All posts by Alanna Waldrop

Easy Meal: Stuffed Peppers with Spanish Rice

Stuffed PepperI always get excited when I find something to eat that is quick and easy. I like to cook in large batches, and I was making a pot of brown jasmine rice when I remembered that I had a poblano pepper in the fridge from a local farmer’s market. As I was surfing the web for a stuffed pepper recipe, I noticed that most called for ingredients that I did not have. So, I just grabbed the limited ingredients I had, and made some really good Spanish rice to go with my pepper. Here’s the recipe:

1 poblano pepper

1 cup brown jasmine rice (or whatever rice you have available)

1/2 cup of salsa that works with your allergies

1 tsp of chili powder that works with your allergies

Grated cheese or cheese substitute if desired

Cook rice according to package directions. Cut out the top of the pepper and take out the seeds and core. Slice down the middle. Broil for 6-7 minutes on one side and then another 6-7 minutes on the other side.

Mix 1/2 cup of salsa and 1 tsp of chili powder and warm in microwave for 1 minute or so. Add one cup of rice. If you like rice with more heat or tomato, you can add more salsa and chili power.

Place rice mixture in pepper and top with cheese. Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Preparing Early For Emergencies

Yesterday, my area found out that we are in one of the many projected paths of Hurricane Irma. We are far inland from the coast and have not been in a projected hurricane path since the 1980s. I realized this morning that I cannot afford to wait for the weather models to “agree” on the path before I buy my emergency supplies. For instance, there are only certain brands of many non-perishable food items that I can eat, and once those items are gone, they probably won’t be back on the shelf until after the storm.

It is important for anyone with food allergies to always have some emergency food supplies on hand, because for us, finding food can be much more difficult than the average person.

It is important to think about any food, household product, or essential personal care product that you need day to day that you can only buy in specific brands or at certain stores. Some of these items could include:

  • Non-perishable food items that are safe for your specific allergy such as bread, soup, sandwich spreads (could be almond butter, sunflower butter, etc.,) and other items that can be eaten without being cooked or refrigerated.
  • Toilet paper and soap that is appropriate for your allergy.
  • First aid products that are safe for your allergy.
  • Fresh towels that have been washed in your laundry detergent in case you have leaks, flooding, etc.
  • If it’s a winter storm, make sure that you have plenty of blankets and jackets that have been washed in detergent that is safe for you, and think about alternative heat sources that are safe for you.
  • And of course everyone needs extra water, flashlights, etc. There are lots of good websites out there about emergency preparedness in general, so I won’t go into a lot of detail about that here.

Having some of these things on hand at all times will help you be prepared when everyone rushes to the store and that one brand of product you can use is out of stock for several days or weeks.

I also want to say that my thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Houston. Thank you to emergency responders who work tirelessly every day to provide safe environments and get essential supplies to those affected by disasters and other emergencies.

Be safe, everyone!

 

Have You Checked Your Products Lately?

For those of us who have been living with food allergies for a while, we know the importance of checking food labels every single time we shop. The problem is, all of the non-food items in our home also need to be checked regularly. This goes beyond just household, personal care, medications, and beauty products which should each be evaluated by calling the manufacturer. Depending on your allergy, you could be exposed to allergens through furniture, craft products, pesticides, carpet, bedding, and more. These items may also need to be verified with the manufacturer.

The other problem that comes product usage is that manufacturers can change ingredients at any time, so just because you bought that laundry detergent last time doesn’t mean that the same laundry detergent can be purchased again without checking. Here are a few tips to cutting down on so many phone calls:

  • Order products from companies that explicitly state which items their products are free from. This could help cut down on phone calls unless there are some “hidden” ingredients that you could be concerned about. For some companies, it may be worth the extra phone call just to double-check that “soy free” really means that there is no soy at all.
  • If you see that the company website or label has changed or they no longer state their “free from” list, this means that you will need to start calling each time you purchase.
  • Just because a company does not state that their product is free from an allergen does not mean that the product could still be OK to use. Some companies choose not to publish all of their allergen information even though they are allergy-aware. It’s best to call.
  • If you already know you like a product and know it is safe to use, buy in bulk so that you do not have to call again for a while.
  • When a new product arrives, spot-test a very small amount. Manufacturers can still make mistakes, and there can also be other items in the product that you could be sensitive to. For instance, don’t take that new makeup and cover your whole face with it until you have tested a small amount in an inconspicuous place like the back of your neck or your chest.
  • DO NOT take anyone’s word for whether a product is safe or not. There are lots of social media boards and even advice from your pharmacist or doctor that may not contain the most up-to-date information. Only you can make the final decision based on careful research.
  • Do not have a friend or relative call for you. If you are one of the fortunate folks that have friends and family that want to help, I would recommend asking them to help in other ways other than having them make phone calls for you. They may be educated 100%, but it is YOU who will ultimately be using this product. Peace of mind that you made the phone call will be worth it.
  • If a company starts by reading you the ingredients, you will need to explain that ingredients do not tell you what you need to know. Let them know that you are concerned about ingredients derived from your allergen and cross-contact as well. You can ask that they speak to their chemist to find out the derivation of the ingredients. Many companies are happy to speak with the chemist and call you back, and the companies that are rude or unhelpful do not deserve your business anyway.

