Saturday, August 30, 2008

New Look, Same Blog!

If you've visited before, you'll notice that my blog looks a bit different.

I'm always looking for ways to improve my blog to make it easier to read and more useful. I think the new layout accomplishes this.

Stay tuned for a few more changes, including a "Nut-Free Recipe of the Month." I'll start with one of mine, but I welcome them from readers. If yours is chosen I'll give you credit, of course, and a link to your blog if you have one.

Enjoy the new layout!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Those Pesky "Safe Snacks" Lists

School has been in session for us since Tuesday and so far, so good. My daughter has the option of coming home for the lunch hour (the first time we've ever been in a district that offers this) so I think I may be in for an easier time of it this year. She did stay on Thursday, and things went fine. Still, at this point we're still adjusting to the new routine, which means we'll have some tweaking to do at some point.

Which brings me "Safe Snacks" lists. This is the first year I have not been asked for one of these by the teacher. (Yahoo! Trumpet fanfare.) That's because our new school discourages edible treats in the classroom. Still, there will be other instances when I'm asked for one of these (Girl Scouts, play dates, etc.) and I know I have to be prepared. I also know that many of you are struggling to compile these right now.

Since we're all dealing with different food allergies, I can't offer a "one size fits all" safe snack list, so I won't attempt to do that here. I just really want to encourage everyone to very carefully read every label before putting down a specific food.Even if you've used it before, the label may have changed recently.

To wit: Last year, I had Jay's brand OkeDoke bagged popcorn on our "nut-free" list, only to discover that it got a new allergy label halfway through the school year. According to the new label, it "may contain hazelnuts and brazil nuts" among several other allergens. This may be a case of "list the top 8, everything will be great!" approach that seems to be the norm right now with many food manufacturers. The September 16th FDA hearing will have a lot of bearing on these labels, so stay tuned. In the meantime, make a simple list and advise all list recepients that there could be changes.

But the easiest thing of all is: no edible treats at school! Why do the kids need to constantly be celebrating with sugary treats? For one thing, childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes are both on the rise. I would think most parents would be happy not to have their kids exposed to more cake, cookies and candy while at school. If the parents you know are grumbling that they can't bring treats to school, put it to them like that. You never know--they may see it as a positive when presented in that light.

Also, for the first time ever, my daughter has another child in her class with peanut/tree nut allergies. (She's always been the only one in her actual classroom, though not the grade level.) This student also has soy allergies in addition to nut allergies. So I may not be the "baking mom" this year after all. Do any of you dealing with soy allergies have advice on treats for me? I'd love to help out as I always have, but need to keep it safe.

Which brings me to another point: Parents, please don't allow non-allergic families to provide food or treats to your classroom. Whatever you have to do (and you can be diplomatic here) make sure YOU are the "Treats Mom" or "Treats Dad." It is nearly impossible to explain to someone else how to handle the food issue, so don't give yourself or the other parents more gray hairs and stress. You bring the food--every time. I've found this to be the best way.

If anyone has ideas that I haven't covered here, please let us know. Hope everyone who's started school has had a good start! For those who haven't started yet, good luck!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Letting Go

Today is my food-allergic 3rd-grader's first day back at school. (Well, not all day--more like a couple of hours.) She's not a kindergartner anymore (I've got one of those going later today and am fully-stocked with Kleenex) but I still get very emotional every new school year.

For my family, this year is especially filled with uncertainty, since we have moved recently and my kids are attending a new school. When you've been part of a school for awhile and feel that your child's allergy needs are being met, you get comfortable. Now that's gone for us--it's time to start over.

My daughter is older now and articulate--I'm not as worried about her as I used to be. Still, it's hard for me to let her go.

All parents face this each year, but for parents with food-allergic kids, the "letting go" takes a big leap of faith.

We've talked to the teachers, principal, staff. We've gotten the doctor's notes, reviewed the emergency plans, filled out so many medical forms. We've filled the epinephrine prescriptions and labeled the Benadryl. We've offered to bring treats for the class parties and there's nothing more we can do.

