Minnie Mouse Birthday Cake

Minnie Mouse Cake

When my daughter told me she wanted a Princess Sofia birthday cake, I thought…uh oh. That sounds like a stretch. 

We’ve had trouble finding a nut-free bakery, so I have been making birthday cakes in recent years. So far, they’ve turned out fine, but Sophia is far beyond my limited skill set.

I was grateful a week later when she decided she wanted Minnie Mouse instead.

Minnie Mouse? Phew, I actually think I can do that.

My talented best friend made a Minnie Mouse cake last year for her daughter’s first birthday. She sent me pictures and it was so pretty! It was her cake-making skill and encouragement that gave me confidence to make this cake for our daughter’s Ballerina third birthday party. With a little practice under my belt, a Minnie Mouse cake seemed reasonable to attempt.

The process is pretty straight forward. Bake, freeze, assemble, and decorate. I carefully took a ton of photos while making it only to have my trusty camera memory card meet its untimely and frustrating death…along with those photos. Ugh. Such a bummer!  But, I think you’ll be able to figure it out from the description below and I’m happy to answer any questions.

The birthday girl couldn’t decide between Funfetti or Chocolate cake, so I made a two-layer cake. One layer Funfetti, one chocolate. I am so grateful to Rose Bakes for her Crusting Cream Cheese Buttercream Recipe {Great for Decorating}. It is quick, easy to work with and tastes delicious.

You guys, you need to make this Buttercream. It’s fantastic.

One box of each cake mix was divided between one 10″ pan (head) and two 6″ pans (ears).  After cooling, each baked cake was wrapped in cling wrap and frozen overnight. Freezing makes them easy to handle. Cutting a semi-circle from each 6″ cake so they fit snugly against the 10″ cake was easy. The bottom layer was Funfetti, the top Chocolate.

A generous layer of frosting was used to secure the ears, head, and layers together. For a little extra flavor, Santa Cruz Seedless Red Raspberry Fruit Spread was added between layers with the frosting. Who would have thought a little jar from the jelly section of the grocery store could taste so decadent?

So far, so good.

Then I started to decorate the cake and things got a little messy. Literally, frosting was getting everywhere. The cake board is a mess (see those greasy spots?). Next time it will be covered while decorating since I’m apparently incapable of not making a mess.

That is when I began to panic. It had been a while since I piped frosting and I was quite rusty.

I decided this was going to be the ugliest cake attempt that ever was.

At that point, I may have asked, er…demanded that my husband remove the children from this house. He may be a saint because he patiently and kindly obliged, asking no questions and reassuring me it was going to look great as he swept them out the door. True story – he’s awesome.

20 minutes later in a silent house, I stood looking at a finished cake feeling foolish for freaking out.

My husband was right, the cake did turn out fine and was delicious.

In the coming weeks I’ll post the Minnie Mouse party decorations but in the meantime…

sunshine girl 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Sunshine Girl.

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child With Food Allergies – Thank You For Keeping Our Kids Safe Even When You Don’t Understand Allergies

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child With Food Allergies - Thank You For Keeping Our Kids Safe Even When You Don't Understand Allergies

During a recent grocery store trip, I overheard a fellow mom on her cell phone. She was asking what on earth to buy in the bakery section for her child’s class room birthday treat. It needed to be peanut free.

She went on to say she didn’t understand why, if peanut wasn’t on the label, she couldn’t buy it. Then she mumbled something about the equipment.

I could tell she was in a hurry. Intending to point her in the right direction, I made my way to the display of Lofthouse Nut-Free frosted cookies. I planned to hold them up and just point to the ‘Nut-Free’ label. I didn’t want to interrupt her conversation but knew it can be hard to find a peanut-safe option in the bakery section – especially if you aren’t sure what to look for on the label. It would be easy to unknowingly buy a treat that isn’t safe.

Or maybe just give up.

As I walked up, she released a loud sigh of frustration and exclaimed into the phone, Why can’t those kids just be normal so I can buy a box of cupcakes“. 

