This is the third (and final) in a series of three posts on food allergies. You may wish to start at the beginning by reading All about food allergies, part one. Today’s post highlights many of the changes we made to our household and daily practices to keep Avery safe from food allergies to milk, eggs, peanuts and soy.

In All about food allergies, part two I talked about finding a board-certified allergist and why that is important for managing food allergies. During the initial meeting with our allergist, he walked us through a number of steps for keeping Avery safe and recommended a number of products. I’ll share much of that with you here.
Preparing for a reaction
One of his first recommendations was to have an EpiPen Jr. for Avery at all times, and to make sure we knew how to use it and when to use it. He also counseled us on storing it safely, as he knew of a couple of three year olds who accidentally injected themselves. So I created a Food Allergy Emergency Kit for Avery that holds everything we need in a childproof bag to keep little ones out. You can read my previous post that lists the contents of the Emergency Kit .
emergency kit
I keep one of our kits with us at all times, and one with our daycare provider.
medic alert braceletMy heart stopped a little when he showed me the pamphlet for a Medic Alert bracelet. I didn’t think it was necessary. He’s so little, he’ll always be with someone who knows his condition and how to treat it. Besides, I didn’t want to give him a little scarlet letter, so to speak, before he was big enough to walk.
I thought about it for a couple of weeks and talked to another food allergy parent and she shared with me that her son wears one and why. She gave me good reasons to pause. What if you were in a car accident and unable to speak for your child? What if there was a natural disaster and you were separated from them? What if you are at the mall and your kid gets lost and a security guard tries to give them a cookie to help her feel better? She assured me that her son wears his all the time and is so used to it that they barely notice it.

medic alert bracelet

Other precautions to consider
hivesBecause Avery has so many different allergies, it would be impossible for our entire family to adapt to the diet. Or daycare. Take milk, for example. We can’t cut milk out of everyone’s diet, even though it’s unsafe for Avery. We did, however, remove egg and peanuts from the home. We don’t bring raw eggs into the house anymore, and there’s no peanuts or peanut butter, either. And daycare won’t serve eggs or peanut butter when Avery is there either, a decision we came to together after lots of discussions on what is the right thing to do. But they do still serve foods that have egg in them to other children – for example, Eggo frozen waffles have egg.
But even though peanuts and eggs are mostly removed from the environment, milk and soy (and other foods he’s avoiding like fish) are still being served and there is the potential of Avery picking up a crumb or grabbing food off of someone’s plate. This is scary to all of us, so 99.99% of the time, everyone has to eat at the table, with Avery buckled into a high chair.
After meals, everyone needs to wash hands and faces – even the adults. At daycare, the children use diaper wipes to wipe down their hands and faces, and then walk to the bathroom to wash with soap and water. This is true for snack time as well. One time we forgot to wash Alex’s mouth after he ate breakfast. A little later he kissed Avery on the cheek and he had a scary contact reaction. You can read more about the contact reaction incident here.
So, um, what can he eat?
When we first learned of Avery’s food allergy diagnosis, I didn’t know what to do. I know that sounds silly — give him everything but the foods he is allergic to, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. I had to learn about how to properly read food labels and determine what ingredients were okay or not okay. Food manufacturers in the United States are legally required to use plain language, i.e, milk and/or egg on food labels to help alert people. This helps a lot. They are not, however, required to list potentials for cross-contamination.We took stock of all our current foods and tried to determine which ones were safe for Avery. We knew we were safe giving fruits, vegetables and meat. We quickly learned that most processed foods were not safe – like bread, crackers, cereals, pasta, the list went on and on. It took a few days for us to find substitutes for some of those things, but eventually we did. For example Back to Nature Foods makes a lot of crackers that are safe for Avery and really tasty. And Enjoy Life Foods makes the most delicious candy bars ever, and they contain none of the 8 top allergens. I list more of these foods later in this post.
Instead of cows milk, we use rice milk. Yes, rice milk. We buy the enriched kind, so it’s more than just ground up rice powder and water, it also has a lot of vitamins and calcium Avery needs. Most people assume we give soy milk as it’s the most common substitute for diary. However, Avery is allergic to soy, so that means that all of the wonderful soy products like soy milk, margarine spreads, soy yogurt, soy “cheese”, tofu, and almost everything that contains or is cooked in “vegetable oil.” I never realized that vegetable oil = soybean oil until we discovered Avery’s soy allergy.
What we couldn’t find a good substitute for was bread. Well, there was some bread at the natural food store made entirely of rice flour, but it wasn’t very good. So pulled our breadmaker out of storage (you know, the one we received as a wedding present 7 years ago but haven’t used for 6 years?). We went through the breadmaker recipes and found two or three that are safe for Avery. Every weekend I throw in all the ingredients, which takes about 10 minutes, and set the machine. That one loaf gives us bread for a week – sometimes I make two loaves and bring one to daycare.
It’s also important to note that many body and hair products contain food additives – I was surprised to find we could no longer use our regular lotion because of nut oils and there was soy in my body wash. The more natural the product, the more likely it contains food products. I’ve even found milk in hand soap (I’m not kidding!). We now use Vanicream for Avery, at the allergists recommendation and it’s working great with sensitive skin and eczema.

