THIS is why I fight so hard for food free classrooms….

Two words, Sabrina Shannon. This bright-eyed and freckle faced 10-year-old girl made a first person radio documentary that told her story, in her own words, about what it was like to live with food allergies. “A Nutty Tale” aired on CBC in Canada, and was widely regarded as a realistic yet powerful look into a child’s perspective of living in a food allergy bubble.

Tragically, Sabrina died two years later from an anaphylactic reaction suffered in her school’s cafeteria. Many of us who have FA children know Sabrina’s story well and the 2006 law that was passed in her honor to help protect food allergic children at school. If you are unfamiliar with Sabrina’s documentary or story, see it here. I promise your life will be changed forever after hearing Sabrina’s sweet little voice over powerful messages about what happened on that fateful day. Every single time I hear Sabrina’s story I’m literally shaken to my core and knocked down at my knees. All I can think of is that my own bright-eyed and freckle faced 8-year-old boy could easily suffer the same fate, any day, at any time. As a mother, there is nothing that compares to the knowledge that your child is in danger. Mothers of FA children have this fear, either consciously or unconsciously, every day we send our kids to school, parties, camps, field trips or even simple trips to the park. We never know when a mistake will happen. All we can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Sabrina’s documentary and her story is THE most powerful piece of knowledge I can give to other moms, especially non FA moms, about what my reality has been like since 2003. I don’t expect them to ever fully understand my reality, but I do hope they try. Whenever I advocate for stricter policies at schools, especially when it comes to enacting a food free policy in classrooms I am always thinking of Sabrina Shannon, and how an innocent misstep can cost a life. Mistakes can, and do happen. In my last post I wrote about my son’s religious education teacher handing out Dunkin Donuts as a reward during class, and I also wrote about how I was never notified and the teacher was going to get an earful from me. I talked to the director of the program who apologized and said reminders were sent home with the students (we didn’t get one) and my son was told multiple times of the reward (my son has an auditory memory issue and to leave anything to him to relay back to me is very risky…it won’t always get back to me) and parents were emailed as well (the teacher had my old email address). Add all this up and you have a perfect storm for miscommunication and a potential breach of safety in my son’s classroom. My son’s 504 Plan specifically states that no food is to be served in his classrooms without approval by me. Obviously the 504 wasn’t followed, which is a liability issue for them, and a major safety issue for my son. And for what? Donuts.

We came to an agreement that the best option for a one hour religious ed class is to reward students in a non food manner, in fact John’s idea for a reward was extra time on the playground or a game of Hang Man. Simple but effective, safer yet healthier for not just the kids with food allergies and diabetes, but for all the kids. I have said time and again I try so hard to look at the food issue in classrooms from all perspectives, never just from my own. I always hope other parents see my perspective as one based in simply trying to keep my son safe and alive, and that I am genuinely not trying to be a pain in the ass. Or combative. Or thinking my way is the only way. I am always looking at what is a good solution for EVERYONE involved. I believe in the greater good, and that people in general would never want to put my son or other FA in harms’ way, or to exclude them and make them feel socially awkward for their medical disability. However, despite my best efforts to do this, there is always someone, somewhere who passionately disagrees with me, to the point of calling me out on my beliefs, or telling others how their experiences are different from mine. I’ve heard many times (always through the grapevine of course) how my advocacy efforts are viewed as something that is more annoying than helpful. I’ve also heard how passionately other moms feel about their children’s right to keep treats and food in the classroom, that it is a part of childhood. My son’s allergies is an inconvenience to the class and that their kids are missing out on the treats of childhood.

The primary difference between my viewpoint and the other one is, well, life or death. It really is that simple. Yet, it isn’t. People want food in their children’s classrooms and they are gong to fight long and hard for it. All I want is for food to stay where it belongs; in the lunchroom. Food allergy issues aside, kids should eat their meals in one central place at a table. Their desk and classroom is for learning. Not for endless snacking and eating. Now, putting the food allergy issue back into the equation, it really should be a no brainer. (For the record, as I’ve always said, I don’t believe in food bans in the lunchroom and never have. It falsely promotes a sense of security that the area is safe and free of allergens, which of course is nearly impossible to regulate).

When I became a mom nearly 11 years ago, I never once thought I’d become an advocate, whether for my son’s medical condition or for my children’s learning disabilities and special needs. I also never thought I’d get so much backlash and negativity. Call me a Pollyanna, but I really think we are meant to learn from our challenges, to be compassionate and empathetic to others, and to always strive to think the best of each other. I believe we are all doing the best we can with what we’ve got, and that it is time to let go of anything that doesn’t serve us or others well. For me personally, I’ve had to take a long look in the mirror to see where I’ve made my mistakes, and how I can do better in my job as a mom, an advocate and a writer. It’s truly not the challenge itself that matters, it’s how we handle it that does. I may never get a food free classroom for my son, he may never outgrow his allergies, there may never be a cure, my kids might always struggle in school, I might always have to fight for IEP’s and 504’s, and I’ll probably always have to acknowledge the sneers and jeers for my efforts. That’s OK with me. It’s all worth fighting for. And children like Sabrina Shannon and John remind me to never stop trying.



Dairy and Egg Free Lasagna and etc.

