Allergen-free toddler (family) meal planning

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet as well as cooking allergen-free family meals. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, and wheat.

Okay, first things first. Our baby is now a bona fide toddler. I can’t believe it but he is looking more and more like a little person, walking around and expressing his desires ever more clearly. We spend a lot of our at-home time in the kitchen: prepping, cooking, baking, cleaning, hanging out. One of the cool things that our toddler loves to do is stand on his wooden learning tower, which brings him up to counter height, and watch us chop, cook, or clean. He’s also been working on his skill of placing items into other objects, so we help him apply that skill all around the house. In the kitchen, this means that he can pick up chopped items and place them in a pot for cooking or into a bowl for mixing (roasted veggies). He loves helping out!

He’s also picking up on many more details about the world around him and this means that I am trying to only cook food that everyone in the family can enjoy. He notices what is on everyone’s plate and I think he learns a lot about eating food by observing us parents eat, so I’d like to have the same foods on each plate. This can be a challenge because (a) we used to eat a largely Asian diet with soy sauce, dashi, miso, and many other Asian seasonings and (b) we like to eat a variety of dishes. Our running list of foods to avoid is dairy, eggs, nuts, avocado, soy and wheat. We also have yet to try shellfish and a lot of seasonings. Luckily, our list of available proteins includes all animal and fish meats, as well as sunflower seeds…but some days I feel like we eat the same things all the time. We consulted with a dietician very recently just to learn whether or not our food offerings for our toddler were meeting his health and nutritional needs. Much to our pleasure, we were doing a pretty good job. Not surprisingly, with a diet free of dairy, the weak area of his diet was calcium.

His meals look something like this:

Breakfast

  • Oatmeal with prune or gluten-free banana waffles/pancakes
  • Selection of fruits
  • Hemp milk

Lunch/Dinner

  • A protein (beef, chicken, turkey, pork, fish) – sautéed, baked, steamed; OR
  • Beef or vegetarian chili with a variety of beans; OR
  • Vegetarian or turkey/chicken/beef stock with vegetables; OR
  • Tomato sauce with or without meatballs.
  • Rice, brown rice pasta, or quinoa
  • Sautéed, steamed, roasted or raw vegetables
  • Hemp milk

Snacks

  • Baked good using flour alternatives or rice cakes with sunbutter
  • Fruit or vegetables
  • Breastmilk

Of course, there are additional variants on these meal options but this is a general idea of what we offer our toddler at the moment. By extension, this is what we eat as well. We cook everything from scratch now and I swear, we spend so much of our time either planning for, preparing or cooking food. Each week we meal plan to ensure that we get a good variety of food on our plates and to save us from having to hem and haw over what to eat during the week when both of us parents are working. We no longer have the option of just getting take out food from a restaurant as our toddler can’t eat that food.

We’ve recently begun introducing herbs (homegrown and dried). Unfortunately, we only dried thyme and oregano this year, so the remainder of herb introductions will have to be store-bought. I’ve contacted a number of major companies who package dried herbs and so far, they all have a possibility for cross-contamination in their manufacturing facilities with all of our allergens but do claim to follow good manufacturing practices. Some days it feels like the level of scrutiny that I put into our meals is overwhelming and borderline paranoia, but without questioning every preparation method and every single ingredient, I can’t feel safe giving our toddler the food. We’re firm believers in food being an enjoyable experience, as both of us parents love food, and we’re trying hard to instil that in our toddler despite the food allergies.

Raw chocolate is free of our allergens

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet as well as cooking allergen-free family meals. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, nuts, soy, and wheat.

I just wanted to update my post about allergen-free chocolates. After casually browsing the chocolate bar sections at numerous health food stores, I think I’ve realized that raw chocolate bars seem to be free of dairy, eggs, and soy, and there are several nut-free lines too…so I’ve paid the $6-$8 a bar to try a few raw bars. Giddie YoYo from my previous post is actually a raw bar and I really enjoy their line of products, not to mention that they are nut-free. Some of the other ones that I’ve tried have been okay but nothing spectacular (as in, I’m not averse to them but I also wouldn’t go out of my way to buy their brands again). I definitely have my days of missing that sweet commercial chocolate, particularly at key holiday times where my favourite commercial dairy- and nut-laden chocolates are ubiquitous, but I’m still happy to explore the less-processed raw chocolates. I suppose a side benefit is that the lower temperature processing of raw bars combined with the simple list of ingredients is actually more healthful….

