Food Appreciation: Starbucks

If you were in your local Starbucks a couple weeks ago, and there was a vaguely woman-shaped parka (it was -30 Celsius OUTSIDE), sweating and squinting at food products, sometimes cursing, and snapping photos…it was me. Well, it might have been me. Maybe it’s a thing kids do these days…I’m pretty out of touch.

You see, I’m on a mission for readily available snacks on the go. Fun snacks. As I’ve mentioned before, our current options for snacking expeditions are limited, so I’m trying to be proactive.

At this point, we’ve got our daughter convinced that an alternative grocery store down the street is a “destination” for treats.  Fortunately, right now, she is way more into chips than sweets, but we walk by a couple restaurants, a bakery, a café, a gourmet chocolate shop, and a gelato place on the way. I’m not sure how long the novelty of going to a grocery store that smells like incense and fermented food products will hold up.  Her poor older brother, who is not allergic to anything, looks longingly at all the places we pass and tries to be subtle (as only a 5-year-old can) about when we can take just him out for a real treat. He’s a sport about it and doesn’t want his sister to feel bad, but he knows he’s missing out.

We also, at some point, would love to travel with our kids. We’ve never even braved an overnight in a hotel. As it stands, to do so would involve planning and schlepping all our daughter’s meals for each day, along with all the snacks. Other than a grocery store (which IS a possible solution), or a few places that prep fries in a dedicated fryer (see Food Appreciation: New York Fries), we don’t have any reliable places to grab food, especially in unfamiliar territory. It’s doable, but it doesn’t feel like it would be fun.

So, I’m looking for a big chain, that’s widespread, with consistent product offerings and practices. I started with the biggies, but McDonald’s is waffling and taking steps backwards in allergy practices. Everything in there is covered in dairy or egg anyway, so it’s not an option for us, but in terms of supporting those who are only allergic to peanuts, Mick Dick’s has really kicked them in the shins lately.

Others, like Swiss Chalet/Harvey’s have some general policies and lots of information available. They even have some specific products that could technically be consumed by someone with my daughter’s allergy set, but individual franchises aren’t necessarily obligated to follow anything, and we’ve literally been laughed at when asking (after driving 20 minutes out of our way based on website info) about cross-contamination, so in practice, it means nothing.

I did however, have a glimmer of hope at Starbucks the other night.  I was, admittedly, solo and scarfing down a very non allergy friendly pretzel dunked in caramel and chocolate, but I took the opportunity to survey their prepackaged selection of goods. I was not overwhelmed with what I found, but I wasn’t necessarily disappointed either.

As noted above, I was lurking around the shelves at a Starbucks in a bookstore, squinting at packaging with poorly contrasted label lettering, in dim coffee shop light. As a general point, prepackaged food is a good place to start. The ingredients are listed and there’s less risk of cross-contamination through handling. If the place that sells cake pops for my son and caffeine for me, ALSO sells snacks the little one can pick out and enjoy, I’ll count that as a win.

Here, are my findings:

Smoothies and Juice – They’ve got a good selection. Because I’m a pretentious yuppie parent, my kids still think juice is a treat.  The smoothies are helpful. (But I forgot to take a picture. It was really hot in there.)

Beef Jerky – Not sure how easy a sell this is to a preschooler, but despite her largely vegan needs, she’s a carnivore at heart. Could do. Maybe I’ll tell her it’s bacon.

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Beef Jerky

Apple Chips – I thought these would be good. They aren’t. I don’t know how they screwed them up, but…Ugh. Neither kid would keep them in their mouths, let alone chew and swallow them.

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Apple Chips

Kale Chips – I don’t care how many times Pinterest tells me Kale chips can be “soooo good.” These ones tasted like socks. Most other brands also taste pretty bad.  And I really WANT to like them.

Marmite-flavoured Popcorn – I’m willing to try these, but haven’t yet. I enjoyed the toast version of this in my backpacking days though, they should be pretty savory, and salt IS my daughter’s favourite, so there’s potential here.

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Popcorn – Marmite Flavour

Sweet Potato Chips – This works. Plain chips of most kinds usually do.  Not exciting, but they exist, which is good to know.

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Sweet Potato Chips – Plain

Flavoured Potato Chips – What?!?! YES! Flavours without whey powder?!?!! Hallelujah! Still…it’s chips…but it’s not PLAIN chips. Whoot!

And of course, being Starbucks and all, the obvious offering here is coffee. Rich, bitter, delicious, invigorating, but generally frowned upon in the hands of a preschooler. I need the boost, she already rocks and rolls all night and parties every day.

In conclusion, while I’m not excited about the options, and a meal is definitely out of the question, in a pinch, Starbucks might just work. I’d much rather support the amazing local, home spun cafes in my area (and any area really), but a family’s gotta do what a family’s gotta do.  I’ll take the kids for a walk this weekend and see how the experience goes. If nothing else, next time we’re stuck en route and the snacks run out, or maybe someday if we’re travelling, well, pretty much anywhere in the developed world, Starbucks will be there with…something.