Another crazy few weeks around here! I’m sure you all are feeling the end of the school year pinch too. Field trips and parties are the common theme these last few weeks, and so that usually means the final push of food issues…that is until camp starts. One recent story comes to mind:

Religious Ed Donut Party: My son came home from religious ed Sunday morning totally bummed because apparently his teacher handed out Dunkin Donuts as a reward for something earned by the class. The teacher did ask if any children in the class had any food allergies and if so to raise their hand. Um, hello, it’s MAY. He doesn’t know that one of his students has a life threatening food allergy at this point in the school year? It’s all over the paperwork I fill out when I register him for class and every week he brings a bright red allergy medicine bag with him. Not only could this have put John at serious risk but it was so unnecessary for a one hour religious ed class. Why oh why oh why must we keep using food, and sugary donuts at that, as a reward for positive behavior? What upset me most was how excluded and bummed John felt, being the only kid in that class to not eat anything during their donut party. I wasn’t even notified ahead of time so I could have sent something different. I’ll handle this with the religious ed department, and believe me they’ll get an earful. In the meantime, John asked if I could make a glazed donut or one with frosting and sprinkles. It’s time I start making donuts again; I want to make the best version possible for him and everyone else. 🙂 Stay tuned on that….

I also wanted to share my newest favorite Dairy and Egg Free Lasagna recipe; it’s made with ground turkey and spinach but you could certainly omit or add anything you want. This recipe is completely adaptable to your family’s personal tastes. I’ve used several lasagna recipes in my life, many with gobs and gobs of yummy REAL cheese, and then of course the last eight years, I’ve made a few dairy free lasagna recipes with every type of dairy and cheese substitute imaginable. I have to admit, I love cheese and I miss it especially in dishes like lasagna. Baked pasta dishes are meant for cheese. I’ve played around with various lasagna recipes for years and this is the one I think I’ll keep. My Italian husband LOVED it, and my FA son John really loved it. My FPIES son Michael loved the meat and noodles, and especially the crumbled tofu. My other three children loved the meat and noodles. It is a great recipe that everyone loved. And it’s even better the next day. It also freezes very well for one month.

You could use my tomato sauce recipe from a few posts ago for the sauce, (the one with the turkey meatballs), and add browned, cooked ground turkey. To save time, you could also just use a jarred sauce (I use Bertolli Red Wine Marinara)  and add browned turkey or browned ground beef. I also like to add some fresh herbs to the final sauce to freshen the flavor. A few other tips to save time: use oven ready pasta sheets or you could use whatever egg free pasta brand you like. The “ricotta” mixture is actually crumbled tofu with a little sweetener and vinegar. I love to add thawed frozen spinach to the tofu mixture, and sometimes I’ll even add finely chopped leftover cooked broccoli, zucchini, etc. too. But make sure to finely mince it. I also like to make a dairy free Bechamel sauce while I’m browning the ground turkey. The bechamel is mixed with the tomato meat sauce mixture to make a creamier, “cheesy” sauce. I use the dairy free mozzarella cheese sparingly in between layers because it isn’t real cheese and gets too gooey if you over do it. The bechamel makes up for the lack of “cheesy” layers. One more note about the dairy free cheese: you’ll want to broil the top of the lasagna at the very end for a couple of minutes to get that beautiful browned cheese look. Finally, I like to make this recipe in two 8 inch glass baking dish, one for smaller lasagna for today, freeze the other for another night. If you use the old-fashioned kind of noodles that need to be boiled, just cut the noodles in half to fit the 8 inch square dish.  Alternatively make the dish in a 13 x 9 glass baking dish.  Enjoy!


Tomato Sauce:

1 large jar marinara sauce or 2 c. homemade sauce

1 tsp. olive oil

1 lb. ground turkey

1/4 c. chopped fresh basil

1/4 c. chopped Italian parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Dairy Free Bechamel Sauce:

4 T. dairy free margarine

3 T. flour

2 c. dairy free soy or rice milk

salt and pepper to taste

pinch nutmeg

Dairy Free Ricotta Mixture:

2 packages Firm Tofu, undrained

3/4 tsp. agave nectar

1 1/2 apple cider vinegar

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thoroughly squeezed and drained

For Layering

1 package dairy free mozzarella cheese, shredded (I use Follow Your Heart, but many people love Daiya’s shredded cheese. We cannot use it because it contains pea protein)

1/2 package no boil lasagna noodles or other egg free noodles, (if using regular noodles, cook and drain according to manufacturers’ directions).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and rub the bottom of two 8 inch glass baking dishes with dairy free margarine. Set aside.

To make tomato sauce, heat large skillet on medium high and add 1 tsp. olive oil. When hot add ground turkey, add a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of salt and cook until no longer pink and cooked through. Add tomato sauce to skillet, and add fresh basil and herbs. Simmer on low and start making Bechamel sauce.

To make Bechamel Sauce, melt dairy free margarine on low in a saucepan. Add the flour to saucepan and whisk mixture until flour is incorporated and not lumpy, about 1 minute or so. Slowly add the soy or rice milk, and a little kosher salt and pepper to taste. Whisk constantly for about 10-15 minutes or until mixture resembles heavy cream and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Once sauce is thick, add to the tomato sauce mixture and simmer on low to heat through.

To make “Ricotta”, mix all Ricotta ingredients in a medium bowl. Set aside.

To make layers:

Ladle 1/4 c. tomato/bechamel sauce on each 8 inch glass pan. Add pasta sheets, layer “dairy free” tofu ricotta mixture on top of sheets, then the tomato meat sauce, then a 1/4 c. or so dairy free cheese. Repeat mixture 2 times, ending with tomato sauce mixture on top. (Feel free to cover the other lasagna pan tightly with foil and freeze. ) Cover tightly with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and sprinkle a 1/4 – 1/2 c. dairy free mozzarella cheese on top. Switch oven to broil and broil for 2 minutes or less to get a slightly browned look on top.

Let dish settle for 10-15 minutes and serve.