Since it’s time for spring cleaning, this may be a great time to take a few extra minutes and make a few phone calls about your favorite products. The extra time could be well worth it.

Being Spontaneous: Planning an Easy Picnic

Picnic

When I first discovered my soy allergy, I thought I would never be spontaneous again. My husband and I loved getting in the car and driving to wherever the road took us. Over time, I have realized that it is indeed possible to do these things, but it takes a couple of key lessons:

  • Food does not define a successful party, event, or adventure. Focus on the people you are with and making the most of your day.
  • Keep it simple: When I first started on my soy allergy journey, I felt the need to bake the perfect cake, make the perfect meal, or have the best recipe ever. Some of that need came from feeling like I needed to prove to myself and others that I could still have a great life, but it also came from my need for perfection. Now I realize that my “new normal” does not need to look like Martha Stewart in order to be just as fulfilling.

I will have a series of upcoming blogs related to being spontaneous, and the first has to do with a last-minute picnic that my husband and I had this afternoon to celebrate his birthday. It’s been super hot all summer in South Carolina, and we were thrilled to be able to grab a picnic table at the lake with the perfect breeze and a breath-taking view.

Because I was able to let go of the idea of perfect picnic food,  we were able to have the perfect evening instead.

To plan a picnic at the last minute, try picking one or two items from the lists (as long as they work with your food allergies, of course):

  • Veggies: think about things that are easy to grab from the store, like baby carrots, pre-cut celery, or one of those broccoli/cauliflower/carrot mixes. I have also used a dry slaw mix as a salad.
  • Protein: think cheese, seeds, nuts, or soy free lunch meats.
  • Dips or Spreads: I make my own onion mix so that I can easily mix with sour cream. Guacamole and Hummus can also be made quickly if you cannot find a soy-free version at the store. (Note: some people who are allergic to soy also have to avoid other legumes.)
  • Fruits: This also depends on what is in season, but I can almost always find organic apples and pears.
  • Chips: Think popcorn, tortilla chips, potato chips, and anything else that can be eaten with your fingers.

Most of these things can truly be a grab-and-go items from the store with very little preparation. Just grab some napkins, plates, utensils, and a little ice, and you are on your way to a great impromptu picnic!

Calling All Soyvivors: What Are Your Favorite Easy Picnic Foods?

 

 

 

Preparing for an Allergy-Friendly Hospital Stay

The thought of being in the hospital is scary for anyone, but for individuals with food allergies, the thought of ending up in the hospital is also scary because of all of the potential allergens that could be waiting upon arrival. I have been unable to post recently due to a close family member having spent a lot of time in the hospital. It gave me a lot of time to think about what I would do if I was in the hospital and also what to do when you are providing care for someone in the hospital.

Medication Lists

One of the first things that a good doctor or nurse will do is ask you to update your medication lists and allergies. Make sure that your allergies and medication lists are always up to date and can be reached by anyone, not just by people you know. Most cell phones have great health apps where you can keep allergy information, medications, etc. in case you are unable to communicate or do not feel like talking.

Surgical Considerations

If you are faced with surgery, you should consider any medications you will be given before, during, and after surgery. Some medications are given several hours or even days before surgery. Once the surgery is over, you may not feel like thinking through prescribed medications, so ask about post-surgical medications well in advance of the surgery. Also ask questions about any dyes or contrast solutions that are used for medical tests or during surgery.

You may be asked to clean the surgical area before the procedure, so this should also be treated like any other medication with a discussion related to ingredients.

Also keep in mind that surgical equipment is also cleaned in a solution, so you may want to check what is used to clean the surgical instruments.

Allergens in the Hospital Room

I have to be very careful with laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, hand soap, and event toilet paper. These are definitely items to consider as well as sheets, blankets, your hospital gown, and other toiletries that the hospital may provide to you.

Hospital Policies and Layout of Hospital

Many of us have other allergies in addition to food allergies. Ask in advance what the policies are for flowers, latex, balloons, or other items that patients could have nearby in other rooms.

For instance, my family member that was having surgery (in early January) is allergic to poinsettias, and I am also extremely allergic. It was very important as a caregiver for me to be there as much as I could, and there were still poinsettias everywhere in the hospital at that time.

