Food Allergies… Rock?

Last month, I wasn’t feeling very good about this whole food allergy situation. So when this contest came up in my Twitter feed, I wondered if I could honestly answer the question: “Tell us why food allergies rock.”

Good timing, though, because it forced me to think about the good that has come out of my son’s diagnosis.

Screenshot 2017-06-09 at 22.16.34

Since then, I’ve realized that there are more positives than one single tweet would allow for.

So, in response to a post I wrote on how raising a child with food allergies impacts mental health, I decided to focus on the brighter side of things. Kind of like that Kyle Dine CD, I want to take a moment to talk about the silver lining of food allergies, to offer readers a bit of hope (when they’re feeling hopeless) and direct them to avenues of support (if and when they need it).

Here are the top 5 recent events that have made me feel a little more hopeful and lot more supported. If you’re feeling blue or overwhelmed, I highly recommend forcing yourself to write a similar list. It’s an instant pick-me-up, and it makes you realize things aren’t always as bad as they seem.

1. I met the lovely Samara Carroll, who counsels food-allergic children and their parents.

Samara has lived with food allergies since she was a little girl, so she completely understands what our little ones are going through. And she’s the type of person whose friendly personality shines through the moment you meet her. I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that most children feel very comfortable opening up to her about their food allergy journey.

She also works with parents whose anxiety is through the roof since their children were diagnosed and—take note!—she does couples counselling as well. (Because we all know the strain this sort of thing can put on a relationship.)

Now you can meet Samara too! Join us at Jill and the Beanstalk this August for a talk she’ll be hosting on how not to raise a child with food phobias. (Details TBD.)

2. I got my own personal allergy-friendly tour of a supermarket.

If you’ve ever been in contact with food allergy mama Allison Venditti, you probably know she’s one of those people who goes out of their way to help others. She doesn’t hesitate to provide words of wisdom to parents newly navigating food allergies—or give them a (virtual) shoulder to cry on. I’m lucky to know her in a business context as well, so I know just how generous she can be with her time and her advice.

So when I had my mini breakdown last month, Allison sweetly offered to take me on a personalized tour of Fiesta Farms. Since her son once shared many of my little guy’s allergies, she was able to point me in the right direction, aisle after aisle. Thanks to Allison, my son got to try his first store-bought “kuu-kies,” and I have a new list of safe products I can buy for him.

3. I won not 1, but 2, Kyle Dine CDs

Yup, that’s right. HypeFoodie held a contest for Food Allergy Awareness Month… and I won! I’m pretty sure this is the first time in my life that I’ve ever won anything. Coincidence? I think the universe was trying to tell me something.

The great thing about Kyle’s music is that his lyrics are really empowering. My toddler may be too little to understand right now, but one day, I like to imagine these songs will lift him up when he’s feeling down, remind him that having food allergies doesn’t make him weird or weak, and give him the confidence to speak up in situations when he is feeling uncertain or unsafe.

4. I finally bought a breadmaker.

As I write this, the aroma of fresh bread is wafting around me, making my stomach growl and my mouth water. But I digress…

It’s actually a lot more fun—and a lot less work—than I initially imagined. It’s also a delicious, affordable alternative to store-bought bread. Not only that, but it gives me peace of mind knowing exactly what’s in the ingredient list. (Need I say more?)

A huge thank you to all the people in the allergy community who recommended I purchase this sanity-saver… And to allergy support group founder and writer Pauline Osena for sharing a couple of bread baking books with me!

In case you’re curious, I got myself the Hamilton Beach breadmaker. I love it so far!

5. I was reminded, yet again, how the food allergy community has got each other’s backs.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You guys are amazing. I can’t believe how many warm messages I got in response to this post. And then again when I shared my pizza fail with the AllergyBites group.

So many people reached out to me with creative ideas, safe brands, or words of empathy. I have to say I was overwhelmed by your heartwarming messages of encouragement and solidarity.

I’ll end this post by linking to a few supports, either in-person or online, that you can access if and when you’re having a tough day (or month!).

AllergyBites FB Group
Best Allergy Sites
Carroll Counselling
Food Allergy Canada
No Nuts Moms Group of Ontario, CAN
Parents of Kids with Food Allergies in Toronto/GTA
The Friendly Pantry

Any I’m missing? Comment below with a link to an avenue of support you think should be on this list.

Travelling with food allergies? Triple check your travel insurance.

Planning a trip? Treat food allergies the way you would a pre-existing condition—because they are one.

When it comes to buying a new food for your food-allergic little one, you always triple check the ingredient list, right? Well, if you’re planning a family trip, I highly recommend you do the same with your travel insurance policy.

Seriously.

I used to work in travel insurance, so I know how confusing it can be. I also know how easy it is for travellers to mistakenly think they’re covered when they’re actually not.

Whether or not you have travel insurance through your workplace benefits…
Whether or not you’ve been buying the same travel insurance for years…
Whether or not you were once assured that your child’s allergies were covered…

… the truth is, they might not be covered. And depending on where you’re travelling, and how expensive health care is in your destination country, a little mistake now could cost you BIG bucks later.