If there's one thing having a child with food allergies teaches us, it's that we have so little control over our kids' lives. Every parent faces this fact sooner or later. For us, it's sooner.

When my precious daughter left this morning, I was so proud of her. She looked confident and stylish in her new school clothes and backpack. She was excited and happy, if a little nervous. I guess I must be doing something right.

So I took a deep breath. And let her go.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Where Are All the Nut-Free Schools?

I've gotten this question a lot lately--personally, besides preschools, I don't know of any schools in my area that have total bans on nut products.

Do any of you? Where do you live and what are the policies there?

It would be great if we could have consistency w/regard to food allergy policies, but since state and local governments are so diverse, I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon.

Interestingly, the FAAN does not support a ban on nut products at elementary schools. (They do endorse them for preschool--due to the fact that young kids are famous for smearing food around and sticking their fingers in their mouths.)

It's a tricky topic all right. If any of you know of, or attend a "nut-free" elementary school, please post and let us know. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back-to-School Checklist for Nut-Free Parents

By now most of us have bought our backpacks, pencils, shoes and other school must-haves, but as we know, nut-free parents have a few more items to cross off our lists before sending out little darlings out the door.

School starts next week for many of us, so I thought now would be a good time to offer a "short" (ha, ha!) checklist of things to do before the Big Day. New students (kindergarten) and those of us who will be entering a new school due to a move (like me!) will want to do the following:
  • Speak with the principal (preferably in person) to let them know your family's needs. Ask them if they can include an item in the first parents' newsletter about food allergies at school and basic precautions to take (offer to write it, if they don't have time.)
  • Work out a cafeteria plan if necessary. For example, will there be a dedicated peanut-free table? If not, what precautions will be taken for your child's safety? Can you introduce a peanut-free table if one does not yet exist, for kids who haven't brought peanut butter or nut products?
  • Find out (from health office or principal) who is trained in EpiPen usage.
  • Speaking of EpiPens--make sure your prescription is current and that you sign up for the new EpiPen registery (a form is included in your prescription.) It lets you know when your Epis are about to expire.
  • Have at least 2 EpiPens for school--one for the health office and one for your child's classroom.
  • Invest in a fanny pack or pencil case with attachment for your child to carry their EpiPen in.
  • Make sure you have all of your doctor's notes and food allergy action plans filled out and ready to go. If you need to, initiate a meeting with the school nurse or district nurse to discuss emergency procedures. Include a recent photo of your child that can be glued/taped onto their emergency plan.
  • Write a letter to your child's new teacher explaining their condition and offering to be the "Treats Lady" for the school year. If you're not the Room Mother, get her name, phone number and e-mail so you can contact her about food before the first class party.
  • If your school allows birthday party treats in the classroom (our new school doesn't!), make sure you send a "treats bag" with safe goodies with your child on their first day.
Whew! That's my list...what do some of you have on yours? If I left out anything important, please let me know!

I know it's a lot to take care of, but you know what? Looking over this list, I'm kind of proud of how much I've already done and how, now that I've done it for so many years, it's not that big of a deal. Progress!

If I've stressed anyone out, I think Mamma Mia! is still in theaters. (OK, just kidding!) Anyone up for a martini yet? It'll be OK. Just be thankful we only have to do this once a year!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Allergy Free Dining Out Event!

I just wanted to give the East Coast nut-free moms a heads-up about an amazing event hosted by Sloane aka Allergic Girl who writes the wonderful food allergy blog, Please Don't Pass the Nuts. Her group, Worry-Free Dinners, is hosting an event in NYC just for kids on September 14th.

Sloane has been living with food allergies her entire life, so she has a great perspective on the issue. Unfortunately I can't attend but some of you may live in the area, so you should definitely check it out. Spaces are filling up fast, so don't wait if you think you'd like to be a part of it.

I've also got a link about this event to the right of this post, just above my "Resources" list.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mamma Mia! How Can I Resist You...

With school just around the corner, this is a stressful time of year for the Nut-Free Moms out there. So I've got a solution. Go see Mamma Mia! The Movie. (The link takes a few seconds to load, but it's worth it.)

