Monday, July 8, 2013

Empowering Your Food Allergic Child

I get asked these questions a lot from strangers to friends. How are you teaching you 4 year old son about his allergies? When did you start teaching him? How can I tell my child about their allergies without scaring them? Then a long conversation happens because the answer isn't that simple. Some are happy to hear it, others regret asking the question. Educating your child on his or her challenges can give them control over it. It will empower them.

Starting the FA conversation with your toddler child.

Age has a lot to do with how you approach your child. My son was 14 months old when he had his 1st reaction. Not an easy age to talk to them. You can't just say "don't eat peanuts they can make you sick or kill you".  You can't just go to a party and let them move about and snack on all the food that is at their disposal. You end up being that dreaded helicopter parent. Not fun for anyone, but it's what you do.

What we did at this young age was to reinforce asking mom or dad only for food. Don't take food from anyone but person A, B, or C... When in the supper market (or any where we saw the offending foods), we would point out peanuts and nuts and say YUCKY, DANGER. If we saw a certain candy commercial we would say the same thing. He also had some books that had pictures of peanuts and nuts in them. Again we would say YUCKY, DANGER. We were using images to teach. This wasn't a plan, it's just what we did naturally.

Age 2
At around age 2 is when we started using car rides to talk about it. On our way to a party or play date we would tell him the food rules. That even though we may not see the peanuts or nuts they could still be in the food. We bought him his medic alert bracelet and had him start to wear it. We started using the words safe and not safe quite a bit!

The Preschool Years (which we are still in)

Age 3
When he turned 3 we started talking about getting sick and having to go to a hospital if he ate the wrong thing. That he would have to get a shot that mommy or daddy would have to give him. Now instead of telling him the food rules he had to tell us on the way to a party. When we met other kids with allergies we would excitedly say, "guess who else can't eat peanuts!"

If we went to someone house who made sure the food was safe for him we made sure (and still do),  to have him tell the host thank you for making or having safe snacks.

At school we had a great system worked out. Before we would go into his classroom we would go (and still do), and check to see if the snack was safe together. He would see me check, and then I would tell him if it was OK on not. If I remembered I would have him tell the teacher if he could eat it or not. Sometimes I forgot and told her myself. If was unsafe we had snacks stashed with the teacher. We also always brought his treat for parties and such. Whether at school or at a party. This was and is his normal. It doesn't even phase him.

We also started talking about his EpiPen. We showed it (the trainer) to him and told him it had to go everywhere with him. We just left it at that at the time.

Age 4
Just before he turned 4, we went to a close friends party. As usual she made the whole thing safe for him even though she doesn't have to (thank God for friends like this). They had a pinata with all safe candy for him. The kids broke the thing and candy was everywhere. He collected his stash and started to look thought. He came running to me with a box of Jr. Mints in hand, yelling "MOM these have peanuts! You said the candy was safe!" Turns out there was a no peanut symbol on the box. He saw the peanut but didn't know the red circle with the line through it meant no.

At that moment I knew what we spent the last 2 years teaching him sunk in. It was a sad and happy moment. Happy because he learned. Sad because now he understand his life can end with just one bite of the wrong thing.

About 6 moths after that party we headed back into the city for another food challenge. He had passed his first challenge to cashews, so we were pretty confidant he would pass this one for walnuts and pecans. This was not the case. Two minutes after his 1st bite of walnut he started to have a reaction (to read all about this food challenge click here to find the post and details of that bad day). While it was not the outcome we had hoped for, we again learned that what we were teaching him had sunk in! He did everything he had been told to do.

Up until that point he really didn't know what it felt like to eat something that could hurt him. We were always afraid he wouldn't recognize it. That no matter what we told him, he wouldn't truly understand an allergic reaction.  Well he did, right from the start! He didn't need time to process what the feeling was. He knew what it was, and knew what to do.

