In just two weeks, on February 27, it will be National Chili Day!
I am not surprised at all that we celebrate chili day in the middle of winter because it is a perfect winter meal! Warm, filling, and versatile.
As a food allergy family, we are always looking for recipes that allow us to customize the ingredients – and chili fits the build. Chili is one of those meals where substitutions and flexibility do not ruin the integrity of the dish.
Here is what I mean
Bean type does not work for you? Pick a different bean variety
Make it super spicy or not by increasing or removing the hot sauce or hot peppers
Pick your protein! Beef chili, turkey chili, chicken chili, bean chili
Add corn or diced peppers
As long as you maintain the proportions of the original recipe, you can substitute to your allergy needs and taste!
Although our family has a few tried and true chili recipes, this option requires almost no planning to get on the dinner table.
In our house, we have all the ingredients called for regularly. Perfect for a night when the fridge and pantry seem empty. Or the times when you forgot to take something out of the freezer for dinner.
This 3 bean chili recipe got added to my recipe collection when my mom and I were early in our home daycare career. We provided breakfast, lunch, and a snack to the children in our care. USDA food programs that supported us sent the recipe in a monthly newsletter.
And you guessed it; this recipe appeared in the February letter.
Over time the recipe has changed little by little to accommodate my taste (the original was a bit under-spiced in my opinion) As well as to accommodate Shaun’s food allergies.
Here are the reasons I LOVE this recipe:
It is yummy – For me, the taste of a dish is always #1. The flavor should not be compromised in something allergy-friendly.
It is a quick, simple meal. – one cutting board, one-pot: easy clean up too!
It is packed with protein.
It is a plant-based option – We are not vegetarian or vegan, but I do like to have a few plant-based meals that we can filter into our weekly meal rotation, helping to balance meat consumption.
Toppings are customizable in the dish! Make it easy to accommodate allergy needs and personal taste.
I hope you give it a try!
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It might only be the end of January, but love is already in the air. As you might be learning, when you live with food allergies planning for holidays is an essential part of life.
Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate the love and friendships we have. We mark this occasion with special dinners (not always allergen friendly), flowers (that make some people sneeze), stuffed animals (AKA a dust mite house), and candy (often containing a top 8 food allergen).
It can be hard to love a holiday that is so hyper-focused on traditions that can leave you feeling anxious, itchy, or worse. But, with some thoughtfulness and flexibility, we can make our Valentine’s Day plans safe and enjoyable.
If your child is the one with food allergies, it is important to find out what events, activities, and treats the school plans to have.
Check-in with your child’s classroom teacher. In my experience, they are the best point of contact because they know celebration plans for the classroom as well as any school-wide plans.
Check-in with the PTA. Your classroom teacher may be unaware of the PTA’s activities and events, it is important to contact them as well.
Kindly ask questions to make sure the plans are safe for your child. Remain reasonable and work together to adjust any potential risk spots.
Offer to help! Giving your support both in ideas and time always eases the stress for everyone involved.
Remember, often, the school staff and the PTA don’t manage food allergies day in and day out in the same capacity we do. Use this opportunity to share your knowledge and make the environment safer for not just your child but all those with food allergies. You can positively impact the culture of the school.
Here are a few other tips on working with the school:
Some schools choose not to have any food or candy-related items for celebrations. Find out your school guidelines on this before you start trying to fix a problem that might not exist.
When asking questions to the teacher and/or PTA, keep in mind that some art and science-based activities contain food. Ask about this directly! (Experience has shown me that when you ask about food, people are thinking about food getting consumed, not about hidden food proteins in other activities.)
Know what boundaries need to be in place for safety. For example, we don’t need to exclude all of Shaun’s allergens from the classroom to keep him safe. If the celebration includes fruit and yogurt, we have precautions in place to keep his food separate, provide him with a yogurt alternative, clean his eating area before he sits to eat and post snack clean up of surfaces and hands. Some people’s food allergy needs require stricter boundaries; Know your needs and advocate to have the boundaries in place.
Non-Food Valentine’s Fun
These days giving experiences as a gift is hugely popular – and I get it! It emphasizes spending time together, communicating, and making memories! While downplaying material things that clutter our lives.
Here are some great, allergy-friendly, low-cost activities you can plan as part of your Valentine’s Day activities that don’t include food!
Hand Made Crafts
Books about Kindness and Love
Community Kindness Acts
A simple internet search will reveal a tremendous amount of ideas for clever, non-food Valentine’s Day treats. These are some of my favorite’s:
Stickers – “Valentine, I’m stuck on you!”
Crayons – “Color your heart out, Valentine!”
Bubbles – “Your sweetness blows me away!”
Watercolors – “Hope you have a colorful Valentine’s Day!”
