Tag Archives: elemental diet

The impact of mental health

In a world that is frighteningly open as people regularly share their location, activities and even the contents of their lunch box via social media, there is still a huge reluctance to linger on anything that hints at emotional instability or mental distress; but the sad truth is that matters of mental health are a huge part of living with a chronic illness and not just for the individual concerned. Today is World Mental Health Day, a day that is seeking to raise awareness of mental health conditions in an open and honest way, to encourage individuals to understand more about how these problems can affect just about anyone at one time or another in their lives and how others can support them. There is a tendency to make light of the language used when referring to mental health issues, after all, how many times have we heard someone say that they’re feeling depressed about having to go back to work after a holiday or the break-up of a particular pop group1-in-6-wmhd, when what they really mean is that such events have saddened or upset them rather than the total immobilisation that comes when you struggle with depression on a daily basis. I am not devaluing the emotions they may be experiencing when those things happen, but are they really akin to the overwhelming nature of depression? I think not.

I don’t speak lightly as I have been dealing with the constant presence of recurring depression since my teenage years. I know what that “black dog” is like and just how much it can impact on your ability to function on a day-to-day basis in the real world. As a teenager living with T1D, I struggled with accepting that this was a reality that was never going to change for me, that the need for regular injections, sensible eating and facing the risk of serious complications was never going to disappear. I didn’t handle it well. Though few of my peers may have realised it at the time, I refused to do what I needed to do to maintain my health, not because I wanted to cause myself problems, but because I couldn’t see a way to live like my friends and not feel isolated by my T1D diagnosis. I know that I was not alone in my reaction to my chronic illness and my family and I owe a great deal to my fantastic consultant who worked hard to help minimise what often felt like insurmountable differences as I went through those troubled years. With time and support, untitledI did eventually come to terms with my diagnosis, though sadly my determination to get my T1D control back on an even keel brought with it an unexpected complication with my eyes, which in turn has led to even more serious implications than I could ever have imagined when I was 13 and feeling very much on my own in a battle against the rest of the outside world.

Move forward a few years and I found myself back in the mental health fight when I was diagnosed with post-natal depression following the difficult pregnancy and early arrival of M. This time I was more open to receiving help and my diagnosis, when it came, proved a huge relief as I didn’t have to actively speak out and ask for that support. Having struggled with counselling as a sole answer to my depression as a teenager, I readily accepted the suggestion from my GP that I be prescribed with low-level anti-depressants for the first few months and am not ashamed to say that those helped me through some very dark times indeed. Anti-depressants are not for everyone, just as much as counselling hasn’t always proved to be a success for me. There should be no stigma attached to needing that medicine to survive the battering of a mental health problem. It is a necessity for some, just as insulin keeps me alive or a feeding tube and elemental feed proved to be what M needed to help him regain better health.

I have learned over the years to identify when I start to feel a little low and my ability to cope with the everyday becomes more of a strain. Mike and my Mum have developed their own sixth sense to pick up when I am beginning to struggle and offer me their unfailing support as I try to find my way back out of the pit. Our 7 year journey to get an initial diagnosis for M and the ongoing challenges in keeping him fit and well have taken their toll and there have been times when tempers are frayed and relationships fractured because of it. 1-in-3-traumatic-event-wmhdThat strong support network of family and friends who are constantly surrounding me is invaluable and the knowledge of what is really important – M and G – keeps me getting out from under the duvet every morning and making my way through each day.

Even more importantly, my own experiences with chronic illness mean that I am well-tuned to the impact that his own diagnosis will have on M. It is a frightening reality to face that your own child might end up fighting the same demons that you did at that age, but it also gives me an insight that lends a level of trust and understanding between M and me that is unlike the relationship he has with anyone else. I can fully empathise when life seems unfair and unjust and he can allow his emotions to pour out because he believes that I get it. We have long been arguing for psychological support for M and finally, thanks to a developing shared care relationship with our local hospital, that seems to be being put in place. Our new gastro consultant has fully acknowledged that the EGID diagnosis will have not only shaped the person M has become, but also had an effect on G and on our family dynamics. He wants to adopt a holistic approach to treating M and the next few weeks will tell if that is a solution that will make a significant difference going forward. I know that recognising the signs of mental stress now are really important when it comes to M’s ongoing mental health, especially as there can be no denying that he already struggles with mood swings, anxiety and feelings of isolation, not just due to his EGID, but also because of his dyslexia and dyspraxia. Early recognition of those symptoms will help us and the medical professionals find a way to put into place coping mechanisms that will serve him, not just now, but into his adulthood too. He already has a good cohort of friends surrounding and looking for him, but they are young, only 10 years old. Just as with any other child as they grow up, he will learn to distinguish those who will stand by him through thick and thin and those who are just there for the fun times. Most importantly to me, 70300is that he doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed by the times when he’s not able to cope emotionally, or mentally, or even physically with the pressures that his diagnoses will have on his life, and that he learns to openly acknowledge them; and that he realises that he’s not on his own in that regard.