Sigh. Normal? Ugh.

Now what?

I felt my face flush. What ran through my head was to educate her – you know, with strong, emotion-filled, angry words. 

But I could see that type of ‘education’ would not do either of us much good. She was already frustrated, and heaping my anger on top of her anger isn’t likely to produce much understanding.

I’m also not real keen on starting an argument in the bakery section of the grocery store. With my kids.

Plus, here she was, trying to read the labels, and trying to pick something all the kids could enjoy. Despite what she said, her actions were those of someone trying to do the right thing. 

She just didn’t understand why.

She didn’t need anger, she needed grace. So instead of marching up with a lengthy defense of children with food allergies, I walked up, smiled, and pointed at the Nut-Free label. She looked, paused and looked up at me.

Relief. Gratitude.

She told her friend ‘just a minute’ and put her hand over the phone. She whispered ‘Thank you. I have no idea how to make sure what I buy is right or not. Last time it wasn’t. They wouldn’t serve it in class and my daughter didn’t have a treat for her birthday‘.

Wow.

As a food allergy mom, I know all-too-well the disappointment when my child can’t have a treat. This might be the first time I realized it also happens to children without food allergies.

I see how this could cause frustration in parents whose children don’t have an allergy.

Sometimes, as an allergy mom, I just wish other parents could put themselves in my shoes – maybe they’d finally understand what its like.

This time, I put myself in her shoes. There was a time when I knew very little about food allergies and food allergy labeling – before I became an Epi-Pen carrying mom and had to take a crash course in keeping our own child safe. If I had gone to the store with good intentions, it would frustrate me if I still bought the wrong thing. Food labeling even confuses food allergy parents sometimes. If I tried to buy something safe for all the children, I’d be so hurt to hear they didn’t serve it because it still wasn’t safe.

Yeah, that would make me pretty upset. And it would make me easily frustrated the next time I’m in a store, again, trying to do the right thing. Especially if I’m still not sure what to actually buy.

So, as she looked up at me, I smiled back and nodded. I whispered that the frosted Lofthouse cookies that say Nut-Free are always a safe option.

And then I said, Thank you for doing your best to keep children like mine safe.

She smiled back, and then looked slightly embarrassed, probably realizing I overheard her comment. But I chose to give her an encouraging smile, a little wave, and move on.

This encounter wasn’t about me. Or my child. It was about simply doing something small to educate another mom who was actively seeking a way to keep other children safe while giving her child a special birthday. Now she knows a safe option for the future. And she has been thanked by one allergy mom for her efforts.

Are you one of the parents out there who try their best to keep all the kids safe?

Thank you, to each of you, who don’t understand food allergies, but try to buy safe options anyway.

Thank you for trying to learn about food labeling, and for asking questions about what to buy. If you ever have questions about what to buy (or why it matters), I’m happy to help.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to make your best effort with good intentions.

I’m sorry when those good intentions have not been rewarded. Please know they are appreciated nonetheless. 

Thank you for doing your best to keep all of our kids safe. We will happily do the same for you in whatever challenge your child or family may face now and in the future.

As I’ve shared before, it truly does take a village to raise a child with food allergies.

Thank you for doing your best – from this grateful mama to you.

Simple Teacher Valentines

Simple Teacher Valentines | thisgratefulmama.com

Our son is celebrating Valentine’s Day at school today. He picked out sport-themed valentines. He was very excited about them, and they were the perfect treat for a nut-free classroom.

Simple Teacher Valentines | thisgratefulmama.com

After signing 20 Valentines, he was ready to be done. However, I wanted to make his teachers something small to recognize the great job that they do.

Unsure of where to start, I decided to see if PicMonkey had any Valentine’s Day art. Lucky me, they have some really cute stuff under their Sweethearts Theme. After looking at what was available, I decided to keep it simple and create heart valentines with a short message.

I ended up making two different hearts with two different messages.