If my toddler doesn’t outgrow his dairy allergy and he isn’t allergic to cacao, then raw chocolates just may be his best option, aside from Enjoy Life products.

Allergen-free chocolate

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, and nuts.

Ah, chocolate. That brown square that melts like velvet in my mouth. Oh but so many of the chocolates lining the shelves at stores contain milk and if not milk, they may contain or be cross contaminated with a variety of nuts. At my local health food store, I asked for a chocolate bar that does not contain milk. The lady pointed out a few good choices. I further clarified that I needed a chocolate bar that has never made contact with nuts. I was given one bar out of their entire display of chocolate bars!

When I think ahead to the Halloweens, Christmases, Easters, and Valentines of my kids’ life, I’m saddened to think that he won’t be able to readily partake in the chocolatey goodness that so many others easily enjoy. That Lindt advent calendar just isn’t in our future *tear*. It’s not just the holidays that will be difficult but facing the sheer abundance of milk/nut chocolate bars that line shelves at the grocery store, gas station, restaurants, vending machines, practically everywhere (I swear I notice it more now that I can’t eat it).

However, there is hope and that hope exists in allergen-free chocolates. Unfortunately, they are challenging to locate and the selection of flavours isn’t the greatest, particularly in my city (ie. not in the United States). Still, they are hidden gems! So far, my finds are:

  • Giddy Yoyo (free of dairy/nuts/soy). An Orangeville, Ontario company!
  • Hummingbird Chocolate (free of dairy/gluten) has no nuts in their bars. An Ottawa, Ontario company! (updated July 2015: I’ve noticed that Hummingbird now has “may contain traces of nuts” on all of their bars…boooo)
  • Enjoy Life! chocolate bars, chips and chunks (free of the common allergens). An American company that produces many products that are all free of the common allergens.

It’s super exciting when I find an allergen-free chocolate and I’m hoping to discover many more in the months to come!

Ubiquity of milk ingredients

Ever since finding out that our baby has food allergies, as a breastfeeding mom, I have been working to cut out his allergens from my diet. It’s quite the educational experience for me as I delve into the world of cooking without dairy, eggs, and nuts.

I read labels when I shop. What are the ingredients? Where is it from? What is the nutritional information? However, I’m realizing that I hadn’t been reading labels on every single food product that I was purchasing.

My go-to chip is the Kettle brand chip and during one of my recent grocery shopping trips, I absent mindedly picked up a bag of sweet onion-flavoured chips…and yes, I had a chip craving one day and went to grab a handful of these chips, only to read the label at that point (did I mention I had an immediate craving!) and find milk ingredients! Reluctantly, I put the bag back in the pantry, unopened.

The more I scrutinize food products, the more I realize just how ubiquitous milk ingredients are. There are the obvious dairy products: the cheeses, yogurts, and ice creams. Then, there are the somewhat obvious milk-y products: many popular chocolates, sherbets, cheesy crackers, etc. But the chips!?

Luckily, products now have a clear statement when they contain any of the top food allergens (soy, milk, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, sulphites, mustard) – see Health Canada’s page outlining 2012 changes to allergen labelling requirements – and many have precautionary statements laying out possibility of inadvertent contamination with common allergens. Had I read the label on the chip bag, I would’ve easily seen “milk ingredients” among the list of ingredients but I didn’t realize that seasonings are another possible source of milk.

Milk. It’s in so much of the packaged foods that we consume and to an extent that I am only now realizing.

Being thrown into the world of food allergies

I love food, so when it came to introducing solid foods to our baby, I was quite excited to be able to share something that I loved with a person who I loved. We exclusively breastfed for six months and decided to let baby lead the weaning process as he started to explore foods other than breast milk. We would provide a selection of appropriate food items for him to choose from, and he would use his hands and all other senses to “eat” the food that he chose to “eat”. We didn’t start with rice cereal, as is so typical in our society. Instead, we gave him steamed broccoli florets, a bell pepper, an apple slice, and a strip of steak. The key with this approach is for the caregiver to provide a well-balanced assortment of foods and the eater to control if and how much they “eat”.

