The Teal Pumpkin Project

Food allergies, 15 million Americans suffer from them, 1 in 13 of those are children.

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If you read this post you know that we have one child with a life-threatening peanut allergy and in this post, I talked a little about how food allergies complicate our lives.  As we approach the Holidays, food allergies are more at the forefront of our minds.  It’s October and we are on the cusp of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a ton of other food sharing centered holidays.  It requires careful planning and doesn’t come without anxiety.

The Teal Pumpkin Project

Since Oliver was diagnosed with food allergies, Halloween has been has become stressful.  Once it was one of my favorite holidays.  Growing up in Michigan it meant the smell of leaves, sweaters, cool nights. I still love decorating the house with pumpkins and spiders, making the front porch festive with hay bales and cornstalks, and picking out costumes for the kids (and sometimes making them).  However, now it all leads up to “the night” where we are surrounded by allergens.  We spend a good part of the weeks ahead reminding Oliver not to reach in a candy bowl only hold out his bucket, he absolutely can not eat a single piece of candy until we go through everything.  There are peanuts and peanut contaminated foods everywhere.

In 2014, I stumbled across a new movement, The Teal Pumpkin Project.  It was an amazing concept.  Of course, we decided we would participate.  The kids had a great time picking out little trinkets and non-food items to make our bags.  On Halloween, we proudly displayed our Teal Pumpkin and asked our Trick or Treaters if anyone had an allergy.  There were no takers until later in the evening a mom and a little girl came up to the door.  When we asked if her child had food allergies her eyes welled up, she said that she did and that she likely wouldn’t be able to eat anything in her treat bucket.  She was so thankful when we pulled out that bag with non-food items for her daughter.  It made it worth it.  I was that mom, newly diagnosed, scared and anxious.

We have faithfully participated in The Teal Pumpkin Project since.  If I can help one parent worry less, it’s worth it.  If I can teach my kids that inclusion is important, it’s worth it.  If I can make ONE child’s night, I’d do it again 1,000 times.

How Can You Help?

During Halloween, get a teal pumpkin!  Way back in 2014, I had to pain my own, but now I have seen them at several major retailers such as Target, Michaels, and Walmart. Or you can always grab a can of spray paint and craft your own.  FARE has some cool Teal Pumpkin branded merchandise that you can purchase as well, this years garden flag is super cute! You can also donate to FARE directly here.  We usually head to the Target Dollar Spot or Dollar Tree for fun stuff for our bags, this year we have rubber spiders my kids are going crazy over! It doesn’t have to be fancy, we usually do some stickers, bubbles, pencils, and erasers.

We also try to get more allergy friendly treats to give out as well.  Kids with Food Allergies has a good list here.  Skittles, Starburst, Swedish Fish, and Sour Patch Kids are easy to find readily available treats.  Remember that choosing to participate means you could be the person to make that one mom’s night by including their child.

Food Allergies – When Take Out Is Anything But Easy

There are sometimes when I want to phone it in as a mom. This week for example, Sunday we were in the ER with one sick kid who was home from school until Wednesday. (He’s fine, weird virus that mimicked appendicitis) I’ve been battling a cold since late last week, by Monday it hit me full on and I couldn’t deny I was sick anymore. Tuesday night, I didn’t want to feed anyone dinner. I was just drained. What’s a mom to do? Order carry out!

But it’s not that simple. Pizza you say? Well, we’d have to find something gluten (this is currently a dietary choice more than allergy, but a consideration for now), dairy, soy, nut and tomato free. How about boxed mac n cheese? That’s three kinds to meet everyones needs. Dairy free Daiya, gluten free Annie’s, and regular Annie’s. Frozen chicken tenders and fries? One kid has a potato allergy, so we have to make regular and sweet potato fries, plus gluten free and regular chicken tenders. At that point is it really easier??

Eating out presents the same challenges. We have a handful of safe places and we tend to stick with those. Those options are often not cheap either, ever feed a family of six at Chipotle? That’s a $40 affair, easy. Especially as the kids get older, the bigger two are at the weird in between stage, where a kids meal isn’t enough and the adult meal is too big.

I have people ask me a lot how we manage with our food allergies. I never really have a great awe inspiring answer. We manage because we have to, it’s our life. We cook from scratch most of the time, not because I’m a super awesome amazing mom, but because finding safe convenience foods is not an easy task. We tend to make healthier choices because of it. I’m grateful for that, but damn, sometimes I just want to pop a frozen pizza in the oven.

