Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's Olympic Day--and Mom's Got Her Cell Phone On

Today is my daughter's Olympic Day at school. Her entire class travels by bus to a nearby school in order to compete in outdoor sporting events.

It's a fun, fun day but of course I'm just a little bit on edge. First of all, there's the bus ride. Who had peanut butter for breakfast? I don't wanna know.

Then, there's the assumption that the nurse and teacher brought my daughter's medication with them. My daughter has participated in Olympic Day since kindergarten and I've called each year to make sure they've got it covered.

The other big issue--the kids are asked to bring a "bag lunch." There is no refrigeration, so one guess what a lot of them bring? You got it. Peanut butter. So of course I wonder how that's going to go. According to the nurse, they even segregate the peanut-allergic kids at lunch time, just like in the caf. So that's good enough for me. And at this stage, my daughter is used to having special treatment at lunch, so it doesn't seem to bother her.

I've become a known quantity to the school, which has helped them get organized with regard to food allergies and field trips. Last year, the school nurse told me she was waiting for my call and so had all the info ready for me. The teacher was waiting for my call. They even sent a note home to reassure me. This year, I didn't call (my daughter has the same teacher as last year, since she's in a multi-age classroom) so I guess you could say the school has earned my trust. Still, I've got the cell phone attached to my body in case.

I don't plan to spend the day freaking out or anything--don't get me wrong. In fact, these events are probably good for me (as well as being a lot of fun for my daughter). From time to time, every parent of a food-allergic child (and let's face it, every parent in the world) has to make that leap of faith and trust that their child will be OK.

Maybe when Olympic Day is over, I can celebrate with that other ancient Greek tradition--a nice glass of wine.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Food Allergies--There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (or Breakfast)

Since I've been in an extended stay hotel for awhile now (it's the last week--hooray!), I've been thinking about the "included" breakfasts that many hotels offer to their guests.

The hotel I'm staying in offers this each day, as does other places I've stayed such as the Hampton Inn.

I've always thought that free food is a good thing, generally, especially with little kids. When they're hungry for breakfast, they're hungry NOW.

Of course, when you add food allergies to the mix, it gets a wee bit more complicated. When you're dealing with a nut allergy, baked goods are out. Also, we've had questions about the cereal served, since sometimes it's placed in clear canisters and does not have a label. By now, I know most kids' cereal ingredients by heart, but sometimes I don't. I've found that hotel staff are helpful and will let me see the cereal box if they still have it. Of course, then, I obsess about the scoop. Let's put it this way, if they were serving Reese's cereal next to the Cheerios, I'd skip cereal altogether. (This has never happened, but ya never know!)

Food allergy parents are well aware that many times we have to skip foods rather than run the risk of a reaction, but wouldn't it be nice if we could have our needs addressed in the "free breakfast" portion of our hotel stay. On the one hand, I feel like I should just handle the food myself and not ask anything of a hotel. On the other hand, we're paying customers. Food allergies are becoming an common problem. Why shouldn't we expect hotels to get clued in?

One time I stayed in a college town that offered a "Japanese breakfast" along with the rest of the more traditional fare. Clearly, this establishment had identified a group of guests with a specific food preference. It got me thinking that food allergies could be addressed in a similar fashion.

We should be able to ask for "safe zones" when partaking of the hotel breakfast. How about it? What do you think? And have any of you tried this approach?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Food Allergies and World Hunger---It's a Guiltfest

Like anyone who's been following the news, I've been horrified by the news coming out of Myanmar and China in the aftermath of their terrible tragedies.

By all accounts, the survivors, many of them children, face starvation if supplies cannot reach them in a timely manner.

And they're not the only ones. Just today, while munching my nice, warm bagel I read about a mother in Ethiopia who is desperate to feed her 3-year-old daughter--the child weighs less than 10 pounds.

10 pounds! That's approximately what my large-sized and thankfully healthy babies weighed at birth. Suddenly, I had lost my appetite.

What does all of this have to do with food allergies? Just that it makes no sense that our well-fed kids can suffer a fatal allergic reaction if they die from eating certain foods, while other children can die. from want of food at all.

I thought about all the efforts I make to ensure my daughter avoids certain foods. And then I thought about the mothers in Myanmar, China, Ethiopia and the world over who strive to make sure their children get just enough food to barely stay alive. And for some reason, I felt guilty.

Food is such a huge part of life. That's what makes food allergies so difficult. When I was growing up, I was told how lucky I was to have enough to eat, a home etc. The message was that to be "picky" was to be impolite. When you consider the plight of the world's hungry people, to be "picky" seems immoral.

Only food allergies aren't about being picky. They're about survival, too. I guess the guilt stems from my ability to negotiate specific foods for my daughter, when so many mothers can't negotiate food at all.

The only good thing about guilt is that it can motivate you to help others less fortunate. Which is what I'm going to do.

Also, I'm thankful for what we do have. And thankful that I can choose the foods my family eats--even if I also have to deal with food allergies.