 

Excursion Essentials

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, when we go out, we go with food.  Thought I’d post a quick essentials list for what we look for and what we always have on hand when it’s time to eat.

To date, we’ve never had a problem with bringing in our own food.  I know others who have, but in general, employees back away slowly and smile when we list off our daughter’s allergies.  Mostly nobody cares or notices. I think as along as nobody is screaming or making a huge mess, most establishments are pretty cool with a kid quietly snacking in a corner. We even clean up before AND after she eats…what’s not to like about a customer who does that?

The “Look Fors”:

1. Quiet corner away from main food service

2. Vinyl chair…easy wipedown.

What we always bring:

3. Wipes (before, after, during…We buy BIIIIIGGG boxes of wipes.)

4. Yumbox. This thing has been a game changer when we go out. Totally shameless plug here. It’s stupid expensive for a lunch box, but you need the right tools for the job, and this thing really works for us. The compartments are sealed when closed, it’s well-weighted so doesn’t tip, and our toddler can open and close it. Where we go, it goes.

5. Emergency kit: 2x auto injectors, anaphylaxis plan cheat sheet (short version to hand to servers etc. when out), antihistamine.

That’s it. Easy peasy. Just do that everywhere and you’re good.

Just don’t…

When I had my first kid, I had this general mantra for parenthood: “Just don’t be an asshole.”

It applies to parents, to kids, to kids’ friends, family members…

Whatever unique twist my kid decided to put on his life, whoever he wanted to be, or be with, or how he wanted to make a living, or chose to exist in his community, my basic, most general desire was “Don’t be an asshole.” I thought that was a pretty good baseline.

My ambition was, and still is, to raise tiny humans who become good, caring people. I feel like it’s a completely reasonable and totally attainable goal.  There are A LOT of ways to hit that mark.  Just. Don’t. Be. An. Asshole.

I used to feel pretty good about this. I was on a good high horse about how noble and open-minded a parent I was. It helped me be calmer and less anxious. It also helped me let go of all the bull shit and pressure that gets heaped on new parents.

It helped me wrap my head around the fact that my kid would be ok. He could scrape his knee. He could be bad at stuff. He could be weird. He could fail and flounder. He could be a lot of things. The bare minimum requirement was set.

Kid number two however, has shaken a few things up, and getting to know some other parents of kids with severe allergies has changed that baseline; added a current that runs through everything else.

Just don’t die.

Through whatever twist of fate/genetics/hormones in the water/crops grown in pesticides/breastfeeding just a little too much or too little/waiting too long to introduce foods/introducing foods in the wrong order/that reno that we did when she was an infant/watching too much Buffy while pregnant/looking at the moon while Saturn was on the cusp of something something…(they really don’t know), my daughter has these allergies.

While we’ve come into this situation at a time when the science around food allergies is gaining momentum and awareness of and options for people with food allergies are expanding, it’s all still very young. There’s a lot they don’t know and there aren’t many clear answers.

We haven’t used the auto injector yet, but with her combination of allergens, I do not doubt that we will at some point.  There is no guarantee that what’s made her throw up in the past won’t close up her airway the next time she encounters it.

On a day-to-day basis I am suspicious and scared of the playground, the shopping cart, the well-intentioned ladies at the grocery store bakery who offer my kids a free cookie, and anyone who looks after her. I have to be. We have to be. We have protocols for public surfaces of all kinds and protocols for the house. We have protocols at family gatherings and protocols for family members. It’s not an over-reaction. What most kids slam back after school while watching Paw Patrol with a side of cookies, is literal poison for mine.

Every day I send my kid to her grandparents or to daycare or I see a pizza party at the local park and without fail, “Just don’t die.” flashes through my head.

I don’t care if my kid ever tastes ice cream or brie, pizza or Reese Peanut Butter Cups, Thai food or sushi. Those things are magical, but she’ll get by on meat and potatoes.

I don’t care (too much) about her having something that will make her different from her peers. If it’s not this, it’ll be something else.  That shit is character building.

I don’t care if she has to grill cooks and servers about what they put in their food. I think we should all ask those kinds of questions, but that’s a post for another day.

I do care about her having a full life without fear or anxiety about food.

I do care about chance encounters and cross-contamination.

I do care about getting my daughter to a point of tolerance, where she can move through the world and survive it.

Just don’t die. Then, don’t be an asshole.

 

 

It’s like that.

I wasn’t prepared, sitting at my desk at work, eating left-over  shepherd’s pie and scarfing cold coffee…to start crying.