It was going fine until our baby experienced some fairly significant reactions to food. The look in his eyes as he scratched at his neck and face is something that I will not soon forget. After that first adverse reaction, we saw our family doctor and he referred us to a paediatric allergist. In the meantime, we avoided the foods that triggered that reaction but continued to offer other foods.

Meanwhile, while we waited to be seen by the allergist, another particularly strong reaction led us to the emergency room, where some Benadryl and the passage of time eventually calmed the reaction; I felt so thankful and grateful that the reaction didn’t continue to worsen. This ER visit led us to equip ourselves with an epinephrine auto-injector. Just having to fill the prescription for it illuminated the gravity of the situation. Heaven forbid we ever have to use it, but better to have it in our possession than be sorry.

Skin prick tests are not the most conclusive in determining whether or not a baby has an allergy but at our first allergy appointment, we had it done for numerous common allergens. The test indicated that he was positive for peanuts, nuts, dairy, and egg. Based on our history, we were also directed to avoid wheat until another test could be completed in a few months.

With neither parent having any known food allergies, we were thrown into a new world. That’s a bit of hyperbole…it’s more like we started to see our world with new glasses. Questions floating through my head included:

  • what can he eat?
  • how will we eat out?
  • how do we best equip ourselves in the situation?

A blessing and a curse, because I’m breastfeeding, I was also instructed to avoid all allergens to which my baby may react to. The curse: Our allergist mentioned that trace amounts of dairy and egg would be allowable for me (no nuts whatsoever) but if my ingesting these products was affecting my kid, I decided that I should try to eliminate them from my diet too. The blessing: Taking dairy, egg, and nuts out of my diet would give me the best perspective in what could end up being the life of my baby. I would be forcing myself to question what I’m eating, how that food was processed, and (I’d get a head start on determining) how to prepare foods without those allergens.

Some interesting links related to early parenting

Without too many close people around me who have recently had babes, I find myself looking to the internet for discussions around various issues, such as breastfeeding and sleep. On second thought, I bet that even if I were surrounded with many babe-toting friends, I would still be looking to the internet for more information; thus is our lifestyle. Anyways, I’ve quickly learned that for each piece of advice I read, there is a contradictory piece of advice on the next website. Some interesting pieces that I’ve come across during the past few weeks:

The Truth about Maternity Leave

As I look down at the peaceful face of my babe, napping in my arms, I feel blessed to be able to spend so much time watching him grow and interact more and more with the big world around him. But there are definitely days when I wish I could just wake up, press snooze a few times, get dressed, head to work, and do desk work for the day and chat with coworkers…oh and do things like eat lunch while it’s hot but in no big hurry or go to the bathroom alone. It just sounds so easy! (Not diminishing the fact that the corporate workplace has its own challenges….) Some days, I have dinner on the table by the time my partner gets home from work, the sink is clear of dishes, the house is relatively together, and I feel great. I’ve found we do really well on days where we get outside to go and see a movie or to a baby play group. Other days, I wonder where my baby’s snooze button is hidden, where I can find energy to even get some lunch ready for myself, and dinner? Yeah right.

Actually, I should mention how thankful I am that I get maternity leave at work and that this leave is one year long. I was speaking to an American colleague days before my maternity leave was to commence and learned that her leave was a mere EIGHT weeks! Of course, we are both blessed to even have ANY leave at all.

The truth about maternity leave is that it challenges you in ways you may not have been challenged previously. The day can seem to last an eternity yet the time on a larger scale seems to pass much too quickly. You’ll be at your best and you’ll be at your worst. Contradictions. Thus is maternity leave.

The Wait-It-Out Method of Sleep Training

I’ve learned that sleep is a hugely popular topic associated with a baby. Moms ask each other about sleep, moms get asked about sleep from friends and strangers, moms question themselves about sleep…. Where should baby sleep at night or during naps, how long should baby sleep at night or during naps, should baby be on a routine, how do you get behavioural changes out of baby (for example, let them cry until they resign themselves to a new routine), etc.

