Five Top Tips for a Food Allergy-Safe Kitchen

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There are basically two camps of thinking when it comes to cooking with a member of the family who has one or multiple food allergies. The first completely eliminates the allergen from the home, making it a safe haven for the allergic individual by nobody having the option to have the offending food available. The other camp does not eliminate allergens, but comes up with a system to keep things safe.

I see the drawbacks and benefits of both sides, but for our family, there are just so many allergens to steer clear from that the rest of the family who isn’t affected by Jonah’s multiple food allergies would not be realistically content.

We also feel that Jonah has so many anaphylactic allergies to deal with that we want him to be comfortable both in and out of our home to eat confidently no matter who is with, or what situation he finds himself in by being able to read labels, ask questions, and decrease anxiety he may develop over offending foods as he gets older. The reality of his diagnosis thus far is that there are multiple allergies that are life-threatening for him and he lives in a world that surrounds him with them. The more we can help him navigate at home in a “realistic” setting, the more confident he will feel when put into situations outside the home to advocate for himself and protect himself when we can’t be there as he grows older.

We have come up with a system in our home, specifically our kitchen to still ensure ultimate safety for Sadie, who has a life threatening peanut/tree nut allergy and for Jonah’s multiple anaphylactic list of allergens as well. Hopefully if you are newly diagnosed or going back and forth between which way is the right way for your family, these tips will give you confidence in your kitchen.

  • USE SEPARATE UTENSILS/COOKWARE  We keep bowls, plates, spoons and forks separate so Jonah is always eating from the same things. As time has passed we have also designated cookware specifically for one use. Example: we have a small skillet that we only use for eggs and nothing else. This way we don’t have to worry about cross-contamination. I also use the same muffin tin for his baking and line cookie sheets with foil so I can throw it away after use.
  • CLEAN WITH DISPOSABLES  I used to be a hard-core frugal when it came to cleaning our kitchen by using washcloths and a homemade vinegar spray in our paperless kitchen. However, when dealing with allergies, a washcloth or a sponge is asking for a trip to the hospital from cross-contamination. We don’t think twice about using disposable wipes to clean the surfaces of our kitchen nowadays. We also make a point to clean Jonah’s eating spot first and then move on to other areas of the kitchen as to not subject his safe area from any contaminants we are cleaning up with the same wipe.
  • SEGREGATE SNACKS  We keep any offending snacks in a separate cabinet in our pantry that is too high for either child to reach, even if they got a chair. For the refrigerator, we keep any cheese in a separate drawer away from everything else that is safe and reachable.  We also have plans to implement green stickers to food items that say “safe” and red stickers that say “not safe” as a preliminary introduction to reading labels for Jonah now that he is getting to an age to understand right from wrong. It helps out family members or babysitters who come into the home and are nervous about having to read labels without us there with a hungry little boy. When Jonah is old enough to read, we will start educating him on all of the key words and alternative words for ingredients he is to steer clear from. Until then, everything is out of sight and out of reach.
  • DESIGNATE SAFE EATING AREAS  Jonah always sits in the same spot at the table. This way we all know not to sit there with any unsafe food and to always start cleaning in that spot. Likewise, if I let Sadie have a treat that he is not able to eat, she either sits in her specific spot at the table away from Jonah’s area or at the desk where I can easily wipe off anything that falls. He already knows not to go to either spot that is an option for Sadie to avoid an “owie.”
  • DE-CLUTTER  We have already always been a pretty clean and tidy family, but even more vigilant (you might argue paranoid) in our kitchen than anywhere else in our home. We keep it minimal on the counter tops, only having out what we use daily. We do dishes right away so nothing is left out to curious hands, and we deep clean as we go. The less mess you have to deal with, the less chance there is for any mistake to be made or any accident to be more prone to take place.

So there you have it. The top five tips I have for implementing a safe kitchen when you are dealing with food allergies. Regardless of what camp you fall into, hopefully this is a good springboard for you and your family members to gain confidence to cook and operate in your kitchen bye creating a safe environment no matter what you choose.

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Menu Plan

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Even though all I am craving right at this moment is a huge bowl of potato soup, eh…maybe Corn Chowder and a hefty side of chocolate malt balls (weird, right?!), I am planning for meals that have actual nutritional value of some sort and not for every single whim and desire that seems to fly my way.

If this boy in my belly could have his way, I would be on a very steady diet of all things potatoes. Mainly in the fried fashion. Oye vey.