Each valentine is shown below – you can save them to your computer and print them if you’re in need of a teacher valentine. I opened my images with Windows Photo Viewer and used cardstock to print three copies (5×7 size, do not fit to frame).

Thank you Teacher Valentine | thisgratefulmama.com

Number One Teacher Valentine | thisgratefulmama.com

Our son liked the #1 teacher message best and decided to give the same one to each of his three preschool teachers. After cutting the hearts out, they were ready for the little man to sign.

To give the teachers a healthy treat, we punched a hole in the upper left corner of each heart and tied them to cellophane-wrapped red apples.

Easy peasy.

Simple, sweet treats to say thank you to three very special teachers.

Simple Teacher Valentines | thisgratefulmama.com

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Graham Cracker ‘Gingerbread’ Houses – A Simple, Nut-Free Solution

Graham Cracker Gingerbread Houses A Simple Nut Free Solution | thisgratefulmama.com

Many of you know by now that baking is not my strong suit. Not only have I never baked gingerbread, I have had little success making frosting (of any kind) – seriously, there are friends who will attest to my comically disastrous frosting attempts.

The idea of ME successfully making a gingerbread house from scratch is unlikely. Making one that will withstand decorating by children…is, well, laughable. And completely unrealistic without multiple attempts. Frankly, I’m just not committed to mastering this.

So, I went looking for a nut-free gingerbread house kit. Although I’ve heard they exist, I was unable to find one. I was stuck. Inept and lacking motivation to make one of my own, and unable to find a safe option for our family. I even considered skipping baking by forking over the big bucks to buy a LEGO Gingerbread House.

Then, something remarkable happened. We received an invitation to join our son at preschool to decorate a gingerbread house. I was curious how these teachers, who carefully ensure their classroom is nut-free, would pull this off. Is one of them a master baker? Did they find those coveted ‘safe’ kits? And how on earth could they successfully assemble a gingerbread house for each child and have it be cost-effective?

A month in advance, parents were invited to donate supplies. But instead of a donation free-for-all, the school provided a list of specific products. Not only did they specify the type of candy or treat, they included brand name, nut-free wording that should be found on the label, and where to buy it. This ensured parents bought ‘safe’ products, and that they didn’t have to run all over town trying to find a specific brand. They knew exactly where to go. No hassle.

Because ALL supplies were safe, they were able to provide a mixed bag of candy for each child.

The ‘gingerbread’ houses were simply and inexpensively made using hot glue guns and graham crackers.

Genius.

To accommodate families with younger siblings, they made extra houses. Imagine my daughter’s (and my) surprise when they presented HER with a house, frosting and decorations. The crackers were glued together, and to the plate. They were stable enough for a 2-year-old to manhandle.

You guys, I was SO blessed! This preschool cares for each child AND family.

For many, a food-related activity might bring anxiety to an allergy parent. Or at least a heightened awareness requiring plenty of preparation. But because of careful planning, research and scrutiny of staff, every single food item was safe for nut allergies. Their attention to detail and safety has blessed our family time and time again since September.

How can I express gratitude for this type of care and concern for allergic children and families?

For those of you with no food allergies in your family, this may seem like no big deal. But to us, it means the health and safety of our child. It is immeasurable. It means we didn’t have to call ahead to pre-approve snacks or read labels. It means we didn’t have to go and search for the nut-free versions of similar candy, at who knows how many stores, to provide for our son. We were able to just show up and decorate without a concern.

It was wonderfully care-free.

As a result, two children were delighted and their mother left feeling waves of emotion – joyful, grateful, blessed, cared for.

And to the kind parent who carried our gingerbread houses to the car so I could pick up our daughter when she fell down…Thank you.

Tis the season.

I am THAT Allergy Mama – Ice Cream Truck Ignorance Is Bliss

ICE CREAM TRUCK

As our son was standing at the window yesterday I heard him exclaim, “Mom! There’s a short moving van driving in circles. And it plays MUSIC!

Over and over, it drove by our house, announced by its cheery songs.

