Multiple Food Allergies and Prom…It Can Be Done

Another milestone accomplished with multiple food allergies.

My eldest son, Michael, with food allergies to dairy, eggs, beef, lamb, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, sesame, mustard and raspberries…just had his 2014 Prom Night!

All I can say is…it can be done!

Of course, just like all his classmates…picking out just the right outfit is key.  Michael and I enjoyed our time out with him trying on suits, shirts and ties.

With a pale grey suit, white shirt and lavender tie picked out…it was on to the belt, socks (funky charcoal grey with purple polka dots) and shoes.

That is until he decided he would prefer a bow tie (Bluey purple houndstooth)…saving the lavender tie for graduation with, a yet to be picked out, jazzy kerchief for the pocket.

With the outfit picked out, the limo with about a dozen of his friends rented, it was time to think about the 2014 Prom Night meal…a buffet.

About a week before the event, I spoke to one of the teachers in charge of organizing the big event about the meal…beef, chicken, pasta with red sauce, Caesar salad, mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and some sort of dessert.

No matter what was on the menu…with all of Michael’s food allergens…I knew that the chef would need to create a separate meal.

I called up the banquet facility hosting the event and spoke with the events coordinator.  She assured me that their facility had worked with patrons with food allergies.  Just email her a list of Michael’s food allergies and the chef would create a meal just for him.

Literally, it was that simple.

She emailed me back this menu:

Grilled chicken (salt and pepper seasoning)
Roasted red potatoes (salt, pepper, olive oil)
Seasonal vegetables (salt, pepper, olive oil)
Dessert we will offer fresh fruit plate no raspberries

Michael’s meal would be plated in the kitchen separately and when he was ready for his meal, he was to ask a server to bring it out…perfect!

On the day of the prom, I called the principal to inform her of Michael’s separate meal.  I also inquired about the staff attending the Prom to chaperone.  The principal assured me that she was going to review with each of them the administration of an Allerject…she noted she had the Allerject trainer sitting on her desk.

I had presented her with an Allerject trainer at the last School Council Meeting along with an EpiPen trainer and other information from the many exhibitors at Anaphylaxis Canada’s 7th Annual Community Conference I attended. Click here for the post.

The principal requested that Michael inform her of his table number and even gave me her cell phone number…just in case I felt the need to call…I am pleased to say, I didn’t.

Michael even told me a teacher, aware of his multiple food allergies, the week of the Prom, stopped him in the hallway to ask if everything was set for him at the Prom…very impressed!

With all the details in place…it was time for Michael to be dropped off at his friend’s house to catch a limo!

Yes…I hung around to take pictures of all the guys and gals in their finest.

No…I was not the only proud mother taking pictures of this stellar crowd of soon to be graduates!

Yes…attending one’s Prom with a list of multiple food allergies…priceless!

P.S.  Word of advice…a thank you goes a long way..

 

 

Multiple Food Allergies…Our Visit To Moxie’s Grill & Bar At Yorkdale Shopping Centre

This past weekend, my nephew was in town for his teams first hockey tournament of the year. As the arena was a good 40 minute drive from our house…going home for lunch was not an option between games.

An article in the Allergic Living Magazine Summer 2013 edition…”Hit the Road! Allergic Living’s guide to eating out safely on the family vacation” by Patrick Bennett and Alisa Fleming…gave me an idea. 

The article outlined “Hot Tips For Travel”, “Dining Do’s” and listed their “current top picks for nationwide restaurant chains that ‘get it’ when it comes to food allergies.”

Perhaps this was a chance to try eating out at another restaurant with multiple food allergies.

One of the restaurants on the Allergic Living Magazine’s Allergy- & Gluten-Aware Restaurants list happened to be Moxie’s Grill & Bar located just down the road from the arena at the Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Click here for the article and here for the full list.

The article explains that the “chain’s founder has children with severe food allergies and understands the desire for families to safely eat out.”  It goes on to say, “Moxies encourages people with food allergies to dine at its restaurants and the company expresses pride in its allergy awareness and guest protection procedures.”

My eldest son has multiple food allergies…dairy, egg, beef, lamb, peanut/tree nuts, sesame, fish, shellfish, mustard and raspberry...my youngest…peanut/tree nuts.

Upon our arrival at Moxie’s Bar & Grill, I informed the hostess that we had food allergies…she assured us that we would be accommodated and that the manager would be alerted.

Once seated, I informed our waitress that we had food allergies. She wrote down the list of food allergies along with my boys’ menu requests (chicken tenders with fries and a hamburger with fries) and took it back for the chef to review.

The manager came to our table…Matthew was fine to order the hamburger and fries (the buns were not made in house…as there was not a peanut/tree nut allergy warning on the package, he had the bun) but Michael’s request of chicken tenders and fries could not be accommodated due to the fryer being contaminated with ‘seafood’.

It turned out, there really was nothing on the menu that Michael could order…therefore, the manager asked him to create something he might make at home. The end result…Penne pasta, chicken, a mixture of vegetables in a tomato sauce.

Michael loved it! It was delicious…I know because gobbled up the remaining veggies!