I’m not trying to scare you. I just want to make sure you’re informed before your next trip.

If you’re not convinced you need to do some serious triple checking, please take a moment to read a post I wrote on this topic. You’ll see that I was wrongly informed by my insurance company, and if I hadn’t kept digging, I could have owed tens of thousands of dollars in the event my toddler fell ill while we were in the US. (I’m not kidding.)

Read the full article: Travel Insurance & Food Allergies: Make Sure You’re Protected During Your Travels. Then share it with your food-allergic friends!

Profile of an Allergy Parent: Allison Venditti

PROFILE OF AN ALLERGY PARENT: Allison Venditti Allison Venditti is the mom of 2 little boys who are allergic to various foods. She founded a local support group after her first son was diagnosed with food allergies in the double digits.

KO: What foods are your children allergic to?

AV: My oldest – peanuts, tree nuts (some), eggs, soy, sesame and mangoes. He has outgrown sunflower, poppy, mustard, fish, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, peas, pitted fruit (nectarines, plums) and tomatoes. So it was a bit overwhelming at the start.

My youngest – peanuts.

KO: Can you describe the first time you realized (or suspected) they had a food allergy?

AV: Looking back, my oldest always had terrible eczema. He used to throw up breast milk constantly and we actually had to switch him to formula. I gave him a tomato at 6 months that covered his arm in hives (he didn’t even get it in his mouth). At 8 months, he had eggs for the first time and his eyes swelled shut and his face was so swollen he was unrecognizable. His first anaphylactic reaction was at 10 months when he had soy milk.

KO: How many anaphylactic reactions have they experienced?

AV: My oldest – 4 times (soy, sesame, mustard and egg). My youngest – once (peanut).

KO: What did your grieving process look like? Do you feel that you’re in the “acceptance” phase now?

AV: I don’t think we were afforded the time to grieve, honestly. Our allergy journey was not a slow build – it was like a boxing match – the swings just kept coming. We saw the allergist over a dozen times in the first 2 years. Every time we came home with new allergens, we had to re-evaluate, restructure and regroup. By the time we had figured out all my oldest’s allergens, we were already starting to challenge ones that he had outgrown. In the past two years, we have done 5 oral challenges – and passed them all.

I remember when my son turned 2 and started to become aware of his allergens, I spent a few days having a really hard time realizing that this was becoming his issue and one day would not be mine at all. I wrote down all the things I didn’t want for my son (fear, worry) and all the things I did want (confidence, love, independence). I realized this starts now – and I am the one to teach him this. That day, I took him to the grocery store. We read labels. We started naming safe things. I started talking about it out loud. (I had never really included him in shopping before that.)

For me there was nothing to accept. These are my children. This is a piece of who they are – always has been – it just took us some time to find the language to name it. Now I realize that this will always be a journey – ever changing!

KO: What are your biggest challenges as the mom of 2 food-allergic kids?

AV: Exclusion. Not being able to go to the ice cream truck. Potlucks and bake sales. The lack of spontaneity to just go to that birthday party and just eat whatever. This has been solved in large measure by finding great friends, other parents who go out of their way to get my sons safe foods and really make them feel included. Thank you to all these people – you make our lives infinitely better.

For me, I want my kids to decide what they want to do – whether it be rock climbing, hockey or travelling – and to know that they know that we will always try to find a way to make that work with their allergies. I am already seeing that this belongs to them and not me. These are their allergies. This is their allergist. Ultimately treatment, etc. will be up to them and I have to be okay with that eventually. (Not yet!)

KO: How have your children dealt with their food allergies?

AV: This is the only way they have ever known. This is a piece of who they are just like having brown hair.

KO: How often did you eat out before the food allergy diagnosis? How often have you eaten out since?

AV: Not that often. Both my husband and I were raised that eating out was a special treat and we have tried to maintain that. We don’t eat out that often now – but honestly we have a 3 & 5 year old. Who wants to go to a restaurant with a 3 & 5 year old?

KO: Where are your go-to SAFE eating spots in Toronto? Can you tell me why they make you feel safe?

AV: Famoso, Sorelle and Co, Swiss Chalet and Pizza Pizza. They all are great and answered all my questions and followed up with me to make sure everything was right.

KO: Tell me about the support group you started.

AV: I started my support group after I was unable to find a place to share. There were other groups that did presentations and had speakers but all I wanted was to find other people who were feeling the same things that I was. We have a pretty solid group. When we started, there were about 6 of us. We get about 10 people at each in-person meetup these days (some new, some regulars). A member of the group, Pauline Osena, started a Facebook support group that most of the members joined so we keep the conversation going and can check in even between meetings.

KO: And final question…. How do you find the time to raise 2 kids with serious allergies, manage a support group (or 2), and run a successful business?

I make space in my life for the things that are important to me. I left my 9-5 job to start Careerlove.ca – career coaching for moms & women, and Moms@Work because they gave me two things: the ability to do what I love, and to be available for my children.

