How to Meal Plan and Why It Matters!

How to Meal Plan and Why It Matters!

 

It’s 4:30 in the afternoon on my way home from work. I slow down for a red light and Shaun pipes up from the back, “mom what’s for dinner tonight?” 

 

Nothing is defrosted. 

 

I haven’t been shopping in at least a week and a half. 

And we are out of our allergy-friendly staples. 

 

Can you relate? 

 

Food allergies or not I feel like at some point we all struggle with staying ahead of the “what’s for dinner” question. Though having food allergies definitely complicates this problem. (I can’t just pick up a pizza on the way home and call it a day.) 

And although I am aware of a helpful solution I don’t always choose to take advantage of it …

 

The solution?! 

 

Meal Planning!!!! 

 

Here is how I look at it …

When I put the time and effort into making a weekly meal plan I save time & money, eliminate frustration and eat healthier! 

I save time trying to scrape something together for dinner at the last second. And instead, I can spend that time with my family!

I save money when I use a meal plan. I know what and how much food to buy each week. Thus spending less and wasting less. 

I eliminate the frustration of last-minute scrambling to make a meal that is Shaun safe and balanced in nutrition. Instead, I jump into the meal; often finding places for Shaun to help me cook! (When I don’t know what my plan is it is hard to let Shaun help with the cooking, which he loves and is a necessary skill for him to learn) 

We eat healthier because I have more whole foods in my kitchen! 

 

The upshot, meal planning for the win. 

 

So here is my method: 
  1. Block off time on your calendar to plan your meals before the start of each week.
  2. Keep all your favorite allergy-friendly recipes together. This makes it easy to reference them.
  3. Grab your blank weekly meal plan worksheet. 
  4. Start with the first column of the worksheet: menu.  Identify days you don’t need to cook or will eat leftovers (eating out, dinner at moms house, soccer practice) 
  5. Then for the days that remain pick from your recipes to complete your meals for the week. 
  6. Next, pull the recipes you have chosen for the week ahead and figure out what ingredients you need. Use the second column, shopping, to record what and how much you need. 
  7. Cut the columns apart, the menu goes on the frigid with the recipe cards for the week. And the shopping list goes with you … well … shopping. 

 

 

A few tips …
  • I fill out my worksheet on Saturday for the Monday ahead. (That’s why my meal plan page starts with Monday.) You can adjust this by starting with any day that works for you. 
  • I tend to cook extra servings for a meal. I like to have leftovers! Both for the purpose of eating the meal again (John takes leftovers for lunch) or in some cases to use the ingredients in a new dish. (ie. roasted chicken on Monday can be used in a chicken wrap on Wednesday). This type of efficiency is really helpful now that we live with food allergies. 
  • I print my meal plan worksheet a week ahead of the planning. I leave it on the kitchen counter so as we run out of something I can just put it into the shopping list. Then when Saturday rolls around I plan my meals and complete my shopping list. 
  • I do a combination of shopping in the store and online (Yeah for Instacart!!) but in both cases, I fill out my paper shopping list. It helps me stay organized; I have found that if I try to input my list right to the computer I always miss a key ingredient leaving me running out to the store. 

 

Right now, I only plan dinners and leave breakfast and lunch more open. I know what we like to have in the house and make sure it gets included on my shopping list if we are low on something. It works for my family. 

Having said that you can easily plan breakfasts and lunches on your menu sheet if you decide that is what works for you!

As with anything in life, I cycle in and out of meal planning but when I stick to it my week is much more enjoyable! 

So let’s start together, right now! 

Let’s put in the extra time upfront, save money, ease the stress of dinnertime and eat healthier!!  

 

Happy Planning! 

 

~ LC 

 

 

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How to Enjoy a Beach Day with Food Allergies

How to Enjoy a Beach Day with Food Allergies

With the summer here in full swing, many people find themselves at, or wanting to go to, a beach! Hot temperatures and refreshing ocean are a perfect combination, but this becomes a little less carefree when you have allergies. So here’s how to enjoy a beach day with food allergies.

 

Establish your “safe” zone

As with just about any other situation you will encounter with food allergies, going to the beach is no different. It always helps to plan (even scout the beach if you want to be super thorough). When you arrive, try to establish your safe space early on.

When our family goes to the beach, we tend to lay out our blankets, towels, umbrellas, etc. as soon as we get there. This gives us a well-defined area to spread out and sets up a perimeter around our safe zone.

