If you're anything like me (and I'm betting most of you are), lunch-packing is left to the last minute every single day. It's a morning frenzy around here as I rifle through my cupboards and wonder if uncooked oats would go over well with the kids. (The answer is always NO.) Between working around their preferences and food restrictions for their individual classrooms, sometimes it's enough to make me scream. Or cry. Or just ask someone else to pleasepleaseplease pack their lunches. Please?
The average lunch for my kids consists of fresh fruits and veggies, some raisins with a few star sprinkles (added for fun), leftover homemade pizza, and some graham crackers. My kids prefer a mish-mash of items over a sandwich, so I'm always chopping up this and that, and balancing foods groups, to make it appealing. I consider it a win when the containers come home mostly empty.
When it comes to purchasing pre-packaged, allergen-free snacks, a lot of the options are full of ingredients I don't want my kids eating, but the options are limited. I'm always really happy to try out new products that are allergy-safe, so when Sunrise Soya asked if we'd like to try out their new allergen-friendly snack, Super Squeezies, I said, "Absolutely!" (You'll have to check to be sure these are safe for your school, but they are definitely safe for my kids' schools.
Super Squeezies are dairy-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, cholesterol-free, peanut-free, and are rich in DHA. They're a pudding snack in a tube, and I have to tell you, they're pretty delicious frozen. I put them in with the kids' lunches to keep neighbouring snacks cool, and by snack time, they're the "perfect cold", according to one picky junior kingergartener in our home.
The kids loved the flavours (we tried two: chocolate fudge, and strawberry-banana), and I love that they're made with non-GMO soybeans, they contain no added preservatives, and they're a safe snack to send to school with the kids. That's a major win for us! Super Squeezies are available at major grocery stores across Canada. Pretty great, if you ask me. These are definitely being added to our regular school treat rotation!
Many schools now limit homemade snacks because of hidden allergens. In my son's class, nuts, dairy, and eggs are banned, which makes finding snacks an adventure! In my daughter's class, we just need to avoid peanuts, and thankfully, that is becoming a lot easier to do.
Whether your child has allergies or not, here are some tips to help make your lunch-packing routine safer and easier.
Nothing feels more isolating than the discovery of severe allergies. Whether it's you or your kids, it feels like leaving the house is as daring as a Grand Canyon tightrope walk. When life can be snuffed out by an allergy to one wee little peanut, it's easy to feel overwhelmed, I know.
But you're not alone; allergy support is as close as Facebook.
When my son was first diagnosed with food allergies, he was just an infant (and still being exclusively breastfed). So I had ultimate control over what he ingested. I was his source of food, so I had to strictly limit what I ate. His reactions were generally gastro- or eczema-related, not life-threatening at that point.
I didn't know where to start learning about all his allergies, it all seemed like too much information. I reached out to friends online for their experiences while waiting (months!) to see a pediatric allergist. The learning felt exhausting, and often contradictory.
When he started eating solids, and then eventually started nursery school, I was even more afraid because suddenly I didn't have as much control. As it turned out, his worst reaction (to tilapia, of all things) was from a meal I'd cooked him, while I was alone at home with him and my daughter. Calling 9-1-1 while my baby's eyes turned red, and his face and lips swelled to epic proportions was one of the most frightening things I've ever had to do.
So, yes, I know just how scary allergies can be, and how important it is to have a community to rely on for support. We have carried an EpiPen ever since Mason's trip in the ambulance, and although we're lucky that he has outgrown a lot of his allergies, we still have to manage others. We have to always be on high alert, with EpiPen Auto-Injectors in the house, in my purse, at his schools, with his sitter.
You never know when a reaction will strike; living with allergies always feels a little like rolling the dice and hoping for the best. At three-and-a-half, Mason already knows to ask permission before eating anything, and will ask if we have his EpiPen with us. I'm not sure how I'll fare once he starts kindergarten in the fall; it's hard letting go when you have an allergic kid.
Travelling is nerve-wracking because many places don't really understand the severity of some allergies, and we always have to be aware of the locations of hospitals in case we do have to ever use his EpiPen. While the EpiPen does offer us the comfort of knowing we can help save his life, he would have to head straight to a hospital after using it, anyhow, and we'd have to be near a hospital for the next 48 hours. It's all very stressful emotionally, that's for sure. But knowing we're not alone is a huge relief. Just having the opportunity to connect with other parents who've gone through this before, or to chat with those just learning about it helps us immensely.
I feel very lucky to be a parent in this digital time. Sure, there are downfalls, and yes, Dr. Google isn't always the most reassuring, but the communities I've found online are the best. So many others are going through the same things, or have already experienced this, and are happy to share their knowledge. Here's a round-up of some of the most helpful allergy support groups I've found on Facebook where you can find tons of great information, and most importantly: empathy and commiseration.
Great news! EpiPen has launched their own Facebook page to provide people with a forum through which they can share their own experiences and connect with other EpiPen users across Canada. They'll also be sharing helpful news, information, tips, and advice for safely managing severe allergies.
Toronto Anaphylaxis Education Group (TAEG) offers support groups for those dealing with the psychological stresses related to the diagnosis of severe allergies. They also provide speakers for educational purposes, like schools and organizations who need to be aware of how to handle these allergies.