The support group came naturally to me – it was a way to connect with others and create another community. I have spent my whole life starting teams, building clubs, starting moms groups – it is who I am – I connect. I don’t want to leave this place remembered as that person who became CEO or VP of sales. I want to be remembered as that person who made a small difference in your life whether I was the first person who made you feel like you could do something great or that person who shared their story and made you feel like it would be okay.

How Raising a Child with Food Allergies Impacts Mental Health

How Raising a Child With Food Allergies Impacts Mental Health

One month later: In response to this one, I decided to write a post that focuses on the brighter side of food allergies. If you’re needing a pick-me-up or would like to check out a list of supports, feel free to give it a read

May is Food Allergy Awareness Month. It’s also Mental Health Awareness Month. So I decided to write about both.

Namely, how one directly impacts the other in my life. And I’m going to be really honest about it.

If you’ve been following my blog since AllergyBites was first launched, you might think that I’ve got the challenges that come with my son’s food allergies under control, that I’m done with grieving. I know I thought I was.

But then my son had several new reactions. Which led to 3 more confirmed allergies—to sesame, soy and sunflower—and suddenly life seemed really overwhelming again. To the point that I feel completely paralyzed at times.

I’m sure every allergy parent has days like these and would probably admit that, at some point during their food allergy journey, their mental health has been affected for the worse—whether it was feeling devastated after a diagnosis, experiencing PTSD after witnessing an anaphylactic reaction, living with anxiety every single day, feeling the constant strain on your relationship (for those who are coupled), or the burn-out that can result from working full time and raising a child with a disability on your own (if you’re doing this solo).

The allergy journey is a personal one, so I thought I’d talk about how my journey has affected my mental health. By being honest about my challenges, I hope to not only remind other allergy parents that they are not alone in their ups and downs, but to let those who aren’t living in fear of some foods know just how tough it can be. I’m not looking for pity—just a little bit of understanding and compassion.

So here are the top 5 challenges that are affecting my mental health at the moment. These are unique to me and my family, so I’d be interested in hearing yours.

1. Grocery shopping feels like an exercise in futility. 

  • Sunflower oil is in most healthy / organic / allergen-free foods.
  • Sesame is a “may contain” in many breads, crackers and cookies.
  • Soy is in, well, everything. (Seriously.)
  • And then, of course,  peanuts, tree nuts or eggs are in everything else.

The last few times I’ve been to the grocery store, I’ve walked up and down the aisles, reading ingredient list after ingredient list, eventually leaving empty-handed, defeated, and convinced I’ll never be able to get this right.

2. If we want to eat bread, we’ll need to bake it from scratch.

We’re a family of bread lovers—bagels, raisin bread, grilled cheese sandwiches, baguettes, paninis, English muffins. Since my son was first diagnosed, we’d already drastically reduced the types of breads (and brands) we’d let into our home. Luckily, we found one safe rye bread that was a staple in our household.

So the day I “ran in” to the grocery store to grab our go-to bread, and discovered a may contain soya warning I had never seen before, it hit me how tricky things were going to be from now on. What was supposed to take 5 minutes ended up taking well over 20 (as I picked up every single type of bread, combed through the ingredients and then put them back down again, one after the other). I didn’t end up finding a safe bread for my son, and I left feeling a mix of horror and panic—horror as I wondered how long I had been feeding my child something that could have resulted in a life-or-death reaction, and panicked thinking about how we’d lead a life without bread.

(I know, I know. We can bake our own. But that takes more of the one thing I don’t have right now: time.)

Which brings me to…

3. Giving up a full-time job to get things under control but feeling out of control when it comes to my finances.

With all the thinking and planning and reading and researching and re-thinking that goes into parenting a food-allergic kid, I started to realize the old adage (there aren’t enough hours in the day) is very, very true. I was (and still am) feeling overwhelmed and out of control. I knew something had to give and that I certainly wouldn’t be able to get things back on track working a 40-hour week. So as my mat leave neared its end, I put in a request to return to work on a part-time basis. When my request was denied, I made the difficult decision to resign, knowing I’d have to pay back a $5,000 mat leave top-up—piling more stress on to an already stressful situation. Because we all know that allergy stuff doesn’t come cheap. I recently paid about $10 for Enjoy Life pizza crust mix and $12 for a small jar of pumpkin seed butter. Ouch!

4. Noticing my son starting to notice is heart-breaking.

When he was young enough that he didn’t understand, things were relatively easy. We could eat a completely different meal in his presence and not worry that he’d feel bad that he wasn’t included in our “num nums.” But at close to 17 months, he gets it now. Just the other day, I served him his own special dish, while the rest of us sat down to eat takeout pizza. His recent obsession with “pi-cha” should have clued me in on the fact that this wouldn’t work. He became quite distraught, so I made him a fake slice that consisted of homemade bread (toasted) + melted cheese + sliced tomatoes. This little trick appeased him for the time being, but it’s not a long-term solution. And it isn’t very nice.

This incident was a real wakeup call, and I couldn’t help but think about how things will get harder as he gets older. Birthday parties, school events, family gatherings—all of these special occasions tend to revolve around food. It makes me incredibly sad to think about him feeling left out and different when he should be having fun, just like everyone else.