Likewise, we can’t ignore the reality that having a chronically ill sibling has a massive impact on G and her mental health too. The Young Carers meetings that she has attended over the last few months have covered the areas of anxiety, facing fears and anger management, which are all inextricably tied up with the role of being a young person caring for another. Those sessions have taught her strategies for dealing with her yo-yoing emotions and provide an outlet for them in a safe and understanding environment. She has made stress balls and relaxation jars to bring home and use as she needs. I hope that the proposed psychology appointments at our local will not only look to support M, but also to help G in her own right as well as us as a family. These are all things you don’t want to even consider that your children might ever need to deal with, but there is no escaping the reality of chronic illness and mental health, and we need to accept our responsibility to help them both. That is the key message of today’s World Mental Health Day – that we all have a role to play in supporting those around us as best we possibly can.black-dog-step-on-you

Feeding Tube Awareness Week – Day 1: Choosing to raise awareness

7beb7940ed39bc80ce6cb39710abb740If anyone was going to describe the last decade of my life, the one indisputable conclusion they’d end up reaching is that it’s been anything but boring. Thanks to a pair of children who have thrown more than their fair share of life challenges into the mix, we’ve weathered more storms than I ever believed possible and, for the most-part, we’ve come out the other side still smiling and relatively unscathed. We’ve survived a lot of challenges, met a whole host of amazing people and learned a great deal along the way; and if I had to pick just one lesson that constantly resonates, I’d have to say that we now know to never take things for granted as they can change at the drop of the proverbial hat. Two years ago I wrote about our limited experience with feeding tubes and then, less than a year later, I found myself blogging about my brand new super-tubie. Another year on and the NG-tube has gone for the time-being and the only thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I have no idea if or when it will make a reappearance in M’s life.

The lessons that the last 12 months have taught us all have been huge and I have come to love and hate that feeding tube in equal measure. For the first time in his life, the reality of M’s chronic illness and multiple food allergies was outwardly visible and finally people understood from a glance that there was more to him than initially met the eye. The constant presence of the NG-tube opened up more conversations and opportunities for me than ever before and I’ve been able to share experiences, offer support and educate the wider community about EGID. M and his froggie friendWe all felt the benefits of that visibility to start with and I no longer felt the underlying pressure to defend the true extent of M’s illness and food allergies whilst my outwardly healthy-looking youngster was intent on tearing around practically making a mockery of every problem and pain we said he was suffering.

Of course, the flip-side was that ever-present tube. The one that there was no escaping or avoiding, no matter the event or occasion. Christmas, birthdays, performances and holidays, the tube was M’s constant companion and he became increasingly aware and conscious of the curious glances that were thrown his way by adults and children alike. His wonderful classmates and our village took it in their stride and quickly became so accustomed to it that M was never subjected to a second glance, but the wider world could stare until he disappeared from view. As well as the tube, we had the problems of M’s face reacting to the unavoidable medical tape and it took us several attempts to find a tape that didn’t burn his cheeks. Even when we finally found the best solution for him, at times he was left with red, sore and sensitive skin that only time tube-free could heal.

Looking back, 2015 was a year unlike any other in our family’s life, but I don’t regret a single moment of it. From that difficult decision to place the NG-tube and start M on an elemental diet, we have seen tremendous growth and an improved health that exceeded all our expectations. Most of all, we now have an opportunity to help raise awareness from the standpoint of personal experience and a road well-travelled, something that, believe it or not, I wouldn’t change for the world.