I really enjoyed reading this post dubbed the wait-it-out method (a twist on the popular cry-it-out method), mostly because it resonated with me. I don’t know why society seems to expect babies to live on the same type of schedule and within the same constraints as adults, right from birth.

Toddler and Baby Sleep Timeline

As I read or hear about triumphs from moms about their babies sleeping through the night, I wonder what my expectations should be around baby sleep needs. I found this post to be the most helpful in understanding what is happening with babe as he grows.

The Good Baby

“Is he being a good baby?” I’ve been asked this numerous times by friends or in line at the store. This is a great post on the ridiculousness of this question as it stands literally. Yes, of course my baby is good. I don’t think he can be malicious or manipulative…yet. He’s so pure.

Did you mean to ask if he sleeps through the night or doesn’t cry at all? Because those are ridiculous measures for my baby as well. My baby sleeps like a baby and uses crying as a communication means. I don’t think it’s normal to not cry as an adult so I’m not sure why babies are any exception. Of course, truly colicky babies cry in excess but some crying by everyone, including babies, should be fine.

So when you ask me, “is he being a good baby”, what exactly do you mean?

On becoming sustenance

It is a humbling and challenging experience becoming somebody else’s sole source of sustenance. That’s right. You as food. An experience unparalleled thus far in my life and possibly one of the most difficult. That is not to say that it is without its rewards (which I’m not going to discuss as these are widely preached already) but wow, it is tough.

I’m talking about breastfeeding. I think a lot about food and issues surrounding it and this is right up that alley…except that I hadn’t really thought much about it until now.

Throughout pregnancy, I was anxious about labour and delivery. To be exact, I was wary about the pain. Loads of people shared their own labour stories with me in the days and months leading up to my due date. However, my labour and delivery was thankfully pretty straightforward and frankly, not something that I would call “painful” in hindsight. Turns out I should’ve been anxious about becoming someone else’s sustenance.

Having attended prenatal classes and a breastfeeding information class, I am disappointed that not once did they mention what women commonly experience during the first few weeks of nursing. Pain. Soreness. Challenges. They talk about latching and signs of good feeds and show you pamphlets and brochures laden with pictures that portray nothing but blissful parents with their babes. All of that is important but what about cracked, bleeding nipples or otherwise sore nipples that don’t get enough of a break because you need to feed your baby every two hours? What about other issues that you may run into, like inverted nipples, over- or under supply of milk, or tongue tie?

Seeing your baby, red-faced, frantic, and crying hard, waiting to be fed and knowing that while you are its sole source of food (of its growth and well-being), you want nothing more than to hide your extremely sore nipples…but not being able to…and the toe-curling pain of an hour nursing session that ensues…it is more than enough to test your perseverance and the strength of your spirit. While you are already vulnerable from your lack of continuous sleep and chaos of trying to understand a baby, you need to figure out what to do to alleviate pain or address other nursing issues. Why had nobody mentioned that breastfeeding just might not be that easy and that it just might be painful? I felt ill-prepared. It’s difficult enough trying to ascertain whether or not your baby is latching well or not; after all, one can watch many videos and read sheets of instructions/diagrams but it’s only with time-after-time experience that one can really understand success and failure in this regard. When you have compounded issues on top of the ‘basic’ mechanics of latch and suck, nursing sessions can start to feel like a nightmare…a psychological hurdle followed by a physical hurdle.

Whenever a mom-to-be asks me for advice, I’ll talk about breastfeeding. That it’s important to acknowledge how you’re feeling and to feel confused from all of the differing (and sometimes contradictory) advice that you’ll get from those around you (doctors, lactation consultants, loved ones and friends). Many a time I felt like a failure for being scared to nurse and trying to put it off for just 5 more minutes…and it’s important to know that other moms have gone through similar pain and the same feeling of failure or wanting to give up.

It can be tough and it can be rough becoming somebody else’s sole source of sustenance. We should talk about it, worrying less about ‘scaring people off of breastfeeding’ and more about supporting mothers-to-be in the reality of what they may face in the days and weeks

Apples!

