I get asked a lot of questions about how we manage multiple allergens. One question that I get asked a lot by other food allergy parents is, “How do you visit family?” or “How do you vacation with family?”. The only answer I can give is that you have to have a rockin’ family who is dedicated to your child’s safety. Shockingly, most don’t have that. We do.
When I say that most people don’t have that, it doesn’t mean the food allergic individuals are not loved by their extended family members. From the horror stories I have heard, and some we have lived, many friends and family members just don’t understand the severity of the food allergy. Some actually don’t believe it’s as bad as people say. Some think it’s an invention of the overprotective parenting generation. Some just don’t understand food handling safety and cross contact risks. For whatever reason, it seems rare that people have the kind of extended family support we do.
The proof is in the pudding…or lack thereof. We go to the beach each summer with my husband’s family, including his parents, two sisters and their husbands, and this year we had the addition of a cousin, with another joining us next year. Hooray for new additions!!!
We all share two units, each with their own kitchen. Last year we decided to keep one kitchen completely allergen free and make sure any allergens that are brought in stay in the other kitchen. Sounds pretty safe, right? Everyone was as careful as could be, but naturally food gets brought back and forth and some things are cooked in each kitchen for a meal. Even though no allergens were moved, Elena had a reaction. The only explanation was cross contact with an allergen during prep. What are the chances?
I feel like I know where this would lead for most people. “Next year we will be extra careful.” “We’ll make sure she doesn’t eat ANYTHING that comes from the other kitchen.” These would be the kinds of precautions you could expect from pretty awesome family members. However, when your family is made up of a bunch of rock stars, you get this…”We will make BOTH kitchen allergy free.” Did you catch that? Let me say it again, because I enjoy it so much…”NO ALLERGENS IN EITHER UNIT.”
[Needs to be accompanied by serious air guitar action, so here ya go]
Just in case you’re wondering exactly what this means, in addition to our own family of 5, all 6 adults and 1 child ate allergen free all week. In all fairness, the baby is exclusively breastfed, so he might not have noticed the change so much, but still.
Because of their willingness to do this, Elena enjoyed her first reaction free vacation in a place other than a private home. She even had a reaction at Disney World, which is the most allergy friendly place we have ever been. Still, there was that one mistake. There always seems to be one tiny mistake that causes a reaction for her. This time, there was no room for error and she was as safe and happy as any little kid should be.
The question I get most when people hear Elena’s allergen list is, “What DO you eat?” In fact, that’s the question I had in my own head when we first found out about her allergies. One comment I get often when I tell people about our family eating allergen free is, “I can’t believe you eat that stuff.” I have always had a hard time knowing how to respond to this. “That stuff” is actually just food. In fact, it is probably more food-like than what a lot of non-allergy families are eating. I think you would be surprised what you can do with real food, despite a few restrictions.
We focused on things we could make in large quantities with limited kitchen utensils. You know how “fully stocked” timeshare kitchens can be. We just made sure we didn’t plan to use anything that required a food processor or, as it turned out, TONGS.
For breakfast, we did cereal with rice milk, cinnamon raisin toast, sausage, bacon, turkey bacon, cinnamon rolls, fruit, juice, coffee with coconut creamer, and hash with potatoes, veggies, kielbasa, and sausage to use up some leftovers.
Lunch we usually ate on the beach, so that was sandwiches, fruit, popcorn, veggie straws, fruit, raw veggies, pasta salad, Kashi fruit cereal bars, granola bars, fruit/veggie smashies, pretzels, crackers and hummus, and whatever else anyone grabbed and threw into the coolers. One day there was a cookout on site where we stayed, so the five of us went out to lunch while the others went to the cookout. It was a great way for us to do something special while the others got a little allergen fix outside of the units. We went to Mellow Mushroom for some egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut, soy free pizza. We used Noshed It to document and share our experience (as we do with all of our restaurant meals). See our Mellow Mushroom review here.
For dinner we cooked some nights and took turns going out for date nights, which in our case included 2 of our 3 kids. Elena really wanted to go out for a “fancy” dinner, so we did all our usual food allergy precautions. We called ahead and spoke with a manager about her allergies, then communicated with the kitchen through our server about specific items. Follow these links for our specific menu item reviews on Noshed It.
OK, so what you are wondering is, what did they cook that satisfied all of those non-allergic people and was still safe for Elena? The first night, we kept it simple with spinach salads topped with shrimp. very quick and easy.
One night we did Spaghetti Cecca (recipe here) and spaghetti with meat sauce. Both are safe, but we have some serious meat addicts and some meat avoiders in our crowd, so we did two versions.
We also had a grilling night. We grilled burgers, portabella mushroom caps, and London Broil. We also grilled chicken, which we served with crunchy slaw. We ate Grandmom’s Spectacular Bean dip every chance we got. It’s a family favorite. We had a Crab Boil one night, which has become sort of a tradition. We used shrimp, kielbasa, corn, assorted fingerling potatoes, and we seasoned it with Old Bay.
We revamped leftovers and threw in salads, pasta with veggies, quinoa, and all kinds of side dishes as needed. Here are some sandwiches we made from the french bread leftover from spaghetti night, along with the london broil and mushroom caps from the night we grilled. Yummy!!!!
I guess the point of all of this is that food allergies do mean restrictions, but they don’t mean you can’t enjoy delicious food. Food allergens may dictate the details of what we eat, but they do not dictate how well we eat. In many ways, our food has gotten better with food allergies. You might be surprised how well you can eat when you observe the restrictions of others around you.
Here is what some of the others had to say about the experience of eating allergen free on vacation…
Grandmom: Eating allergy free food at the beach was extremely simple and very satisfying. My cereal with rice milk was just as good as cereal with cow’s milk. My soy butter and jelly sandwich was just as good as any PB&J. Our evening meals were excellent. In our search for allergy free food we found special treats we would not have found otherwise like a really good guacamole from Aldi’s. We had plenty of options for snacks, and have learned new ways to enjoy the real foods like fruits mixed together. Our guys really enjoyed the ample supply of meats.
Grandad: The thing I can say is I don’t remember missing the food at all.
What we had tasted very good.
Aunt Anna: Allergy free can be easy and just as delicious as your typical meal plan with just a little pre-planning.
Aunt Mary and Uncle Bryan: The beach trip allergy free was what we call Success!! We had to plan before we left and we did realize we planned months in advance for food when we used to plan a week or two in advance. We felt like we ended up with some delicious meals. Our favorite beach dish was the pasta salad with allergy free greek dressing. Having allergy free was worth it to have Elena and family all together!
Uncle Robby opted out of commenting. You can’t win ’em all 😉