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Feb 7, 2013

Food Allergies, Bullying and a Ray of Hope

I am saddened by the number of stories I have read lately about children with food allergies who have been bullied by a peer due to their allergy. The statistics are staggering and speak for themselves:

According to the Kids with Food Allergy Foundation, "A recent survey conducted by the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), showed that 79% of food-allergic children and teens reported bullying, teasing, or harassment related to their food allergies. Of those bullied, 57% described events in which someone touched them with their allergen, waved it in front of them, or threw it at them."

I know that bullying is a big, controversial topic in our world. None of it - absolutely none - is right or okay. I am sure I will never understand why people feel the need to treat others in a negative way. I am extremely a little biased and have a greater understanding of food allergy than I do of other situations that could entice one child to bully another, so this hits close to home. But seriously, throwing a food item at a child whom you know is allergic to it?!? I imagine these children don't truly understand the repercussions of their actions and the severity of food allergy and anaphylactic reactions.

Definition: A rapidly progressing, life-threatening allergic reaction.  
Description: Anaphylaxis is a type of allergic reaction, in which the immune system responds to otherwise harmless substances from the environment.  Unlike other reactions, however, anaphylaxis can kill.  Reaction may begin within minutes or even seconds of exposure, and rapidly progress to cause airway constriction, skin and intestinal irritation, and altered heart rhythms.  In severe cases, it can result in complete airway obstruction, shock, and death.

I don't mean to be a Debbie-downer, and my true intentions for this post are as follows: For every child who is cruel to others and is a bully, there is another who is thoughtful, selfless, and considerate of their peers. The example I'm going to use makes my heart swell with pride and love.

Mason has an older sister named Ciara. She is a beautiful, funny, loving 12-year old. Just the other day, her mother told me a story about Ciara. One of her classmates is a boy with a peanut allergy. When Ciara brings food to school for their class, she brings the box in order for the boy to read the labels himself. If she knows he can't eat that item, she will pick up something that is safe for him so that he will be included. None of her other classmates do this for him. Her reason behind doing this: Mason. She knows how important avoiding allergens is because of her little brother.

Hearing this story brought me to tears. Not only because I understand what a big deal it is, but because I am incredibly happy to hear a positive story about a child doing something out of the kindness of her heart. Because she is including him when no one else does. Because she thinks of someone and puts their needs first. Because she thinks of her little brother and has learned something from him. The list of reasons why I am SO proud of her goes on and on.

I get discouraged at times, thinking of all of the preparation we, as parents of food-allergic kiddos, go through to protect our children, teach them and others to be cognizant of their needs, hope and pray that every day has a safe outcome.... only to know that we can never be fully prepared for that possible reaction. Bullying scares me. I don't ever want my child, or any other, to be bullied for any reason, especially not something so completely out of their control. I cringe to think that we as parents wouldn't teach our children the difference between right and wrong, and teach them how to treat others.

But I am encouraged by stories like Ciara's. She gives me a ray of hope in an otherwise dim and twisted world.

To learn more about food allergy awareness and education in a format your children will understand, click here.

Feb 2, 2013

Pizza Casserole {Dairy & Gluten Free}

I never know until about five minutes after serving dinner whether these boys of mine enjoy it or not. The way I can tell? Silence... I love the quiet peacefulness when they are gobbling up their dinner without complaints. No "what's this green stuff?" or "I don't like this" complaints. Just peace and quiet. That's when I know the item will have a permanent place on our menu and will get rave reviews. This pizza casserole is one of those items.

This began as a Crockpot recipe and was just as delicious. After making it a few times, I decided I preferred the idea of a casserole instead. All of the ingredients are cooked in advance, then layered before cooking. With the casserole option, I can make it ahead of time, cover with foil and freeze it until it comes up on our menu. It freezes and thaws well in the refrigerator, making it a cinch to throw in the oven when I get home from work until it is hot and bubbly.

Since we are dairy-free, I refrain from using actual cheese here. You could definitely add cheese if you prefer, but we love Go Veggie Foods Dairy-free Parmesan Style Topping so much that we aren't missing cheese one bit. The "cream of something soup mix" also adds to the creaminess and makes it so delicious!

#glutenfree #dairyfree #casserole #pizza

Pizza Casserole {Dairy &Gluten Free}

                                                                                                 Printable Recipe
1 lb ground beef
16 oz jar prepared spaghetti sauce
1/2 white onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried basil
1 1/4 cup water
1/3 cup dairy-free Cream of Celery soup recipe
1 cup fresh spinach, roughly chopped
1/2 package pepperoni
2 cups gluten-free pasta noodles, cooked according to package instructions and drained
Go Veggie Foods Dairy-free Parmesan Style Topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9x13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.

In a skillet over medium high heat, brown the ground beef. Drain off any excess grease. Add onion, garlic, seasonings and spaghetti sauce. Turn heat to low and allow it to simmer.

Place the cream soup mix into a small saucepan. Over medium heat, gradually whisk in the water until all lumps are dissolved. Allow mixture to heat while stirring frequently until it begins to thicken. Once thickened, turn off the heat and set the soup aside to cool slightly.

In the baking dish, layer one-third of the meat sauce, a thin layer of fresh spinach, an even layer of pepperoni, one-half of the noodles. Repeat one time. Top with the cooled soup mixture, then add a final layer of meat sauce, spinach, and pepperoni. Sprinkle dairy-free parmesan or other dairy-free cheese over the top. (If you're not dairy-free, feel free to add whatever cheese you prefer here.)