Has anyone else ever thought about this? Or am I just having one of those days?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Peanut Allergies Away From Home

I've had some intensive "food allergies away from home" training these past several days since my family moved into an extended stay hotel while we wait for our new house to be vacated. Due to closing date mishaps, we sold our house but have a 2-1/2 week gap until we can move into our house. (Hey, but at least we sold! :))

We decided to stay in a suite with a kitchen and wow, that makes a difference. For sanity's sake, as well as space, we're still eating out a lot more than usual and so far, so good. I'll admit that eating out is something I've tried to minimize but I'm getting more confident and so is my daughter. She's 8, so we're trying to have her communicate her needs to waitstaff (under our supervision and with our help, of course) and that has really given her a boost.

I'm not enjoying my "extended stay" exactly, (and anyone who has ever had to do this, you know what I'm talking about) but it has been a good experience in terms of proving that food allergies can be managed away from home.

A reader on this blog asked for advice about dealing with restaurants. My doctor recommends that we always get the chef informed and also calling ahead is a good idea if you're not familiar with the establishment . Also, if possible, I check the restaurant's web site for the menu. And, we tell the staff about our allergy concerns immediately upon arrival. Avoiding desserts is also a good idea--you just never know with those.

One more tip: have some simple menu items in mind when asking about safety. It helps to be specific, since foods are cooked in all different areas of the kitchen.

After this, I think I will have a whole new attitude about staying away from home. Today, Chicago's suburbs, tomorrow the world! Paris would be nice. Maybe when the U.S. $ is stronger. :)

How have you coped with extended times away from home?? I'd love to hear your tips and experiences.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Food Allergy Awareness Week!

May 11 is the beginning of Food Allergy Awareness Week. This is a great time to thank all the people that help your child with their food allergies. You can also use this time to spread awareness to those around you, whether it's reading a story to your child's class, talking to the school principal about ways to make the cafeteria safer or making an "allergen-free" treat.

Education is key. So don't hesitate to tell other parents, restaurant workers, family members and neighbors about how to handle food allergies. When everyone has the info, they're more likely to help and to ask questions about how to keep food-allergic people safe.

Every resource on the list to the right of this page has done a great job in helping spread enlightenment about food allergies. If you have others, I'd love to hear about them.

What have you done to help spread awareness? If you think back, you've probably done more than you realize. What has made a positive difference as cope with your child's food allergies? Be sure to post and let us know what's worked for you and your family.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

No Peanut-Free Table???

I recently found out that the new school that my daughter will attend in the fall does not have an "official" peanut-free table. However, the principal said she will work with us to accomodate her needs and that they have many students with peanut allergy.

Currently, my daughter sits at a peanut-free table with kids who have not brought peanut butter. This has been good from a safety standpoint, and not so good from a social standpoint, at least some of the time.

She is going into 3rd grade and certainly knows to avoid certain foods. I trust her. Also, she does not react if she smells peanut, but she doesn't like the smell. She's repelled by it, which is different than having an allergic reaction from it. I don't know if she'd feel uncomfortable if she sat with kids eating PB & J. She's done this on field trips and I know she's been OK with it. Also, someone watches her and all the staff know about her allergies. Obviously, we're going to have to work out the same deal at her new school.

I'm kind of pysched at the thought of her not being excluded from her friends, while at the same time I worry about her safety. But it got me thinking: with all the other "top 8" allergies on the rise, is it even feasible to have a "peanut-free table?" You'll also need a milk-free, wheat-free, egg-free and soy-free table at some point, right?

I'm not sure what we will propose to the principal. I was thinking of a making a "peanut-free" area of the table, but I don't know if that would make it better or worse for her.

What do you think? How have your schools dealt with these tables and/or multiple food allergies?

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Chef Heroes for the Food Allergic

. If you're like me, you worry about taking your food-allergic children to restaurants.

Thankfully, some leading chefs are working to make restaurants safer for the food allergic.

For one, there's Ming Tsai, a famous chef in Boston (you may have seen him on the Food Network in "East Meets West" or most recently, as a guest judge on "Top Chef Chicago"). Chef Tsai is a food allergy hero!

His young son has severe food allergies, including an allergy to all nuts--just like my daughter. Because of his personal experience with food allergies, Chef Tsai's restaurant, Blue Ginger, in Boston is leading the charge to make restaurants safe for everyone.

As a spokesperson for FAAN, Chef Tsai also recently testified at the Boston Statehouse about creating policies that would require all restaurants in Massachusetts to maintain a high level of awareness about food allergies. Chef Tsai is highly aware of the danger of nut allergies, which makes him cool in my book!

I'm especially excited that an Asian chef known for Asian food is taking the lead here. Asian food is one of the big "no-nos" for anyone with nut allergies and maybe someday this can change. I miss my Chinese food and Thai food!

But there's more help on the way, right here in Chicago. Chef Dominique Tougne of Bistro 110 has 2 children with severe food allergies. He was recently profiled in Living Without magazine on this very subject. At Bistro 110, he says that they will accomodate food allergies and in fact, do this each day with increasing regularity. I've been to the restaurant and the food is great, plus it's located in a fun part of the city. I'm looking forward to taking my daughter there.

That said: always call ahead. Kitchens get busy, so also try to go at "off" times. You're more likely to get the special treatment you need when chefs aren't in the thick of lunch or dinner rush.

Thank you, thank you to these two chefs for their amazing efforts! I hope many more chefs will follow their lead.