Shopping for groceries is a lot more expensive these days, as you can imagine. The specialty foods, like rice milk, crackers and special meat we know is safe all add up to a lot more money than we used to spend on groceries. However, we don’t feel comfortable eating out with Avery so it almost washes out. Almost.

pantryWe also have to spend a lot more time reading food labels in the store, and then again when we get home. One system that has worked well for us is to use colored labels marked “safe” on all the food that we’ve checked and double-checked are safe for Avery. That way we don’t have to read the ingredient list every time we go to pull something out of the cupboard.

One of my biggest tips for preparing food for Avery is to always have some food cooked and cut and ready to go. I try to cook chicken breasts (or other meat), bake bread and steam vegetables on the weekends for the week ahead. I always make double portions of safe meals and freeze or refrigerate the extras for more meals. Also, we don’t have the luxury of grabbing food for Avery from a restaurant when we are out and about. It sure makes life easier to already have food ready in the refrigerator that I can just throw together for an outing.

Preventing cross-contamination

Cross-contamination occurs when food proteins transfer from one food to another, this can happen from foods touching each other, machines, or people. We needed to learn about how to prepare food safely in our own home, but also how food is manufactured. For example, I learned that the deli meat we were feeding Avery before the food allergy diagnosis was likely contaminated with milk because the deli staff slice cheese and meats on the same machine. Also, many meats are infused with flavorings (which may include milk) and casein (a milk derivitive).

In our kitchen, we typically use paper plates to prepare Avery’s food. We wash hands before we touch any of his food or cups, and then wash hands again anytime we need to stop to cook food for Alex, or pour him a glass of regular milk, etc. I usually try to have all of Avery’s food prepped and ready to go before I even start on Alex’s food – that way I don’t risk cross-contaminating his food and I don’t have to wash my hands every few minutes.

Avery has his own set up sippy cups that are never to be used for cows milk, so that helps ensure the cups are safe. And our refrigerator is pretty much split down the middle – the right side is for food and drinks that are safe for Avery. The left side is for unsafe foods.

Soap and hot water is all that’s needed to clean up food protein that might remain on a surface. We are careful to wipe up our counters and sometimes use the Clorox cleaning wipes to make sure it’s really clean if we are worried.

The foods we really like

There are a number of packaged foods we’ve found enjoyable that are safe for Avery. We buy these foods from Whole Foods and sometimes Hy-Vee, Cub or Super Target. If you have a natural/organic food store near you, chances are pretty high they carry many of these brands.

Cherrybrook Kitchens – peanut/nut/dairy/egg-free dry cake mix for cakes and cupcakes, sugar cookie mix, chocolate chip mix, even a pancake mix. My kiddos and husband gobble these up. They also have a gluten-free line. Hooray for this brand for saving my butt when it comes to birthday treats. Seriously, I used to pick up birthday cakes from a bakery, not bake them myself. Baking from a box is at least easier than from scratch. And they are very yummy! The pancakes are awesome and I always get compliments whenever I make the cupcakes or cake!