Glow sticks – “You make my heart glow!”
Rubber Ducks- “I’m a lucky duck to have a friend like you!”
Bouncy balls– “Valentine, you make my heart bounce!”
Pencils– “Write on Valentine!”
Although I have focused a lot on non-food options, creating safe and yummy meals and treats for Valentine’s Day is legitimate and encouraged. But even us food allergy folks can get caught up in being food-centric, and I wanted to show the variety of celebratory options beyond food.
Also, if you still want to share candy as part of your Valentine’s Day celebration, try to see out an allergy-friendly option. (Just a reminder always read every label every time, even with an allergy-friendly company!)
In the 5 short years of my little guy’s life, Shaun has shown a fierce desire to gain his independence at every milestone. Yes, he has a long way to go until he is ready to navigate this crazy world. Yet he is continually stretching the boundaries, reaching for as much independence as he can grasp. While John and I left, attempting to figure out what is safe and appropriate for him, given his personality, age, and food allergies.
During grade school, the mother of a friend I had would always say things like, “I don’t know how I feel about you going on the upcoming school field trip … I don’t think that the umbilical cord stretches that far.”
As a young girl, we all laughed at these comments.
As a mom, I understand the conflict at the core of these words.
As a food allergy mom, my heart knows increased fear that adds depth to the sentiment.
From the day they are born, children are always moving toward becoming independent! That is the natural way of things.
And although it is my job, as Shaun’s mother, to teach him, prepare him and let him go. This progression brings a cliche, feeling of bittersweet.
Bitter because I want to protect him, to keep him little because some days (even though I savor each moment), he is just growing up too fast.
Sweet because I am excited and proud as he learns who he is and all the adventures he wants to take.
But deeper than this is the fear of letting go because of his food allergies:
However, if I let those feelings dictate my actions, I am only going to struggle more in the long run. But more importantly, Shaun will be affected by these misguided actions.
This is where I have to be specific in my thinking.
The clearest example of this in my experience so far is Shaun starting school.
Before School: Shaun spent his days with his Mimi and me. It was an awesome setup, my mother and I were running a home child care out of her house.
I was able to watch Shaun grow and develop. He was getting daily socialization. I got to enjoy snuggles and giggles. I cherished this time with him!
Beyond the feel-good stuff of this setup, when Shaun’s (2 months old) eczema began, I was able to FULLY engage in the day to day needs of diagnosis and subsequent food allergy journey.
– Endless doctors appointments
– Extensive topical skincare
– Research and multiple opinions
– Daily doctor communication
– Nursing on a restricted diet for 2 years
– Skin prick tests
– Blood Labs
– Careful, food introduction
– Managing every hive-y face
– Always having epinephrine & safe food
– Keeping meticulous notes and food records
– Inhalers, antihistamines, antacids
When you care for a child in this constant capacity, knowing the risks to their life that exist outside your carefully curated environment, it feels impossible to let someone take over the care of your child. Never mind for 5 days a week for 7 hours a day.
For a long time, when I thought of sending Shaun to school, I felt utterly sick.
And this is where I have to be purposeful about my thinking.
As parents, it is easy to choose what is convenient, what feels good and is easy for us at the detriment of the child. (Even if the impact of these choices is only seen years in the future)
Restricting experiences, out of fear, is only going to cause struggles, anxiety, and frustration when it is ultimately time take that next step.
So despite fear, choose to:
Evaluate each circumstance individually for risk. (Some situations are just not safe yet – saying no to them is okay. As long as you have been thoughtful and the choice was not made out of fear alone)
Make plans and adaptations that will reduce risk when possible.
Take baby steps leading up to a big independence milestone
Educate and set expectations!! (This includes, your child, other family or anyone who is going to be involved with this new independence)
Learning to let your child go is always complicated and emotional. But letting go little by little; Saying YES to experiences leading up to a significant milestone will prepare you, but more importantly, your child to be successful and safe. Which is what I think all parents want for their child.
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You are kind and understanding. Yet I hesitate to write this because experience has taught me that even the kindest people sometimes struggle to fully grasp what I am about to share.
You see, I am not just a mom; I am a food allergy mom.
And that comes with a tremendous amount of constant care you can’t truly understand until you hold the title.
“Food allergy mom” was not a line item that I ever expected to add to my life’s resume … but here I am.
Why does this matter?
How we treat each other matters. Without being aware that I live with food allergies and what that looks like, it might cause friction in our daily interactions.
Sharing this part of my life with you will help us to strengthen our accord.
Your benefit: a deeper understanding of my life and an opportunity to act with compassion.
My benefit: being fully seen and loved in a reality where simple food is life-threatening to my child.
You can’t know what you don’t know. I get that … It would be unreasonable for me to expect you to be aware and understanding of food allergies when you have never truly been exposed to their reality.
