Choosing where to send Max to preschool was the least agonizing decision of his school career. The small Tennessee town where we were living had two major players in the preschool department: the Methodist and the the Baptists. We made two calls. The Methodists served juice with snacks. The Baptists served milk. Methodists it was for our dairy-egg-and-peanut-allergic-almost 3-year-old Episcopalian.
As it turned out, we could not have picked a better place for him if we had done the more extensive research we probably should have. His teacher, Ms. Stephanie, had some first hand-experience with food allergies. Her best friend’s daughter had a serious nut allergy. She assured us she knew just what to do to keep Max safe. She would tolerate no teasing. I can’t tell you what a comfort it was to hear she already knew about epipens and food allergies and was prepared for the emotional aspects of it all as well. Ms. Stephanie also happened to be one of the smartest, most observant people I’ve ever known. It went a long way to making us feel safe and confident about dropping him off each day.
At the same time, as reassuring as Ms. Stephanie was, the school didn’t seem to have all that much experience with food allergies. They seemed to have an awareness about nut allergies, but they didn’t seem prepared for the multiple food allergies with which we were dealing. We had some hiccups along the way.
A few weeks into the school year, for instance, a note came home asking us to provide a snack from a set list for snack time. I remember being struck by how few of the snacks were safe for Max and also how few of them seemed particularly healthy. There were Bugles, Cheez-Its, Cheetos, Pretzels with Cream Cheese (with a note in parentheses to trust them that kids loved this combination), puddings, a few types of cereals, several types of cookies, no fruit or vegetables.
We had previously decided it would be safest for us to provide a separate snack for Max. This process had been going fine. Therefore, I was a little irritated to be asked to provide a snack for the class when I was already providing a separate snack for Max, but I was also grateful to Ms. Stephanie. In addition to handling the food allergy issue so effortlessly, she also helped us through a bad case of separation anxiety (his and ours). At one point, my verbal little guy had nearly started a riot. I will never forgot the third day of school, when I arrived and found Max and a classmate by the window chanting that they wanted their mommies. They were getting louder. The other kids were starting to take an interest. It was pretty clear some of the other kids hadn’t realized that mommies were an option, but now that Max and his new friend had mentioned it repeatedly it was starting to sound like a very good idea. Ms. Stephanie simply smiled at me and said she and Max were working on not crying so loudly that day. Here was his stuff, see you next time. Sure enough by Thanksgiving, he was crying if he had to miss a day with Ms. Stephanie.
While I was sure Max was in the right place, as I was looking over the note about the snacks, I was also recalling a somewhat alarmist article comparing sending an allergic child to a school where they served foods to which he was allergic to sending a child to school with a loaded gun laying on a table in the classroom. The implication was what kind of crazy negligent parent does that. They suggested home schooling.
Anyway it was with those somewhat conflicting emotions and thoughts swirling in my mind that I entered the store with the preschool snack list. I said to myself somewhat morbidly: “Well if I have to buy something that could kill him if he mistakenly eats it, let’s try to find something with the least amount of allergen possible.” Ingredients are listed by weight. I was in my mind looking for something with dairy, egg or nuts as one of the last ingredients. I looked at some of the cereals. Then I ventured into the cookie aisle. I picked up the Oreos. I could not believe what I was reading. No where in the list of ingredients did I see dairy or eggs or any reference to them. I saw wheat and soy, but he had outgrown those allergies. Dairy wasn’t a hidden ingredient. It wasn’t anywhere in there. I checked some other cookies. All were loaded down with dairy.
I did some double checking when we got home. What about the creamy center? Well, I guess that was just good marketing because it certainly wasn’t cream in the center. It turned out it was fairly common knowledge in the food allergy world that Oreos were dairy free, but I was just shocked. The next day Max had his first Oreo. As expected, it was a huge hit. I still had him eat something different from the other kids on Oreo day at school just for the consistency of it and in case another parent brought in knock-off Oreos which did have cream in the creamy center. Still, Oreos have been a go-to treat in our house for a very long time now. To think I almost didn’t discover that.
One of our favorite uses for Oreo cookies is as a pie crust. Because sorbet is almost always fat-free, this dessert tastes more decadent than it is.
2 pints dairy-free raspberry or strawberry sorbet (check labels but most are dairy free)
Oreo pie crust (next to the graham cracker crusts in the baking aisle or you can make your own)
Hershey’s chocolate syrup (another surprisingly dairy-free find)
3 to 4 Oreo cookies (crushed)
Leave the sorbet out for 15 minutes to soften. Spread evenly in the pie crust. Return to the freezer. Let it re-set for at least 20 minutes. Drizzle with Hershey’s syrup and sprinkle with Oreo crumbs.