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 ( 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  It is full of information, recipes, substitution suggestions, and resources. Go check it out!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hot Dog and Bean Casserole (Top 8 Free)

I've been going through some old recipes lately of things that I used to make for the kids that they loved to eat before our food world was rocked 2 1/2 years ago.  I love things that are easy to throw together and that get eaten in one sitting.  When we have leftovers, it is not usually enough to feed everyone, and we often end up throwing them away.  So when I find a dish that everyone likes, I stick with it.

Who doesn't like hot dogs and beans?  Throw on some corn bread, call it a casserole, and you have a winner.  Now, I'm not advocating that this is the most healthy meal, and they are probably ways to make it more healthy (organic hotdogs, etc), but I just made do with simple ingredients.

1 pkg hot dogs
2 large cans of baked beans (whichever variety you enjoy)
1/3 c BBQ sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 box safe corn bread (and ingredients needed to prepare mix)

Preheat ovento 350ยบ.  Spray 9x13 glass dish with cooking spray. Mix together cut hot dogs, beans, BBQ sauce, and brown sugar.  Spoon into baking dish.  Cover with prepared corn bread mixture.  Bake 45 minutes.  Allow to cool.

I recently found this gem at WalMart.  A cooking spray that doesn't contain soy!

I realized after I started making this that I didn't have any BBQ sauce.  So I improvised by squirting in a bit of ketchup and mustard, and sprinkling in a few dashes of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cinnamon, and black pepper.  I also added a bit more brown sugar than is called for.  Once it was all mixed up, it had a pretty good flavor.  You could also add some molasses and Worcestershire sauce, but I didn't have any.  I've also seen some recipes that call for honey.  Just flavor to your taste.

The Hodgson Mill corn bread mix calls for milk and eggs.  I used rice milk and egg replacer instead.  You could easily add some applesauce, apple butter, or other yummy things to add flavor to the corn bread.


As expected, the kids LOVED this meal.  The big kids remembered it from the past, and the little girls ate it without complaint.  It is quick to prepare, but it takes a while to bake.  Tonight we went on a family bike ride while it was baking.  And dinner was ready when we got back home!  Perfect evening!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bubs Turns 9!

How many birthday parties does a kid need?  It seems like my kids each get 3-4 each year.  Between celebrating at school, a friends party, a family party, and the actual birthday, there is a lot of cake!

Bubs' birthday always falls just a few days after school gets out for the summer.  This year I was hoping to avoid the classroom treats.  But just a few days before the last day of school, Bubs questioned what I was going to make for his birthday treat.  I suggested non-food items such as bookmarks, books, small crafts, etc, but I was shot down.  He had his heart set on Rice Krispie treats.  You can see how I make safe Top 8 Free ones here.  So I quickly whipped up a batch of these easy treats and cut them into small enough squares for the entire class and teachers to enjoy.

For months Bubs has been excited about inviting his friends to go to the indoor trampoline park to play dodge ball, basketball, and just have fun jumping.  The tickets to this place are relatively expensive, so I allowed him to only invite 3 friends.  The boys had a blast! 

I made one batch of chocolate cupcakes for the entire birthday weekend.  I used the Namaste Chocolate Cake mix.  It calls for eggs, which Bubs is allergic to, so I used EnerG egg replacer (equivalent of 4 eggs) and 1/2 c applesauce.  Then I added in about a cup of Enjoy Life chocolate chips and baked them according to package directions.  Then I made some safe buttercream frosting in white and chocolate.  They turned out delicious!  The boys at the friend party ate them without question.  They must be as good as the gluten-, dairy-, egg-filled version.   

For our family party we simply grilled burgers, had safe pasta salad, and watermelon.  Grandma even made safe gluten-free, Top 8 Free buns from scratch.  I'll try the recipe soon myself and share.  :)

This year Bubs' actual birthday fell on Memorial Day, and for once we didn't have any plans for the day.  So we got to enjoy some down time at home.  Bubs got to open his gifts in the morning, and we enjoyed some family bike riding in an empty parking lot close to home. 


