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.

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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.

No Jersey Mike’s For You

A long time ago, MK and I went through our kitchen and tossed or donated every food that Charlie is allergic to. We also disposed of any foods that were made on shared equipment (or in the same facility as) his allergens. We donated any cookware that struck us as possibly having traces of allergens on them (the blender went, for example). Since then, our house has been Charlie-safe. We cook only foods that he can eat.

Once in a while, we’ll get take out when Charlie is asleep and eat it downstairs – often the garage. Then we clean it up, toss everything, wash our hands, etc. So there’s your backstory.

Today, we went to the Children’s Museum and parked a little farther away than usual. When we got back to the car, I realized we were right in front of Jersey Mike’s. I thought: Heck, I’ll just take the kids in, they won’t touch the sandwich, it’ll be in a bag, and I can eat it after they go down for a nap.

We got as far as the line when it occurred to me that I’d be holding Charlie’s hand with my left hand and a bag of poison with my right. And, of course, he was asking me if he could have a sandwich, too. And so was Max.  We turned around, went to the car, and when we got home I made us delicious sandwiches and salads. Now he’s sleeping, safe and sound.

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

Food Allergy Cookbook: “Food Allergy Mama’s Easy, Fast Family Meals”

Pasta & Turkey Meatballs.

Pasta & Turkey Meatballs.

Since quitting my job and becoming a stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) last June, I’ve been cooking dinners for the family five days out of the week. I had to learn to cook – and do to it without dairy, eggs, and Charlie’s other allergy triggers. Over time, I became a decent enough cook: my meals got us through the week, and they were safe for Charlie and healthy for all of us. The meals were bland, though (tonight: baked chicken with seasoning – tomorrow, broiled chicken without seasoning!) we all looked forward to Mary Kate creating tasty dishes for us on the weekend. But thanks to a cookbook designed for food-allergy families, I’m rocking dinner every night.

Chicken Salad.

Chicken Salad.

I’m not kidding about rocking dinner. Max has told me “This is the best dinner ever, dad!” three times. Charlie routinely asks for seconds. After all the stress and frustration I’ve experienced in the kitchen for nearly a year, I’m winning. The reason: The Food Allergy Mama’s Easy, Fast Family Meals.

So what makes this cookbook amazing? The recipes taste great. Really, really great. Every time I try a new recipe, it’s a hit. I’ve even talked Max – who is generally skeptical of new recipes (and just about everything else) – into tasting new dishes by saying “Remember how good dinner was last night? Now try this.”

Best Stir Fry ever.

Best Stir Fry ever.

I’ve tried a lot (tons) of recipes that are allergy-friendly, but taste bud-hostile, or just bland. The recipes in FAM, as we’ve started calling it, are healthy and they use ingredients that are easy to come by. And, they’re so, so easy. Thank you, Kelly Rudnicki!

One of my favorite recipes is the Weeknight Double Roast Chicken, which provides a great dinner and enough leftovers to make a few more dinners. That chicken becomes an ingredient in the Chicken Salad recipe, for example, which goes in a pita for a great lunch. The Pasta & Turkey Meatball recipe

Calzones. MK put an M on this one for Max. You have to love a personalized calzone!

Calzones. MK put an M on this one for Max. You have to love a personalized calzone!

showed me how to make a pasta sauce that is so healthy and good – it has the kids eating zucchini.

Rigatoni. It was delicious and we had it for lunch again the next day.

Rigatoni. It was delicious and we had it for lunch again the next day.

Anyway, for families like mine, The Food Allergy Mama’s Easy, Fast Family Meals is a huge deal. I’m diligent about planning the menu each week (I have to be – I can’t run out for fast food or take the family out to a restaurant if I don’t have a dinner ready one night), but it’s always been a chore. Mostly, it revolved around finding meals that we hadn’t eaten recently. Now, I look forward to picking out the week’s dishes.

And it sent me to the local Barnes & Noble in search of more allergy-friendly cookbooks. I found Cybele Pascal’s Allergy-Free and Easy Cooking, which is also great. We had some amazing “Out-N-In” Burgers tonight because of it. I’ll talk more about that book in another post, once I’ve tried more recipes from it.

Make your own pizza night. The boys picked their veggies and sprinkled them on.

Make your own pizza night. The boys picked their veggies and sprinkled them on.