Saturday, July 26, 2014

VBS 2014

This week was VBS for Bubs, GirlyGirl, and Cutie.  We chose to participate in the evening session which offers dinner at the beginning of each session and a snack mid-way through each night.

Of course, I chose to volunteer.  For one, I like to help out and be a part of my kids' activities.  Two, I like to helicopter around my children with food allergies. 

I attended the volunteer meetings prior to the session beginning which gave me the inside scoop on the menu choices.  I received a printout of what would be offered for dinner and snack each night. 

I also had the chance to educate the other volunteers about food allergies at these meetings.  I stressed the importance of hand washing, not only before the meal/snack, but afterward as well.  I suggested having hand wipes present so kids wouldn't necessarily have to go to the bathrooms to wash their hands.  Another parent suggested having hand sanitizer ready too.  Another great teaching moment!  I explained that hand sanitizer may kill bacteria, but it doesn't kill the proteins that cause the allergic reaction.  I love being able to educate people who want to learn!

The gal in charge e-mailed all the parents informing them that there would be kids attending VBS with life-threatening food allergies (and a child with a latex allergy) and stressing the importance of hand washing.  She also e-mailed all the volunteers asking for their help in making sure all the kids washed hands or used hand wipes following each meal/snack.  I am so grateful for her attention to this matter.

Like anyone else, our loves are busy.  We have a lot going on right now, and keeping track of a specific menu for the week was stressing me out.  So I simply wrote what I would need to bring for Bubs and GirlyGirl's food each night on separate sticky notes.  (Bubs and GirlyGirl would miss VBS Thursday night for Taekwondo color belt testing, hence the missing Thursday note).  This made it a lot easier for me to prep for each night and grab what I needed on my way out the door.

Sometimes sticky notes keep me sane

Not only did I have to think about the food they would ingest, but there were also several crafts and science experiments that involved food.  One activity involved corn starch and water.  When the parent who provided the corn starch arrived, of course I took a glance at the label.  Guess what!  Processed with allergens!  Luckily, this activity was planned for Thursday evening, the night my kids would be gone.  So I just let it slide without mention.  While the kids were actually doing this activity, the parent looked at the label and saw the allergy warning.  She felt really bad after she saw it.  I told her that I had seen it earlier in the week, but that I didn't worry about it because my kids would miss this activity.   But this was another great opportunity to teach the importance of label reading.

Corn starch label -- processed with milk, egg, wheat, and soy

Sometimes I think I overcompensate with food that I prepare to make up for my kids' food being different.  For instance, Tuesday night was taco night.  I made taco meat, cut up tomatoes, brought lettuce, olives, milk-free cheese, gluten-free tortillas, chips, salsa, and pineapple.  The tacos that VBS provided for the other kids was a tortilla, a little scoop of taco meat, a few pieces of shredded iceberg, and a few shreds of cheese along with tortilla chips and cheese dip.  I have to admit that my kids' tacos looked amazing next to the other ones. 
      
Taco night means lots of containers
  
I notice that rather than my kids feeling bad that their food is different, it's the other kids that are jealous of my kids' food.  They wonder why they get something special.  I'm always happy to hear when the situation goes that way rather than my kids feeling left out that they are missing something.

Our more healthy and safe version of a popsicle
Our version of graham crackers and frosting -- Enjoy Life sugar cookies with safe "buttercream" frosting
All in all, it was a fun week without incident.  The kids had a blast, enjoyed their food, and made some great memories. 


Monday, July 14, 2014

Sand Cake (Top 8 Free)

When I was a kid, I loved Dirt Cake.  Chocolate pudding, crushed Oreos, and gummy worms, all in a flower pot!  How much better could it get?

Recently, I've seen pictures of Sand Cake floating around the internet, and I thought the kids would enjoy this treat.  I looked at various recipes online, figured out what would work for us, modified it to meet our special diet needs, and, voila, we had a delicious summer afternoon treat!


Layer vanilla pudding, crushed graham crackers, and gummy treats in a fun pail (or 9x13 dish to look like a beach) to create this dessert.  

I used 2 large boxes of Jello vanilla instant pudding (which does contain a teensy weensy bit of artificial color).  Beat in 2 to 2 1/2 cups of cold non-dairy beverage (I used rice milk) to desired consistency.  Add a 8 oz package of plain cream cheese (I used Daiya cream cheese).  Once well blended, mix in 1/2 c dairy-free butter, softened (I used Earth Balance Soy Free baking sticks).  Be sure the butter is soft, otherwise it will make your pudding chunky.  

