Should you feed your baby peanuts?

You may have read about the recent peanut allergy study suggesting that early exposure to peanuts is beneficial for reducing the incidence of an allergy. I saw the same headlines and shared the links on social media. This is exciting stuff and the more people that have access to this information, the better. At least you’d think so. More on that below.

So the study. The idea of feeding your children peanuts earlier in life rather than purposely delaying exposure to prevent a peanut allergy is not so much ‘groundbreaking’ as it is a direct counter to the years of advice parents were given. As my mother will tell you, the old approach was to delay introducing major allergens to kids who might be predisposed to food allergies due family history. Maybe the body would be better able to digest the proteins or maybe any ‘allergy’ would simply be outgrown by the time first exposure came. So was the thinking.

Well, it turns out that was wrong. That said, there should be two major take-aways from the study. (A) not every baby should be fed peanuts and (B) there is not a direct link between my daughter’s peanut allergy and her lack of exposure. At least not one that this study found.

Let’s start with the study. “Investigators tested the hypothesis that regularly eating foods containing peanut – if started during within the first year of life – could elicit a protective immune response rather than an allergic reaction.” The infants were chosen for the study because they were considered high risk for developing a peanut allergy because they had severe eczema* and/or an egg allergy. Participants were excluded if they showed a significant sensitization to peanut as measured by skin prick test (SPT). So Bubba would have been excluded. She showed signs of a severe peanut allergy upon her very first SPT at six months old. These researchers didn’t study early peanut exposure to kids with an allergy, aka don’t tell me my kid wouldn’t have a peanut allergy if I had just fed her peanuts.

But here is what they did find: “Early (peanut) consumption is effective not only in high-risk infants who show no sensitivity to peanuts early on, but it is also effective in infants who already demonstrate peanut sensitivity.” That is AWESOME. Anything that reduces the number of kids with a food allergy is just plain rad.

So what’s the harm in mainstream media carrying this story? People like this guy. Too many people who know nothing about allergies now feel like they know what has caused the outbreak in peanut allergies – overprotective parents. And that’s not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Not every baby should be fed peanuts. If you have a family history of food allergies, a baby with eczema, or a child who has had an allergic reaction to any food, please discuss the best course of action with your pediatrician and/or an allergist.

So, parent to parent…what would I say if you told me you’re scared to feed your kid peanuts for the first time because of kids like Bubba? I would tell you I understand the fear. I would tell you there is no harm in talking to your doctor. I would ask about eczema and family history. If it all sounds clear? I would tell you that current research says you should feed your baby peanuts sooner rather than later.

Want to read the study for yourself? You can read more here and the trial details are available on TrialShare. I also recommend reading both Robyn O’Brien’s piece about the limitations of the study and FARE’s response.

*Note – please consider taking your infant to an allergist if they have eczema that is not resolving. 37% of infants with moderate to severe eczema have food allergies. Here is another article discussing the link between eczema and allergies. Bubba had moderate to severe eczema and we took it seriously. The rest is history.

Blood testing – round two

3196625932_5802361214_qBubba is normally a TROOPER. Blood tests, skin tests, epi-pens, hospital trips, you name it. She handles it better than most adults would. So she was about due to just be DONE with being pricked. Not too long after our last round of skin prick testing, Bubba was due for updated blood testing. Our first attempt was an utter fail. Apparently, someone can become so upset during a blood draw that the blood will literally not even come out. How’s that for some kind of ninja body control? Poor Bubba. Boy did she scream. I held her for a good 5 minutes with a needle in her arm and we got about a teaspoon of blood. Not nearly enough to fill the four vials we needed. So we left, only to have to go back again another day.

Our next attempt was much more pleasant. I pumped her full of fluids the whole morning and sent her into the lab with Daddy and a bag full of candy. Success!

We added a few new foods to our allergy list and increased the class of our milk allergy. We can add to Bubba’s obscure allergen list oysters, mussels, and rye. But she tested negative to fennel, celery, and green pepper so those are wins. She also tested very low-positive to pineapple, poppy, and tomato. We have an appointment to food challenge pineapple. Believe it or not pineapple would actually be a huge victory for us. It randomly appears as an ingredient in several otherwise safe foods – sorbet, frozen waffles, juice boxes, and sausages. So keep your fingers crossed for us!

What your kid’s treat-free Valentine’s Day means to me

IMG_3985We feel so lucky that Bubba attends an extremely supportive preschool. Before Bubba, they were not nut-free, families sent in birthday treats to school, most holidays involved food, and the school spring fair included a bake sale. They have evolved into a very allergy-aware school with a number of polices that help keep Bubba (and her many food allergic classmates) safe. The school is now nut-free and no outside treats are allowed. Including on Valentine’s Day.