It triggered memories of childhood joy upon picking a treat from a similar mobile merry-maker. What child isn’t excited to hear the ice cream truck? Longing to share such summer joy with our children, I briefly considered running barefoot to flag him down.

I placed my hand on the door knob only to be stopped by a mind filled by an urgent stream of questions.

Food allergies sometimes throw a monkey-wrench in spontaneity.

How many of those treats contain nuts? How many are cross-contaminated? How many have original manufacturer labeling? Does the driver know these answers?  If not, is it OK for me to make a phone call to a manufacturer while he waits for me to buy a popsicle for $1?

What if I blow our son’s mind by telling him the ‘van’ is an ice cream truck and then have to him he can’t eat anything on it?

Sigh.

I just couldn’t take the chance of squashing his joy. Going home and giving him the band aid of a ‘safe’ popsicle from our freezer just wouldn’t have been good enough.

Suddenly it was a relief that he doesn’t know what that so-called ‘musical moving van’ is really up to.

Today I didn’t have to explain to him why we could not buy those treats. It was a blessing that he did not see excited children lining up enjoy ice-cold goodness.

This ice cream truck innocence will not last forever. The odds of the truck rolling through our neighborhood again without delighted children spilling-the-beans seems slim. I’m sure next time we won’t be so lucky and our son will discover its true purpose.

I know his eyes will widen with wonder and eager delight – it is very important to me that I not have to tell him we can’t eat anything on it because we already avoid so much.

SO, I decided to be prepared before the its inevitable return. Planning ahead is an allergy mama’s most powerful and necessary tool – joyful childhood memories depend on it. As our children marveled at the music, I scribbled down the name of the company and its phone number (helpfully displayed on the side of the truck). I found the business online will call them in the morning to pepper someone other than the ice cream truck driver with allergy-related questions.

Assuming something is safe (nut-free), I cannot wait to introduce our children to the ice cream truck. And yes, I’m prepared to deal with crying when the truck goes by and we decide not to participate for reasons other than food allergies (already had a treat, no cash, haven’t eaten dinner yet).

Today, our children’s ice cream truck ignorance was bliss for me.

Next time, equipped with allergen info, the revelation of the ice cream truck’s true identity will be bliss for our children.

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Our son turned 4 on Halloween and we celebrated the occasion with a dinosaur birthday party.

Brunch is a great option for a kids birthday party. We invited 3 to 6 year old kids and their families, which included many younger siblings. Brunch allowed us to start at 10 am, and be done at 1 pm, just in time for afternoon naps. Brunch is also a good option because baked goods, eggs, and chicken salad can be made inexpensively, be made a day ahead, and provide a great variety for even the pickiest eater.

The meal needed to:

  • accommodate both kids and adults, including a few picky eaters…
  • be completely nut-free to accommodate a peanut and tree nut allergy
  • include some dairy-free options
  • be plentiful and filling enough to feed a crowd of 14 kids and 20 adults
  • be able to be prepared a day ahead, with minimal prep time
  • be easy to set out and finish up the morning of the party

Our dinosaur birthday brunch & dessert included the following foods and beverages – bold items are described in further detail below.

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

Brunch

  • 4 Varieties of Muffins
  • 3 Different Egg Frittatas
  • Chicken Salad and rolls
  • Dinosaur Juice-Jello Jigglers
  • White Cheddar Pirates Booty
  • Veggies and Dip (cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots sliced thinly, and cherry tomatoes)
  • Grapes (because there were NO watermelons at 3 stores! Otherwise we were going to make a dino-head from the rhine like this one – sad it didn’t work out)

Dessert

  • Dinosaur Dig Jars and Gummy Dinosaurs
  • Brownies and rice crispy treats

Beverages

  • Mini Apple Juice boxes
  • Coffee
  • Sparkling Water
  • Ice Water
  • Orange Juice
  • Dinosaur Ice Cubes

 

Muffins

Cinnamon streusel, Lemon Poppyseed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

Cinnamon streusel, Lemon Poppyseed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

We made Cinnamon Streusel, Lemon poppy-seed, Blueberry and Chocolate Chip Muffins. Even though these could have been made ahead, we made them the morning of the party. It took under an hour using 2 ovens, and made our house smell delicious as guests arrived. Looking back, this was too many muffins; next time, for a group this size, I’d just make 3 flavors (skip the Lemon poppy-seed – the only flavor hardly eaten).

