‘Life with my allergic toddler’

SO TODAY I have a small piece in The Times’ Weekend supplement,Life With My Allergic Toddler’about the pain in the arseness of trying to shop, cook and cater for a food allergy tot when everything you try to buy ‘may contain’ this that and the other. (Here’s the link. It’s a shorter piece than originally intended but I’ll post the full and unabridged soon…)

Meanwhile, this morning I headed out to the supermarket to buy ingredients for a Sid-friendly cheesecake (recipe also to come). And instantly proved my point.

Sainsbury’s Organic double cream? “Not suitable for nut allergy sufferers”. Silver Spoon icing sugar? “May contain traces of egg.” Sainsbury’s ‘Free From’ digestive biscuits? “May contain nuts”. Three separate shops later and I think we finally have what we need. Minus the cheery disposition I may or may not have had when we started…

Juicy lamb sausages

Egg free, wheat free, gluten free, nut free, (optional: dairy free)

ALL THOUGHTS of raising a veggie child flew straight out of the window when Sid turned out to be allergic to virtually all of my staples (eggs, wheat, pulses, nuts, hummus), the little bugger.

In all honesty, I’d never seriously considered bringing him up a vegetarian as my husband’s a meat eater and I have to confess to very fond memories of all my childhood meaty meals. After all, I’m half Roman on my Dad’s side and Jewish with an Irish-English bent on my Mum’s so how could I not have happy recollections of everything from salami to salt beef, steak ‘n’ kidney pie, roast pork with all the crackling (non-practising Jewish, all right?), even, I’m afraid, a bit of the old vitello tonnato. My veggie ways are all about the animal thing, not the taste thing.

So while I’m squeamish about handling raw meat and leave most of the handiwork on that front to my husband, I’m very happy to introduce Sidney to as many tasty foods as we safely can.

These lamb sausages were pilfered and adapted from a baby-led weaning cookbook and they have a few bonuses: they’re stuffed with veg, they freeze well and can be steamed back to juicy life (I’m told) in no time; plus they make great portable finger food as well as a hearty complement to a traditional meat and two veg dinner.

The original recipe, if I remember rightly, includes peas but, since they’re out for us, I use courgette, leek and, depending what’s in the fridge, a little cheddar or parmesan for added oomph. They’re just as good dairy free, though.


250g minced lamb

1 medium leek, finely chopped

2 courgettes, finely chopped

Ground black pepper to taste

Fresh herbs to taste (optional)

Handful grated parmesan (check the ingredients label to ensure there is no egg – the similar Grana Padano cheeses tend to include it) or cheddar

Olive oil to grease pan

Baking tray

Mixing bowl


Steam or sauté the courgettes and leeks in a little olive oil until soft (you could add some finely chopped garlic and onion, too). Plop the lamb mince in a bowl and mix well with the cooked veg. Season with black pepper, add chopped fresh herbs if you fancy – mint’s a good one – and stir again.

Let the veg cool down before taking small handfuls of the mixture and forming little sausages. You could turn them into meatballs, or flat patties, but a sausage is particularly good for younger babies to grip. If the mix is sticky, you could dust your hands first with some wheat free, gluten free flour, but I’ve never found this to be necessary.

Place the sausages on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Ideally, if you have the time, stick them in the fridge for an hour or so before baking – this lets them firm up nicely.

Bake in a 200˚C oven for around 25 minutes to half an hour. You’ll know they’re cooked when they’re browned on the outside and no longer pink when you cut through one.

Perfect served fresh and hot, or cold the next day. I always freeze a batch for future use. Let them cool before layering them between sheets of baking paper in a foil carton and freezing. Defrost overnight in the fridge, then steam in a colander over a pan for 30 to 45 minutes until piping hot. Yum (apparently).

Nursery will have to wait – for now


Nursery School
Is the perfect nursery out there? (Photo: Editor B)

While there’s no way I’m sending Sidney to nursery until he’s old enough to communicate how he feels, there are crazy waiting lists in our area (I’ve heard of otherwise sane women putting their prospective babies’ names down virtually the minute the stick turns blue) so we’ve been checking out the local options.

We’d heard good things about the nearby community nursery, set in a Victorian former fire station, with its philosophy of celebrating diversity, representing a proper cross-section of local people, all that fine stuff. We booked ourselves in for an open day.

It was a bit hectic and tumbledown but had a nice feel to it and the kids looked happy. So I asked: “What’s your policy on children with severe food allergies?”

“Oh, it’s no problem,” came the answer. “We’ve got loads of kids who are vegetarian, and even one who doesn’t like cheese.”

You might say she was the wrong person to ask – she wasn’t the manager, just one of the nursery assistants – but, for me, unless every single member of staff, permanent or itinerant, is properly trained in food allergy control and Epipen use it’s out of the equation.

I should have fired off an email to the manager, telling her exactly that and asking why they didn’t have a proper allergy policy in place. But I didn’t. I ought to get round to it. Who else will be our advocate, after all?

On the plus side, and after some trawling about, we have found a nursery that seems to have its act together. It’s cosy, jammed with cushions and squashy dens and books and murals, and it’s immaculately clean. As parent to an allergic child it’s the first thing you look for – in doctors’ waiting rooms, playgroups, cafes, even (guiltily) other people’s houses: how clean is the floor, how clean are the toys?

More often than not there are crumbs coagulating in the corners, smears of food, smudgy fingerprints. For most parents this would be fine: a little bit of dirt’s got to be good for the immune system, right? But for us it’s a gateway to worry: were those mucky hands clutching a peanut butter sandwich? Are those crumbs from a seed-packed breakfast bar? Is that smear – gulp – hummus? It’s a wonder I’m not sponsored by Milton’s, the sheer volume of their wipes I get through.

But the joy of this nursery was that, peer as I might (and I can peer mighty well), everything looked spotless, spick and span.

On the walls were boldly printed, carefully typed sheets detailing the various allergies of children at the group – this one’s Coeliac diet, that toddler’s milk allergy, little so-and-so’s wheat intolerance. In the kitchens the prep areas are carefully delineated and potential allergens kept at a safe distance from foods eaten by allergic tots. A member of staff is charged with monitoring each child with an allergy during every meal time. And they are Epipen trained at regular intervals – and given booster training every time a new allergic kid is admitted.

Hurrah. We’re putting Sid’s name down for September 2013.