I was impressed that Moxie’s Bar & Grill was willing to go ‘off the menu’ to provide my son with his very own allergy friendly meal.  However, even though the chain’s founder has children with ‘severe’ food allergies…I was a little taken aback when I looked at their allergy menu guide which is titled, “common mild allergen guide’. Click here to view.

It states:

“IF YOU HAVE A SEVERE FOOD ALLERGY, please inform your server and ensure that a manager handles your order personally, to confirm your food is prepared safely.

“If your allergy or intolerance is not severe – you are comfortable eating foods that contain very small amounts of the identified allergen – then please use this guide along with our main menu to make your selection.”

I am always reluctant to measure my sons’ food allergies as mild, moderate or severe.  How does one truly know how severe an allergic reaction one will have until it actually happens…hindsight is too late.

Also, I don’t know anyone with a food allergy that would be comfortable eating any food that contains even the tiniest bit of their identified food allergen…do you?

An article by Allergic Living Magazine touches on this very subject.

Click here to read about a very tragic story about thirteen-year-old Natalie Giorgi in the article, “Lessons From A Teen Food Allergy Tragedy”, written by Jennifer Van Evra for Allergic Living Magazine. Natalie was camping with a group of families in Sacramento, California. She took a bite of a Rice Krispie Square and immediately spat it out…she recognized the taste of peanuts.

Natalie’s mother gave her a dose of antihistamine even though she was not experiencing any symptoms…20 minutes later the systemic reaction began. Her father, a physician, gave her 3 doses of epinephrine…but it was not enough to stop the chain of events…vomiting, her throat swelled to the point she could not breathe and then she went into cardiac arrest. She died in her father’s arms.

The article is followed by interviews with Dr. Robert Wood , the director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at the John Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore and Dr. Susan Waserman, an allergist and professor of medicine at McMaster University in Canada.

Both experts answer questions on “What to do in case of an accidental allergen ingestion.”…very much worth reading.

Personally, when people question me whether my boys’ food allergies are severe or not I always say yes…both have asthma, both have had reactions to their food allergens, both have a peanut/tree nut allergy (according to Dr. Brown peanut/tree nut allergy have the most fatal reactions increasing the potential for a severe reaction) and both are in their teens. Therefore, I believe both have the potential to have a severe anaphylactic reaction if they were to ingest one of their food allergens.

I am not willing to play Russian Roulette with my boys lives.

Overall, I felt the experience at Moxie’s Grill & Bar was a positive one. As my boys travel through the teenaged years…learning to navigate eating out with food allergies is a life lesson worth teaching on the road to independence.

What have your experiences been at Moxie’s Grill & Bar with food allergies?

Our Second Trip To Lone Star With Multiple Food Allergies…Another Success

Tip # 25 from Anaphylaxis Canada’s Youth Advisory Panel at Why Risk It? . Click here for the entire list.

“I know calling restaurants and manufacturers about menus and ingredients is the right thing to do, however it’s really intimidating!  We need your help to show us how to make these calls.”

I wanted to celebrate the boys achievement of their Honours average this year by taking them out to a fancier restaurant in town that I had heard caters to those with food allergies…unfortunately, the boys were not interested.

What they did want to do was to go back to the Lone Star Texas Grill Restaurant. Click here for my post on our first trip there this year.

As I had set the stage by calling and enquiring about Michael’s food allergies (dairy, egg, beef, lamb, sesame, peanut/tree nuts, fish, shellfish, mustard and raspberries)...I felt this would be a great opportunity for Michael to review with the manager his food allergies to make sure the restaurant could still accommodate his food allergy needs.

The day we decided to go, Michael called ahead. Unfortunately, the manager was in a meeting so the assistant manager took the call. She basically told Michael that the restaurant would not be able to accommodate his food allergies. Michael related to her his last visit…she put him on hold. Upon her return, she assured him that the restaurant would be able to meet all his food allergy needs…so all was a go.

Our family was seated, menus distributed, drinks were ordered…I questioned Michael when he was going to ask to speak to the manager. “When she comes back and we order our meal”, he answered.

The manager was finally called over…as soon as Michael started to talk about his food allergies, the manager looked at me with recollection in his eyes…”Yes, you talked with me the last time we came…Michael is doing all the talking this time.”

The manager on this evening, happened to be the first manager I had talked with over the phone for our initial visit. (he was not the manager working the night we actually ate at Lone Star) Michael reviewed with him his meal from the last time…the complimentary nachos and salsa, chicken fingers dusted in flour, salt and pepper and fried with French fries without any spices on them in a fryer that was free of all his allergens.

The manager came out to enquire if flour was okay…he even checked the plum sauce for mustard and brought out a dish of it for Michael when it was given the all clear.

I know I felt much better knowing that the manager was the original manager who had organized Michael’s meal…even Matthew stated, “I feel so safe here”.

Once again, our family was well taken care of at our local Lone Star Texas Grill Restaurant. I would like to think all the franchises are similar.

Has anyone else dined at the Lone Star Texas Grill with their food allergies? What was your experience?

What restaurants have you found to be accommodating to your food allergies? Please share.