A Numbers Game

Tomorrow’s Tubiversary marks:

20141207_12421712 NG-tubes and the accompanying tube changes, which included…

2 tubes pulled out by accident and 3 that broke unexpectedly;

4 pump backpacks worn out and replaced (and number 5 will be needed soon);

approximately 70 Feeding Friends stickers and 60 strips of Tegaderm used to keep that tube firmly stuck to the side of his face;

and at least 3 other tapes tried, tested and rejected;

1 Christmas, 1 Easter and several birthdays survived and celebrated;

11026157_10152614450811123_382817830123987117_oNearly 1 whole school year achieved with only a few days off;

1 week away in Cornwall enjoyed;

4 weekend trips planned, packed for and successfully negotiated;

5 safe foods and 2 safe oils identified and back in his diet, resulting in…

…around 15 new recipes adapted and perfected…20151121_162110

4 new kitchen gadgets invested in and well-used…

…and impressively 16 restaurants found to be amazingly able and willing to accommodate the trickiest of dietary requirements

 

Not forgetting:

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M's daily batch of medicines

410 litres of E028 pumped

12 daily medicines reduced to just 3;

nearly 3kg of weight gained

5cms of height grown

 

And including:20141216_121143

12 months of stock counting, and rotating, and checking, and ordering

52 weeks of new syringes and dressings

365 days dealing with pumps beeping – …on…off…start…stop…blockages…settings…errors…”just becauses”!

8,760 hours of making sure Pictures July 06 019the tube is tight enough, taped enough, in the right place enough…and not getting caught on anything

525,600 minutes of longing to be able to hold or stroke or kiss that precious little face without the tube getting in the way

Countless tears shed, hugs shared and frustrations vented

 

All amounting to…

One year of the best health ever

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That’s what friends are for

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been focusing my blog on new recipes, holiday travels and weekend adventures, but of course, in the background of all that, there have been the ongoing food challenges, unavoidable medical dramas and inevitable hospital appointments that are very much part of our everyday life. Those are the bits that take a little longer to process as we adjust our expectations and plans for the coming months, and understandably are not always the easiest parts to share. However, whilst we’re picking our way through the discussions of our latest appointment, I wanted to share this story with you all.

You see, our most recent GOSH appointment was declared “…the best hospital appointment EVER!..” by M for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with what his consultant or dietician said, discussed or did; and absolutely indexeverything to do with some amazing friends he has met and made since our journey to a diagnosis started over 4 years ago.

We arrived an hour early for our clinic appointment, something that is nothing short of a miracle given the comedy of errors that unfolded as Mike attempted to connect with M and me mid-route as we headed into London by train. Let’s just say that realising your wife and child are not on the train you’ve just boarded and which is now leaving the station, but instead the one that’s just pulling into that self-same station behind you, probably doesn’t rank very highly in Mike’s top ten of successful travel arrangements, but we did eventually meet up and safely got to the hospital with plenty of time to spare! I knew that good friend and fellow EGID Mum, R was also there with her son, A, who has become great buddies with M since we were in GOSH last Christmas and had already tentatively arranged an attempt to meet up if at all possible. As we trundled through to the waiting room, I spotted R across the room and to my delight saw she was chatting with another old FABED friend of M’s and his Mum, L.

These 3 boys were thrilled to all be at clinic together and spent the next couple of hours sharing their electronic devices, playing games and laughing. Being in clinic with 2 good friends helped occupy M’s time and the lengthy wait just flew past as they entertained each other and we parents took the opportunity to do some catching up of our own. All 3 are on extremely restricted diets and represent beautifully the 3 different faces of elemental feeds: A who bravely drinks his daily; M with his NG-tube; and R with his PEG. It was wonderful to see, especially as all 3 were looking fit, well and really no different to other boys of their age. They looked as 3 friends should do: relaxed, happy and comfortable in each other’s presence.developing-friendship-machines-working-word-building-up-concept-construction-black-alphabetic-letters-forming-isolated-31326540

I’ll be honest, as amazing as it was to watch these 3 lads pick up where they had left off, after however long it has been, without missing a beat, it was also heart-wrenching to see them spending time together in the hospital waiting room, knowing that the reason they were there was a chronic illness that has had a long-reaching impact on each of their young lives. But; in that most perfect of moments for them all as they sat united on the waiting room floor, we also realised just how blessed we are to know such amazing people and how important it is for M to believe that he’s not on his own.

