More Safe Food

Feeding Charlie takes a lot more planning and effort than it did for Max, but if you’re going to have a kid with food allergies, Charlie is the guy to have. He loves just about everything I make for him, which makes this much easier on me. Here’s a video of him enjoying various allergy-free dishes I’ve made for him.

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Food Allergies Get A Mascot This Halloween

Our kids spend most of October in their Halloween costumes. Sometimes, they pretend to be their characters (Transformers, this year) and other times, they pretend they are trick-or-treating. We make pumpkin-shaped, peanut/tree nut/milk/egg-free cookies. They paint pumpkins. (No carving them, after seeing what they did to Charlie’s arms.) They draw ghosts and jack-o’-lanterns, bring us spooky books to read, and look for Halloween decorations when we walk around the neighborhood. As Max says: “Halloween? Thumbs up.”

Image courtesy: FARE

Image courtesy: FARE

They hardly mention candy, though. Sure, they get loads of it when they hit the streets on Halloween, but the treats they look forward to are plastic spider rings, pencils, tiny rubber snakes, and other random goodies. That’s what they get when they turn in their bags of trick-or-treat candy at the end of the night. They also get a few candies that we have personally bought and vetted, but it’s not the highlight of the evening. The kids have a good time and Charlie is safe. It rocks.

The-Teal-Pumpkin-Project-5

Image courtesy: FARE

This year, we’re adding a new tradition, thanks to FARE and FACET. We’re painting a pumpkin teal and putting out a sign that will let parents know we have non-food treats available. It will also help get the word out about food allergies. We only hand out non-food treats, but many families who are taking part in the Teal Pumpkin Project will be handing out candy and offering non-food treats to trick-or-treaters who request them.

What makes the teal pumpkin useful is that when we see one, we’ll know that we can ask for non-food treats. That means that more of the treats Charlie and Max collect will be treats they can enjoy. It adds to the fun for them and doesn’t change anything for kids who don’t have food allergies – especially at homes that offer candy and non-food treats (from separate bowls).

I really like this idea and I’m glad it’s getting so much love from the press. When it comes to educating people about food allergies,there’s still a long way to go, so some of the comments on these news pieces are a little disheartening, but most people seem to think the teal pumpkin project is a great plan. Hopefully, those who think it’s an attack on an American tradition will see that no kids are being excluded – they’re being included. Everybody gets to have good, safe, fun.

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Food Allergy Fun: Charlie Meets Charlie

Whole Foods is on the other side of town, but it’s loaded with allergy-friendly brands and the kids love the produce section because the employees sometimes give them fruit to snack on. So, we trek out there occasionally and stock up on Applegate meats, Daiya cheese alternatives, Earth Balance vegan butter, and So Delicious coconut milk and yogurt.

And, of course, we get cookies. We can bake our own and often do (look up Kelly Rudnicki online for allergy-friendly baking recipes) but sometimes it’s fun to buy boxed cookies. We typically go with Enjoy Life and Cybelle Pascal’s cookies. It’s fun: it’s one of the few times I can point to several shelves of food and tell Charlie “pick what you want.” The cookies are insanely expensive, but watching Charlie choose his own treat is good for my heart.

Anyway, we went to the register and were just finishing up when a family walked past. The mom glanced at our counter and stopped dead.

“Does someone in your family have food allergies?” she asked.

I explained that Charlie does and she pointed out that her son was also named Charlie, and he also has food allergies – the same ones that our Charlie has. The two Charlies, who are about the same height and age, sized each other up while we talked about our experiences with the kids and food allergies. We agreed: it’s hard.

Charlie is very happy to know that there’s another Charlie who has food allergies, and he told MK about it as soon as she got home. I got a kick out of the coincidence, and, although I wouldn’t wish allergies on anybody, I’m always a little relieved to see that there are other families going through the same thing – MK and I are not alone.

Mystery Reaction

Trying new (to Charlie) processed foods is always tricky, but usually ends well. Recently, though he popped. That’s the way it goes.

Here’s how we introduce Charlie to a new processed food: By the time it gets to our house, we’ve already scoured the ingredients list (we don’t keep food he’s allergic to in the house). But we don’t trust the ingredients list alone. We start feeding it to him by giving him a single, tiny bite. He waits 10 minutes and, if he’s not displaying symptoms of a reaction, he gets a slightly larger bite. We continue until we’re comfortable that he’s OK with the food and can eat large bites. This is similar to the food challenges we do at our allergist’s office. It’s a good way to catch a problem food early, but it’s rough on Charlie’s patience. He’s three.

This time, we found some veggie popsicles that looked fine, ingredients-wise. He loves the fruit version of these, so we started our home challenge with one after dinner one night. Bam. He popped.

We’re always read for this – we were at the hospital nine minutes later. When we walked up to triage, I said “I have a three-year old with-” and the nurse immediately waived her hand in front of her face and said “an allergic reaction, I see. Come on in.” I really love the staff at our hospital.

Charlie Reaction

Charlie sporting hives. He’s feeling chipper, though.

