Peanut allergies aren’t the only ones that are life-threatening…

This is a phrase I utter more often than not, especially to school and camp officials. It’s always driven me a little batty when I get that dazed and confused look after I say my son John could die from a reaction to milk too. Or even legumes and peas¬† could cause my son John to have an anaphylactic reaction.

So when developing John’s IEP and 504 Plan recently the topic of a peanut free classroom came up again. I decided that once and for all, this year, we were going to require that John’s room be declared Dairy Free too. Because as long as my school doesn’t incorporate a Food Free Birthday Treat Policy among all grade levels (exceptions are holiday parties and special educational events) I was going to make sure my son’s classroom was as safe as possible. As a mom of five kids, I’m busy. And I know all of you are busy. Do you really feel like running around whipping up a batch of my treats (as easy as they are) every month when a child celebrates his or her birthday in class? As much as I love to bake, doing this every month gets tiresome. And it¬†often makes the child with food allergies feel excluded. More important, since daily snacks are allowed in my son’s school, there’s always a child that brings yogurt or cheese to school. John has had some pretty serious reactions just from touching residue of dairy. The whole idea of food in the classroom is so unnecessary, but if it is a must, than I think alternatives such as fresh fruit, pretzels, etc. are safer bets.

I have to give high praise to my son’s educational team, because once I informed them that John’s dairy allergy is as life threatening as his peanut allergy, they were responsive to my desire to make John’s class environment as safe as possible. Our school nurse drafted a letter immediately (once the new IEP and 504 took effect) that was sent out to my son’s classmates. The letter stated that a classmate has a life threatening allergy to dairy, and the specific procedures were in place to provide the safest possible environment. The procedures included:

  • Do not send any dairy products such as yogurt or cheese for a snack.
  • Do not send container that have contained dairy products such as washed out plastic containers.
  • If your child eats dairy before school, please have them thoroughly wash his or her hands before coming to school. It is important that residue from drinking milk, eating cheese or yogurt is not on a student’s hands when they handle common school books and equipment.
  • Our classroom celebrates birthdays in a food-free manner. You can contact your teacher for ideas.

I am very proud and grateful that our school took my concerns seriously and quickly enforced new procedures that further ensured John’s safety at school. Of course, I’m sure there may be some eyes rolling or heads turning among some of the parents upon receiving the letter but I hope not. I would like to think that if any non food allergic parent put themselves in our shoes for just even a moment, and think about what it must feel like to know that your child die from a food allergic reaction, they might change their mind and do whatever they can to help.

Have a great holiday weekend everyone!!

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Banana Chocolate Chip Waffles

How about ANOTHER idea to use up overripe bananas? Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Chocolate Chip Waffles are the perfect breakfast to whip up when you literally only have minutes to get it on the table. In the morning I like to make one hot breakfast for all my little hungry people because it is easier than gathering every one’s breakfast order of who wants what cereal. Seriously, that can become a nightmare. So waffles and pancakes always make everyone really happy and somewhat quiet. At least for a few minutes.

This recipe is delicious with freshly sliced bananas and just a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar, but warmed maple syrup is also a yummy complement. I love that all the ingredients can be mixed in one bowl with one spatula or spoon. In fact, these waffles can easily be made by your kiddos too. Freeze the extras in between pieces of parchment paper in resealable plastic¬†bags. To reheat, simply toast in the toaster at your desired setting. Don’t let them sit too long on the counter though, for they will lose their crispness and start to wilt.

And in housekeeping notes, I have to apologize for being a little MIA (missing in action) the past few weeks. It’s been crazy! I’ve had three IEP’s, construction issues, writing projects, end of school year stuff and in general life with five young kiddos. I know all of you can relate with your own family’s hectic schedules too…but if for some reason I didn’t get back to you or respond right away, please remind me again. I think having baby Michael has caused me to forget things more than usual, so a gentle reminder would be wonderful!! Also, if you haven’t had a chance to do so yet I’d love for ya’ll to share your reviews and testimonials for my cookbook The Food Allergy Mama’s Baking Book at www.amazon.com . Spread the word and thanks always for your incredible support. It means the world to me.

Happy Baking Everyone!!

DAIRY, EGG AND NUT FREE BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP WAFFLES

1 2/3 c. soy milk

6 T. vegetable oil

2 T. water

1 c. mashed ripe bananas (about 2)

2 c. unbleached all purpose flour

2 T. granulated sugar or brown sugar

1 T. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 c. Enjoy Life Chips

Preheat waffle iron.

In a large liquid measuring cup, combine soy milk, vegetable oil, water and banana with a wire whisk. In a separate medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt with a wire whisk. Add liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips.

Ladle about a 1/2 c. batter on hot iron that has been sprayed with dairy free baking spray. Cook until desired setting’s light is turned off (I like my waffles darker and crisper). Remove and keep warm in a 200 degree oven.

Isn’t a 504 Plan Good Enough?

