In my previous blog post, I talked about my daughter Meredith's diagnosis of milk and egg allergies. Based on Meredith's symptoms when exposed to milk, and after hearing what the allergist had to say about avoiding certain foods, I knew our lives would change greatly, but my main priority at this point was to make sure my daughter was safe and healthy. After a visit to a registered dietician to make sure I was able to provide my daughter with the proper nutrients and vitamins, while eliminating food allergens, I thought I was prepared to deal with the situation.
My first trip to the grocery store after the diagnosis took me almost three hours. After reading the ingredient labels on many of the baby foods, I knew there was very little in the way of processed foods that Meredith would be able to eat. By the time I left the grocery store that afternoon, I was on the verge of tears. My entire adult life, I had taken for granted the convenience of being able to go to the store and pull anything off the shelf that looked good and buy it. Once you or a loved one is diagnosed with food allergies, this is a convenience you will never be able to indulge again. Many of the foods made for babies and toddlers have milk added to them because it's a way to increase the nutritional value of processed foods. Milk is also used as a binder in such as toddler foods and meats such as hot dogs and deli meats. (Wheat is also a common binder used in deli meats.)
Unfortunately, my family found that out the hard way.
When Meredith was starting on table foods, I made the mistake of giving her a toddler meal that had cubed chicken and green beans in it. I assumed that milk or eggs would not be present in something that looked as clear cut as chicken and beans. But halfway through the meal, she started crying and clawing at her face and mouth. Then I noticed the hives on her face and neck. I couldn't believe it! My immediate thought was, "Oh no, she's either allergic to chicken or the beans too." I looked at the box and noticed an ingredient called casein. I had no idea what that was, and after looking it up online, I realized that it was another name for milk protein and it was in the chicken. I would never again make an assumption about any food that I fed my daughter.
Cooking From Scratch
Due to the efforts of organizations such as FAAN (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network), food manufacturers are now required by law to give the common name for all ingredients listed on the label. However, in 2002, this was not the case and it was at this point that I decided to by-pass much of the processed foods and start cooking from scratch as much as possible. This way, I was certain of what my child was eating and that she would be safe. All lot of people find the thought of cooking from scratch a little daunting, but one of the keys to success is sitting down once a week to plan your meals. Spend a weekend pulling together a dozen meals that meet your family's needs and eliminates the allergens you are trying to avoid. The Internet is your best friend when it comes to this task. By searching for "milk-free, egg-free" recipes, I found several sites that would help me. (The FAAN website is a good resource for this too.) Figure out exactly what your shopping list is, and plan your meals accordingly. By not letting meal times sneak up on you at the end of the day, you can make cooking for your Allergy Family a stress free event.