Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dining out - How cool it could be!

You know that flood of flyers, newsletters and useless paper that comes to your mailbox on an almost daily basis? Well, every once in a while there's a little gem that arrives. Last week, I was sifting through the realtor ads, the pizza place coupons and back-to-school flyers looking for envelopes containing actual relevant and sometimes important mail when this caught my eye.

Desi - Fine Indian Cuisine...hmmm.
Before I continue, I need to make a few statements about Desi: I have never eaten there, I don't own shares, and I don't know anyone that works there or has an interest in the place.

The place is up on the main street a few blocks from our house. The reason it catches my eye is, quite frankly, the logo. The eye-catching-ness of it is not attributable to its's actually because it looks very similar to the Paris-Dakar Rally logo. You follow the link and be the judge. you can see it in the top right corner of their web page.

So, now I'm flipping through the menu they've sent me, probably becuase I'm hungy and haven't had lunch yet. Congratulations to the marketing department, they've done their job.

My wife and I used to go out for Indian food occasionally, and there is a large concentration of immigrants from India in a nearby neighbourhood, so the local Indian restaurants are really quite good; they have to be. When the locals are experts at picking good Indian food from bad Indian food, you have to be good just to survive.

These folks have the usual selection of curries, flavoured rices, and as is usual, it's sorted by the meat: chicken is separate from vegetarian which is separate from lamb and goat and so on. What caught my eye here, is that each dish has a series of marks after it. There are circles, squares, triangles and stars. My first reaction was some sort of condition that applied to a coupon I hadn't found, or that some dishes were "heart smart" or low in fat. Actually, if you look at the bottom right, there's a legend for these symbols.

The star indicates the dish is vegan. You might notice that not all vegetarian dishes are vegan, and this information would be very useful to you if you were, well, vegan. I'm not, so I read on. The circle indicates the dish is "nut free", the square indiates "dairy free" and the triangle is "gluten free". WOW...did I just see an allergen list on a restaurant menu. What's more, it a footnote! They're not even bragging about it, they're just stating it for your convenience.

Now, as I said at the beginning, I've never eaten there, so I haven't "grilled" them on whether they have a "nut" side of the kitchen and a "non-nut" side to prevent cross-contamination, but why would you label something as "nut free" without taking some precautions. It's a bit like going out to a Kosher restaurant. If you've got meat, you can guarantee there's no dairy. However, we usually find around here that "Kosher" means vegetarian with dairy, and that doesn't help with our kids allergies.

So, it appears we may have some research to conduct with these folks to see if we can put "curry back on our menu". I wonder if Andrew and Geoff would eat's a strong flavour for a 6- and almost-4-year-old. And, as you all know, most young kids have only one spice/condiment and it's ketchup...sigh, but just imagine telling your child, "You can have anything with a circle AND a square and it will be safe!" How cool would that be?!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some good news

We're in the throes of a heatwave here in Vancouver. For those of you reading this who live out of the area, we have a silly little practice here when it comes to weather. Our "official" temperature is taken at Vancouver International Airport, which is right on the waterfront. During the winter months it can be several degrees colder inland where most of the people live, and during the summer (sigh), it can be hotter. So, today's official high is supposed to be 31°C...last night on our back deck it was 38°C. That's right around 100°F. Now I know that's "not hot" for some parts of this little blue-green marble we all live on, but Vancouver isn't really set up for a week of really hot (like this) or really cold (-10°C/15°F). We don't have AC in most of our homes, and when it's 2:30 and the temp is still in the high 20's/80+ we really don't sleep that well. After a few days, traffic gets...well....grumpy.

So, on a more positive note, I had to go out and buy another epipen for Andrew. Not because we'd used one, but another one expired. That's good. I like expired epipens because expired epipens are unused epipens. I got to the pharmacy and discovered they didn't have any more left on his prescription, so we had to go to the doctor to get a prescription. It's kind of weird taking two perfectly healthy children (and one healthy father -- me) to the doctor, but there we were. We got the prescription and went to the pharmacy. The nice lady behind the counter handed me the box and told me how much I owed. I looked at the box and told her "Sept 2009" was a little early for the expiry date.

"It's still good. What's your concern?"

You know those little conversations you have with yourself in your head? Kind of like that scene from "Terminator" where the guy in the bar says something to Arnie's character, and the machine brings up a list of possible responses. The list reads something like:

- No thank you
- Pardon me sir
- That's not going to happen
- the one I can't print in a family blog, and that the Terminator actually selects

I had one of those conversations...without the profanity of course. I chose the helpful reply of "We only use these in emergencies...would you buy a fire extinguisher that expired in 2 months? I'd like you to order me a new one please."

"Sigh, we'll call you when it's here". A few days later my September 2010 expiry prescription was filled.