Here’s what we’re chowing down on this week:

1. Lasagna Stuffed Spaghetti Squash (adapted for Jonah to be dairy-free)

2. Vegan Pesto

3. Turkey Tacos & Salad

4. White Chicken Chili

5. Breakfast for Dinner (Brinner)

 

Allergy-friendly Chocolate Dipped Frozen Bananas

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Since we successfully passed our very first food challenge test with bananas last week, I have been dreaming everything banana. It seems like something so little, but it’s a major victory that really opens up some fun possibilities. For instance, there’s banana bread, banana cupcakes, banana pancakes, banana smoothies, and these chocolate dipped frozen bananas.

Here in Orange County, we have a historic little place on Balboa Island famous for their frozen bananas, dipped in chocolate and then an array of toppings to choose from. Too bad there it is a nightmare for cross contamination for Sadie and Jonah with those pesky peanuts. Jonah can’t have their chocolate either since it has dairy as a main ingredient. So our old favorite spot is now avoided like the plague and delegated to date nights.

That’s why these make my heart leap. If we can’t do it there, we will do it here in our home! Maybe one of these days we’ll take a stroll on the Island with these in hand too.

They’re quick, a blast to do with the kids if you don’t mind messy chocolate fingers or faces, and a fun way to spruce up a fruit into a fabulous dessert or snack.

Ingredients:

  • Bananas
  • 2 c. Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips
  • 2-3 TBSP Canola Oil
  • Craft or Popsicle sticks
  • Sprinkles

Method:

  • Peel bananas
  • Insert stick from the bottom of the banana (don’t worry if the banana breaks. It will be covered in chocolate and still look like perfection)
  • Place bananas flatly in the freezer until completely frozen
  • After bananas are frozen, melt chocolate chips in a glass bowl for approximately two minutes, stirring every 20 seconds or until completely melted.
  • Add canola oil to melted chocolate, stirring to incorporate.
  • Cover bananas in chocolate
  • Top with sprinkles
  • Place bananas into the freezer again until they are completely set and ready to devour!

Annual Allergy Testing

“He is among the worst I’ve seen, and I see a lot.”

“His body is highly reactive like it enjoys going into Anaphylactic shock.”

“His immune system is on fire.”

“I feel for your family because this is life and death.”

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I’m not so sure what I was expecting. I’m not all that surprised by the results, but somewhere deep inside of me was praying, wishing, and hoping for some huge turn-around. Like I’d skip out of the office joyfully and run home to give him a strawberry before they’re out of season and see the joy all over his face over the pure sweetness. TJ was wishing we could just open up his food world a little bit to give him an experience he’s never been able to have with us.

But two minutes into his skin test this morning, I knew we were not going in that direction at all.

He cried, wanting to itch his back so badly and a huge part of me broke for him. Oh, how I wish he didn’t have to carry this.

He’s so brave.

He’s so perfect.

When his Allergist came back into the room, he took his seat and praised us for doing as much as we do every day for his safety.

He acknowledged my flowing tears (hello pregnancy hormones), and assured me I am perfect for my son.

And then he gave me a full picture of what Jonah deals with daily.

It’s not just the worsening of his already existing food allergies. It’s also the addition of many environmental allergies. It’s also the Allergic Rhinitis diagnosis. It’s also very serious asthma that poses a real threat to his respiratory system during any allergic reaction. It’s also his out of control Eczema that is a systemic infection, screaming at us that his immune system is working in overtime.

He is just so brave.

So perfect.

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Current Allergy List:

  • Dairy* (worsened, if that was even possible)
  • Egg white* (worsened)
  • Peanut*
  • Cashew*
  • Almond*
  • Walnut*
  • Avocado (worsened)*
  • Sesame Seed*
  • Strawberry
  • Banana*
  • Latex*
  • Shrimp
  • Soy
  • Carmine (red food dye)
  • 3 types of grass
  • dust mites
  • cats

*denotes likely Anaphylactic allergens

We love him just as he is. Perfection. Brave. Happy. Protected by a Great God who holds him.

Menu Plan

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Add a dollop of toddler pickiness to multiple severe food allergies plus texture aversions and it’s a recipe for a burnt out, frustrated Mama. There is a lot of work that goes into meal time. I have to meal plan, shop at multiple stores while staying within a reasonable budget (with both kids and my ever growing belly), prep, cook, store and serve the food. Sometimes this tedious process is done and it’s worth the time and effort to make sure Jonah is safe and we are all eating something healthy that we can enjoy as a family.

