Living on the egg-dge

IMG_2273SORRY, sorry. Just trying to find a way to express how daring my day was. Because today I took Baby Two for scrambled eggs.

It’s been almost exactly a year since the last time we managed to get some scramble down her – last December, on my birthday, during one night away from Sidney when Sadie was still too small to be left with her grandparents overnight.

Since then it’s been playing at the back of my mind. Every few months some article or other pops up on my Twitter feed proclaiming that avoidance of certain foods could actually lead to the development of allergies.

This was the latest – research from Canada suggesting that parents with one peanut allergic kid may be increasing the risk of allergy in their second child by shielding them from said bastard foodstuff.

The lead researcher, Dr Elana Lavine, said: “If a younger sibling of a PNA [peanut allergic] child isn’t fed peanut until a somewhat older age, we may be inadvertently increasing that sibling’s chance of becoming PNA too.”

The theory is that being introduced to a substance later in life raises the risk of an allergic response. One famous 2008 study shows kids in Israel are ten times less likely to be peanut allergic than Jewish children in the UK – possibly because they are habitually weaned on peanut snacks.

So the well-meaning advice is to try to introduce allergenic foods such as egg, peanut and so on before 12 months of age. The assumption tends to be that we parents of allergic kids are too scared to introduce these foods to their little brothers and sisters in case they turn out to be allergic, too.

Of course that worry does exist. But most of us have run the gamut of livid rashes, nasty eczema, unexplained hives, vomiting, you name it, before our first kids were diagnosed with food allergy. We’re primed to spot the early signs – I pretty much knew Sadie wasn’t allergic because she’d had none of those issues. I was also very lucky because Sidney’s allergist tested her at eight months, just to put our minds at rest. I know not everyone has that luxury.

Yet what nobody ever mentions, when doling out this well-meaning advice, is that what we are actually not happy about is the risk that our allergic kids might come into contact with the stuff via their baby siblings.

Man, if I gave Sadie a peanut butter sandwich tomorrow she’d use it as a hat and then trundle off to bite her elder brother.

We know that for Sidney even a touch of egg is enough to trigger a reaction – it’s how we found out he was allergic in the first place. This summer we were on holiday and someone somewhere (don’t ask) managed to break an egg in a hat box. My husband unwittingly touched the rim of a hat, then held Sidney’s arm for a few seconds, and suddenly he was dotted with hives.

So, actually, while the research might suggest we’d be better off allowing our non-allergic younger kids to eat everything their elder siblings are allergic to, the reality isn’t as straightforward as all that.

Send Sadie off overnight to her grandparents? Well, at 21 months old she’s still waking up all hours of the night screaming for boob. Do it while her brother is at nursery? Well, he’s only in nursery two mornings a week and they eat all of their meals together.

But it’s been playing on my mind. Not only because I would quite like to avoid inflicting allergies on Sadie if I can help it, but I’m acutely aware of what she’s missing out on simply by virtue of being her brother’s sister.

So today I bit the bullet and took Sadie out for lunch while my husband stayed home and looked after Sidney. We ordered scrambled eggs on toast. It was a very odd feeling. I have never been able to walk off the street into a restaurant, sit down and order anything on a whim for Sidney. It was nice. I felt guilty, too, about Sidney at home oblivious to his sister’s lunch date, so I bought him a T-shirt with a robot on.

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Despite an infuriatingly slow start (ignoring the egg, concentrating on the flipping toast) she ended up wolfing down a fair bit.

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As predicted, we had egg in her ears, up the sleeves of her jumper, on my leg and all over the floor. So we went to the cafe loo to scrub down.

Back home, it was straight to the bathroom for a strip, clothes bundled into the washing machine, hands and face washed with soap and water, teeth brushed, her toothbrush slooshed twice with washing up liquid (she has a fancy for ramming it into her brother’s mouth when he’s not looking) and into some clean new togs.

Job done.

Next task: hummus and peanut butter. I might need a little while to gear myself up to that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shea panic

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ONE OF THE few mainstream chocolates that is safe for Sidney to eat is Cadbury’s Buttons. This is fantastic because:

* they are kiddie-friendly

* they come in teeny packs so it’s easy to limit the amount he shovels in

* they are available everywhere so it’s the perfect party bag sweet to suggest to friends

* they are available everywhere so it’s the perfect treat for family to buy

* they are available everywhere so if we find ourselves in a situation where we’re out with friends and every kid is having an ice cream, or a cake, or something Sidney can’t have, it’s easy to track down a packet of Buttons for him to enjoy

* they are brilliantly versatile for cake toppings, biscuit decorations, etc

So imagine the panic when a new ingredients listing turned up on selected packets of Buttons a little while ago: shea.

You’ve no doubt seen shea listed in hand creams and body lotions and not given much thought to what it might be. I had no idea. Turns out it’s a West African tree nut.