So, no reactions for quite a while now. YEAH!!

We're next scheduled to see the pediatric allergist in March 2010 for tests to see if the kids are outgrowing any of their allergies. Apparently we neglected to share that information with one of our mothers...I won't say which one because my Mom would rather remain anonymous.

Ooops...anyway, she has this fantastic idea for feeding the boys at summer BBQs. She gets dinner rolls and pre-cooked sausage rounds, cooks them on the grill and they have kid-sized hamburgers. For some reason the boys don't like hamburgers or beef patties, but they'll devour these mini-burgers with the sausuage like there's no tomorrow. The catch comes when you read the ingredients on the buns...there's whey in there, and Andrew's allergic to dairy. Or at least he was...he didn't have any reaction. We were reading the ingredients a few days after he'd eaten them.

That situation got us thinking he might have outgrown his dairy reaction. So the next time we went grocery shopping, I picked up a package of goldfish crackers. I love these things almost as much as I love nuts, and was crushed when I couldn't blame my excessive consumption of them on my kids. Okay, maybe that's overstating the situation, but I really do like them. I picked a day where we had nothing to do that afternoon, and I could watch them...and gave them a quarter of a fish cracker each.

Nothing. Well not "nothing" there were loud (and I do mean LOUD) demands for more.

I waited an hour...still nothing.

We went out to play in the back yard...for 3 hours...still nothing.

We came back inside for a drink and a snack, and a WHOLE goldfish cracker.

Over the course of the next week, we worked our way up to 5 crackers at a sitting. Personally, I'm up to many more than that, but that's an unrelated post. Neither of them has a visible reaction to a cracker that lists both "cheese" and "milk" as ingredients.


So what do we do now?

For the immediate future, I don't really plan to change our practice much...I just don't have to panic when something "may contain" or it lists milk/whey/cassein/modified milk ingredients as a minor ingredient. We're not heading out for cheesecake and a big glass of milk any time soon. I'm a little lactose intolerant, and I think that would...ahem...make me unpleasant company...if you catch my drift. Besides, they don't need to eat cheesecake anyway. This discovery/development just simplifies our lives a little.

And we can all use a little simpler life right now.

So, happy summer to you, stay cool and hydated while you play outside, and remember the sunblock.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Bad (Rice) Dreams

Dear Hain Celestial Group, makers of Rice Dream:

I really like your product because it's safe for my dairy-allergic children and contains all the calcium and vitamin D that they need. And they like it too.

But I really wish that you had a bit better quality control over your product, at least in this 2-litre carton size. To explain a little better, here's a photo of the tea that I made this afternoon.

When I opened the carton, the milk was separated, and the liquid on top was clear. I shook it up to try to turn it back into a suspension, but totally failed, as you can see from what it did in my cup of tea.

There's no way I can serve this to my kids. They're picky eaters as it is, and to have their milk be lumpy and, dare I say, textured, might turn them off milk altogether. Really, milk should pour and splatter, but it shouldn't plop down in chunks.

I could go for the soy alternatives, but I'm not fond of putting too much soy into their diets, as this story will explain. They're little boys; I don't need to be putting too much estrogen into their systems and possibly screwing up their reproductive organs.

And they do drink calcium-enriched orange juice, but there is such a thing as too much juice. As well, I dream of a day when they can drink regular milk, and eat cheese for the calcium, so I do want them to keep drinking something that looks like milk.

I'm blogging this petty incident because this isn't the first carton of milk to do this to me. There was a run of bad milk for about a month last summer. Then last week, we returned three cartons to the grocery store. Tomorrow, I'll be taking two more back to the store. (To answer additional questions -- the expiry date is August 24, as you can see in the photo -- and I know that my husband bought the milk and brought it home right away, because he also bought ice cream in the same trip, and it didn't melt.)

As you all know, taking a 6- and a 3-year old to the grocery store isn't a simple chore. The 6-year-old is better now, but they both get bored, they both get annoying, and they both beg for every single candy and treat on the shelves. Taking them to the store and lining up to return *milk* is a form of parental torture.

So this is my plea -- whatever is broken over the summer months, please fix it so that I don't dread opening up your next carton of milk because I don't know that it will be drinkable. I don't like the taste of your competitors' product, but I also don't like feeling like a hostage to your poor quality control.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Kindergarten Field Trip to the Dairy Farm...Seriously

Sorry for not blogging for a while...I got a little busy with some other stuff. I know; lame excuse.

My last entry teased about the upcoming field trip to a local dairy farm. Andrew is quite an outspoken boy which, when combined with a ... shall we say "fully developed and operational imagination", makes for some interesting sound bites. Leading up to the field trip, his Kindergarten teacher started talking about nutrition, and how eating foods from the "dairy group" was a good way to get vitamins and minerals children's growing bodies need. One of my favourite exchanges went something like,

Teacher: How many servings of dairy should we have per day class?