In a food processor or blender, finely grate graham crackers (I used Crunchmaster Grammy Crisps) to a crumb consistency.  

Use gummy treats of your choosing.  I've seen some people use shells, bears, worms, etc.  I chose Surf Sweets peach and strawberry rings and Sharkies fruit snacks.  They are all made without artificial colors and are absolutely delicious!

Put this all together, and your kids will have a blast eating this fun beach treat.  Happy summer!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

S'mores Pops (Top 8 Free)

Summertime means yummy food.  And s'mores is one of our favorites.  However, making s'mores with a plethora of food allergies and sensitivities can be challenging. 

In years past we have made traditional s'mores by roasting a marshmallow over a campfire, then sandwiching it with a piece of Enjoy Life chocolate between two cookies or some sort of crackers.  

However, thanks to the power of the internet, I have seen lots of yummy versions of s'mores this summer.  These s'mores pops looked easy enough to replicate and alter to meet our special diet needs.

All you need is a package of marshmallows, a package of Enjoy Life chocolate chips, some coconut oil, a box of safe graham crackers (I used Grammy Crisps), and some cake pop sticks.  


Dump the bag of chocolate chips into a small saucepan along with a dollop of coconut oil.  I used about 2 teaspoons.  Melt over low heat.  You could also do this in the microwave, but I prefer to melt chocolate on the stove.  

While the chocolate is melting, poke the cake pop sticks into the marshmallows, doing your best to get them to stand up.  (I may try this step at the end next time.)  In a food processor or blender, finely chop the graham crackers into crumbs.

Once the chocolate is melted, dip each marshmallow into the chocolate, then dip into the graham cracker crumbs.  Allow to set on parchment paper.  They set up nicely in the refrigerator.

I brought these to a daycare family gathering, and everyone enjoyed them.  I didn't even tell them they were allergy friendly.  :)  Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Frustration with Filling Epi Prescription

I'm a sucker for a good deal.  When I found out about the EpiPen and Auvi-Q $0 copay for 2013, I was so excited.  As any parent of a child with food allergies knows, it can be expensive to fill new prescriptions each year.  And it's all the more expensive having two kids with food allergies.

I am one of these people that likes to be prepared in all situations, so I keep epi in several locations.  School, after school care, soccer bag, dance bag, home, an extra on hand in case one kid goes somewhere and another goes somewhere else....  It adds up.   I even keep expired pens in the vehicles and in my purse for use in a pinch.

So I took advantage of the $0 copay offers last year and stocked up on EpiPen and AuviQ.  My health insurance would only allow one fill (one twin pack) every 30 days for each child, so I made several trips to the pharmacy until I had enough packs to meet our needs.

When both companies announced they would extend the $0 copay into 2014, I did a little dance for joy!  It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I decided I better start filling prescriptions again since the kids would be returning to school next month, and I would need to provide up-to-date meds.

At Bubs' well visit last month, I asked the pediatrician to write a prescription for one EpiPen twin pack for each of the kids with unlimited refills, since I was planning on filling again in the following months.  I explained my desire to have several twin packs in several locations so we are never without.  He obliged and sent the prescription in.

When I arrived at the pharmacy several days later, they had received the prescription but hadn't filled it yet (I'm still not sure why).  After trying to fill it at that time, they realized they did not have any EpiPens in stock and would need to order some.  So I said I would come back in a few days.

The hubs offered to pick up the EpiPens a few days later, and I told him it should be $0 due to the EpiPen coupon.  When he arrived home empty handed, he said our (new as of January '14) health insurance wouldn't cover EpiPens and the cost was going to be $800 out of pocket!  WHAT?!?

Of course, this was on a Sunday, so we couldn't reach any reps from our insurance.  We looked on the website, and it said EpiPen and Auvi-Q are covered.  However, when speaking with a rep the next day, we were informed that EpiPen is not on the formulary for our plan, thus not covered by insurance.  However, Auvi-Q is covered as a Tier 2 drug and would be a $45 copay (which would then be covered by the $0 copay coupon from Auvi-Q).  This was great news!  I really like Auvi-Q and thought this would be a great opportunity to educate the school nurse and staff how to use a different type of autoinjector.

When the hubs arrived to pick up the Auvi-Q a few days later, the total was $300 for each twin pack!  The pharmacist told us our insurance does not cover Auvi-Q, and the coupon only covers up to $299.  So we would owe the remaining $300.  No, no, no.  This still isn't right.  The rep told us this is a Tier 2 drug which is a $45 copay.  Something's still not right.