I always allow the kids to pick what they will have for their birthday dinner, and for the past 8 months or so, Bubs has been planning on"Beefy Mac-etti."  This is something we stumbled upon when I was short on groceries and just threw some things together (something I do often).  It is made of gluten-free noodles, grass-fed only beef, spaghetti sauce, and Daiya cheese.  It's a combination of beefy mac and cheese and spaghetti, hence the name, beefy mac-etti.  The kids ask for this at least three nights a week (although I don't make  it that often)! 

Beefy Mac-etti, green peppers, and strawberries

I had plenty of cupcakes left for the actual birthday dinner, so I stuck a soccer ball pick and a 9 candle in for cute props for the birthday boy.  He also requested sprinkles on his actual birthday cupcake.  I keep some Sprinkelz on hand that are organic and made with all natural colors for just this type of occasion. 

All four parties turned out to be easy, low-key, and fun.  One batch of cupcakes sufficed for the whole weekend!  And even the people without food allergies enjoyed these tasty treats!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Upside of Food Allergies

It's so easy to focus on the difficult parts of having food allergies or having a family member with food allergies.  I hear it all the time.  "How difficult!"  "How do you manage?"  "Poor kid."   "What can he eat?"  "I don't know how you do it!"

I welcome this kind and any conversation about food allergies.  The people asking and saying these kinds of things are those who don't know much about it.  And I'm more than happy to educate.

I find myself minimizing it a bit.  I usually respond something like this, "Yes, it was hard at first, but now it's no big deal.  We have learned to manage it quite well.  I just provide all their food.  And with good planning, we don't have many problems." In fact, it has been years since we have had a reaction.

I sometimes go on to list some of the benefits of having food allergies, but sometimes I just stop there.  I don't want to be too preachy about food, since most people will eat what they want no matter what I say.

But truly, my kids with food allergies are the healthiest eaters I know.  And our family as a whole is much more healthy as well.  We never eat fast food, we rarely dine out (and when we do, we pack meals for Bubs and GirlyGirl), and we eat very little processed food.  I'm not sure what kind of food we would eat if we didn't have to deal with this, but I'm sure I would not be as educated about processed foods in America as I am now.  We would probably run through McDonald's on the way to soccer practice, order pizza on the nights I'm feeling too lazy to cook, and dine out 1-2 times a week.  That's pretty much how my husband and I were before kids.  

My oldest two, Bubs and GirlyGirl, have life-threatening food allergies.

When you know better, you do better.  And I have my kids to thanks for that.  It has been life changing in so many ways.  Mostly for the better.

Sure, food allergies are inconvenient and stressful (food allergy parents have one of the highest levels of stress and worry), but there are so many good things to come out of this.

As I already mentioned, our family eats quite healthy.  Since I prepare all of our food, I know what's in our food.  I read every label and use mostly whole foods.  I do lots of baking from scratch.  Again, I know each ingredient, what it's been processed with, and how much sugar each item has.

We make our own all-natural snow cones

I have become a better and more creative cook.  I don't really consider myself creative in general, but I have a way of modifying and adapting things to meet our needs.  Through lots of reading and research, I have learned good food substitutes (such as egg substitutes), brands that I trust (such as Enjoy Life and Namaste just to name two), and ways to make "normal" food for my kids.  

Along the lines of being more healthy, I can also regulate what goes in my kids' mouths.  Food allergies is the perfect excuse to refuse that sugary post-game treat.  (Warning: upcoming soapbox)  Why do kids needs to load up on junk food following a healthy sporting activity?  These kids are performing healthy, exercise-based activities, just to have it undone by Cheetos or Little Debbie snacks.  Honestly, I think the only time a piece of fruit has been offered as the post-game snack was when I was the one providing it.  And guess what!  The kids ate it and didn't even complain.  It's the parents that want to the kids to have a junky treat, and the kids learn this behavior.  "It's just one piece," I often hear.  Well, one piece turns into another and another, and before you know it, we have a childhood obesity problem on our hands.  I have actually heard that our kids' generation is the first generation that will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents (no reference here, just something I remember hearing).  It all leads back to food.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I allow my kids to have treats. I just try to regulate what and how much junk food they get.  I keep cupcakes and cookies in the freezer (made from scratch or safe, trusted mixes) for birthday parties and other fun gatherings.  I like treats to actually be treats, not a daily, expected occurrence. (End soapbox)

We pack ahead for special treats and occasions

As a result of my kids having food allergies and me being a "helicopter mom," I get to attend every class party.  I get to know the kids in each class as well as some parents.  I get to know the school nurse, teachers, and other trusted adults by having lengthy and multiple conversations about food.  I get to go on many class field trips with the excuse of food allergies.  Of course, I'm looking out for my child and being present to answer any questions, but being so involved at school is a bonus.