Countdown to Cornwall

This time last year I had holiday-planned to within an inch of my life and had experienced amazing support from the folks at Virgin Atlantic. We had arrived at Disneyworld Florida, were impressed by the positive approach to M’s restricted diet shown by all and were loving our days in the sun. It really was a trip of a lifetime and we’ve all been reminiscing a lot about where we were and what we were doing this time last year.

Our plans this year have been much less grandiose and much closer to home. When we first started thinking about our summer holiday plans back in November, all we knew was that M was going to be going elemental sometime soon and would have a NG-tube in place. We didn’t know if it would still be there by the time this summer rolled around and had no idea what he’d be able to eat or how we’d all be coping with the change. We toyed with the idea of a holiday in Portugal, a favourite destination of us all, but just weren’t sure how confident we would be if we needed to travel abroad with a tube in place.  20150812_172857Of course, with the benefit of hindsight and nearly 9 months experience, I am sure we would have coped just fine, but the uncertainty of all we’d be dealing with meant that instead we opted for staying in the UK and so we are now on our countdown to Cornwall.

Our front hallway currently resembles a storage facility as I pull out ready for packing, not just clothes and beach essentials, but safe food supplies for both G and M and, of course, everything we’ll need for M’s tube feeds. We have each chosen a day-trip we’d like to do whilst we’re there as well as researching the beaches surrounding Fowey, our base for the week. Mike has spent time looking at various “wet-weather” options as there’s no guarantee of sun in the UK, even in August, and we have been able to pencil in a day with G’s godmother, Godmama C and her lovely family as they will be holidaying there too. We might be staying in a self-catering apartment, but we’re also hoping to venture out to eat and my time has been spent trawling the internet looking for allergy-friendly restaurants and emailing to find out whether they will be able to accommodate M’s current food needs. cornwall-mapThe great news is that a couple have already replied to tell me that they are up for the challenge and I can’t wait to try them out and share our reviews of just how well they did for both M and G with you all. Even better, thanks to timely posts from fellow bloggers such as The Intolerant Gourmand and dedicated websites like Can I eat there?, I’ve been given some great top tips for making this a holiday to remember.

 

Quick update

Stocks-Update-1With 2 weeks left to the end of term, there’s so much going on that I’ve barely got time to sit down and commit any useful thoughts to paper, so I’m afraid this post is just going to be a quick update.  We’ve just had our first appointment in the new “Complex gastro and nutrition” clinic that our consultant and lovely specialist dietician have started at GOSH.  The thinking behind this new clinic is that for children like M, who have a chronic gastro condition such as EGID as well as significant, complex and multiple food allergies, there needs to be regular meetings with both a gastro consultant and a dietician to ensure that everyone is singing from the same song sheet when it comes to treating the health of that child.

Hospital appointments always induce mild nerves in me, but this time round I felt more apprehensive than usual.  We are now into month 8 of the NG-tube, when the initial plans were that M would have it for no more than 3 months at most and I was concerned that there might be discussion about removing the tube in the near future.  M’s health has been so significantly improved since we went elemental in December that I don’t want to rock the boat any more than is necessary until we have a huge improvement with his diet.  generic round label_1265358343With only 4 foods on our “safe” list out of 12 tried so far, it has been a much longer process to reintroduce foods back than any of the medics expected, although, to be honest, Mike and I had always anticipated it taking a full year, if not longer.  At the moment, M is coping well with his tube and is keen to keep trying new foods, so there are no concerns that the presence of the tube is having a detrimental effect on him in any way.

So, in a snapshot, the outcome of our appointment was this:  that on almost every level, his health is remarkably stable right now and even his hay fever isn’t causing too many issues this year; but the area of most concern continues to be his ever-growing list of multiple food allergies.  Our dietician is very worried that M is struggling to tolerate so many foods and now refers to him as one of her “biggest, but loveliest challenges”.  The process of reintroduction has been so slow that until we have at least another 2 or 3 back in his diet, we cannot change the amount of E028 he’s having via his tube and so the tube obviously needs to stay in place.  We have chosen the next 5 foods to try – white fish, pear, GF oats, venison and coconut – and will also be doing some mini-challenges to see if we can have some more spices and flavourings to add into my recipes.  I will continue to remain in regular phone contact with her throughout these trials and we will keep persevering with the food challenges until our next scheduled appointment in around 4 months time.

