  Even if it’s just one meal or if you thought about food allergies in a situation you normally would not think twice about.  I would love to hear your plan and your comments as you go.

* A special thank you to our friends for letting me use sad face images of your sweet babes.  They are all precious in any mood.

Brie’s Minestrone

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This is one of the meals that was brought to us after the birth of our son, Wyatt.  Our dear friends, the Johnson’s, are among the people in our lives who know and understand safe food handling practices for Elena.  Brie always writes up an information sheet to go along with any meal she brings us.  It usually includes the ingredient labels, details about any food that did not have a label, and any other information regarding preparation.

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If you know her, I’m sure you are not surprised by this attention to detail.  One of the side benefits of this is that I can automatically steal the recipe to anything she brings us.  You might be thinking that is an awful way to treat someone who is doing us such a grand favor, but that’s just because you haven’t tasted her minestrone yet.  Make the soup, taste it, and tell me you wouldn’t be stealing the recipe yourself if I hadn’t already done the dirty work for you.

Minestrone:

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 large onion

3-5 stalks celery

3 cloves garlic

2 large zucchini

3 medium potatoes

1 cup diced carrots

2 cans kidney beans

3 cans Italian style tomatoes

2 cans garbonzo beans

2 cans Great Northern beans

1 carton chicken stock

water 

safe pasta of your choice

Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil.  Combine all ingredients in a large pot on the stove and simmer, or in a crock pot and slow cook all day.  You can play with the ingredients too.  Use any veggies you have on hand that you think sound good.  A little spinach goes really well and you can do more or less of any vegetable as needed.  Cook pasta al dente in a separate pot and add desired amount to each bowl.  Ladle soup over pasta and serve.

Along with this recipe comes a tip for all soups with pasta.  Make the soup and cook your pasta separately.  Add it to each bowl, rather than the whole batch.  That way, you can cook fresh pasta to add to the leftovers and it won’t get soggy from reheating.  Not only has Brie improved our lives by being part of them, she has improved our leftovers for life with this little tip.

 

What would a new baby meal blog be without a little newborn montage?  Meet baby Wyatt…

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Pops’s Famous Crock Pot Roast Beef

If you know my Dad, who now goes by Pops, you’re wondering where I’m going with this.  He is not a man who has spent a whole lot of time in the kitchen doing anything other than reaching over the chef’s shoulder to steal a few nibbles.  You know the type.

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Pops usually keeps himself pretty busy while others are cooking dinner.

Still, this recipe came from Pops.  He may not spend much time in the kitchen, but the man does grill and his steaks are world famous.  Wait.  Are there actual requirements for declaring something world famous?  No?  OK then, I stand by it.

I have wonderful memories of him prepping the steaks to go on the grill.  It’s always quite a production.  You know how Dads can make a one man job into a two man job because they need an audience?  Well, I was often recruited as the fork holder or plate stabilizer, so I got a front row seat.  First, he takes out an armload of spices and seasonings from the cabinets.  Then he lines up the steaks, which he has had cut and trimmed to his liking.  He starts by spreading butter on each steak, then the seasonings start flying, then a little shake of Worcestershire (so glad I’m writing it and not saying it).  After that, he flips them over and does the same on the other side.  He takes a beer out to the grill with him and pours it over the steaks a little at a time as they cook.  Except for the sips he drinks, which is an integral part of the process.  He asks everyone “how do you like your steak?”, then cooks them all to a perfect medium rare, no matter what you say.

We celebrated everything with steaks on the grill growing up.  It was even our Christmas dinner tradition.  This is saying a lot since I grew up in the mountains where it was not unusual to have white Christmases.  Dad would just sweep off the snow drifts, pull on his boots, and tromp out to fire up the grill in the middle of the snow.

I have tried a lot of roast beef recipes, but the best beef to me will always be my Dad’s steaks.  I decided to just use his “process” on a roast and I loved the way it turned out.  It’s not the same as my Dad’s steaks, but it’s the next best thing.

I also must say, the beef makes all the difference.  There is no substitute for high quality, grass fed, antibiotic free beef.  I would call it the secret ingredient, but this is too good to keep secret.  We get ours from Chestnut Grove Farms in Boone, NC.  Check out their website if you live in NC or find a local farm near you.  You won’t ever go back.

Ingredients:

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3 lb. boneless chuck roast (mine was frozen)

1 large onion, sliced

2-3 tbsp dairy free margarine, I use Earth Balance

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. crushed red pepper

½ tsp. minced Onion

4-5 cloves fresh garlic (minced)

⅛ cup Worcesterchire

1 bottle of beer, minus one sip

Directions:

Spray crock pot with cooking spray and place half of the sliced onion in the bottom.  Place the roast on top of the onion.  Slice the dairy free margarine into thin slices and place around the top of your roast.

With as much pomp and circumstance as you can muster, add the Worcestershire and spices to the roast.  If you have anyone else in the house, ask them to come and hold the lid while you measure out each seasoning.  This is important for the authenticity of the process.  Place the remaining sliced onions on top of the roast.

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Next, open the beer and take one sip.  Then you might need one more to be sure it’s just right.  Finally, pour the beer into the crock pot.  Pour gently and try not to wash away the seasonings.

Cook in your crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.  If your roast is not frozen, reduce cooking time to 4-6 hours.

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Everything on this plate is egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free. We used Earth Balance organic garlic and herbs spread on the bread. It is so delicious and easy.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a few shots of Pops with some of his grandchildren.  They adore him as much as I do and he devotes a great deal of time to making wonderful memories with them.

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Pops and Little Buddy, July 4th 2010

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Pops and Squeaky, July 4th 2012

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Pops, Squeaky, and Little Buddy, Summer 2012

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Pops and Little Buddy on the beach in Hawaii, February 2010

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Pops and Little Buddy listening to the shell they found on the beach, Topsail Island, October 2011

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Pops and Sparky, April 2013