I get to know my kids' friends' parents and coaches a bit better since I have to have the EpiPen talk with them when I drop off at practice, for a playdate, or ask for a carpool ride.  I let them know that it doesn't have to be scary and I trust they will handle any situation well.  I let them know they can call me at any time with any question.  I understand how hard and scary it must be for other parents.  It is important for me to be social and likeable and not demanding and snotty.  These parents have the power to prevent a tragedy.  They may save my child's life.  All it takes is education.    

And last but not least, I have made so many friends that I would not have otherwise encountered through the food allergy community.  There's an automatic connection when you meet another food allergy parent.  An instant bond.  I have connected with several people locally as well as online and through blogging.  I even had the chance to attended the first annual Food Allergy Bloggers Conference in Vegas last year.  What an amazing experience!  These people not only understand what you go through on a regular basis, they share your hopes and fears.  They share joy when a child passes an oral food challenge, and tears when tragedy strikes.  They can be the greatest resource for products and recipes.  They are a true support group.

While I wish we didn't have to live with food allergies (or my kids having to deal with them for a lifetime), I am grateful for the ways it has improved our lives.  I can't say if I would change things to be different.  I guess I wouldn't mind if they outgrew their food allergies now that we have learned our lessons, but I also believe that everything happens for a reason.  Even if we can't see the reason right now.  I know that's cliche, but it's true.  It all works out in the end.

For another great post, read this one from Making it Milk-Free.

First Week of Summer Camp 2014

This past week was the beginning of the local Boys and Girls Club summer camp.  Both Bubs and GirlyGirl attended this program last summer, but this summer there are different program managers.  One of them is the program manager of the after school program and is familiar with my kids' allergies, but the other one is someone I haven't met before. 

On the first morning, I attempted to find the kids' teachers.  However, things were completely chaotic. No one seemed to know which class they would be in charge of.  I was being sent to one person after another, each one saying the next would be my child's teacher.  No one really knew where they would be yet.  Some of the teachers knew my kids from the after school program or from last year's summer camp, so I gave them a quick allergy low down and left the meds in their hands.  Then I went to work and hoped for the best. 

Feeling very frustrated and uneasy the whole day, I decided to leave work a bit early to try to find one of the people in charge. I was just going to send a lengthy e-mail, but I thought it would be best to talk with someone in person. 

I was able to meet with the program manager I haven't met before, and we spent quite a bit of time talking.  I explained our situation, and she was very receptive.  In fact, she herself has a special diet with many non-anaphylactic food allergies.  (She actually gets it!!!)

I spent time explaining that they need to keep their meds near them at all times, including field trips and all time away from the school, keeping them at appropriate temperatures. The meds cannot be left of the bus or left laying in the sun at the pool.  

I tried to emphasize that they were to eat only what I provide, and that I would bring anything necessary if I knew ahead of time that the class would be doing something special.

I also asked that they use only their sunscreen, since some brands may contain their allergens.

I also reminded her that I met with the Director of Boys and Girls Club last summer and got the wording changed for EpiPen administration to First Aid rather than medication administration (which they don't do).  You can read my posts about that here and here.

She apologized for the chaos of the first day and explained that things would get better.

I am so relieved to know that the people running the show actually understand and care about my kids' needs.

I sent an e-mail followup outlining what we had discussed, mostly so she could share it with her staff. I offered to educate the staff on EpiPen administration, in addition to education on preventing a reaction, recognizing the signs/symptoms of a reaction, and how to respond in an emergency.  Prevent, Recognize, Respond.

She wrote back thanking me for my efforts and detailed information.  Sometimes I feel like that helicopter mom, but unless you deal with food allergies daily for the ones you love the most, those details are so very important.  And I don't even mind being called or thought of as a helicopter mom.  Whatever it takes to keep my little ones safe.

Here's to hoping we have a fun, reaction-free summer!