Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Adjusting to life with Allergies

Adjusting to life with a son with allergies has been a long learning process with lots of ups & downs. I have learned so much! Jude is such a good sport with it all. We are learning together. When I first found out about Jude's allergies I was just overwhelmed and really had no idea about... anything at all! I googled "wheat free, dairy free, egg free, nut free recipes." It didn't yield much... I felt dejected as I scrolled through my new pinboard with chocolate syrup, pumpkin smoothies, taco seasoning, and "leaves and acorns." Having a child with so many allergies has been full of lots of disappointments and loses, but those little wins (finding chips he can have or making a stew he loves) are the tender mercies that make our day and give us hope to keep going.

I'm going to share a few tips that have helped me as I've learned over the past few months and hopefully they can help you and give you a little hope as you learn to fight this battle!

1. Substitute, substitute, substitute

If you look at my pinboard now, it is full of delicious-looking recipes, many of which have milk, eggs, or wheat flour as ingredients. Jude's allergies have since changed, but at first I was able to substitute soy milk for normal milk, pre-made gluten-free flour mix for wheat flour, and flax seed gel for eggs. Ta da! I could pretty much make anything except anything dishes with a lot of cheese (not big fans of fake cheese over here). We even made him a delicious, normal-looking birthday cake when he turned one. His allergies are a lot worse now, but with diligence and trial and error I plan on getting to the point where I can make him a lot more varied and delectable dishes.

For those of you who are wondering about my credentials, my almost 2-year old son has an autoimmune allergic disease and is currently (they change every few months when he has a EGD or "scope") allergic to dairy, wheat, eggs, soy, nuts, corn, rice, barley, beef, potatoes, mustard, peas, and lentils. So I'm currently trying to find a flour substitute. He can no longer have any pre-made gluten-free flour mixes, so I'm going to try a mix of sorghum flour, tapioca starch, and xantham gum. And I hope it works! I found the link with the idea here. I just had to substitute tapioca starch for the potato starch. My favorite flax seed gel instructions are here and work great for substituting eggs in almost any recipe (they don't work great in brownie mixes). Since he is now allergic to soy milk, we use hemp milk in our recipes. So there are a few ideas!

2. Prepare

No McDonalds stops over here or last minute mac-and-cheese or throwing sandwiches together. (There are NO breads he can have. And we are yet to tackle trying homemade bread for him with the move and everything.) Nothing brings me more stress than it being 6:00 pm and Jude's hungry, we just got back running errands, he's hungry and I have no plans for what to feed him. On the contrary, nothing brings me greater joy and satisfaction that knowing what I'm going to give him for lunch hours in advance or having a little Jude stew abrewin in his baby Crockpot that's all ready for him come dinner time. A freezer full of food for Jude is like casting my eyes upon a buried treasure of gold and silver. 

Feeding a "high needs" child takes study, time, and preparation. Cooking a full-on meal for him is extremely time-consuming as I have to homemake/substitute every individual ingredient. I rarely make a meal that we all eat because Jude's food is so expensive and specialized. I save it just for him. I have spent countless hours studying different things online: different types of beans, different types of grains, what vegetables are highest in vitamins, what beans have the highest fat content, how to cook lentils (before I knew about his allergy), overnight oatmeal recipes, difference between different types of oatmeal, substitutions for this and that, etc. (PS- Did you know corn is a grain? A sneaky, good-for-nothin' grain that pretends to be a vegetable and sneaks it's measly way into e v e r y t h i n g. It disgusts me to no end.) 

Anywho, Moms: the more you prepare, the less stressed you will be! I took a day a few months ago and made several different freezer meals for Jude. I put the stews into little sandwich-size freezer meal bags and used them for months to follow. They were lifesavers. I would throw one in his little crockpot at lunch and if we were out and about or busy in the afternoon, I knew it was there waiting for us. We have made a couple soups this week that Jude can have. We all had our fill for dinner and then instead of sticking the rest in the fridge, I divided into little freezer bags and have them saved for Jude. Happiness! 

When I first found out about his allergies, I was just so overwhelmed. The only thing that made me feel better was to sit down for a few minutes at night and write down everything I planned to feed Jude the next day. Once I did that, I could relax and I had a little handrail to walk me through the next day. 

Also, if we are going out to eat, I will call the restaurant beforehand and make sure they are willing/able to work with me and get an idea of what I can order for Jude so we are prepared. I usually bring a couple things from home too.

3. Take it one day at a time and remember... it will get easier!

You will learn how to deal with it and what foods to make and it will get a little easier every day. There will be lots of frustrations and times when you just want to give up, but you can't give up! And you will find the strength to keep going. Just appreciate those little victories and if you find a good recipe, hold on to it! Plan as much as you need to even if it seems silly and do the best you can. Ask for help. Don't feel guilty if you feed your child oatmeal 5x/week for a little while while you're still trying to figure things out. And if you need a friend, I'm here for you!

I hope these tips help. You are not alone and we all need to help each other! :) If you have any tips or ideas I would love to hear them!