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Holiday Mishmash

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Holiday Mishmash

It’s Groundhog Day and I’m blogging about Valentine’s Day. Confused much?

I mention the celebrated whistle pig’s day mostly because I feel somewhat Bill Murray-esque to be tackling the topic of  food allergies and parties yet again. I really do have some more recipes to share at some point, but I find gearing up for parties is one of the most challenging aspects of coping with kids and food allergies. It’s the aspect I most wish I had a road map or instruction book for when Max was little.

Also, as fast as some of the parties follow one another, it does sometimes feel as if we are trapped in that 1993  movie. As much as it seems as if we just put away the Christmas tree, Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away. Planning is about to get under way for another class party.

I like to be upbeat. We have been beyond blessed and spoiled these last few years to have room parents that go above and beyond for Max. I have no doubt this next party will work itself out much the same way.

Yet at the same time these last few parties have been a revelation to me. Even in the best of situations surrounded by multiple caring adults and considerate alert teachers, parties still create frustrations.

While I very much appreciate the offers and love it when everything falls into place perfectly as it as with the last few parties, I find in practice it is hard to communicate the complexity of eliminating dairy.

When I try to explain, my examples come off even to me as clunky and long winded. The one I use most often is a mild reaction Max had a couple of years ago. It was pepperoni. We had gotten in a groove of making homemade pizzas. Jason mentioned he missed his favorite toppings: pepperoni and mushroom.

I didn’t think that sounded particularly kid friendly, but I diligently went to the store and read a few labels. I wasn’t new to this and while the pepperonis I previewed predictably had a number of fillers they all looked pretty much OK.

The big day came to serve up the pepperoni and Max was excited. And (unfortunately, as it turned out) he liked the taste of it.

He was three or four bites in and still raving about it when he said he tongue felt funny. It was maybe a minute later when the hives began to form around his mouth.

After dispensing the Benadryl and taking the pepperoni away, I went back to the label. It still looked OK, but after a little research I discovered “lactic acid starter culture,” which I was sure we had encountered before. A little more research, and I discovered it can be derived from dairy.

I concluded in this case that Hormel’s brand must have been. Ingredients are listed by weight. The starter culture was one of the last ingredients listed, which meant it didn’t have much. Nonetheless it was enough to cause some minor problems. The hives went away, but it was a reminder of how little it takes to set off a reaction.

By now most peoples eyes have glazed over but they cluck appropriately here. I don’t want to scare them or bore them or overstate my case, but I also want them to understand the potential seriousness.

I hope the example also points to how dairy can be hidden in places that most people would never suspect. While I can suggest a snack that is usually good for him, companies change ingredients often. If someone buys a different brand or a different flavor or even different size of an item, it can mean a change of ingredients. Occasionally snack size candy have different ingredients than the full size version, for instance. I mean who knew that? I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been religiously reading labels and food allergy blogs for years.

While most people recognize milk, cheeses, yogurts and the like are out, few people unfamiliar with food allergies get that you have to watch out for everything from popcorn to bread to hotdogs to gum to french fries. McDonald’s french fries most famously contain a dairy derivative.

This leads to conversations like the one I had with a mom while r.s.v.p.ing to a birthday party a couple of months ago.

Me: “I know you know about Max’s food allergies. I just wanted to check about the menu: if you were going to have pizza or anything like that at the party. I wasn’t sure because of the time.”

Sweet mom: “Well we were just starting to think about that. What can we have that he can have? Would hotdogs work?”

How to answer?! The truth is hotdogs could work, but you’d have to carefully pick both a bun and a brand of hotdog. That means reading the label, and it’s going to mean knowing the words for hidden dairy or in the case of the hotdogs understanding the kosher system.

The new labeling system, which requires companies to clearly disclose when a product contains one of the top allergens, is designed to make reading labels easier, but it’s not uncommon for products not to include this or worse to only boldface certain allergens but not others.

I could explain all of this, but it’s going to require some time and effort, and I’m still going to want to double check it when I get there. When you’re a guest at a party, that is the last kind of imposition you want to place on someone. Plus Max is getting to the age where fitting in is important, and the less fuss the better.

That very sweet mom eventually accepted my protestations that he would be fine with whatever she planned and went with pizza. Max brought his own.

As promised he was fine with that, but I think the mom may have felt hurt that her well-meaning attempt at extra effort was seemingly rebuffed.

I hate for her to feel that way because I appreciated her concern. I know she was sincere.

He is still mostly so pleased when someone goes the extra mile and makes or serves something for him that he can have.

A room mom last year went above and beyond to make him his own special treat bag full of only safe treats. The look on his face when he got home and dumped the bag’s contents on the table and got to decide what to eat first instead of what to give back was pure happiness.

The year before he had been excited that the room moms (including the mom in the party story above) had decided to have a serve-yourself, build-your-own goodie bag so he could pick out the treats that were safe for him without having the other kids feel deprived. Brilliant!