5. It puts a strain on relationships—and not just romantic ones. 

If I’m not bickering with my husband about may contain warnings or sharing articles with friends and family to remind them that food allergies can be fatal, I’m consciously opting out of social situations for fear that the host may not understand just how serious my son’s allergies are. What if our friend forgot to ask the bakery if the cake contains all 6 of my son’s allergens? What if my aunt ate peanut butter earlier and didn’t disinfect her countertops? What if he forgot to wash his hands? What if she forgot to brush her teeth? Sometimes, it’s just easier to stay home.

The most recent event we didn’t attend was my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday in Ireland. We had flown over for my father-in-law’s 70th the year before (pre-diagnosis), but chose to stay home this year due to the stress of travelling with numerous allergies + the anxiety that comes with staying in someone else’s home. My husband ended up going on his own, and we had a few family Skype calls, but I was so disappointed my little guy had to miss out on playing with all his cousins and bonding with his overseas grandparents.

Oh, and there are times when I just don’t have the mental or emotional energy to be nice to the people I love. (I’m truly sorry.) I’m just too busy, stressed, worried, anxious to put the effort in sometimes.

So there you have it. Brutal honesty. On good days, I feel stressed—and a little sad. On bad days? I feel like I can’t cope.

How about you? How has raising a child with serious food allergies affected your mental health? Feel free to share your challenges, ups and downs, thoughts and feelings in the comments below.

3 Ways to Raise Awareness About Food Allergies this Month

3 Ways to Raise Awareness About Food Allergies this Month

For Food Allergy Awareness Month, I wanted to feature some organizations and resources that help bring awareness, raise funds, or simply provide support to families living with food allergies. And I found 3 great ones within the AllergyBites group!

(If you know of any initiatives worth adding, please let me know in the comments below.)

1. Turn It Teal

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.36.55 PMTurn it Teal’s mission is to light buildings, bridges, and attractions in teal during Food Allergy Awareness Month. It all started in 2014 with the idea to have a local Cleveland building lit up to promote food allergy awareness. There was such a positive response from the food allergy community that the initiative expanded (and continues to expand) throughout the continent. Turn It Teal’s founder, Stephanie Lowe, is on a global mission committed to educating others about food allergies and their daily impact on people, how to help those with allergies, and perhaps to help find a cure. Turn It Teal will be hitting Toronto as well this year, thanks to the help of Debbie Bruce from the Canadian Anaphylaxis Initiative. You can find a list of local lightings here. If you have suggestions for lightings, feel free to submit them.

2. Walk for Andrea

andreaIn 2016, Walk for Andrea was founded by allergy parents Jyoti Parmar and Peter Deboran to honour Andrea Mariano, an Ontario teenager who died after sipping a drink that contained either dairy or peanut products (both of which she was allergic to). This initiative is an official community fundraiser for the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), and all funds raised go the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Program to find a cure. Walk for Andrea is also dedicated to helping people with life-threatening food allergies by raising awareness and advocating for safe inclusion. Visit the website if you’d like to take part in the walk or make a donation.

Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 2.31.22 PM3. HypeFoodie

Created by blogger, Huffington Post contributor and self-proclaimed foodie, Pauline Osena, HypeFoodie is the go-to spot for families living with food allergies to find safe recipes. HypeFoodie aims to empower allergy-friendly food lovers to take control of their culinary experiences by providing delicious and easy-to-make recipes that are made with simple ingredients, and encourages creativity and experimentation in the kitchen with allergy-friendly substitutions. Visit the website to find resources, ideas and tips for living confidently with food allergies.

P.S My hubby made the above roast lamb for Mother’s Day dinner and it was quite the hit.

lamb

This allergy-friendly restaurant is a local celebrity’s safe eating spot…

If you’re a member of the AllergyBites community, you’ll know I promised you a review of The Keg next. The only problem is: I haven’t had a minute to step foot inside any new restaurants this month… let alone write a review.

Having just moved into a new home, I’m juggling quite a bit lately: trying to get our place organized (yes, we’re still living out of boxes), working on various freelance gigs, spending time with my hubby and toddler when I can, and trying to survive on very little sleep (my toddler doesn’t seem to need it, so why do I?). So yes, I’ve been busy—to say the least.

(That’s why I’m looking for foodies who love to write—or writers who love to eat—to help me review more restaurants more quickly. And although this would a volunteer position, I may be able to reimburse you for a portion of your meal in some cases. Get in touch if you think this is something you’d be interested in!)

So I was thrilled when a review of—you guessed it—The Keg showed up in my newsfeed. But it wasn’t just any old review. It was a review by a local mom whose child just happens to have several food allergies. Not only that, but this local mom happens to be a much-loved Canadian personality.

I’m talking about 80s Much Music VJ turned Yummy Mummy Club creator Erica Ehm. Like us, she has a child with food allergies that has made eating out a lot more challenging. But The Keg is one spot where she can consistently enjoy a meal, worry-free.