I’m not sure non-allergy families really understand the positive impact of removing the traditional candy-filled valentines from the classroom. So I thought I’d share.

I would probably keep Bubba home from school on Valentine’s Day if treats were permitted. There is no way I could pretend the day would not involve extreme risk. What would people send in? Would someone forget the no-nut policy? Even if they didn’t, surely some of the treats would be unsafe. Bubba is allergic to milk, eggs, and numerous other foods besides nuts. What if kids started eating the treats in the classroom? Could my three-year-old really be expected to turn down candy out of sight of her parents? What if she snuck something? All it would take is one bite. Best case scenario, my kid would vomit, struggle to breathe, get a shot of epinephrine, have to go to the hospital, and strike fear into her parents’ hearts, her teachers’ hearts, and scare all her tiny classmates. BEST case scenario.

But let’s pretend I was feeling *lucky* and was somehow confident that my kid would not ingest a single bite of candy while at school. That kind of super-human willpower I must confess is something I do not possess as a grown woman (sugar = kryptonite). But let’s pretend.

So my daughter would exchange sweet colorful candy-filled valentines with all her favorite friends. She would know that all the food they gave her could make her very very sick. (That’s the only way this pretend game works – she has to know the danger in order to not eat the candy) Why would they do that? How do I explain that to a preschooler? She would come home and I would have to take away all the treats and valentines she got. From her friends. Would I eat them? Would her sister? Would I throw them out? Is there a scenario here that is not sad?

My kid has years ahead of her to learn that the world is not always fair. For her to learn that she will carry her own unique burdens in this life as we all do. As she gets older she can be trusted to turn down unsafe foods. And will know that we’ll always make something equally yummy for her.

But for now, especially when she is so young, I am so grateful that the lesson she is learning this Valentine’s Day is that those around her make sacrifices to keep everyone safe. To keep everyone included. Thank you, non-allergy families, for adjusting to this new reality with us. For trying your best to be understanding. And for sharing the love this Valentine’s Day.

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Book Review: Patty’s Secret

Written by Leneille Moon

Patty’s Secret: A Tale About Living with Food Allergies
is the story of a pig who is nervous to start school and tell others about her food allergies. It highlights some of the anxieties and fears children with food allergies have – how to tell others, how to be around kids eating their allergens, and how to turn down an unsafe snack or treat. Tough stuff for our little ones! The book takes a slightly more serious tone than other allergy books. When Patty knowingly takes a bite of an unsafe snack, she suffers an allergic reaction. Patty’s teacher administers her Epi-Pen and she feels better. The author leaves out the next crucial step in appropriate medical care – a trip to the hospital. However, as long as you discuss the importance of this with caregivers and your child, I think this omission is okay. The author used that post-reaction moment for Patty to be able to hear from her friends that they would not have laughed at her allergies. I think the broader message of the book – the importance of telling others about your allergies – is an important one. Patty’s Secret would be a great book for a food allergic child to share with her class. It could speak ‘for’ her, help share some of her silent fears, and open the dialogue with classmates about acceptance.

I think the book would pair greatly with FARE’s Be A Pal program which helps teach students how to keep their food allergic friends safe. Print a free Be A Pal poster here and include it with a Patty’s Secret book donation to your child’s school.

Latest Skin Testing

I’ve posted about the basics of allergy testing – why you should test, the various tests available, and their limitations. We first tested Bubba via skin prick around 6-months-old. She’s had around six skin prick tests since then, usually to try to determine if a ‘spicy mouth’ reaction to a food was an allergic reaction or just a benign toddler ‘thing’ to a strong flavor or distasteful new food. Other times it was to determine if she was allergic to other similar foods. For example, after Bubba reacted violently to sesame seeds we decide to test for a few other seeds before introducing them to her.

Before. So Chill.

Before. So Chill.

Today we tested Bubba for some of her known allergens, either because they hadn’t been skin tested in years, or because they had only been tested via blood. Also, we tested for a few unlikely outliers for the reasons described above. Allergy testing is a necessary evil. But I can tell you there are better ways to spend an afternoon.

Bubba was a champ. At least compared to me who needed to cry to Hubs about it at the end of the day (whilst drinking a glass of chardonnay). She was tested for 22 foods plus 2 controls. So 24 pricks. On her tiny. Little. Back. She laid on her belly. I had a movie playing on the iPad. I pressed my face into hers and held her arms. I’m not sure I needed to. Bubba laid still. She didn’t thrash. But she did. Scream. Her. Bloody. Heart. Out. I almost wished she had fought. Because her bravery just breaks my heart more.

