Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Food Allergies and Allergic Teens: Taking the Next Big Step

Happy Birthday, dear Alex.
Today my daughter is a teenager! And while turning 13 is exciting and fun on many levels for her and for us, it also represents for me, at least, a new phase for our family. Food allergy management is no longer just the domain of parents or other adults; kids now step into a leadership role.

Our daughter was diagnosed with life-threatening nut allergies 9 years ago; it's hard to believe it's been that long. We've all learned a lot and grown a lot. No matter how old she gets, of course I will always be there for my daughter if she needs me. I'm always willing to advocate for her if she needs the help, which she will need, for awhile. However, more and more I'm seeing that it's time for me to begin to trust her, offer her the opportunity to self-advocate and make good decisions. This is what she will need to do the rest of her life and frankly, I've always had an eye on this fact. All through her childhood we've encouraged her to self-advocate and learn to self-manage. Now the real test begins, because she will need to do this for herself more and more frequently.
For parents of younger kids who are not yet in my shoes, let me tell you that it does give me a lot of hope and a feeling of security to know that I have taught her as well as I can. Whatever you are doing now to support and teach your child, it will give you more peace of mind when they get older and manage things on their own. I trust my daughter; she's given me no reason not to. But let's face it--kids are kids. They make mistakes. Teens are famous for pushing the envelope; in a way, it's their job to do that.
My daughter's pink "Groovy Girl" b-day cake when she was in kindergarten.
Yep, that seems like yesterday.
The goal is an independent, self-sufficient teen and young adult who can confidently manage their food allergies. But life isn't perfect and neither are we. How do we go forward and help kids get through the teen phase, safely, and healthy in both body and spirit with regard to life-threatening food allergies?
For me, a lot of unknowns still exist. We have a long way to go. But I feel confident (most of the time!) that my daughter can manage her allergies in just about any situation because we have done a lot of work together to get to that point.
A few things I can suggest that have helped me in this effort:
Try to stay positive about handling food allergies. Yes, food allergies rocked our daughter's world and occasionally prevented her from certain activities (ice cream shops, bakery birthday cakes, school treats) but we always focused on the positive as much as possible. Everyone has a challenge in life or multiple challenges; that's life. This is just one of them. If you approach food allergies with an attitude of  "you can handle this" I do believe it helps kids get through some potentially difficult situations.
Offer unconditional, calm support. Suppose your child makes a mistake about what to eat or is struggling with managing the allergy at school. Even if you are so upset (at the school, your child, another child) try not to freak out on this subject, at least in front of your child. They need to feel like they can share with you and so, be calm and offer solutions. If you need to vent, talk to your spouse or a friend. Some kids might feel like they don't want to burden you, so if you get really upset, they won't tell you what's up. And you don't want that. It's good to remember the motto: "Keep Calm and Carry On."
Give kids ownership of the allergy right from the beginning. Starting when they are young, have them be the one to remember to pack the epinephrine (of course, you'll double-check, but let them initiate), speak up in a restaurant or to a friend. We have always encouraged our daughter to do this and it's second nature to her now. I remember my daughter's kindergarten teacher telling me that my daughter always asked about foods, would say "no" to certain things and generally advocate for herself. Start young and it will pay off later. It also helps kids to feel more empowered and less shy when they can do this.

Be honest. This is life or death stuff, so you have to be honest about concerns and food allergy management requirements. In turn, kids should be able to feel comfortable sharing their feelings, good or bad, about food allergy management.
Remember that you are not your kid. If you don't have any food allergies yourself, you may not understand everything that your child is going through. Listen to them and sympathize and acknowledge that they may be experiencing things unknown to you. They will respect you and trust you for admitting that.

I'm not going to tell you I'm never scared about sending my daughter out there with allergies or that I don't have anxiety about certain things.  All I can do is trust that I have done what I can do and that I will continue to be a resource for her.
For more information on teens and food allergies, click the link for a great article on management and coping.
And visit Anaphylaxis Canada and the FARE web site for specific teen info. Allergic Living magazine has a lot of good information, too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Last Minute Valentine's Day Treats at the Supermarket, A Recipe and Love for the Food Allergy Parents

