Food allergy law “absurd”?

That’s what a school board member in Gurnee, IL had to say about the new state mandate requiring school boards in Illinois to have a food allergy policy in place by January 1st, 2011. Read the full text here. School board member Catherine Campbell went on to say that their school (Woodland District 50) is “an educational institution and not a health care facility” and that she “thinks it is the most ridiculous thing they have to do”. She voted against the policy but it was approved through a majority vote.

But it gets better. The PRESIDENT of the school board, Lawrence Gregorash commented “This isn’t the dumbest thing I’ve seen in my 64 years…but it sure ranks in the top 10.” Although he also said “I think members of this board are very concerned about children and they’re very concerned about allergies”. But he apparently isn’t a fan of being required by the state to have a policy in place that is unfunded.

Like many of you reading this, I’m beyond incensed by these irresponsible and downright ridiculous comments by elected school board officials in Gurnee. I could rattle off lots of statistics to back the statement that food allergies harm and kill children. But I won’t waste too much energy on people who clearly haven’t taken the time to read WHY the state did this. Shall I remind them that a 13-year-old Chicago girl just lost her life two weeks ago because a food allergy policy wasn’t in place for her at her school?

It is a silent disability that can’t be seen, but it is there for these children 24/7. Their lives are put in serious danger every time they come in contact with food they are allergic to. School board members who blatantly disregard a state law and calls it “absurd” should be questioned, as these are the people who make the policies and decisions that affect the safety and well-being of children in their school district. Perhaps these two board members simply don’t understand the seriousness of food allergies. In that case, act as an educated grown up and do a little research.

These children need to be protected and advocated for, and if the very people who were elected to serve in this capacity can’t respect and follow a law that protects food allergic children, then they should reconsider their purpose in serving. What’s next? Cutting special education services because you don’t understand autism? Or perhaps you don’t think sensory integration disorder is a real diagnosis? Or maybe you think kids with learning disabilities will do just fine without any additional help in the classroom? ALL these kids have rights, including those with food allergies. Disregarding a law because you don’t understand or perhaps just disagree with it is totally irresponsible.

People like Catherine Campbell and Lawrence Gregorash, who make “dumb” comments without considering the safety and well-being of EVERY child in their school district, really should get with the program and at least attempt to understand the growing problem of food allergies in schools. And as the saying goes, the train is leaving the station….either you’re on it, or you’re not.

Another innocent life lost..

A 13-year-old Chicago girl died Friday from an allergic reaction after eating food at a school Christmas party. Read the full story here. There are no words to accurately describe how I felt when I first read this story, other than total sadness for this girl’s family. Sadness for the girl as she had to endure a terrifying experience before her death. And sadness for my son, and all the other food allergic children out there who live with this very real fear every day. It wouldn’t take much for the same fate to occur to any of our children. As I look at my son’s sweet smile, I see the innocence of an 8-year-old boy, who loves sports, video games and playing with friends. I can’t bear to think what my life would be like without him. Yet, when I heard of this 7th grader’s death, it reminds me that this could happen any day at any time. These children are so vulnerable, yet we still have to remind our schools every year of that fact when implementing food policies.

Just last month, there was a severe reaction that occurred at my son’s school in the first grade. It occurred after a first grade child inadvertently ingested food with dairy at a Thanksgiving party. Ironically, I happened to be driving by the school that day when I saw a fire truck and paramedics out front with their lights on. My heart stopped as I looked down at my phone to see if the school nurse had called me, which she hadn’t. But after my initial sense of relief, I saw one of my friends running down the sidewalk toward the school. Her child has food allergies, I put two and two together, and started praying. A lot.

Her child recovered, but any parent who has seen their child in life-threatening distress carries that fear forever. I contacted our school district to determine if, once and for all, they planned on taking food away from birthday parties, etc. I received response that they planned on removing food from all birthday and holiday celebrations in the first grade for the remainder of the year.

I immediately thought, that’s great…now what about the rest of the food allergic children in the other grades? Isn’t their safety important too? I felt that while this is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t address the bigger issue of having set guidelines that are consistent across the entire district. I’ve also always said I don’t necessarily believe in food bans, because they promote a false sense of security that everything is safe, clean and free of allergens. All I have ever asked for from my school district is:

1. Food Free Birthday Celebrations. Notice I didn’t say Holiday, just birthday. I have always tried to start small with something that is doable for schools. But for some unknown reason, my school won’t make it a policy. They will only make a recommendation.

2. Not to use food as a reward at school.

3. Require that every food allergic child have a 504 Plan filed at school. This document would require, all teachers who deal directly with the FA child to comply.

4. Make classrooms free of the food that the FA child is allergic too. This could include: Dairy, Peanut, Tree Nut, Egg, etc. In other words, even snacks with those allergens are not allowed in the classroom. In addition, letters detailing this, along with a “suggested safe snack list” should be sent home to all students in the child’s class.

5. Train staff about food allergies. I am deeply comforted by the fact my son’s school nurse is VERY knowledgeable and concerned for the safety of our food allergic children. But I am also aware many school districts across the country can’t afford a full time school nurse on staff. This is when it is especially critical to make sure every staff member is trained on the use of epipens and how to treat an allergic reaction.

6. Finally, don’t let the burden of keeping our children safe and alive at school fall only on the parents of FA children. Take the initiative and develop policies, so these parents don’t have to roll up their sleeves at the beginning of every school year, ready to fight for a safer environment for their children (and have to endure the silent eye-rolling in the process). These children should expect their classrooms to be a safe haven, not a place that causes anxiety or bullying.