So I am drinking chardonnay. Because it is very hard to separate yourself as a Mama from your Littles when they are in pain.

Tree nuts upper left, peanut mid-back, milk barely noticeable upper-right.

Tree nuts upper left, peanut mid-back, milk barely noticeable upper-right.

This hurts me to look at.

This hurts me to look at.

While we waited for Bubba’s skin to react she watched her movie, hollered about being SO SCRATCHY I NEED TO TEAR MY SKIN OFF, and I blowed on her skin and murmured at her. Mind you Bubba is fully over it now. I’m pretty sure she was over it by the time we were back in the car and she was eating her chocolate lollipop. But I am still trying to sort through the results. She tested Class IV (the highest) for peanut, cashew, hazelnut, pistachio, walnut, sesame seed, crab, clam, milk, and kiwi. She tested Class II for pecan, shrimp, oyster, scallops, lobster, and pineapple. Negative for celery, fennel, anise, and coriander (paranoid allergy-mom seed-suspicions). I don’t feel like there should be any shockers here, but I was a bit shaken nonetheless. In particular because Bubba has had anaphylactic reactions to milk multiple times and her milk wheal (hive) was barely noticeable next to her tree nut and peanut wheals. Bubba has never been exposed to tree nuts or peanuts. So I guess I came out of testing more scared for the future.

*It is important to note that skin prick testing has a low false negative, but high false positive results. It also provides no predictive ability on the likelihood of anaphylaxis.

Product Profile – Twigtale Custom (Allergy) Book

Twigtale is a company specializing in personalized books for children to help them with transitions, improve their sense of identity, cope with loss, or understand something about themselves. Like allergies! How cool, right?

Twig Tale Allergy Book

Twig Tale Allergy Book

There are tons of pre-scripted books. You simply personalize the book by adding your child’s name, pictures, and relevant details. The food allergy book is just the right mix of education and fun.

If you utilize one of the pre-formatted books, the language is carefully crafted, sweet, perfectly child-appropriate and makes completing a book take all of 30 minutes. Unless of course your digital pictures are a sea of thousands of unorganized pictures (ahem), in which case it could take a few more minutes.

For Bubba, the language of the allergy book didn’t quite fit her unique profile (read – way too many allergies). I emailed Twig Tale customer service to ask what I could do and got a phone call that night. They were so sweet! We decided one of the blank templates would be our best bet. I simply copied most of the allergy book language but tweaked it as appropriate. Bubba loves her book. It shares so many of the special things about her, but also helps her understand what we need to do to keep her safe. We included a couple pictures of her with hives, of her epinephrine, and of unsafe foods. It can be complicated to teach a young child about all the different variations of unsafe foods. The most important thing, at this age, is for Bubba to know that only Mommy and Daddy know what foods are safe. But we feel that it’s important for her to start learning what all different kinds of unsafe foods look like. Most of the rest of the pictures are just adorable, silly, Bubba-being-Bubba pictures. Because it’s also important for her to know her allergies are just one special thing about her.

The books are $20 with another $5.50 in shipping costs. BUT there is a 15% off special through 2/15/15. Code: HEART15.

Product Profile – SunButter On-The-Go

While many allergy families are grateful for the increasing number of schools that are nut-free, it can be frustrating for non-allergy families to adjust. What is safe to bring to school these days? Peanut butter has long been loved for it’s convenience, affordability, and kid-friendly flavor. May I be so bold as to say SunButter, especially with it’s new travel-friendly packaging might just fit the bill? We love it and I know lots of non-allergic kids who do too. It’s peanut, tree-nut, dairy, egg, sesame and gluten free. Yippeee!

Supplies for supplying your own food

Created by Blogger Tiffany Glass Ferreira

Created by Blogger Tiffany Glass Ferreira

There are actually upsides of food allergies. Our family eats at home more often (which is lovely and also a great deal cheaper), reads ingredient labels, cooks together, seeks out whole real foods, and has learned to diminish the importance of treats (at least in comparison to fun and time with friends and family). I’d venture to guess our kids eat a slightly wider variety of foods than they would otherwise and they certainly don’t eat much fast food (no judgment, just not really an option for us). Here is a brief list of a few of our favorite items in case they can make your life easier too.