This fall, I’ve had a stronger-than-usual hankering for pears and apples. When a friend offered to pick apples for us from a local orchard, I said “Yes please!” right away. Along came 10lb of MacIntosh apples…so what do we do but cook up and can our first ever batch of homemade applesauce. The apples were sweet enough that no additional sugar was needed. We decided not to add any spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, etc) either, so this is a pretty plain jane batch of applesauce.

Beautiful Macs
Beautiful Macs
Quartered apples, ready for reduction
Quartered apples, ready for reduction
Immersion blended
Immersion blended
Canned applesauce!
Canned applesauce!

Looking forward to eating this stuff in March, when winter just doesn’t feel like it’s ending anytime soon….

When there’s no good ramen shop in town…

Every now and then, I enjoy a good steaming hot bowl of ramen. You get spoiled being in cities like New York, Vancouver or Toronto. And obviously you get spoiled if you live in Japan. Unfortunately, I have yet to find that delicious bowl of ramen in Ottawa. Have no fear though! It pays to have people in your life who love to experiment with making food.

Behold, a partnership of partnerships: one couple to make the ramen broth (many many hours of boiling a variety of bones), one couple to make char siu (wrapped – in my mind this is the only proper char siu for ramen) and ramen noodles.

Noodles of various textures, thanks to different concentrations of lye water.
Noodles of various textures, thanks to different concentrations of lye water.
Noodles for ramen
Noodles for ramen
Toppings for ramen
Toppings for ramen
More toppings for ramen, including seasoned hard boiled eggs (yum!).
More toppings for ramen, including seasoned hard boiled eggs (yum!).
Wrapped homemade char siu
Wrapped homemade char siu
Finished product: 4 bowls of homemade ramen!
Finished product: 4 bowls of homemade ramen!

This isn’t exactly a throw-together last-minute meal and for that, I do wish a good ramen shop would open in town…but how often does one get to enjoy a completely homemade bowl of ramen!? YUM.

Cooking a bun, so to say…Part 2

I shared some observations about the first trimester of pregnancy here and wanted to take some time to jot down a few thoughts on the second trimester of pregnancy.

It’s sitting on my lap

That’s right. When I’m sitting down, my belly is sitting on my lap. It’s a strange, slightly uncomfortable sensation that is very new to me. And yes, when I’m standing up straight (read: good posture), I cannot see my toes.

Oh my back, my ribs, my feet!

For the last few weeks of the second trimester, my back has been achy. Sitting in an office chair at work for upwards of 7 hours, 5 days a week sure does not help, even with a pillow supporting my back. The area covering my ribs (upper abdomen) has also exhibited numbness for many weeks, which may be due to some combination of stretching skin, squished organs, and a tight diaphragm. It’s less numb first thing in the morning, then comes and goes throughout the day (more coming and staying than going as the day progresses). There isn’t much to do about the numbness; stretching may or may not help. And my feet. They have swollen a bit but particularly on days when it is hot and I have been on my feet a lot.

Ninja toes

Actually, I’m not really sure if they’re toes or hands or elbows or knees, but I feel pokes and nudges as the baby practices its intrauterine ninja moves. If I’m lying on my side, the nudges come from the side that I’m lying on, as if little ninja is saying “it’s squished on this side”. If I’m focussed on a task, I get nudges as if to say “pay attention to me!” And if my bladder is getting full, I get smacked right on the bladder…”unload this sucker so that I can have more space”.

Flopping on my tummy

I fondly remember a time, not too long ago, when I could flop onto my stomach to read a book or take a nap. It’s my most relaxed state. Now, if I stack 3 or 4 pillows, one on top of another, I can pseudo-lie on my “stomach” (read: chest) without putting much pressure on my belly. I’m looking forward to being able to lie on my stomach again…although the baby is quietest and safest (read: close to me) when it’s inside me….

Preparations

I’m still feeling pretty cautiously optimistic with 3 months to go. It feels more and more like there will be a new being in my life very soon but the cautious side still worries that something might happen. Regardless, it’s getting to the point where, instead of a count of the weeks that have passed, there is a countdown to the due date, and this signals the need to prepare a few things. Namely, some paperwork and some purchases (something to wear, something to sleep in, something to be strapped into when in motion).

Time flies!

What can I say. My friends and I chat about how quickly time seems to pass by, and this year is certainly of no exception. Yay and eek!