Dreamfields Pasta – If you don’t have wheat allergies, chances are this pasta is safe for you! They use no egg and no milk, even in the lasagna noodles! We have been eating this pasta for years, so we were really happy to see that it’s safe for Avery. It tastes just like regular pasta and is healthy, too. Most pasta companies make some of their varieties with egg in them (like lasagna noodles) and that means there’s a chance that the other non-egg noodles have been cross-contaminated. That’s a risk we can’t take. Dreamfields doesn’t use egg in any of their pastas. You can also find them on Facebook.

Applegate Farms – This meat company keeps few ingredients in their meats and has really good cleaning practices to ensure all the meat is safe, is cut on allergy-free equipment. I’ve actually called and spoken to reps at this company, in addition to scouring their web site, and I’ve been very impressed. We love the deli meat, cold cuts, chicken and apple Sunday sausage, and the meat/turkey/beef hot dogs.

rice chocolate barEnjoy Life Foods – Every item this company produces is free of the top 8 food allergens, and is made on dedicated safe-equipment. If I see the Enjoy Life logo, I can breathe easily. This company makes a lot of different items, but our favorites are the chocolate chips and the chocolate candy bars. YUM.

Back to Nature crackers – The crackers from this company are relatively pure – not a lot of preservatives, and many have no milk or eggs, which is great for us. There are a number of crackers that Avery can eat, and they are delicious, too! Please note, this brand specializes in “natural” foods, not allergy-free foods, so please use caution and read the labels very carefully.

Earth Balance SOY FREE margarine – This is the only soy and dairy-free spread on the market, and it’s delicious! Whole Foods carries it nationwide. The other stores near me don’t carry it yet, but I hope they will soon. It’s delicious and I’m so thrilled! This has made a big difference in our live, particularly with baking. Instead of using oils as a substitute for butter, I can use this spread. It is also yummy on toast, vegetables, and popcorn! We stopped buying “regular” spread, and our entire family uses this.

Sunbutter – In place of peanut butter, we use this at our house for the occasional sandwich for anyone other than Avery. Although Avery can tolerate all of the ingredients in Sunbutter, the label states that it is produced on equipment shared with soybeans.

Other adjustments

I was still breastfeeding Avery when we learned about the food allergies and needed to immediately change my diet. This was a really big shift, as you can imagine. I consider it a great learning experience as I’ve been able to learn first hand what it’s like to strictly remove all of those foods from my diet.

Avery’s older brother Alex needed to be involved in the food allergy discussions, too. From the beginning, we told him that Avery had food allergies and that some food wasn’t safe. We have tried to continue to treat them equally as much as possible and not dote on Avery more because of this special need. We also recognize that Alex can play an important role in helping to keep his sibling safe. For example, he needs to wash his hands and mouth after each meal, keep food in the kitchen, and immediately bring dishes to the sink. He enjoys reading children’s books about food allergies and asks me often if certain foods are safe for Avery.

In closing

I hope you found this series on food allergy awareness interesting and educational.  Thank you for reading these posts and for your support of all individuals with food allergies.

You can find more of my food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert and encourage you to consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.f

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8 Responses to “All about food allergies, part three”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for these posts! They were very informative. I would be curious to hear more about what, if anything, your research has led you to conclude causes or contributes to food allergies. Also, you mentioned that you would have eaten differently during pregnancy and breastfeeding if you had known what you know now. Why? And how so?

  2. kristine says:

    Wow, you know, I don’t need this information but I have saved it anyways. There’s no saying any future kids that we might have won’t have food allergies – or even someone we know.

    You really had to turn the way you do things around. I’m not going to say I feel sorry for you because I know you don’t want to hear it. I just know that must have been (and still is) a really ahrd adjustment to make.

