I read a blog post this week that had me a little irked. Yeah, annoyed is a better way to say it.
The blog appeared on the Huffington Post and was titled "Why Do Your Kid's Allergies Mean My Kid Can't Have a Birthday?"
Aside from the inflammatory nature of the title (which, as a blogger myself I recognize this as a way to grab the reader's attention), the post carried on about what a pain it is to have an allergic child in the classroom and how the accommodations required for him are an inconvenience for everyone, especially the birthday child. The author proceeds to share that she thinks her child should be able to have whatever he wants on his birthday--even if that means allergen-filled cake that another child may be deathly allergic to.
The author ended the article with this:
Let's stop the allergy insanity, and let the rest of them eat cake -- the lovely, homemade, buttery, gluten-stuffed cake.
I'm sorry but the 'allergy insanity' phrase rubs me the wrong way. It implies that those of us who have or deal with food allergies elect to do so--as if we had a choice! I myself never wished my son to have a food allergy, but he does, and it's my obligation to keep him safe--everywhere he goes.
Would the author have me home school my son so that her child could have his cake and eat it to? Would she have me remove my son from the classroom, sit him away from the class alongside the chalkboard, or have me bake a special cupcake so he won't feel left out?
I think the issue is deeper than who is leaving who out. Or who is missing out on a special day.
It gets to the messages we are teaching our children.
Unfortunately, the message an impressionable child might hear are these:†Don't be sensitive to the needs of others. You can have what you want, no matter what. Don't do the right thing, just do what's right for you.
I think children need to learn just the opposite:†Be sensitive to others and their needs. You can't always get what you want, but if you work hard, you might get close. Do the right thing--you'll always be proud of yourself for that.
Having a food allergy or a child with a food allergy is stressful. Studies show that the stress of food allergies takes its toll--on everyone in the family, but especially the parent who is keeping their child safe and the food allergic individual himself. I am almost certain that attitudes and articles such as this one adds to the anxiety, frustration and isolation families with food allergies can feel.
I had to chuckle at the beginning of the article because the author started with this question:
"What is gluten, nut, and egg-free AND also store-bought that I can serve at a kindergarten class party?"
Fruit. Vegetables. Pencils. Stickers. A book. Removable tattoos.
I can think of a whole long list of celebratory alternatives that have nothing to do with food allergens or birthday cake.
So why don't we just take food off the list of parties at school? Better yet, how about a crown or a sash for the birthday boy? A 'Happy Birthday' announcement over the PA system and a special book?Some†non-food items can have potential allergens in them, so plan thoughtfully.
Toning down the party scene at school (and the food influx) will keep our food allergic kids safer. And it will cut down on anyone feeling left out.
Let's take a broader and more sensitive look at how we treat those with medical challenges. We can make life harder for them, or we can make it easier and safer.
I vote easier. How about you?
The stress of raising a child with food allergies or dealing with them yourself can be overwhelming. Researchers have been looking at†quality of life in individuals with food allergies so that they can identify ways to combat their stress and enhance the experience of daily living. I summarize the latest findings in What Tugs on the Heartstrings of Food Allergic Families? If you are feeling stressed out about your food allergy, you are not alone. The good news is there are things you can do to help melt the tension that food allergies may bring to daily life.
Getting healthy, delicious, allergen-friendly food on the table is one area that bothers parents, with or without food allergies! My family loves this Lemon Stuffed Roasted Chicken, especially on a weekend night. The best part is the leftovers (if you have any!) which can be used for school lunch box sandwiches, atop a salad, or stuffed into a quesadilla or chicken soup. I love having a recipe that has multiple applications to our weekly menu.
I recently wrote about oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy and will be looking into the patch for peanut allergy treatment soon. Have you heard of this?
Last, my Great Expectations: Food Allergy in the Child (6-12 years) will help you anticipate some of the food choices, complaints and general behaviors around food and eating with your grade-schooler, which can be frustrating. My own son went through a phase where he felt left out when parties rolled around, and when friends brought enticing foods for lunch that he couldn't have. It helped me to know that his wanting to belong to his peer group was completely normal for his age--and helped me understand him and help him with his frustration of having a food allergy.
I will have a special article like this for the toddler and teen soon, because they experience different milestones that affect their eating. You can get a glimpse of what's to come in this article called How Child Developmental Stages Affect the Food Allergic Child's Eating.
I hope everyone is doing well, and warming up a bit. Hang tight, spring is almost here!
People who have peanut allergy have some interesting news to sort through regarding oral immunotherapy (OIT) as a way to help treat peanut allergy.
If you read the news headlines, you might think that OIT was a cure-all for peanut allergy. Yup, step right up and take a bit of peanut powder everyday and you're on your way to being peanut allergy free.
We all wish it were that easy. But it's not.
Don't be fooled by those catchy news headlines. While OIT for peanut allergy is being studied and has some promising aspects, the jury isn't out yet.
I've done a quick update on peanut allergy OIT for you with the some of the latest research findings, which you can find here.
Remember, be open to new information, but check your research and your facts thoroughly.
Have you heard of oral immunotherapy for peanut allergy?