I just read an article about "laugh therapy" and apparently it has all sorts of health benefits besides being an awesome stress reliever. As moms of food-allergic kids, we know that many things we have to deal with are no laughing matter, and I'm not suggesting that we take our responsibilities lightly.

No, what I'm suggesting is that you will most likely laugh yourself silly (like I admit, I did!) when you watch middle-aged British actors attempt to sing ABBA songs while frolicking around a Greek island with Meryl Streep. The film is extremely light, frothy and fun. That's it. No deep message, lots of bad singing and that British hunk of love Colin Firth wearing a wet, white shirt ala Mr. Darcy before changing into Spandex with the rest of the cast. But then, I'd watch him read the phone book.

I know Mamma Mia! has gotten pretty uniformly bad reviews and maybe ABBA songs aren't your thing, so rent Tootsie. Or pick another comedy, preferably something with Will Ferrell. Just looking at his face makes me want to start laughing. (And I mean that in a good way.)

The point is, a little laughter will help make life seem better when we have to face a new school year. It's sometimes easy to get bogged down in all the health forms, prescriptions, etc. When you're done with all of that, it's time to let loose a little. (For the cocktail minded, a martini doesn't hurt. But if you consume one before viewing Mamma Mia! I can't be held responsible.)

When it's time to get serious, check out my resources to the right of this post. I've got some good stuff up there to help get you through the start of the school year.

In the meantime, I'm getting ready to play my Mamma Mia soundtrack for the umpteenth time this week. If you're not a fan, just be glad this blog doesn't have sound enabled!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

School Daze

My daughter's school registration was today and since we're new to the school this year, old Mom had some butterflies herself. A new school means a new set of challenges for food-allergic families.

I know that many allergic families are petrified when school begins--especially if it's the first time their child has been gone all day, such as in First Grade. I know I felt that way. The thing to do is communicate early and often. For example, our new school sets up meetings with the District Nurse for food-allergic families to discuss their emergency plans. That is a wonderful idea that I think should happen everywhere. Failing that, an individual phone meeting could accomplish the same thing. Be good to your District Nurses--they're one of your best allies!

I've read a lot of comments and gotten several e-mails from moms who have battled with their elementary schools on the issue of food allergy safety and I'm always sorry to hear about those incidences. I've had the same types of struggles and my best advice is to calmly state your case to however many people are necessary, however many times are necessary. For example, I ended up having to contact the superintendent of my former school district in order ensure that my daughter's food allergy would be recognized by all the staff and teachers. I would always start with your child's teacher and/or school principal but if you don't get any help, go to the next level.

My other advice for food-allergic families is to develop a thick skin: you're going to need it! I'm always amazed at the number of food-related activities that one encounters throughout the school year. We can't participate in Market Day, buy Fannie May candies for the school candy sale, eat the "boxed dinners" provided for Back-to-School Night, etc. And just today I heard a mom next to me in line who was joking with the nurse "no my kid doesn't have any allergies--only to textbooks, hah, hah." I'm sure she didn't mean to be offensive, but I thought, "lady, you don't know the half of it."

If you feel that don't have the support you need from your school, try to band together with other allergic families to get your needs met. And please read the FAAN (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) website for tips on dealing with schools. It's a wonderful resource -- in the past, I've even directed school staff towards that site and it seems to have really helped educate them.

It's not always easy, but making your school "safe enough" can be done. Hang in there and let me know how it goes.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Mom Can't Always Make It Better

My daughter was invited to one of our new neighbor's homes last week for a girls only "tea party." The little girl who invited her has become one of my daughter's best friends. Being new in town, this has been wonderful to see.

From the start, my daughter tells everybody she meets about her nut allergy. Partly, this is so that they don't offer her allergenic foods and partly I think it's a way of telling people who she is. It's part of her.

Even though this new friend and her family have been so warm and welcoming to all of us, I could tell that my daughter felt apprehensive about "outing" herself as food-allergic to the other guests. (By the way, kids she has played with before). It may be because sometimes kids have teased her about it, or made her feel different, oftentimes unintentionally.