So here is a glimpse of reality …
It is learning how to read labels … every single time you purchase a product.
It is knowing that sometimes milk is not called milk or that a company doesn’t have to disclose sesame oil in a product as long as the ingredients say natural flavors.
It is spending hours in a grocery store and coming out with no new food options
It’s about learning all the places food proteins hide. Because they commonly exist in non-food products. That means hand soaps, art supplies, makeup, beard oil, house cleaner, toothpaste, to name a few.
It is countless hours with doctors looking at test results that can’t tell you the severity of a potential reaction because the test only measures how likely it is that a reaction would occur.
It is scouring the internet at all hours of the night looking for answers.
It is learning how to cook again and rethinking all your habits in the kitchen because a single mistake can lead to cross-contact making food unsafe, even life-threatening.
It’s trying to inform your family, friends, co-workers, teachers what your needs are, making sure to be clear and accurate, without scaring them but without coming across as crazy and overbearing.
It is about kindly speaking up to educate someone when all you want to do is scream, “what are you doing?! that could kill my child!”
It is learning the many ways anaphylaxis looks and how to respond when the day comes that you see it.
It is finding accessible and affordable epinephrine, the medication that saves lives.
It is praying that you never have to use it.
It is about NEVER leaving home empty-handed. But instead with bags of stuff: auto-injectors, antihistamine, inhalers, wipes, extra clothes, and food!
It is about always mitigating risk. At the park, the library, the museum, the family picnic, the birthday party, the bus, the baseball game, the grocery store (literally everywhere)
It is about teaching my child to be aware of and respect his allergies. To advocate and speak up. Without making him scared, anxious, or feel less than and left out.
It’s about finding people who understand food allergy life and cherishing them.
It is about finding a place between fear and complacency so you can live life but maintain a level of protection.
It is about all of these things and SO MUCH MORE.
I often operate in the space of fear and anxiety, which is why sometimes I come across as unreasonable, overprotective, and maybe even a little crazy.
I spend a lot of energy pushing outside that fear because it is the only way to experience life. But some days it’s harder than others.
I hope you can empathize with the care it takes and the anxiety that comes with managing food allergies.
And maybe you value me enough to be mindful of your words and actions …
Here are 2 simple ways to accomplish that:
Don’t assume …
That this is a lifestyle choice, it has changed our lifestyle, but it was not a choice.
That a small amount of the allergen is okay, it’s NOT. Even trace amounts of food protein can trigger anaphylaxis.
That because you read a news headline you’re informed. Food allergies are multi-faceted. I promise it is more complicated than the headline. (I will know immediately if you actually read the body of the article)
Food allergies are the same as an intolerance … they are not!
That you need to suggest ideas to help. I know your desire to offer solutions is coming from a good place, but it just makes me feel more isolated.
Ask questions …
Can I do anything to make things safer for you?
Where do you keep your auto-injector? Can you show me how to use it?
Would you like to pick the restaurant?
Do you have any treatment options?
Where can I get useful information about food allergies?
Are you okay?
This is a lot to take in! It probably feels like too much … at least that’s how I felt when I found out I was a food allergy mom.
With time and practice, it feels more manageable.
Food allergies will always require extra care, but one day you will look up and realize you automatically account for them. With no cure at this time and anaphylactic episodes on the rise, your awareness and compassion are more important than I can express.
I sincerely hope this has not scared you away. In fact, quite the opposite!
I shared this to provide perspective to empower you as you encounter food allergies and anaphylaxis.
Now you have the information it’s your choice how to use it.
It has been a busy week here in our little blue house on the hill!
Shaun and I have spent the week savoring …
Savoring our slow, playful days together before he heads to kindergarten on Wednesday. And savoring little bites of all the food we prepared in an attempt to ease the inevitable bustle of busy school days.
As an allergy family we have to think ahead to premake what so many other people can grab at the store. Yes, it’s probably better for us anyway, but it does lack convenience. (Which I took for granted most of my life)
This week I focused on pre making Shaun safe food that can be frozen to help with breakfast & snacks.
If I have not said this already, let me share this allergy montra with you now …
“The freezer is my friend!” … Say it with me this time, “The freezer is my friend!”
Pancakes … Shaun’s favorite food
And WowButter Oat Bars
All of these recipes are staples in our house but the WowButter Oat Bars are exceptional!
Exceptionally flexible to modification!!!
These WowButter Oat Bars are an exceptionally perfect substitute to all the manufactured granola, seeds, nut bars that always have at least one of Shaun’s allergens.
They are perfect for a grab and go snack!
I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do. And for those of you with kids heading back to school, or heading to school for the first time, prayers for a safe and smooth transition.
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