Living with multiple food allergies can be very limiting depending on how you look at it.
My eldest son, Michael, has multiple food allergies to dairy, egg, beef, sesame, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, mustard and raspberry. My second son, Matthew, has a peanut/tree nut allergy.
What do you feed them? What do they eat? What do you buy? How do you do it? Are some of the most asked questions requested of me upon revealing my boys’ food allergies.
Shopping for both Michael and Matthew means always reading ingredient lists on packaged products. It means, many products are not available for us to consume.
Loaves of bread, all products from the bakery, sliced meat at the deli, many sauces, salad dressings and condiment spreads, boxed cookies, crackers and certain dried pasta brands are all off-limits. These items and more, either contain one of Michael’s food allergens or have been manufactured in a facility that may or may not contain one of his food allergens.
For Matthew, the bakery is off-limits as are some packages of cookies, breads and crackers. Peanut/Tree Nuts can be anywhere…always reading the ingredient list and looking out for any allergen warnings is a must.
Both my boys never consume anything that was not ‘mom approved’. It is my ‘mantra’.
I started teaching them at a very young age to just say “no”. It means, any food product that comes in to their classroom, is offered at a friend’s house or after a hockey/soccer game, must pass my inspection before it passes their lips.
I love telling the story about when Matthew was in Nursery School. He did not have his peanut/tree nut allergy at this time. However, the staff all knew of his older brother’s allergies from when he went to Nursery School. It was Hallowe’en and candy was being given out to the children. This was outside the usual snack…routine is important to little guys. Matthew peered up to the teacher on duty and looking at her with his big, beautiful, brown eyes exclaimed, “I can’t have candy…I am allergic.”
Matthew grew up believing he had food allergies like his brother. It was easier to limit both than to watch one suffer feeling left out in his own home. Matthew was so easy-going, he was unaware of missing out on anything.
Being limited in the grocery store to buying the individual ingredients to make/bake allergen free food for my boys has made us more mindful eaters. I get to choose how to make/bake my meals and baked goods…in doing so, I can control what goes in them.
Being able to choose how to make something…now that is not limiting at all! In fact, it’s turning the tables on the limitations.
I have made it my mission to create yummy treats that my boys could enjoy together and with their friends. I would specifically invite friends over to sample my creations and send allergen friendly treats in to the school for Michael to share. Kids love coming to our house because they know inevitably, I will produce something yummy!
The kids in the boys’ classrooms would often ask, “What is your mom sending in for the party?” I wanted the students to realize that as limiting as they thought Michael and Matthew’s food choices were…they still had delicious options to choose from. Did this help keep the teasing down…perhaps.
I used to look after our neighbours daughter in the afternoons when her mom was at work. Her mom confided in me, that her daughter loved coming to my house because it always smelled so good!
If you think about being limited in the sense of processed foods, eating out or ordering in on a whim, then yes, we are very limited. However, I look at our life in a different light!
One must first, step out of the box. Yes, I know it is hard…no one likes change…least of all when one has been dropped the bomb of multiple food allergies! With food allergies…there is no cheating!
In order for the limitations to be lifted, it is necessary to step inside a new box. This new box becomes your ‘normal’. New limitations are set…by you.
I have tried to raise my boys with the notion that there is no ‘normal’ family. Each family has their own ‘rules’ depending on their type of family. Those rules limit what a family can do…financial troubles, marital issues, other health conditions…all are limiting in and of themselves.
Once you accept your ‘normal’…the possibilities are endless!
In my experience, surviving food allergies without limitations means:
1) Researching products: Fifteen years ago, when I first started out with food allergies, allergen friendly products were scarce. Times have changed for the better. There are so many great companies out there providing allergen friendly products. Some of my favourites are: Enjoy Life, Guardian Angel, Daiya, Natura Frozen Desserts, Soy and Rice Milk, Ryza Rice Milk, Yummy Earth, Surf Sweets and Earth Balance.
2) Planning ahead: I always assume that a food product will be offered wherever we go. With that in mind, I always carry Yummy Earth Organic Candy Drops in my purse. If I know there will be an unknown special treat that I may not be able to match, I have Pure Maple Sugar Candies…my boys know these are pricey candies never eaten on a whim…it makes them extra special. Always having a treat ‘up your sleeve’ turns you into ‘Super Mom”. An aura of magic surrounds your very being…my kids have learned to turn to me in anticipation of the ‘special treat’ that I will produce.
3) Being creative in the kitchen: Using what I know and what I have to create something new, exciting and always yummy brings me great joy! Knowing that I am creating something special for my boys…knocking down the walls of limitations…priceless!
4) Communication: I believe, educating those around our children about food allergies, is key to the success of breaking down the barriers that limit us…creating a sense of compassion…a sense of working together…teamwork.
Opening the lines of communication with teachers, parents of students in your child’s classroom, sports team, church or club puts you in a position of being someone willing to be part of a team. It takes all the mystery and stereotypical images away and replaces them with common sense and the notion of looking out for our fellow-man.
The day after my oldest son’s Grade 8 Confirmation, the school ordered a cake to celebrate. I learned only of this, when I went to pick up my son a little earlier at the end of the school day. He had a doctor’s appointment. As luck would have it, the doctor’s appointment was the perfect excuse to miss out on a cake he most definitely would not have been able to enjoy due to his multiple food allergies.
Instead of getting upset over the overlooked incident, I offered to bake the Grade 8’s Graduation Cake. I made one 12 by 18 single layered Dairy,Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Chocolate Cake with Dairy Free Vanilla Icing sheet cake and one 12 by 18 single layered Dairy, Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Vanilla Cake with Dairy Free Chocolate Icing sheet cake.
As this group of Grade 8’s has ventured through their grade school years enjoying my various baked goods…the cakes were a success!
I raised my boys being told that they needed to “learn to live in the real world!” Really? Am I to believe that the world is made up of compassionless people? What is it about food allergies that gets people so defensive? How are my boys’ food allergies a threat to their livelihood? I thought the ‘real world’ is ever evolving…is that not how we progress?
Thank goodness there are those whose compassion knows no bounds!
Slowly but surely, the ‘real world’ is starting to embrace our issues…there are companies geared towards producing allergy friendly foods, laws protecting our children in schools (Sabrina’s Law), new food labelling laws requiring the top food allergens be listed on products, restaurants with ingredient listings on their websites, allergy friendly restaurants’ are popping up, there is a better awareness of cross contamination issues, allergy alert warnings on products…oh my…isn’t it exciting!
I have seen so many changes over the years…imagine what the future holds!
Spreading the word of food allergies and their implications are being heard. It is a slow process…we must be patient and allow people a period of adjustment. As we well know…adapting to food allergies is a process. Being a part of the solution…not the problem will open doors.
You are as limited as your imagination will take you!
Living with multiple food allergies, eczema and asthma is my full-time job…this is my ‘normal’…what is yours?
P.S. Matthew’s Grade 8 teacher has asked me to bake the Grade 8 Graduation Cakes and I have offered to bake something for the Grade 8 Confirmation. I am truly honoured!
I am looking forward to creating something extra special for them all! I will definitely be posting my creations! Stay tuned for the big reveal in the Spring.
Update: I just finished reading a great guest post over at The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen from this little lark. She discusses the 5 Ways To Overcome Emotional Blocks During Dietary Changes. She states, “Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher was on to something when he stated ‘The only thing constant is change.'” I think her ideas are very relatable to ‘overcoming the emotional blocks’ when you are dealing with food allergies.
Question: Do you feel limited by food allergies? How has living with food allergies limited you? How do you deal with the limitations?