The Food Allergy Chronicles Visits Lone Star Texas Grill

Dairy-Egg-Nut has inspired our family to ‘step outside the box’ this March Break. After much deliberation over restaurant ‘Allergy Guides’…one restaurant was chosen…The Lone Star Texas Grill.

Our family's trip to Lone Star Texas Grill

Quite surprisingly, Lone Star Texa Grill does not officially have a breakdown of food allergens for their menu listed in their ‘Allergen Guide’. However, what they do have is a very inviting message to those with food allergies who would like to eat at the Lone Star Texas Grill.

The Lone Star Texas Grill ‘s ‘Allergy Guide’ states, “At Lone Star, Guest food safety is number one. If you have any special food allergies, sensitivities or dietary needs, please speak to your server before you order. All our servers are well versed in the ingredients of our menu items.”

“While we cannot guarantee the absence of any allergen, due to the potential for cross-contaminationand potential traces of allergens in sauces, marinades, cooking processes and menu adaptations we will do our best to accomodate your requests.”

Click here to view Lone Star Texas Grill’s Allergy Guide.

Right away, after reading the above ‘Allergy Guide’, I felt inclined to call the restaurant to speak with the manager about Michael’s food allergies…dairy, egg, beef, lamb, sesame, fish, shellfish, peanut/tree nuts, mustard and raspberry…and Matthew’s food allergies…peanut/tree nuts.

The manager was very helpful and understanding of my boys’ combined food allergies…he assured us that the Lone Star Texas Grill would be able to meet our food allergy requirements. Adding, that many of their food allergy customers are repeat customers…very reassuring indeed!

Questions for Michael’s meal:

Is there a separate fryer for the french fries? Apparantly, there is a separate fryer that just fries the corn chips that are served complimentary. Michael’s fries would be fried in that oil. (corn chips were free of his allergens)

Is there mustard in their Original Texas Barbecue Sauce?   Yes…ribs are not allergen free.

Is there mustard in the seasoning of their chicken fingers? No, they would toss real chicken in a flour, salt and pepper mixture and would fry them in the same oil as his french fries.

Perfect…just what Micheal was hoping for…Chicken Fingers with fries…done.

Questions for Matthew’s meal:

Are the buns free of peanut/tree nuts?  Yes.

Perfect…Matthew would order “Bubba’s” Smoked Brisket.

Overall questions:

The manager reassured me that the manager would oversee the cooking of the boys’s meals, the hostess and waitress would be made aware of the boys’ food allergies, all cutting boards and utensils used in the making of the meals would be separate from the other food…I was sold!

Overall evening:

From the moment we stepped in to the Lone Star Texas Grill, our family was made to feel very welcome indeed.

Our hostess greeted us at the entrance…after a quick introduction, she smiled and reassured us the restaurant was ready for us and seated us near the back of the restaurant, by the kitchen.

The manager then greeted us at the table…he was very patient as I re-relayed the conversation I had had with the manager on duty at the time I had called. I had forgotten to ask about the salsa that is served with the corn chips and the plum sauce for the chicken fingers while on the phone with the other manager…the salsa and plum sauce were free of his food allergens.

The manager then re-reassured me that the kitchen was well experienced in cooking for anyone with food allergies. Relaying that our waitress was also aware of our food allergies.

Next, our smiling waitress arrived…she was equally patient as I re-relayed the specifics of our food allergy requirements. Drinks and our meal were ordered.

The first to arrive were the still warm from the fryer, corn chips and salsa.

Complimentary corn chips and salsa at Lone Star Texas Grill

Michael tried one, smiled and happily dug in to the pile…soon a second order arrived…where were the drinks?

Finely, the drinks arrived to quench the thirst of the ‘corn chip munchers’…soon to be followed by our dinner.

Michael’s Chicken Fingers and Fries with a side order of carrot and celery sticks…which, I might add, he did actually eat!

http://www.michaelpenneystyle.com/2013/03/15/join-us-for-a-floral-class-at-penney-company/

Michael inhaled his meal…happy to report it was delish…although he could have done with a few more of the french fries. (Note: Michael’s fries just had salt on them, whereas, Matthew noted that his fries had a sort of spice on them)

Over the course of the meal…Michael ‘absorbed’ his fair share of Iced Tea!

Michael's trail of Iced Tea drinks at the Lone Star Texas Grill

I imagine the sodium content of his entire meal was the culprit!

Overall…I would rate this meal a huge success!

At the end of the meal…the manager recommended that Michael try the Chicken Fajitas on his next visit. The tortillas, which they bake in house, were safe…the chicken would not be brushed with a garlic butter and would be grilled on a separate grill…the Saddle Beans and Mexican Rice would be safe as would the Salsa.

If Matthew had had room for dessert…he would have been able to have had the ice cream…

For anyone that does not live with multiple food allergies…the notion of going our for dinner may not seem like such a ‘big deal’. But for our family…it will be a moment we will remember for always because it was a ‘big deal’!

The fear is real…the consequences of eating something that one is allergic to is real…the need to be specific and careful about ingredient lists and how food is prepared, cooked and served is real.

Not everyone ‘gets it’…all I know is I’m sure glad the managers, hostess, waitress and cooks at Lone Star Texas Grill did!

