Finding Our Way with Food Allergies

It’s taken six months to finally accept that this chaotic chapter of parenting doesn’t have the typical story arc–that it may never come to an end. But hearing from others who’ve been through hell and back with their own families’ challenges reminds me how important it is to share our stories with each other.

We’re juggling a mix of overwhelming knowns and unknowns, like anyone with food allergies. In many ways we’re very lucky, but that doesn’t prevent the ever-present feeling of dread when anything made out of peanuts, eggs or milk are being consumed in the same room, smeared across hands and mouths, dropped on the floor, or left in the sink.

It started in March, when we took a terrifying trip to the ER covered in vomit, after our hive-riddled 9-month-old ate a minuscule amount of peanut powder a couple of hours earlier. Ironically, what was intended to be an “introduction” to prevent the allergy is exactly what made its presence known. We weren’t properly educated about introducing allergens when your child has moderate eczema, like many babies do, or that doing so in a doctor’s office was an option.

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Haunted but stoic after spending our Friday night in the hospital, we armed ourselves with highly coveted Epi and AUVI-Q pens and slowly recovered from the emotional hangover of our baby’s anaphylactic episode. I flocked to Facebook groups looking for answers and camaraderie, like many food allergy moms do.

Thirty painstaking days later, we finally got in to see an allergist and got our first dose of the ambiguity that comes with diagnosing food allergies. Skin testing, which involves a grid of needle pricks on your baby’s tiny back–which you must hold flat for 15 minutes–revealed not just peanut, but milk, egg, and possibly cashew and pistachio. (This is a short list, compared to many other families.)

Follow-up blood tests could indicate the potential for tolerating an oral challenge of baked milk and egg, but bloodwork is even more rife with false positives than skin testing. Not to mention the trauma of trying to have blood drawn from the tiny, vanishing veins in your baby’s chubby little arm without success–which happened to us more times than I care to remember.

The prospect of transitioning to finger foods and finding a substitute for milk-filled sippy cups at 12 months felt overwhelming, so we turned to a pediatric gastroenterologist and nutritionist with mixed results. Under our allergists’ guidance, we continued introducing all the allergens that we tested negative for, one at a time, holding our breath with each new addition.

After learning about the nutritional deficiencies that milk-allergy infants and toddlers are susceptible to, we came up with a Google spreadsheet that left no stone unturned. We track every serving, every food group, every ounce of hypoallergenic formula and every critical nutrient’s daily recommended intake and tolerable upper limit.

The menu changes every week as our now 15-month-old (and I) get more adventurous. We’re still combining fruit, veggie, meat and grain purees with healthy fats like olive oil, batch-tested salmon, almond butter and coconut milk yogurt that don’t have “shared lines” with any of our other allergens–all which help make up for the surprising variety of essential vitamins and minerals (like iodine) that can only be found in cow’s milk.

Every day includes vitamin D and DHA drops, fortified baby oatmeal for breakfast, a potassium-rich banana, and calcium-enriched animal crackers (yep, the century-old classic) which we try, unsuccessfully, to keep off the floor. But we’re very proud that thanks to all the hard work, we get to squeeze a chubby toddler belly and thunder thighs.

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When we finally regained enough confidence to leave the kids home for a quick overnight trip, it was a foreign experience to not constantly race through a mental checklist around the clock.

I still diligently wash my hands after eating anything made with mayonnaise or dairy products, and shudder at the idea of peanuts anywhere in the house. I’m still wary of high chairs in restaurants and swings in the park. We prepare three different dinners, which is another story in itself.

I can’t imagine sending our little guy away from our safeguarded cocoon out into the world, but seeing moms do it every day gives me courage.

As years are layered upon the hearty foundation we’ve established in this first six months, I know from experience it will get easier.

 

BRAT Diet for Babies

The stomach bug cast a plague on our house Tuesday night. It was the first time I had to watch my toddler battle through it, while we huddled together in a bath tub quarantine. As his appetite returned, I found ways to modify my own BRAT menu for his palate.

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Here are some of the things that worked well for breakfast, lunch and dinner:

The good news is he recovered quickly, and knock on wood, mom and dad didn’t get it!

Egg Meatball Breakfast Bake

Somehow I hit the jackpot this morning by successfully experimenting with eggs and meatballs in a muffin pan. They were David and Emmett approved, to the point that the latter cleaned the scraps off my plate by the eager fistful.


I’ve tried similar recipes from Pinterest before, like this partially successful bread loaf bake, and had mixed results. Today I did a quick search and didn’t find any examples of using meatballs or scaling it back to such a basic and speedy combination. 

With a roll of the dice, it was literally as simple as dropping one meatball and cracking one egg in each of the muffin cups, then baking at 400 degrees until the whites were solid. 


