Thursday, April 30, 2009

How to have a party and not kill your guests

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I am so riled up right now.  My heart is literally racing and I am really trying to keep my composure.  I have mentioned from time to time that my 3 year old son, O, has food allergies, including the dreaded peanut allergy.  Well it is time to find him a preschool.  And of course, I would prefer him to be in a nut free environment.  As we are new to this area, I don't even know where to start.  I have done online searches and come up empty.  Instead, I am going off personal referrals for schools and then will need to basically interrogate each on their allergy practices.  It isn't fun.  It makes me want to home school him.  It makes me want to throw up.  So as I am researching message boards, etc.  I find some bimbo's blog (okay, I don't know that she is a bimbo but I choose to believe that she is because I instantly hate her and think she is lame) and she has a post on how irritated she is that her kid's school merely suggested that the parents not send peanut products to the school with their children.  This isn't a new story, I have read many such an article about their rights being taken away.  It has always made me mad, but today, because the reality of sending him to school in mere weeks is so real, it made me CRAZY.  I'm talking Octto-mom crazy (note to lawyers, I have added a second "T' thereby not violating any copyright laws so your looney client, who is supposedly trademarking the name can't sue me.  And all name calling is purely my opinion.  There, I should be covered now although I can't be the only one making disparaging remarks).   Part of the blogger's argument was what about those kids (apparently hers is one) who only eat peanut butter?  She went on to discuss how food allergic children should be taught by their parents what they can and can't eat.  And I agree! However, a child at 3 is only beginning to understand the allergy and has no comprehension of the severity.  And that also then leaves them to handle the other children, stupid children of stupid parents, like the women who wrote the post, who won't understand why my child is running away from their freaking peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I get that some kids are picky and yes, it is sometimes very hard to get kids to eat.  But their lack of parental persuasion should not, perhaps, end in the death of my child!!!! WOW!  Certainly she should be able to see that if you have to carry a shot around with you at ALL TIMES so your kid won't DIE, it might be something she should show a little compassion for.  Shouldn't our schools be doing everything they can to keep each child safe there?  Can't your kid eat peanut butter when she gets home?  So, this has really shown me that I need to get more involved in awareness.  I know that if you don't deal with it on a day to day basis, you don't understand the anxiety that comes along with a food allergy.  And you also don't know that reactions are different for every food allergic child and also triggers are different for every child.  So how does this affect party planning?  (see, you were probably thinking, um S? this is all great and stuff but I just want to plan you go...)

Do mom's of food allergic children expect you to provide only allergy friendly food at a party? No, not at all.  If at all possible, due to the high occurrence of the peanut allergy in children, I would suggest not serving peanuts or tree nuts or anything with peanut butter in it.  Sometimes a child can begin a severe reaction from coming into contact with a peanut protein residue left by someone else who consumed a peanut.  For instance, if I showed up with my son at a party where there was a bowl of mixed nuts on a table, we would probably leave.  We are not out to make anyone else worry about our allergy but my first priority is my son's safety.  Are there children eating said nuts and then playing with toys without first washing their hands?  My son would not be able to play with those toys.  If your kid's favorite cake is peanut butter flavored should you keep that treat from him just because my kid has food allergies?  No.  There are several ways to handle it.  Can you do vanilla or chocolate cupcakes for everyone else and serve him his own treat?  Can he have it with just family on his actual birthday?  I know there is a lot to worry about when planning a party and food allergies are usually an unknown but your consideration is greatly appreciated.  My friend T is amazing when it comes to her parties and my son.  She makes sure that there are no peanuts in any of the candy, and even asks me about her menu before she finalizes it.  Should everyone do this?  No.  Do I love her more because of it?  YES!  As a mom of a kid with multiple allergies, I know that feeding my son at a party is unlikely.  I always bring food with us and I usually try to closely resemble the party menu so he won't feel like a complete outsider.  I bring his own cupcake and candy and when A had her son's party with a make your own trail mix station (no nuts, thanks A!), I had already made him one from allergy friendly items we have at home.  Whenever I have a party for O, I make or serve only allergy friendly foods so that I know he will be safe.  Could my chocolate chip cookies taste better?  Yes.  Do people really care that much how much better my chocolate chip cookies could taste?  No.  It wouldn't be that much extra work to add a little note to the bottom of an invitation (primarily for children's parties) that says, please feel free to email me if your child has any food allergies.  That way, you will know what you are dealing with ahead of time.  If I saw that on an invitation I would for sure let you know about my son's peanut allergy.  I would also offer to help her come up with alternative options for foods that might cause a severe reaction in my son or other children.  I will now get off my soapbox.  But thank you for letting me vent and offer some insight in to a problem that is more and more common these days.   

Here are some of the allergy friendly products that I really like and are very easy to make or bring for a party.  Please feel free to email me if you want any more allergy resources.   

Divvies Bakery:  This is where I get almost all of my son's candy and none of it tastes any different the real stuff.  I keep their cookies in the freezer so I always have them on hand and we ordered the cupcakes for my son's second birthday and they were VERY tasty.  All our guests were impressed that they were allergy friendly.  They also always have something special for the holidays so even my son gets an chocolate Easter bunny! 

