Product Review and Allergen Information: Briannas Poppy Seed and Dijon Honey Mustard Dressings

I love finding great products that I am able to find easily in most grocery stores and that I know we can trust.  With allergies to egg, dairy, peanut, tree nuts and gluten, salad dressings can be tricky.  We make a lot of our own, but sometimes you just need a great dressing you can trust and find easily.  When we travel, or visit family, or even just want a quick grab for dinner, I want to know what to get without having to gamble on something new and unfamiliar.  We have been using Briannas Salad Dressing for years.  I’m convinced that their Poppy Seed Dressing is one of the reasons my kids learned to loved eating salads and we use the Dijon Honey Mustard as a dip for chicken tenders and fish sticks, a sandwich condiment, and all kinds of other uses.  It’s delicious!

Since we use these a lot, they end up in my daily lunch posts on my Facebook page quite often.

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When I send poppy seed dressing, I know the salad container will be completely empty when they get home.

 

 

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The dijon honey mustard is perfect as a dipper for veggies and nuggets.

 

I was asked for more detail on the allergen information and emailed the company today.  I got an answer to my email within fifteen minutes of sending my questions. I asked specifically about the possibility of cross contact with egg, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, and gluten during manufacturing with the dijon honey mustard and poppy seed dressings, and I got information about all of their dressings.  SCORE!  Here is their response…

“We have an Allergen Control Plan in place to prevent cross contamination between allergen and non-allergen products, this includes a complete wash down after each flavor that is followed by pre-operational inspections and sanitation verification. Peanuts and tree nuts are not part of our ingredients and we do not process any other products that contain them.

At the end of last year we revised our labels to show the attributes of each flavor. Those that have “no gluten” are now marked as such. You should be seeing bottles with the new labels very soon. Poppy Seed and Honey Mustard are among the flavors that contain no gluten. I’ve attached an attribute chart for your information.”

This chart is an amazing reference tool. Also, did you know they’re family owned and operated? I just LOVE that there are companies and products like this available to us! Enjoy!

2015 Briannas Product Attribute Chart

*All views expressed in this blog are my own.

Take STOCK in This: A Souper Sensation

Making my own stock is something I have been doing for a short time.  I can’t figure out for the life of me why I haven’t been doing it forever and why everyone doesn’t do it.  It’s easy, free, useful, and so much better than any stock or broth you’ll find in a box on a shelf.  It might be the best kept secret of family kitchen history.  Well, I’m blowing the lid off this secret.  You deserve to know.

During a casual conversation with my friend Penny, who you might remember from this post, she mentioned throwing her chicken parts and some veggies into a crock pot to make stock.  I had a light bulb moment.  I thought, “I have chicken parts”, “I have veggie scraps”, “I could do that!!!”.  I asked a few questions about what to put in, how long to cook it, etc, and went home to cook a chicken, just so I could make stock from it’s “parts”.  For months, I have been in a complete state of stock shock.  I cannot believe I have never done this.  I went straight to my mother and asked her why we never did this.  She had the same light bulb moment I mentioned having and, instead of giving me an answer, went to cook a chicken.

I keep whole organic chickens in my freezer all the time and put them in the crockpot whenever I plan to make soup, chicken and dumplings, chicken salad, etc.  I literally just run the whole chicken under the water in the sink long enough to thaw the outermost layer so I can remove the packaging, then put the whole thing in the crockpot, still frozen.  Sometimes I spray the crock pot with oil first to theoretically make clean-up a little easier, but I have no idea if it makes any difference.  I do add a little salt and pepper to the top of the frozen chicken before I close the lid and turn it on.  That’s all I do.  How easy is that?  I cook it on low until it’s done, which I would say is usually around 6 hours, depending on the size of the chicken.

This used to be where the story of my chicken ended.  I would separate the meat from the skin and bones, then toss all of the non-meat “parts” in the garbage.  NO MORE!!!!  Now I toss those “parts” right back into the crock pot for round two.  This is what I call the “trash into treasure” phase.

On top of the chicken parts, I add vegetable parts that I would likely have thrown away otherwise.  Be sure to wash all vegetables well.  First comes the root end of a bunch of celery.  I just chop off the stalks and throw in the big ball of ends stuck together at the root.  I also might chop off the ends and throw them in.  I wash my carrots well and peel them.  I toss in the ends and peels of the carrots.  I also like to peel a few onions and put in the ends or a few of the less paper-like outer layers that I would debate keeping otherwise.  Sometimes I do put in the good parts of the veggies too, but lately I have been keeping a bag of usable scraps in the fridge so I rarely have to use anything we would eat.  It ends up looking something like this before I cover it all up with water.

