When my son was born, he didn’t cry in the hospital. The nurses laughed and told me to “just wait until we get home…” Well, Garrett is almost three and has yet to have epic meltdowns, characteristic of a boy his age. His smile and laugh are contagious; he is just the happiest boy you will ever meet. But there was always one factor that could put our blissful boy in a state of discontent – drinking milk. He hated it, and it hated him – imagine your worst case of the stomach flu and multiply that by, well, a lot! Then one night, after watching him gag down a slice of pizza while out for a family dinner, my hubby and I had an epiphany – let’s try soy milk and see if there really is an issue. Bam! 50% improvement in his ability to drink “milk,” keep it down, and stay a-symptomatic.
So what was wrong? A dairy allergy? Testing revealed no such thing. Puzzled, we found ourselves an excellent GI Dr. to crack this code. The answer may surprise you, as it did us – lactose intolerance, of the most severe kind. Garrett cannot break down complex sugars, which also includes sucrose, so he is on a dairy free, very low sugar diet.
When people hear the word “intolerance”, a large area of gray ensues. How should one approach it? I mean, it’s not like Garrett’s throat will close, or he will break out in a rash, so it’s not so bad right? What we have learned from diligent research and education is that it can damage him, so we have to treat it as if it is an allergy, and we take it very seriously.
This all being said, we do not let Garrett’s limitations cripple us. We travel, we go out to dinner and he is starting preschool in a matter of weeks. But,I was terrified at first. I read labels on food like my life depended on it and washed pots and pans like the queen was coming for dinner. It became an obsession. Finding out your child has new limitations can be disheartening, so once I settled into my new normal, I created a list of “culinary commandments” that have helped me learn how to handle it with honest to goodness pleasure:
1. Be vigilant! You are your child’s protector, not everyone will understand all of his or her special dietary needs. Pack a snack for playdates, label lunches and drinks as safe to eat, send sweets to keep on hand for birthday celebrations at school.
2. Create a budget! Garrett’s food costs aprox. $40.00 a week. Make sure you visit local grocery stores and see if they carry the items you need, before committing to buy. I am always amazed at the allergy friendly foods available at big name markets, instead of going to specialty stores.
3. Turn that frown upsidedown! Garrett can’t have sweets, especially chocolate. So, we focus on savory items in our home when it’s time for a treat – his favorite? Peanut butter, he eats it on everything and loves it.
4. Bake together and make it fair! If my daughter is baking cupcakes with me, we make sure that we make two batches of treats – I love Cherrybrook Kitchen brand mixes for muffins! They are low sugar and then we add in our own fresh berries for a sweet kick! Garrett takes great pride in making something he can enjoy while we eat something sweet.
5. Have staples! I admit, I love to cook and bake, and I do so, from scratch, almost daily. But, I do understand not everyone can do this. We keep staples on hand for those nights we have a lesson to be at, or Daddy is working late – our top picks? Ian’s brand Mac and “No” Cheese, Sprouts Brand Orange Chicken, and Van De Kamps extra crispy fish sticks with Rinaldi Tomato and Basil spaghetti sauce for dipping.
6. Get good containers! I used to feel like a prisoner in my home, like we couldn’t venture out to a restaurant, because what would Garrett do? Well, I have a new sense of freedom since discovering the Thermos Fun-tainer. It keeps food hot for five hours and cold for seven hours. And I’ve tested it! Amazing what this product has done for us! We also love insulated bags for keeping Garrett’s food fresh for long periods of time so he can come with us everywhere, and I don’t have to be a ball of nerves. Thirty One has a large selection of bags that have worked well during car trips.
7. Have tricks up your sleeve! When Garrett became obsessed with Lucky Charms because his sister was eating it every day, I had to get resourceful. Our quick fix for his envy? I took cherrios and mixed them with dairy free marshmallows that I coated with organic food coloring. He was quite pleased!
The moral of the story is that the essence of Garrett’s problem is serious, but the approach can be light hearted. Maybe I’ll be the first Food Network Star for kids with allergies? I know I’m crazy but a Mommy can dream right?