United we stand

Yes, you guessed it, today is:

U for Unite-page0001

and signifies perhaps the hardest challenge we’ve taken on for EGID awareness week, ever. This week Mike and I are standing in solidarity with M and with all those other brave souls out there who have to battle with EGID every day and have no chance to opt out when things get tough. For the past 2 years, I’ve documented how we’ve followed M’s diet for the week, restricting our diets as he has to restrict his and even drinking the occasional glass of Neocate Active to get a glimpse into that aspect of his life.

IMG_0940When we first started planning our activities for this year’s awareness week, I briefly considered eating like M again, but dismissed it, thinking that the limitations of 3 ingredients and a litre of E028 on a daily basis might just prove to be too much for both Mike and me.  However, fast forward a few weeks to my preparations for my newspaper interview and I revisited the idea of “eating like M” and wondered if actually this might be something we could achieve.  I chatted it over with Mike, debated whether we could do it and, both being keen to give it a go, decided this would be our diet for the week.  Each day will be filled with 3 meals of rice, chicken and cucumber prepared in a variety of ways and Mike will even be drinking the litre of E028.  I have undertaken this with careful consideration of my own T1D and will be keeping an even tighter eye on my blood sugar management to make sure that I stay fit and healthy during the week.  I have also opted out of the E028, but will be partaking in a pint of Neocate Active everyday to show willing.

We’re not on our own either as there are other parents, family members and friends who will be spending some or all of this week eating like their loved ones. Trust me, it’s not an easy decision to make, but is a great way to raise awareness and get conversations started, which is reason enough to stick to it for a week. I am filled with admiration for just how well M has coped with such a bland diet for so long and have been struck with the harsh reality of how much pain he must have been in for years to be able to cope with these limitations just because it’s helping him feel better. Three_Musketeers_SwordsSo tomorrow when you’re tucking into your bowl of honey nut corn flakes or a bacon roll for breakfast, or sitting with your feet up dunking a chocolate biscuit into your cup of tea, or perhaps even enjoying a plate of fish and chips for tea, spare a thought for M and the others like him who are eating a restricted diet right now or may not be able to eat anything at all.  This week it really is a case of “All for one and one for all“.

“Elementa(l)ry, my dear Watson”

(with profuse apologies to all Holmes fans out there, but I just couldn’t resist!)

As we head into our 5th month of E028, the positive impact of the elemental diet on M is plain to see.  Family, friends and even casual acquaintances have commented on his improved health, behaviour, appearance and overall much happier demeanour.  We have seen glimpses of the happy-go-lucky, confident and outgoing child he can be when constant pain is not plaguing him and we have celebrated that success with him.  We’ve even embraced the somewhat daunting prospect of food trials despite the lack of useful advice we were originally given and have ploughed on regardless, surviving the highs and lows of this latest rollercoaster ride. Believe me, there have been plenty of both.

The highs have been encouraging; 

highsWe have successfully reintroduced rice, chicken and cucumber to his diet and he’s loving being able to eat something solid once again.  I’ve adapted, tweaked and sometimes created from scratch recipes to give him a range of meals that make meal-times more exciting than just plain boiled rice, grilled chicken and a few slices of cucumber 3 times a day.  We’ve even found a new favourite in rice noodles, something he would never eat when he was small and, thanks to the advice of 1 kind reader, I have even managed to lay my hands on a bag of the elusive rice pasta and he’s enjoying the variety to his diet.  The bonus of finding some amazing allergy-friendly restaurants earlier this month was a real boost and will make a big difference to us all.

M has stayed positive and has very much been involved in making the decisions about what foods he trials next.  We are working closely with our GOSH dietitian to choose our hit-list of foods in a balanced manner and I speak to her every 2 or 3 weeks to provide an update on our progress.  Even better, she is constantly contactable via e-mail, which has given me huge peace of mind as I know I can ask her any questions I might have and she will always come back to me by either phone or email, even if it’s just to say she’s looking into it and will let me know.  We’re once more on a small break, but are looking forward to attempting carrot, corn and apple over the coming few weeks.

