How Do You Decide? Home with Sister

We have two very responsible kids, if I say so myself! Our dear daughter is graduating from 6th grade this year. Our dear son (with the food allergies) is an assertive nine year old. Daughter has become more independent this year especially, encouraged by our son’s “endless” sports activities. Now that she has a cell phone, she is going on 18!

So… the question has come up whether daughter can watch dear son so I don’t have to “drag them along” on boring errands. This is a hard one to answer. I think they are very responsible for their ages. They can cook with the toaster oven and the microwave. Daughter can cook on the stove top and the oven if a grownup is around. She can do wash.

But… our rule is that whoever is in charge of dear son must be willing and able to give the Epipen. Dear son outweighs his older sister by at least 10 lbs. Though he is brave in the batter’s box in baseball, he HATES having his blood taken for tests. He’s never had the Epipen, so I’m not sure if that would go better.

For now then, they are coming along. I think it is most likely that dear son will be ready to give himself the Epipen before he is willing to have it given by his big sister.

Our Family’s Vacation Tips

A condensed version of this article appeared in the June/July 2010 edition of the Food Allergy News, published by The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network.

We are a family of four:  dad, mom, older daughter and younger son.  Our son Robbie was diagnosed as peanut allergic as a toddler.  Since then he has reacted to chick peas, lentils and peas.  We also avoid tree nuts and lima beans.  Fortunately, Robbie has never been allergic to eggs or dairy.

We have enjoyed fun trips to Disney World, Boston, Chicago, and various beach areas.  We are fortunate that our son has not had a food reaction on any of these trips, thanks to good planning, helpful people and some luck.  Here are our planning tips.

1.  Is this a risky location? Hmm, so it’s an isolated beach thirty minutes from anywhere.  Or a bay side resort accessible only by boat.  For my own peace of mind, we don’t go there.  I like a modern hospital and EMS service nearby.  A remote location could work for a more adventurous mom, but it is just not for me.

2.  Things always happen on vacation! In our family, someone is always getting pink eye, or a fever bug, or a finger stuck in a door.  Next time, it could be an allergy emergency.  So we bring our allergy stuff!

  • two or more Epipens, that have not expired
  • a doctor’s letter explaining why Robbie needs the Epipens
  • antihistamine medicine such as Benadryl
  • inhalers if needed
  • wipes
  • lots of safe snacks
  • chef cards listing the foods Robbie must avoid

3.  I know you don’t want to cook on vacation, but… When we are traveling to beach areas, we try to rent a condo instead of staying in a hotel.  Having a small kitchen lets us save money, feed the kids more quickly and better manage ingredients.  We once found a spoon with caked-on peanut butter in the silverware drawer, so we definitely take a look around the condo’s kitchen before we start cooking!

4.  Don’t be like us.  Nothing is worse than wandering around a strange vacation area looking for a safe restaurant.  Unless it is wandering around a strange vacation area with a hot tired hungry cranky family that includes a grandma with bad knees and the family dog.  Don’t let this be you!

  • Get some restaurant ideas from your laptop, a local map or hotel employee.
  • Check the menus for two or three places.
  • Call ahead to ask if they can make a safe meal for your allergic child.
  • If you are tech savvy, pull out your iPhone and search while you walk!  (More on food allergy apps coming in a future post.)

5.  Are we there yet?  We’d been driving on a turnpike for hours.  We finally pulled off to a rest stop, waited in line for restrooms and then waited in line for food.  When we got to the front of the line, the manager couldn’t find the ingredients sheet.  Robbie ended up eating snack bags from the tourist shop.

Each state has different vendors for their turnpike fast food restaurants.  Check before you start loading up the car to see which can provide a safe meal for your child.  Many now have allergen information online, or provide an email address to find out more.

6.  Go with the tried and true. It is OK to go with an old standby.  Robbie has eaten at McDonalds and Burger King in the midst of wonderful food courts full of diverse ethnic treats.  His sister ate there too, by her choice.  I’m not proud of this, but it worked for us.  My husband and I enjoyed trying different foods while the kids were having Skittles for dessert.  We all ate something we liked.  Experimenting with new foods is not part of Robbie’s vacation experience.

