Thanksgiving with Food Allergies

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Everyone in my family knows that I don’t love cooking, that’s Mark’s department. I’d rather bake yummy goodies than make dinner any day of the week. The one exception to this is cooking for the holidays. I like planning big meals to share with family and friends. Something about sharing our table with friends and family brings it out in me. If you follow our blog you know that we have Food Allergies. Often people express shock and awe that we are able to handle it. I don’t feel like a superhero because you just do what you have to because that’s how life works. But I thought I’d share some things that we’ve found that help around the holidays.

Over the years I’ve found a lot of substitutes for “normal” foods, we have the daily stuff down pat. Around the holidays it becomes a new challenge to find replacements for the usual holiday fare. No one wants to have to skip out on the pumpkin pie because of their dairy allergy! Since it’s November, I’m thinking a lot about Thanksgiving, so I’ll share some of our recipes for Turkey Day.

One thing I can’t stress enough is to check your labels, every single time because they change all the time. Just because it was safe last year doesn’t mean it will be this year.

The Turkey

Did you know that sometimes grocery store turkeys have “stuff” added to them? I sure didn’t until I read a label. So if you’re trying to cook an allergy-friendly turkey, just make sure to check the label. Sometimes there is gluten or soy hiding in there. I’ve had the most success with brands that are labeled “natural” and oddly enough generic store brands rather than the big names. And let’s be real, I want my turkey to be turkey, so I’ll skip the added soy, thank you very much.

Also remember, that anything you stuff the turkey with can potentially cross-contamination it making it unsafe. One year, I stuffed my turkey with my grandmas stuffing recipe using bread that had soy in it only realizing that was a problem 2 hours into the cooking time. That was the year Oliver didn’t get to eat turkey. Hey, we all make mistakes.

For turkey recipes, we live by Alton Brown, a brined bird is a happy bird. You can find our favorite recipe here.  Make sure to watch your Turkey Stock for hidden allergens! Something about starting the cooking time at 500 degrees makes the bird amazing. I’m seriously hungry just thinking about it.

The Sides

As important as the turkey is, part of Thanksgiving to me is having so many sides you run out of room on your plate. One thing I can’t stress enough is that if you’re cooking for someone with an allergy, it’s OK if there are a few things that aren’t safe for them. Believe me, we totally appreciate being able to eat anything! So if you can’t make the Cheesy Broccoli Casserole dairy free that’s ok. And I’ll be honest, especially when my kids with allergies were younger, most of the time, they’re not going to eat most of the food anyway, and I always felt bad when Grandma made the mashed potatoes without butter and then all my kid ate was two bites of turkey and a roll.  Below, I am just going to post the things we modified, closer to Turkey Day be on the lookout for a post with our full menu.

The DF GBC

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From scratch, dairy free, cream of mushroom soup.

Last year I decided that my kids were clearly missing out because green bean casserole was not dairy and soy free. I love me some green bean casserole. The classic recipe has soy sauce (which we skipped and it was totally fine) and cream of mushroom soup, both contain soy and/or dairy which are no goes. I don’t know why, but the thought of making my own cream of mushroom soup was so daunting! I scoured the internet and settled on this recipe. It turned out great, much to my surprise. I subbed Unsweetened Original Ripple Pea milk (our current favorite milk replacement) for the soy milk. It wasn’t that hard either, obviously, it’s easier to open a can, but whatever. After all that work, my kids didn’t even like it. In fact, Eli asked for green beans without (insert wide gesture of disgust) all this stuff on them. Typical.

The Perfect DF Mashed Potato

Dairy-free mashed potatoes was another challenge for me.  I love butter, it’s fricking delicious. I am pretty sure I could spread Kerry Gold on a piece of cardboard and it would be down-right gourmet.  Usually, I would make regular mashed potatoes and then a small amount of sad non-dairy mashed potatoes.  My kids were totally getting the short end of the stick because they were not good.  Last year I decided that I wasn’t going to be making a regular and allergy friendly version of stuff.  It was JUST TOO MUCH.  I was already cooking a billion things.  I am here to tell you I cracked the code to ah-mazing DF mashed potatoes.

First off, I was using the wrong kind of potato, you want to use russets for the best texture.  I had been using whatever I found in a bag, whoops. Second, I learned that you have to heat the “milk” before adding it, again I used Unsweetened Original Ripple milk.  Game changer. For that buttery taste, I used copious amounts of Earths Balance Soy-Free “buttery spread” it’s not Kerry Gold, but it was good.  If I wouldn’t have told you they were dairy free, you wouldn’t know the difference.

Stuffing – The Evolution of Grandma’s Recipe

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Everyone has their own ideas about stuffing.  It’s been a great debate between Mark and I, for years, about how it should be.  His family puts sausage in it, SAUSAGE people. Mine (obviously because that’s wrong) does not.  For me, it was important to use my Grandma’s recipe for the stuffing. (It’s a basic Sage Stuffing)  I still have the index card she wrote it on for me many years ago, which is really special now that she has dementia and likely couldn’t write it out or remember how to make it.  Her recipe had Oleo in it, which has dairy and soy in it so that was out.  It also used store bought white bread which is always hard to find that is safe for us, it also kills me a little inside to make a $5 loaf of bread stale. What I ended up doing was using Earths Balance for the Oleo and our regular whole wheat bread recipe we make in our bread machine.  It turned out great.  This year we have a new challenge since I (and Mark in solidarity) went Gluten Free, I’ll be modifying it yet again. Wish me luck!