Now at 4.5  we have switched over to the new Auvi-Q epinephrine injector.  We love it because of the audible directions its gives while having to use it and it's size. Our son loves it as well. We showed it (the trainer), to him and he is not afraid of it any more. It's smaller and easy to use. He is now the one who trains everyone how to use it. Yes my 4.5 year old trains the adults how to use it! He is also in charge of handing it over to the adult who will be taking care of him if he is getting dropped off (with us standing right there of course). He does not carry it on him, but we give it to him at the door to give to an adult.

So back to the title of this post, Empowering Your Food Allergic Child. How we empower our son is to educate him. The more he understands the more control he has. He is learning how to ask questions about his food. How to say no thank you to food offers. He knows what will help him in an emergency. He needs to be confident and informed. He needs to be able to stand up for and advocate for himself if we're not there, because lets face it we can't be there 24/7 for his whole life.

He needs to know these things and guess what, he knows! At lease he is starting to  really get a handle on it.  So don't be afraid that you will scare your child too much. A little fear is good but understanding is better.  You know your child better than anyone. You know what they can handle and not handle. Just don't underestimate the power your words have and how much they hear. That is you best weapon against food allergies.

Since we are still in preschool, I can't weight in on what to do with older children. Nicole Smith of Allergic Child is who I look to for that! I will have to wade through like so many parents that have gone before me. All I can say is I will always educate him, I will always advocate for him, I will do what I can to make him ready and able to handle what comes his way. I'm the mom, it's my job.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Food Challenge Meltdown

I know many of you were following our food challenge last week on Facebook and Twitter. I want to thank you all for you kind, supportive words and prayers. If you weren't following lets just say, it didn't go so well.

This was our second food challenge. We went for our first one last fall (when I was on hiatus from here). It was for cashews. I was a nervous wreck the night before for many reasons. For years we have been telling our son do not eats nuts! Now we had to tell him eat these nuts. Needless to say it took two weeks prior to the test to convince him to do the challenge. Since I didn't think he would eat them, I made cookies with cashews in them after he went to bed. I was terrified the fumes from them cooking would make him have a reaction. I must of went into his room 20 times to check on him. We went in early to do the challenge. He ate the cashews plain while I wanted to throw up. And NOTHING! He loved them and is not allergic!

Cut to last Thursday. We were going in to challenge walnuts and pecans. Since the first challenge went so well. I was so calm (too calm). I slept well and everything. I didn't get nervous until he had to eat the walnut. He ate a piece smaller than a jelly bean, and announced he wasn't allergic with this big grin on his sweet face. We all laughed and I took a breath since I was holding it.

About 2 or 3 minutes (yes that fast), my son turned to us and said his mouth felt funny, like oatmeal. I couldn't understand what he meant by oatmeal. Then a few seconds later he said his tummy hurt and started clawing at the neck of his shirt. Then his fear set in. The terror in his eyes was too much for  me to see. He started panicking and the nurse and Dr. were there in a flash. The more questions we asked the more he panicked. His top lip started to swell a little. It was barley noticeable, but the Dr. and I saw it.  Food challenge over only minutes after we started. 

Benadryl to the rescue! Once we told him he was going to get medicine he started to calm down even before he took it. We were lucky that he didn't need epinephrine. The Benadryl took care of it. He did get a little lethargic but nothing that worried anyone too much. We had to stay for 3 more hours to make sure he was OK. 

Once I knew he was OK, I had to leave the room to catch my breath and let a few tears spill. The minute he said his mouth felt funny I wanted to throw up. That feeling didn't go away until the next day. A four year should never have to feel that fear, and a parent should never have to see it. He knew it was bad and saw it in my eyes as well. 

However there is a positive to this story! We've spent years talking to him about his allergies. As he gets older we get a little more detailed but noting too heavy yet. He's only four. The moment he felt something different he knew to tell us. He knew something was wrong. He recognized what we had been telling him for years. He did what he was taught. As a parent I'm so proud of my little man. Of all the things I could fail at, this wasn't it. We are doing the right thing. Teaching him one of the most import lessons in his young life. We did our job as his parents, and it feels good.