 

Egg Frittatas – Spinach & Sausage, Ham & Cheese, and Plain egg

Ham & Cheese, Plain, and Sausage & Spinach Egg Frittatas

Ham & Cheese, Plain, and Sausage & Spinach Egg Frittatas

Egg frittatas are inexpensive, simple, healthy, and look great on a platter. You can mix and match fillings to your liking. These can be cooked a day ahead; just cool, wrap with foil and store in the fridge. Reheat in the oven at 350 F for 15-25 minutes, or until warmed through.The recipe recommends to serve at warm or room temperature, so they’ll still taste great even if they’re not piping hot when eaten.

Overall, these fritattas were liked by both kids and adults. Ham & Cheese was the clear favorite and was gone long before the others.

All three recipes were adapted from this recipe from Williams-Sonoma’s Healthy In A Hurry Cookbook, as follows:

  • Spinach and Sausage Frittata: substituted spinach for arugula, omitted the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and substituted rice milk for dairy milk to make it dairy free
  • Ham and Cheese Frittata: substituted 8 oz ham for sausage, and added 1 cup cheddar cheese (omitted sausage, arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese)
  • Plain Frittata: omitted the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sausage and arugula.

 

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is a go-to recipe for me when hosting brunch and lunch. It is easy to prepare, can be made the day before (just wait to add the apple until the day-of), and can be eaten alone or on a roll as a sandwich. Using Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise creates a great healthy option. Kids and adults will enjoy the fruit and veggies that make every bite a little different.

This salad was prepared using the meat from 2 fully cooked rotisserie chickens (from Costco – they’re huge!), 1 cup dried tart cherries or crasins, 1 chopped large apple (I used honey crisp), 2 diced stalks of celery, 2 chopped green onions (green only),  1/4 tsp dill weed, salt & pepper to taste, mayonnaise or plain greek yogurt to desired consistency, and a drizzle of honey, to taste. If you want it just a little sweeter, add some chopped grapes just before serving.

 

Dinosaur Juice Jigglers

Dinosaur shaped 100% Juice Jello Jigglers

Dinosaur shaped 100% Juice Jigglers

What child doesn’t love jello, especially when dinosaur shaped? When made with 100% juice, they’re a pretty great option for parents too. Two flavors of juice gelatin (100% White Grape Juice and Apple Cider) were made and cut out with T-Rex and Triceratops cookie cutters. In hindsight, I wish I’d used something with a brighter color so they looked a little more fun. Just buy plain Gelatin and follow the package instructions.

 

Dinosaur Dig Jars and Gummy Dinosaurs

Dinosaur Dig Jars with Pudding, crushed Oreo cookies, and gummy dinosaurs

Dinosaur Dig Jars with Pudding, crushed Oreo cookies, and gummy dinosaurs

I’m not much of a baker and it can be a challenge sometimes to find a cake that is nut-free, so I was really excited to see the idea for these Dino-Dig Jars on Two Prince Blog. We filled our cups with chocolate pudding, crushed O cookies, and put two Hairbo Gummy Dinosaurs (nut free if you buy the factory-sealed bag) on top. This no-hassle, nut-free dessert was a hit with the kids. We also set out the gummy dinosaur candy, brownies and rice crispy treats for parents and kids who didn’t want a dig-jar.

Tip: The only problem with this dessert was when my son went to blow out his candle, the Oreo cookie ‘dust’ blew back into his face and all over the table. May want to mix the cookies into your child’s cup if doing candles so they don’t blow cookie crumbs into their eyes.