    Thanks for providing all of this information Missy.

  3. Mama Nomad says:

    this three part post was a really good idea!

    my oldest daughter has non-life threatening allergies to multiple foods (gluten, dairy, eggs, nightshades) and i have a soy allergy (again, not life threatening but extremely uncomfortable), but I have always done everything i can do to make her foods safe for her, so much of your experience i relate to–like reading labels, bringing prepared foods everywhere, depending on safe brands (life Enjoy Life!), and not being able the really just “grab something” to eat out-and-about….BUT having to worry about those foods stopping my child from breathing is almost too much to think about! i know its manageable but, wow, that must be an amazing challenge. good for you not only rising to it, but helping others as well.

    i have always said 2 things about food allergies: (1)focus on what you CAN eat (like you said fruit, veggies, meat, rice….) and (2) the biggest blessing about an allergy is that you can’t eat crappy food, and it really makes for a very healthy body and immune system. natures way of warning us against processed foods…

  4. Mama Kat says:

    Wow! You are doing such an amazing job!! Great posts.

  5. Amy says:

    holy cow. I can’t imagine how much work this must be. You are a great mother for taking such good care of little Avery. Very very informative and insightful.

  6. Not Milk!! says:

    I read your 3 part blog about your daughter's food allergies and thought, I was reading my own story with bit of small differences. My daughter is allergic to milk, eggs and wheat. We knew about her milk allergy quite early on(projectile vomitting and blood in stools after breast feeding), so I cut milk from my diet while I was breastfeeding her. But there were still times when she would refuse to drink milk and only later we found she was allergic to the other food. I wish we knew earlier. She too refuses to eat food even if hungry if it has something that does not agree with her. We respect her refusal even if we think that she is being a picky eater to be on safe side.
    My daughter is now 2 1/2, its much easier to manage her allergies, she understands that she can not eat everything others do and is mindful of that. But she still gets very sad and hurt when she sees others eat interesting looking food. Whole foods (variety) and amazon (basics in bulk on auto ship = great prices) is our best place to shop for all the allergy free foods.
    You are doing a great job!! good luck!

  7. Nathan says:

    I was searching the web for information on MedicAlert bracelets and alternate ways of doing a medic alert when I stumbled upon your webpage and this article. I thought you might be interested in my story.

    When I was about the same age as your Avery, my parents found out that I had food allergies. My mom couldn't eliminate everything I reacted to from her diet so I wasn't breast fed. Not all of my allergies were found (I still think some are missing from my list). When I was an infant my parents were told to eliminate eggs, milk, wheat, and corn from my diet. My sister often said she didn't know how I survived, but I did. By the time I was 8 I no longer reacted to products containing any of my allergens, but I still reacted to eggs and milk when I had them on their own (milk on cereal or in a cup, scrambled eggs, etc). But I did react to other things.

    It took several years after that for my parents to take me to another allergist. I was tested again and tested positive to tree nuts and citric acid, nothing life threatening. My main reaction, which is appearantly not very common, was mapping on my tongue. Mapping can occur anywhere from the lips to the other end of the digestive system. It's a rash which is more an annoyance than anything. I said I didn't like foods because they made my tongue itchy and my parents didn't know what I meant.

    Most recently, I needed to get my allergies tested again for a program I was involved in and tested positive to the same allergens with one change. The size of the reaction in the test to Brazil Nuts was so severe I was advised to get an epi pen, but didn't (I regret that now and am going to try to change that). It's amazing the number of fruits and berries that have a high level of citric acid in them.

    I am now 19 years old and almost 100% healthy. Since I've had allergies from infancy, I was so used to having them that I rarely noticed I was missing anything when I was growing up (even when I brought rice to a friend's house so I'd have something to eat at the sleepover). I wish you luck and I hope finding the right foods for Avery will be easier for you than it was for my parents with the allergy awareness in today's society. *hug*

  8. Anonymous says:

    Cambrooke Foods is an on-line option for families with PKU but has an amazing range of protein free food



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