Get Smart! Control the burden of food allergies

How often do we get to the money hungry till in a supermarket to find that we’ve spent more and got less than anticipated? It doesn’t matter whether you’re struggling to cater for food allergies or not, the cost of everyday food is rising….and many of us are feeling the pinch.

Catering for those with true food allergies increases costs both in direct and indirect ways. Not only do the special, allergy free alternative ingredients we must buy cost the earth…but we have to visit three, four or even five shops or supermarkets weekly to hunt down the ingredients we need to provide a balanced and safe diet. Add in to the mix that it takes longer to read through every ingredient on every packet every time we shop, and that adapting recipes takes time, effort and lots of failures until we have it right, and you start to get the picture that everyday life with food allergies takes it toll on families.

Don’t let these things get you down, however, as there are time saving strategies that WILL help you manage your time effectively and reduce the burden of catering and shopping for food allergies.

I’ve put together a list of suggestions to help.

  • Plan your meals in advance. Maybe stick a weekly planner on the fridge door?
  • Use your weekly menu as the basis for your shopping list
  • Only buy what you are going to be able to use. Some speciality ingredients are already costly – the last thing you want is to be throwing out of date items away
  • Consider online supermarket shopping – let someone else take the strain
  • Look at cheaper alternatives – we have recently found Aldi cold meats are tasty, free from the added milk protein other supermarkets pump in to their cold sliced meats…and they are far cheaper than the other main stores
  • Buy in bulk to take advantages of special offers and to reduce the number of shopping trips – if you have the storage space at home
  • Look at online specialist shops for key ingredients you may find hard to source elsewhere, and get them delivered direct – again in bulk where possible
  • Avoid too many allergy free convenience foods. Not only are they super expensive, but often they aren’t especially tasty either. We’ve lost track of the number of new products we’ve tried out to find all three boys think they’re yuk and feed the bin!
  • Make much more than you need and freeze portions to take out when you need a quick meal. This works especially well with pasta sauces, any dish involving minced beef, soups, casseroles, cakes, biscuits, lasagne and meatballs to name just a few

If even one of these ideas works for you, if you regularly cook smart and shop wisely, you will see the benefits straight away. Don’t be a victim to the burden of food allergies. Get smart and leave yourself time to do the fun stuff!


Toast or a biscuit anyone?

Having just spent time in hospital with No. 2 son, who had an emergency operation yesterday…I thankfully had the sense to grab the (gluten free) sandwich for him my mother rustled up as we dropped off No. 3 son to her. Had I not, then he would have been able to have….an apple. For that piece of fruit was the only thing on offer to him on the ward. Soup with milk, bread with gluten, fish with breadcrumbs (more gluten), macaroni cheese with milk, carrots served with the same spoon as served the fish fingers, yoghurt, ice cream and an apple! Not good when you’re allergic to wheat, milk, egg, soya and celery…

For all of you reading this who have multiple food allergies…I’m sure this will sound familiar. Why don’t hospitals have, at the very least, some options as back up for those with food allergies? Serving food with separate utensils would help.

I’m thinking I may write a letter….

Have you had a similar experience?


Is your allergic child safe at school?

Does everyone in your child’s school know about your child’s allergies?

I was checking the expiry dates for the epi-pens we hold in our school today and I was thinking how glad I was that I’d never had to administer an epipen – either at school or for my own children. I have been trained like every other member of our school staff and would, like them, always be totally aware of those children in our community who have food allergies.

Remembering a newspaper article from Feb 2011 in which a seven year old boy suffered a severe anaphylactic reaction having been handed a nut containing chocolate by a supply teacher (see article) I wonder how many supply teachers in schools are truly aware of these children?

Handing out sweets on a child’s birthday is a very common practise in schools. Some schools refuse because of the risk to children with food allergies, but what do you do to protect your child if this is not the case?

The way I get around it for my younger boys, is to hand the class teacher a bag of ‘safe sweets’ to give them in place of those being handed out by the birthday child. If the children are handed sweets on their way out at the end of the day, this also minimises the risk of them swapping and touching the wrong ingredient in the playground at lunchtime.

I try to make doubly sure that the classroom assistants all know about my boys’ food allergies so that they can impress upon any supply staff that they need to be careful.

At the beginning of each year, I write a letter to each teacher about my sons’ allergies and I hand it over in person after I have met with them to explain the seriousness of making sure they always bear those allergies in mind when planning lessons like cookery.

Noone would ever harm our children knowingly so probably the best policy is to continue raising awareness with every new member of school staff.

I truly hope that as food allergies become more talked about it will be more commonplace to have policies in place to keep these children safe at school.



5 great reasons why Coconut Oil is good for you

Isn’t it lovely when you meet someone who is genuinely kind and considerate and on your wavelength?

I was in our local health food shop in Colchester (Natural Foods run by John) buying some more dairy free chocolate a few days ago, and I met a real gem of a woman. Rose and I struck up a conversation about Coconut Oil, and she was extolling the virtues so much that I couldn’t wait to find out more on the internet. Why Coconut Oil is so good for you

As many of you may know, there has been lots of controversy surrounding the use of Coconut Oil in cooking as it contains saturated fat and was thought to be bad for you. Indeed, I tried using it in cooking in the past but had bought the ‘wrong’ kind (refined and hydrogenated) and after some research, had decided it was not for me on health grounds. However, Rose was so persuasive and so passionate about the benefits of using Coconut Oil, that having researched it again some 4 years later, I thought I’d share what I’ve found out. Far from being a health disaster, it would seem that Coconut Oil is, in fact, exceedingly good for you.