 

Dinosaur Ice Cubes

Make Dinosaur ice cubes in a muffin tin

Make Dinosaur ice cubes in a muffin tin

Set out dinosaur ice cubes with clear cups with lids and bright colored straws

Set out dinosaur ice cubes with clear cups with lids and bright colored straws

I found this idea for dinosaur ice cubes on Pinterest. I found these tiny dinosaurs in the Dollar Spot at Target (20/bag-a STEAL compared to other stores), washed them, and made a set of 12 cubes for the party. These dinosaurs floated when water was added to the tin, so ice cubes were made by filling each tin half-way, freezing, then adding water and freezing again so the dinosaurs were mostly encased in ice.

Clear cups with lids and colored straws were provided so the kids could see their dinosaur melt from the ice during the party.

 

 

Our dinosaur party brunch was delicious, and required minimal effort the day of the party. The food was enjoyed by toddlers, preschoolers and parents. Here are a few more pictures of everything the day of the party.

Beverages and dinosaur ice cubes

Beverages and dinosaur ice cubes

Dinosaur Themed Birthday Brunch for kids and parents

Dinosaur Themed Birthday Brunch for kids and parents

Desserts

Desserts

Happy Celebrating!

 

Check out the dinosaur birthday party decorations and favors in these posts:

DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party Decorations

DIY Dinosaur Tails, Dinosaur Spike Party Hats and Favors

I am THAT Allergy Mama: Something Good HAS To Come From All Of This {6 Beneficial Life-Skills Our Kids CAN Develop As A Result Of Having A Food Allergy}

There Must Be Good That Comes From This: Here are 6 life-skills our kids can develop as a result of having a food allergy.

Something good HAS to come from all of this..6 life-skills our kids CAN develop as a result of having a food allergy.

Yes, calling out ‘benefits’ of food allergies may be putting on rose-colored glasses. But I am a mama who needs to see that there is good that comes from such strenuous effort and from these challenging experiences. I need to know that there are things I can do to help my child thrive in the midst of something very serious and not-so-fun.

Food allergies can be incredibly scary for parents and children who live with the reality that food can cause harm. In no way by writing this, am I saying that food allergies are desirable; all of us would rather not deal with them and put our Epi-Pens prescriptions to rest. But what I AM saying is this: as parents of children with food allergies, we are charged to not only teach our children to navigate food safely, but to make the most of the experiences they encounter. And yes, this is also true of parents whose children do not have food allergies; we need to make the most of WHATEVER experiences they have.

What does that mean for us? It means we praise and encourage skills and character traits that are both required for safety and developed as a result of having a food allergy. All those lessons in label reading, asking questions and in developing personal discipline and responsibility can be an opportunity for you, your child, and family. Despite our fears, and the harsh reality when a reaction occurs, something good can and will come of all of this, if we are committed to it.

The key word here is can. While a select few children will harness these skills on their own, most need our help. We help them apply their food allergy skills to other areas of life. Instead of raising children who view their allergy as a hindrance, we can help them see it as an experience that taught them life lessons and skills that they will actually use as adultsAs we teach the skills they NEED to keep themselves safe, we can champion their efforts, recognize their growing independence, and encourage their empathy for others.

But before listing the skills and character traits we can encourage, we must first ask ourselves…How do I view my child’s allergy? What do I convey to them? Do my attitudes, words and actions reflect that I am annoyed with it, frustrated by it, or hindered by it? They are looking to US to see how to act. Our attitudes must show that we will make the most of this. We must make it our goal to equip, empower and trust these little ones…first with a little, and step by step, we will have to trust them a LOT….they won’t be in our care 24/7 for very long. It starts with US.

It is my goal to make sure our child knows I am in their corner. That I am doing what I NEED to be doing to keep them safe, and at the same time, they need to do the same. There are times when a feeling is hurt, a food can’t be eaten, a child is excluded, or a reaction happens and all they need is someone to grieve with and to be comforted by. I’m there. But otherwise, I want to be sure they know to be proactive and take necessary precautions, but to also ENJOY life. I want them to tangibly know what they are learning from this, and that they will succeed in other areas because of what they’ve learned and endured.