See what she has to say about it:

“For my family, eating comes with complications. My daughter was diagnosed with severe food allergies when she was just a wee toddler, so having food prepared for us in kitchens other than our own can verge on terrifying. Finding restaurants that understand the gravity of allergies – and that treat us with respect – while ensuring my daughter will not have an anaphylactic episode makes eating out a challenge for us.”

“There is only one chain where my husband and I have had consistently fantastic family dining experiences over the years: The Keg Steakhouse + Bar. We’ve basically eaten at every Keg location in the GTA, and no matter which location we’re at, we experience fantastic customer service.”

“…they have an an allergy protocol in place which involves the manager overseeing the situation. When we advised our server about the allergies, he immediately called his manager over. The manager was lovely; he took copious notes about what she was allergic to and headed to the kitchen to personally talk to the chef.”

“My husband and I were blown away. Not only were we taken seriously, but the concern about allergies was dealt with politely and efficiently. When my daughter’s meal was ready, the manager personally delivered it. I get a little teary thinking about this. While it may not seem like a big deal, feeling heard and knowing my daughter was safe was quite emotional for my husband and I. It allowed us to relax and enjoy our meals without worrying.”

I’m so glad this post fell into my lap (I swear, I didn’t go searching!) because that means I get to share it with you. It has also inspired me to take some time out of my busy schedule and finally head on over to The Keg. But maybe not until June.

You can give the full review a read here.

 

Sorelle and Co. giveaway winners

High tea for 2? Yes, please! (And the winners are…)

Well, the first ever AllergyBites giveaway has come to a close. A HUGE thanks to the owner of Sorelle and Co. for generously donating delicious prizes for this draw. I know 3 AllergyBites members (and their families) are going to be pleasantly surprised. So who won?

Let’s start with the (almost as) grand prizes: Who got the $25 gift cards?

Sorelle and Co. giveaway winners

And the winners are…

Helga Ferslov-Jensen
&
Clay Stang

Congratulations! You each get a $25 gift card to be redeemed at the Sorelle and Co. flagship location in Vaughn. (Don’t forget* you need to use the entire amount of your gift card in 1 sitting! That shouldn’t be too difficult… anytime I’m there I want to buy the whole shop.)

And now, the one everyone’s been waiting for: Who won High Tea for 2?

20170502_224959

And the grand prize goes to….

…drum roll, please…

….

….

Sierra Constantinides!!!

Lucky, lucky you! Sierra, I hope you have an absolutely fabulous time, and I very much look forward to some delicious photos of your high tea experience. (Don’t forget* to call at least 2 weeks in advance to make a reservation! Walk-ins cannot be accommodated due to the extra preparation and staff members required. And Mother’s Day is already fully booked!)

To all winners: Please take a moment to read over the rules & regulations to make sure your experience is as wonderful as can be.

Congrats & safe appetit!

*Rules & Regulations: Sorelle and Co. Giveaway 

  1. To qualify, you must be a member of the AllergyBites Facebook group, but cannot be an AllergyBites employee, partner, sponsor, advisor, or an immediate family member of any such person.
  2. Three (3) winners will be selected at random Tuesday, May 2, 2017.
  3. Winners must reside in the GTA or be willing to travel to Sorelle and Co.’s flagship location in Vaughn to redeem their prize.
  4. Gift cards cannot be exchanged for cash, and must be used in one (1) sitting. *For technical reasons, any remaining amount cannot be carried forward.
  5. Winner of High Tea for 2 must call at least 2 weeks in advance to book the experience. Walk-ins cannot be accommodated due to the extra preparation and staff members required. NOTE: Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 14, 2017) is already fully booked. Sorelle and Co. cannot accommodate High Tea reservations for that day. 
  6. In the event that the winner has a food allergy that stops him/her from participating in High Tea for 2, the grand prize can be exchanged for a $50 gift card.
  7. Gift cards do not expire.
  8. Winners will be asked to share the following information with AllergyBites: (1) their food allergy/ies, (2) a selfie while enjoying their prize at Sorelle and Co, and (3) may be featured on the AllergyBites blog and/or mentioned in the Facebook group.
Sorelle - Vaughn - Restaurant Review - AllergyBites

Allergen-Free Restaurant Review – Part Due: Sorelle and Co. (Vaughn location)

If, like me, you thought Sorelle and Co.’s downtown location was special, you’ll be blown away by their setup in Vaughn. Especially if you like Alice and Wonderland. And tea parties.

This is good news for 2 reasons:

  1. It gives you an excuse to not be lazy. Sure, it might be a little farther than you usually go for food, but it’s SO worth it.
  2. The 3 prizes for the giveaway I’m holding can only be redeemed at the Vaughn location.

Credit: Sorelle and Co. Instagram

And really, when you think about it, a 30(ish) minute drive from downtown TO isn’t that long of a journey considering what a treat you’re in for.

When you first pull into the parking lot, you can’t help but notice that the quaint little Sorelle and Co. “cottage” stands out among the chains and strip malls of the surrounding suburbia.

