Monday, March 18, 2019

Summer Camp with Food Allergies- The First Step to Keep it Safe

That crazy leprechaun just paid us a visit, which is my sign to start thinking summer camps.  I don't know if where you live is like here, but summer camps book up and they book up quickly!  My girls have a few on their short-list and we need to move as fast as that leprechaun to secure our spots.  And, with food allergies it is even more important that I am researching and planning our summer camps early to ensure we not only have a fun, but safe summer.

I am sure some of you are ready to click on to the next screen thinking my kid has food allergies, there is no way I would send them to a camp.  But hang tight, before you leave, know that I was that mom a few years ago.  The thought of sending my food allergic daughter to camp was so stressful I would break out into a sweat just thinking about it!  But, as with all hurdles we have faced with food allergies, I knew there had to be a way to give her that fun summer camp experience but still keep her safe...and me sane.  Yes it takes a little more work....but it is worth it.  Your kiddo gets to have fun and you may just get a much needed break or coverage for all of those long summer hours!

Now is the time to start doing your research.  Yes, this takes time but your research will yield a list of camps that might work for your family.

Start the Conversation
Start by talking to your child about the camps they are interested in.  You may find they have interests or concerns that you did not anticipate.  A few years ago some of my daughter's friends attended an over night camp for the first time.  She had no interest in even going to an overnight camp so that answered all of my questions....moving on to the next camp.

Once you know their interests let them know you need to do some research into available camps.  It may be a good idea to find a few camps in their interest area (for example if basketball is their thing, find a few camp options that way if one proves unsafe you will still have another option to explore).

If you live in the Louisville area, check out the awesome list of summer camps by Louisville Family Fun to start your research.  Other cities have similar lists that you can reference to start to review camp options and talk to your kiddos about their interests.

And, did you know? There are a number of camps across the US that cater to food allergic campers- talk about knowing how to deal with food allergies at camp!!  Camp TAG hosted by FAACT is one great option for a food allergy focussed camp, and you can also check out this great list by FARE of other food allergy friendly camps.

Get In Touch
Once you have your short list of camps, websites are a great place to start.  Some camps have FAQs or even pages dedicated to the topic of food allergies and how they are handled at camp.  In fact, these are camps you probably want to keep on your short list.  But, the research doesn't end there.  Once you have an idea of the camps your kiddo is interested in it is time to get on the phone....yes call someone.  Don't email, don't  Why?  Because you can tell a lot about a camp by the way their staff answers your questions.  You will be able to tell if they get it, if they have had experience dealing with food allergic campers, and if they are together enough to get you the answers that you need.

Some questions to consider asking:

  • How do you manage food allergies at camp?
  • What are your food allergy policies?
  • Have you had food allergic campers in the past?  If so, what allergens did they manage?
  • Have you ever had a food allergy reaction at camp?  
  • What are your policies for brining food to camp?  
  • Is your staff trained in food allergy management and emergency response?
  • Do you have a nurse on the camp staff?  If so, is he/she onsite the entire camp?
  • Are staff trained to administer epinephrine? If so, which staff members are trained?  
  • Are you open to partnering with food allergic families to keep camp safe?  
  • Would you be willing to connect me to other food allergy families that have been to your camp so I could discuss their experience?
Depending on how old your child is, involve them in this research.  Remember- some day they will be the ones that need to self-manage so at every turn (as age appropriate) help them develop those skills.

Make the Decision
After you have called the camps and had the conversations it should become apparent which camps may be an option for you.  Unfortunately, there will be some you take off the list, but at the end of the day that really is OK.  While it might be hard to have a conversation with your child about not attending a camp, the alternative is sending them into an unsafe situation- and no parent wants that!  

Depending on how old your child is, talk to them about what you found out and which camps fit not only their interests, but will keep food allergy safety a priority.  Together you can make decisions about where summer fun will also be safe fun!  

More To Come
Making the decision about which camp to attend is a huge one, but the work is not done.  Once you send in that check and sign those forms it is time to start planning how you will keep camp safe (even if they have great policies in place).  Stay tuned for more on that topic in a future blog....for now happy camp researching!  Thrive On!


Need help living your best life with food allergies?  I can help you Thrive On! 
Learn more about me and my company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow me on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.

Product Disclaimer:
Thrive On Consulting was not paid to promote these products or places.  Products mentioned here are provided as ideas and suggestions to help you Thrive On with food allergies.