Andrew: (hand frantically extended skyward) NONE!

Teacher: Well, for you Andrew, that's correct ... awkward pause ... anyone else know how many servings the rest of the class should have? (questioning glance/glare directed at Andrew's Dad standing at the rear of the class)

Dad: (impish shrug directed to Teacher and "atta-boy" smile directed to Andrew)

Andrew was a little nervous leading up to the field trip because he
was concerned they would all be tied down and force fed dairy products or something. Has anyone seen that in an episode of Pokemon, Batman or Bakugan? Where does he come up with this stuff?

Anyway, we met up at the school and parents drove the kids out to the farm, about 15 minutes away where we met up again. We were shown a video about the nutritional benefits of milk, introduced to the cows and shown the milking equipment. Given it is spring, there were many calves there too. At this farm, after a period, the calves are taken from their mothers and kept in a separate pen. I have to confess, I found this a little sad, and I'm by no means "granola", but that's pretty much 180° from what my wife and I did with our kids...I know, they're "just cows", but one Mom nearly cried when she heard they took the calves away. I think it's to keep the cows' milk for the dairy production.

Through the tour, Andrew maintained his detached curiosity about the farm, and enjoyed looking at the cows and chickens (they collect eggs there too).

Overall, Andrew enjoyed the trip, and learned about cows and how a farm works, so it was a worthwhile trip. The following week, the teacher showed the kids how to turn whipping cream into butter by churning it by hand. I sent Andrew to school with his own crackers and some of his non-dairy margarine. The teacher put those together for him separately and he was able to eat with the other kids, and eat what they were eating ... sort of. I like to try and give him a similar food to what the class eats when they do something like this.

I was looking at that link I've provided for the margarine. That's not the label we get here in Canada. Ours has quite clearly across the front that it's "Lactose Free", and in smaller print that it's Kosher. It's also a yellow label rather than the red that is shown. I also noticed that the link provided indicates it: is "lactose free" in the description, has no milk or anything like it in the ingredients, and the warnings section indicates it may contain milk. Hmmm ... probably best if I say nothing.

So, the school year is winding down now. We've got Sports Day coming up, but the Kindergarteners only do a half-day there, and my wife and I will both be there to watch, so we should be able to control the food there. Next September, Andrew starts Grade 1 ... they're in school all day and bring their own lunch. That's a whole different challenge, but we've got all summer to gear up for that.

Thanks for reading, more news as it comes available.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Camping with the Beavers - Part 4

We had a link camp planned for the Easter weekend. For those who don't know, a link camp is where the Beavers, Cubs (8-11 year-olds) and the Scouts (11-14 year-olds) all camp at the same place and over the course of the weekend, have intersecting activities.

Scouts basically cook their own food, so the kitchen just puts ingredients into a rubbermaid tote for them. One of the Scouts has celiac's disease (often called a wheat/gluten allergy, but it's technically not an allergy) but that child was on a trial of some sort and was supposed to be eating gluten, so I was told not to "worry" about it. The Cubs eat with the Beavers. For this camp, we had about 30 kids and 20 adults, and we were arriving Friday afternoon (Good Friday) and leaving just before lunch on Sunday.

The Scout leader had the idea that we should do a real Easter dinner at camp. He wanted a full turkey dinner with all the fixin's. I had visions of re-naming the kitchen "Sam 'n' Ella's Diner", as did the parent who runs the kitchen during our camps. Bone-in ham was the compromise.

Here's the menu I laid out for the camp:

Friday lunch - bring your own/eat before you come to camp

Friday PM Snack - same sort of deal as last camp - fruit and various drinks

Friday dinner
- chili with bagged salad and bread rolls. The chilli was a bean chilli that you add one can of tomato paste and optional is a pound of ground beef. The chili was surprisingly good, but unfortunately I don't have a packet to look up and link to. If I find it on-line I'll certainly post it. It was dairy and nut-free, and it came in a bag a little smaller than a VHS cassette (can I still use that as a size reference? maybe a 3.5" external hard drive is the new size benchmark). Best of all, it actually tasted pretty good. I got a sample of it from the Scout leader a week early, and prepared it for Andrew so it wasn't "strange food" at camp.

Friday mug-up - s'mores and hot chocolate just like last time (with chocolate rice milk for the allergic kids)

Saturday Breakfast - pancakes with sausages and the usual assortment of drinks. I made certain that the pancake mix was dairy free, and that the sausages didn't contain any dairy-based filler (some do you know!). There was only one margarine at the camp and I chose that (Fleishman's Lactose free), and the cooks made 2 batches of pancake batter; one with milk and one with the rice milk we'd made for Andrew. He likes sausages and pancakes with syrup, so that meal was a success.