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In fact, chocolate manufacturers – including Cadbury – have been using shea as an ingredient for years. It has just now, under EU law, become compulsory for them to list the constituent parts of the vegetable fats they use. Some packs still bear the old labels, but soon all foods that contain shea will have to declare it along with other fats. So no change of ingredients, thankfully. Meanwhile, allergic reaction to shea nut is highly unlikely and it is not necessary to list shea as an allergen. See here and here for more.

Caution should still be exercised when using shea skin products as there is some suggestion that contact with broken skin may cause sensitisation ( i.e. provoke allergy).

But buttons are good to go.

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Hello…

im-backDear readers, I do confess, it’s been seven months since my last posting… What can I say, other than a demented 18-month-old, a four-going-on-14-year-old and the paid work I can squeeze into the moments when they are both asleep (ha!) mean I have reluctantly neglected my station?

There’s been so much I’ve wanted to blog about, too. This has been the Year of the Allergy Mama on a Mission. Our grassroots campaign to fight Alpro’s decision to merge nut and soya milk production and slap a ‘may contain nuts’ warning on all their soya products resulted in victory when they backtracked and agreed to keep the lot, bar chilled yoghurts, free from cross contamination.

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Then there was the Tesco campaign, started by a group of feisty mothers on Facebook infuriated by the supermarket’s decision to stick ‘may contain nuts’ on everything from fruit juice to potatoes, which resulted in a 20,000-strong petition, a mini media frenzy and an apology from Tesco and commitment to review all of its allergy labels. They’ve been slow in seeing their promise through but, in recent weeks, some of the products we were campaigning about – soda water, ham and juice among them – have been reissued with no nut warning. Huzzah.

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On the home front, Sidney has outgrown his chickpea allergy and we’ve been able to introduce a few new foods – mustard, chestnuts, celery and beans, for instance, as well as those nuts that scored low or zero on skin prick tests: walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds. As our wonderful doc said when we last saw him: “I think we are where we’re at with Sidney now.” Feeling that we finally have a comprehensive tally of his allergies has been a huge confidence boost. Previously, I felt like I was flailing around unsure when the next allergy might pop up and nervous to introduce a whole string of potentially allergenic foods.

Now this is where we are:

Eggs

Peanuts

Sesame

Brazil nuts

Cashews

Pistachios

Red lentils

So there we have it. It might sound like a tally and a half but, given that we started off more than three years ago with green peas, bananas, wheat and chickpeas added to that list, it feels like a doddle these days.

Well, all right, not a doddle at all, but I recommend starting off with as many allergies as you can possibly squeeze in – that way, things can surely only get better :-)

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Everything may contain nuts

images-7I’M BASHING this post out super-speedily. It demands much more time and effort, but until I can manage a proper write-up please may I direct you to the short but powerful blog post below, by ‘I Bake Without’?

There is a huge row ongoing on social media between families with allergies and Tesco. Very recently it has become apparent that the supermarket is slapping ‘may contain nuts’ warnings on everything from vegetables to fruit juice. It’s too convoluted to go into how utterly shit Tesco has been in responding accurately and coherently to consumers’ complaints about this. At first, the customer care staff confirmed that, yes, from now on ALL products would be slapped ‘with may contain nuts’ warnings. Then there was a huge and furious outcry. Then the bigwigs stepped in to issue a denial.

I’ll post more about this as soon as I can. But please have a look at this and see what you think:

http://ibakewithout.com/2014/04/04/why-must-we-fight-for-good-allergy-labelling/

 

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Yes peas

DID IT! Passed our hospital green pea challenge! Three pots of peas scoffed before lunch and all is good. We now have to wait 48 hours to ensure no delayed reaction, then come Saturday we can embark upon a pea frenzy. I think the key to our success this time was the dress code. I can strongly vouch for the curative powers of a top hat.

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FreeFrom Food Awards – top picks

Unknown-9THREE YEARS ago on Mother’s Day my then five month old had his first allergic reaction and was dashed to hospital in an ambulance. Some bloody Mother’s Day.

But last night I was a guest at the FreeFrom Food Awards and it set me thinking how amazing it is that, three years back, I had no clue about allergy and no part to play in its weird old world whereas now I am privileged to know a wonderful circle of people who share a common cause.

From the fellow allergy parents with whom I’ve swapped tips and pilfered recipes and ad hoc support, to the specialist paediatric dietitians who have doled out their advice in late night Twitter discussions, the hard-working teams at the Anaphylaxis Campaign and Allergy UK, the people who work in industry but take allergy seriously enough to make it their mission to improve services (I’m thinking of Wan Mak at Sodexo and others), the fellow allergy bloggers, and the people like Russell Johnson of Incognito Cakes, who I met last night and who has four kids, a full time job and a wife who is allergic to wheat and dairy, and who spends his evenings whipping up gluten, wheat, dairy, egg and soya free cakes and cake mixes in his kitchen in Derby.