6 Beneficial Life-Skills Our Kids CAN Develop As A Result Of Having A Food Allergy

1. Food Awareness and Healthy Choices

In a society filled with wide availability of sugar, fat, and sodium packed foods, there is value in knowing that what we put into our body MATTERS. Children with food allergies and their parents KNOW this on a whole new level. Why not use this food-awareness as a stimulus for life-long healthy eating habits? With intentional education from us, these safe, and healthy food habits will promote a lifetime of food choices for our whole family. Here are a few of the lessons we intend to pass on to our children (allergic or not):

  • Label Reading Fosters Wise Decision-Making: In general, the more food is processed, the more likely it can be cross contaminated with a food allergen. AND the more likely it is loaded with less-than-healthy additives. Diligence is key and can be taught NOW. Teaching that we read labels not only to check for an allergen, but also to see if it is healthy. You know, you are what you eat – It may not be scientifically proven, but I am convinced that if you eat enough processed, high sodium food, that you can pickle your body from the inside out! Food allergy kids and parents have to read the label anyway, so why not read it together and make wise decisions together?
  • Whole Foods are Safer and Healthier: Even with diligent label reading, we all know from recalls that the label isn’t always right. WHOLE, RAW fruits and vegetables and plain, unflavored meats are safest. Not only is the raw food less likely to be contaminated, but is packed with natural nutrients. They are also free from strange chemicals with complex names that I used to use for science experiments in the genetics lab.
  • Cooking at Home Promotes a Love To Cook:  Watching and helping a parent cook creates lasting memories and imparts life-long skills. Sure, it takes longer to let a 4-year-old help, but it is worth it. I hope his future wife appreciates that he will know how to cook before he leaves his stay in this house.
  • Knowledge is Powerful: A child with a food allergy and their siblings simply HAVE  to know more about food than others.  It goes with the territory; they know about cross contamination, manufacturing, and how reactions happen. It is my hope that knowledge about how allergies work will someday generate curiosity about science and drive our children to search for their own answers.
  • Passing on Dessert is a Good Idea: As adults, we all know that passing on dessert is a good skill. In an allergy household, pre-made desserts can be particularly difficult to find allergen-free, so food allergies often make baked goods a rare treat. Instead, fruit at the end of our meal has become our go-to dessert; grapes, blueberries, and strawberries are the coveted ‘treats’. These kids won’t expect a baked or creamy treat after every meal because most have not grown up that way.

2. Empathy

Any child who has sat alone at a nut-free table, been excluded from an activity or treat, or had an allergic reaction knows how important it is to have the support of others. Or, even better, someone to step into it with you and pass on dessert WITH you. When they see others going through their own struggles (food or otherwise), it is my hope that they will be better equipped to come alongside others and meet them where they’re at.

As parents, we can guide and encourage our children to reflect on how they have felt in similar situations. We can teach them how to ask questions to understand what others are going through, and how to stand by them and lift them up. It excites me how this will affect them long-term. These kids are going to be some of the most kind and loyal friends out there.

3. Appreciation

Many of us take the freedom we (and our kids) have to eat whatever we want, for granted. Our family never will again. We feel the occasional pang of jealousy or disappointment when a nutty treat is being passed around. And frankly, it will hurt when we see our child hurt. But we will also be proud when he makes the right choice. But, because of those moments, we have learned that where disappointment and self-control is great, so is delight, surprise, and gratefulness when it goes the other way.

When someone makes a special effort to buy or make a dessert my son can eat, it brings delight; he knows it is really special.  We recently attended a birthday party where a parent did her own research and found a store that will sterilize all their equipment to make nut-safe cupcakes (you know who you are-THANK YOU isn’t enough). When that nut-free cupcake was placed in front of my son, he looked at me and said, “But mama, doesn’t it have nuts?”.  I was first proud that he asked first, on his own, and then it was my pleasure to explain that his friend’s mom had gone out of her way to make sure he could have one. His surprise was evident and the look on his face was so sweet.