When Shaun was younger, we used to bring our PlayPen with us to the beach. It was a perfect way to allow Shaun to be there with us and also have a wholly contained area to limit exposure for him.

 

Bring all food (plus backups)

Packing your food is almost always going to be the best option in general, but especially on a beach day. Granted, it does mean you have some extra stuff to carry, but the peace-of-mind that comes from knowing you have access to safe food is invaluable.

On top of bringing all our food, we generally bring backups/multiple options for food. Nothing worse than having a food-meltdown ruin the day, or force you to have to leave early.

 

Be aware of your surroundings

This also should be a given with any outing, but on a beach day, emergency resources may be slightly less accessible than in some other scenarios, so extra precautions/awareness are usually helpful.

 

Check for:
  • Food/Snack stands. (especially at state beaches, there are usually places that sell food)
  • Ice Cream Truck(s). Pretty much a given, but this means melty/dripping dairy allergens.
  • What have other people brought? The people on the towels nearby could have peanuts, seeds, PB&J sandwiches, or any number of other possible allergens. Pay attention when they pull out their food so that you can walk around/avoid potential risks.

 

Care plan

For those that also have eczema, the beach can have other potential challenges. Between the heat, moisture, sand, and others, something is likely to trigger some increased eczema response or rashing. 

You want to do what is needed for your situation, but this does not mean you can’t go or have fun at the beach. Go through your typical care plan and make sure you have all your skin-care items with you.

Where is there fresh water nearby? Knowing this is important in case you need to wash off because of hives or eczema.

 

Although it’s not typical, packing a light cotton outfit (long sleeves and pants) will give you the option to clean your skin, apply any skin care treatment products and cover you skin with a soothing fabric to relive the flare up. This practice has saved us many times!

 

Medications

Having your medications close is always essential, but the heat and direct sunlight at the beach can be a problem, especially for Epinephrine. As we mentioned in a previous post, as well as on FARE’s website, Epinephrine has to remain within specific temperature limits to maintain its efficacy.

There are many ways to combat this issue, however. Chief among them being several insulated carrying bags that help maintain the temperature of the epinephrine or any other temperature-sensitive medications you might need to carry. We have used the ones made by Allermates. However, there is another one made by ParcMedic, which is also highly reviewed.

Additionally, there is a slightly different kind of bag made by Frio that people swear by. They have a unique technology that allows it to cool using evaporation, eliminating the need for ice packs or coolers to put your medications in. Most of these are advertised as insulin bags, but they are useful for Epinephrine auto-injectors as well, and many other allergy families and friends we know far prefer these to other carrying options for the beach or other hot, outdoor activities.

 

Sun protection

Sunscreen, swim shirts & hats are part of our beach routine. In general this is part of health skin care but it becomes even more critical with sensitive skin.

Sunscreen will get its own post in time but here are the two things to keep in mind. First, sunscreens may contain ingredients you are allergic to!! Always read the label! Secondly, if your skin is sensitive it might some trial and error before you find one that works well for your skin. We have had excellent luck with Blue Lizard.

 

Exit plan

As with any other outing, you want to go in with a plan to get out. This is not to say you want to leave early, but this also contributes to lowering everyone’s stress levels and allowing you to actually enjoy the day at the beach, rather than merely live through it.

 

 

 

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How to Get the Most Out of Your Doctors Appointments

How to Get the Most Out of Your Doctors Appointments

 

Until I had an allergy child, I didn’t realize the skill and planning required to have a successful and worthwhile visit to the doctor’s office.  It takes time to learn the skills and understand what you need to plan before each appointment! 

 

I know, it was a surprise to me too! 

 

My health has always been good … no major, chronic issues that affect my day to day life. I am very grateful for my good health, but my experience of yearly well visits or sick trips to address an ear infection or the flu left me utterly unprepared. The experience of working with doctors to diagnose and control a chronic health issue requires more than just showing up. 

Shaun, at about 3 months old, after 4 weeks of no improvement with angry eczema covering his skin (check it out here), was referred by our pediatrician to a pediatric dermatologist and then to an allergist. And at this point, I realized I was in over my head. 

3 different doctors, in 3 various offices all trying to help my little child. And although I was grateful for the team of experts we were assembling, everything felt repetitive and disjointed. 