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Veggie scraps on top of chicken parts. Carrot peels, celery ends and leaves, fennel sprigs, and onion. Be sure to wash all veggies thoroughly before peeling if you’re going to use the scraps.

After adding the veggies, I just fill the crock pot up with water to the tippy top and add a little salt and maybe some garlic powder and celery seed.  You can put in anything you like.  I set it to low and cook it overnight or all day.  I store it in the refrigerator if I know I will use it within a couple of days.  Otherwise I freeze it for later.  It’s the best chicken stock I have ever had and everything I cook with it turns out better than ever.  I can get so much out of one chicken, and it’s virtually free since most of the ingredients would be thrown away if not used in this way.  Also, it makes me feel that much better about spending the extra money on organic chickens and vegetables, knowing I’m getting so much out of every part of them.  I cannot believe how much money I have spent on those cartons of organic broth in the past.  Never again!!!!

Be sure to strain it well.  The bones get pretty soft and small pieces can be hard to separate.  I always run it through a mesh strainer just to be safe.

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This is how it looks after cooking all day or over night. Now it just needs to be strained and it’s ready to use.

One thing I have learned is that there will be a thin layer of grease that solidifies on top of the broth after it cools.  I just wait until the first time I pull in out of the refrigerator to use it and spoon it into the trash.  The broth will be very dark and rich and the flavor is amazing.  This photo doesn’t do the color justice, but I wanted to show the thin layer of fat I mentioned after refrigeration so you won’t be weirded out when you see it in yours.

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I hope I’m not the only one who was in the dark on this.  Give it a try if you haven’t done it before.  You will be cooking chickens left and right, just so you can make your own stock.  If cooking whole chickens is not in your usual repertoire, use whatever kind of chicken you usually eat. Honestly, you can even just throw in the parts from your store bought rotisserie chicken.  It will work just the same.  Do yourself a favor and turn your own chicken parts into liquid gold.  It’s like printing money.  Stop buying stock.  Use your liquid assets.  I could do this all day.

If you want a more specific recipe, check out this one from 100 Days of Real Food.  This blog is fantastic.  If you don’t follow it already, you’re missing out.  It is geared towards good clean healthy eating and living.

Also, one more thing.  I always wondered what the difference is between stock and broth.  Since I went to the trouble to look it up, I thought I would share what I found.  Stock is made with bones and parts, like I have described here.  Broth is made with actual meat.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same.  In theory, you could get a richer flavor from broth since you are using the meat, but it’s hard for me to believe it could be any richer than this.  Does anyone have opinions on stock versus broth?  I would love to hear what you know.

Anyone Know a Good Mother’s Intuition Repair Man?

You would think that I would know by now what an allergic reaction in an infant looks like.  You would think after all we have seen and experienced with Elena, that I would be an authority on the subject.  In fact, I have received countless emails and phone calls from friends asking, “Is this a food reaction?” as they describe symptoms their children are exhibiting or send photos of rashes.  We explained away so many symptoms when Elena was an infant.  If only we had known then what we know now, right?

The problem is, these symptoms are never black and white.  We were sure that Olivia had food allergies when she was a baby.  Ironically, she was the only one I was sure about, and as it turns out, she has none.  (See details of Olivia’s story here)  Because I was so wrong with her, I was hesitant to make the same assertion about Wyatt.  I didn’t want my hypersensitivity to lead to another incorrect assessment.

Sure, he was fussy.  I just assumed that was colic.  He was rashy, but so was Olivia.  He scratched at his head when he was upset and he spit up a lot.  I had logical explanations for all of it that did not include food allergies.  There is no reason to jump to conclusions.  Just because we have one child with food allergies, does not mean we are destined to have more.

It wasn’t until Wyatt’s 4 month well visit that it all hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had my little list of “concerns” all ready for the occasion, like any other well visit.  The nurse showed a little bit of concern after charting Wyatt’s weight because he had dropped from the 50%ile to the 20%ile.  When the Dr. came in and asked if I had any concerns, I started nonchalantly listing them, expecting the usual, “that’s perfectly normal” reassurance.  This time he just listened without saying much.  I felt myself connecting the dots as I was speaking and listing the other pieces of the puzzle that I had not included on my list, but now seemed so obvious.

He cries a lot, especially in the evenings.

He seems to eat frequently and spits up a lot.

He has rashes on his torso and eczema that never goes away.

He still has terrible cradle cap.

He is only soothed by bouncing on the yoga ball (exactly like Elena as a baby)

He itches.

I know he itches because he squirms all the time and scratches up his head and face when he’s in the car.  Otherwise, I never put him down because I’m afraid he will cry and scratch.  Until this moment, I convinced myself the scratching was just because he hates the car seat, but I know better.  He itches.  Of course he itches.