Lately though, meal time has been finished before I can even get it on the table. All of a sudden the little man has major preferences. What he loves one day, he detests the next and honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of room for variance.

While I would love to just call in a pizza and call it a night, that’s not an option. So I girded myself with more ammunition…after all, you give me a challenge, I will rise up and defeat it.

Buah haha.

I bought a couple of new cookbooks from individuals in the world of allergies I have grown to admire in my own journey and reveled in the pages that reminded me to just get back to basics and keep things safe, short and simple.

The biggest reminder to me was that anything we loved pre-allergy, I can tweak and with enough creativity make a safe version of that same meal.

So I guess the boy will somehow learn to not merely survive on green smoothies everyday if I have anything to do with it.

Here’s our plan:

1. Chili

2. Balsamic Seared Salmon Salad & Roasted Broccoli (Jonah will have Turkey since we haven’t tested fish yet. Mama is pregnant and Sadie wants hair as long as Rapunzel so we need those Omega-3’s. We compromise on this one)

3. Leftover Chili Stuffed Baked Potatoes

4. Soup & Grilled Cheese (GF bread and Daiya cheese)

5. Baked Calzones & Peas

Extras:

Trail Mix

Morning Glory Muffins

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

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Getting Over Yourself: The Emotions Behind Anaphylaxsis

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You can easily picture how horrifying it is to watch your child go through Anaphylaxsis. If you’re like our family, we’ve encountered those life and death moments five times now.

You beg and plead with God to make them keep taking a single breathe, just one at a time until help arrives.

You panic as you watch your child swell into something unrecognizable, changing colors everywhere from pink, to purple, to blue.

It’s simple as a parent, whether you’ve been in that scenario or not to understand where your heart aches in those moments of uncertainty in the frailty of life.

But there’s more to it.

I remember sitting in the hallway of the hospital ER this last time I had saved Jonah’s life by giving him the EPI-Pen after TJ had discovered he was crying in his bed because he couldn’t breathe. I was holding on to him while digging for my phone with our allergy list, because in an emergency I can’t trust myself to remember all fourteen of them. The nurse ran through their typical questions and in my blur of sadness, worry, and panic another unexpected wave hit me, just as it always does.

Guilt.

Inadequacy.

Remorse.

Unforgiven.

Whenever I know we are in the clear, immediately these emotions rear their ugly head screaming at me, telling me I’m not good enough to take care of my son for weeks after the fact. Even bringing myself back to the scene in my head takes me there.

I could have double checked the nutrition label instead of wondering if people around me would think I was paranoid. I should have asked to speak directly to the chef at the restaurant to see if the recipe changed instead of relying on the waiter for right information. That I should have stayed at home instead of trusting him with another person because I would be in close proximity standing at the ready should something go wrong. That I should have been more of an advocate for him.

Especially in the beginning of our journey, I made a lot of rookie mistakes.

But the reality is that I am learning along the way. I was thwarted into this new allergy world and have taught myself everything I can every day that I get. I have dedicated my life to researching food, making my home a safe haven, planning ahead, cooking, double-checking cross contamination, educating those around us for his safety.

I have endured the looks, the disbelief, the rude comments, the sh-luffing off by general society all in the name of keeping my son alive. Breathing. Laughing. Playing. Happy.

Whether I could have prevented any episode of Anaphylaxsis or not, the point is that it is never my fault. What I am doing will always be enough because I’m giving him all that I have and all I am capable of giving.

And whether or not I feel it that day or not, my daughter and my son’s lives rest in the hands of a God who made them perfect just the way they are. Anaphylaxsis and all.

I will always be enough of a Mom for them.

I pray that where ever you find yourself on your journey, you have a renewed confidence knowing you are exactly who God had in mind. Imperfections and all. -Psalm 139:14

New Allergy Update & Menu Plan

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There is a fire lit inside of me and I am blazing the trials making Jonah’s life as normal as possible when it comes to food. I realized two crucial things this week through his Evaluation for Occupational Therapy and Allergy appointments…no, make that three things: 1) My little boy is seriously a champ, 2) He has some real food aversions from bad experiences and associations with food thanks to all of the allergies, reflux, and anaphylactic responses, and 3) he has a lot stacked against him with his new, updated, and revised list of food allergies diagnosed today.