Wow worthy

Walk inside, and I dare you not to say “wow.” (It could just be that my toddler is currently obsessed with all forms of lighting, but these fantastic chandeliers resulted in quite a few loud WOWs on his part. Forget the food, he pretty much stared at them the entire time we were there.)

https://www.instagram.com/sorelleandco/

 

Sorelle - Vaughn - Restaurant Review - AllergyBites

Unlike the Toronto location, this spot has 2 levels of seating, but be warned: They are very, very busy on weekends. We headed over on a Sunday afternoon and were almost turned away at the door. (We were lucky a table came up moments before we were about to leave.) I suggest calling in advance before making the trek. And, if you’re hoping to experience high tea, you definitely need to make reservations—at least 2 weeks in advance.

Sorelle - Vaughn - Restaurant Review - AllergyBites

Time for a tea party

Sorelle - Vaughn - Restaurant Review - AllergyBitesSpeaking of high tea, I got to witness it in person, and it was a breathtaking display of colourful cookies, dainty teacups and happy little girls. I had to stop myself from approaching the table and asking random strangers if I could take their photo for this blog post. (Now I kind of regret not asking.) But let me just tell you that the grand prize winner is one lucky food-allergic kid!

Sorelle - Vaughn - Restaurant Review - AllergyBitesAnother way that the Vaughn location is different from its Toronto counterpart is that they offer savoury selections, so you can actually sit down for a meal (or a cup of coffee… or a smoothie) if you’d like. What I found a little tricky was that it’s not regular table service, so you order your food at the case, and then wait for someone to bring it to you. The whole process was a little bit chaotic. Not to mention, I had to line up for a bit longer that I would have liked. If possible, I’d recommend going at a less busy time (mid week, perhaps?) if you’d like to enjoy a more relaxed experience.

Sorelle - Vaughn - Restaurant Review - AllergyBites

Service with (more than) a smile

When it was finally my turn to order, I was happy to see that the servers here were just as helpful as those I’d encountered downtown. They patiently answered a zillion questions—this time, from all the parents in line—and when it came to me, they did the best they could to find eating options for my toddler’s tricky allergens. See, Sorelle and Co.’s foods are free of the top 8, but unfortunately, my little guy is allergic to an ingredient they use in most of their stuff: sunflower oil. We were able to find him one safe savoury option (lettuce-wrapped tacos) and a cookie (chocolate chip) that the server kindly wrapped individually so that it wouldn’t touch any of the other treats in the box.

Sorelle - Vaughn - Restaurant Review - AllergyBites

Overall, it was a magical experience, and it would have been even better if we had avoided the busy weekend. So while I recommend hopping in your car and making the “trip” to Wonderland… err… Vaughn, I highly recommend calling in advance so that they can accommodate you and your family.

“To walk in and say yes to anything – priceless.”

Still not sure it’s worth the drive? This food allergy mama took a special trip with her son all the way from the States. If they can do it, you can do it!

Sorelle - Vaughn - Restaurant Review - AllergyBites

Have you been to Sorelle’s flagship location in Vaughn? Share your experience with the allergy community in the comments below!

P.S. 3 more days until I draw the names of 3 lucky AllergyBites members for the Sorelle and Co. giveaway. Stay tuned… and good luck!

Profile of an Allergy Parent: Jyoti Parmar

PROFILE OF AN ALLERGY PARENT: JYOTI PARMARJyoti Parmar is mom to 3 children—and 2 of them have food allergies. Sahil is 13. He is allergic to peanuts, soy and tree nuts. Jaya is 7. She is allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.

KO: Can you describe their very first reaction?

JP: One morning, shortly after Sahil turned 2, I made him a jam sandwich with the same knife I used for a peanut butter sandwich. I hadn’t washed the knife, but I had wiped it with a paper towel.  I washed dishes as he started to eat.  Suddenly, he started crying, “Mommy, my tongue hurts.” I thought he had bitten his tongue while eating. “It’s okay, just keep eating,” I called, thinking he had bitten his tongue. “Mommy, my tongue is hurting,” he cried again. His voice sounded different. I looked at him and saw a rash around his lips. He was holding his tongue with one hand. I quickly pulled him out of the high chair and saw the rash was on his neck. Then I took his shirt off and saw red blotches on his chest. I knew then that he was allergic to peanuts.

Since it was his first reaction, we did not have an EpiPen, but luckily the reaction did not progress. However, if the above reaction happened now, I would administer Epi because he complained of intra-oral symptoms—plus there was a skin reaction.

My daughter Jaya had her first reaction when she was only five months old. I was feeding Jaya her first cereal when she developed hives around her mouth, chin and chest.  She did not appear to be in any discomfort. The cereal contained skim milk powder and the dairy allergy was later confirmed with a skin test. At 1, she was also diagnosed with allergies to egg, peanut, tree nut and fish. She is no longer allergic to fish. (We don’t know if she outgrew it or was misdiagnosed as it was only based on a skin test which are known to have a high rate of false positives especially in kids with eczema.)

KO: Did either of them ever have an anaphylactic reaction?