Check out #thriveonthursday - Every Thursday check out my Facebook page where I share a tip for thriving on with food allergies!

Monday, March 11, 2019

What Every Food Allergy Kiddo Needs to Know

What is your food allergy parenting style?  Some of us are pretty intense (myself included!!) taking a very watchful and hands-on approach to managing life with food allergies, while others are a little more laid-back.  From the clients I work with, to the Facebook groups I participate in as a food allergy mom,  I have seen it all from super conservative to extremely hands-off.  There is no right answer, and while it may be hard to grasp the "other way" the reality is we all need to find an approach to safely manage food allergies that works for us, and for our families.  And, this approach may ebb and flow depending on the season of food allergies you are in.  For me, I will always be Type A, about everything, but as we have grown into our food allergies over the last decade I have adjusted my intensity (although some would laugh at that statement!).

Your approach has to work for you, and others may not understand the how or the why behind your actions, but as long as you are working to keep your child safe and help them move closer to being able to manage their own allergies you are on the right track!

How you do it may differ from how I do it, but here is my list of the key things we need to be teaching our food allergy kiddos so one day they will be able to successfully self-manage their food allergies.  After you read my list, comment below if you have others you would add.

Epi Etiquette
Simply stated- take it everywhere you go, keep it on you, and keep it temperature controlled.  So many tragic food allergy stories start with the fact the the person did not have their epinephrine with them.

Label Reading 
Make sure they know how to read a label, how their allergens may appear on the label- which may be different if you are managing a non-top 8 allergen, and any other names their allergen may appear as on labels, for example botanical names.

It's Not Just the Food
Highlight non-food risks and places where their allergens could be found, for example in personal care products or pet foods.

Be Your Own Advocate
Help them develop the skills they need to be able to advocate for themselves.  Food allergy parents do a lot of the behind scenes work, but as they get older involve them in the meetings and conversations that you have so they can see how to structure a conversation about keeping it safe.

Cooking School
If you have food allergies there is some level of cooking you will need to do to keep it safe, so be sure your kiddo has some basic cooking skills in their back pocket.  We don't need to raise gourmet cooks, but a few basic skills will go along way to boosting their confidence and making sure they can cook for themselves when you are no longer there to prepare all those safe meals.  Check out my previous blog post with advice from Chef Laura Holland about getting your kids in the kitchen for some great ideas on inspiring your little chef.

Attitude is Everything
It has been proven time and time again that your attitude will shape your experience. While food allergies can be scary and limiting, help your kiddo find the joy in their situation and model positive behaviors while managing their food allergies.  For example, approach conversations about keeping it safe with a collaborative mindset and make the best of situations even if it is not exactly how you would want it.  If you missed my blog post a few weeks ago about food allergy silver linings give it a read and see if you can relate or get some additional perspective to shape your attitude about food allergies.

What else would you add to the list?

Need help living your best life with food allergies?  I can help you Thrive On! 
Learn more about me and my company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow me on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.

Check out #thriveonthursday - Every Thursday check out my Facebook page -I share a tip for thriving on with food allergies!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?? A famous line from a song by The Clash (cue the fun music) and the question I found myself asking over and over again as my daughter with food allergies got older.  Parties, when she was little, were hard for all the normal reasons when you have food allergies (cakes full of allergens, hosts who may not be familiar with food allergy management, party favor bags full of unsafe candy…the list goes on), but there was one component that was easier when she was little…the moms stayed.  I was there to monitor what was going on, to help her navigate the food table, and get her that safe cupcake at just the right moment.  I blended right in with the gaggle of moms who were there happily chatting and eating delicious looking bakery cake.  

But, as she got older, fewer and fewer moms hung around for the parties until one day I realized I was the only crazy food allergy mom left hanging out at parties.  I wasn’t ready to turn her loose in food filled parties, but at some point we talked and she told me that she wanted me to go.  She wanted to be there with her friends- without her mom, like her other friends.

It has been one of the many transitions we have made on this food allergy journey.  But, one that we needed to make because, after all, my job is to equip her to manage her own allergies some day and attending parties on her own is a part of that process.  That said, it took a lot for me to drop her off at that first party.  And truth be told, the first few parties I “dropped” her off at I just sat outside in my car counting the minutes until I had her back in the car.