To say he was grateful is an understatement. He will always know it is a privilege when someone makes a special effort on his behalf. These lessons foster a sense of gratitude that only experience can teach.

4. Self-Advocacy

I recently read this article, which states that children may develop helplessness from their food allergy experience. Helplessness? Sigh. Initially, I was offended. But as I read the whole article, I saw how my PARENTING will largely decide whether this is true. Fear and the knowledge of the danger in food makes it hard for me NOT to control every aspect of their food and environment. But while we need to do our part to keep them safe (and do it WELL), we also need to make sure they are learning to do the same on their own. Whether they’re only 2, or 3, or 4, or…

The article did change my thinking and motivate me. Instead of asking all the questions for my son, we need to help my son learn to ask questions, NOW…This doesn’t mean that we don’t keep asking those food allergy 20-questions before we get together. These questions still need to be asked and I will continue to advocate for my child! But it DOES mean that we need to take the time to help our child learn WHAT to ask, WHEN to ask (always), WHY it is important, and HOW (respectfully, kindly) to ask. In essence, to practice self-advocacy.  As they learn this skill, it will be our job to show them how to use it in others areas of life, and on behalf of others.

5. Real Faith

There are just some things that parents can’t provide on a life-changing, fulfilling level; we are limited, but God is not. When a child finally understands the gravity of what a life-threatening food allergy means, they will need all the hope, comfort and faith they can get. This can only come from a life-changing faith in Jesus Christ our savior.

Tell them when you pray for them; they should know the prayers being said on their behalf and understand that their parents are putting their trust in the Lord’s protection. As they get older and express their own fears and frustrations, it will be time to share some of your own and to show them how you have worked through them with the Lord’s help. Being honest about our struggles and how the Lord helps us will be a powerful example for them to emulate. We will teach our son how we know that no matter what happens, the Lord will be with us ALL as we walk through it.

When our children grapple with their own fear and discouragement (allergy related or not), we WILL turn their faces towards the One and Only God. We will teach them verses about worry, God’s protection and our reliance on Him to meet our needs. We will demonstrate what faith looks like; how we need to do OUR part (wise choices, proactive planning, and carry medications), and then, when we can do no more, how we rely on God to do HIS part.

I can’t think of any better skill to equip them with.

 6. Accountability and Responsibility

A child with a food allergy is responsible for a LOT, at a young age. They need to be aware of their surroundings, what is in EVERY bit of food or beverage they consume, and are responsible for expensive medications that they will need to know how to self-administer. It is a lot on their plate. They need our encouragement, guidance, and TRUST. They need us to equip them as best we can, making sure they understand consequences, and then, we need to pray for them, and let them go….to school, to a friend’s house, to an activity…I feel like this goes without saying, but, when they return from…[insert activity]….we need to hold them accountable. We will ask questions about how they made decisions and we will praise their efforts to be safe, correcting when necessary.

When we make it to the Epi-Pen expiration date and not only has it not been needed, but they haven’t lost it, froze it, or heated it up…that is worth celebrating. When parents, teachers, or their friends mention how our children are being diligent when we’re not there, we need to tell them how proud that makes us.

These are 6 skills, but there are plenty more. Our experiences can make or break us. Lets make sure our children’s allergy experiences (good and bad) are a starting point for something wonderful.  There is no doubt that these lessons will take time and effort. It will often be faster to just do it for them. But, bear with it. The long-term outcome will pay dividends; not only will they be safe, but will excel in many areas as a result.

Our kids are pretty amazing people, whether they have allergies or not. All of these skills (and more) can be learned by any child, but our food-allergic children and their siblings have experiences that require them.

Oh, they are going to be some neat kids…And I can’t wait to see them as adults.