And the lows have been exhausting.

exhaustionmanageI never realised just how exhausting the process of food challenges would be and that’s on all levels: physical, mental and emotional.  Each new food starts with the excitement and hope that it will be a safe food for M and managing expectations has become key.  It feels easy at the moment to be downhearted as we have had 4 fails – pineapple, pork, sweet potato and banana – and a question-mark over the 5th – salmon; but it’s critical we stay positive as there are an awful lot more foods for M to try, and every success brings with it many more options for meals.  Unfortunately, every fail leads to disappointment and discouragement and we have to pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off and look forward to the next one as best we can.

The need to be constantly alert to the risks of cross-contamination during food prep, as well as ever-vigilant about rogue additions to lists of ingredients and being constantly alert to any signs of a reaction in M, requires a stamina I didn’t know I had.  That is something I’m sometimes finding it hard to hang on to.  Whilst we are almost desperate to successfully introduce another ingredient to our meagre list, it’s become clear that we have to do it at a pace that suits M’s pernickety digestive system, and that seems to be a very slow rate indeed.

SHERLOCK_HOLMES_-_01-743978However, despite the exhaustion and the blood, sweat and tears shed in the name of finding another safe food, the future is looking bright and M’s better health gives us all a reason to keep going, even when it seems tough.  To have him in the best health we’ve known for 9 years means that our decision to go elemental really was…well…”elementary, my dear Watson.”

Home or away?

IMG_0746With a trip to London for M’s GOSH appointment an unavoidable part of the Easter holidays, we decided to make the best of it and spend a few days there on our very own mini city-break.  In preparation we spent one Sunday afternoon leafing through the pages of Mike’s “501 Days Out” book, looking for inspiration for what we could do during our stay and  G and M quickly filled a sheet of A4 with their suggestions.  It was left to Mike and me to make the final cut and hone our plans and, despite desperate requests for Legoland Windsor and Chessington World of Adventures, we decided to stick to those attractions within a reasonable distance of where we’d be staying and drew up a list that felt exhausting just looking at it.

where_to_stayThis epic event was our first overnight stay away from home since M had his tube back in December and I drew up thousandshundreds…well one very long list of everything I needed to do in preparation.  My first job, once our trains were booked, was to find somewhere to stay that would meet all of our requirements.  Usually we choose to stay in one of the Premier Inn hotels on the south-side of the Thames, be it near the London Eye or closer to Southwark Cathedral and find them a great base for walking, or using the underground, to almost anywhere we’re intending to visit.  Unfortunately, leaving the actual booking to a little late in the day meant that none of our usual suspects of hotels was available for the 3 nights we were planning to stay and instead I had to search for a suitable alternative.  Whilst browsing frantically looking for a room at the….an….any inn, I came across the option of a serviced apartment and things suddenly started to fall into place.

We chose a one-bed apartment in East Aldgate, not too far from the Tower of London and easy walking distance from the nearest tube station.  The benefits seemed huge:

  • with a separate bedroom and pull-out bed in the living area, G would be able to go to sleep at a reasonable time, whilst M played his usual night-owl games
  • there would be plenty of space to store all of M’s medical gear as well as the supply of safe foods for both him and G that we would take with us
  • having a kitchen meant we could easily prepare M’s feeds, make packed lunches and even cook dinner, thereby covering every possible meal-time option we might face
  • it also meant we would have a fridge to keep cooked meats, cheese for G and M’s feeds in overnight without the need to request one beforehand and then keeping our fingers crossed it would be available when we checked in
  • finally, we would have a quiet place to retreat to when things got too much or the children needed some down time in the middle of the day

So it was an easy decision to get that apartment booked.  The days flew past until finally I had no choice but to tackle the task of packing for our trip.  By the time I had everything I needed for M in the case, plus our supply of safe foods for both G and M, I was beginning to wonder whether I’d have room for any of the clothes the 4 of us would need for 4 days in London.  With some canny packing and careful choices about exactly what was necessary, I just about squeezed everything in and we were ready for our next big adventure.

“Muuummm, what’s for tea tonight?”

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Oh how this resonates..