The cotton candy machine and all those safe fruit and treats were equally well received at the Christmas party this year. Just getting to ooh and aah over the cotton candy machine as it came in the room went a long way to making him feel a part of the group, I think.

Still, there are times I just say no. We joined a new church this summer. By early fall, the church has already had a couple of potlucks, both of which we skipped despite multiple invitations to stay. Every time we have cut out early Max reminds me of the potlucks we have gone to in the past where I have made him several dishes and then we have supplemented with dishes from a few trusted friends. While I am sure we could do that again and I am sure we would find many kind people willing to help us, it is an effort I don’t always feel like making.

At the same time, he is getting to the age where fitting in is paramount. I would love to take advantage of more of these opportunities to have him included, but as I think I discovered this week it can be exhausting and while he has in his life only had mild reactions like hives and itching after eating party food, those minor reactions have happened frequently. The whole process still feels risky.

That risk illustrated by both the pepperoni example and his anaphylactic reaction to the Burger King burger just last summer (see Our Journey) are still always in the back of mind even as I am truly appreciative and humbled by just how many people are around trying to make it easier on both him and us.

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4 responses »

  1. You have been blessed with some good people to surround you. Even so, I totally understand the enormatity of the pressure that parties generate. Even without food allergies, parties are stressful. Perhaps because my eldest has so many food allergies, I always opt to match whatever the party goer is serving. Truly, I am thankful that he gets invited! The way I see it is, sending in ‘safe food’ for our food allergic children is one less worry for the hostess and for ourselves…it is a win/win situation. I admit, we have strayed from events due to the pressure that surrounds the food element. For example, hockey tournaments that are out of town and require staying in a hotel and eating out. We try to go to the tournaments that are in town. We are being adventurous and going to a tournament that is out of town for the day. It is Matthew’s (peanut/tree nut allergy). We will need to figure out a lunch, snacks and dinner arrangements. At this time, we are unsure if our eldest with mulitple food allergies will be joining us as technically he is old enough to stay at home. This is our dilemma at the moment. Susan H. @ The Food Allergy Chronicles

    Reply
  2. I completely sympathize with you. I hate to make someone willing to cater to my kids feel rebuffed, but sometimes it really just is easier for me to do it myself. And though I’m not new to this, sometimes I lose my mind and act that way. We had a potluck at church recently, and I promised I would take the kids. I have no idea what I was thinking. I did not prepare in advance something for my egg-allergic son, so there was not much he could eat there. Thankfully he was a trooper about it, and he wanted to go play with the big kids instead of eat anyways. But I’ll never make that mistake again.
    Good luck! Thankfully the school parties are almost over for a couple of months.

    Reply
  3. Aw, I hate that it limits what your guy can do Susan. I know you have been at this longer than I have. I really appreciate your perspective. I also have to say down here in Arkansas “hockey tournament” whether for the day or the weekend sounds pretty cool and exotic. 🙂 Marcia, I so understand what you’re saying too. It’s hard to keep track of everything sometimes. Max’s school was having a dad-kid pizza night this fall. I bought Max a vegan frozen pizza just for the night, stuck it in the freezer and then started making plans for what I was going to do with my alone time while they were gone. I was really looking forward to having a night off from cooking. It was 10 minutes before the event was to begin as I was telling them they needed to leave when I realized I hadn’t actually heated the pizza. Max is a good sport, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t want to have to eat it frozen. I obviously wasn’t new to this at that point either. Sometimes especially when you are busy (and I know you are a lot), it’s possible to just forget for a few minutes, and then it’s just the worst slap in the face when you do remember. On the other hand, in the time since I have published this post, another one of Max’s favorite friends had a birthday party, zombie Nerf theme if that gives you an idea of how creative the birthday boy’s family is. This time when the mom offered to buy the vegan pizza and have the cake specially made to be safe for him, I for the first time ever accepted. This time I could tell the mom (who is also his room mom this year) really got it. By “it,” I mean the whole situation: how to read labels, how to handle a reaction, the seriousness if he accidentally ate dairy. She also was very patient with me and let me interrogate her forward and backward. I even felt comfortable leaving him there while I played taxi and ran across town to get Claire. It was a big step for me. He was so happy. I really didn’t expect it to mean so much to him, but he talked about it for quite a while afterward. It was also extremely sweet how happy his friend was to tell him about the cake and to share it with him. It was the first thing the friend said when he greeted Max at the door. “You can have this cake. We made it dairy free for you.” I mean how great is that? It was the friend’s birthday. He should have had any cake he wanted, and he made it so Max could be included too. He seemingly did it with such a pure heart without any resentment at all.

    Reply
    • I have a very good friend down the street that ‘gets it’. As do her three children. When the kids were younger and invited to each others parties, she would ask for my cake recipe for the birthday cake so as Michael could have it. I would lend her my cake pans and we went over the ingredients together and she made sure her kitchen was spotless. She bent over backwards for Michael. As her kids loved my cakes, they didn’t even notice a diffence! Friends like that are hard to come by. So glad to here you have found one! It makes such a difference!

      Reply

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