Know, that on our next visit to Lone Star Texas Grill…I would still be calling ahead to go through the same food allergen questions to assure myself that the restaurant is prepared for our every visit…never assume!

I would love to hear about your experiences eating out at restaurants with food allergies.

P.S. At ‘The Allergy Eats! Blog Your Allergy Friendly Restaurant Blog“, they have specifically written a post titled, ‘The Most Allergy-Friendly Restaurant Chains in America’. Click here to check out their top 5 restaurant chains in the categories of large, medium and small chains.

P.P.S. I was very saddened by an article in Sunday’s edition of the Toronto Star.

Twelve year old Maia Santarelli-Gallo, died a ‘mysterious death’ this March Break while out shopping at Mapleview Centre in Burlington, Ontario. Her parents believe she died from an unknown food allergy…her body may have gone into anaphylactic shock. Maia had some food intolerances…but was never prescribed an Epipen by a doctor.

A sad reminder of how dangerous food allergies can be if not fully investigated.

My thoughts and prayers are with Maia’s family. Click here for the full story.

The Food Allergy Chronicles Visits The Original Albert’s

A trip to my hometown is not complete without a trip to the Original Albert’s!

A collage of Albert's Rolling Lunch history

Of all the chip trucks under the bridge…Albert’s was tops!

Although Albert’s can no longer be found in a chip truck under the bridge…believe when I say…it is very worth the little drive up the road to their store location!

Indulging in a plate or box of Albert’s fries under the bridge is a tradition that I am pleased to be able to continue with my boys despite their food allergies!

Fries from the Original Albert's

Nothing is fried along with the fries…nor are the fry tongs used for anything else but the fries…safe for Michael and his dairy, beef, peanut/tree nut, egg, shellfish, seafood, sesame, mustard and raspberry allergies.

Canada Day was the perfect day to head to Albert’s for our first plate of fries of the summer!

Enjoyng their plates of Albert's fries under the bridge

Sitting on the rocks under the bridge watching the sailboats, motor boats and the tankers take on the currents of the St. Clair River is always a thrill!

The timing on this sailboat’s passing on Canada Day was priceless!

Boys standing under the bridge as a Canadian Flag sailboat sails by

My husband, Andy’s, arrival this weekend, had the boys itching to get to the bridge for more fries. One does not need to ‘twist’ Andy’s arm for a trip to Albert’s!

Adding salt and vinegar to Albert's plates of fries

The boys love being able to shake on more salt, pick up their ketchup and/or spray on some vinegar.

Unfortunately, sitting under the bridge to enjoy their fries was not in the cards! Sunday afternoon was filled with back to back storms rolling in…no worries!

The boys enjoying their plates of Albert's fries in the car

The fries tasted just as good inside the car looking out at the storm!

Day 2 in a Series on Cross-Contamination and Food Allergies: Grade 8 Graduation Trip to Camp Muskoka 2010 and 2012

This morning, I waved good bye to Matthew as he headed off with his fellow classmates for their Grade 8 Graduation Trip to Camp Muskoka in beautiful Bracebridge, Ontario.

matthew off to camp muskoka by bus

All aboard!

matthew boarding the bus to camp muskoka

The teachers look super excited!

teachers on the camp muskoka trip

Yes, a few tears were shed…I know I was not alone!

The Grade 8 Graduation Trip is an exciting new adventure for the students to embark on…a perfect way to celebrate finishing their grade school years!

An experience of a lifetime!

I know it is Matthew’s first trip away from home without family…made a little more nerve racking when food allergies and asthma are involved. (peanut/tree nut)

I can assure you, I am feeling quite confident that all the safety measures have been put in place to ensure a successful Camp Muskoka adventure.

My eldest son, Michael (dairy,egg,beef,sesame,fish,shellfish,peanut/tree nuts,mustard and raspberry, asthma and eczema) enjoyed his Camp Muskoka adventure 2 years ago with his Grade 8 Graduation Class.

Many safety measures were established to prevent any cross-contamination with Michael’s food…our experience with Michael at Camp Muskoka gives me the confidence for Matthew’s trip.

Recap of Michael’s Camp Muskoka Graduation Trip of 2010

Camp Muskoka focuses on ‘good nutrition’ following Health Canada’s Food Guide and is a ‘Nut Safe’ environment following Anaphylaxis Canada’s Prevention Policy. (all staff are trained in the knowledge of food allergies, the prevention of cross-contamination, and the administration of an epi pen)

Camp Muskoka’s brochure states: “If your child has any special dietary needs (.i.e. vegetarian, diabetic, allergy specific) please detail these needs on your Camp Muskoka registration application and contact the Camp Muskoka Registrar to discuss arrangements.”

Planning Stages:

Stage 1: The year before the trip

Planning for Michael’s Graduation Trip started while he was in Grade 7. Anticipating his participation the following year, I discussed his food allergies, asthma and eczema with the Grade 8 teacher, Mr. G. (Mr. G. is currently Matthew’s Grade 8 teacher and was Michael’s. Matthew also had Mr. G. for Grade 7.)

Mr. G. is well versed in my boys’ food allergy emergency plans!