As I always do in a party situation, I talked to the mom beforehand and asked her if I could contribute food to the party to ensure that my daughter had treats to eat. She readily agreed and so I got to work. All the kids had told me they liked lemon cake (I'm so impressed--when I was a kid it had to be all chocolate all the time. Clearly this new generation has a more sophisticated palate than me.) I had the perfect thing in mind: a Nigella Lawson recipe for mini lemon Bundt cakes. They are delicious and pretty to look at--just the right thing for tea parties.

If I do say so myself (and the other mom told me so) these cakes turned out perfectly. Moist, fragrant with lemon and yummy. My daughters and the young hostess and guest were thrilled with them.

Now, this hosting mom went out of her way to offer a terrific spread of goodies. She even bought a special box of chocolate "tea biscuits" labeled as being made in a nut-free facility, bless her heart. And she also provided some beautiful treats from a local bakery which of course meant my daughter couldn't have them. Cross-contamination risk is too strong, something that's hard to explain to many people and especially hard for kids to understand.

And there's the rub: my daughter was crushed when she saw the pretty cookies and petit fours she could not eat. Even though I had contributed my deluxe lemon cakes (and thrown in a bag of Milanos for good measure) at first she could only focus on what was forbidden to her, a pretty normal response for a kid. But I gotta tell you: it hurt me. I was so convinced that my efforts would make it all better. Not so.

The mom hosting the party told me that my daughter had seemed blue at first but then she rallied. When I went to pick her up, I could tell by all the little faces (and empty plates) that they had a great time. I was relieved.

Still, at first, I felt a little let down that my diligent cake-baking efforts hadn't been enough to smooth over any left out feelings that my daughter may have had. But then when I saw all the offerings on the table, I understood.

It's just plain hard to be denied party treats. I finally got it: I can bake delicious cakes from here to eternity and sometimes I just can't make it better. I can't get rid of my daughter's sadness or occasional anger at her food allergy.

That's hard to accept but on the other hand, I have to believe that these experiences will make my daughter become more compassionate, more open to other's struggles and more tolerant. I've already seen evidence of it. And I know she appreciates what I do for her--I'm lucky enough that she tells me often.

We'll walk through these parties one at a time. No doubt my collection of baking pans will continue to grow! I can't fix my daughter's allergy, but I'll be there for her however I can - up to my elbows in batter and covered in frosting, whatever it takes. Sometimes good enough is pretty good after all.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Monday Round-Up

Whew! There have been a lot of topics covered here in the last week or two, so I thought I would take the time to address some of them.

First of all, thanks for all of the great comments regarding "The Great Nut-Free Baking Debate." I urge you all to check out "mama o' the matrices" "tiered" approach. It sounds great. I also want to compliment all of the responders on their positive, polite and flexible approaches to dealing with well-meaning friends and family who want to bake for our kids. I think the lesson learned here is: tell people (nicely) all the important details, but never leave home without a back-up treat for your child.

Also, I got the fabric allergy bracelet from American Medical ID in the mail last week and I'm really happy with it. It was a bit long but it is adjustable and my daughter enjoys wearing it. She says it's a lot more comfortable (and cuter) than the metal chain-link style she wore in the past. If you are looking for allergy alert bracelets, you should check it out.

Finally, I still have not heard a word from the "gourmet retailer," regarding their allergy practices, but in a recent post, lizzby confirmed what many of us already thought. She says she called Williams-Sonoma (I should have just picked up the phone! Talk about lazy...) and they told her they use a "blanket" allergy warning for their products because they don't know the practices of all of their food manufacturers. Thank you for this info, Lizzy! It's kind of what we all suspected and you confirmed our suspicions.

While I appreciate allergy labels in the first place, I'm so disappointed that I have to avoid a product at certain stores simply because no one wants to take the time (or incur the liability) to "properly" label it. I wonder if these food manufacturers know that they are losing a lot of dollars to food-allergic consumers who would otherwise buy their product? Anyone up for writing them a letter or e-mail letting them know this is the case?

A final thought: I just got my daughter's back-to-school packet for registration (yikes!) and I urge you all to get your EpiPens and emergency food allergy plans in order. The allergists are getting super-busy and it's hard to get through to their offices this time of year!