 

I would show up to appointments with Shaun, ready for the doctor to come up with a plan to help us, but I was unprepared. I couldn’t remember (or pronounce) the name of the medications we were trying. I forgot what test the allergist recommended when I met with the dermatologist just a few short days later. I did my best but got distracted by my infant’s needs and, at times, fussiness causing me to miss important information. Each appointment I left with a new “plan of action” for Shaun’s care. 

My head was spinning, and my heart was aching. I wanted my son to be healthy! I wanted to be able to help him.

I realized I needed a more practical approach. To better advocate for my son. 

 

I needed to become a resource to the doctors providing them with the information, treatment plans, and tests the other doctors were trying.  

 

 

Step 1; and I know this sounds silly, but this is experience talking, double check all your appointment information with the office staff!

  • Write everything down or get a print out with the appointment information. This will help you remember the details, and you can refer to it if there is a conflict when you arrive at the doctors’ office.
  • Keep a record of who gave you the information. Taking down the name of who you spoke with will help if you need to talk to them again to adjust or confirm something. 

 

Because you will be working with the office staff a reasonable amount, especially in the beginning, it will also help you learn who is who. In some cases, all the office staff is excellent to work with, and this isn’t as necessary, but in other situations, you want to know who to ask for when you need to get something accomplished!  

 

Verify all aspects of the appointment: date and time, the doctor you will see, the office location (many allergists are spread across multiple offices depending on the day of the week if they’re doing food challenges that day, etc.) and the nature of the appointment.  

 

There is nothing more infuriating and devastating than showing up to your doctor’s office, carrying an infant with bleeding skin, in the dead of winter, desperate for help only to be told by the receptionist that you showed up on the wrong day! (At one office this happened to me several times) 

In those moments, my tired, momma heart fell flat! However, learning to keep this information organized gave me an advantage and the confidence to speak up to the office staff and explain that I was in the right place at the right time and that someone would see Shaun before I left the office. 

These days, now that we have a better handle on Shaun’s overall condition, I do not feel quite as desperate, but I still maintain this practice. Time is a valuable commodity that I never seem to have enough of and making this small investment to be sure to verify and keep a record of this information will only benefit me. 

 

 

Step 2; show up to the appointment prepared. 

Google Docs became my best friend! (not an ad, just really useful) I started keeping a record of all interactions concerning Shaun’s health condition and storing it on Google made it accessible on any computer or device. This made it easy to update several times a day if needed. 

Although I kept everything digitally, I also kept a physical binder. The binder came with me EVERYWHERE because you never know when the doctor is going to return your phone call. I have pulled to the side of the road many times to answer a call from Shaun’s doctor and check the numbers on the blood work results in “the binder.”  

 

Have your current care plan on hand! 

 

I began to notice that at the beginning of each appointment, we would be asked the same questions. So I walked into the exam room with a printed copy of my Google document, and I would give it to the doctor or staff. 

 

Some of the things I had included on the page were: 

  • Name and date of birth 
  • Current height and weight  
  • All current medications (including strength, dose, and frequency)
  • Known allergens 
  • Any other conditions that would need to be considered (in our case eczema and eventually asthma) 

 

Often the doctor or staff would copy the form and put it in their file. This saved us precious minutes with the doctor.

 

  • Bring written questions. Yes, have them written down, as many as you can think of. Understanding food allergies is essential to staying safe. One of the best ways to learn is by asking questions. I promise if you don’t write them down before the appointment, you will forget them! 

 

  • If the appointment is for a child, have books, toys and, if possible, a second adult. It can be hard to keep your child calm an occupied while trying to discuss and understand relevant information that is new to you. Having distractions and extra help will allow you to stay more engaged with the conversation. 

 

 

Step 3; take notes and keep copies! Write important things down during the appointment and ask for copies of care plans and test results.  

  • Any change(s) to the care plan 
  • Answers to your questions
  • Prep requirements for future testing 
  • Red flag symptoms and what response you should take 
  • Medication adjustments 

 

I took notes with a pen during the appointment and transferred it to my digital copy when I got home. (Not the most elegant, but it worked through the chaos) 

Yes, all this took a tremendous amount of time! 

 

But it helped to make the most of our time with Shaun’s doctors. We became efficient and effective! The doctors appreciated the preparation. And honestly, skills and planning allowed Shaun’s care team to get his eczema under control and food allergies diagnosed as quickly as possible. 