After we got the all clear getting ready for some pizza!
Do not attempt to do a food challenge at home without consulting a Dr. This was a medically supervised food challenge in a medical facility.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Returning to Technical Difficulties!

Hi all! I know it's been ages since my last post. And well, my last post was about being overwhelmed and stressed out. I decided to follow some of your advise and made some changes. I talked with my hubby and we decided it was time for me to take a step back and reevaluate everything. I ended up taking a break from here and I quit my day job to really focus on my new photography business and family.

It's been a lot of work, but I'm starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel! With that said, I hope to be back up and running soon. However I am returning to some technical difficulties with the blog. It seems ALL my photos have vanished! It's going to take some time to sort out since Blogger has no way to contact them for real customer service. VERY Frustrating!

I am planning some blog posts in my head.  My son's latest allergist appointment (which you may have seen on my photography blog), and I want to tell you all about a new auto injector that is so cool not to look into. 

If there are any topics you want to talk about let me know! If you are interested in writing a relevant guest blog post please contact me asap! Here's to getting back into the swing of things!


Saturday, July 21, 2012

More than I can chew...

Today's post isn't focused on food allergies. It's more of a mom/parent purging for me. I'm just trying to figure some things out. Like most moms (and dad's, or guardian's),  I have become completely overwhelmed by daily life. There really aren't enough waking hours to get it all done. I use to be a very organized person, and on time for everything. Add kids to the mix and it's all out the window!

I have friends who became more organized when they had kids. Both my working mom friends, and stay at home mom friends, seem to have it all together. They enjoy their kids (not that I don't enjoy mine, I just think they don't enjoy stressed out mom right now). I know I don't see into their homes at the crazy moments,  I know they are not perfect, but they seem more calm about it all.  Do they dread the production it takes just to get everyone into the car to go out? For me that's a food allergy related anxiety. Do I have enough food, will he get upset this time? We all talk about how hard it is, to be a parent and find balance as an individual, a wife and friend.

Last night as I was working on some of the details for the baby's 1st birthday party (can you believe he's going to be one next month), I was thinking, that this last year has been crazy! My hubby got promoted, two weeks later I had a second child, one week later a hurricane hit and his paternity leave got screwed up. Then my oldest who has the peanut & tree nut allergy, started his first year of preschool (where we have to volunteer). I went back to work part time, started a portrait photography business, and recently signed an agreement to do some stock photography. Let us not forget, this blog and another blog for a local support group I co-founded.

So that's one husband, 2 kids, 3 blogs, 1 website, a part time job, a new business and a support group. Oh and hubby's schedule is so erratic! We honestly can't plan anything, baby sitters or weekend trips till 2 days before the week starts! It's driving our friends and family crazy along with me. I hate saying, "I won't know till.." every time we are asked to do something.  I honestly think, people think we don't want to see them. It's the total opposite! I miss everyone terribly.

I think I had posted on Facebook, that I sent my oldest to a play date with a snack that wasn't 100% safe! Thank goodness for a great friend and mom,  who checked my snack anyway.  Where is my head that I can do something like that? How do I get organized with all this? What kind of balance can I achieve to be happy? Is it time to give something up? Do I give this up?

I think we can all agree I'm not the best blogger on the block. In fact, I suck at staying current and relevant. I don't post as often as I would like. BUT I really don't want to give this up. I love interacting with the FA community. Making someone feel that they are not alone, and that there is someone who understands. You all have helped me so may times I can't count. When I feel like others are looking at me like I'm nuts, I can come here or on my Facebook page and know you don't think I am!

I think this is all coming out as a result of two in a half weeks of nothing but bad. Between hubby's job, and the kids getting coxsakie/hand foot and mouth, it's all come to a head. I'm an anxious person to begin with, but my levels are pretty high right now.  I don't want to give up any of it. I finally found my way back to photography (heck it's what I have my masters in), and it has been my main focus, but so many other things are suffering because of it. Even though I'm focused on it, I need to dedicate more time to it.  But where's the time?