 

 

Preparing Food

Cuisinart Mini-Prep Processor – We use a lot of flax seed in our baking and cooking. My meatballs couldn’t survive without them. It has amazing health benefits and also makes a great egg replacer. Ground seeds offer far greater health benefits but only store for 90 days in the fridge. So we buy whole, store them in the freezer, and grind up small batches as necessary. We also use our mini prep for chopping up raw almonds. These are the only safe nut for Bubba so we use them a lot in homemade energy balls (sort of like a Lara Bar), as a yogurt topping, etc. We buy unpasteurized almonds directly from a farm free of cross-contamination with peanuts or other tree nuts.

Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker – There are several really delicious coconut and almond milk ice creams that we like. We’re not crazy about the soy ice creams. Just personal preference. But nothing beats homemade ice cream. Our favorite recipe is Vegan Cherry Garcia (we use Enjoy Life Mega Chunks).

KitchenAid – Although there are ever increasing options for food allergic folks on the market today, yummy baked goods are seriously lacking. It is also hard to find something safe for Bubba that is not unnecessarily restrictive, i.e. gluten-free even though we’re okay with wheat. Plus baked goods are so preservative laden and kids looooooove baking. So we bake at least every couple weeks and keep lots of yummy items on hand in the freezer. Our two staples are Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies and Vegan Banana Muffins.

Jelly Belly Electric Ice Shaver – Hubs and the girls are obsessed with water ice, shave ice, slushies – whatever they call this in your neck of the woods. The girls will actually just eat a bowl of plain shave ice, but usually we get a little more indulgent and put juice on it.

Transporting Food

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Little Green Pouch owner, Melissa, feeding her daughter

Little Green Pouch – perfect for making your own baby food, transporting smoothies, etc. This awesome mama-owned company was started by friends of mine. I love these things. Less wasteful, healthier, and dish-washer safe. Our favorite smoothie is Vanilla Banana Blueberry.

Slim Snack – we use these to make our own yogurt popsicles. They are silicone so frozen smoothies and ice cream can slide right out of them. They also have a handy shape for squeezing other snacks into lunch bags or purses.

Rubbermaid Lunch Blox – stackable, easy to open, dishwasher safe, and they come with their own ice pack.
Hanna Andersson Lunch Bag – pricey, but I can justify the expense for our family. This lunch bag goes everywhere Bubba goes. It carries her Auvi-qs and food for every outing. It’s insulated, snaps easily onto our stroller handle, and has a great zipper for our allergy alert tag. And the Rubbermaid Lunch Blox fit in it perfectly!

Thermos FOOGO – We used these for Bubba for awhile with great success; almond milk stayed nice and cool for hours and the cup didn’t leak. When our baby was making his transition from bottles to sippy cups, we transitioned Bubba off of sippy cups entirely. We didn’t want there to be any confusion in the house over what was safe for her (the baby drinks dairy). So now these are only for him and Bubba drinks from ‘big girl’ water bottles and open cups.

I would love to hear about some of your favorite home cooking supplies. I will add them to my list! If you’re in the market for any of the items above and you purchase through the link provided, Food Allergy Ninja will get a portion of the Amazon proceeds at no additional cost to you. We appreciate your support!

Meet the Ninja

I am a food allergy fighting ninja. My ingredient researching skills rival the FBI. My three-year-old is allergic to thirty foods. Scared of needles? Not me. I have Epi-pened Bubba at the gym, at a campfire, heck, right on our kitchen floor. I wasn’t always this confident.

I wasn’t even truly aware of my growing confidence until I made Scary Mommy’s Mommy Skillz list.  I cried when I saw my words and my little Bubba smiling in the ER. Right there on the Internet for the whole world to see. After years of struggling to keep her safe and feeling like I might not ever be able to do so, I needed this pat on the back. Badly. I still have so much to learn and I learn every day from all the other allergy blogging mamas out there. But I would love to pass along my three plus years of growth, learning, and advocacy.

Our story is spread across these posts rather haphazardly. But it is a story that has become far too common. Fifteen million Americans currently have a food allergy including 1 in 13 children.

Safe Food / Recipes

New foods require a lot of time at the grocery store. Or maybe they don’t. When I think about it, there are really just whole sections of the store that are off limits entirely. In general, processed foods are hard. We are very lucky that Bubba has always been an amazing eater. She loves to eat and loves herself some meat. No protein issues here!

