Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bucking Tradition

Sometimes it takes something like food allergies to cause us to really look at traditions. Are all of our traditions good ones? Or do we have a few that promote ideas contrary to our personal values?

Along those lines, I've been thinking about Halloween. When it comes down to it, Halloween is such an odd holiday. We let our kids dress up as whatever they want--sometimes depicting really gross or even evil things--and then we send them out to collect candy from our friends in the neighborhood and from strangers as well. The other parts of it are really weird too, like carving jack-o-lanterns, decorating our homes with spiders and witches, etc. And if you start delving into the history behind these traditions--that will give you a real headache!

So I restricted myself to looking at the traditions in which we participate.
1. Jack-o-lanterns: we love to carve pumpkins. In our home, it is a major event. We clear off all the surfaces in the kitchen, get out markers and scoops and safety knives, and everyone gets creative. Jeff and I usually help the kids scrape all the "guts" out of their pumpkins, and I pick out the seeds and roast them while everyone is drawing and cutting their faces, so we have a little treat at the end. Thankfully, Sophie is not allergic to pumpkins or pumpkin seeds, so this is one tradition that is a keeper for us. Bundling creativity, family time, and a healthy snack together is definitely my idea of a productive evening.

2. Booing: this particular tradition is so fun! For anyone who hasn't done it, I would recommend starting it in your neighborhood. Basically, you print off instructions and a little Boo sign from your computer (this is the site we usually use) and put together a little package of treats or toys for a couple of neighbors. Drop them on their doorstep, ring the bell and run. They won't know who dropped them off, but they'll know that someone thought of them, and they now have the responsibility of Booing a couple more neighbors! We love to pick who to Boo, and if we include treats, we always use things with ingredients on them or include a little note about what's in the treat in case of food allergies.

3. Dressing up: I love costumes. I love to research them and create them. I love to take an ordinary little girl (I only have daughters) and some ordinary materials and invent something spectacular. This tradition is also a keeper in my mind. It provides me with a creative outlet, and has given me opportunities over the years to teach my children all kinds of skills, starting with researching and following directions to make their chosen costume, but also leading to many skills specific to the job at hand. Best of all is the sense of satisfaction I see in their eyes when they see our creations.

4. Trick or Treating: for my kids, this is just treating, really, because they would never do something mean because someone didn't pass out treats. This is the one tradition I would do away with if I could. I don't really like them running all over the neighborhood, talking to who knows who, and no one needs that much candy!!! However, if we are going to pass out treats, and receive them, I think a few changes are in order. I've seen my kids bring home spider rings, erasers, pencils, fruit snacks, popcorn, and other healthier options. This year, I am going to join that bandwagon--no more buying candy--I will help my neighborhood kids be a little healthier (and more allergy friendly) this year.

Now, to examine Thanksgiving...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A little research...

In the name of research I'd like to pass on this letter and request that any of you who are parents of children with food allergies go ahead and fill out the survey.


To whom it may concern,
I am a graduate student at UMBC conducting a research study on food allergy knowledge in collaboration with a pediatric allergist, Dr. Mary Beth Bollinger, and a UMBC clinical psychologist, Dr. Lynnda Dahlquist.  The purpose of this study is to develop a measure of illness knowledge for parents of children with food allergy. Although health care providers routinely educate parents about the best ways to manage food allergy, they do not currently have a good way to measure how well parents understand the information that they provide.  Given the potentially severe consequences of mismanaging a food allergy, it is crucial to identify any gaps in parents’ knowledge or areas of possible confusion or misinformation.  
The measure we are developing will be among the first of its kind.  The results of this study will help pediatricians and allergists determine how best to supplement the information that parents are typically given when receiving a food allergy diagnosis. The development of this food allergy knowledge test will also allow parents to examine their own knowledge and determine whether they would like additional information regarding diagnosis, treatment, responses to allergen exposure, or other aspects of managing their child’s food allergies.
Mothers of children (up to 18 years old) with food allergies are invited to participate in this study. Participants will complete a food allergy test and answer questions about their child’s food allergy diagnosis and medical history. These questionnaires will take approximately 25-30 minutes to complete and are available at If you prefer to take a paper version of the test, please contact me at or 410-455-3113. All participants will be entered into a raffle to win a $100 gift card to one of the following stores: Target, Wal-Mart, or Whole Foods.  
Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.
Amy Hahn
Pediatric Psychology Lab
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Thursday, October 13, 2011


A friend shared this fabulous post about the emotions of a food allergy mom and I had to share it with all of you--I hope you will enjoy it--it made me laugh AND cry!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Health Food

There are loads of reasons to eat health food. You know, the kind of stuff that costs twice or more than twice what the regular brand costs, and has names like BeautyEats and GreenYummies. Health food chips are the weird colored ones--they might be orange or purple instead of the usual light yellow or white. And the health food granola bars have little pieces of stuff in them. You know the food I'm talking about.

The health food companies will tell you that if you eat their food, you will have more energy, have prettier skin and hair, grow faster (if you're still a kid), grow thinner (if you're an adult), have a stronger heart, cleaner blood, breathe better...the claims go on and on.

But I will tell you the number one reason I like health food--the ingredients are easier to understand. Here are the ingredients for a popular flavored chip--the non-health food brand:


And these are the ingredients for a similar chip--but it's the health food version:

Organic blue corn, expeller pressed canola oil and/or safflower oil and/or sunflower oil, seasoning (dextrose, sea salt, spices [red pepper, white pepper, black pepper], torula yeast, onion powder, garlic powder, autolyzed yeast, tomato powder, extractives of paprika).

You tell me, which one would you rather have your 9 year old read when she's deciding whether or not she's allergic to eat? 

Health food companies can keep their skinny bodies and healthy hair--I just want the simple words on the package, so it's simple to see if their health food is healthy for my Sophie. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Calculated Risk

When someone in your family has a long-term health problem, such as food allergies, there are constant debates about how to handle things. How careful should you be? How much impact to other family members is ok? How do you maintain balance between one child's protection and other children's sacrifices? Obviously, the life of one child is worth a few sacrifices on the part of the other children. But what if the sacrifices you make to protect your allergic child are not actually necessary?

When Sophie was about 6 months old, she had her first reaction to peanuts. At the time, I didn't know she had a peanut allergy. Her older sister kissed her after eating a peanut butter sandwich. 3 year olds tend to be on the messy side, and there was enough peanut butter on her sister's lips to leave a little smudge on Sophie's face. That smudge produced 100 or so hives, covering Sophie from the waist up. Over the next few months, she had several minor reactions to peanuts. She reacted when we visited a friend who had baked peanut butter cookies earlier in the day, and whenever anyone opened a jar of peanut butter in the house. We talked things over and decided to eliminate peanuts from our home.

Part two of the story came several years later. Our oldest missed eating peanut butter. She begged us to buy some just for her to make sandwiches to take to school. My husband and I agreed. This was a calculated risk. We knew that Sophie had reacted in the past to minute exposures to peanuts. However, I felt that this risk could be tightly enough controlled that it didn't have to be a worry.

As time passed with no problems, I began to allow the girls to eat peanut butter around Sophie, and now we have had peanuts in the house for years and never had a problem. And, the calculated risk we took years ago, so our oldest could have peanut butter sandwiches at school, has given us peace of mind with Sophie being in school, at playdates, etc.

We could have maintained a peanut-free home, ignoring our oldest daughter's requests. The sacrifice would have been for nothing, since clearly Sophie has been safe in our home despite the peanuts. I am glad we were able to take the calculated risk.