What’s the updated list you ask?! I am writing them here, posting them on the fridge, and handing them out to family because, frankly I can’t remember them all of the top of my head:

  1. Dairy*
  2. Wheat
  3. Egg*
  4. Peanut*
  5. Cashew*
  6. Soy*
  7. Strawberries
  8. Pork
  9. Stone Fruits (mango, peach, plum, etc.)
  10. Avocado*
  11. Banana*
  12. Kiwi

* indicates a strong enough reaction to elicit an anaphylactic response (banana is one we experienced first hand last week)

We’re hopeful he will grow out of many of these, although the strong allergens may end up being lifelong issues. Only time will tell as he is old enough to do challenge tests to see at a later time.

As his Mama, I want him to have as many choices as he can. I desire for him to begin to have a fun, explorative, and healthy relationship with food despite his rough start. I want him to thrive, grow, and find joy in the things that he can eat without growing up feeling like he is missing out.

I am coming to a point more and more in my moments of desperation figuring out all the puzzle pieces to this little man that my children belong to the Lord and I truly have no choice but to surrender it all. My kids have been given to us to care for and God has chosen us to be the ones to tend to their needs. Whatever they are, or how complicated they are, they are ours for a reason. Even if I don’t see the end.

I am so thankful for so many reminding me this past week since his scary trip to the ER that we are enough for our Jonah. I feel completely inadequate at some point every day.

It feels like swimming in the middle of the ocean at night time knowing there are sharks wading the waters as you swim. But…

Like I said, he is a champ. And Sadie is an amazing cheerleader for her brother. TJ is a great encourager.We’ve got this.

Here’s what we’re eating this week:

Snacks:

Juicing Project:

Art Party & Allergy Friendly Chocolate Doughnut Recipe

We had such a great time at Sadie’s birthday party this past weekend. I love that our little “Blue Barn” has been the epicenter for so many milestones and celebrations for our family.

Sadie loves drawing and coloring with a passion, so I thought an Art Party theme would be fun at this stage of the game.

We had a coloring station, a pumpkin painting station, a play dough station, and a spray painting station and the kiddos went wild with their own creations.

When I asked Sadie what she would like to have for her birthday dinner and desert with all of her family and friends, she answered without hesitation, “Pepperoni pizza and chocolate doughnuts with rainbow sprinkles.” Not exactly organic or healthy, but hey, it’s the girl’s birthday and she’s a little woman with a vision.

The more I research and the older both of my kids get, the more integrated I am wanting to make our food for Jonah. So I set out to make Sadie’s chocolate doughnuts that Jonah could eat with us. They passed the test with the allergic and non-allergic alike with flying colors and will be a celebratory staple in our home for years to come.

This recipe is gluten-free and dairy-free, adapted from Cooking for Isaiah. It is by far my favorite allergy-friendly cookbook and resource. Although Jonah is quite allergic to eggs, we are finding he can tolerate a small amount of egg if it’s baked at at least 350 degrees, like some other allergic children seem to be able to do. This is a huge privilege since it opens up many more options for him, in moderation.

Ingredients:

DOUGHNUTS

  • 1 1/2 tbsp. instant espresso coffee
  • 3/4 c. boiling water
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
  • 6 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. Silvana’s All-Purpose Flour*
  • 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 c. granulated sugar

GLAZE

  • 1/2 c. boiling water
  • 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (about 1 c.)
  • 2 1/4 c. confectioners sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • rainbow sprinkles, for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease two nonstick 6 doughnut baking pans with nonstick cooking spray. To make doughnuts, in a medium bowl, whisk together the coffee and boiling water; let cool completely. Whisk in the eggs, oil and vanilla.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, brown sugar  and granulated sugar. Whisk the egg mixture into the flour mixture until just combined; fill each doughnut cup about three-quarters full. Bake until springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted comes out clean; about 18 minutes. Let cool completely in the pans set on a wire rack.

3. To make the glaze, in a medium bowl, stir together the boiling water and chocolate until melted. Stir in the confectioners’ sugar, and add the corn syrup and vanilla; stir until smooth.

4. Set a rack over baking sheet. Dip the doughnuts in the glaze and set on the prepared rack; top with sprinkles.

*All-Purpose Flour Blend Recipe:

  • 6 c. white rice flour
  • 3 c. tapioca flour
  • 1 1/2 c. potato starch
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. xanthum gum

In a large bowl, whisk together. Transfer to air-tight container and store in a cool, dry place.