That was the question I asked my school’s superintendent last week when it was brought to my attention that our school¬†district decided to do away with John’s 504 Plan and incorporate his food allergy accommodations into his IEP Plan. I was also told that¬†if a child in our district only has a 504 Plan and no IEP, then the Section 504 health plan would remain in place. I was very discouraged and frustrated by this new “Best Practices” policy for several reasons:

  • I wasn’t told this was an optional directive at first. Instead I was informed by my son’s IEP case manager that this was¬†a new district policy to incorporate both documents into one central document. My school district believes these two documents are interchangeable. In my opinion, they are not. A 504 is a Health Plan that is carried with the child through high school, college and beyond. It details all the necessary accommodations needed to comply with the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. It does in fact have fewer rights and accommodations¬†than the IEP (or IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), but to call them interchangeable is a mistake. I believe the school district should be informing every family this affects that it is NOT a legal madate, but instead a Best Practices¬†policy. Optional is the key word here.
  • I was uncomfortable that my school nurse sent home the food allergy accommodations to me in advance of my IEP meeting last week, therefore indicating she was notified that John did in fact have an active IEP. I am not secretive about my children needing an IEP and never have been. However, I do know some families are uncomfortable with this information being shared and for that reason think that there is a privacy issue at stake here. My son’s developmental delay diagnosis doesn’t impact my school nurse, therefore this information shouldn’t be shared with her (or with anyone else for that matter)¬†without my permission.
  • When I pressed our school district for more information about this Best Practices policy, I was told from our superintendent that this practice actually better protects our food allergy kids since IEP’s are viewed as more protective than the Section 504, and therefore is a better place to hold the accommodation information. I asked if I should be concerned if my son ever loses his IEP status since the 504 is considered more “loose”. He responded no, of course, and that they hold both documents in high regard, but that is not always the case with other school systems.

Last week I had three IEP meetings for my children, concluding with John’s. I ultimately decided to hold both documents seperate because I feel they should be. I’d love to know what everyone thinks about this, what they would do if this Best Practices policy is introduced in their own school district.

Have a good week everyone!

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Chocolate Chip Strawberry Cake

What mama doesn’t love the flavor combination of strawberries and chocolate? One of my favorite little treats are Chocolate Dipped Strawberries; true perfection. I wanted to capture that same magic in a yummy little cake that can be served any time of the day. In fact, I plan to serve this at my own Mother’s Day brunch (in between soccer and baseball games of course!). What I love most about this cake is that it¬†is very simple to pull together, 10 minutes or less. It has a beautiful and rustic look that can be¬†finished with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar or with a scoop of soy ice cream.

I wish all¬†you food allergy mama’s everywhere a blessed and beautiful Mother’s Day with your families! Happy Baking, and remember to take the day off tomorrow!

DAIRY, EGG AND NUT FREE CHOCOLATE CHIP STRAWBERRY CAKE

1/2 c. dairy free margarine (I use Fleischman’s)

3/4 c. granulated sugar (plus 1T. for sprinkling)

1 T. water

1 1/4 tsp. vanilla

1/3 c. soy or rice milk

1  1/2 c. unbleached all purpose flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 c. dairy free chocolate chips (I use Divvies or Enjoy Life)

2 1/2 c. hulled and halved strawberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously spray a glass pyrex 9-inch pie dish with dairy free baking spray. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dairy free margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add water and vanilla and combine thoroughly. In a medium seperate bowl combine flour, baking powder and salt with a wire whisk. Add flour mixture to the margarine mixture, alternating with the soy milk. Combine thoroughly but don’t overmix. Stir in dairy free chocolate chips with a rubber spatula. Pour batter into prepared glass dish.

Arrange strawberries on top of cake, cut side down, close together. Sprinkle with remaining 1 T. granulated sugar. Bake 45-50 minutes or until lightly browned and toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool completely before slicing.

An Allergen Free First Communion and Baptism…

Yesterday was a¬† day to remember. John celebrated his¬†first communion and baby Michael received the sacrament of baptism. It was a gorgeous day filled with so much love, laughter and memories with old friends. As many of you know both of my parents passed away before any of my children were born. So often these types of family celebrations are difficult, and not just because I am always trying to figure out what to serve for food that won’t have everyone screaming… “oh great, ANOTHER allergen free creation” (cue the sarcasm here.)

But this time it was different. As much as I miss my beloved mother, and as much as I would have loved to have her there to share in my children’s special sacraments, I was profoundly grateful for everything I have. My family, my health and my children’s health…it’s all that really matters. NOTHING else matters. As a parent of a food allergic child, we are always worried to some extent for our children’s health and well being, because it could be seriously compromised at any given moment. But sometimes there are moments in my life where I forget all of that, and focus on the now. For me, yesterday, it was watching my¬†son John walk down the aisle with his hands crossed, looking so happy. He looked like any other kid, and in that moment I forgot that he was the one who will have to live his life being more careful than most, that I will always worry a little more about him than my other children. It was truly one of those moments when I was overwhelmed with love and gratitude for all that I have.

Now, on to the party. It was a blast, and I have to give a huge kudos to Whole Foods who blew me away. I met with them prior to the event to discuss our dietary restrictions and John’s allergies. We carefully went through every label and discussed what would¬†be¬†safe and what wouldn’t. We discussed cross contamination issues and how it would be addressed. In the end I was so impressed with their gorgeous, delicious vegan trays. Everyone else was too, and raved about how fresh and yummy the food was. After this fantastic experience with WF, I would highly recommend them to anyone else looking to do¬†a party, whether they have allergies or not. They GET it.

Finally, the desserts. I let John pick out whatever he wanted from my book. He chose Lemon Cake, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Russian Teacakes and Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Everyone devoured the treats…nothing was left. Not even a crumb or a lone chocolate chip. It was gone, and no one ever asked, does this have eggs, etc? They are so much better than store bought treats yet they are completely safe. I love that EVERYONE enjoys the treats, and just carries on with zero discussion of food allergies. It is nice to take break once in a while from the food allergy subject, and just enjoy good food with friends and family. It is a world I am still hopefully we will see someday….

Happy Baking everyone and I hope to post a yummy new recipe very soon…working on it!