I still take steps to keep her safe including talking with the party host in advance about the menu and what foods she will be able to eat or not eat, and then talking with my daughter about them.  We also always make sure that the host is trained on how to administer her Auvi-q. I still walk her into parties and together we look at the food and talk specifically about what she can and cannot have…and of course her individual cupcake carrier is still getting some miles on it as we transport her safe cupcake to parties.  Unfortunately, there have been a few times that we made the difficult decision to not go to a party because it was just not going to be a safe situation, but these days I generally join the moms who run to Target and the grocery store during the party. 

This was before she flew solo at parties, but we are always prepared for parties with a safe cupcake and snacks! 

One of the most important conversations I have had with her about parties, besides what to do if she is not feeling well at a party, has been about how we think about parties. Our mantra has always been “At parties we focus on family, fun and friends, not food”. We talk about how we can enjoy the party even if we can’t enjoy all of the food.  I don’t know for certain, but I think this has helped her to think about parties in the context of people and activities rather than the food that often takes center stage at parties.

Parties can be stressful, but they are a huge part of being a kid.  Finding the right approach for your family will be important….should you stay or should you go?  That is up to you and each party will be different- sometimes you will stay, sometime you will go…but at the end of the day hopefully you will find a way to focus on family, friends and fun, not the food and Thrive On! 

For more tips on managing parties with food allergies check out the blog post I wrote for FAACT, Celebrating Safely.

Need help living your best life with food allergies?  I can help you Thrive On! 
Learn more about me and my company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow me on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.

Monday, February 25, 2019

My Food Allergy Silver Linings

I have been reading a lot about gratitude lately and how good it is for your mental state. Gratitude puts you in the state of mind to appreciate what you have, and feeling thankful leads to more positive feelings…which all sounds great.  But, can you really be grateful for food allergies?  I mean let’s be honest, there have been multiple days that food allergies have brought me to my knees- when I had to pull off the highway when my daughter was having a reaction and I had to rush her to the closest hospital, when she came home in kindergarten in tears because she had to sit alone at the peanut free table, when I had to tell her no to a fun social event with all of her friends because it was just not a safe situation for her- yep, those were pretty terrible days.  If I could, I would give anything to take her allergies away.

But, when I stop and reflect on this food allergy life that we live there are things to be grateful for despite the intensity with which we live everyday to keep her safe.  When the day-to-day stress of food allergy management starts to bring me down, I try to think about these things, my silver linings to our food allergy life.

Healthy Eating 
I cook a lot and I buy a lot of fresh ingredients that have one or only a few ingredients.  I’d like to think that I would still cook this way if we didn’t have food allergies, but I know the lure of the drive-thru and packaged convenience foods would be too strong on busy nights and weeks with hectic schedules.  Because of our food allergies, we cook almost every night (and my daughter is becoming a pretty good cook herself!), we keep ingredients simple- and our entire family is healthier for it.

Developing the Ability to Really Talk to My Daughter
Food allergies force you to be aware and vigilant and our sweet little babies learn at a very young age how to tell people about their allergens, ask about ingredients, and advocate for themselves.  This doesn’t happen on its own, it happens because of the many conversations we have with our kids.  I feel like my daughter has learned, very early on, that I am her champion and her sounding board.  She and I have been able to work together to solve her food allergy issues and I am hopeful that as we head into the waters of the tween and teen years she will know that she can count on me for not just food allergy support, but for anything she needs.  Food allergies have forced us into hard conversations and the need to come up with creative solutions- we are a team and for that I am grateful.

Friendships That Sustain Me in Tough Times
I am so grateful for the friends we have the truly get our food allergy life.  Even if they don’t fully get it, because they don’t walk in our food allergy shoes every day, they make every attempt to understand it and support us.  Friends who call to check ingredients, who keep it safe so no one is excluded, who check in on me to see how I am doing.  When I am feeling drained and exhausted from the ongoing slog of daily food allergy management a simple act from a friend can bring me to tears of gratitude.

Finding the Courage to Do the Things I Need to Do
More than a few times I have had that awful pit in my stomach in anticipation of what I was about to do…make that request, ask for something to be changed, say no…all to keep things safe.  I am not generally a shy person, but food allergies have given me tremendous courage to use my voice and say what I need to say.  With a shaky voice and sweaty hands, I have done it! I have had the hard conversations, made the difficult requests and I have done it because there is no other option- her safety is the most important thing.  I am grateful for the courage I have mustered to do the things I need to do.