Saturday Snack - fruit, juice boxes and raisins. Before someone launches into a tetra-pak rant, we were hiking in the park...actually geocaching in the park (GC1EQGM if you're curious)...and I don't really like the idea of putting juice into some of the canteens/water bottles these kids bring to camp. Not everyone brought a sealable container for drink for a start, and several were dollar-store specials, chosen more for the Pokemon on the bottle than any actual capability to hold liquid for an extended period of time.

Saturday Lunch - build your own sandwiches. I bought a bunch of cold cuts and several loaves of bread, more fruit and the usual drinks. Andrew likes brown bread (that's all we eat in the house, so we chose bread that was dairy free, and we got some Wonder+ bread or something like that for the kids that insist on white bread). We got a variety of cold cuts and cheese slices and so long as the cheese slices were kept away from the honey ham, I knew Andrew was fine.

Saturday Snack - same as before

Saturday Dinner - bone-in ham, Idahoan instant mashed potatoes (HEY! You try to convince a volunteer parent to peel, boil and then mash 45 potatoes), frozen mixed veg (peas, carrots and corn), fresh broccoli, and instant gravy (Bovril or Oxo as I recall). For desert, we had pies and ice cream (or Rice Dream for Andrew).

Saturday mugup - same as Friday

Sunday Breakfast - Eggo waffles and bacon

So that's basically the menu, but it didn't all go perfectly smoothly like last time. My wife and younger son came out for the day and were planning to leave after the campfire. I had asked her to come because when we leaders are running the program, we don't have much spare time to spend with our own kids at the camp. Seeing Andrew alone at the tables while I was instructing the group really hurt last camp, so I wanted her and Geoffrey to be there to keep Andrew company.

Saturday dinner, Andrew broke out in hives. I don't know what he had, but all we had was his epi-pen and no Benadryl. We usually give him Benadryl when he has that kind of reaction; there's no respiratory distress. If he's got breathing problems, then we go with the pen (so far, we haven't ever had to do that). My wife took Andrew and Geoffrey off to the pharmacy (about 2 km away) in her vehicle and bought the Benadryl and he was back to normal (a little hyper as Benadryl is apt to make Andrew), but back to normal for the campfire.

I entered a focused period of self-blame, during which time it dawned on me that I had forgotten Andrew's waffles. Eggo waffles have dairy in them, and he can't eat them. Fortunately, I did bring a couple of packets of his instant oatmeal...unscheduled change of menu for Andrew.

Silly Dad! How could you forget your kid's waffles! Waffles for breakfast on Monday when we get home...yeah that'll do it.

With Andrew back on-track we went to the campfire and everyone enjoyed it. Most of the Beavers left early because this time of year the sun doesn't set early enough to have a campfire much before 8:30, and most 5 and 6 year-olds can't stay up much past 9 or 9:15 when they've been playing hard all day at camp.

I mentioned the menu change for Andrew on Sunday and that was no problem for him. He actually perfers oatmeal to waffles I think, and he got the bacon anyway.

So, that was camping with the Beavers this year. We've got a field trip coming up with Kindergarten next week..get the Dairy Farm. Andrew's quite excited about it, and that's not entirely "excited" in the good sense. He's worried they're all going to milk a cow and then drink the milk or something. I've assured him that won't happen and that I will be there to make certain. We may need to read Cody the Allergic Cow a few times this weekend. We also have Allie the Allergic Elephant and Chad the Allergic Chipmunk, and I think my wife has reviewed these books previously here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Camping with the Beavers - Part 3 - The Menu

Planning a menu for a weekend with a 5 year-old is not really that complicated. You figure out how many meals and snacks are required while you will be away and place your child's favourite meals as appropriate. Expanding that menu to cover 13 kids and their parents is relatively simple math. However, like most 5 year-olds I've met, Andrew is somewhat particular about what he eats. I mean that comment outside the world of food allergies; he's five. All five year-olds are picky eaters.

"I want the crusts cut off my sandwich!"

"My carrots are touching my potatoes!"

"That's the wrong cereal!" You know how it goes...

Scouts Canada likes the leaders to set an example for the children. One example we can set is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Basically, we're not having "Sugar Frosted Cocoa Bombs" and a can of pop for breakfast, followed by that memorable lunch Ally Sheedy had in The Breakfast Club.

I tried to augment a couple of Andrew's preferred meals with sides that rounded out the meal. If he didn't want the added side dishes, that was fine, I knew what he was eating.

Here's what we had:

Saturday Lunch
Bring your own lunch - unlike this week's trip to the aquarium, all the parents understood and respected my warnings about nuts.

Saturday PM Snack
apples, mandarin oranges, bananas, OJ, apple juice, 2% milk, water, coffee, tea.