Mr. G. suggested that he would discuss Michael’s food allergies with the staff at Camp Muskoka on the 2009 Graduation Trip. Upon his return, I was assured that Camp Muskoka would be able to accomodate Michael’s mulitple food allergies. Sigh of relief!

Stage 2:  Parent Information Night

At the start of the Grade 8 school year, a representative from Camp Muskoka held a Parent Information Night. It was at this time, I bombarded the representative with questions and presented him with an outline of Michael’s multiple food allergies and the products that were considered allergen ‘safe’. I even attached a photo of Michael.

I was, as you can imagine, very concerned, worried, nervous…

Once again, I was reassured that Camp Muskoka would be able to meet Michael’s allergen needs. I was advised to contact the head chef, Michael to discuss the details.

Stage 2: Working with Camp Muskoka’s Head Chef Michael

My first contact with Chef Michael was by phone. I felt an initial personal first contact by phone necessary to establish good rapport. Very important when one wants to convey the seriousness of multiple food allergies, cross-contamination and the prevention of an anaphylactic reaction.

By phone, Chef Michael and I ironed out all the specifics:

-Michael would not eat buffet style
-Michael would have separate cutting boards, kitchen tools, pots, pans, plate and utensils kept separately. They would be washed and disinfected daily.
-Michael’s food would be prepared separately from the other food being prepared in the kitchen.
– Michael’s meal would be presented to him already plated.
-Chef Michael and I reviewed his menu plan discussing ingredient lists, food options and substitutions.
-It was agreed that due to Michael’s multiple food allergies, there were certain food items that Camp Muskoka would not be able to accomodate. Mainly all breads and baked goods. (Baked good contain some of Michael’s food allergens)

Chef Michael emailed me his menu plan for review. Between the two of us, we created a menu plan free of all Michael’s food allergens. A copy was made complete with emergency contact information, all Michael’s food allergens, all the food and drink products he was not to consume, and all the food I would be sending from home along with the food that Camp Muskoka would provide. Copies were given to all teachers’ and Camp Muskoka staff for quick reference.

Food Sent From Home

Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Banana Bundt Cake baked in a 6 mold mini bundt pan for a substitute for muffins at breakfast and as a snack.
-Pure Maple Syrup for the Organic Pancakes (an allergen safe organic pancake mix with rice milk and an egg substitute was made for all the students on the trip for breakfast)
-allergen safe sliced ham for sandwiches
Dairy,Egg,Soy,Sesame and Peanut/Tree Free Sub Buns for sandwiches and garlic bread
Dairy,Egg and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Wacky Cake
-allergen safe pasta and meat sauce
Dairy,Egg,and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Apple Crisp

Michael’s 2010 Camp Muskoka Grade 8 Graduation Trip Experience

The beginning of June 2010, I waived good bye to Michael, two coolers full of food, 3 epi pens, puffers and his asthma/eczema medications as he headed for his once in a lifetime adventure to Camp Muskoka.

Yes, tears were definitely shed. Yes, a part of me was nervous.

Parents, as a rule, are not to have contact with their children on the trip…Mr. G. bent them, just a little, and called me both nights to let me know everything was going smoothly. Thanks Mr. G.!

Michael came home with many stories and experiences that will last a lifetime!

Michael’s Camp Muskoka’s Grade 8 Graduation Trip was a success due to a team effort…teachers’ and Camp Muskoka staff working together with compassion, common sense, communication and an emergency plan. Priceless! I can’t thank you all enough!

Overview

I remind my kids all the time…read ingredient lists, never assume.

Accidents are called accidents because they are not planned. Thank goodness we can at least be prepared for accidents…because cross-contamination and injestion of food allergens is a reality.

That is why, as a parent with children with food allergies I teach my boys the Two Golden Rules: Always wash your hands and have your epi pen on hand before eating.

That is why, as parents with children with food allergies, we have emergency plans in place…that is why teachers’ and Camp Muskoka staff are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of anaphylaxis and how to administer epi pens…that is why students with life threatening food allergies need to carry epi pens and have back up epi pens available.

Being prepared means that when an accidental cross-contamination or injestion of a food allergy occurs…an anaphylactic reaction can be prevented.

Matthew 2012 Camp Muskoka Grade 8 Graduation Trip

Last week, I emailed Chef Michael and alerted him to Matthew’s peanut/tree nut allergy and his arrival today. He assured me that Camp Muskoka is still ‘Nut Safe’ and following Anaphylaxis Canada’s Policies. There is no need for me to send any food this time. Matthew will be travelling with his 3 epi pens, his puffers and all the gear needed for a winter adventure.

Not sure if I will be hearing from Mr. G. tonight for a recap on the day. I will try to be content in the knowledge that I have sent Matthew in capable hands.

In the meantime, I am eagerly awaiting Matthew’s arrival home on Friday to hear all his exciting stories and experiences at Camp Muskoka.

Question: Has anyone else sent their child/children to Camp Muskoka with food allergies? What experiences have you had sending your child/children on overight trips with food allergies? Please share.