On the phone again to a health insurance rep (which translates to whoever answers the phone).  This time we are told that our plan states that Tier 2 and Tier 3 drugs are subject to deductible before the copay price is valid.  Only Tier 1 drugs are not subject to deductible and the copay price is what we pay initially.  After some digging, this rep told us that the Tier 1 option is the generic epinephrine autoinjector, and this would have a $0 copay on our plan.  All we had to do was have the doctor write a script saying "Generic epinephrine autoinjector 0.15, 2 twin packs."  The doctor also was to call the insurance for some sort of authorization.  Great news!  A generic autoinjector that would be free!  Why didn't we do this sooner?

I so I called the doctor office.....again.....to ask for yet another prescription (I also had to call and get the Auvi-Q script earlier).  I told the nurse exactly what was going on and explained what the script needed to say.  She was quite confused and didn't understand that what I wanted was a generic and not an EpiPen!  She was getting frustrated as I kept spelling out for her how to write the script.  Then I dropped the bomb about having to call for authorization.  She was appalled at this request.  She told me they will often send in forms, but they never have to call!  I explained that this is what the rep told us needed to happen in order for us to have life-saving medication for our children.  She finally agreed, and I thought we were home free.     

This morning the pharmacy called me to explain that our insurance actually does not cover generic epinephrine.  I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to start crying!  What do you mean they don't cover it?  The rep was very clear about what needed to happen to get our epi.  And it had all been done.

The pharmacist explained that she talked with both the doctor's office and our insurance and found out that the only epi our insurance covers is Auvi-Q, which has to go toward deductible first.  She also quoted me an incorrect amount for our deductible, so I know the rep was wrong again!  Sigh

So here we are.  Tonight I am going to pull out all my epi packs and hope that I have one that doesn't expire until some time in 2015 for the kids to keep at school.  I can guarantee you that we will be switching health insurance companies come January 2015!

What a frustrating road full of misinformation and confusion.  We have thankfully never used epi on our kids (although we should have at least one time), but still I will never go anywhere without epi in hand.  It's too big of a risk.  What have we learned from this experience?  We will check our drug coverage and make sure epi is covered for a reasonable cost.  This will be the deciding factor. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Freedom from Food Restrictions this Fourth of July 2014

Sometimes I feel like I may be overcompensating for my kids' food allergies with lots of festive snacks on special occasions.  But I will never regret creating memories with my kids and enjoying good food with family.

This Fourth of July was no exception.  I made way too many snacks, and the kids had tummy aches by the time the fireworks rolled around.  But they loved all the food, and I'm sure I will be making some of these items again in the near future.

Since last Fourth of July (see last year's post here), we have had a few changes in diets in our family.  Bubs is allergic to milk, eggs, and peanuts and is sensitive to gluten, soy, and artificial colors.  GirlyGirl is allergic to peanuts and is sensitive to milk, and she is avoiding artificial colors.  My 5 year old nephew is allergic to milk and is avoiding gluten and artificial colors.  My sister-in-law is avoiding gluten.  My 1 year old niece is allergic to eggs.  Out of all the kids there, my SIL's stepson and my two littlest girls are the only ones without food allergies.  The good part about dealing with all the food restrictions in this family is that a lot of them overlap.  Basically, if it's safe for Bubs, it's safe for everyone.


We began our day with some yummy blueberry bread made with fresh blueberries we had picked at a local blueberry patch the week before.  I was hoping to have enough to save for later in the day, but the kids devoured it!


My mother-in-law has perfected a Top 8 Free hamburger bun/roll that the kids absolutely love.  So burgers it was for lunch.  She got some grass-fed only beef (along with some regular beef for those without issues), grilled up some burgers along with some veggies, and a feast we had.  I brought fruit cups to share, my SIL brought some safe chips to eat with corn and bean salsa, and some safe potato chips on the side made for a great meal.

 
 

I made several safe treats for the kids to graze on throughout the day, including strawberry jello mixed with strawberries, star shaped strawberry jello jigglers, peach and blueberry cobbler, and power balls.  The jello I used is a vegan jel dessert made without artificial colors.  It tasted more flavorful and less sugary than the Jello brand.
Jello with strawberries, Peach and Blueberry Cobbler, Jigglers, and Power Balls
Vegan jello, made with no artificial colors
I also made cupcake cones topped with buttercream frosting and a blueberry.  Next time I think I'll top some with cherries or strawberries and some with blueberries to get the red, white, and blue theme going.  The cones are gluten free, and the chocolate cake was Betty Crocker's gluten free cake mix.  I used Earth Balance Soy Free butter and EnerG Egg Replacer instead of the milk and eggs the box called for.  


