Saturday, May 31, 2014

Products We Love - Food Allergy Edition!

One of my BFF's from college emailed me recently asking if I had an official list of products our family recommends for food allergy kiddos (specifically egg, dairy, peanut).  I realized that although I write a lot about different products we use, I don't have a list where I keep all that information.  So, I decided to try and compile a list that people might find helpful if their children or themselves, for that matter, are diagnosed with food allergies.  So here's my best attempt.  

People ask me all the time HOW I find safe products all the time.  For the most part, I am a dedicated label reader.  Even after I buy a product once, I still check it every time I buy it!  Ingredients change, manufacturing lines change, companies change, etc.  Be aware and don't assume something is safe even if you've had it before!  

Other tips:
* Join Tasterie - it's a monthly shipment of allergen free products for you to try.  We were introduced to a bunch of new products when we joined this program for a year.
* Read food blogs, especially those written by parents of kids with multiple allergies - see what products they are using, what companies they support, etc.
* Research - find out which companies are geared towards providing foods free from top allergens (ex. Enjoy Life).  It's amazing how many are out there.
* Send out an SOS to your family and friends in various parts of the country.  My mom has been able to find products in her local grocery stores that we don't have in MD.  It exposes you to new companies and new products that you would have never known about, but can easily order these days through Amazon!  
* Reach out to companies - don't be afraid to call and email them with questions.  Ask for free samples.  I've been amazed how many times a company is willing to send me a product to try just because I asked politely and offered to write up a post if we liked the product(s).
* "Friend" different companies and food bloggers on Facebook, include "Multiple Food Allergy Help"

In terms of cooking/baking, I haven't found that Georgia's allergies impact us too much at home.  Yes, we have to swap out some products in recipes and we have to be dedicated label readers, but she still gets to eat a lot of "kid" food.  One of my favorite allergy bloggers has a great summary of those substitutions that we commonly use in the kitchen.  My biggest worry always comes with eating out at restaurants.  As another food blogger wrote recently - you are putting your child's life into a stranger's hands.  And that stranger is probably a minimum wage worker or a teenager.  Yup, never fails to scare me!  We ask lots of questions at restaurants, do our research online ahead of time (if possible), and re-visit places where we've had successes.  I am not afraid to be assertive with waiters and waitresses.  It's my child's life at stake.  

Only recently we've begun to experience what I call the "birthday party conundrum."  We're invited to peoples' houses and party centers for celebrations, but Georgia often can't eat the food provided or the cake/ice cream.  We have been so, so, so lucky to be surrounded by people who go out of their way to cater to her/us.  We don't expect it and we certainly never ask for that.  I always bring our own snacks and I'm more than happy to bring extra to share with everyone.  I've been brought to tears more times than not by the kindness of these people who take the time to text, call, or email me to ask if there is anything they can get for Georgia.  Things like our neighbors buying a special candy for her knowing that she is going to come to their door for Halloween or our daycare provider keeping a stash of Starbursts for Georgia in her desk are some of the kindest gestures you can make to a food allergy Momma. 

So here we go.  This is not a complete list, but it's products that are staples in our home and are currently in our pantry, fridge or freezer.

**Please keep in mind that I am not a nutritionist and although I care about sugar and artificial colors and all that GMO non-sense, more than anything I just want to feed my kid and make sure she doesn't need an epi-pen afterwards!  I am also not an allergist - these just happen to be products that our family has found "safe" for our daughter.  They are things that she likes and anyone with a picky toddler understands that sometimes the battle over healthy is just not worth your sanity for the day!! **
So, no judgment (or lawsuits) please - this is what has worked for our child!