I guess it's time to take a serious look at all, that is my life. I don't want to be a quitter, I want to do it all! You know super mom who just isn't a mom lol. I know my hubby is worried about me, and that we "need to talk". Don't you hate that phrase? I probably will never figure it out, but I'm going to try. Any advise or ideas how to get it together are welcome!

Thanks for once again listening to me ramble!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Thank You Cake Break!

We've been back a week now from our wonderful family vacation in Lewes, DE. It was such an amazing experience going away as a family of 4 for the first time. We decided a while ago that in order for us to go away we need to rent a space that had a kitchen. Not just to save money, but to save our sanity and keep stress at a minimum. Feeding your food allergic child while on vacation is a challenge, especially if you eat out for every meal. I would be exhausted by day 2, and DONE by day 3. The stress would ruin it.

With that said, we rented a house on the beach, and only ate out twice. If you find yourself in Lewse DE, these 2 establishments: Mr. P's and Jerry's Seafood, were so nice and accommodating, plus the food was great.  However the day we went into Rehoboth we faced our big first food challenge while on vacation.

 ©Diane French Photography                    

We had planed to spend the afternoon at the boardwalk and eat there. The first thing we noticed was that many of the concessions and restaurants cook their food with peanut oil. It was clearly stated on their signs as an advertisement. For us it was a waring and blessing. Even the one pizza place we went into used peanut oil. Now I'm sure there are many safe place to eat in Rehoboth that don't use peanut oil, as we didn't go into every establishment (there are a ton of places to eat there).  By the 4th or 5th one we tried without success, we were done.

Disappointed, we headed back to Lewes to eat as my son was starving. We found Mr. P's and all was good again. But it got me thinking, what if we had only rented a hotel room in Rehoboth like most families do? We would of been so stressed.

We got back to the house, and I posted on facebook about how bummed I was for my little man. Then, just like that, one you you replied (I won't post your name in case you don't want it here), to my post that there was a nut free bakery in Rehoboth! I looked them up and called the next morning. It was true, Cake Break in Rehoboth was peanut and tree nut free. They also had gluten free items as well.

It sounds crazy but I got a little emotional at the news. See we had already told our son we couldn't go to the ice cream place, that he couldn't eat the pop corn, or the fudge he saw others eating on the boardwalk. Pretty heart breaking for us. But as usual he was OK and would say, "I'll have some back at our beach house mommy".

Two day's later it was my husbands birthday. I had planned on baking cupcakes at the house, but now I didn't have to! We told our son about the bakery, and he was super excited to pick out a special birthday cupcake for his dad. So instead of lunch that day, we had cupcakes, sticky buns and cinnamon rolls. Delicious doesn't even begin to describe it. Needless to say he was a happy boy.

All photographs ©Diane French Photography

This pace was awesome. They even had a cupcake decorating area for the kids, some stools and chairs inside as well as out. When I asked the owner why a nut free bakery he had the best answer. He told me the day they opened there was  little boy screaming and crying because he couldn't go in and have a cupcake. That's all it took. Amazing right?

All photographs ©Diane French Photography 

So if you find yourself in the Rehoboth, DE area with a nut, peanut, or gluten, allergy, eat vegan, or just like sweets. Check out Cake Break! You won't be disappointed and you will be giving your business to people who care. They made our vacation that much better! And for a mom with a child with a life threatening food allergy that is a big deal.

Like the photos you see? Check out my photo blog and website at


Friday, June 15, 2012


For the Second Time, Reserved Seating Area Will Provide Haven for Fans Who Suffer Severe Peanut Allergies

CHICAGO – The Chicago White Sox will host a second “Peanut-Controlled Zone” on Friday, July 6, 2012 at 7:10 p.m. against the Toronto Blue Jays.