Saturday Dinner
M & M Chicken strips (dairy and egg free, with an egg warning) and fries with bagged salad, a couple of dressings (Ranch and Italian I think) with the fruit and drinks from snack time also available.

Saturday Mugup (after the campfire)
s'mores and hot chocolate

Sunday Breakfast
Waffles, syrup and drinks and fruit from snack time

Sunday Snack
same as Saturday's snack

Sunday Lunch - we broke camp before lunch, so for most kids, it was a piece of fruit before they passed out in the car on the 1/2 hour drive home.

Probably some raised eyebrows around items on that list. Please let me explain.

I brought a small cooler with substitute foods for Andrew. When something on the menu was not safe, I substituted from the cooler. These substitutions were more on the side than the main dish, although I must confess, I did bring some of Andrew's instant oatmeal (which he will eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner if allowed) as "plan B". Here's a run down of the main ingredients and any substitutes.

Milk - most kids drink milk, outside of allergies, it's good for growing kids. For kids with allergies, we try to provide the nutritional equivalent. We had to serve milk at the camp.

I don't have a problem with people eating/drinking dairy in Andrew's immediate vicinity. They just need to keep it out of his food ("say it, don't spray it"). His reaction to milk is to hive up and vomit. Peanuts and nuts are the really scary reactions. Andrew likes to drink rice milk in situations where most kids would drink cow's milk, so I substitued rice milk from my cooler.

Chicken Strips and fries. I know, it's not the best dinner, but most kids will eat it, and Andrew can and will too. M & M makes some pretty good chicken strips and fries. They also "get" the allergy thing. Here's a quote from their website:

NEW! We've added Nutrition & Allergen Information to our product catalogue. Simply click on the category and then the product that you want to see, and look for the Nutrition & Allergen Information heading. source

They'll even go one step further. They can email you a filtered list of what they sell. If you tell them to remove all items with nuts, peanuts and dairy allergens, they'll send you the entire list of what they sell. How cool is that?!

Andrew doesn't really "do" salad yet, so I was certain to barge to the front of the line and get his food before anyone had a chance to spill ranch dressing on the chicken strips by using salad tongs for the chicken strips. Not one parent objected to me cutting in line, particularly when they saw I was feeding Andrew and not myself.

Mugup was the big one. The kids and parents would be tired, and I just couldn't bring myself to say no to s'mores and hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was an easy substitute. I microwave chocolate So-Good and put it into Andrew's cup. The s'mores are another simple substitution. I deliberately chose graham crackers and marshmallows without any dairy or nuts, not too much difficulty there. The chocolate is easy too. We used the little chocolate coins for most of the kids, and the two kids with nut allergies were over with me sprinkling No Nuttin' chocolate chips on their s'mores. I will always remember the light in that other boy's eyes when I showed him the chocolate chips and told him they were okay. His dad even had to smile when he saw the brand name and knew they were safe. I've been to the No Nuttin' factory in Duncan, BC. They're good folks with a good product.

Breakfast the next morning was Eggo waffles with another waffle substitute (Eggo's have dairy in them). I made certain Andrew's waffles were toasted first to avoid contamination.

That's basically the menu and the substitutes. By choosing main ingredients I knew were safe, and substituting around the dishes that weren't, we had a reaction free camp. Andrew had fun in spite of the weather. My big concern was that he would react to something, and then be in paranoid mode (rightfully so) for the rest of the camp.

The last real concern of plates, cups etc. is relatively easy too. Each camper brings their own knife/fork/spoon, plate, bowl. They are all put in a mesh bag called a "dippy bag". You do your own dishes (more like you do your dishes and your kid's dishes), then hang them in the mesh bag to dry. I simply made certain to change the water before doing dishes, and it is not common to share dishes.

So, there's the menu and the substitutes. The camp was reaction free and Andrew even managed to stay awake on the ride home. He did fall asleep about 90 seconds after taking off his shoes at home though.

We went camping again over the Easter long weekend, and this time for two nights. The menu was considerably more elaborate, and there were more kids. I'll talk about that menu next in Part 4.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How can they not get it?

Andrew goes to a great school. He loves his teacher, and he has great friends in his class. Every newsletter that comes home (they're in the process of switching to an email version which is even better) reminds parents about the nut-free status of the school. The kindergarten teacher sent home notices to all the parents about not bringing peanuts, nuts or sesame products to school. Andrew's not allergic to sesame, but someone's child is and we respect that. We don't send sesame crackers to school even though he likes them, and the dim sum sesame balls stay home.

Today was the big field trip to the aquarium. Dad got to go too. We were all instructed to arrive at the school 1/2 hour early, and we would be back around 3PM. Both the morning and afternoon classes would be going on this trip, so I guess the afternoon students were to arrive about 4 hours early. We were instructed to bring a lunch too!