Will I say that I am grateful for food allergies?  Never. But what I can say is that I am grateful for some of the dimensions food allergies have added to our lives.  What are your food allergy silver linings?


Need help living your best life with food allergies?  I can help you Thrive On! 
Learn more about me and my company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow me on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

First Communion with Food Allergies: How to Keep it Safe

We are gearing up for First Communion again at our house.  This year our youngest will be celebrating the sacrament, and two years ago our food allergic daughter made her First Communion.  It is an exciting time, but food allergies add another layer of planning and preparation to ensure one of the holiest days for your child is also a safe one.

If your little one will be making First Communion this year, now is the time to start planning to make the day about the sacrament and not a reaction.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, but most things work out just fine with advanced planning and prep.  Waiting until the last minute to raise concerns or make special requests can add to the stress of managing a food allergy- First Communion is no different.  Here are the things we did- hopefully with advance conversions and thoughtful requests your First Communion will go as smoothly as possible.

Start the Conversation With Your Church Now
Most churches have someone assigned to manage all the arrangements for First Communion for the parish.  If you do not know that person, reach out now and introduce yourself.  Explain your child’s food allergies and express the desire to partner with them to make the day safe.  Reaching out now, a few months before the event, will give everyone a chance to prepare accordingly and not lead to the stress of last minute requests that fly in the face of all of the planning that has already been done by the church.

Develop a Plan
Work with your church to develop your stay safe plan.  First, determine if they have had to manage food allergies in the past for the sacrament, and if so, how has it been handled.  There may be lessons learned from those who have gone before you or practices that are already in place.

As we developed the stay safe plan for my daughter, it included calling the providers of the Host and the Wine to check ingredients and processing.  The church provided me with the contact information and I made the calls and did the research.  Once I had the information, I met with our church and we mapped out a plan- well in advance of the First Communion mass.

Day of Logistics
Often, there are special seating assignments for the First Communion mass.  We worked with our church to ensure that my daughter was the first to receive communion.  While we had determined through our earlier research that the Host was safe for her, I had major concerns about her drinking from the Chalice after others....what if someone had had peanut butter for breakfast- would that be enough to trigger a reaction?

By talking about our concerns early it was easy to arrange the seating chart so that my daughter would be the first to drink from the Chalice in her aisle.

We also made sure that the Eucharistic minister in her aisle was aware of her allergens and was sure to wash hands before the mass.

Many churches have special retreats or events leading up to the big day.  Be sure to also talk through these events with your First Communion coordinator to understand what, if any food, will be at these events and how to keep it safe.

This is one where I dropped the ball.  The invitation we got for our retreat indicated there would be no food served so I assumed we were in the clear.  However, when we showed up for the retreat our Priest informed the kids that he was going to make bread during the retreat and when it was ready each child would get to practice taking communion by eating the bread.  One of the ingredients he used to make the bread contained one of her allergens.  I had to find a time to pull him aside during the retreat and explain that she could not eat the bread.  He understood, but I feel things would have been better for everyone if I had been able to have the conversation ahead of time.

After Party
Some people choose to celebrate this special day with a party afterwards.  Be sure to think though your menu and prep any special foods ahead of time.  I opted to make a simple and safe chocolate chip cookie cake.  There are some allergy-friendly bakeries that can prepare special cookies or cakes, but remember to order ahead and factor in shipping time to get it there for your child’s special day.  One of my favorite allergy-friendly bakeries is Annie May’s Sweet Cafe.

To everyone out there preparing for First Communion, I hope these tips are helpful in planning a joyful and safe celebration!  Thrive On!


Need help living your best life with food allergies?  I can help you Thrive On! 
Learn more about me and my company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow me on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.

Product Disclaimer:
Thrive On Consulting was not paid to promote these products.  Products mentioned here are provided as ideas and suggestions to help you Thrive On with food allergies.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Traveling with Food Allergies- The One Thing I Will Always Do

When we travel sometimes I look at all of the stuff I pack and wonder…are we going for a weekend or a two-week trip?  My husband loads the car and I contemplate the necessity of all of the bags and boxes and miscellaneous items shoved in all of the available nooks and crannies. I am nothing short of prepared (over-prepared some, OK a lot, would argue) and many of the extra items are directly related to managing my daughter’s food allergies on the road- extra food, supplies to make and eat food at the hotel, bathroom essentials as hotel provided toiletries often prove unsafe.  But, one of the many things I have learned as a food allergy mom- it pays to be prepared and our trip this past weekend confirmed for me that all of my packing is worth it. 