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Wyatt’s scratching made him look like he had been in a fight with a bobcat every time he rode in the car.

Our pediatrician then stated that he had never done an allergy test on a 4 month old.  The earliest he had done the test was 6 months.  I just held my breathe.  Elena’s allergy test at 9 months was horrific and I’m still not over it.  (Elena’s story here)

He asked if I thought I could cut out all soy and dairy as an experiment.  I assured him that would be no problem.  That is one thing I know how to do all too well.  The next morning, I began my and Wyatt’s dairy/soy free lifestyle and oh my.  What a difference.  Within a few days, he was less fussy and spitting up less. By the end of the first two weeks, I swear he was a different baby and had grown more than he had in the previous month.

Have you ever been so sick, but not realized it until you felt better?  This happened to me with my thyroid.  I found out in 2007 that I had Hashimoto’s and my thyroid was in bad shape.  I started taking Synthroid and it wasn’t until I started feeling better that I realized how horrible I had been feeling before.  The same thing happened here.  After Wyatt became himself, I realized he had been sick.  Even looking back at photos that at the time looked adorable to me, all I see is a sad, sick little baby.  He was always exhausted and itchy and miserable.  He would smile, but only if the time was just right.  Although I didn’t know it at the time, other family members had concerns about his lack of activity and alertness.  Now I question whether that viral rash he had a few months ago was actually a virus.  Perhaps it was a reaction to something I had eaten.

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After the dairy/soy detox, he is so happy and lively and active.  The rashes on his torso and his cradle cap disappeared.  He still has some eczema at the backs of his elbows and knees, but it has improved.  He is much happier to be put down and play and he naps.  He also spits up far less than he used to.

These photos are from “before” I eliminated dairy and soy.  Notice how tired and weak he looks.  Anyone who holds him is usually covered in spit up and even when he did smile, he always had some kind of rash or redness on his face:

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These are Wyatt’s “after” pictures.  He is so much more alert and happy now.  He is active and loves playing with his sisters and with toys.  Also, the matted hair from his cradle cap is now smooth and silky.  He is truly a new baby:

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This isn’t to say that Wyatt’s food allergy story is finished by any stretch.  We still don’t know if he was reacting to the dairy, soy, or both.  He could also have reactions to other foods.  He does still have some rashes and spitting up.  Also, since I rarely eat peanuts, tree nuts, or eggs due to Elena’s allergies, we don’t know if he would react to those.

Even though we don’t have all of the answers yet, I’m so glad my eyes have been opened.  I’m sure we will do the testing soon after he turns 6 months old, so hopefully we can start figuring out what his food allergy profile will look like and hopefully it won’t be too different from Elena’s.

Most of all, I am ready for this sweet baby boy to feel good and be healthy.  I’m heartbroken that it took me this long to put the pieces together.  I always see stories about these superhero moms who sense that something is wrong with their child even when everyone else is telling them it’s all in their head.  They turn out to be right and good old Mother’s Intuition is credited another success.  Where was my Mother’s Intuition?  It shouldn’t have taken that much.  For heaven’s sake, this is my second time around with this scenario.  Why didn’t I know until he was 4 months old?  Every time I had an inkling that it could be food allergies, I followed it with, “but you know, I thought Olivia had food allergies too and look at how wrong I was”.  Oy Vey!!!

All I can say is, Wyatt, I love you and I got this.  Starting now.

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.

Food Allergies: Every Party Has a Pooper, That’s Why We Invited You

I have always loved parties.  I didn’t even realize there are people out there who don’t enjoy parties until I met my husband.  We are proof positive that opposites attract.  I would party for pretty much any reason at all.  Don’t believe me?  I once threw a surprise birthday party for my Mom’s artificial hip.  The signs proclaimed ‘Hip’py Birthday and I posted before/after photos everywhere like the ones below!!!!  Truth!

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Before

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After

Parties have changed dramatically for me since Elena’s diagnosis.  I no longer get excited about going to parties.  Parties are a great source of anxiety.  I want my kids to have a love and excitement for parties that I used to have and I want to shield them from the anxiety.  I do get excited for them and for the possibility of the fun they will have, but the fear overrides the excitement for me.

We always bring Elena’s food to parties and I try to get it as close to what the others will be having as possible.  So far, we have gotten away with packing Olivia’s food as well so it will be like Elena’s.  I think this is good for Elena because she has a buddy, but eventually Olivia might decide she doesn’t want to follow Elena’s restrictions at parties.  We will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

I’m usually worried that I have missed something when we are heading to a party.  Even though I always ask about the food, changes happen and the host cannot always be expected to contact me about last minute adjustments.  I can bring Elena a safe cupcake or safe ice cream, but only if I know the cupcakes and ice cream will be served.  It’s heartbreaking to watch her sit and look around at the others enjoying treats while she has nothing.