I WAS going to suck up my lunch break watching trailers for movies I don’t get around to seeing until they’re on Netflix.  Instead, I fake sneezed and withdrew to the ladies to try and de-blotch my eyes.

I’d come across this video  from www.foodallergy.org.

I’m not connected with them in anyway, but for obvious reasons, when I fall into a research/panic hole about all this stuff, I often end up on a path that leads to their resources.

This video wrecked me.  This is it. This is what it’s like and will be like for my kid and my family. These kids are my kid at various stages of development, and these parents have the same fears and necessary protocols and feelings of guilt and anxiety that we do.

I used to be a pretty chill parent (relatively speaking), but it’s hard not to let the type-A terror demon loose when half of what the food guide recommends your kid to eat, could kill her.  I cried because these families get it, and we don’t really know anyone in our circle who really does. It’s not a lack of empathy or interest. It’s just a lot to take in and work into your life, and like many other conditions, it’s hard to fully grasp unless you’re in it. I know I never did.

If you want a little slice of what it’s like to be in the head space of a parent with a kid who has life-threatening allergies, this is it.  The creepy stranger that lurks in the back yard where your kid plays, the boogey man that’s hiding behind every corner…Parents and kids have different ways of describing the feeling where everything is suspect. I can usually roll with the notion that “it could be worse”, but it’s always possible that it couldn’t be, and that’s what makes it hard.

To those who’ve shared their experiences in this video and others like it, thanks! It always helps to know you’re not the only ones.

NOTE: FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) has a whole “Food for Thought” video series that’s worth checking out.

Food Appreciation: New York Fries

Food Appreciation is a little feature I’ll be doing from time to time about our adventures and misadventures eating out in the world with food allergies. Nothing endorsed or sponsored here. Just our experiences. 

When your kid is allergic to everything, the little things get big. Even small outings require prep.

Everywhere you go you have to anticipate all possible food scenarios and pack accordingly. We have an extensive collection of boxes, bentos, and baggies stuffed with safe options on our person at any given time. If there is any chance an excursion will overlap with meal time, it’s prepared and packed. Meal time not likely? Still packing a crap-ton of snacks.

However, toddlers can be jerks and every effort and option will be ranked, idiosyncratically, on a scale of “That’s awesome, I will happily consume all the healthy options you have so lovingly prepared.” to “Screw you guys, I’m eating exclusively pickles now.” An unfavourable judgment results in a throwdown that escalates quickly and dramatically.

In general, fit or no, it doesn’t matter. There are no other options.

There aren’t, to be honest, many treats either. Especially at the mall.

Fast food service does not generally inspire faith in food handling practices and even when there are options that are supposed to be friendly, franchises take liberties with company protocol and say “nah…just throw that fish fillet in there…”

With our particular combination of allergies, there is but one shining beacon of indulgence at the mall, and that is…New York Fries! We can eat there. All of us!

Thank you New York Fries for using actual potatoes without some weird dairy coating! Thank you for using sunflower oil instead of peanut!  Thank you for putting nothing in the fryer but those delicious dirty (skin on) fries! I will happily disregard the eye rolling from employees while I confirm this with a well-rehearsed series of questions asked in different ways to make sure everyone in this transaction has their facts straight. (Redundancy is important.)

Thank you for being the one place at the mall I can use as a carrot, to get both kids to cooperate, while I drag them through stores and pin their arms down so they don’t touch anything.

We made our purchases. We didn’t break anything. We all stayed calm. We all sat down and ate a giant bucket of hot crispy fries like a normal family. It was magic.


Crying Over Spilt Milk

Crying over spilt milk is what you do when your kid fountain vomits and busts out in hives like she’s been swaddled in poison ivy.  A few stray drops on a table from a friend’s sippy cup or someone’s coffee, and her body explodes. Sometimes it’s ok because she didn’t actually ingest it. But, sometimes you cry…because it’s fucking awful.  Dose her up, grab her bag, be thankful you’re five minutes from a great hospital.  So goes life with food allergies. Never a dull moment.

Two years ago, food allergies became a “thing” in our lives; dairy, egg, peanut, fish, and shellfish. It really could be worse.  As far as these things go, we’re pretty lucky and a lot of people deal with many more complications and many more allergies. But, it’s always there and most days there are ridiculous, or daunting, or scary, or infuriating moments that need to be dealt with.  This blog, admittedly, is part of that process for me.

Like a lot of people, I’m trying to figure this allergy shit out.  I’m far from alone in this, but sometimes you just gotta share.  Fair warning, I’m learning as I go, and learning comes with frustration.  I may get salty.  I like swears. (They’re therapeutic and sometimes nothing else will do.)

I am not, in any way a qualified professional, so please don’t take anything I say as sage advice. I’m a parent, with a toddler who has some scary food allergies.  She has an older brother, who doesn’t.  My partner and I are doing the best we can.  I’ll keep you posted.

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