I shared in a Facebook Post earlier this week that when we arrived at the hotel I immediately noticed that the hotel provided lotion and body soap had sesame as an ingredient.  A definite no-go for us with a sesame allergy.  I quickly removed them from the bathroom and replaced them with the items we brought from home.  

Sesame in the ingredient list-with our sesame allergy we definitely cannot use these!

Our hotel provided breakfast, which is a great perk, except when you have food allergies.  There were a couple of pre-packaged items that were safe, but a majority of the breakfast fare was unsafe, or questionable at best. We used our packed food to supplement my daughter’s breakfast.  She enjoyed getting a yogurt and juice from the breakfast bar but we added safe cereal and granola to round out her meal.  

I chuckled as we left and packed up our food realizing I had enough to feed my daughter for a few days still.....silly food allergy mom in her constant state of over-packing.  Then it happened, about three hours into our nine hour drive we started to have car problems.  We had to pull off in a small town.  We pulled off the exit uncertain of what was ahead- car problems on a Sunday morning in a small town didn’t seem like the best scenario.  My mind instantly went into planning mode- what were we going to do if we had to stay, how would we eat, how would we keep it safe.  

Fortunately, we found an open garage and were back on the road in just a few hours- and home in time to eat a late dinner at our own house.  But, my initial oh-my-gosh-what-do-we-do panic quickly faded as I thought through the arsenal of food and supplies I had.  We were prepared, even if we had to stay another night or two.  

I will always pack more than we need, because there may be a day in the future when we need it.  It wasn’t this trip, thankfully, but when it happens we will be ready!  Sorry hubby- more van tetris-ing is in your future! 


Need help living your best life with food allergies? 
I can help you Thrive On!

Learn more about me and my company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow me on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Food Allergy Fun on Chinese New Year

Before kids and before food allergies, celebrating holidays like the Chinese New Year were an excuse to head out to a fun restaurant for the night- yummy food and drinks, yes please!  Once kids entered the scene, it seemed these holidays also presented an opportunity for my kids to learn about different cultures and foods.  But with food allergies, heading out the local Chinese restaurant on the New Year just wasn't an option.

So, what is a food allergy mom to do?  Get creative and bring the celebration to life at home!  I want my kids to know that even with food restrictions we can still celebrate and learn about other cultures even if we aren't able to go out to eat or make all of the traditional dishes.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, I am not a Pinterest mom....but with a few quick internet searches and some basic decorating you can have a fun Chinese New Year celebration at home!

Decorate your table to spark interest and up the fun factor:  
For our Chinese New Year meals, I use red placemats (I bought a pack of paper placemats at Walmart about 4 years ago and am still using them each year).  I also set our our chopsticks.  When my kids were really little we let them use forks (back then even eating properly with a fork was a challenge!) but as they have gotten older it so fun to see everyone try to eat their meal with chopsticks.

I also find out what animal is representing the New Year and incorporate that into our table decorations- silly things like finding stickers of the animal to put on the corner of the placemats or digging through our toy bin and find small plastic animals to place on the table.  This coming year is the Year of the Pig...what do you have in your house that can be used to decorate your table?

A few of our tables from past Chinese New Year celebrations!

Some other fun non-food ideas:
Print out a translation of everyone's name in Chinese to use as place cards for the table.  There are a ton of translation websites that allow you to type in your name and it will give your name in Chinese.

For older kids, read through your predictions for the new year. Click here for a link to a page with this coming year's predictions.

For younger kids, print out coloring sheets or do simple crafts (that may be to be used as table decorations).  Click here for a link to some awesome and simple ideas.  One year, I printed a coloring sheet and we let the kids decorate the table- so fun to see their "design".

Food is there, but not the focus:
For our celebration, I focus more on the non-food aspects, although I do try to make foods that are tied to the Asian culture.  One of my favorite go-to resources for nut-free Asian fare is Nut Free Wok- she has so many great recipe options.  Check her out to get inspiration for your Chinese New Year meal.

So get ready, Chinese New Year is February 5th.  Our mantra to celebrate safely is that we focus on family, friends and fun, not food.  This Chinese New Year will be no exception...I have already dug out my trusty red placemats and chopsticks.  What will you do to show your kids that celebrating can be about so much more than the food?


Need help living your best life with food allergies?
I can help you Thrive On!

Learn more about me and my company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow me on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.