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: One Year In

It’s been a heck of a year, but things are finally starting to line up for old Liz Lemon.

This time last year, Charlie’s allergy doctor told us to pull him from daycare and described the ideal environment for a kid with such wildly severe food allergies (and such a young age): home. We looked at Charlie’s track record – four anaphylactic reactions in nine months – and thought the doc was making a lot of sense. A week later, MK went to work with the added responsibility of being the sole breadwinner, and the boys and I stared at each other over our cereal bowls.

And I had no idea what to do.

My biggest challenge was learning to cook. My mom tried to teach me when I was in high school, but I got through college on fast food and then married MK, who loves to cook and makes great meals. I had to learn, and I had to do it within the confines of Charlie’s allergies: no milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, beans/peas/any legumes except soy and no bananas or strawberry. And, of course, already-made meals were generally off limits – too much risk of cross contamination, and that’s if you could find one that didn’t have an allergen already in the ingredients. I stressed.

But, over time, I learned, and Charlie outgrew his allergies to bananas, beans, and strawberries. I make great, Charlie-friendly baked beans. I have chicken covered. My meatloaf is “the best in the universe,” according to the kids. These days, I don’t stress – as much – about cooking.

And that’s really the story of the other aspects of this new world: I’m more comfortable with everything about being a stay-at-home dad now that I’ve had some time to grow into it. MK is supportive and great and we’ve had fun trading tips and working together. Even the scary part of this is easier. Charlie “popped” (as we call it when he has an ana attack) a couple months ago and we were calm. Our system for keeping Epi-pens nearby worked and the injection (administered by MK this time) went smoothly. Charlie was in deep trouble, but we got him out of it.

So, onward. We’ve taken a trip to Chicago to see family without any trouble. Next up,a food challenge for Charlie in the fall. There are still things to work on – MK and I don’t get to get out together nearly as often as we’d like, for one thing – but things are improving, and Chuck is as safe as he can be.

Charlie and Max

Charlie and Max

FARE’s Updated Walk For Food Allergy Website


The new FARE Walk for Food Allergy site is polished and easy to use.

My family really enjoyed the FAAN walk here in Lincoln, Neb. last year. It was a great chance to raise money for an important food allergy organization and it was also an opportunity to raise awareness of food allergies in Lincoln. And, it was nice to see that we are not alone – there are many, many families in our city going through the same thing. Now, there’s exciting news about this year’s walks, which will take place across the country. FARE, (formerly FAAN & FAI), now has a new website. I’ve checked it out, and I love it.

Food Allergy T-shirts

Charlie and Max at last year’s walk, sporting their T-shirts.

Lincoln’s walk isn’t up on the site yet, but FARE’s midwest regional development coordinator just sent out an email pegging the date as October 19th, at Holmes Lake Park. That’s where it was held last year, and it’s a great, scenic spot with plenty of parking.

Everyone meets up at a big tent and checks out the latest from Mylan, (maker of EpiPen and EpiPen Jr) and there are plenty of activities for the kids (balloon animals, face-painting, etc.). The activities are followed by the walk itself. If you’re thinking of going, I recommend raising money via the FARE walk site. If you’re not planning to go, I’d like to point out that last year Darth Vader showed up.

Food Allergy Fiasco: The Valentine’s Day Party


When you have food allergies, you are surrounded by poison. Everywhere you look, there are treats and meals that will, should you eat even a crumb of them, kill you over the space of maybe twenty minutes. It makes Valentine’s Day tricky, to say the least.


Charlie isn’t old enough for pre-school, but I got a preview of what’s ahead when his four-year-old brother showed me the bag of Valentines he’d collected at preschool yesterday. I sent Max off to preschool with some paper Valentines, not realizing that nearly every other kid was headed there with candy. It’s no problem for Max, as he has no food allergies, but I was caught off-guard when I showed up at the end of school (with Charlie) and he asked to bring the candy home. I explained that he could only save the non-food treats, and he understood. He was disappointed, of course, but Max takes a lot of responsibility for Charlie’s allergies. He tells people we meet about them and watches what Charlie eats, commenting on whether he thinks its safe.

vday2I was relieved to see that a few parents sent their kids with non-food treats. Now that I know what Valentine’s Day looks like at school, I’ll send some better non-food treats next time.

What will it be like for Charlie when he starts going to school? I don’t know. I wouldn’t want him around these temptations. It’s one thing to avoid milk or peanut butter. It’s another to not reach into your own Valentine bag and pull out the chocolate kiss – to not touch any of the candy because any of it could have been cross-contaminated. That’s a tough spot to be in when you’re a kid.

While I’m on the topic of temptation, I always get a kick out of the people who post comments online (often under news stories about how schools handle food allergies) about how candy bars with peanuts should be allowed in schools, and that FAKs (food allergy kids) should just consider those lethal snacks to be learning experiences. Really?  That’s a very high-stakes way to teach the kid self control that he’s not old enough to possess yet. Resist the temptation to taste the candy that everyone around you is eating, that other kids are encouraging you to eat and telling you that it’s perfectly safe. Sure! I’ll bet that most of the people who make those comments aren’t nearly so disciplined, themselves. I’d LOVE to know the BMI of some of those…people.

FAAN Walk Lincoln!

This weekend was the FAAN walk in Lincoln, Nebraska. The four of us were there with our FAAN T-shirts, and so were Charlie’s grandparents. It was a well-organized walk, with lots of fun for the kids.

Max got a balloon sword, Charlie danced with the elephant, and I got a picture with…Darth Vader. (Max wasn’t too thrilled.)

I was surprised by how many people were there, and how many kids (and adults) were wearing the blue ribbons that signified allergies. This is a widespread, serious problem. We need organizations like FAAN to educate and work for our safety.


Meet Charlie

Charlie Saving The DayCharlie is the reason Toxic Lasagna is here. He’s also the reason I quit my job as a magazine editor two months ago and became a stay-at-home dad. Charlie is spectacularly allergic to several foods and has been to the emergency room multiple times for reactions. That’s a lot of action for a kid who just turned two.

As you can imagine, my wife MK and I are picking up an overwhelming amount of information as we go. Toxic Lasagna is a way to share what we’re learning and connect with the community of food allergy families that we suddenly find ourselves a part of.

Miracle Cupcakes And who is Charlie? He’s a happy, laid-back little guy who loves to play Superheroes with his big brother, Max. He also enjoys stomping around the house as a T-Rex while chasing and being chased by his bro. He’s only just beginning to figure out that there are things that his friends (and even his brother) can do that he can’t.

So, now you know a little about Charlie, Max and their parents. Let’s get this party started.