Day 1 in a Series on Cross Contamination and Food Allergies: School Field Trips

Cross-contamination is every parents’ greatest fear when you have a child/children with food allergies. There is not a day that goes by when the thought doesn’t cross your mind.

Whether I am purchasing food in a store, choosing a dish in a restaurant, deciding to accept an invitation to a friend’s or family’s dinner/a child’s birthday party or a school outing, preparing food in my home, at a friend’s or at a family’s home…cross-contamination issues will arise.

Tackling those cross-contamination issues is yet another challenge.

School trips are one of the highlights of the school year. My boys are forever looking forward to them. In our house, school trips are never taken for granted. Each trip is carefully discussed to eleviate any risks for cross contamination which may lead to an anaphylactic reaction.

School Field Trips are an integral part of learning. Great hands on experiences: visiting the ROM to examine ancient artifacts or to learn all about water and our environment, visiting the AGO to view first hand, the treasures and artifacts of Tutankhamun, or reliving the life of a soldier living at Old Fort York.

Experiences to last a life time!

Unfortunately, food allergies can pose a few challenges. With a bit of compassion, common sense and an emergency plan in place those challenges can be met.

Case in point:

Matthew’s Grade 8 class has planned a bowling trip to Neb’s Fun World today, to meet and acquaint themselves with grade 8’s from another school going on their Grade 8 Graduation Trip to Camp Muskoka January 25-27, 2012.

sign of Neb's Fun WorldA note came home describing the day: bowling in the morning with a pizza lunch and tokens for the games room.

Sounds fantastic!

Here’s the catch: when you have a peanut/tree nut allergy or any food allergy, one must double-check with the establishment their policy on food allergens and whether or not the food that will be served is contaminated with any food allergens.

I sent an email to Neb’s Fun World enquiring about their peanut/tree nut policy and whether or not their pizza would be safe for my son to eat.

A reply was quickly sent back with a note that the kitchen was not nut free, therefore they could not make any guarantees. It was up to my discretion as to whether or not he had the pizza. The reply also stated their policy is to ban outside food and drink however, in the case of a dietary allergy it did not apply. It was recommended that my son bring a safe lunch to be on the safe side. A PDF was attached with the pizza ingredient list.

I sent a reply back thanking them for their quick response and that I would be contacting them on Monday to discuss my son’s peanut/tree nut allergy.

A second reply advised me to contact Maria, co-president of Neb’s and head of the kitchen.

Maria was completely understanding and seemed pleased that I had called to discuss my concerns for my son’s peanut/tree nut allergy and Neb’s pizza lunch.

Maria was concerned about other patrons who may bring food in which may contain peanut/tree nuts. She had no control or guarantees regarding any outside food. I reassured her that I am aware of those instances and prepare for them wherever I go. My best defense: washing hands and always caring an epi pen.

Maria was also concerned that my son may be centered out by not having the pizza like the other kids. Her compassion for my son was very evident. I can’t tell you how relieved I felt talking with her. Maria took my concerns seriously…she totally got it!

My concern lay in the ingredients themselves and the process of making the pizza. As the pizza crust is made outside of the kitchen, Maria checked the ingredient list for any peanut/tree nut claims. Not only that, she personally called the pizza crust company to double-check and found that the pizza crust was peanut, dairy and shellfish free. Yeah!

Maria assured me that she would take an extra precaution and have Matthew’s pizza pan triple washed and bleached. (The pizza pans are used to bake the White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies and Chocolate Chip Cookies which may contain trace amounts of peanut/tree nuts. She would make sure that cookies were not baked that day.)

I know there are no guarantees no matter where we go. I feel comfortable with the preventative measures that Neb’s has put in place to prevent any cross contamination issues with peanut/tree nuts and the pizza that Matthew will be eating. I feel assured that they will do their best.

Everyone has their own level of risk tolerance… I felt that the measures taken to ensure Matthew’s safety made the situation low risk.

That said, an emergency/backup plan is always needed. Extra Epi Pens will be sent (the teacher and I will have an extra epi pen each) and hands will be washed before eating. I will be attending this field trip to help supervise the students and be a part of the teacher/supervisors bowling team!

Update: Upon my early arrival, I was informed that Maria was not available today. Her daughter Krista, however, was made aware of our arrangement and assured me that all was set for the preparation of Matthew’s peanut/tree nut free pizza.

With all the arrangements made, it was on to the games!

I have to admit…the shoes are quite comfortable and they add that touch of red that I always like! lol

my fancy bowling shoes

Mr. G. (Matthew’s Grade 8 teacher) outplayed us all…he is The King of Bowling!

Mr.G bowling

Note his perfect form! (Apparantly, he was out last night practicing!)

Mine, on the other hand, could use some work!

myself bowling at Neb's

Matthew’s form shows great promise…right down the middle!

Matthew bowling at Neb's

The students were given tokens to use in Neb’s Games Room.

That’s in the basket…nice shot!

Matthew in the Games Room at Neb's

Pizza time!

Matthew's peanut/tree nut free 'safe' pizza at Neb's

Matthew’s peanut/tree nut free ‘safe’ pizza was brought out to him straight from the oven…thank you Neb’s!

One happy, hungry boy!