7.  Trust your instincts. Just because a restaurant server is nodding their head doesn’t mean they understand you, your chef card or food allergies in general.  If you talk to a server and then a manager and still don’t feel understood, this restaurant may not be the place for dinner.  The server may just be in the US for the summer.  Or the manager may not believe food allergies are real.  On vacation, I don’t feel like it is worth my time to educate a new restaurant.  Keep walking!

8.  Don’t visit the place that serves peanut soup. Yes, here in Virginia there are restaurants with peanut soup as a specialty.  No, we don’t ever eat there.  Peanut soup, peanut sauce or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a menu raise a red flag.  I don’t want the food service worker to jump from making a pb&j sandwich to Robbie’s ham and cheese.  Unless this restaurant has a wonderful reputation with the local food allergy support group, then stay far away!

9.  Let your child do the talking. Vacation is a fun time and it can also be a learning time.  Some day your child will prefer eating out with their friends instead of the family. Start getting them ready now!  Let your child begin the allergy conversation with the server.  A shy child may find it easier to hand the server or manager the chef card that explains his allergies.  You are right beside your child to support them and clarify any issues.

We hope you have a super vacation time this summer with your family!

Christina Black has been a member of FAAN since 2003.  She has written two allergy books for children:  “Mommy, Is This Safe to Eat?” and “Starting School with a Food Allergy.”

How Do You Decide? Pizza Brands

We have no dairy or egg allergies, so pizza is a staple in our house.  I know we could make it ourselves, but we don’t.  ‘Nough said on that one.

papa johns logoLove Papa John’s – it just comes out and says “we don’t use nuts or nut products.”  Here’s their beautiful allergen chart.  Yes, we are loyal customers.  The delivery guy is even used to our crazy dog.

We used to have Pizza Hut all the time.  Then they started labeling for possible cross-contamination of their pizza sauce with nuts.  How can this be?  I called about a year ago and found that their sauce was made on the same equipment as someone else’s nut sauce.  Uggghhhh.    Here’s the Pizza Hut allergy chart. I was really disappointed on this one.  Don’t they have enough business to dedicate a line to pizza sauce!

Costco take-out pizza is a good deal, but again has lots of warnings on it.  We avoid it.  Many Wegman’s products have ridiculous warnings on them.  I almost bought a block of cheese there before I read the warning that it could contain fish, shellfish, peanuts and tree nuts.  It is CHEESE!  Can’t they cut up the blocks in a dedicated area?

Domino's PizzaWe like Domino’s pizza too.  Our school gets a special deal from them.  Recently they introduced a “CHOCOLATE LAVA CRUNCH CAKE” that is manufactured in a plant with peanuts and tree nuts.  I wouldn’t order that cake for our family, but its presence will not discourage me from ordering Domino’s pizza.  Here’s their allergen chart.

Get the door – the pizza is here!

Brand Names Matter!

In food, that is.

Wonderful husband did the grocery shopping today for our Superbowl dinner tonight. This was great because I took son to Sunday school and picked up daughter from a sleepover.

He got a strange brand of canned tomatoes, which still looks OK.  He got veggies, milk, etc. which were all fine.

But he bought Barilla pasta.  This is made on the same line as their “extra protein” pastas, which are NOT fine for our chickpea and lentil allergic son.  They are not required to list “chick peas” or “lentils” on their ingredients because these are not among the 8 most common allergens and so not covered by the labeling law.  We called Barilla a couple years ago and confirmed that the chick pea and lentil ingredients could cross-contaminate all their other pasta.

If you or your child has allergies that are not in the top 8 most common, you may have to call manufacturers more often than other food allergic families.  Here’s a list of the 8 most common allergens.

I love my brand names.  Hubby, thanks for shopping, but please get me San Giorgio next time!