I remember the first time my son's teacher called me and said, "Your son had a bite of a granola bar! I am so sorry--I was distracted and he just popped it into his mouth..."
My son has a tree nut allergy, and I had supplied the teacher with labeled snacks for him in the event of an unexpected (or planned) party.
My heart sank, and my stomach heaved. My imagined fear came to life in one phone call. This was my biggest fear about sending my son to school.
Of course, I couldn't blame my son--he was only 5 years old and still on the learning curve about his food allergy. I knew it was normal for him to want to eat what his classmates were digging into.
I couldn't blame the teacher--she was doing her best in a public school with 20 kindergartners and lots of distractions.
I'm sure many of you have experienced this scenario with an allergic child. Whether it be a birthday party, class party, family gathering, or other.
Thankfully, in our case, the teacher realized quickly what had happened and called me. Thankfully, I was at home to receive the call. Thankfully, my son took his Benadryl right away, and had no adverse reaction.
At the time, there wasn't any other way to remind caregivers that my son had a food allergy, other than to pester, leave notes, emails and other reminders.
And pray they didn't forget about my son.
Now, parents have more options. Although the SafetyTat wasn't around when my son was younger, I would have gladly given it a try.
What is SafetyTat?
SafetyTat, the inventor of children's safety tattoos, has a line of allergy tattoos to help children with food allergies.
Each tattoo offer two lines of information for special medical attention or a second phone number.¬† "Medical Attention" and "In Case of Emergency" tattoos include phone numbers or other basic information and are also available in the allergy line of SafetyTat tattoos.
SafetyTat's¬†target age is for kids aged 1-7, taking into consideration this age group's need for additional help to recall important information.¬†However parents apply¬†SafetyTat¬†on older kids as well for an extra layer of protection especially for those with medical and allergy related issues and for kids taking part in sports activities.
Have you heard of SafetyTat?
Disclosure: I was given this product to review. I have no financial interest or stake in this company. This review is for informational purposes only.
One of the most helpful things as a parent is knowing about the ages and stages of child development. From picky eating in toddlerhood to dieting in adolescence, these are somewhat predictable stages all children go through on their journey to adulthood.
Even if your child has a food allergy.
Here are some examples:
Your almost three year old toddler refuses his once loved broccoli, chicken and wheat-free pasta, which was a mainstay of his weekly diet.
Your ten year old milk- and soy-allergic child wants to eat the same food everyone else eats in the school cafeteria, but you've been comfortably making his lunch everyday to make sure he is safe.
Your teenager is flirting with vegetarianism, but you're concerned she doesn't eat enough protein already.
While each of these are sample challenges, they give you a taste of what can happen during your child's growth and development.
Having realistic expectations of what is likely to transpire will help you be ready for them with a calm outlook and a plan.
I've started a series of posts that will address what to expect with child development, beginning with the school-age child. Be sure to check back for guidance on the infant, toddler and teen in the near future!
Have you noticed certain behaviors and tendencies in your child at different stages of development?
I am seeped in sports these days--my volleyball playing daughter had a tournament in Pennsylvania, and my swimmer is ready to head to a big swim meet next weekend. Though neither of them have food allergies, I am always aware of other athletes who may be dealing with them.
Interestingly, each sport is different in how they handle food, and I sometimes wonder if they are thinking about food allergy. At the volleyball tournament this past weekend, most athletes carried in their own snacks and drinks (hiding them because they weren't allowed to do so), not sharing them with others. However, the available food at the arena was made on site, like sandwiches, mexican bowls, and pizza, so very few food labels were available for reading and checking ingredients, not to mention the elevated risk for cross-contamination.
The same goes for swimming. Concession stands often have muffins, open boxes of donuts, and milk pitchers for coffee (and some spilled on the counter!). Cross-contamination is the biggie here too.
Some sports, though, do shared snacks, like soccer. Though my son is not playing soccer at this time (too much snow!), I have always made mention of his allergy to tree nuts to the coach and other parents. While I know this is generally well-received information, people are human and they sometimes forget. If you are in charge of snacks for a sports team, please make note of those athletes with a food allergy.
It can be challenging to try to find allergen-free snacks, but nature has offered up some easy and effective options. The easiest way to avoid a food allergic reaction is to stick with fresh fruit or vegetables as the snack of choice--and it's actually one of the better options for an athlete anyway!
The dangers of a food allergic reaction are always lurking, wherever you go, but when you bring your own food, they are more manageable.†If you are an athlete or have a young athlete in your home, how do you handle food allergy?
You may be interested in this: For a recent post I did over at USA Swimming, I discussed how to†manage food allergic swimmers, and highlighted Dr. Scott Sicherer, a well-known board certified food allergist at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York and author of†Food Allergies: A Complete Guide for Eating When Your Life Depends on It, about his opinion of the risk for cross-contamination in the pool.
When my son was first diagnosed with a†tree nut allergy, I spent a lot of time telling friends about his allergy, writing lists of foods he could not eat, and sending him with food when he had his first play date. I was scared to death to let him have an overnight sleepover. In fact, my solution to that for a long time was to do a "half sleep-over" which meant he could go home with a friend after school, eat dinner, watch a movie and get picked up at 9 pm.