JP: When Jaya was 2, a family member gave her a “100% fruit” gummy candy which when we inspected the package later said “may contain dairy.”

PROFILE OF AN ALLERGY PARENT: JYOTI PARMAR

After she ate the candy, I noticed a hive on her cheek but it subsided within minutes, but then she became visibly congested. Clear mucus was dripping from her nose, and it appeared like she was having difficulty breathing. We decided to give her Epi. My husband held her body steady and I injected the EpiPen into her thigh. Her congestion subsided immediately and she could breathe. We called 911 and the ambulance took Jaya and me to the nearest hospital. They monitored her breathing, oxygen saturation, and heart rate during the ride. By the time we reached the hospital, she was having difficulty breathing again. They gave her oral prednisone, ventolin, and an oxygen mask.  My husband had to drop my older 2 kids off at my parents’ home before joining me at the hospital. It was difficult for them. My son was extremely distressed and thought Jaya was going to die. He still vividly remembers that day. At the hospital, Jaya was monitored for 4 to 5 hours before we were discharged. I was carrying her out when I noticed she was struggling to breathe again. We headed back, rushed by security, and found the ER doctor who had been treating us. He checked Jaya and said we were right and that she would not be able to leave yet. After another dose of prednisone, ventolin, and more oxygen—and 4 more hours of monitoring—we were discharged.

KO: What did your grieving process look like? Do you feel that you’re in the “acceptance” phase now?

JP: For me it is more like a pendulum—I swing back and forth from grieving to being resigned about the whole thing—sometimes in the course of the same day.

Like all parents, my husband and I wanted our children to see and experience all the wonderful things we got to experience… and much more.

But all that changed when we discovered that our children were allergic to everyday foods. It was hard to understand that their lives could be threatened by something they ate and they would always have to carry epinephrine with them.

PROFILE OF AN ALLERGY PARENT: JYOTI PARMARWhen we discovered my son’s allergy, my husband and I grieved for the loss of freedom and spontaneity we had enjoyed and taken for granted up to that point. We quickly understood that complete avoidance of the allergen was the only way to prevent a reaction. We have to be constantly aware of everything around them, and what everyone is doing in order to avoid contact with their allergens and keep them safe.

There is acceptance in that I have to accept it in order to go on, in order to ensure my children’s safety and advocate for them.

It is not a wholehearted acceptance as I would rather they not have the allergies and that is why we have started a treatment called oral immunotherapy (OIT).

KO: What are your biggest challenges as the mom of a food-allergic kid?

JP: For me and my family, there are many challenges. Together, we are dealing with allergies to dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, and soy. My top 3 challenges are:

1. Dealing with my own fear and anxiety is my personal challenge. Because of my children’s food allergies, I live with the fear of a reaction. The fear and constant vigilance is extremely stressful, and since food is involved in all aspects of life, the impact of this stress is great. If they only stayed inside the home and never had to venture outside, it would be easy to keep them safe. This, of course, is not desirable. They need to go to school, be with friends, participate in life. But food is all around. I am constantly worried if something goes wrong… if they are not feeling well… will they tell someone? Or if they are unable to say anything, will that person recognize the signs of a reaction and know what to do—and give the EpiPen in time? As they get older I wonder: Will they have their EpiPen easily accessible to them and be able to self-administer it?

2. Food eaten at home is safe, but preparing that food is not so easy. We cook from scratch because most packaged foods contain the allergens we are avoiding. I bake my own bread, cookies, and muffins but I still need basic ingredients like flour—and there’s only one or two brands without a soy warning. I used to buy Fry’s cocoa but now it says “may contain milk,” so I have to find another brand of cocoa. I spend hours in grocery stores looking for safe foods, and sometimes even when the ingredients look ok, I call the company and am told that it may contain one or more of our allergens, so I cannot use it anyway.  The options for good, natural, allergen-free food is limited and expensive.

3. Food allergies are most dangerous when eating away from home. A trace amount of a food allergen can be found anywhere. For example, one time we were on a plane and they served hot cheese pizza behind us. Jaya started to get hives and wheeze. I was petrified that she may go into anaphylaxis. Thankfully, they allowed us to move her to the front of the plane where we could no longer smell it and she was okay. We don’t go out to eat with Jaya or Sahil for fear of a food containing an allergen we cannot see. Imagine getting an invitation and, each time, having to interrogate your friends and family about the food being served and going over chances of contamination—these conversations are difficult for us, so generally to avoid possible friction, we don’t go out.

KO: How have your children dealt with their food allergies?

JP: Because they have lived with allergies all their lives, they do not know what it is like to live without them. It is part of them, so they deal with it. Because of her multiple allergies (especially dairy), my youngest does notice the events she cannot attend. As she gets older and notices the exclusion, she gets sad and jealous. Recently she said, “Why do I have food allergies? It’s not fair that I can’t do what other kids are doing or eat what they are eating.” It makes her feel sad and left out.