If your family is anything like mine, that question usually comes just as you’re struggling through the door: with house keys in one hand, car key gripped firmly between your teeth, handbag on one arm, cello on your back, mobile phone pressed to your ear as you attempt to talk to the dietitian/consultant/other healthcare provider, who’s asking if now is a good time to talk and you can’t say no as you’ve been trying to contact them urgently for at least the last 3 days and who knows when they might call again; plus the school bag(s)/shopping bag(s)/extraneous bag(s)* (*delete as appropriate) you’ve picked up along the way are weighing down your other side and threatening to upset the delicate balance you’ve perfected in your struggle to cover the 100 yards or less from your car to the house.  Meanwhile, your curious offspring are waltzing in behind you, or possibly squeezing past you, through the already impossibly small and too-narrow-to-negotiate-safely doorway, bearing no more than a half-empty water bottle and their coat, worn superhero style to leave their hands free to carry absolutely nothing else at all.  And just as you think you’ve achieved it and managed to get everything safely inside, they open their mouth and ask that unavoidably fraught dinner-question and the peace shatters and your world tumbles down around your ears.  Does any of that sound familiar or is it just my household?

For M at the moment, my answer is fairly standard, although he adds his own unique twist by asking if dinner will be “chicken with rice and cucumber” or perhaps “rice and chicken with a side of cucumber”?  For a while, when he was still 100% elemental, he would even ask if he could have “air-sticks” – “like bread sticks you see, but without the bread” – showing that the ability to laugh his way through this experience is his greatest strength in beating this disease.  I have become a self-confessed expert in cooking with 3 principle ingredients – rice, chicken and cucumber – and the bonus extras of herbs, rapeseed oil and sugar.  Rice has been broadened to include its derivatives and the inclusion of rice milk, rice cream and rice pops (as long as they’re gluten-free) has added to my ever-increasing repertoire of 3-ingredient recipes.

Rice-flour sugar cookies

Rice-flour sugar cookies

In the past few weeks, as well as my fall-back favourites of roast or grilled chicken with plain boiled rice, I have also perfected deep-fried savoury rice balls, chicken nuggets, chicken and cucumber curry, fried rice, chicken stir-fry, rice-flour sugar cookies and rice pudding.  My Mum has also made M a chicken breast stuffed with rice and cucumber, courtesy of the inspiration and some nifty hints suggested by our hairdresser and which was an instant hit with our young diner.  It’s surprising just how many different recipes you can create with just a few ingredients and there’s even a few more that I’m hoping to try out in the coming weeks.  What started out as a daunting challenge to entice M’s appetite and encourage him to once again eat whilst navigating the tricky world of identifying his food allergies, has become yet another success story in our household.

Letter-to-the-EditorSqareMy victory with such a limited range of ingredients has been all the sweeter given the recent UK news story of the letter sent to the Daily Telegraph newspaper by over 100 top chefs and restauranteurs condemning recent EU legislation requiring restaurants to provide information about which of the top 14 allergens the dishes on their menus contain.  It was never a requirement that they did not cook with these ingredients, but rather that they should be able to inform diners of what the food prepared contains, with the knowledge and pride in their ingredients that I would expect from any talented chef.  Whilst widely welcomed by those of us in the allergy-world as a step towards helping us make informed decisions about eating out, these chefs warned that such requirements would harm “…the spontaneity, creativity and innovation restaurants and others in the industry have enjoyed up until now.

Like so many others in my situation, I wrote a response on the Telegraph website, pointing out that this legislation will help me to protect my children and give them experiences that will ensure their continued health and enjoyment,  I do not deny that it’s up to me (and they as they grow older) to ask about allergens, but there’s no point asking these questions if the restaurants, waiting staff or chefs cannot provide the information needed and the lack of understanding about cross-contamination risks is sadly common across the food industry.

20140818_143459Our experience last summer in Disney proved that this type of requirement does not need to be restrictive as excellent allergen information was readily available and nearly everywhere we ate produced meals for G and M that rivalled those being served to any other customer there with a “normal” diet. The chefs were knowledgable, came to our table to discuss their allergy needs and made the effort to find out what my challenging duo would like to eat – excellent service all done with a smile.

The big challenge was always to cook M-friendly food and these days that task has become even more testing.  In my opinion, these rules will have little impact on spontaneity or ingenuity – try cooking or baking when you need to avoid wheat/gluten, egg, dairy, soya and potato to name but a few.  Ingenuity comes when you try to prepare a meal that makes your child feel that they’re not missing out and that’s something I feel I’ve proved is possible, even for an amateur cook like me.