* Cherrybrook Kitchen products - Pancake mix, muffin mix (I find these at Target)
* Van's blueberry waffles
* Van's cinnamon french toast sticks
* Multigrain Cheerios
* Rice Chex
* Froot Loops
* Cherry Pop-Tarts
* Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tarts
* Applegate Naturals Chicken & Maple Breakfast Sausage
* Jimmy Dean Turkey Sausage Links
* Banquet Brown & Serve Sausage Links
* Bisquick - We make our own pancakes
* Smucker's Jams
* Quaker Instant Oatmeal - Apples & Cinnamon
* Homemade doughtnuts using store brand biscuits (we've found that the Pillsbury biscuits contain dairy, but many store brands, like Harris Teeter and Wegman's are safe and dairy-free)
* Bouchard Family Farms Ployes (makes a crepe like pancake)
* 1-2-3 Gluten Free Muffin mix
* Fruit - Bananas, Watermelon, Pineapple, Strawberries, Mangos, etc.
* Bacon
* Thomas' Mini Bagels - Blueberry Flavor
* Arnold Sandwich Thins
* Pepperidge Farm Bagels - Cinnamon Raisin Flavor

I also have adapted lots of online recipes for blueberry pancakes, pumpkin muffins, doughnuts (this is my favorite recipe that I've adapted with just a few minor changes), etc.  I've found that breakfast is probably our easiest meal of the day since there is a lot of different options and a lot of things can be made in bulk ahead of time and frozen.  Most of the time, we have homemade muffins, pancakes and doughnuts in the freezer ready to pop into the microwave for a quick and safe breakfast in the morning!  If not, cereal or fruit is always a quick option.  I'll touch more on breakfast bars in the snacks section since we seem to eat those 24 hours a day around our house.

Check out your health food aisle in the grocery store and in the freezer section - you'll be amazed at how many options there are for breakfast!

Arnold's Sandwich Thins - I use these to make sandwiches, eat plain, toast, and make pizzas!
* Black Beans
* Corn on the cob
Bubba Burgers - Most other boxed hamburger patties are also safe
Applegate Natural Uncured Beef Hot Dog - Most other packaged hot dogs are also safe
* Sausages - we eat a variety of sausages - pork, chicken, etc. from our meat counter
* Pasta/noodles/Spaghetti - Most brands are safe; I usually buy the store brand
Classico Spicy Red Pepper Pasta sauce - A lot of other brands are safe too, but watch out for hidden cheese ingredients
* Chicken Breast
* Steak
* Fish
* Frozen Vegetables - Peas, Carrots, Green Beans, etc.
* Hebrew National Beef Franks in a  Blanket
* Tyson Fun Nuggets
* Ian's Products - they make a pizza, nuggets, mac-n-cheese, etc.
* Amy's Rice Macaroni
* Road's End Organics Mac & Chreese
* Alpha Buddies Chicken Breast Nuggets
* Boca Spicy Chik'n Veggie Patties
* Alexis Sweet Potato Fries
* Ancient Harvest Quinoa
* Al Fresco Chicken Sausage - variety of flavors
* Rotisserie Chicken

Snacks/Desserts (Again - let me stress, this is not a "healthy" list per say, but it keeps my kid happy!!)
* Keebler Club Crackers - Original
* Ritz Crackers - Original
* Glutino Pretzels & Glutino Pretzel Sticks
* Sunbutter (an amazing replacement for peanut butter!)
* Dried fruit --- Be careful of store brands - I was amazed to discover that the Sam's Club brand is labeled for cross-contamination with peanuts!!!
* Honey Maid Graham Crackers
* Honey Maid Teddy Grahams; Chocolate Teddy Grahams (ingredients are listed for chocolate, but warning on box is only for wheat/soy allergens)
* Kraft Jet-Puffed Marshmallows
* Nabisco Lorna Doone Cookies
* Skittles
* Pez 
* Biscoff European Cookie Spread (when you need to pack a sandwich for on the go, this is my go-to!)
* Fruit - Bananas, Strawberries, Mangos, Apple slices, Watermelon, Blueberries, etc.
* Annie's Cocoa; Vanilla Bunny Cookies
* Annie's SnickerDoodle Bunny Cookies
* Annie's Fruit Snacks
* Angie's Kettle Corn
* Angie's Sea Salt Popcorn
* Yogavive Apple Chips (variety of flavors)
* Plum Organics Teensy Fruits (variety of flavors)
* Gimbal's Fine Candies - Gourmet Jelly Beans
* Del Monte Squeezeable Fruit Tubes (variety of flavors)
* Bare Fruit All-Natural Apple Chips (variety of flavors)
* Enjoy Life bars (variety of flavors) - If you've read this blog at any point, you must be aware of Georgia's absolute addiction to Cocoa Loco bars!!
* Enjoy Life cookies (variety of flavors)
* Enjoy Life Plentils (warning - I can eat an entire bag of the sea salt flavor in 5 min!)
* Florida's Natural Organic Nuggets (variety of flavors)
* Fritos Original Corn Chips
* Dr. Lucy's Cookies (variety of flavors)
* Little Duck Organics Tiny Fruits (variety of flavors)
* Nabisco Oreo Chocolate Mini Bites
* Nabisco Oreo Chocolate 
* Orgran Outback Animal Cookies (variety of flavors)
* HomeFree cookies (variety of flavors)
* Nature's Place All Natural Fruit Twists
* Wegman's Fruit Twists
* YumEarth Organics Pops & YumEarth Organics Gummy Bears
* Kellogg's Fruit Flavored Snacks (variety of flavors) - I think we own a box in every imaginable Disney movie or character!!
* Cherrybrook Kitchen cookie, brownie and cake mixes (variety of flavors)
* Harris Teeter Natural Lite Pop - microwave popcorn WITHOUT butter!!
* Pillsbury Confetti Funfetti Frostings (variety of flavors)
* Lauren's Gourmet Sugar Cookie mix
* Wholesome Chow baking mixes (variety of flavors)
* Vegetables - Broccoli, Carrots, Celery, etc.
* So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt (variety of flavors)
* So Delicious Dairy Free Desserts - Be careful, some of these products contain peanut/almonds
* Rice Dream & Soy Dream Frozen Desserts
Ah!Laska Organic Chocolate Syrup
* Popsicles
* Flavor Ice 