(he's not actually sleeping, just pretending)

So, Dad spent a few minutes this morning making and packing lunch. Bananas and apples are good (and we actually had some in the house), so in those went. Granola bars are a nice treat, so in went a couple of NoNuttin' bars; one for Andrew and one for me (I am a certifiable nut addict, but don't eat them around Andrew abviously, and I like these bars). Sandwiches are good. I like meat and cheese in mine, but since I was packing the two sandwiches together, Andrew had PeaButter and I had Sunbutter. I was going to put jam on mine, but Andrew doesn't really like jam and was concerned that my jam would get on his sandwich. I know how that story ends, so "fine, I'll have just the sunbutter". I threw in a waterbottle I'd filled from the Brita and a couple of apple juice boxes (when Andrew gets tired and hungry, juice hits his blood sugar faster than food and prevents a melt-down - useful trick) for drinks and we were off. Andrew prefers the PeaButter (which I can assure you tastes remarkably like smooth peanut butter). I prefer the sunbutter which doesn't really taste at all like peanut butter, but looks a lot like it, and tastes exactly like ground up sunflower seeds. For the record, we use McGavins bread, usually "Ancient Grains", "12 Grains" or some other birdseed-like bread. We've never (knock on wood) had a nut or dairy problem with any of them.

It's really fun to watch 5 year-olds explore an aquarium. Sharks are totally cool, at least until the big kid pretends to be a shark and tries to eat the other kids using his jacket as a shark mouth. No, I take that back...that's fun to watch too. The jellyfish mesmerise the kids and watching them in the touch-tank stroking sea cucumbers and sea stars is fun too. I like watching kids learn, almost as much as I like teaching them (I'm not a teacher by profession).

Lunch time rolled around, and I could feel the usual apprehensions building. What were all these kids having for lunch? We found a table outside at the cafeteria (it was a nice day today, no rain and the temperature was around 13°C/55°F), and Andrew, another parent, two other kids and I sat down. One child was happily munching on her Wonderbread and Kraft singles sandwich. No worries there, Andrew doesn't react to cheese unless he eats it. No nut bars, no suspect treats there ... CLEAR!

So, I turned my attention to the other child at my table. A sandwich that looked a lot like mine, but he had jam on his...diplomacy... "So, what did you get for lunch?" That's a safe question isn't it? The question may be safe, the answer wasn't!

"Peanut butter and jam...want some?", as he thrust his sanwich at me spraying partially chewed bread as he spoke. Remember the siren sound signalling "red alert" on the Enterprise in the original series of Star Trek? Yeah, that's what was sounding through my head by that point.

Andrew, being such a polite child (okay, occasionally polite) offered some of the rice crackers he was eating (I think Andrew added them to his lunch, I didn't pack them) to his friend who reached in a PB&J smeared hand to grab a couple. I quickly grabbed (gently, but deliberately) his hand and 6 of the Ritz-sized crackers from the container and moved the whole handful over to the child's side of the table.

"I need you to keep your hands and your lunch away from Andrew, he's not good around peanuts, and you have peanuts in your lunch." Firm, but not yelling. The other parent at the table's eyes went wide and her eyebrows moved up at least an inch.

Immediately after lunch we went to wash our hands. In my left hand I held Andrew's hand, and in my right hand I held the other child's. I figured that way Andrew and his friend wouldn't hold hands.

Lunch eaten, crisis averted, I moved into reporting mode. The teacher will bring it up during the upcoming parent-teacher conferences, and none of the other parents I asked/reminded about the nuts could believe what had been sent for lunch.

It really was a fun day at the aquarium. Honestly. I had a great time, and have many great photos of the event. Andrew learned a great deal about sea life, but still struggles with the word "cartilage" (shark bones are made of cartilage and sharks are cool). I'm just left with this little voice inside my head cursing and swearing at this parent I've never met. None of what happened here was the child's fault, and at no time was I loud or physical with the child. Kindergarteners don't get the food allergy thing; parents should. (end of rant).

Sorry for the rant, and thank you for reading, I'll be back on track with the first Beaver camp's menu next post. I just needed to get today's events off my chest.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Camping with the Beavers -- Part 2 - Planning the Camp

We've had two camps now, but I'll start by talking about the first camp, and save the 2nd one for another post.

We're a new Beaver Colony; it just started up this year.  It's my first year as a leader, and the Scout leader had booked us a weekend at Camp McLean; he would arrive Friday and leave Saturday with the Scouts, and we would arrive Saturday and leave Sunday.  Unfortunately, being new, we really hadn't started planning early enough, so the only time available was November 29/30.