Cherrybrook Kitchens:  They sell boxed mixes for cakes, cookies, frostings, brownies, pancakes and more that are all allergy friendly.  I favor the chocolate cake and frosting mixes.  Again, no one knows they are anything other then chocolate cake.  I always have these on hand and make cupcakes for birthday parties that we go to so O can have a special treat like the rest of the kids.  I ordered these mixes online last time, but they also sell them at Whole Foods, Sprouts Markets, and I even have them in my local Albertson's.

Purely Decadent made with Coconut Milk:  This is "ice cream" made without dairy and uses coconut milk instead.  Be sure to read the allergy information on the package and choose a nut free flavor.  O and I have had the mint chip and it is delicious!!! Different then normal ice cream, but a GREAT alternative!!! 

Enjoy Life:  Makes a chocolate bar as well as granola bars, cookies, etc.  I always have the granola bars on hand for snacks as well as several boxes of cookies.  I wouldn't serve these to a whole party, as they are on the pricey side and not super tasty (to someone who has had some pretty yummy treats in her time), but good for a kid who may not know better :)  I pretty much only use their brand of chocolate chips for treats and in treats for my son.  They also have a great recipe resource on their site for yummy treats.  Like a peanut butter cup-type dessert using soy nut butter and their chocolate chips.  Delish!

Sunbutter:  This is our peanut butter alternative of choice.  I have no less then two types in my fridge pretty much at all times.  Can be ordered online or found at most grocery stores.  I even bought one of my last jars at Target.  The website also has a great recipe data base although they are not meant to be allergy friendly.  You would need to take the allergy in to account when choosing a recipe.  

Allergy Haven:  A great resource for information on allergies, and also for products like epi-pen carriers.  It has really great, quick information under "food safe" to show you just how hard it is to keep the offense nut, gluten, etc. out of a diet.  Also a good list of "resources" should you want to find more in depth information.  Also where I purchased the shirt pictured above.

Jeeto:  For stickers, patches and tshirts.  Awesome!!!!!  They also sell children's fine art and other awesome tshirts, but the fact that they have an allergy collection is major to me! 

Kids with Food Allergies:  This is a favorite of mine.  The website is FULL of resources and information that I love due to the fact that we are living with an allergy.  But what I also love is that near every major holiday, they put out a great deal of information on safely celebrating.  Whether it is non-food related activities for Easter or a list of known safe candy for Halloween, they are awesome.  You have to be a member to use some of the resources but I believe they have some free recipes available as well.  

Blogs:  There are a ton of blogs dedicated to discussing food allergies in children and also sharing recipes.  They can easily be found with a quick Internet search.  

Thanks for listening.  And now I have to go figure out how to save the peanut allergic children of the world, one school at a time.  



marielex1 said...

Kudos to you Sharon. Enlighten the world! O is just as important as any other kid (except he's my grandson so he's more important). Anyone that feels we are hindering their child because of our food alergies is just plain ignorant. How sad! :(

Shandra said...

I just stumbled onto your blog when I was on my sister's blog (mixminglglow). Meant to be. I also have a child with severe multiple food allergies, the worst being peanuts. She is now older, but your post reminds me of our battle getting her into preschool years ago. Still fresh in my memory as I was shocked to find the ignorance amongst other parents and the staff at some of the schools. My advice, go with your gutt when you choose a school and just stay involved any time you can, (keeps you in good graces with staff and also gives you a heads up about food related activities and parties.) Bravo to you for putting all your thoughts and feelings about what its like to have a child with allergies at parties. It IS a daily struggle, and I don't think most people realize it.

Also wanted to tell you that I LOVE and buy allll those same products that you listed. We live overseas currently, but have it all shipped over for your girl to have safe snacks. So worth it.

Love you blog and glad I found it. :)

allergy apparel said...
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allergy apparel said...

I am a mother of a child with nut allergies. We have been attending the same preschool for THREE years and the teachers, director, and other parents are understanding. There is a reminder AT ALL TIMES not to bring anything with NUTS or anything that MAY CONTAIN nuts and everyone abides. They also list it on the daily worksheet. River's teacher is GREAT about double checking. Even with their understanding and assistance I still think that it is difficult to fully understand UNLESS you have a child with an allergy. For instance, at our schools Thanksgiving meal they refrained from serving the kids anything with nuts BUT the teachers lunch table was covered from one end to the other with NUTS. And one of the adults foods was COVERED in nuts. AHHHH! We just have to keep trying to raise awareness. And trust your gut about the preschool you choose. We are going to a new one next year and will start and continue to educate the staff, parents, etc. We do have a preschool here in Richmond that does not allow ANY nuts in their school which was tempting BUT I did not choose it. For one, it was more expensive (although my child's life is obviously priceless), it is quite a hike (once again my child's life is worth the extra drive) BUT I feel like it is a step towards public schools. I had a good feeling when I met the director and am going to give it a try.
Aside from being a MOM I have also started my own business, I offer hip clothing for children with food allergies. Whether your kiddo is attending summer camps, celebrations, school, and/or you want to remind his/her caretaker, I have tees and more for you.


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