Heart-shaped chocolate chip scones. Yum!
Valentine's Day is tomorrow and as parents of kids with severe food allergies know, we have to remain vigilant to prevent reactions. This holiday of love and treats is not always as "sweet" as we sometimes wish it could be with those concerns on our shoulders, but I hope it is helpful to know that you are NOT alone in this struggle. Just imagine as you drop your child off at school tomorrow that a lot of other parents are going to worry a little more about their kids because candy is not always safe for them to eat. Or maybe they will have to say "no" to a special treat that others can have. It can be hard to deal with the various issues and concerns, especially with regard to health and safety.
Remember that your attitude makes a big difference. Let your child know you'll have something special for them after school, or treat them to a nice breakfast that includes the heart-shaped scones above (recipe in a minute). Put a note in their lunch.  As busy parents, sometimes we just have time to give kids a hug and a Valentine card--and that's enough!
How you express your loving care doesn't really matter--you would be surprised at how important your simple support is. Truly, it's the best gift you can give. After all, love and not food is what this holiday is all about!

However: If you need safe treat ideas, and you're looking for last minute supermarket finds for Valentine's Day, here's a link to a previous post with several options.

Now onto the scones! I was thinking of a relatively simple and sweet treat that can be easily made into a heart shape without messy frosting, etc. So scones it is! You can use dried fruit in these if you like or make them plain; I used Enjoy Life Foods mini chocolate chips--nut-free, dairy-free, soy-free. The scones have eggs and dairy. For an egg-free variation, see below. Those of you who adapt recipes for dairy free, you can use dairy-free shortening and non-dairy milk in these, but your results and baking times might be slightly different.

These are a nice breakfast treat, lunch dessert or after-school snack.

Jenny's Heart-Shaped Chocolate Chip Scones

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.


1 and 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (I use Gold Medal)
2 - 1/4 tsp. baking powder (I use Clabber Girl)
1/4 cup sugar (Domino's) plus extra for sprinkling on top of scones
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 stick cold butter or cold non-dairy shortening or margarine
1 large egg (if you need egg-free, you can omit the egg but your scone will be more like a biscuit--and that's not a bad thing!)
1/3 cup milk or cream
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (I use Enjoy Life, at Whole Foods, some SuperTargets and supermarkets) or dried fruit like Craisins

Stir together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Then, using two knives used scissor fashion or a pastry cutter, blend in butter until it is the size of small peas.

Stir in chocolate chips or dried fruit and make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Beat milk or cream with egg and then pour into the well. Mix together lightly but thoroughly; do not over mix or you will have a tough dough. If it won't come together into a ball, add a little more milk. Then, use your hands to mix the dough together. Place on a floured surface and pat into a rectangle (or an approximation of one, as I did. See below).

Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter or other cutter (or alternatively, pat into a circle and cut into triangle shapes), cut out scones and place on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with additional granulated sugar, if desired.

Bake for about 10 minutes until golden brown. These are best served warm, or reheat for about 15 seconds in the microwave.

Regarding food allergies and Valentine's Day, here's a post from a few years ago that you might also like.

Lots of love to you all! Here's to a safe and happy day!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Food Allergies and Valentine's Day Parties at School: Some Safety Steps to Take Now

Chocolate is high-risk for nut allergies, so be careful.
Valentine's Day and life-threatening food allergies: Sometimes it's hard to feel the love. When food can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction, (particularly sweets which are out in abundance at this holiday) you have to anticipate problems before they occur. Believe it or not, you can learn to "heart" Valentine's Day again.

Personally, I've found that advance preparation cuts down on stress (you, your child, the teacher, other parents) and risk (your child). Here are five suggestions for handling a Valentine's Day party in your child's classroom:

1. Give the teacher a heads-up today. Don't wait until the week of, or even a few days before. Speak to the teacher, send an e-mail, pick up the phone, your choice, but make it a point to find out what is going on with regard to food. Does food have to be offered? What about a game, a craft or a story? If food is going to be present and you can't avoid it, offer to send in a safe treat and then emphasize that your child sticks to that and that only. If your child has a health plan that prevents food in the classroom, check to be sure this is going to be upheld. You'd be surprised at how many parents simply show up with cupcakes and dump them on a teacher. Work with the school so that you can figure out solutions to these inevitable hiccups that occur on party day.

School administrators can help, too. For example, our school has a no treats or gifts policy on Valentine's Day. (This is for many reasons, not just food allergies). The principal sent out a note detailing this policy to all the parents.