Let me describe the weather in Vancouver around late-November and early-December.  It's basically "rain, heavy at times, with a chance of showers".  Temperatures will be near freezing if it doesn't rain, and +5°C/40°F if it does.  Night-time temperatures would likely be very near freezing.  The sleeping arrangements were in cabins; unheated cabins.  They don't leak, but the lack of heating makes for a worry-factor when dealing with 5-7 year-olds who love to spend their day splashing through puddles.  Hence the reason for organizing the early-October camp for next year now.

Part of Scouts Canada's requirements for a camp (here we come back to the allergies) is to plan a menu considering any food allergies.  Suffice to say, I grabbed that bull by the horns and had both elbows out when anyone offered to help.  

I would create the menu.  
I would do the shopping.  
I would cook.  
I would serve the food (the camp has a huge, well-stocked kitchen).  
I would clean up.  

I would know my kid was safe.  

Reality check!

That's not possible.

Leaders are working flat-out to put on a program at camp.  We had 13 kids and 14 adults at this camp.  We are all trying to keep the kids warm, dry, amused and engaged in the activites we have planned.  Leaders don't have time to cook and serve the food, then clean the kitchen. Beaver camp was well described by one of my fellow leaders as a 26-hour birthday party for 13 kids.  Add in the weather and you've got a potential for some parents to be in trouble with the elements.

So...we need a menu that works for all children (and parents - although none of them has a food allergy) attending.  I reviewed the health notices of each child and parent for allergies, and I was (sorry to phrase it this way) pleased to note that in our colony there are 3 other kids with food allergies.  One to peanuts and two to dairy.  Great! (sorry again)  No need to single out Andrew as "the kid with allergies".  During our last regular meeting before the camp, I would tell the kids and parents not to bring nuts and not to share food without checking with your friend's parent.  I reinforced this message by explaining that some kids in our colony have food allergies, particularly to nuts and diary.  

At that anouncement one of the Beavers (not Andrew) leaped up and said, "I'm allergic to peanuts!"  Andrew chimed in "Me too!".  I actually heard one of the other Beavers ask, "Why can't I be allergic to something?"  That first kid was going to camp, the two with dairy allergies were not.  There would be no stopping Andrew from going to camp.  It was kind of cool to have the kids identify themselves to the colony; protection of privacy prohibits me from disclosing that to the group.

Despite the good vibes going on , I still had concerns...I was going to have to let go of some responsibility and trust another parent in the kitchen.  Trust my wife?  Definitely.  Trust a well-intended parent who doesn't "get" the allergy thing?  Hmmmm....not-so-much.  I'm not very good at trusting with respect to allergies anymore.  You can look back through the posts my wife has put up, and see what's happened in the past.

One advantage to being a leader, is that we set the camp program.  I volunteered for this task.  I set the program, the start time, the end time, and the menu.  I did the shopping.  See, I told you I wasn't very good at trusting others with food.  I figured if all the food Andrew ate was bought and brought by me there would be no problems.

By setting the camp schedule, I did get to cheat.  I had everyone arrive at noon on Saturday with a BYO lunch and a big reinforcement on that warning about nuts and sharing.  I get to bring Andrew's lunch and not make a scene about it.  That left afternoon snack on Saturday, Saturday dinner, mugup (hot chocolate and s'mores), Sunday breakfast, snack and send everyone home before lunch.  See how I deftly scheduled everything so that lunch wasn't a problem.

Next post I'll talk about the specifics of the menu and planning meals for 30 that are allergen free without being obviously allergen free.  How do you handle campfire classics like hot chocolate and s'mores?  Don't most little kids like milk for breakfast?  What about all those plates and cutlery?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Introducing Tony and the Beavers

I'm kind of jumping into the middle of this blog without introduction. So, let me back up a little and do the formal introductions. My name is Tony, "wenat" is my wife, and Andrew and Geoffrey are our kids. My wife asked me to start contributing here because some of my experiences could help the allergic parents community. Among other things, I'm a Beaver leader. You've read about our experiences with Andrew's and Geoff's allergies, and I can say as parents, we trust one another to check the ingredients.

I've read some posts, primarily from Moms (sorry guys but it's true) where Dad, a grandparent, or an aunt or uncle is in denial or just plain oblivious and thinks the child is "a picky eater" or "it's not that bad...s/he'll learn to eat it". Hmmm...projectile vomiting, wheezing, hives and total change of personality...I WISH I could have mustered half of that when I was forced to eat brussel sprouts or liver as a child. My mom resorted to battering and deep frying strips of liver with the french fries to get us to eat them, but that's another story for a different blog.

Andrew came home from Kindergarten in September with a flyer for our local Scout group.  Why put Andrew in Scouting? The usual two reasons...I was in it, and I think I'm a better person for it, and most importantly, he asked.   I guess a 3rd reason would be how adorable he looks in his uniform, but I will admit my bias.

(I was in Scouting for 12 years, starting in Beavers at age 7 and I have been looking forward to the time when Andrew was old enough to enter Scouting and I could re-enter as a leader.)