Last night, his company rightly scooped a ‘highly commended’ in the Foods for Children category for its Cheeky Little Monkey cake mix.

Then, of course, there is the omnipresent Alex Gazzola, aka @healthjourno, who is something of a Coeliac disease and food hypersensitivity guru and a dedicated campaigner against all quackery, not to mention one of the core team of people who make the FreeFrom Food Awards such a growing success.

Now in its seventh year, the event is the brainchild of the formidable Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, founder of the Foods Matter allergy and intolerance websites. She and Cressida Langlands set up the awards in a bid to “encourage and reward innovation and excellence” in the ‘free from’ market and, judging by the increasing number of entrants and the heaving crowds at last night’s party (heartening to see heavy hitters from the big supermarkets among the guests), her efforts are having serious impact. Later this year they will be launching the inaugural FreeFrom Eating Out Awards, which we can only hope will revolutionise allergy provision in the restaurant industry in the same way.

Anyway, for the past two years I’ve been chuffed to be invited to be a judge at the awards, which basically involves sitting around eating cake and shouting at people who want things with nuts in to win.

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Well, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I haven’t made any secret of the fact that I’ve been really keen to see more products that cater for multiple allergies scooping the big prizes.

Two years ago Michelle introduced a specific ‘nut free’ category to address this need. Frustratingly, while there are many really wonderful entrants across the board, there is still a paucity of genuinely nut free entries. Is this because there aren’t enough products out there, or because manufacturers aren’t putting themselves forward?

So, as a judge, when I come across a gluten free pasta brand that has nominated itself as a ‘nut free’ product (as this year) I think that’s just taking the piss. It’s like an apple being nominated in the ‘not a banana’ category. I gave them marks like this:

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But there were some great entries, too, to whom I gave marks like this:

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Anyway, here is a full list of all the winners and below is my own pick of the best products – most for for multiple allergies – from the FreeFrom Food Awards 2014:

Pan’Artisan pizza bases, breads & dough balls

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This company makes conventional pizzas, breads and more for schools and food service, all in a nut free factory. D’you hear that, schools and cafes and service stations and public attractions? Huh?

Meanwhile, Pan’Artisan’s gluten free pizza bases scooped ‘highly commended’ in the Foods for Food Service category. I had a munch and they’re good – crisp base, slightly chewy, a little sweet like the Venice Bakery UK bases (see below) but I’d happily eat one.

While the gluten free bases contain nothing but rice flour, potato starch, olive oil, cane sugar, tapioca, yeast and salt and the bulk of the gluten-containing bread products are little more than wheat, water, rapeseed oil, yeast and preservative they haven’t been able to give me any more info on potential traces from the likes of egg, sesame etc so I’m chasing that. But at the moment I really love these people. If your local school or cafe hasn’t got an allergy safe bread or pizza option, tell them about Pan’Artisan. www.panartisan.com

Venice Bakery pizza bases & flatbreads

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I can’t hail Pan’Artisan and not Venice Bakery, whose seasoned gluten free pizza bases won the Innovation Award. Gluten, egg, nut, sesame, dairy and soya free, with a good chewy, crisp texture and longish shelf life, what’s not to like? www.venicebakery.co.uk

Bfree plain bagels

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These aren’t for us as they ‘may contain’ nuts and are made with pea protein but you’ve got to credit a bagel that’s gluten, egg and dairy free, as well as low in sugar. These new bagels were co-winners of the Breakfast Foods category with judges hailing the “great flavour”. Best toasted. www.bfreefoods.com

Focaccia per Tutti

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Well, let’s be honest, this is focaccia “per tutti” except for those with nut allergies (again). But this Italian bread – overall winner of the awards – is brilliantly free from eggs, dairy, gluten, wheat and soya, so fair play to them. They just contain ground almonds, which from our point of view is a bugger. www.focacciapertutti.com

Big Oz cereals

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I love Big Oz cereals because they are one of the few gluten AND nut free cereal makers around. Their chocolate buckwheat flakes with raspberries took ‘highly commended’ in the Nut Free category but the range extends from brown rice puffs through millet flakes and honey pop corn puffs. www.bigoz.co.uk

Ilumi ready meals

ILUMI Line Up 1_0I’ve raved about Ilumi ready meals before. Egg, dairy, gluten and nut free meals ranging from curries to soups and stews, made from 100 per cent natural ingredients with no preservatives, additives or sweeteners AND vacuum packed for a long shelf life and no need to refrigerate… They quite rightly took the non-veggie Ready Meals gold medal with their Lamb Rogan Josh, and the Nut Free category with their Kerala Chicken Curry. www.ilumiworld.com