That worked for both of us for awhile. Inevitably, he wanted the freedom to stay the whole time and I knew he should have it.
One of the most important things I have done with my child is to teach him†how to communicate his food allergy to others. From asking what is in a food item to telling an adult he might have ingested a nut, I wanted my son to advocate for himself-and be comfortable doing so.
Now, as a twelve year old, he is a pro at questioning adults about what is included in a food he doesn't recognize or is homemade.
"Are there nuts in this?" he asks.
Are you and your child comfortable with communicating about food allergies?
Many families I know get caught at the dinner hour. They haven't thought ahead about what they will serve, don't have the ingredients on hand, or simply don't have the time to make what they want to eat.
What happens? They order take out, go out, or make something less than ideal (read: unhealthy).
For the family with food allergies, this can be a negative cycle to get into, not to mention dangerous territory for a food reaction. Obviously, having a weekly meal plan to work from is the ideal situation--you can shop, cook and have a meal at the ready each day. However, the reality for most busy families is that this scenario is less and less common.
Even I have found myself in this pickle, which is why I am starting the New Year with a bulk cooking, freeze and stock the freezer program. Not only will I have a full freezer, but I will be able to avoid the pitfalls associated with†eating out. Having a home stock of ready to bake meals will free me from getting surprised with cross-contamination at a restaurant, failing to explain my son's allergy, or worse, forgetting the medicine!
While there are several freeze ahead programs out there, I am using one from Meals in a Snap, and making modifications for my son's tree nut allergy. For example, one of the recipes I will be making is a Power Pesto with pine nuts. I will substitute sunflower seeds for pine nuts to make the recipe edible for the little guy.
You don't have to have a "program" to cook in bulk and freeze, you just need to follow some simple steps:
1. Pick two or three family favorite recipes that are allergy-friendly and freeze well.
Here are 3 recipes that I think would work well for the freezer:
Allergy-Safe Crock pot Chili (can make on the stove-top also)
2. Set aside one hour each day for three days, or three hours over the weekend to cook. I am allotting Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, one hour each day, for cooking.
3. Use one portion of what you make in bulk to serve for supper and freeze the rest.
4. Shop for all the ingredients you will need for your cooking session so you have them on hand.
5. Use (or purchase if needed) freezer bags or other freezer-to-oven safe cookware.
6. Label the container with the food item and date it was made. Keep a master list of your freezer contents.
For me, this is a food insurance policy, and drops the stress related to feeding my family.
Not only can you cook and freeze-ahead dinner meals, you can do breakfast items, like this wheat-free granola.
Baked goods are another area where baking and freezing can ease the chaos, especially if you need to use special ingredients. How about an egg-free recipe for oatmeal cookies?
Whatever you decide to cook and freeze, enjoy the process. Know that you will be eliminating the stress associated with going out to eat, and will know that your meal is allergy-friendly.
What allergy-friendly meals do you like to freeze-ahead for your family?
How long has it been since you've checked in with a†board-certified allergist? Maybe you haven't because you've been reaction-free for quite some time. Maybe you assume that your food allergy will be with you for the long haul. Or maybe the status quo (no reaction, no eating food with allergens) has made you comfortable-maybe even complacent?
My son was diagnosed with a†tree nut allergy when he was two years old. He's had three reactions in the ten years since his diagnosis. Each time he had a reaction, I felt that I had let my guard down. I had gotten complacent, thinking we were in a safe routine. After all, when a reaction hasn't occurred for quite some time, it's easy to think you're doing great ...and slack off.
My son's allergies have not been†life-threatening-his reactions typically involve†hives that don't go away quickly. The last two reactions have required steroids, in addition to Benadryl, to resolve his itchy hives.
His last reaction took us by surprise, though, because he didn't react to tree nuts. He had a reaction to pumpkin, which had never happened before. He has eaten cooked pumpkin his whole life, and had even assisted with carving a pumpkin in the past. But this time, he was on his own, digging into the pumpkin, up to his elbows, and wiping his face with his pumpkin-covered forearms and hands.
He went to bed with one hive on his cheek (which I didn't recognize as a hive-I thought it was a pimple! He is 12...). He woke up in the morning covered with hives on his face, arms and chest.
I share this story as a reminder that allergies can surprise even the most knowledgeable and careful person.
You're best defense against getting caught off guard is to check in with your board-certified allergist, review†foods and ingredients to avoid, double-check the signs and symptoms of allergic reaction, go over youraction plan, and remind yourself that staying safe is the most important thing you can do.
I plan to do this as the New Year unfolds with my son. How about you?
The About.com Health Channel is proud to have won silver in the 2012 eHealthcare Leadership Awards for Best Health/Healthcare Content. Winners were selected from over 1,100 entries and were judged by 115 industry professionals.
As part of the health channel, I can say that I am very†privileged†to work with such a knowledgeable and dedicated group of health writers. †The doctors who make up our medical review board also play a big role in assuring that we provide medically accurate content that is written in language everyone can understand.