Monday, June 30, 2014

Our Visit to Chipotle - Review

Go eat here!

We had an amazing experience the other day.  I took my four oldest children to Chipotle.  My son, 10 years old, is allergic to eggs and peanuts, and he carries an Epi-pen, and my 7 year old has behavior issues when he eats dairy.  I knew that some food-allergy friends of ours has successfully eaten at Chipotle, and I didn't have dinner planned, so we decided to try it out. 

I looked up the online menu for Chipotle, and it was pretty impressive how allergy-aware they are. They even have a tab on their website for special diet information. The chart of ingredients was very clear.  When we got to the head of the line, I did ask the server if there were any eggs, peanuts, or  dairy other than the sour cream and cheese.  She made sure to double check with manager, and she changed her gloves before working on our order.

My 10 year old was SO excited that he could order ANYTHING off the menu without fear. For food allergy families, this is truly amazing.  I had to hold back tears as my son kept repeating "I really can eat anything off the menu?!  I love this place!"

As an added bonus, the food was fantastic!  Everything was flavorful and fresh, and the chips and salsa were the best I've had in a long time at a restaurant!  We ate without incident, and we had a wonderful experience!  I highly recommend eating a meal at Chipotle! 
Friday, June 6, 2014

Can I make you a meal?

Food is a language.  We speak it in our family, our community, our culture.  We speak a language of celebration through food at birthday parties, holidays, awards banquets, date nights, graduation dinners, and any number of accomplishments that deserve a "special meal".  We speak a language of community through food in church potluck suppers, fundraiser pancake breakfasts and spaghetti dinners, neighborhood barbeques.  Every culture is loaded with food that speaks a distinctive language of spices, textures, techniques, and flavor profiles.   The tradition of breaking bread together is universal.  It strengthens the bonds of a family, or of a community, of a culture. 

So what happens when food allergies change the way we participate in that food conversation?  Well, a lot happens.  People may feel left out, put out, worn out, and decide to just sit it out.  I'm sure we could share countless stories of family members and friends who just don't understand, church or school functions that become a stressful maze of dangers to be navigated, and traditions that seem impossible to carry on and pass down in a safe way.  The honest truth is that the weight of food allergies is sometimes heavy and burdensome. Sometimes the weight of life events are heavy and burdensome too, or in other cases, happily unwieldy. When that happens, my instinct is to cook.  To nourish and feed the soul through food. 

I don't know about you moms out there, but nearly every "moms group" I have ever belonged to has a well oiled automatic "food brigade" that rolls into action with every birth, death, and major life event in the families of the member moms. "Judy had her baby?  I'll make her a meal!", "Norma's father died?  I'll make a meal for her.", "Susie's husband will be out of town for a month?  I'll bring her a meal while he's gone!"... does any of this feel familiar?  

When we had our twins, so many people  asked if they could cook for us, and truthfully, most of the time I turned them down. It's too hard to know if someone REALLY understands that "just a little", or even just cross-contamination could send us to the ER. Nearly all the women whose offerings I accepted and fed to my family have food allergic children of their own.  Unfortunately, the people who offer and get turned down get their feelings a little hurt, and that's not good either. So what's the answer?  Well, there are a few ways to handle this without hurt feelings, and without isolating yourself and your family in times of "big life stuff". 

First, get prepared for the people who want to help, but don't understand how to safely cook for your family.  Make a list.  Make a list of things that would be helpful that don't include cooking. The list might include things like:
- taking your kids to the park, to give you a break,
- coming over in the evening and folding laundry with you and
  keeping you company,
- ask if they would be willing to go to the grocery store for you,
- in the case of a death in the family - ask a few close friends to
  make phone calls for you,
- in the case of a birth, ask someone to come and hold the baby so
  you can take a shower!
- anything that would ease your burden or make life a little easier.

Then, get prepared for the people who want to help, and that you trust to cook for your family.  Have a file saved on your computer that lists your family's food allergies.  When someone you trust to cook, calls and says "Can I make you a meal?" say YES!, and send them the file as a reminder of the foods that need to be avoided.

Last, but not least, cook for others!  We all build up that network of food allergy families in our lives, so be sure to cook for them when the going gets tough! They are probably saying "no" to countless, well-meaning friends, so be the friend they can say "yes" to!

Here are my tips for making a meal for a food allergy family:

- Ask for a list of foods to avoid.
- Use new containers of ingredients if possible, to avoid the risk of 
- Double check the labels on all ingredients you will use.
- Make something freezer-friendly.
- Freeze in a family sized portion, and also in a few individual sized
  portions so a family member can grab a quick hot lunch.  (This is
  especially helpful for new moms, and nursing moms!)
- Use disposable freezer containers so no one has to get a dish back
  to you!
- Write out the list of ingredients (including brands), or the recipe,      and attach it to themeal, so the family knows exactly what's in the    meal.  During times of stress, what you say on the phone or at the    door about the ingredients might not be remembered when it's          time to make dinner.

 As always, from The Allergy Safe Kitchen, I wish you "Good Cooking, and Safe Eating"!