I am absolutely obsessed with Cybele Pascal's website - her baked good always taste amazing and I have baked a number of her desserts over the years.

* Heinz Tomato Ketchup
* French's Classic Yellow Mustard
* Kikkoman Soy Sauce
* Jack Daniel's Original No. 7 Recipe BBQ Sauce
* Salsa
* Olive Oil/Canola Oil
* Most spices/seasonings

The only condiments that we really have to look closely at are salad dressings, since many of them are dairy/egg based (if something is "creamy," be suspicious).  Some honey-mustard dressings also contain dairy. We have yet to try mayonnaise, miracle whip, etc., but hope to try those this summer as Georgia appears to be outgrowing her egg allergy.

I feel like I can just about modify any recipe out there with a few of my new favorite friends:
* Ener-G Egg Replacer
* Earth Balance Vegan Shortening 
Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks
* Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips/Morsels
* Mott's Applesauce
* Crisco Shortening
* Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin
* Hershey's Cocoa
* Daiya cheese products (yup, you can have a dairy allergy and still eat pizza!!!)

Since we have to avoid cow's milk, we were recommended to start with rice milk after Georgia transitioned off breast milk.  However, we were concerned about the lack of fat in rice milk and when her weight plateaued for awhile, we started to add coconut milk to her rice milk in a 50/50 split.  Since adding the coconut milk, her weight has continually increased.
* Rice Dream 
* So Delicious Coconut Milk
* Water 

Only recently did we even start to expose Georgia to ANYTHING else besides milk and water.  But a few of our newer favorites for on-the-go drinks include:
* Honest Kids juices
* Tropicana Orange Juice
* So Delicious Chocolate Coconut Milk

I'm sure I forgot a lot of products, but I think this is a good basic list to get anyone started.   Obviously, life with food allergies can be challenging, but I still feel like Georgia gets to eat a variety of tasty food each day.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Food Allergy Update...

I haven't written an updated food allergy post in quite awhile, so here's the latest and greatest news on that front.  But first, a little review on where we've come from:

Egg Challenge from March 2013
Allergy Update from January 2013
Almost gave her an epi-pen post from September 2012

Initial Allergy Post from from June 2012
First signs of a Food Allergy from January 2012

In January, we went back for our latest round of blood work, which also included specific nuts for the first time.  Results were:
* Pistachio - Negative 
* Pineapple - Negative
* Almond - Negative
* Egg White - 1.48 (considered a moderate reaction)
* Egg Yolk - Negative
* Hazelnut - Negative
* Milk - 9.00 (considered a high reaction)
* Peanut - 30.00 (considered a very high reaction)
* Pecan - Negative

The best news from that round of blood work was that all of her numbers went down from previous testing.