 

I am grateful to have learned the benefits of this kind of preparation before a doctors appointment! It is an important life skill to have. And maybe some of my tricks will leave you a few steps ahead during your next doctor’s visit. 

Be Well, 

~LC  

 

 

 

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How to Plan a Trip to the Ballpark

How to Plan a Trip to the Ballpark

 

“ Take me out to the ball game, take me out to the crowd, I’m allergic to peanuts and cracker jacks … “

 

 

Ahhhhh baseball, the great American pastime!!

 

I never dreamed I would be afraid to take my child to a ballpark.  But then again, I never imagined that my child would have a list of 12 food allergies by 9 months old.

 

That first summer, as we re-learned the basics of living to accommodate Shaun’s allergies, I truly believed that taking him to a baseball game would be impossible. Thoughts of peanuts and peanut hulls littering the concrete, sunflower seeds being shelled and tossed aside, sticky ice cream dripping everywhere …. Frightening.

 

Too many allergens + too many people × a highly unpredictable environment = a RISK I was not willing to take!  

 

BUT I was wrong.

 

In time, I found myself more comfortable with how food allergies looked for Shaun (example, he gets severe hives upon contact but is not anaphylactic unless he ingests the food protein he is allergic to). Knowing things like this helped me to make a plan of action that would allow us to keep him safe. I had become more confident in assessing where the risks might be and finding ways to reduce their possible impact on our experience. (Don’t misunderstand, there is still always a risk)

 

So at 3.5 years old (with 7 food allergies) we successfully took Shaun to a Hartford Yard Goats baseball game! Little man even got a game ball!

 

 

Here is how we made it happen!

 

Gather information on the ballpark:  

Start with the park website (look for a stadium reference guide) or a phone call to the stadium’s office. (MLB Offices)

  • Do they have a peanut free game or section in their stadium?
  • What is their entrance and carry in policy? How should you handle bringing your food? Is there a special entrance that is set up to check bags with food and medication?
  • Where are their first aid locations in the stadium? (It may influence where you choose to sit)
  • Can you leave a notification with the medical team of the game that you will be attending and the location of your seats once you have your tickets?

 

Pick your game & seats:

Here are two elements you have control over:

Game date and seats are a personal decision that you can make to ease some of your worries!

 

Pick a game …

  • revisit the dates of the possible “peanut free games.”  
  • Reflect on when other conditions connected to food allergies (such as seasonal allergies, asthma, eczema or chronic hives) typically flare up.

For example, if you know your hives and asthma are bad during May & June because of springtime seasonal allergies, then maybe choose a game mid-summer. This way you’re feeling your best before you even enter the ballpark.

 

As for your seats …

  • consider the information you gathered about the stadium
  • the rate of reaction and the sensitivity level of the food allergy at hand
  • your anxiety about attending the game.

From these thoughts, find a location that allows you to minimize anxiety leading to a better overall experience.

 

For us, we wanted to sit at the end of a row in case we needed to move quickly. We also didn’t attend a major league game but rather a double-A game which is played in a much smaller stadium. Therefore I was not as concerned about the proximity of our seats to the first aid location.

 

** If you are attending with a larger size group, consider a seating option that would allow you to surround the person with the food allergies. Rather than all sitting in the same row pick a block of seats in consecutive rows! It creates a bit of a buffer.

 

Thoughts for Game Day:

  • Pack a bag, with safe foods!
    • If your allergies allow for you to find safe food in the ballpark, fantastic! For our family, it is most reliable (at this point) to pack Shaun’s food!

 

 

  • Pack all needed medication! And it never hurts to keep a copy of the emergency action care plan on hand.
  • Pack lots of wipes!!
    • These can be used to wipe down surfaces before sitting or eating at them.
  • Consider wearing long pants, long sleeves, or closed toed shoes.  
    • For those who have more intense contact reactions, this option adds another layer of physical protection between you and the allergens. You can wipe your seat, but you can’t control the wind. (This might not be ideal for scorching August games – another possible thing to consider when you plan and purchase your game tickets)
  • Be ready and confident to advocate if you need to!
    • Most places are very understanding when it comes to food allergies, but you never know when someone will question you showing up with food and medication! Learn your rights and speak up … even if it is as simple as “I am allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act to have this with me.”

 

**The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) applies to those with food allergies! The actual document is VERY legal (for good reason), so I have also included two resources that might help you learn about your rights under this federal law.