Even more scary than her feeling excluded is the possibility of a reaction.  Kids, and sometimes parents, just don’t understand how easily it can happen.  If another child touches her plate or cup with icing on their hands, she could have a very serious reaction.  I try to monitor her every move while she is eating without her really knowing I’m doing it.  I don’t want her to be afraid to go to parties or to eat her food because of what is around her, but I want her to be safe.

Elena the day after a reaction to what we suspect was cross contamination contact with an allergen.

Elena the day after a reaction to what we suspect was cross contamination contact with an allergen.

We went to a party recently and the birthday girl’s mother had communicated very well with me about the food that would be served.  Elena had comparable food for the meal and a cupcake for dessert.  I was not prepared for ice cream to come out, but it did.  I just watched Elena quietly as a grown up offered her ice cream.  She said no thank you and that was that.  It couldn’t have gone better.  She was sitting at the table eating her safe cupcake, when the ice cream started being passed around.  A gentleman literally carried the ice cream over, set his bowl beside Elena, then started scooping the ice cream into his bowl.  I scooted her chair towards me as discretely as I could, but a drop of ice cream fell right on her hand.  I quickly wiped it off and he gave us both a disgusted look, patted her on the arm and said, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s not going to hurt you”.  I just scooped her up and grabbed her cupcake, making our way into the next room.  There was nowhere for us to go.  Allergens were everywhere and I just couldn’t see past them.  I found my husband, who was chatting with another dad and shoved Elena and her cupcake at him.  He could tell I was about to lose it and I had to get out quick.  I made it out the front door and around the side of the house where I completely broke down into sobs.  I couldn’t believe a simple birthday party could go so wrong so fast and I was so disappointed in myself.  How could I lose control like that and what if Justin hadn’t been there to take Elena before she saw me crumble.  I just kept thinking that it shouldn’t be this hard to take my daughter to a birthday party.  She shouldn’t have to be faced with people splashing around her allergens and telling her they can’t hurt her.  What if that had landed on her cupcake instead of her hand and what if it had been in a moment when I wasn’t watching her like a hawk?  No matter what I do, I cannot guarantee her safety and parties are very high risk for her.

Luckily, Elena never knew what had happened.  She just thought we were wandering around for a few minutes and then she went with Daddy and started playing with friends.  Since he wasn’t sure what had happened, Justin didn’t give her the rest of her cupcake, but she didn’t seem to mind.  As far as she was concerned, the party went very well and she had a blast.

People tell me I go overboard with birthday parties for my own kids.  We celebrate in a big way, even when we keep it small.  It’s never outlandish or overly expensive, but I do a lot of work to make sure the activities, food, and cakes are special and safe.  Part of the reason I do this is because it’s the only time I know Elena can just have fun and let loose at a party.  She can enjoy herself completely and not even think about what she is eating or what others around her are eating.  I can let her run off and play with her friends without having to wonder if any of them brought a handful of their food with them.  Even if they did, I know it’s all “Elena safe”.  She can sit at the table and eat a piece of the big cake, just like everyone else.  I do it because I want her to have as many opportunities as she can to have anxiety free fun at a party with friends.  She can be part of the celebration, rather than having to lurk on the fringes with her food substitutions.  I want her to enjoy herself in the same way your nonallergic child does every time he attends a birthday party, school celebration, family gathering, or church potluck.  If that means I have to throw the party, well then there are at least three opportunities a year for me to make it happen (four if you count her Grammie’s hip).

This past weekend we celebrated Olivia turning two.  We had snacks and cake and bubbles galore.  To everyone else, it was just a party, but to us, it was a “safe” party.  The day was all about Olivia, but for me, it’s always a little bit about Elena too.  Throwing safe parties makes me remember why I used to love celebrating anything and everything with a blow out.

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Bubble party themed cakes. Egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free, of course.

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Hamming it up for the camera on her 2nd birthday.

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Elena is sitting right at the cake table with the others. Usually she has to hang back when the cakes are being cut, but not today.

Playing and being silly without a care in the world, just as it should be.

Playing and being silly without a care in the world, just as it should be.

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Obviously, Olivia enjoys “Elena safe” cake very much.

I would like to add that we are lucky enough to have several friends and family members who are dedicated to making the events they plan completely or mostly “Elena safe” or keeping me informed of every detail regarding unsafe treats so I can prepare accordingly.  Every food allergy family should be so fortunate.