The Kids with Food Allergies Foundation aims to empower families raising kids with food allergies to help them create safer environments and healthy futures for their children. They provide great content and reader commentary, too.
Allergies Everyday is a group of people dealing with allergies, this one offers a bustling community of members asking and answering questions based on their personal experiences. Lots of commiseration happening here, with links to news and pertinent studies for allergy sufferers!
Allergic Child was started by the parents of allergic children, this group also offers great resources. Parent Nicole Smith has also published three children's books about food allergies. They provide helpful tools (like a drop-off form for allergic kids, how great an idea is that?) for parents.
Anaphylaxis Canada is a great group with Canadian content meant to both educate and advocate for the needs of families dealing with anaphylaxis. You'll also find all the latest research and study results here. Very handy!
The No Nuts Moms Group is one of the busiest of the allergy groups to which I belong. I love the current news pieces they provide and the member chats about their own experiences. They really encourage everyone to support one another with advice and experience, while also sharing the latest in findings.
The Food Allergy Support page is another bustling community-based group. This page shares anything and everything allergy-related. It's a great forum for asking others their experiences with allergies.
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EpiPen® and EpiPen® Jr Auto-Injectors are designed as emergency supportive therapy only. They are not a replacement for subsequent medical or hospital care. After administration, patients should seek medical attention immediately or go to the emergency room. For the next 48 hours, patients must stay within close proximity to a healthcare facility or where they can call 911. To ensure this product is right for you, always read and follow the label. Please consult the Consumer Information leaflet in your product package for complete dosage and administration instructions.
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Can I get a, "WOOHOO!" from the audience? Who was it saying schools aren't responsible for keeping our anaphylactic kids safe? Eat those (allergy-friendly) words!
More than 5000 school boards, schools and public health units in Ontario now have educational resources to help staff manage and respond to serious allergies. This is a gigantic, positive step forward for supporting and protecting those at risk of anaphylactic reactions!
Taken from the official release:
“The health and well-being of our students is a top priority for the Ontario government,” said Liz Sandals, Minister of Education. Together with our partners, we are committed to making our schools healthier places for students to learn and grow.”
“We are pleased to have collaborated with the Ontario Government on the 2013 Anaphylaxis Resource Kits and Update Packages,” said Laurie Harada, Executive Director of Anaphylaxis Canada. “As a mother of a son with multiple food allergies who has gone through the Ontario education system, I know how reassuring it is to have our schools have access to the best information on anaphylaxis.”
Food allergy is one of the leading causes of potentially life-threatening allergic reactions and a growing public health concern in Canada, especially among children. As there is no way of predicting how severe an allergic reaction may be and no known cure for food allergy, avoidance of allergenic foods is the only means of staying safe. Some children are also allergic to stinging insects or medication.
“On a board level, I can attest to how valuable these resources are for facilitating greater understanding of anaphylaxis and protecting students in elementary and secondary schools,” said Bob Soroko, Medical Conditions Resource Consultant at the Halton Catholic District School Board. “Anaphylaxis Canada and the Ontario government have done another wonderful job in preparing informative and accessible resources.”
The anaphylaxis resources are intended to help school boards comply with mandated requirements which are outlined in the landmark 2005 legislation Sabrina’s Law. The law is named for Sabrina Shannon, a young teen who died in 2003 in an Ontario school after accidentally eating food which contained dairy.
“These resources are a continuation of Sabrina’s legacy,” said Sara Shannon, Sabrina’s mother. “Sabrina was a creative, energetic advocate who raised awareness about anaphylaxis and I am so proud her dedication lives on through this legislation.”
The full Anaphylaxis Resource Kit has been distributed to new schools and all public health units while all other schools and school boards have received an Update Package to support kits they received in 2011.
The bilingual Anaphylaxis Resource Kits and Update Packages include such resources as:
Epinephrine auto-injector training devices (EpiPen®, Allerject™)
Awareness and instructional posters (e.g. Anaphylaxis Canada’s “Think F.A.S.T.” poster)
A memory stick with instructional videos (EpiPen®, Allerject™), an Anaphylaxis 101 presentation for school personnel, MedicAlert® information, and other related materials
Excerpts from Anaphylaxis in Schools & Other Settings consensus document
Informational charts/pamphlets (e.g. Ophea’s “The Basics of Asthma, Allergies and Anaphylaxis”)
“Anaphylaxis Canada wishes to thank the Ministry of Education for its ongoing dedication to anaphylaxis-related initiatives which help to keep children safe in our schools,” said Harada. “We also want to thank Pfizer Canada, Sanofi Canada, the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Ophea, and the Canadian MedicAlert® Foundation, the organizations whose materials are included in these resources.”
About Anaphylaxis Canada
Anaphylaxis Canada is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to helping those at risk for anaphylaxis and those who care for them. The organization is committed to creating a safer world for people with life-threatening allergies through education, advocacy, and research. The organization’s approach to reducing the risk of anaphylactic reactions in both children and adults is focused on self-management, community engagement, understanding, and respect. For more information, visit www.anaphylaxis.ca.
For more information please contact:
Empower Consulting, for Anaphylaxis Canada