How Peanut Butter Changed Our Lives

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Peanut Butter, it’s a staple in many pantries across America.  It’s full of protein, shelf stable, and inexpensive making it a great food to have around.  Around 2% of the population has been found to have a peanut allergy. It was not something that was even on my radar…. until it was.

There was a time before food allergies consumed our lives, even if it doesn’t seem like there was.  I developed some weird allergies in my 20s to strawberry, aloe, latex but they were easy to live with, nothing huge.  In 2010 Oliver was born, his infancy was intense, to say the least.  His first sign of allergies showed in the form of an allergy to disposable diapers (read more about that here).  He also didn’t tolerate any infant formula (this was in my pre-breastfeeding days) and we had to do a lot of switching to find one that worked. We settled on the best of the worst, the one he had the least symptoms from.

You would think that his low tolerance for formula would have clued us in that something was going on, or that one of our my trips to the pediatrician where I insisted that there was something other than “just reflux”, or that his eczema covered body would have yielded some help, but it didn’t.  I should have pushed further, but I was young and didn’t know any better, and trusted our Dr and all of the medical community.

It wasn’t until he was 11 months old and Mark decided to feed him his first peanut butter and jelly sandwich that we had any idea. He swelled up and broke out in a rash all over his face.  Mark immediately gave him Benedryl and his reaction stopped. We had his one year well baby visit scheduled and I went in and demanded that we see an allergist. We were handed a referral and a prescription for an EpiPen and sent on our way.

Seeing the allergist was validation for the last year of our lives.  Poor Oliver tested positive for allergies to soy, beef, egg, peanuts, and had shown reactions to dairy so we were told to cut all those things. No wonder he didn’t sleep, was covered in eczema, and essentially miserable. He felt like crap because we were feeding him things he was allergic to every single day.

I can’t even begin to describe how overwhelmed I was leaving that appointment.  Sure food allergies weren’t a totally foreign concept to me, but I didn’t know anyone with allergies to this extent.  What were we going to feed him? How were we going to make this work? In the beginning, it seemed like everything we ate had an allergen in it.  I felt like my life was consumed by reading labels and determining if a food was “Ollie Safe”.

His peanut allergy was off the charts. We were told that any further exposure could result in a deadly reaction. That’s a hard thing to think about, the reality that your kid could DIE from something that seems so harmless. Peanut butter was one of Zoe’s main food groups, and I enjoyed it myself.  Eventually, we decided it was safest to remove it from our house altogether.

As the years have gone on managing his food allergies has become routine and it no longer seems as daunting.  He’s outgrown some allergies and gained some new ones, but we’ve adjusted and moved on. It has become part of our everyday lives. There can be long periods of time that I “forget”.  It isn’t until we’re trying to go out to eat with friends, or he’s invited to a birthday party, or I catch a whiff of peanuts at the park that I remember.

Somehow, we have never had to use those EpiPens.  I am convinced that it’s sheer luck.  I can’t believe that we are that on top of things all the time.  We also have had some challenges, starting school was one, as was playing sports. So far we have been able to figure it out.

As I have aged I also have gained some new allergies.  Zoe has become intolerant of dairy and Isabel has a few allergies/intolerances.  For an outsider, I am sure that eating with our family seems like an impossible fete.  I promise though, it can be done.  I am here to tell you that having food allergies doesn’t need to stop your life.

To those families that are newly diagnosed, you will get through it.  It’s can be hard not to focus on all the things it will change, but it is not going to change how awesome your kid is and how much you love them.  Sure, there is more to worry about, but having kids is worry.  If it wasn’t a food allergy it would be something else.  Know that you are not alone, 1 in 13 children have food allergies, that’s almost two kids in every classroom.

Resources:

Food Allergy Research & Education

Enjoy Life Foods

Kids with Food Allergies

If you’re in North Carolina the NC FACES food allergy group

FARE HEROES WALK FINAL 4C - A

Fundraising

This year I am the Walk Chair for the 2017 Triangle NC Food Allergy Heroes Walk.  This walk supports FARE in their initiatives such as The Teal Pumpkin Project and training programs for schools and restaurants. We have some awesome activities planned and some really cool entertainment.  If you’re around the Raleigh area on 10/7/2017 join us at Lake Benson Park in Garner, NC for the walk.

Our walk team, The Anaphylactic Avengers, is hoping to raise $3,000 to help support FARE.  We would love donations from our readers, any amount helps us reach our goal!

Click here to donate.