My family member was in intensive care for the first part of the stay, and that area was on a separate ventilation system with no poinsettias. However, the visiting areas and the room where my family member would stay later was on a general ventilation system with the rest of the hospital. I had to make several phone calls, talk with a Patient Advocate, and specifically ask for accommodations in order to get the poinsettias removed from the hospital. Understanding the ventilation system helped me to explain why the poinsettias could not just be moved to another part of the hospital.

There are many items that visitors bring into hospitals that could affect you depending on your allergy. Some of those items that come to mind include latex balloons, outside food, flowers, etc. Be prepared and also have caregivers be prepared to have continuing and constant communication about your needs. As hospital shifts change constantly, this will be an important conversation that may also need signage, etc.

Food

This is the most obvious consideration for food allergies and will warrant a lot of conversations. Can the hospital provide a safe meal for you? Ask the same questions that you would ask a restaurant. If you do not feel comfortable and want to provide your own food, ask if you will have any dietary restrictions. For instance, if you have had surgery involving your throat, you may be asked to eat soft foods for a period of time.

Also make sure your caregivers clearly communicates what types of food and non-food items visitors are not allowed to bring. As mentioned above, also think about any allergy considerations that could involve the rooms around you.

If you are OK with your hospital stay being discussed on Social Media, it can be a great way to spread the word about your needs quickly to everyone so that your caregivers do not spend a lot of time answering phone calls and emails (instead of caring for you.) There are also websites dedicated to providing information about an individual patient’s medical care in a way that allows you to control who is seeing it through user names, passwords, or other access controls. You may also have potential visitors without internet access, so designate a person that your caregivers can call to contact those individuals.

If You Are Visiting Someone in the Hospital

If you have food allergies and are visiting someone in the hospital for an extended period of time, you may want to prepare you own snacks, foods, and drinks in advance. You can pack food on ice in a cooler to leave in your car or in the hospital room. It is also important to make sure that you are not eating something in front of the patient that could cause them discomfort or a medical issue. For instance, patients who have recently awoken from surgery can be very nauseous and may need for you to eat elsewhere.  You also do not want to eat something in front of the patient that they have been ordered by their doctor not to eat, as this may also cause them stress.

When I was spending a lot of time in the hospital, I brought gloves with me for times when I needed to touch the patient’s hospital gown, sheets, or blankets. I always take soap and toilet paper with me as well, so I was fully prepared with my own toiletries.

Conclusion

I hope that this information is helpful, and there may be other items for you to consider based on your needs. Always consult with your medical team as early in the process as possible to avoid any issues. In addition, it is helpful to be familiar with the Americans With Disabilities Act in case you need to explain your right to accommodations if you run into any issues.

Calling All Soyvivors: Do you have any other tips that can help others with their hospital stay?

 

 

 

 

 

Food Allergies: Finding the Right School or College

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with a local food allergy support group about my experiences living with multiple food allergies as an adult. Since I work at a local college, I was asked to speak about two things: how to prepare for going to school or college as an adult with food allergies and what it’s like in a workplace setting for someone with food allergies.

This post will discuss what I’ve learned related to the college experience, and my next post will be about working with food allergies.

 Finding a College or School

Do Your Homework

  • The best time to research a school is before you apply or get excited about attending that particular school.
  • View the school’s website for information related to food allergies, but don’t get discouraged if you do not find anything. This just means you need to ask more questions.
  • Research the student activities department (sometimes student affairs, student government, etc.) and find out if there are student organizations related to food allergies or special dietary restrictions. You may even be able to contact the organization’s advisor or find some students you can contact. Ask how they handle their food allergies on campus and if they have had any issues.
  • Are there enough food/specialty stores in the school’s community to meet your dietary needs? For instance, if the nearest grocery store is 30 minutes away, you may need to reconsider the school. You may not have time (or perhaps transportation) for lengthy commutes to the store.

What Accommodations Do You Need?

  • What are your living arrangements? Commuting vs. living on campus requires very different accommodations.
  • What about food? Are you bringing your own or does the school need to provide?
  • What kinds of accommodations do you need for food served in a classroom or allergic materials used for group projects?
  • Consider other needs such as cleaning supplies used in dorms, toiletries you could be allergic to, and laundry areas using unknown detergent.

Once you have determined what your needs are, you should:

Reach Out To The School

  • Contact the disability services department to discuss.
  • First, ask an open-ended question about how they handle food allergies and see how they respond. Do they immediately know their policies related to food allergies?
  • How many students do they have on campus with food allergies?
  • Can they provide you with safe living arrangements?
  • What happens if a roommate is not cooperative? How quickly is the issue resolved?
  • If you cook for yourself, can they provide a place for you to safely store/heat your food?
  • Contact the food service provider, preferably with disability services included in the conversation.
  • How many students do they serve with food allergies?
  • Do they have allergen menus updated daily?
  • How confident are they that their food suppliers follow good food labeling practices?
  • What steps do they take to avoid cross contact?
  • Many food service providers have campus nutritionists. However, keep in mind that nutritionists may or may not be trained in food allergies. However, if they are not formally trained in food allergies, they may still have extensive experience working with the food allergic or even have food allergies/intolerances themselves.

