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).