Friday, June 27, 2008

Day Trippin' with Food Allergies

With summer, comes day trips and with that comes a need to prepare for all the eventualities. Getting kids to go anywhere seems like a military maneuver at the best of times, but when you've got kids with nut allergies you've got to take a few more precautionary steps. I got to thinking about this during a recent visit to Brookfield Zoo, located just outside Chicago. But anywhere we go this summer--the zoo, an amusement park, the beach--will require the same level of prep.

So, here they are--my tips for successful summer day-trippin' with food allergies:

1. Get yourself and insulated "cooler" shoulder bag. The Brookfield Zoo, like many other family-friendly day trip destinations allows you to bring your own food. Unfortunately you can't see my chic bag from Thermos in the above photo, but it was a godsend on our recent zoo trip. During one of my numerous trips to Target, I grabbed this cute, diaper bag-sized tote and some freezer packs for keeping sammies and drinks chilled. The extra front pockets were useful for the EpiPens, my wallet and assorted sundries so I didn't have to bring a separate purse. The best part--it wasn't huge and didn't weigh a ton and wasn't awkward like some of those big cooler bags.

2. Bring some paper towels, disposable paper plates or disposable "place mats" for the picnic table. Since you just never know if the last family was packing peanut butter, be ready to protect the table for your child. Besides offering protection from forbidden foods, it also just seems a lot more hygienic.

3. Locate the First Aid station upon arrival. You may never need it, but it's good to know where it is in the event of emergency.

4. Check and double-check that you have your EpiPens before departure. I don't know about you, but I seem to constantly be transferring my items from bag to bag all summer long. You don't want to leave the EpiPen behind, only to discover that it's missing upon arrival at your destination. I place Post-It notes on my dashboard to remind me.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dining Out with Food Allergies...Greek Style

Since I have been advocating dining out with food-allergic kids, I just had to post about our great dining out experience in Chicago this weekend.

The family and I visited Athena restaurant in the heart of Chicago's awesome Greektown. My husband is Greek-American and loves the place. I enjoy Greek food also, but sometimes worry about taking my daughter to eat Greek cuisine. This type of cuisine can be very safe--but it also is a culture and cuisine that loves almonds, walnuts, etc. Generally, we order grilled items for our daughter (chicken skewers, that sort of thing) and we find that works very well.

We enjoyed a wonderful courtyard table near a relaxing waterfall and a lovely view of Chicago's skyline. The weather was perfect (and if you live anywhere near Chicago, you know that's no mean feat ) which added to the whole experience.

But the best part of course was our waiter's knowledge of nut allergies and the great attention and service we received. We brought up our concerns right away, and he gave us recommendations for food (the grill!--good to know we were on the same page) and assured us that this particular restaurant has taken their "almond garnishes" off their seafood entrees due to the increase in nut allergies. (The menu does not reflect this new policy--so always ask, people! You just never know.)

We ordered our daughter chicken souvlaki (skewers) and she shared our cucumber-yogurt dip and yummy village salad. It was a joy to dine out with the family and also reassuring to see that it can be done and should be done, even with food allergies.

Every time we have a postive restaurant experience with our daughter, it teaches her how to cope with her allergies and boosts her confidence.

Ethnic dining can be as easy as our experience or much, much trickier to due language barriers and cultural differences, so please make sure you are certain that your needs are understood and addressed. If we had any concerns we would have gotten the chef involved and I urge you to do the same.

Also, when you get nice service from an understanding waitperson, I suggest reflecting that in the tip and also with verbal thanks. I know we all appreciate it when our kids eat out without incident and it's nice to show it.

What are some of your tips? I'd love to hear about your dining experiences--both good and bad. Until then, be cautious but have fun!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Night the Lights Went Out in Chicago

Whew, this was some Father's Day this year in our new house. The area we moved into was hit with severe thunderstorms and high winds, knocking down trees and cutting the power for about 12 hours on Dad's day of rest.

Luckily, no one in our neighborhood was injured or had damage to their homes. But we had a lot of lost food and of course, no way to keep anything cold.

While our emergency was relatively short-lived, if you look around the country, extreme weather has been making life difficult for many this summer.

When you've got food allergies in your family, power outtages and emergency situations like flooding require a bit more preparation. Here's a few tips for keeping on top of food allergies in an emergency:

1. Make sure you have a good stock of "safe," non-perishable food items that can be eaten by the entire family. Soy milk (if you can have it) doesn't require refrigeration and bottled water is always good to have on hand in case you can't use your tap water for any reason. I like to have cereal, crackers, pretzels and slow-spoiling fruits like apples and bananas on hand in case of a blackout. I also like those non-refrigerated cheese crackers in my pantry (not safe for dairy-allergic folks, I know).

2. Make sure all your prescriptions are up-to-date and well-stocked. Check to make sure that you have several epinephrine auto-injectors, a bottle of Benadryl brand anihistamine and whatever asthma or seasonal allergies your child needs well before a crisis hits. In the event of extreme bad weather, you may not be able to renew these prescriptions in a timely manner, so get them now. Keep them in a plastic resealable bag so they don't get wet.

3. Keep a nice supply of Clorox wipes and antibacterial hand wipes. If the worst happens and you have to leave your home for any reason, you'll be able to remove allergenic residue from surfaces or body parts.

What are some of your stay-safe tips for emergencies? Remember, moms of allergic kids are usually more prepared in general, so we can handle ourselves in most situations. In any case, I'm going to hope that Chi-town stays dry and clear, at least for a little while. It's time for summer fun to begin!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fathers and Food Allergies

I know this blog is titled "The Nut-Free Mom," but since today is Father's Day I wanted to give a shout out to my husband and all the fathers who help manage their children's food allergies.