Desserts

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The only thing better than 400 sides on Thanksgiving is having more desserts than people.  It’s tradition.  Zoe loves everything pumpkin spice.  When she went dairy free there were tears over pumpkin pie.  IT’S NOT THANKSGIVING without pumpkin pie.  So I scoured the interwebs for a recipe.  The first year it was a total flop, so don’t use that recipe.  The next year I used this recipe and it turned out awesome. I cheated and used a store-bought pie crust, this one worked for our allergies.  For whipped cream, I made my own coconut cream whipped cream with a can of coconut milk using this recipe. Cue happy Zoe.  Mark thought it was pretty awesome too. (I don’t eat pumpkin pie)

One of my favorite pies for the holidays is a Jello Pudding Pie.  I was surprised when I read the ingredients of the Jello pudding mix, there isn’t any dairy in it.  So it was easy to sub out a non-dairy milk to make the pudding. Then I again used the whipped cream recipe from coconut milk. Finding a safe crust was a little more challenging I was planning on having to make one, but I stumbled across one while at Super Target in the baking aisle. SCORE!

I know it can be totally overwhelming when you are cooking a big meal.  Even more so when you find out that one or more of the attendees, has an allergy.  Remeber, we (people with food allergies) do not expect you to make everything safe for us.  We expect to have to pass on some (or have to bring our own) foods at gatherings.  Honestly, we come for the company, not to challenge you.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Grocery Store: An Adventure for All

Feeding a big family is no joke.  Do you know that kids want you to feed them every single day? At least three times a day! No one told me this when we had our first.  I mean, I guess I knew they’d need to eat, but it is constant.  In our family, we eat at home a majority of the time.  We have food allergies, so grabbing a quick meal out isn’t something that we can just do easily.  It takes research, planning, and there’s always a fear of the unknown since it didn’t come from my kitchen.  So we cook and pack lunches 98% of the time.

As our family has gotten bigger it amazes me how much food we consume.  My kids aren’t those kids that just eat a tiny amount of food at meal times.  Zoe eats more that Mark and I do, Oliver isn’t far behind, and Isabel can pack the food some days as well.  Want to make breakfast? That’s 14 eggs and the big two always ask for more. Were making 5 chicken breasts for a meal, 8 chicken thighs, a whole package of hot dogs (don’t judge, so gross, but so delicious.) A standard sized bag of frozen veggies are not enough to feed all of us anymore. Just today, we bought a bag of fresh asparagus at Costco, I was thinking that I could split it in half, which I did, but it didn’t look like enough so I used more and I have an awkward amount left to use, because its not enough for a meal. AND Zoe asked for more. The kids go through about 3 loaves of bread a week (Mark and I are Gluten Free) and they’re giant loaves from our bread machine. The fruit….. we go through so much fruit.  We buy a boatload on Saturday and some weeks by Wednesday or Thursday we’re out. I think you can get a general idea of the sheer volume they eat.

Fruit basket after a trip to the store. Roughly 12 apples, 10 peaches, 3/4 a bag of clementines, 2 large bunches of bananas, grapes, a watermelon, cherries, Costco sized blueberries and raspberries. (Not pictured various dried fruits in the pantry.)

We live in a rental here in Raleigh, so I don’t have any control over things like refrigerator size and pantry space. Let me tell you, there are time when we get back from the grocery store and I’m seriously worried its just not going to fit. We bought a chest freezer before Isabel was born in case we had to store breast milk and I didn’t thing we’d ever fill it. One trip to Costco and we have that sucker packed.  It took me years to find a fruit basket big enough and even then its overflowing onto the counter.  The pantry is a disaster, it starts out organized, then we go shopping and we just start shoving stuff in and hoping for the best. It kills me a little inside to live like that.

Speaking going to the grocery store, something that we have been doing for the last two years or so is going to the grocery store as a family.  It is absolutely mass chaos.  I am pretty sure that when people see us, they start thinking about permanent forms of birth control, things like celibacy. I don’t care how well behaved your kids are, there is something about being in a grocery store that makes them lose their damn minds.  Some weeks, I’m not entirely sure why we do it.

So we don’t lose anyone in the the store, Isabel is worn in a toddler carrier, usually on Marks back.  Eli rides on the cart, which he cries and protests about every.single.time. It never changes, I am not sure why we have to go through it every Saturday. I spend the entire trip telling the big two to watch where they’re walking, move to one side, stop yelling out random items they think we need, and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, STOP PUTTING YOUR HANDS ON YOUR FACE! DO YOU WANT THE FLU?? Also, telling them to stop fighting and that we aren’t going to the bathroom. It’s pretty awesome.

Eli’s usual state, after being told he has to ride in the cart, like every trip.

By the time we get to checkout our cart is overflowing and at least one parent (we take turns, its why we work so well together) and 2-3 kids are losing their minds.  Isabel particularly hates this part, sometimes we can trick her into holding it together for 10 more minutes by putting her in the seat of the second cart we inevitably need.  We have a knack for always picking the slowest cashier who doesn’t know the code for a green pepper and doesn’t have the damn cheat sheet.  When they get to ringing up my wine and Mark’s beer they always give a knowing nod. Its like they’re saying “You’ve earned this, you need this to be better parents.” at least that’s what they’re saying in my head.

Walking to the car, this was a small trip, we had already done TJs and Costco the day before.

Eventually, we get out to the car and the kids take longer to buckle than it takes us to load the groceries.  We get home and they run under foot, whining about how hungry they are while we try to get it all put away.  Usually Mark unpacks while I take care of anything that needs prepping.  Pre-cutting produce, taking things out of the package etc. Somehow every week Mark does some sort of freezer magic to get it all to fit.

Then we have 6-7 days before we do it all over again, because by Friday we will have nothing to eat.