I had some leftover cake batter after making 6 cupcake cones, so I decided to make cupcakes topped with sprinkles that contain no artificial colors. 


I have seen these "Got Milk" straws in the store and just assumed they contain milk, so I have never even bothered to look at the label.  It turns out, though, that they are free of milk and other allergens.  They are meant to placed in a glass of milk to make chocolate or strawberry milk, but I just let the kids eat the candies right from the straw.  They loved it!  What a treat!
  

The weather was perfect, and family time was a blast!  What more could you ask for on the Fourth of July!

Blueberry Bread (Top 8 Free)

We make an annual trip to a local blueberry patch, and even though we got rained on this year, we still picked 10 lbs of blueberries and had a great time.  Since we went the week before the Fourth of July this year, I decided to make some blueberry bread for breakfast on the Fourth.  It turned out really good, and the kids are already asking for more.


Ingredients:
2 eggs (I used EnerG Egg Replacer)
1/3 c applesauce
1 c sugar
1 c dairy-free milk (I used rice milk)
3 Tbsp oil
3 c gluten-free flour
2 tsp guar gum (or xanthan gum)
1 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1 c blueberries

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350ยบ.  Mix together "eggs," applesauce, and sugar.  Stir in milk and vegetable oil.  In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients.  Combine dry and wet ingredients, mixing until just blended.  Fold in blueberries.  Pour into greased loaf pan and bake 50-60 minutes.  Allow to cool on a cooling rack for 10 minutes, then remove from pan.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Giveaway: Go Dairy Free

I have to admit that I'm not much of a reader.  I don't make time for it, I'm easily distracted, and it makes me sleepy.  But when I find an informative book worth reading, I make the time and effort.

Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living by Alisa Marie Fleming is one of these books worth reading.  At first, I thought it would have some good substitutes and recipes for Bubs who is allergic to milk, but after reading it, I realize how much more healthy our whole family would be free from dairy.

Since reading this and talking with others, we have decided to completely eliminate milk from GirlyGirl's diet (you can read about that here), and significantly limit milk from the little girls' diet.  That is to say, we don't offer them dairy at home, but they do still get it at daycare provided meals, etc. 

Alisa breaks her book into several sections, including a health perspective of a dairy-free lifestyle, eating away from home, preparing your kitchen, dairy substitutes, recipes, and listing tons of resources.


She begins by sharing her story of growing up with a milk allergy.  It's amazing the difference in knowledge from then and now.  She goes on to explain the different types of milk, milk allergies, and lactose intolerance.  She describes many health conditions that may be related to having milk in our diet.  She also breaks down the nutrients that are in milk and reveals other sources of those nutrients available to us in different foods.

Eating away from home with special diet needs can be challenging, and Alisa offers a variety of tips for restaurant dining, social events, and traveling with a milk-free diet in mind. 

Decoding food labels can be overwhelming if you are new to label reading, and Alisa does a wonderful job of illustrating the various types of food labels you might find and how to read them.  This knowledge will give you confidence when shopping in the grocery store to provide safe food for your family.

Substituting milk in recipes can also take a bit of knowledge and skill, and Go Dairy Free offers several tips for equivalent substitutes for milk products.  There are several options for dairy-free milk (or non-dairy beverages), and many of the options are outlined with great detail including ingredients, allergy information, taste, uses, how to purchase, storage, and how to make your own.  There is also great information about butter and oils, listing which oils are the best for certain types of cooking.  Dairy-free cheese and yogurt are a must in our house, both for eating and cooking/baking, and Alisa does a nice job of offering recipes and types of products available. 

A large section of Go Dairy Free is recipes, some of which I will be trying with my family in the near future.  As a food allergy family, you can never have too many safe recipes.

I thought I knew a lot about the milk allergy world having lived in it for 9 years, but after reading this book, I feel more knowledgeable and confidant in my shopping, cooking, and talking with others.

I am happy to say that I have an extra signed copy of Go Dairy Free to give away to one lucky individual.

To be eligible* to win, simply email me (sarahpt213@gmail.com) or comment below with your name and email address.  Be sure to like my Facebook page to see updates! This giveaway is open until 10:00 pm (CST) on  Tuesday, July 8, 2014. One randomly selected winner will be announced thereafter and notified by email.  Winner has 3 days to respond or a new winner will be selected.

*You may enter once per person.  You must be at least 18 and have a US mailing address to enter.

Good luck!

 
You can see more of what Alisa has to offer on her website www.godairyfree.org.  It is full of information, recipes, substitution suggestions, and resources. Go check it out!