5 health benefits of using Coconut Oil in cooking

1. Coconut Oil is a ‘saturated fat’, but although it was until recently thought to be very bad for you in terms of heart disease etc, it is now known that the oil in Coconuts is of a very different composition and possesses many health benefits. Unlike almost all other fats we eat (animal and vegetable) which consist of long chain fatty acids, Coconut Oil is made of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA). The difference is important because it is the long chains that cause heart disease and artherosclerosis (furring up of our blood vessels leading to high blood pressure) not the medium chains. So Coconut Oil actually lowers the risk of these diseases.

2. Coconut OIl is broken down into lauric acid and then to monolaurin by the body. These compounds, especially monolaurin, have been shown to possess excellent antibacterial and antimicrobial properties able to halt the growth of, or even kill off, some of the most dangerous viruses and bacteria around. In addition, Coconut Oil offers good anti fungal and anti yeast properties. Useful, therefore, in helping prevent some very commonplace problems like candida overgrowth (thrush).

3. Virgin Coconut Oil is one of the very few oils that is not damaged by heating. Many of the oils we use regularly are degraded by heating and can become toxic with increased heat. Eating them can lead to artherosclerosis, inflammatory joint disease and even birth defects. It also has a very long shelf life and doesn’t start to degrade if not used fairly quickly like olive, sunflower and our other regular choices.

4. Coconut Oil improves digestion and helps the body to absorb minerals, vitamins and amino acids. Because it is made from medium chain triglycerides, it does not need extra enzymes in order for it to be broken down in the body allowing your digestive system to concentrate on absorbing the nutrients it does need.

5. It provides an immediate source of energy as it is so easily digested and quickly metablised. This helps in maintaining a steady weight, and according to some researchers, can even help you to lose weight by boosting your metabolic rate. The medium chain fatty acids are matabolised much faster than the long chain fatty acids that make up 98% of our diets in the western world, thus they don’t hang around for long enough to be layed down as fat in our bodies.

There are huge lists of Coconut Oil benefits when you begin researching, but I think the 5 I have raised are among the most important deciding factors when considering a switch away from ‘regular’ oils.

Let me know what you think? Would you switch from olive, sunflower or whatever other oil you currently use? I am, as always, interested in your comments!

10 positive outcomes of having food allergies

Coping with multiple food allergies isn’t all bad news.. I know it’s a real pain having them, but tonight I started to write a list of the positive benefits of having food allergies…and you know what? I think there are more positives than I originally would have believed!

10 great benefits to having food allergies.

1. Nearly all our meals are made from fresh, raw ingredients – no additives, preservatives or chemicals must mean positive benefits for health.

2. Learning how to cook food free from gluten, diary, egg, soya and celery has given me a real desire to get creative and find ways of producing foods that are similar to those our boys can no longer eat…and it has been a hugely satisfying journey to discover new ways of approaching cooking.

3. Seeing me cook proper meals, cakes, biscuits etc from scratch has given our boys a good understanding of how ingredients come together to make our food.

4. It has also caught their imagination and they all like to help out in the kitchen, and our eldest now asks to cook meals for us all from time to time.

5. We tend to eat at the table together as I tend to cook a traditional family meal, and at a time where so many families are losing this habit, it is nice to be able to talk and catch up with each other during, but especially at the end of the day.

6. As a family, we can no longer eat outside of our home or the homes of our closest family and friends so holidays are a little different to what they were. Yet although we can’t go to hotels, we bought a large tent and discovered a love of camping. Nothing beats the sense of real family togetherness than when you’re wrapped up with a hot chocolate in the tent, playing cards around a table until late into the evening. The boys love it and of course I can cook for them safely and we can all relax.

7. Over the years of experimenting with food, I have discovered ingredients I never knew existed and have tried some weird and wonderful things along the way. The children are much keener to try new things than they were before they were diagnosed, and as long as it comes from my kitchen, they trust the fact they won’t get ill.

8. The boys simply cannot eat huge amounts of sweets as 90% are off limits so their teeth should be protected from the effects of a diet high in sugar.

9. Because they cannot eat high fat fast food, the risk of heart disease and obesity must be much lower for them all.

10. The boys are very protective of each other and carefully check new things together to see if they can eat them. With all three affected, there is a strong bond between them as very few others around them truly understand what it’s really like not to be able to pick up whatever you fancy on the shelves in the local shop.

It helps us to think of our allergies as a challenge we are dealing with and succeeding in!

Hidden sources of milk protein

Cow's Milk protein sourcesAvoiding milk protein for those with a severe allergic response means knowing the different names milk proteins can be labelled as. Here is the Food Allergy Network list of terms to be familiar with.

Terms to watch out for:  

Butter/ butter fat / buttermilk / Lactaid milk / Lacteeze milk (tablets or drops are ok) 

Cow’s milk / pasteurized milk / dairy / Milk formula / yoghurt / whey / ghee

Skimmed milk (and powder) / Ice Cream / MIlk solids / milk fat

Casein / sodium and calcium caseinate / Lactalbumin / lactoglobulin

Evaporated milk / Lactose free milk / formula / Cream cheese / cheese

Sour cream / milk / Curds / Kosher symbol ‘D’

In addition to these terms, hidden milk protein can also be found in the following products:

Chewing gum – look out for the term Recaldent

Toothpaste – often those that say ‘whitening’ on the tube contain hidden milk protein

Soap, liquid handwashes and shampoos – especially those that say ‘creamy’ or ‘silky’. In the Uk, beware of the ‘Dove’ range. One of our son’s sucks his finger and if he washes his hangs in a Dove product can vomit for 36 hours afterwards due to the milk protein left on his hands even after rinsing.

Vegetable Wax – some vegetables are coated in wax to make them shiny, and this may contain milk protein…opt for unwaxed ones.

Medicines – check ingredients as a good number have lactose in them, and some milk protein

Keep safe and always check the labels even if you have been buying the product for years as manufacturers can and do change their ingredients without warning.