Other Items to Consider

  • If you are living in an apartment, choose your roommates carefully and look for ways to secure your food.
  • Some apartments even offer bedroom doors with locking systems so that you can safely store your food and belongings.
  • Do you need to rent two bedrooms in a multi-bedroom apartment? (You could use one for your bedroom and one for a food storage area as approved by the apartment complex.)
  • Once you accept an admissions offer, immediately connect with any student organizations that you found in your research that are related to food allergies or dietary restrictions. It’s important to expand your search and make sure that you reach out to any organizations that relate to dietary restrictions. Finding students who are already navigating campus successfully with food allergies or dietary restrictions will be a big help to you and may also help you make friends much more quickly.

What is it like to go to college with a food allergy and what should I know before attending?

  • We know that 1 in 13 children has food allergies, but in my experience, food allergies have already become very common in college.
  • You will unfortunately find fellow students who have food allergies and do not take them seriously or are too embarrassed to tell anyone. Do not let this sway you from taking your own health seriously. You will likely find that the students that are not taking their food allergies seriously are also dealing with more health issues. They are also putting themselves at risk for life-threatening reactions.
  • Be the absolute best student you can be. I was so sick during my high school and college years and missed tons of class, but I still graduated at the top of my class. My professors knew that I was dedicated, worked hard, and they in turn were willing to work with me.
  • Be confident when you talk about your food allergies. There is no need to feel embarrassed, and confidence will help others connect with you and assist you in making lasting friends.
  • You may find that everyone is fascinated by your food allergies and wants to ask lots of questions. You can be a good ambassador for food allergies, so don’t be intimidated or aggravated by all the questions. This is your chance to educate by telling your story.
  • You may find that when you tell people that you have food allergies, they may also have food allergies and haven’t said anything until now. This has definitely been the case for me with some of my own students.
  • It’s important for you to tell your close friends (and also school administrators) that you have food allergies. Not only does it help you find the right kinds of friends, but it’s for your safety as well. They can help you if you get into a situation where you are reacting and also watch for others that are not as respectful of your food allergies.
  • Never, ever compromise your health for anyone. Know your boundaries and ask for additional needs in a spirit of cooperation. Asking for help in a respectful way goes much further than asking in an angry or militant way.

Cooking Tips For Supplying Your Own Meals

  • Plan your meals efficiently
  • Plan your meals at least a week in advance according to your class schedule.
  • Pick meals that will allow you to cook once and eat twice.
  • Cook in batches.
  • Invest in a small chest freezer.
  • What is your back-up plan if you forget your lunch?

An Allergy Friendly Vacation In Photos

My parents, husband and I recently vacationed at the beach and had a great time. However, it takes a ton of preparation, thought, and luggage to have an allergy friendly vacation. While food is an obvious part of the process, there are other things that many of us have to think about when planning to be away from home.

couch

I once had a reaction to a couch that had sunscreen in the fabric, and couch foam and fabric can also contain soy. I always bring a sheet to place over the couch along with a throw blanket in cooler months.

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I always bring some king size sheets so I am prepared for whatever size bed is available. I also bring my own pillows and blankets.

toliet_paper

My own toilet paper is a critical part of packing.

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I bring my own towels from home that are washed in my laundry detergent.

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Housekeeping is very tricky when you travel with your own toiletries and sheets. When my husband and I travel alone, I request no housekeeping. When I travel with others that want housekeeping, I put a sign on my bed so that sheets are not mistakenly changed.

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I also bring my own soap as well as a sign for a bathroom requesting no housekeeping so that my toilet paper, towels, etc. do not get mixed in.

water_bottle

I try to drink from my own glass bottles whenever I can, but the recent floods in South Carolina made it necessary to drink from plastic water bottles. I labeled my bottles with my initials. This is not just to keep from drinking after someone else to avoid germs. Drinking after someone can expose you to allergies based on what they have been eating.

SunandEarth

Other items I took with me were dishwasher detergent, dishwashing liquid, household cleaner, and laundry detergent.

For someone that is newly diagnosed with food allergies, planning to be away can be a daunting task. The good news is that is gets easier and easier. Try making a list of everything that you pack for your first vacation, save it on your computer, and make changes to it each time you travel. It will take the stress out of forgetting something, because you will have everything written down.

I can also tell you that now that I am accustomed to bringing my own personal items, I am able to relax so much more. There’s something very comforting about being surrounded by your own things from home, and you can feel like you are really creating a safe environment.

Calling All Food Allergy Survivors: What other items do you enjoy traveling with that help keep you safe?