Luckily, steroids did the trick, and no epi was needed. He was lucid and even happy the whole ride to the hospital, which made the ride much easier for all of us. When you’re trying to determine if your kid is headed into anaphylaxis, a boatload of hives on his face will make you more than a little tense.

What triggered it? We don’t know, and that’s always frustrating. But that’s just the way it goes with food allergies: you’re always worrying, and you’re always watching, you always know how far you are from the hospital and you’re always bristling with epinephrine injectors.

Dodging Food

It’s been an exciting week for Charlie. We ended up in the hospital parking lot during dinner one night, waiting for his face to calm down. I made chicken parm with some homemade marinara and it should have been fine for him, but sometimes pasta sauce makes his face red – probably the acidity. We might have waited it out, if Charlie didn’t already have a tight, awful cough from his cold. As it was, we couldn’t be sure what was cold and what was allergy, so off we went, and dinner was cold when we got back. That’s pretty frustrating. Max woke up that night from a nightmare in which “Vegetables were coming out of Charlie’s neck.”

A couple days later, Charlie was well enough to come to Max’s swim lesson and sit with me at the picnic table. It was the last swim lesson of the season, so the teacher gave the kids little bags of chewy fruit-flavored snacks. I didn’t see her do that, so when Max got back to our table he had already opened it, eaten one, and immediately tried to give one to Charlie. I vetoed that, and explained to Max that we couldn’t eat any more of them until we got home and I could check the ingredients. Max understood, but it was too much for him and he sobbed and screamed all the way home.

The following day, we stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up some vegetables and fruit. Sure enough, there was a big event for kids: they were making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Charlie really wanted to go over there, but I explained why he couldn’t, and he understood…although I had to hold his hand the whole time to prevent him from going over anyway. He gets it as much as a three-year-old can, but he has the control of a three-year-old, too.

As a parent of an allergy kid, I see the world differently than I did before. For one thing, I’m stunned by how much food is given to kids. I never noticed it until we had Charlie, but wow: so many events for kids also end up including snacks or candy. And the oil change place, where they offer candy. And the bank, where they offer candy.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that nearly all of this food is crap. Candy, rice krispy treats, fruit-flavored gummies – this is all junk food. I appreciate the people who keep stickers on hand instead of sweets. Kids love stickers.

So that’s the food allergy update. These things are rough, and affect our quality of life, but they’re nothing we can’t handle. I’ll take the tribulations of unexpected snacks and a weird sensitivity to marinara sauce over anaphylaxis any day.

Food Allergy Challenge: Peanuts

This kid tolerates peanut butter.

This kid tolerates peanut butter.

Charlie tolerated peanut butter at his food challenge today. No, he shouldn’t eat it again. But, it’s not lethal to him. MK and I are so happy, we could pop.

After being off his allergy meds for several days, Charlie walked into the doctor’s office, hopped onto the little bench, and downed 10 consecutively larger portions of peanut butter, starting with a portion so small he couldn’t even taste it, and ending with a sizable bite. We waited 10 minutes between each portion, and I (and the nurses and doctor) monitored him closely. The whole thing lasted an hour and a half, but it felt like 20 minutes to me.

Charlie’s face didn’t display any hives during the test, but his arm got a bit red at the inside elbow and a tiny hive appeared on the other arm. The doctor also skin- tested him for environmental stuff (he’s allergic to mold) and tree nuts. He’s allergic to everything except hazelnut. (We initially thought that opened the door to Nutella, but it contains whey.)

At this point, the doc says, the peanut butter appears to exacerbate Charlie’s eczema. The doctor thinks Charlie will outgrow peanut by his next food challenge, which is in the Spring. But, for now, we’re happy just knowing that he’s not likely to experience anaphylaxis from accidentally eating something that has peanuts in it.

Still on the anaphylaxis list are egg (confirmed), dairy (confirmed), and tree nut (possibly). Knocking peanuts off the list is a huge win, and gives us hope that the others will be outgrown, too.

Charlie’s First Smoothie

IMG_0231Charlie’s food allergies mean that making a smoothie with yogurt and milk is out of the question. But today I saw So Delicious coconut yogurt at the grocery store and the ingredients looked fine for him. I worried about the starter culture, though. Was it dairy-related? Each yogurt has the company’s 866 number right on it, so I called and in minutes was talking to a So Delicious person, who assured me that everything is plant-derived, and that the company knows its customers often have allergies and it takes that seriously.

How awesome.

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I tested Charlie on it, a little sip every ten minutes, and he was fine. “I want a smoothie. What’s a smoothie?” He said.

So, today we made smoothies and Charlie flipped. Some coconut yogurt, some coconut milk, a package of frozen fruit, and blender with the ice chopper mode, and suddenly Charlie was having his first smoothie. He loved it. He said “We need to show Mommy and let her have a taste. But I drink all of it.” And he drank all of his, most of Max’s (hey, you snooze you lose) and tried unsuccessfully to gank mine. I’m glad he gets this new, flavor-packed treat.