When we initially tested milk/dairy back in June of 2012, Georgia was at a level 16.  Six months later in January of 2013, she was a 14.4.  Now, a year later, she's at a level 9.

When we initially tested egg back in June of 2012, Georgia was at a level 16.7.  Six months later in January of 2013, she was a 5.3.  Now, a year later, she's at a level 1.48.  

When we initially tested peanuts back in June of 2012, Georgia was a level 12.6.  Six months later in January of 2013, it skyrocketed to 38.4.  Now, a year later, she's at a level 30.00. 

Since all of her levels went down, the office decided to do a scratch test on her skin for the first time ever.  Here's where things get REALLY confusing because her skin showed reactions to egg, milk, walnut, and pistachio.  It showed negative to pineapple, almond, cashew and pecan.   BUT... her neutral was also positive!!!  So, that scratch test had to basically be thrown out because her neutral also showed a reaction.  She has crazy sensitive skin, so they think that also played a role.  The only clarity we got from the combination of blood/skin testing is that she is most likely not allergic to pineapple (which was only mild anyway).  We weren't surprised by the milk and egg skin reactions.  The most confusing was that pistachio came up negative on blood work, but positive on her skin?!?

When I chatted with her allergist (who I ADORE), her summary was that she thinks that Georgia is slowly outgrowing her egg and milk allergies and most likely will grow out of them at some point down the line.  Her recommendation is that we continue to give her baked eggs in products, which has been successful for the past year or so.  The recommendation that most surprised me was that she wanted us to do a baked milk challenge in her office.  We weren't able to schedule an appointment for that until after our Disney trip.

Fast-forward several months and Georgia and I went in for her baked milk challenge, which included feeding Georgia pieces of home-made brownie and goldfish over the course of several hours.  Georgia was in absolute heaven!  She did amazing.  The office staff kept complimenting her on how well-behaved she was and what a great job she was doing (thank you, iPad!).  She ate an entire brownie, as well as a handful of goldfish.  

She officially passed her baked milk challenge!!!  

No hives, no reaction, nothing.  We left the office with a recommendation to start giving Georgia small pieces of baked dairy here and there and monitor her progress for the next few months.  It was so odd purposefully buying products with milk in them while grocery shopping.  It went against everything I've done for the past few years.

Since then, Georgia has been having baked milk in products and NO REACTIONS!  She's had brownies, goldfish, Cheeze-it, chips, Eggo waffles for breakfast, etc.  Everything has gone amazingly well.  Next step, baked cheese challenge in the allergist's office in July.  Yup, she will get to eat a slice of real pizza for the first time ever.  As always, baby steps.  

My goal has and always will be - get her to kindergarten with no allergies except to peanuts.  Two years to go...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Blog, Blogger, Blogging???

As most people have realized by now, I sort of became an accidental "blogger."  It all started back in October of 2010 as we started construction on our new house and wanted to share that process with our family.  Things really heated up in April of 2011 as I found myself on hospital bed rest awaiting the birth of Miss Georgia and I used the blog to communicate our daily drama with family, friends, and co-workers.  These days... well... these days the blog seems to be about our daily lives - travel, school, allergies, family/friends, holidays, vacations, life with a toddler, our house projects, visitors, etc.  

I've debated closing down the blog lots of times and for various reasons over the years.  The usual suspects come to mind - privacy issues, time (case in point, I've been planning to write a post about blogging for months now!), etc.  But just when I think about closing down shop, I'm reminded of WHY I started blogging in the first place - to share our life with "family" both near and far.  

Just this week, I was slammed with lots of stuff to do as the school year wraps up and Nick was away on a business trip.  I didn't quite find the time to post anything.  Yet, during that same down time, I heard from three people who all get "something" out of the blog.  One, a close friend, text me to tell me she was currently reading the blog and all the old food allergy posts as she wonders about her youngest son having some of the same allergies that Georgia experiences.  Another, a co-worker I hadn't seen in years, mentioned to me that she checks the blog all the time and loves reading about all our adventures.  And yet another was a "stranger" who emailed me to thank me for documenting our NICU experience with duodenal atresia as her young daughter had just experienced the same diagnosis.  She commented on the general lack of information on duodenal atresia available on the web.  Like me, she was terrified by the diagnosis and just wanted reassurance that her baby girl was going to be okay after a long and scary NICU stay.  I've always promised to keep this blog open for that last reason.  When we received Georgia's duodenal atresia diagnosis, I searched the web for days upon days and came across very few references to the condition, even though we were told it was a "fairly common birth defect."