 

Enjoy the game!! It is a milestone moment!! You have planned and worked hard to make a trip to the ballpark a reality!

 

We enjoyed every moment with Shaun at his first game, and have gone back several times since.

 

A note about Dunkin’ Donuts Park, home to the Hartford Yard Goats:

In February 2019, “The Hartford Yard Goats Baseball Club, the Double-A Eastern League Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, announced it would no longer sell shelled peanuts and Cracker Jack at Dunkin’ Donuts Park in an effort to make the venue more accessible for those with peanut and tree nut allergies.” See the full announcement here

 

As it seems to be with most things in the world right now, many people are agitated the Yard Goats Ball Club adopted a policy that will restrict them from eating the traditional peanuts and cracker jacks.

 

 

 

This allergy momma is filled with gratitude!

 

Now I know this seems obvious, but I would like to breakdown the “why?” of my gratitude.

If you recall, we face more than just a peanut allergy with Shaun. So why would I feel gratitude for this new policy?

  • Because with this policy, I know that this organization will help me develop (at the very minimum) reasonable accommodations so we can participate.
  • It is bringing awareness to the public that the food allergy community desperately needs
  • The policy stands as a model to other ballparks & stadiums that the allergy community matters!  
  • That accommodation can be made while remaining hugely successful!

 

 

It is a tremendous gesture of compassion to those fans living with food allergies!

 

I extend a sincere thank you to Tim Restall, the Yard Goats President and the entire Yard Goats Organization for being amazing Food Allergy Ambassadors!  

 

 

 

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4 Ways to Love Someone with Food Allergies

4 Ways to Love Someone with Food Allergies

My niece/nephew/cousin/friend etc. now has food allergies, and I have no experience with them. How do I help?

I’m so glad you asked.

A lot of people (not all, but some) will take the stance of “well it doesn’t directly affect me, so it’s not my problem” mentality.

While it is certainly within your right to look out for yourself and your interests, this does not help the broader allergy community. I would also hope that you care enough about the newly-diagnosed person in your life to at least want to learn a bit more about it.

So, to the initial question, here are a few things you can do.

 

Be Understanding

A new allergy diagnosis is scary. 

Everyone reacts to it differently and will have their own emotions to sort out. Often it is overwhelming, and your brain will start buzzing with questions.

How will it affect your daily life?

Will people treat me differently?

Will I still/ever be able to eat out at a restaurant?

Will I have to change or cancel plans/events?

How will it affect my work/school?

The best thing you can do (and YAY it’s also the easiest!) is be understanding. Listen. Be patient. The person/child who is affected by the allergy is figuring it all out. They will likely need you at some point for support. But don’t rush them. Let them come to you if and when they’re ready to.

 

Include Them

People with food allergies want to live as ordinary a life as possible. Especially with children, people affected by allergies don’t want to feel singled out or different because they can’t eat or certain foods.

Keep inviting them anyway!

It’s simple and requires almost no additional effort on your part. Of course, the person with food allergies may not always be willing or able to say ‘yes’ and attend whatever event/outing/meal you’ve invited them to, but the important thing is that you asked them.

This can be a particularly challenging aspect of living with food allergies for adults that have lived for years with few or none, and then suddenly developed them later in their lives.

 

Support

Be there!

Ask Questions. If you genuinely want to know how you can help, ASK! Showing you care is that simple. Taking an interest in what someone is going through can be powerful. You may not be able to do much, but sometimes your presence is all that is required. Perhaps the person with a food allergy wants to vent. Be that outlet for them.

Sometimes they may need you to back them up. We all know some timid people, and they may not be able to express their concerns or discomfort at times. Offering them a “Hey, do you want to get out of here?” could mean the world.

 

Share this blog!This one should be obvious, but if you know someone who can benefit from this information, share it!

 

Empowerment

This one is more for those who care for young kids with food allergies. The benefit is learning early what their food allergies are, and food allergy living ends up becoming just another part of life.

The hard part is managing when, and how much control over those allergies do you give to that child. Practicing good habits and educating them is a great foundation to build upon (we’ll cover exactly how you can do this in a later post).

There are also tons of resources available. FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) is a huge one, and they have lots of valuable information and ‘cheat sheets’ you can view and download for free.

May 12th – 18th this year is Food Allergy Awareness Week! We will be working on new content to highlight Food Allergy Awareness especially.


Some more information can be found here.

 

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