Tag Archives: MEWS diet

School Dinners

One of the roles that I’m most proud to have taken on in the past few years is that of Allergy Ambassador for the wonderful restaurant review website, Can I Eat There?, not least because we are a family who enjoys to eat out and embraces the challenge of finding somewhere safe for both M and G. We have to accept that there a some places that we just can’t visit as a family because of their allergies and whilst that causes the occasional moments of heartbreak, we’ve learned to avoid them as best we can. In similar fashion, we have had to adjust our thinking when it comes to the matter of school lunches for both children. G’s food allergies have been a part of our lives for long enough that we’ve always had to make special provision for her lunches at school and, whilst her first school was prepared to buy gluten- and dairy-free alternatives to cook for her on a daily basis, it became increasingly difficult once we made the decision to move away article-1052305-0283dca100000578-744_468x306from the independent sector to a school with external caterers. We did manage for a couple of years once M had started at school by making sure that G and her teachers knew to pick the safe option from the choices given, but once M went MEWS-free in 2011, school dinners became a thing of the past and packed lunches were the way forward.

I was recently talking to a good friend when the subject of school lunches came up in the conversation. If I’m honest, I can’t quite remember what led us to that topic, but I was really interested to hear about the steps her daughter’s school was taking to make more than adequate provision for those with dietary needs. The school in question, Ashcombe Primary in Weston-Super-Mare, runs their own kitchen and work hard not just to maintain their healthy school status, but also to use local produce and to minimise waste. They are also keen to be inclusive in their approach to cooked school lunches and ask parents to talk to their kitchen manager if there are specific dietary requirements or allergies, menuso that they can work together to provide a healthy and nutritious alternative menu customised for that child. I’m sure that they cannot be the only school to make such efforts, but they are certainly the first I’ve heard about from someone in the know and I was impressed by what she told me they offer.

However, when I saw this sample menu that she e-mailed across to me, I was even more impressed. This school kitchen has really taken on board the requirements of the 2014 changes to EU legislation concerning allergens and their monthly written menu reflects them. Every single item on the menu indicates which of the top 14 allergens are included in the dishes and as each day offers 4 alternatives, that is no mean feat and shows a level of dedication to getting this right that is admirable. The steps this school has already taken in making this effort would reassure me, as an allergy Mum, that the kitchen manager knows her stuff when it comes to catering for children with allergies and that is something that is, without a doubt, absolutely priceless. Of course, I don’t know how successful they are in preparing freefrom alternatives when needed and would be fascinated to discover if their encouraging start actually delivers in reality.

Do you know of a school that offers a similar service or have firsthand experience of one? I’d love to hear from you and be able to share and celebrate these individuals who are working hard to be inclusive and not exclusive when it comes to lunch-times at school.

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March comes in like a lion

Ever had one of “those” days? You know, the ones where you’re already insanely busy and barely have time to breathe and yet everything that could conceivably go wrong, does go wrong to an unbelievable extent, plus those few extra and unexpected hiccups and challenges that appear along the way. After the last 48 hours, I appear to be heading into not just one of “those” days or even one of “those” weeks, but more realistically, one of “those” months. The next few weeks promise to be extremely busy and I’m beginning to wonder how I’ll get everything done on time and in the right order. You know it’s a sad state of affairs when we’re only on the third day of the month and I’m already counting down to the start of the next one.

Wales from space, courtesy of UK astronaut, Tim Peake

Wales from space, courtesy of UK astronaut, Tim Peake

The month started with our rather low-key marking of “Dydd Dewi Sant”, or St David’s Day for those of you not au fait with the Welsh language. Fortunately, this simply required some frantic scrabbling around my drawers hunting out the daffodil brooches that the children and I wear every year and remembering to pin them securely to school jumpers before heading out the door. The children were both keen and proud to wear their daffodils, though equally unimpressed that their friends didn’t know why they wearing them and so took the opportunity to quickly educate their classes. If I’d been more organised, I might have posted on the day itself, but I wasn’t and I didn’t, so this is me recognising that celebration of my heritage now.

But after that gentle start to the month, things have already started to ramp up. The next four weeks include:

Gotta love my left-field boy - who better than Ford Prefect from HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy!

Gotta love my left-field boy – who better than Ford Prefect from HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!

  • World book day and required costume x 1
  • parents evenings x 2
  • school book fairs x 2
  • M-friendly croissants (eek!) for French role-play at school with just 3 days advance notice to attempt adapting my MEWS-free recipe
  • Mothers Day
  • riding lessons
  • a 10th birthday (how did he get to be a decade old?)
  • birthday celebrations, including themed party and cake
  • class assembly x 1
  • dentist appointment
  • hair appointment
  • GOSH appointment
  • Easter
  • Performing Arts Exams x 2
  • school play, which translates into costume provision, rehearsals and performances
  • Spa day – a late birthday celebration which will be much-needed as it comes in the middle of the busiest week
  • events linked to school topics which will undoubtedly require some inventive cooking from me
  • preparations for a sibling camp for G, which gives her a week away with other youngsters in similar situations and, more importantly, a week away from M

gin-and-tonI’m sure that there will be things I’ve already forgotten and likewise, there’s no doubt that there will be more items added to my list as March passes by. Needless to say, I will be blogging about many of these occasions and just how I overcome the challenges of taking my M-friendly cooking and baking a step further than I ever imagined possible. Once all of these things are out of the way, it’ll be time for a well-deserved drink and, in case you’re wondering, mine’s a large gin!