 

 

 

Eating Without Guilt

 

Food is an emotional event.

Whether you mean to or not, you associate times in your life and events with food.

Even though she is long gone now, I can still smell and taste my Mom’s peach chicken she used to make us for dinner all the time and the chocolate chip cookies we used bake, package up, and take to the nearest convalescent home.

Those are foods to this day I still have such a pleasurable association with.

It can just as easily go in the opposite direction, as well.

For instance, I can’t bring myself to eat gnocchi from one of my favorite restaurants because seven years ago I ate it and then woke up hours later in the wee hours of the morning vomiting every bite of it as a side effect of the pain from a kidney stone. As good as it was to eat at first, the dish simply lost it’s appeal after an episode like that.

I used to love nothing more than to open my fridge and plunge the biggest spoon I could find into a tub of freshly ground honey roasted peanut butter from Whole Foods and eat it for a mid-afternoon snack until I saw my Sadie through my rear view mirror ballooning up and struggling for air after having one teaspoon of the same thing. You don’t forget pleading with God to give your first born child breath.

Or how about my past-time favorite breakfast option of some creamy vanilla yogurt with some hemp granola and berries scattered on top in a big mug that I could nosh on as I got ready for my day in the morning? That sounded like bliss until Jonah broke out in a massive rash and his lips started to turn blue when he had a spoon full. You just can’t erase the experience of sheer fear you have while you watch your baby struggle and you are alone in it.

Some of the events that take place around food are ones you simply can’t shake and they no longer mean the same thing.

Right now I am still breastfeeding Jonah and am continuing to avoid the allergens that pass through my milk supply to his system. But there will come a day soon where he doesn’t nurse anymore and I will be free to eat however I choose when I am not around my kids. But if I am honest, I will admit that there are triggers for me with food that exist now that give me a true level of anxiety instead of the familiar pleasure I was accustomed to. And the thought of weaning and gaining the freedom of choice is not something I’m really looking forward to like most probably would. The Allergist Mom has coined it as post-traumatic disordered eating and I resonate with her evaluation to the tee as a parent.

Will I still go to a restaurant someday soon with my husband and enjoy a slice of gourmet pizza laden with wheat and dairy? Sure. Will I do it without reading through the menu automatically weeding through all of the ingredients that are “no-no’s”? Not a chance. Will I do it without the flash of my Jonah writing in pain and me frantically grabbing his EpiPen ready to strike him in a last ditch effort to save him? Never.

If you are a parent having to integrate into this new world I am learning to call my new normal, know that you are not alone in it. Acknowledge it exists and then try your best to take a bite with no guilt. I will try my best to do the same.

 

 

Menu Plan

I’m beginning to think that Risotto is this family’s new best friend. I can make a large quantity of it for cheap and pack it full of vegetables to give a great variance of nutrients to the little people without them even knowing what hit them. The biggest plus is the fact that this is always a meal I can make that we can all eat together as a family if I substitute whatever cheese is called for in the recipe for Nutritional Yeast Flakes.

Wait, you mean I don’t have to make four different meals for four people who all have four different dietary needs and restrictions?!

Why, yes.

Risotto is my manna from heaven.

Oh, and let’s not forget that I was going to buy it for $2.99 a pound at my local health food store when I stumbled upon the clearance cart that had 2 pounds for $1.99. Score. Or so I thought. As I stood in line, I looked at the clearance cart again and saw packed on the bottom a beautiful looking package with 6 ounces more of Organic Arborio rice for the same $1.99.  You can betcha I was digging to the bottom of that cart, while holding my squirmy Jonah who thinks sitting in a shopping cart really is a challenge to dive head first to the ground and see if he can bounce back.

Anything for a good deal.

Here is what the plan looks like for this week:

1. Tomato, Chicken Sausage & Spinach Risotto

2. GF Pizza Bites with Vegan Pesto, Arugula & Goat Cheese

3. GF Baked Black Bean & Turkey Taquitos with Refried Beans & Salad

4. Vegan Pesto & Garlic Wilted Spinach

5. Roasted Acorn Squash & Sweet Potatoes with Salad

 

Snacks:

Homemade Granola Bars

Breakfast Cookies

Fresh Juice