Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Your Allergy is Super Annoying.

As a former Girl Scout leader for several years, I can tell you that a kid with an allergy is... super annoying. I know, I know - that's terrible, but really. Between our group of girls one year, we had to plan around a dairy intolerance, a nut allergy and a gluten allergy. Not to mention that one kid that hates everything. By my last year of leading Scouts, we had done away with snack time. I never thought that my kid would be one of "them".

The problem with a dye sensitivity (I shy away from calling it an "allergy"), is that dye is in things you wouldn't even think of. Did you know that Pillsbury crescent rolls contain both red and yellow dyes? Or that nearly all toothpaste contains dye? These are things I didn't even think of when we started this diet.  (Shout out to Tom's of Maine for their dye-free strawberry toothpaste, which Jericho LOVES! We bought ours at Target, or visit to check out this and all of their all-natural care products!)

When there are birthday parties at school, my kid can't have a cupcake, piece of birthday cake, most ice cream or any candy that's handed out. This is torturous for a Kindergartner. Don't think that each time there's a party at school, it doesn't cross my mind to send a personal email to each and every parent asking them to send a dye free snack. The problem with doing that is that my kid lives in a colorful world. I can't possibly ask everyone he encounters throughout his life to accommodate him. I have to teach him what he can and can't eat and hope he makes the best decision he can. Jericho can barely read, but has learned to read a nutrition label.

One of the questions that I've been asked several times is how Jericho copes with his new diet. When I started this diet, it honestly didn't even cross my mind that I was going to have to explain to a 6 year old that he couldn't eat most of what he loved. As I packed Jericho's first lunch for this new adventure, I carefully explained to him that he wasn't to eat anything that I didn't send him to eat. He agreed at first, then asked why. This was not a question I was prepared for. I started by asking Jericho if he was aware of the fact that sometimes his body "made poor choices". I explained to him that when his brain told his body to sit still and his body wanted to move anyway, that was his body making a poor choice. He understood and agreed. I then explained to him that I thought that maybe something he was eating was telling his body to make poor choices. This made sense to him.

I spoke with Jericho's teacher who knew not to feed him anything that wasn't sent from home. His teacher keeps a small refrigerator in her room and was gracious enough to allow me to send some tubes of Simply Go-Gurt and string cheese to keep for him for snack time. She also offered to only bring in dye free items when she brought treats in for the class. I was really impressed with how well both Jericho and his teacher took to his new diet. His first few days started without a hitch, and while I felt that his behavior was starting to improve, I knew it was probably wishful thinking and that it would take some time to get the dyes cleaned from his system. I didn't realize how much his diet was affecting him until the third day of his diet - Valentine's Day.

As I mentioned before, Jericho's teacher and I had a pretty good plan for his classroom party. She would allow the kids to pass their treats out, and before he could open his box, she would replace his candy with other goodies I had provided for him. All was well until we got home that evening. Jericho was playing with a friend next door who, as I'm sure had been advised by his well-meaning mother time and time again, kindly offered to share a snack with Jericho. Jericho took his friend up on his offer. A short time later, Jericho came inside very upset and explained to me that he had some of the candy his friend had offered him... a handful of jelly beans. While I was disappointed that we had a set back so soon, I did look at this as a way to see if this had any affect on Jericho's behavior. The night carried on and everything seemed normal for a while. A few hours later I was sitting at the kitchen table and looked up to see him running down the hall to his sister's room. This was not an abnormal sight, but when I watched him for a moment, I realized that he wasn't running anywhere in particular. He was running, full speed, from one end of the hall to the other. And did so about 20 times before I finally asked him to stop. This was the first time I really noticed how different he had been in the last few days. Jericho noticed, too. I asked him why he was running back and forth and he had no idea. The following day, we talked about it again. This was a good example for me to use as to why I thought the dyes were bad for him.

It takes, I'd guess, about 2-4 days to get the dyes out of his system each time he's exposed. I can tell by Jericho's behavior if he's been exposed even without knowing for sure. The hardest thing for me to explain to people is that he can't have "just a little" of anything. Not one piece of candy, not one bite of cake - nothing. My friend who told me about her son's red dye sensitivity (shout out to fellow blogger momma Ariena Krieger of One Krieger Chick told me a story about how he was given one SweetTart and was out of control for days. I assumed this was a slight exaggeration. It was not.

If this were one of my Girl Scouts, I would have given myself the mental eye-roll when you explained to me that your kid couldn't have dye. Lucky for our family, we have been surrounded with a support system all full of people who have been extremely supportive of this undertaking. His sister has even learned to look at labels when I'm not around to make sure that he isn't having something he can't. I'm amazed and humbled each time someone asks about his diet or checks with me before giving him a treat.

...Because I know that a kid with an allergy (or sensitivity) is super annoying.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I used to enjoy a good shopping trip.

I started my son's new diet on a whim and really without a clue of what I was doing or getting myself into. Fortunately, it's really not as bad as you might think. And from personal experience, I promise you that it's definitely been worth it.