To provide fans who suffer from severe peanut allergies with the safest environment possible, no peanuts, nor anything containing peanuts, will be allowed or sold in three reserved sections of the Club Level at U.S. Cellular Field.   The concession stands closest to those special sections will not sell peanuts and the area will be meticulously cleaned and inspected prior to the game.

“Every individual fan experience is important to our organization,” said Brooks Boyer, White Sox senior vice president of sales and marketing.  “We are very pleased with the turnout and fan feedback from the game in April and want to give these fans another opportunity to enjoy White Sox baseball in a peanut-controlled area at U.S. Cellular Field.”

Along with tickets specially priced at $47, fans have the option to add $10 in “Bonus Bux” that can be used to buy food and beverage at any permanent club level concession stand and a $25 parking pass to their orders. Additionally, fans will enjoy a spectacular fireworks show after the game.  There are approximately 200 seats available, so fans are encouraged to order tickets early.

For the least peanut-exposed path to the game, the club suggests entering through the Chicago Sports Depot near Gate 5 on the north side of 35th Street. From the second level exit of the store, escalators lead up to a bridge over the street which ends at the Club Level concourse.

Fans interested in purchasing tickets and seating in the peanut-free section should email or call Dustin Milliken at or (312) 674-5186.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Year Two of Living with Food Allergies.

I'm reflecting on another year gone by living with food allergies. On April 22 it will be 2 years of anxiety, fears and firsts. We learned a lot this last year. We have amazing family, friends and teachers who really look out for our little man. Even some of the parents at his school go out of their way to include him. For most, his allergy has become 2nd nature to them. We have had no new incidents involving his allergies, and he has outgrown most of his nut allergies. I believe we will be doing a food challenge with cashews this year. Lucky doesn't even describe how I feel. To read our story how we found out about our son's peanut allergy check out this post from last year.

As he is now 3, he is starting to understand more. He reminds us when dropping him at school that we need to check the snack. He asks if he can have whatever it is. When we tell him no, it's never been a problem. Even when it's cupcakes that the teacher didn't know were coming to class. I'm so proud of him. He never complains about being left out, or eating something different. Sometimes he even asks us if we have his epi pen when leaving the house.

It's hard to tell a 3 year old about the severity of his peanut allergy without terrifying him. I want him to have a healthy fear, but not traumatize him. So far so good. I think we are on the right track. Here are some of the things we do to remind and teach him.

1. When we go to a party or play date, we talk about it in the car. I ask him questions like what if your friend wants to share his or her food? The answer, "say no thanks", and "ask mom or dad". We remind him don't take food from anyone but (we name the people who can give him food).

2. He doesn't were his medic alert bracelet all the time because it bothers him (it scratches him pretty badly no matter what I do to it). However he will wear it when we go to public evens and places, to a new play date or when their is a sub at school. As he gets older he will wear it more since we won't be with him as much. He knows it tells others about his allergies.

3. We have been teaching him what say say if he gets lost. He knows his full name, allergies, phone number, name of the town we live in, mom and dad's full names, our jobs and his grandparents name. If you ask him his name, he tells you than says, "I'm allergic to peanuts and nuts"! Pretty good for a 3 year old! It's my new parlor trick to show people:)

4. When we are shopping we make a effort to point out peanuts and tree nuts, the different products (especially candy), that they are in, and how they look different.

All this seems to be paying off and getting through to him and some of his little friends. Again, I am reminded that even thought the fear and anxiety we have has parents is stressful and exhausting, we are lucky that's it's not something worse. He is a happy, healthy, funny, smart, adorable little boy, who brings us so much joy. He may drive me crazy on a daily basis, but he also amazes me daily with his ability to learn and accept his small burden at such a young age.

We are two years into this, and it does get easier. Remember to be open minded when others are not, educated others but not preach, work with schools, parents and organizations to help advocate for your child as well as others. You will be surprised how many doors open, and events pop up just because you talked about it in a positive way.

FYI the NY Mets contacted me again about a peanut free suite for a weekend game in May. I'll get the info to you this week! It all started with a simple email! You can make a difference!