You hear a lot from mothers on this issue, but I know a lot of Dads get very involved, too. For example, check out the recent work of Trace Adkins and Senator Christopher Dodd. Both of these dads have young children with severe food allergies and have been working to make a difference.

During Food Allergy Awareness week, both Senator Dodd and Trace Adkins participated in an education briefing on Capitol Hill and talked about public policy change regarding food allergies. These two guys are Food Allergy Superheroes who are also just dads who care about their kids. (And Trace, love that "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.") And of course, Trace just appeared on "Celebrity Apprentice" in support of FAAN.

These two Dads are leading the charge in the fight to make sure that food allergies are dealt with and accepted in our society. But sometimes, the simple fact that a Dad remembers to bring the EpiPen to a picnic or helps the child feel safe at an allergy appointment makes all the difference to a child.

My husband tries to promote food allergy awareness wherever he goes. And he made the first call to our new school and quizzed the principal about how food allergies are handled. He often is the first to speak up about our daughter's condition when we go to a new restaurant. Most importantly, my daughter knows she can count on him.

What have the dads in your life done to help your child cope with their food allergies or help promote food allergy awareness? I'd love to hear your stories.

So, thanks to the dads for all they do. Happy Father's Day!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We All Scream for Ice Cream...But Skip the Soft Serve

A recent post on Peanut Free Mama debated the merits of Baskin Robbins soft serve ice cream and the fact that BR stated that their soft serve did not contain nuts.

I posted that if the machine were "dedicated" to only one type of ice cream that it might be OK. Turns out I was overly optimistic.

Shortly after that I got my FAAN newsletter and there it was. A mom had written in to share that her 13-year-old (with a nut allergy) had a reaction to soft serve ice cream. The ice cream shop wasn't specified, but still. I'm steering clear and I'd ask all of you to do the same.

We've had luck with the packaged ice cream that is untouched by a "scoop" when visiting an ice cream parlor. That's what I'm sticking to.

In the meantime, I've yet to find a safe brand of "Blue Moon" ice cream at the supermarket, so I'm searching for a homemade recipe for my Cuisinart ice cream maker. This is one of my daughter's favorite flavors, but it can contain almond extract. I'm working on my own recipe for it and when I have one, I'll share it here.

Top Chef Loves "Braised" Pistachios...What's a Food Allergic "Foodie" Family to Do?

I was so excited to watch Top Chef last night and see Chicagoan Stephanie Izard win top honors. I'm a big Top Chef fan (and have posted about them before). But what the heck is up with the "braised pistachios" in Stephanie's lamb dish? I'll have to take Tom Colicchio's word for it that this use of pistachios was "surprising" (and frankly according to the enraptured way that the Top Chef judges responded, it looks like consuming braised pistachios is a life altering experience). The judges said something along the lines of "I thought I'd eaten everything and then you come along and braise pistachios, which I've never seen done before, and now life is worth living again."

OK, I exaggerated the last bit (but just a tad).Much as I was rooting for Stephanie, the last thing the world needs is chefs thinking up more ways to use pistachios.

Obviously, my daughter isn't at an age where she is frequenting gourmet restaurants and partaking of the type of food cooked on "Top Chef." But I do think about her future and where she will be able to eat safely when she's older. I even worry about dating, "peanut" kisses and all the rest of it.

I'm sure a lot of parents in a "nut-free" lifestyle are stumped when we enjoy all types of food, enjoy eating at different restaurants and heck, even wouldn't mind going out with the family to a "gourmet" restaurant now and again. In a city like Chicago, especially, there are plenty of great choices to be had.

After last night's episode I envisioned chefs across America thinking up ways they can add braised nuts to the menu. Yikes!

Now for the good news. For the food-allergic foodies out there, there is a wonderful site that talks about enjoying restaurants and life in general as an adult with nut allergy. I have the link on this blog: "Please Don't Pass the Nuts."

The blog's author is a food-allergic adult who has wonderful and witty ways of dealing with food allergies in restaurants and has even created a "club" of food-allergic adult diners. As the mom of a daughter with a nut allergy, this makes inspiring, entertaining reading.

For example, I learned that Tom Colicchio's N.Y. restaurant, craftbar, does not have peanuts on the menu at all. After watching the peanut/tree nut-happy cheftestants on "Top Chef," whodda thunk it?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

All Moved In...Short Update

We've finally moved in to our new home as of late last week, so that's why this blog has been a bit "quiet."

Things have been busy, busy but I had a chance to visit the new school. It turns out that they have open campus for lunch, meaning that kids can opt to go home for lunch during the school day.

Since I work at home (and live very close to the school), this is a good option for my family. Of course, I still have loads of food allergy/medical info to fill out and submit to the school, and a meeting lined up with the school staff to discuss food allergies (their idea--I like that they are proactive) so I feel a bit relieved that I may have one allergy concern "off the table" as it were. (Please forgive the terrible pun). Also, I kind of like the fact that I can serve my daughter lunch at home if she would like me to.

I have never experienced "open campus" for lunch at elementary school before, either as a student or as a parent. Does anyone else have this choice? How has it worked for you?

Of course I'm still up to my eyeballs in boxes and dirty laundry, but I'm finally getting back into the swing of things. With our change in schools, I'm sure I will have a lot to report about our new challenges in the new school and neighborhood, so stay tuned!