All three of these people reminded me that this blog does serve a purpose - whether it be entertainment for our friends/family who don't get to see us on a daily basis or information for families experiencing food allergies, life in the NICU or a premature birth.  The blog has grown with us as our family experiences all the ups and downs that life has to offer.  We are your neighbors.  We are your typical American family - two working parents and a child in daycare.  We are home owners.  We have the same worries, wants, and dreams as everyone else.  We commute.  We strive to make our home nice.  We want our child to be healthy and happy.  We try to spend time with each other and the people we love.  We enjoy life.  We love a lazy day on the couch as much as a long and exhausting day walking around Disney.  We try our best - some days are easy and some days are hard.  I think anyone with a child/children can concur with that statement!  Some days we are filled with energy and vigor and other days we are exhausted by this crazy life we lead.  I try to document all of this on the blog - the ups, downs and all arounds of life with our family.

As I don't consider myself a true "blogger" (aka - I don't make profit from this and I have about 10 other "jobs" that come before blogging, including my full-time job as a school based speech language pathologist), I don't check the blog stats all that often.  But, as I was preparing this post, I decided to log in and check out the stats page.  I WAS BLOWN AWAY!!!  A little recap from my research:

**The blog has been visited more than 103,000 times over the years.  Thanks, Mom - I'm sure you are responsible for at least half of those hits.
**The blog averages about 2,000 views per month.
**The blog averages about 70-100 different visitors per day.

**The most viewed post was one I linked to Pinterest about Georgia's 2nd birthday party (who knew Bubble Guppies were that popular?!?!) - it's been viewed close to 2,000 times over the year.
**The second most viewed post was about our kitchen selection choices during the construction process.
**The third most viewed post was several days after Georgia's birth after she had her surgery.
**Interestingly, some other very random posts rank up there in the top ten too, such as Mimi's visit with us last summer after I had surgery, last summer's video heavy post about our nightly dinner conversations with a toddler, our surprise trip to New Orleans to celebrate Nick's 35th birthday last spring, and last June's post about water table fun in the driveway during a heat wave.

Since you can search for the blog through Google, I always find some of the search keywords used to find the blog interesting.  Here are the top search terms used:
**Thomanhouse (well, that's a no brainer!)
**Bubble Guppies party food (people sure do love those cute little mermaids!)
**Disney extra magic hours
**Updating a deck (have we ever updated a deck?!?!)
**Nick and I's full names

Most of our visitors are reading the blog from the United States, but we apparently have fans in other parts of the world too, including:
**Cayman Islands (memo to self - we need to get back here to dive again ASAP!)
**Russia (Is Putin a secret fan?!?!?)
**Latvia (Planning a Disney getaway???)
**France (Those Kardashians are probably googling from Kimye's wedding)

A question I ask myself all the time is... where is this blog going?  I don't think I have a clear answer at this point in time.  So for now, I'll keep documenting our lives one day at a time.  In some ways, this blog has become a historical document for our little family.  I certainly use it all the time to recall events and information (aka - what paint color is the basement?!?!).  Hopefully, Georgia will have this virtual photo album to share with her own family one day -- they can all make fun of our hairstyles and outfits on this outdated thing that used to be called the internet!  And when I'm long gone, Georgia will always have this record of my voice, my tone, and hopefully a sense of how I thought/felt/loved/lived/wrote.  She'll know that she had a kitty who was terrified of her.  She'll know that she used to make doughnuts with her Daddy and he once made her a giant igloo in the front yard.  She'll know that she was "Frozen" obsessed in the winter of 2013/2014.  She'll know her first foods, first loves, and all those other firsts that come with childhood.

So, stay tuned for more posts about life with a drama queen toddler, cooking/food allergy information and products, our upcoming summer adventures and anything else that pops up in our little corner of the world.  And you know life isn't complete without a little husband torture as I find new house projects to conquer along the way.  We're just living our life and sharing our time at the Thoman House.