Bubba eats a lot of fresh fruit (minus kiwi and mango) including avocado (yay for a healthy fat source!). She loves smoothies (I usually add MCT oil for extra heathy fats) and oatmeal for breakfast. She will eat most meats and adores plain pasta (just olive oil and salt), cous cous, or rice. Her milk alternative is almond milk (the only tree nut she is not allergic to). Almond milk is a great source of vitamin D (which she also gets from a multivitamin) and calcium (it provides more than dairy). Almond milk is lower in protein than cow’s milk which is so crucial for toddlers, but as I said, Bubba loves herself some meat.

Here are some common safe foods for us in case you need some ideas of your own. Please always read the labels. You never know when an ingredient or facility warning may change.

Breakfast

We often make smoothies using protein powder, almond milk, and frozen fruit. I usually put in MCT (coconut) oil for extra healthy fats. Please note that the protein powder is dairy, egg, nut, and pea protein free but it does have a facility warning for tree nuts, milk, and egg.

Almond Milk – Original

Shop Rite Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Quaker Oats Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal – Lower Sugar

Thomas’ Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

Earth’s Best Organic Mini Blueberry Waffles

Honeynut Chex

Homemade pancakes and waffles – we make huge batches and freeze the exta

Kirkland Bacon

Lunch/Dinner

Yummy Dino Buddies Chicken Nuggets

Black beans, cubed avocado and a little salt in a bowl. I won the Mommy jackpot with what a great eater Bubba is.

My homemade meatballs

Foster Farms Homestyle Turkey Meatballs (for when I am out of mine)

Brown rice bowls – yep, just plain brown rice. I told you Bubba was a good eater.

Alexia Roasted Straight Cut Fries

Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks

Melt Organic Chocolate Spread

Follow Your Heart Monterey Jack Vegan Gourmet Cheese Alternative

Sunbutter

Applegate Natural Uncured Beef Hotdogs

Homemade marinara

So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Yogurtwatch out for pea protein in all vegan yogurts

Potatoes with margarine and salt

Barney Butter and Jelly Sandwiches – Barney Butter is made from almonds (safe for us) in a dedicated facility. It is guaranteed peanut and gluten-free per the manufacturer.

Homemade pizza using homemade or premade crust (I’ve used Pillsbury, Trader Joe’s, and one from Costco). We use regular marinara sauce and Follow Your Heart vegan cheese (the only one without pea protein). Bubba loves mushrooms and olives for her toppings.

Tacos or Burritos – filled with Tofutti Sour Cream, avocado, black beans, and plain ground meat

PIllsbury Crescent Rolls (“Original”) – we use this to make safe hand pies, meat pies, and mini apple pies

Stroehman Dutch Country 100% Whole Wheat is our usual bread.

BLT sandwiches. Minus the lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Bubba likes Tofutti sour cream or mashed avocado on hers.

Chicken drumsticks are among her favorite foods. Our favorite recipe is here.

Couscous mixed up with all sorts of things. Whatever is on hand. Olives, leftover steak, veggies, vegan cheese cubes, etc. I usually add a bit of salt and a dash of red wine vinegar. Make a big batch – it keeps well for a few days and travels easily.

Treats

Almond Dream Yogurt

Biscoff with apple slices – be warned…this stuff is ADDICTIVE

Newman’s Own Fig Newmans – dairy-free variety only

Homemade Banana Chia Seed Pudding

So Delicious Dairy Free Chocolate Coconut Milk

Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips

Enjoy Life Crispy Rice Chocolate Bars

Cherrybrook Kitchen cake mix

Golden Oreos

Immaculate Brownie Mix – I sub 1/2c applesauce for the eggs and use Earth’s Balance baking stick margarine

Frozen cherries

For specials holiday treats – Amanda’s Own Dairy Free Chocolates

Some Pillsbury icings and Duncan Hines cake mixes have been safe for us – read the labels, as always

Candy: Skittles, Starbursts, Haribo Gummi Bears, Charms Blow Pops, Smarties, Jolly Ranchers, Swedish Fish, AirHeads Taffy

Snacks

Date Balls

Kashi Cereal Bars

Earth Balance Vegan Aged White Cheddar Popcorn – note that the “puffs” have white beans in them so they’re not safe for a legume allergy like Bubba’s

Kashi Crunchy Granola & Seed Bars – Chocolate Chip Chia

Ritz Crackers

Honeymaid Graham Crackers

Stacy’s Pita Chips – Cinnamon and Sugar

Original Tings Crunchy Corn Sticks

Bachman Pretzel Stix

Jim’s Soft Pretzels – most soft pretzels are NOT ok because whey is used as a dough conditioner

Fruit – she loves cantaloupe, grapes, watermelon, frozen cherries and now pineapple!