I sprinkled salt and pepper at the end, but ideally you’d do this before baking. (When you’re rushing to clean raw egg off your hands while your toddler is fussing from the other room, you choose your battles.)

The best part is that a full belly led to nap time so I could write this post!

Thyme-Saving Turkey Meatballs

With a limited window of time to make dinner and workout, I whipped together this super quick meal: oven-roasted squash and zucchini paired with homemade turkey meatballs.

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Preheat oven to about 400 degrees and then prep the veggies:

Toss two sliced summer squash and two zucchini with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme in an oven-safe casserole dish.

Next, prep the meatballs:

Mix 1 lb ground turkey with a generous scoop of almond meal, a scoop of unsweetened and shredded coconut, 1 egg, salt, pepper, olive oil and thyme. Scoop 1/4-cup or smaller spoonfuls into a buttered casserole dish.

Bake both dishes for about 30 minutes, or until veggies are tender and meatballs are cooked through.

More thyme for you!

Almond Flour Waffles

In my quest to eat less processed or refined foods, and more nutrient-rich foods in their original forms (or close to it), I’ve stumbled my way through some baking disasters. Fortunately, this morning I made my first successful batch of almond flour waffles.

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Thanks to The Daily Dietribe for testing out the right ratios of flour to starch – a key make-or-break factor in baking with nut flours and root starches. I found that adding one egg was necessary to keep the waffles from splitting in half when opening the waffle iron.

Almond Flour Waffles (Adapted from The Daily Dietribe)

1 – 1/4 cups almond flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp coconut palm sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 cup almond milk

1 egg

Mix dry ingredients separately from wet ingredients. Combine and whisk in egg. Make sure your waffle iron is greased. You may need to play around with settings and open the iron slowly to make sure waffle is thoroughly cooked.

Broth-Braised Crock Pot Pork and Noodles

New year, new kitchen quandaries! Rather than freezing four separate containers of homemade crab stock, I used it to make a healthy Ramen/Pho-like pulled pork and soba noodles dish. We even had leftover pulled pork at the end of it.

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Pulled Pork: place all ingredients in a crock pot on low for 6 hours.

3 cups broth or stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pork tenderloin

Noodles: once pork is ready, cook noodles of choice separately in their own pot using additional broth. Add kale or other greens once noodles are near al dente.

Serve pork on top of noodles and add condiments of choice. David had his with a little Sriracha sauce.

Short Ribs that Forgive

Forgot to pull out the crock pot? Even without a grill, these ribs won’t rub you the wrong way. In fact, the rub is what makes these speedy, BBQ-like short ribs meat-and-potatoes-guy approved.

The technique and an expanded ingredient list comes from Better Homes & Gardens, but I took many shortcuts for the sake of getting dinner ready in less than two hours, which is the minimum for most short rib recipes. Who has time for wood chips? Here’s my Cliff Notes version:

In a bowl, combine 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Place short ribs (optional but recommended: trim fat first) in a casserole dish and rub with the mixture.

Bake covered in foil at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, then brown on both sides on a grill pan before serving.

Final Fling: End of Summer Bites

There’s still time to enjoy the best of summer, without resorting to “it’s complicated.” With flavors at their peak, keeping things simple is the best way to go.

For starters, heirloom tomatoes are worth every penny. So splurge one last time! Simply season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Or slice and serve with fresh avocado (a winter crop in summer’s clothing) or goat milk yogurt and basil.

Peaches are best undressed. While I love a good cobbler or pie, the best way to enjoy them for dessert on warm summer nights is au naturel.

For a refreshing hors d’oeuvre that takes no time, slice a cucumber and top with smoked salmon. Party bonus: The colors will pop on a buffet table.

Mixed company? The options above will make it easy for all dietary persuasions to partake!

Put an Egg On It: Quinoa & Avocado

Ever have one of those mornings where protein is the only thing that will satisfy your hunger? Here’s a healthy way to tame the beast:

Warm a thin layer of pre-cooked (cold leftovers works great) quinoa with a bit of melted butter in a skillet (cast iron will prevent burning). Crack eggs over the top, season with salt, cover and reduce heat to low.

Once they’re close to set, remove from heat to finish cooking through, and serve immediately with avocado.

Put an Egg on It: Pulled Pork Hash

Inspired by Pinterest browsing and brunch menus, I decided to try making an egg, pulled pork and veggie hash for dinner. The result was a satisfying and protein-packed meal that would be suitable for any time of day.

First prepare a batch of pulled pork. If you want to keep it super simple, just simmer a pork tenderloin in broth or water for a couple of hours on low, until desired tenderness.

Then, sauté shredded pork with olive oil, garlic, frozen peas and spinach. Crack some eggs over the top; cover and cook on low until set.

For extra omegas, serve with fresh avocado.