For example, Jaya joined a kids’ soccer club last summer (for the first time) and at the end of the summer, there was a celebration. But it was pizza for everyone, so Jaya was excluded—even though we had informed them since the start of the season. When I asked about including her, the soccer club offered no response.

My son accepts it and brushes it off if he is not invited somewhere or unable to do things with his friends. Recently, he was not invited to a friend’s house for a sleepover because the friend’s dad said they eat peanut butter all the time. Just last month, he was not invited to a birthday party because it was going to be at Mandarin.

PROFILE OF AN ALLERGY PARENT: JYOTI PARMARSahil is adept at reading labels and very careful about the food he puts into his mouth. He will choose not to eat if he is unsure about any ingredient. He shows incredible self control and self discipline. I guess that’s the silver lining of living with food allergies. Because they both regularly deal with exclusion, my children are very empathic and aware of any social injustice. My non food-allergic daughter is very protective of both of her siblings and speaks out on their behalf if they are around foods to which either one is allergic.

KO: How often did you eat out before the food allergy diagnosis? How often have you eaten out since?

JP: We used to eat out at least once a week. After the diagnosis, we have eaten out as a family only a handful of times. My husband and I do eat out (just the two of us), but not as often as we used to… and we do try and take our non food-allergic child out to eat so she can have a “normal” life.

We have attempted to take Jaya out a few times, but each time ended up in a reaction so we have stopped taking her out. My son does not want to go out to eat—he says he wants to feel safe eating and that means eating only home-cooked food.

KO: Where are your go-to SAFE eating spots in Toronto?

PROFILE OF AN ALLERGY PARENT: JYOTI PARMARJP: For us, it’s just Sorelle and Co. There is no other place where I feel fully comfortable eating out with my food-allergic kids. We tried a few times, but I did not get the feeling of understanding from the servers/chefs—some just told me they could not make a safe meal. I appreciated their honesty and we left. That was a few years ago. I understand that there are places that people with multiple food allergies go, but so far we don’t feel comfortable. As the parent of 2 kids with multiple and different food allergies, I have to negotiate with others, when it comes accommodating them, several times a week (sometimes several times a day), so it is exhausting to have to go to a restaurant, and figure out the ingredients, and judge if the person preparing the food really gets the concepts of cross contamination, etc.

KO: Can you tell me why Sorelle and Co. makes you feel safe?

JP: Lucky for us, their food is free of all of our allergens. Knowing their allergens are not on the premises is comforting—I can let my guard down a little. (But I still feel a little anxious because human error is always possible.)

At first, when I went there, I was worried because there were no ingredients lists. As a food-allergy mom, I read and re-read labels multiple times a day. And I call companies for “may contain” information multiple times a week. So not knowing the exact ingredients was unnerving. We shared our allergens with the server, and she assured us we could order anything. Since Sorelle and Co. opened in August 2016, we have gone there many times—mostly for a sweet treat. It would be great to have a restaurant in Toronto that was free of their allergens, like Montreal’s Zero 8.

KO: Can you share some fun facts about your food-allergic kids?

PROFILE OF AN ALLERGY PARENT: JYOTI PARMARJP: Like most 13-year-olds these days, Sahil loves his iPod and has 2 Instagram accounts (he loves taking pictures of sunsets and posting them). He is concerned about climate change, and recently started a blog. He loves playing soccer and hanging out with his friends in real life and online!

My daughter Jaya loves music—she keeps a pen and paper in the car to note down her favourite songs so her brother can add them to her iPad at home. She sings all the time. She loves to play badminton, paint, and hang out at the park with her family and friends.

KO: Tell me about Walk for Andrea.

JP: My husband and I founded Walk for Andrea after we learned of the death of 18-year-old Andrea Mariano in 2015. The death hit close to home because she was a teen from Thornhill (where we live), and she was also allergic to peanuts and dairy.  We reached out to Andrea’s parents to tell them about our idea for a fundraising walk. Together we could work to turn pain into purpose. So they joined us, and with friends and family we formed a planning committee. Last fall, we held the 1st Walk for Andrea and raised just over $17,000. This year, we hope to raise $35,000 during the second annual walk.

All funds raised go to the Sick Kids Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis program to find a cure for life threatening food allergies. Donations can be made here (from May 2017 onward).

Get a free gift when you subscribe to our blog!

I love free gifts. Don’t you?

That’s why I thought it might be fun to give away some adorable allergy cards to the first 25 people who subscribe to my blog.

That’s right! Not only can foodies and families look forward to allergy-friendly restaurant reviews, yummy giveaways, updates on the AllergyBites project and more, parents of kids with food allergies will also get a FREE allergy card* for their child… just for signing up!

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These little business-sized cards fit perfectly in your wallet and can be a great help when trying to communicate your children’s food allergies to waitstaff and chefs, or even family and friends. (I actually sent my husband with ours when he went grocery shopping earlier this week. Amazing.)

A little bit of art. A little bit of craft. A whole lot of fun 

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A fun activity to do with the kids AND another way to help keep them safe on those days you’re dining out? Yes, please! Subscribe now.

*This free gift is only available to the first 25 people who subscribe to the AllergyBites blog.