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until bubbly. We love our Pizza Casserole with garlic bread. Udi's Gluten-free French Bread is perfect for this (and dairy-free too!).

#glutenfree #dairyfree #casserole #pizza

*Because everything is fully cooked ahead, the time in the oven is just to let the flavors meld together and heat it up. I find this dish to be a great use for leftover spaghetti sauce and any shape pasta. I never seem to make the right amount of either so there are usually disproportionate leftovers, which I like to freeze and use later. I like to use Barilla Gluten-free pastas and find that the penne and elbow noodles freeze and thaw/reheat wonderfully! 

This casserole can also be put together, topped with foil and frozen for later use. In the morning, place the casserole in the refrigerator to thaw and it will be ready to bake in the evening!

#glutenfree #dairyfree #casserole #pizza

Jan 20, 2013

Food Allergies - A Constant Learning Opportunity

The subject of food allergies is a HUGE part of our life (obviously...). I could easily dedicate several posts to this topic alone (and I'm sure I will do just that). Thank you for sharing this journey with us!

If you know us or have read my previous posts, you know that my son has a severe, life-threatening milk allergy. He was officially diagnosed at 6 months old, although I was sure of it only a few weeks after he was born. He had a few instances as an infant of blood in his stools and colic that, in hindsight, were a sensitivity to foods in my diet while I was nursing.

Changing my diet helped, but at 6 months old we started supplementing formula and the problems worsened. It took a little while to convince our pediatrician it was an allergy but after a severe bout of hives when eating cereal puffs containing a milk ingredient, we were finally referred to an allergy/asthma specialist for a formal diagnosis.

Three and a half years later, avoiding milk and anything with milk or its derivatives as an ingredient, reading every label, being extremely diligent about cross-contamination, and packing food for any meals away from home are now a normal part of our lives. (He was also allergic to eggs, but has since grown out of it and does just fine with them-Praise the Lord!)

Although we have had struggles here and there, my little man is very well adjusted to his allergy and really understands a lot about it at such a young age. He has had a few reactions and remembers them well enough to know he doesn't want to feel that way again. He is SO smart and cognizant of his allergy. He knows to ask if something is "safe" for him before accepting it, and does so regularly.

I will never forget Halloween night when he was not quite two years old. We had been practicing how to knock, say "trick-or-treat," hold out his bag, say "thank you," and not to touch anything inside until Mommy had checked it to be sure it was safe. At one of the first houses I finally decided to stand back and let him do his thing. He did everything just as we had practiced. The neighbor held out a bowl and I watched him stare intently into the bowl, (my anxiety going 100 miles per hour) when he turned and yelled, "Mommy, these aren't safe for me!"

It seems a little silly to say, but that is one of my absolute proudest mom moments right there! It's a toss up between that day and seeing him run across the soccer field with a bag of fruit snacks in hand, yelling, "Mommy, can I have this?!" The looks I get from people who just don't understand are sometimes humorous, but honestly, I LOVE using those moments to educate others about food allergies.

I am incredibly thankful that our families are experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to allergies. Food allergies seem to have run rampant between my son and my nephew and nieces. (I think we could all pretty well be considered experts on the topic by now!) I am also blessed with wonderful in-laws who have learned about allergies and do so much to include the little guy when we get together. I love them all so much!

As for daycare, we have had our share of learning (and teaching) opportunities. At 18 months old, I decided to send my *baby* to a church preschool. It was nerve-wracking for this mommy and took some time for us all to adjust. But over time, the daycare director and teachers were absolutely wonderful and learned SO much about his allergy. They began to provide nearly all of his food for breakfast, lunch and snack. They were all such a blessing to us and made it just that much easier for me to worry (a little) less.

When my hubby and I got married, little man and I moved to a small town about 30 minutes away from the daycare. For nearly a year, I couldn't bring myself to switch daycares, even though it would've been great to not have to drive an hour+ each day. I knew eventually I would be having to educate a new teacher each year once he starts school and figured it was as good a time as any to take the plunge.

So, about five months ago he began attending a preschool only a few miles from our home. After the first few meetings, the director and I decided it best if I brought his meals and snacks each day. We have breakfast at home, I provide almond milk for the week along with his entrees (they do provide fruit and veggies daily) and snacks. Five weekly rotating menus make it easy to keep track of, and I do my best to make him something very similar to what the other kids are eating for each meal.

In my quest to feed my family healthier meals, this is definitely a blessing. I know exactly what goes into his meals, which is a plus from both the allergy and nutrition perspectives. I've tried to educate everyone at the new preschool about his allergies, but I have to admit it is kind of nice to just be able to say, "don't feed him anything that I didn't bring and/or approve of in advance."

There is MUCH more to food allergy education however, such as:
the necessity of handwashing by all kids and teachers before and after meals;
having an EpiPen accessible at all times;
recognizing symptoms of a reaction;
and knowing that accidental exposure could result in any form of reaction from hives to anaphylaxis, requiring hospitalization-or worse. We deal with asthma as well, which studies have shown can result in more severe allergic reactions.

One of the most important rules when it comes to food allergies is there can be absolutely NO guessing. If it doesn't have a label, or you just don't know, the answer is no. Even at such a young age, Mason understands this. He doesn't feel like he's being excluded when he doesn't get to have something that his friends have (although I do usually have a healthy and safe alternative on hand for him).

Just the other day, we were driving through town and I heard him exclaim in his happy little boy voice, "Hey look, there's McDonald's! I can't eat there!"

It just makes my heart swell! :)

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