Matthew enjoying a slice of his peanut/tree nut free 'safe' pizza at Neb's

Compassion, common sense, communication and an emergency plan…the ‘perfect ingredients’ for a successful school field trip.

P.S. Matthew’s field trip was a success due in part to the cooperation and understanding of his teachers’ and the staff at Neb’s Fun World. We all worked as a team to ensure the safety of Matthew at the event. Thank you all!

P.P.S. If you are considering visiting Neb’s Fun World and have food allergies, please contact Maria to discuss your specific needs. I only discussed cross-contamination with the pizza…they serve other food that would need discussing specific to one’s allergen needs.

P.P.P.S. The chocolate bars in the vending machines do not contain nuts, some may or may not contain traces due to the facility that manufactured them. Also the treats that you can purchase with your tickets from the Games Room may or may not contain traces of nuts.

Tip: Surprise your child by bringing your own allergen friendly treats to exchange for the tickets…one might be the promise to come back for another time!

Update: Since our visit, Neb’s Fun World has added, to their website, ingredient lists for all their most popular food items. This will be most helpful for the allergy community. Thank you Neb’s! Click here to check out the link.

Question: What experiences have you encountered with school field trips and your child/children’s food allergies and cross-contamination? Please share.

Ottawa 2011-2012: Ringing in the New Year in a Winter Wonderland

Ringing in the New Year in a Winter Wonderland!

ottawa's winter wonderland 2011Temperature in the Ottawa region hovered between minus 11 and minus 17 degrees celcius!

winter wonderland walk with Jagg, ottawa, 2011

Between unheated hockey arenas and going for beautiful winter wonderland walks everyday…

mom and I out for a winter wonderland walk, ottawa, 2011

…I lived in my thermal underwear!

I love going for walks in the woods…

walking in the woods, ottawa, 2011

…it’s like stepping into Narnia!

Even the trees were decorated in the Christmas Spirit!

christmas decoration on tree in the woods, ottawa, 2011

Preparing the backyard rink was top priority…my brother puts in many hours watering and perfecting the rink. (Andy likes to help out)

my brother and andy watering the backyard rink, ottawa, 2011

Michael pitched in to get the boards up for puck shooting…while Matthew anxiously awaited game time!

putting up the boards on the backyard rink, ottawa, 2011

Best Buddies!

best buddies, ottawa, 2011

The Bell Capital Cup Tournament, that my nephew’s hockey team was entered in, drew teams from all over the world… Germany, Korea, The United States, Finland.

Trading team pins is all the rage!

trading pins hat bell capital cup 2011

The yellow pin is a coveted pin from Germany!

The skills competition is always exciting to watch…especially when your nephew is entered! His relay team blew away the competition.

Congradulations on your team’s win!

relay win cup, bell capital cup, ottawa, 2011

With the skills competition and the quarter finals hockey game going back to back…there was no time to head home for lunch.

We went prepared:  Michael packed a ham sub and some cookies for lunch.

Highlight for Michael was ordering a plate of french fries at one of the hockey arenas. After discussing all Michael’s food allergies with the waiter and checking with the kitchen staff…it was declared that the fries would be safe. (Nothing was fried in the oil with Michael’s food allergens…that would have cross-contaminated the oil) The waiter took our concerns very seriously…he too has a peanut/tree nut allergy and his sister multiple food allergies…he understood our needs precisely.Thank you Kevin!

Meals at my brother’s consisted of:
Our Spagetti and Meatballs with our Dairy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free French Stick that we brought for dinner the day we arrived.
Our family Christmas Dinner: roast turkey,stuffing,gravy,dairy free garlic mashed potatoes (Michael helped make),carrots,roasted brussel sprouts and our Dairy, Egg, Soy and Peanut/Tree Nut Free Apple Pie brought from home. (Michael couldn’t have the stuffing and gravy due to the bread having traces of dairy, egg and sesame…I forgot to bring his frozen allergen free stuffing from home as a substitute…he was disappointed but very understanding)
There were plenty of leftovers for dinner the next night. Love it!
For our last night, we enjoyed barbequed chicken kebabs,quinoa pilaf and steamed brocolli…all free of Michael’s allergens.
All in all, a very stress free experience.

Unfortunately, my nephew’s team lost in the quarter finals.

Headed back home where the boys all laced up their hockey skates…shovelled the snow off the rink…and it was game on!

boys geared up for some backyard hockey, ottawa, 2011

Happy New Year from our family to yours!

Invitation to the Family Thanksgiving Dinner with Multiple Food Allergies

Thanksgiving weekend is almost here. A time to give thanks. As I sit here, reflecting back on my life (chaos and all), I am truly thankful for family, friends and my health.

Getting together with family to enjoy the best of fall’s harvest reinforces that feeling of thankfulness.

To simplify celebrating holidays between families, we celebrate Thanksgiving with my husband’s family (his birthday falls in and around Thanksgiving) and Easter with my family. (my birthday falls in and around Easter)

The job of hosting Thanksgiving is rotated between Andy’s mom, sister and myself. As I hosted last year, his sister has volunteered to host this year.