The Black Farmer sausages

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When Sidney was still allergic to wheat these were a boon for parties – gluten and wheat free but also free from egg, nuts, sesame and all. The chipolatas (great for mini sausages on sticks) landed ‘highly commended in the Meat-Based Ready Meals category. www.theblackfarmer.com

Just Love Food Co cakes

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It’s notoriously tough to find a nut free celebration cake, so this company’s party confections were deservedly ‘highly commended’ in the Nut Free category. You can find them in the major supermarkets and online. Of course, I only wish they were dairy and/or egg or gluten free, too. But I would say that. www.justlovefoodcompany.com

Fun Foods 4 All Bob the Builder pasta shapes

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These gluten, wheat, egg and dairy free pasta shapes are super-cute for wheat free kids and scooped ‘highly commended’ in the Children’s category. www.funfoods4all.co.uk

Nairn’s Gluten Free Biscuit Breaks

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Love these and am SO pleased they won the Best Scones, Sweet Biscuits and Cookies category, not least because they are one of the very few products ticking loads of allergy boxes. Gluten, egg, soya, nut free biscuits that taste really properly like digestives. (Dairy free, too, but manufactured on a line that also handles milk, annoyingly.) Come in little individual packs, so perfect for snacks on-the-go. www.nairns-oatcakes.com

For more on the FreeFrom Food Awards 2014 see here.

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Dear Lollibop

lb-logo-2014Tickets for the Lollibop Festival go on sale this Friday. Now in its 5th year, the under-10s jamboree started in my local park and has ballooned to become the UK’s largest children’s festival. This year it’s being held at Hatfield House, and I would like to take the tots. But I would also like organisers to think about catering for food allergies, so here’s the email I just sent… 

Hi there

I have a quick catering query that I hope you might be able to help me with. I have a child with multiple food allergies and am writing in a personal capacity but also on behalf of a great many parents who are in the same situation.

Will there be allergy friendly catering options available at the Lollibop festival? I don’t just mean gluten free options, but options that cover the most common childhood allergies of nuts, eggs, dairy, soya etc too.

If not, I wonder if this is something that you might be willing to discuss? Latest research suggests that food allergy occurs in as many as 1 in 20 children, so there will be a significant proportion of visitors to the festival who will have these special dietary needs. If they are like me they will bring food with them but to find somewhere that DOES cater safely would be incredibly well received and blaze a trail for other child-friendly venues and events.

I look forward to hearing from you

We’ll see what we get…

 

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‘Demystifying Oral Food Challenges’

oral-food-challenge-gold-standardJUST a quick link here to a very helpful, step-by-step guide to oral food challenges from the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation. It hails from the US but maps out how to prepare your child and what to expect. Thanks to Dairy Free Baby and Me for the tip.

I particularly like the point about how a reaction (i.e. failing an oral challenge) can be a learning opportunity: until last week, Sidney had never even eaten any egg, so the notion of being allergic to it was entirely abstract. While not particularly pleasant, he now knows that eating just a small amount can make him feel unwell – perhaps enough for him to recognise an allergic reaction should it happen again.

Well worth a read.

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The Allergy Appointment Day Special

Unknown-3WHILE Sidney has been going to see his “Dr Bob” ever since he was six months old, it’s only been during the last two or three hospital visits that he has really understood what is going on.

Until our most recent round of skin prick tests, he would sit cheerily on my knee tinkering with toys and never showing any upset.

This latest time, with Sidney a full year older than the last, we had caterwauling from the outset – but not to the needles. It was the height and weight machines that had him fleeing.

In the end, he dealt admirably well with the skin pricks (the TV in the nurse’s room helped).

Other people – adults – have told me that having positive reactions feels like “amplified nettle rash that you’re not allowed to touch” and yet, despite the big lumps springing up across his arm he played ‘shop’ happily enough with the hospital’s toy till, had us read stories to him and fiddled with his Peppa Pig fuzzy felt.

It was still a long morning and a lot for a little one to put up with. So on the way out I picked up a Mr Greedy book from the hospital shop as a ‘well done’ for being so brave, and for tea it was his favourite bolognese with ‘butterfly’ pasta, followed by a Kinnerton (nut free) chocolate lolly.

What treats does your little one get on Allergy Apointment Day?

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Nearly. But not this time.

gjon-mili-star-hurdler-jim-humphrey-showing-off-his-high-hurdle-formGAH, WE fell at the final hurdle. We failed the baked egg challenge.

It was so close. Over the course of the morning, Sidney managed a whole muffin with no reaction and we were five minutes from being given the all-clear to go. In fact, the nurses had written his letter confirming a successful trial and we were gathering our coats when The Hive appeared. Continue reading

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