Tonight, my heart is heavy for this family who lost their sweet daughter to a senseless accident. Let her death not be in vain; contact your child’s school and let them know this happened, and ask them how they plan to develop policies for managing food allergies. Ironically, effective January 1, 2011, Illinois will be one of the few states to require school boards to develop food allergy management guidelines (thanks to all the amazing FA pioneers who happen to live in our state). Read more here and share the link with your school district.

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Ginger Muffins

The time is now to bake everything and anything with ginger in it. Not only is it the perfect holiday treat, but it’s also the perfect comfort food. Ginger has long been associated with healing qualities, and I’d like to think these sweet little muffins keep the cold and flu bug away. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but they sure make me feel fabulous when I eat them!

My kids love these muffins, and it’s a wonderful change of pace from all the other breads and muffins I usually make. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. I especially love the little chopped bits of candied ginger on the muffin top, but if you don’t have any your house just sprinkle the tops with plain granulated sugar. Also, I like to make these muffins not too spicy for my kids, but if you want to kick it up, add up to another 1/4 tsp. ground ginger and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon to the dry mixture. You could also sprinkle more candied ginger on top which will immediately infuse more flavor.

These muffins will be part of my Christmas morning brunch, but they are also wonderful treats to give to friends and neighbors. I hope you enjoy these as much we do!

Happy Baking everyone!

DAIRY, EGG AND NUT FREE GINGER MUFFINS

1/3 c. vegetable oil

1/2 c. molasses

1/3 c. soy or rice milk

3/4 c. dairy free sour cream (I use Tofutti)

1 T. water

1/4 c. packed brown sugar

2 c. unbleached all purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

1/4 tsp. salt

For Topping:

1 T. granulated sugar

1 T. chopped candied ginger (or more if you want a spicier muffin)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a 12 cup muffin tin with dairy free baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, molasses, sugar, soy milk, sour cream, water and brown sugar with a rubber spatula until well combined.

In a separate medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, allspice and salt with a wire whisk. Add to the wet mixture and stir until just combined. Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups. Mix together the 1 T. granulated sugar and chopped candied ginger and sprinkle over the muffin tops. Bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool.

Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

These scrumptious little pillows of sugar-coated chocolate are perfect for the holidays. They are gorgeous  cookies with a fudge-like interior, very similar to a brownie. Their crinkled exterior is achieved by simply rolling chilled cookie dough balls in confectioners’ sugar before you put them in the oven. As they bake, the surface crackles and the rich, chocolaty cookie pops through the sugar. It’s divine.

The best part about this particular Chocolate Crinkle recipe is that it is hands down the easiest and least fussy one you’ll find. I dislike recipes that require excessive chilling time or multiple steps like simmering chocolate over a double boiler. Who has time for that? True, the dough needs to be chilled before using, but I put the batter into a large resealable bag, freeze it for about 45 minutes to an hour (I’ve even gotten away with 30 minutes), and you’re good to go. Cut open the bag with scissors, put some confectioners’ sugar on your hands and scoop out little balls of dough to plop into a bowl of sugar. If you do have the time to spare, chill the dough 3-4 hours or even overnight.

One other tip; DO NOT OVERBAKE. The cookie is meant to be chewy, not dry. The cookies are done after about 10 minutes when they are just set. They you will need to cool completely on the baking sheet. Since all ovens are different I would check your oven after about 8 minutes to see how they are doing.

I promise you this cookie will become your newest favorite holiday cookie. Happy Baking everyone!

DAIRY, EGG AND NUT FREE CHOCOLATE CRINKLES

1/2 c. vegetable oil

1 3/4 c. granulated sugar

1 c. unsweetened applesauce

1 c. cocoa (I use Hersheys)

2 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

2 1/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 c. confectioners’ sugar

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the oil, sugar, applesauce, cocoa powder and vanilla extract until well combined. In a separate medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt with a wire whisk. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until combined. Put batter into resealable plastic bag and freeze until well chilled, about an hour. (Alternatively, chill in fridge 3-4 hours or overnight).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut open bag with scissors. Lightly flour your hands with confectioners’ sugar and scoop out about 1 inch balls of dough, and roll into a perfect ball. Drop into the bowl of confectioners’ sugar and roll until completely covered with sugar. Place 2 inches apart on parchment lined baking sheets and bake about 10 minutes or until cookies are just set. Do not overbake. Cool completely on cookie sheets.

Baking for the Holidays…

Yesterday was my birthday, and all I wanted, and I mean this sincerely, was to do NOTHING and just sit with my family. I didn’t feel the need to get away, or to go do something. I just wanted to sit with my kids and watch them. Yes, they fought, jumped on each other, and actually jumped on me too. But I just wanted to sit there and enjoy it for what it is; a messy, crazy yet wonderful and fun house.

By 2 pm I had the urge to bake, not something new, but something familiar. I just wanted to bake and decorate simple sugar cookies with my kids.  I live for these moments of simplicity. At dinner my 4 year old asked if I had a good birthday, and I replied, “the best ever”. He said he loved my birthday too, even more than Christmas.

Baking brings families together and builds memories. Yes, we all love to eat the finished product, but what really matters is the time spent creating with the ones we love. Children with food allergies, especially, deserve to build gingerbread houses, make sugar cookies and decorate them with their favorite icing and sprinkles. They deserve to build memories with their families like any other kid. They deserve this type of normalcy.

Just time for the holidays, I will be at Borders in Wilmette (3232 Lake Avenue, Wilmette IL) THIS Saturday, Dec. 11th at 4 pm decorating allergen safe cookies, as well as answering any questions about food allergies, etc. I hope my local readers can come out with their kids; it will be so much fun!

Happy Baking everyone!!! xxoxo