Thanksgiving dinner typically includes: Roasted turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, gravy, fresh bread or buns, and of course pumpkin and apple pie. (possibly a birthday cake)

Introducing multiple food allergies into the equation of celebrating with food, can be a challenge. Clear, open communication between all parties involved is necessary to help ease the tension that can arise.

Michael has multiple food allergies to dairy, eggs, beef, peanuts/tree nuts,sesame, fish, shellfish and raspberries and Matthew to peanuts/tree nuts.

After receiving our invitation to my sister-in-laws Thanksgiving Dinner, I emailed our acceptance. I sent a reminder of both the boys’ food allergies. I inquired as to what, on the dinner menu, would be safe for the boys’ to eat.

I offered to bring the fresh bread and dessert (apple pie and/or chocolate birthday cake) to help out with the festivities.(bakery bread and baked goods are not safe as they may contain trace amounts of peanut/tree nuts, dairy, egg and sesame)

My sister-in-law sent a break down of the menu. The roasted turkey’s stuffing will include beef. (a separate turkey breast will be cooked) The mashed potatoes will be made with butter and milk (some of the boiled potatoes will be set aside), and the gravy will be cross-contaminated with the beef from the stuffing. My sister-in-law will be baking a pumpkin pie which will include dairy products. The carrots will be safe.

In the past, Michael has eaten the separate turkey breast, boiled potatoes and the safe vegetables along with the safe bread and pie that I bring. This year will be different.

Like everyone else, Michael anticipates the mouth-watering feast that emanates from the oven. Tantalizing aromas fill the air as the Thanksgiving dinner is lovingly put together.

Slices of roasted turkey with safe gravy is the one meal Michael looks forward to every year. He is acquiring a taste for safe stuffing and loves garlic mashed potatoes. Not to mention leftovers for sandwiches the next day!

In order to make this happen, I have ordered the smallest fresh turkey from Buckingham’s Meat Market. (8-9 lbs) I will roast the turkey with safe stuffing, make a gravy and whip up safe garlic mashed potatoes to bring along for his Thanksgiving dinner.

Why am I doing this?

I am thankful for all the times my sister-in-law (and mother-in-law) have graciously offered and made safe food substitutions for Michael. Without seeming ungrateful, a side order of turkey breast and boiled potatoes just isn’t the same. I want Michael to enjoy a full Thanksgiving meal like the rest of the family.

In the past, Michael has observed and helped me make his safe stuffing and gravy.This experience will give him the opportunity to learn to roast a turkey and cook garlic mashed potatoes with me at home.

Enquiring about and making safe food options will always follow Michael throughout his life. Better to learn how to navigate within these boundaries when he is young. It will aid him on his journey in life. A  journey that will soon enough be his alone.

P.S. How do you manage family celebrations with food allergies? I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment.

Book Review: allergic girl by Sloane Miller

I recently finished reading “allergic girl, adventures in living well with food allergies by Sloane Miller.  I highly recommend this book to all those living with food allergies. (including family and friends)

allergic girl by sloane miller book

Sloane Miller was diagnosed as a child with allergies to tree nuts, salmon, eggplant, and melon (cantaloupe and honeydew).

In August 2006, Sloane Miller started a blog called Please Don’t Pass the Nuts. She has been a licensed social worker since 2000 and opened a private food-allergy coaching, consulting, and advocacy practice in 2007. In 2008, she started a membership-based food-allergy dining club called Worry-Free Dinners.

Sloane Miller’s goal: “to assist the food-allergic community members to live their best lives.”

Wow….she is my hero!

Sloane Miller is living the life that all those with food allergies strive to achieve…..living with the ” tools to be in and of the world with a little more trust, a little more faith, and a whole lot more fun.”

In her book, allergic girl, she covers strategies, from her real life experiences, on dining out and travelling. She wants those with food allergies to start trusting again and working towards stepping out of their boxes.

Her journey with multiple food allergies is inspiring to say the least. I find myself constantly referring to her.  “Allergic girl did this…” or “Allergic girl tried this…” or “Allergic girl says…”

After reading allergic girl, I feel confident that I can start to take baby steps to incorporate her strategies into my family’s life to broaden our life experiences.

I want to take them out to Calgary to encounter the mountains, Scotland to visit all our relatives (my dad was the only one in his family to immigrate), and England (to walk among my mother’s ancestry).

I want them to enjoy the experience of dining out. (I don’t mean at fast food joints) The pleasure of dining in a nice restaurant.

Alas, food allergies have defined our world.  It is time to free ourselves.  Live a balanced life. allergic girl is a beacon of hope for all those with food allergies willing to give ‘living’ a chance.

So get out your highlighters!  You will need it as you read through allergic girl.  There are so many tips and information that you will want to refer back to in your new journey in life.

Enjoy!  Like a good meal, so is a great book!

P.S. Allergic Living’s Spring 2011 magazine also did a review on Sloane Miller’s allergic girl. The cover article titled ‘Yes! You Can Dine Out’ was written by Sloane Miller.

P.S. Next book: Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley

Don't Kill The Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley book

Have you read either allergic girl or Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl?  I’d love to hear what you thought of them.  Please share in the comments.

Have you a book worth sharing? Please share in the comments.