If you're thinking of doing this, too, here is what you're looking for:
When you read your food label, if it lists a specific color (usually a color and number), that's bad. Pick up a box of regular sugared cereal from your cupboard. If you look usually towards the bottom of the ingredients, any regular cereal should list something similar to one of the following: red 40, blue 2, yellow 6, etc. These are exactly what we are trying to stay away from with this diet.

I knew immediately upon learning this information that the first stop on my journey had to start with my kitchen. We are notoriously bad eaters around here. In my previous post when I noted that we have 14 boxes of cereal, that was not an exaggeration. I counted them. They are all, of course, chalk full of dyes. How else would they get them to be so pretty and appealing? Also taking up regular space on our shelves were the following items: strawberry Pop-Tarts (red 40), boxed macaroni and cheese (yellow 5, yellow 6), Doritos (red 40, yellow 6), Go-Gurt, Gatorade and a variety of sodas (which can all have a variety of dyes based on the flavors you choose). These things were all going to have to go.

I ended my last blog post by telling you about how my usually quick shopping trip seemed endless on my first excursion. Not only was I shopping in a way I'd never shopped before (reading LABELS??), but finding what I needed was so much harder than I imagined. I headed to our local Hy-Vee store - they are notorious for their healthy foods section. I felt armed with the knowledge that I had and was ready to conquer this store and get my son on the right track. I quickly perused the healthy food section as my first stop and nearly died of sticker shock, so back to the main part of the store I went. Now, I know that they say, "Stay on the outside perimeter of the store," but that's just not gonna happen for this Not Granola momma. My kids eat convenience foods... a lot, and I wasn't ready to go cold-turkey on that. My first quest was Pop-Tarts. Jericho LOVES him some strawberry Pop-Tarts. They have a lot of different kinds of Pop-Tarts, FYI. Probably roughly a million. But that's just an estimate. What they don't have is any kind of all-natural version. Bummer. Back to the health food section. I managed to find an organic kind of toaster pastry (I check - no dyes, YAY!). They are, however, nearly $5 for a box of 6 pastries. Ouch. One box in the cart, and onward we march.

My next quest was Herculean of sorts.  Did I mention that it was the week of Valentine's Day? It was the NIGHT BEFORE Valentine's Day, to be exact. Divine time to start a new diet, mom. Jericho's teacher had agreed to help me out with the treats he received with his Valentines. She agreed that she would take his candy from his box, and switch it out for healthy (or at least dye-free) alternatives that I would send. Hy-Vee has an entire candy aisle. An entire aisle devoted to candy. There is 1 non-chocolate item in it that is dye-free. (Plain chocolate is usually safe.) Seriously. One thing. I flipped over and read every bag and box in that store. I seriously thought I was going to cry. Finally we ran across Mamba Gummies. They look good and aren't expensive, so I throw a couple of bags in the cart. Meltdown averted. I head back to the health food section to check for more candy. I look and I look and I look... and suddenly I realize to my amazement that "dye-free" isn't really a category. They make sugar free, gluten free, lactose free, no artificial preservatives - you name a dietary restriction and Hy-Vee has food for it. Except this one. I ask a manager. He stares bewildered at what I can only assume is the horn that has apparently grown out of my head. He is absolutely no help and really has no idea what I'm talking about. I show him a label and explain it to him. Still nothing. Oh my gosh. This isn't a thing. This isn't something that there's a special section for. Crapola. I have to do this all by myself. There is no easy button. Jericho is now asleep in the cart. One box of $30 toaster pastries and some gummy candy are all I have checked off of my list. I'm determined to get through this, even if I only get enough food for one day. I press on...

I get through it, alright, but that shopping trip took nearly two hours. So that it doesn't take you as long, here are a couple of key things that I found:

Mamba Gummies:

Yes, they're still candy. I know. I've taken the stance that I want my son to succeed at this diet, so I'm going to make it as great as I can. He is still a 6 year-old after all. And what kid doesn't love candy?

This was a tricky one for me. My kids love them and technically you'd think they'd be a fairly healthy snack, but they are full of dyes. I was ECSTATIC when I recently discovered:

You see that label? Go ahead... take a gander. No high-fructose corn syrup. No artificial colors or flavors. You just get RIGHT out of town. We buy these in bulk when they're on sale now. Kids say they taste the same, P.S.
Fruit Snacks:
Yeah. I know. Still not great. But out of convenience for... me, I've created what I call the "healthy snack locations" at my house. There's a drawer in the fridge that has the Go-Gurts and fruit in it and a bin in the bottom of the pantry that has grab-and-go snacks in it (fruit snacks, snack-sized portions of crackers, etc). I like this because the kids know what is off limits when they're snacking. Nothing too junky or big before dinner. Motts and Ocean Spray both make fruit snacks with all-natural coloring, and they're both awesome.
Now, remember earlier when we talked about how we love our Doritos? Well, no luck there, but I did find...

WHAAAAAAAAAT??? These are delicious, FYI. No artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.

I know it's just a couple of things, but I hope this helps to get you started if you're thinking about joining me. Next time, I hope to be able to share with you some of Jericho's successes on the diet... and some setbacks (like he even had a chance on Valentine's Day?).