"This looks like fun Daddy, could I do this?" he asked from the kitchen table while studying the flyer.

Yes! {cue the Tiger Woods fist pump}  It turned out that the group in our area didn't have a Beaver Colony last year; it would be starting from scratch this year, and with my experience growing up, I was the "head" leader. Fortunately three other parents have volunteered to be leaders too, and we have a fantastic dynamic within our leadership team and seven five year-olds, nine 6 year-olds and three 7-year olds; that's 19 kids full of energy and curiosity and questions that MUST be answered. (Little did I know how many of them would have food allergies too.)

One of Scouting's sayings is "putting the 'out' in Scouting". "Out" means day trips and camping. Day trips and camping mean food; food brought by other kids, food prepared by other parents, food prepared by other kids later in the older sections of scouting. Trail mix was a staple of the diet when I was at camp with Cubs and Scouts...trail mix has peanuts and often chocolate chips...from the bulk food aisle.

I need a TUMS just thinking about this.

So, that's part one of the story of me and the Beavers - stay tuned for part two of this series on camping and allergies -- and the "meat and potatoes" of our camps (rice milk and lactose-free margarine in the mashed potatoes of course).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reason #138 for ice cream

"My foots are getting sleepy, and I need ice cream to wake them up."

Yes, he's pointing at his feet, and he was being completely rational about his request.

I *love* having a 3-year-old!

And, to keep this post on topic -- our choices for ice cream are pretty limited. Soy ice cream is the easiest to get, but I do prefer the rice dream ice cream because I don't want the kids to get too much soy in their diet. (Here's why, if you're wondering.)

I'm not sure if it's playing russian roulette, especially given my last post, but we do let them have ice cream with the "manufactured on equipment" warning on it. I haven't found ice cream yet without that warning, and making our own ice cream is pretty daunting.

Edited post to add: We're not just nut-free, but dairy-free too. Home-made dairy-free ice cream recipes would be welcome! I do have an ice cream maker. Now there's an idea for an allergy cookbook — tasty ice cream recipes with dairy-free, egg-free alternatives!

Hitting close to home

A local woman was almost killed by a Starbucks dessert last year. Here's the story at the CBC website: "Near-fatal allergic reaction caused by Starbucks dessert".

And the worst part of the story: Starbucks didn't change the labelling on the product (subcontracted from another producer) and seemed reluctant to provide incident reports to the local health authorities.

Don't read the comments if you've got allergic kids. There's a whole lot of blame-the-victim in the comments, and several more comments along the line of "bring your own food if you're allergic."

One of my friends has severe food allergies and went out to a local allergy support group once. She commented that a lot of people in that group seemed to never go out anywhere. It's a classic Fear of Food situation, and I sometimes end up in that camp, worried for my kids, and freaked out that something random in their food will kill them.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Happy new year!

I'm delighted to report ... nothing!

That's right, we had no reactions this entire holiday season. I was prepared, and bought an extra bottle of Benadryl a couple of weeks ago, just so that I had it in the house. Maybe it was my good luck charm because we didn't need it at all.

Andrew's gotten amazing about handling his allergies. He asks clearly if something is safe, and if it's not, he simply moves onto the next thing that's safe. (This year, it was yummy chocolate sprinkle cookies which I love too!)

He's been a very picky eater as well, but this season I also had some luck in getting him to try new things -- and he's loved them and asked for more.

We're going to start implementing a one-bite rule for the kids' meals. If we have a new (safe-for-them) food, they have to try at least one bite before they declare that they don't like it.

I did have some goat's milk cheese for our New Year's Eve party, and asked them if they wanted to try it (hey, I've got a full bottle of Benadryl on the counter), but I had no takers and I didn't want to push it. Goat's milk proteins are slightly different from cow's milk proteins, but still about half of the kids who are allergic to cow's milk also react to goat's milk.

Andrew actually looked at me like I was crazy for offering it to me. Then he said, "I won't try it until my doctor says it's okay." Wow, that's one amazingly self-controlled kid.

And finally, I want to apologize to the nice folks at id4udesigns. They custom-made a gorgeous medical ID allergy bracelet for Andrew last year, and I've totally forgotten to review their final product on this blog, due to my blogging break.

It looks a lot like this one.

Andrew chose green stones instead of the black ones in the photo, and has worn the bracelet everywhere in the last year. I'm happy with it because the information is all there if he gets separated from us in a crowd. And he's happy with it because it's a fun piece of jewellery that doesn't get in his way or make him stand out from the other kids. (The folks who made the silicone allergy bracelets from a previous post have gone out of business, so it's nice to be able to recommend this replacement source.)

I'd take a photo of it but it's currently lost in his room, under the piles of Lego that he received for Christmas this year.