2. Check the crafts. Are any edible crafts being done or is food being used for inedible crafts? Ask now. Crafts using certain foods are a bad idea with food-allergic kids in the class unless everyone is on the same page about what is safe and what isn't. So why go there? Suggest an alternative craft if you must. The store Michael's has tons of craft ideas; so does Target and other discount stores. You can find crafts for Valentine's Day online, too. Check out this link from Parents magazine: This link has a few crafts involving foods--skip those or find safe versions, whatever works best for the kids in your classroom. There are several creative food-free ideas here.

3. Be careful of candy in/taped on the actual Valentine. People love to attach candy to valentines. It's cute, no doubt, but can be hazardous to a kid with food allergies. Instruct your child not to eat candy on their Valentine and alert the teacher so that they can be on the lookout for this.

4. Role play with your child. This may be the most important point. It's never too early to teach a child to refuse food. Our rule has always been: "When in doubt, do without." Teach your child to be polite but firm when offered food that may not be safe. This would pretty much include all candy and baked goods you have not sent to school, but pretzels, chips and popcorn brands can also be unsafe. Our daughter has always refused food since she we knew of her allergy and I truly believe it has helped her remain safe and strong when the topic of potentially hazardous food arises.

5. Promise your child a safe treat after school. It's hard to be a little kid (or even an older kid) turning away candy or treats at a party. It might make it easier if you inform your child they will have something good waiting either after school or later that evening. It doesn't have to be food, but if you're looking for some nut-free Valentine's Day treats, check out my post about online V-Day resources and supermarket finds.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Nut-Free Recipes for Superbowl Sunday -- or Any Game Day Party!

Since it's Super Bowl Sunday this weekend and it is reaaaaally cold in many parts of the country (like Chicago), I'm sharing a family favorite recipe -- Mexican Meatball Soup. Something about Super Bowl Sunday makes me crave Mexican food -- maybe it's the traditional chips and guacamole usually on offer -- so this dish will pair nicely with salsa, chips, guac, even cornbread. Click here for a simple cornbread recipe I featured around Thanksgiving.
I love this recipe because it is easy to make, economical, tasty and healthy. Kids and adults love it and it is also a great recipe to make and carry along in a slow cooker if you are attending a party. (For tips on attending a party with nut allergies, click this link.) If your kids are reluctant to eat vegetables, this might get them to eat some because most kids love meatballs. Or fool them by chopping the veggies really small, so that they are less likely to notice them.
Once you've assembled the soup and cooked the meatballs in the simmering broth for 20 minutes, this soup only improves the longer it sits in the slow cooker. And of course, like all soups, this is even better the next day. You can easily double this recipe for a crowd.
Before I list my recipes, one note: This site mainly offers peanut-free and tree nut-free recipes. I'm not an expert in substitutions for other allergies (though many of my recipes will take to substitutions) and there is no way I can anticipate every food allergy with my recipes. So please, if you can't eat one or more of the foods that appear in the recipes in this post, feel free to substitute as you see fit, if you can. I know a lot of us need nut-free recipes and that's what I know best, so thanks for understanding!
Mexican Meatball Soup
1 lb lean ground beef (I use ground round)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 grated yellow onion (use a hand grater right over the mixing bowl)
3/4 cup crushed tortilla chips
4 tablespoons (or to taste) fresh cilantro (skip cilantro if you/your kids don't like it--but if you like it, don't skip it! It is really good.)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
7-8 cups chicken or beef stock or broth, or a combo of both (I use Swanson's low-sodium or organic broth)
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes, with their juice
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
In a large mixing bowl mix beef, eggs, onion, tortilla chips, cilantro, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Cover this mixture tightly and chill in the refrigerator for one hour to make it easy to scoop and to blend flavors
Place your stock in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add the tomatoes, sugar, red pepper flakes, if using, carrots, celery, onion and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a roiling boil, then turn down heat; simmer.
Form the beef mixture into 1 to 1-1/2 inch balls (use a small ice cream scoop for this, if you have one.) Place them in the simmering stock, carefully. Cover the dish and simmer gently about 20 minutes or until meatballs are cooked all the way through.
At this point you can place the soup in a slow cooker on low.
When ready to serve, top with fresh cilantro. You can also add shredded cheese if you like, avocado, or whatever garnish looks good!
Makes about 8 servings.

Game Day Recipes from SunButter

If you can have/like SunButter, each year SunButter break out some tasty and inventive recipes for Super Bowl Sunday (or any game day). This may be your chance to convert friends and family to a peanut butter substitute.

Click this link to find nut-free snacks, apps, sweets and more.