“Run, run as fast as you can…”

“…you can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”

To be perfectly honest, the last couple of months have been challenging ones. When we made the decision last year to move M to the elemental diet, we did so hoping that it would be the answer we were looking for and that he would finally find some relief from the years of chronic pain and constant bowel problems he’d barely been surviving. The great news is that his symptoms improved dramatically and for the first time in a long-time, M felt healthier and happier than ever before. However, despite the best hopes of GOSH that his NG-tube would only be needed for 2 or 3 months, Mike and I held the opinion that it would more realistically be in place for at least a year, if not longer, and we are rapidly moving closer to that 12-month mark. Of course, what none of us had anticipated was the struggle we would have in reintroducing foods back into M’s diet and over recent weeks, he has found the constant disappointment of failed food trials and the frustration of not being able to eat the same as everyone else almost unbearable to live with. With the agreement of our amazingly supportive dietician, we decided to take an extended break from the challenges, allowing M some much-needed time to come to terms with the realities of life right now.

shutterstock_190648280Having had that much-needed rest, M started to lose that haunted look that had been plaguing him for a few weeks and we finally seemed to have turned the corner and be back on track. We agreed on a new short list of foods to challenge in the run up to Christmas and had finally restarted where we had left off, more or less. However, last weekend, with another 3 unsuccessful attempts at reintroductions to chalk up to experience, tensions started to build and emotions threatened to overwhelm the tenuous calm that had just begun to settle. The final straw broke when G asked Mike and me to taste and review her cupcakes for her Food and Textiles homework. With hot, angry tears cascading down his cheeks, M crawled on to my lap to fitfully confide that it “just wasn’t fair” that everyone else could eat cakes when he couldn’t. Gently stroking his back, I offered to whip up a batch of one of the few sweet treat recipes I’ve managed to adapt for him in the last 12 months: Rice krispie treats? Cupcakes? Scones? Sugar cookies? Nothing seemed to quite hit the necessary mark, so I put my thinking cap on, did a little research and came up with the perfect pre-Christmas treat – Gingerbread!

Thanks to a few sneaky “mini” challenges, we have been able to add some extra flavourings to M’s diet and the most recent success was the addition of ginger to the humble pear crumble, so gingerbread seemed to be the logical next step. I started pulling the ingredients from the cupboards and, 20151121_162110as I weighed and measured out everything I needed, M’s interest was piqued and he pulled up the step-stool to stand by my side and help out. He rolled up his sleeves, washed and then floured his hands and, having selected an interesting array of cookie cutters, brandished my trusty rolling-pin to roll out the gingerbread dough on my pastry board. He chose to use the Christmas cutters as well as the odd one or two Mr Men ones, which have survived from my childhood and spent hours planning out to most effectively cut the shapes from the dough in front of him. We ended up with an impressive batch and I am heartily assured by my trustworthy taste-testers that they more than fit the brief and hit the mark!

Perfecting Christmas stuffing

With Christmas now less than a mere 3 weeks away – and counting – our preparations are in full swing.  Christmas lists have been created; letters to Father Christmas written; Christmas cards written and very nearly sent; presents bought, wrapped and squirreled away until the tree is up; and my attention has now turned to the small matter of the food.

Courtesy of mirror.co.uk

Courtesy of mirror.co.uk

A couple of weeks ago, I was given the job of cooking a Sunday roast for my Aunt whilst she was staying with Mum.  As I prepared the chicken and veg, I felt a sudden desire for stuffing to accompany the meal.  I have fond memories of delicious home-made stuffing on Sunday lunch-times as a child and realised, with a pang, that G and M would have no such recollection due to their food allergies.  As a family, stuffing disappeared from our table two and a half years ago when M first started on his MEWS-diet.  It has made the occasional reappearance at Christmas for us adults, but never in a M-friendly format.

Inspired by the pleasing aroma of chicken seasoned with sage that was drifting from the oven, I decided then and there to find a recipe for stuffing that I could tweak to meet G and M’s food requirements.  I sourced a vegan recipe for Sage and Onion stuffing and set about pulling the necessary ingredients from my Mum’s cupboards to start the mixing process.

20131117_120041 20131117_120358                                                                    M helped create the perfect breadcrumb

Despite my fears that this would turn out to be an unmitigated disaster, the final outcome was delicious.  Sadly, I was unable to convince G to even try a tiny morsel, but M set to with gusto.  He enjoyed the flavours, though he complained it contained too much onion for his tastebuds.  My final recipe can be found here and I am hoping to add recipes for other varieties for Christmas as I try them at home.  It was a great result for a Sunday morning’s work and I’m looking forward to tweaking more recipes to accompany the Christmas turkey.  The only question now is which one to adapt first – Chestnut, Sausagemeat, Cranberry or maybe all 3?

Unfortunately, I forgot to photo the final product and we ate the lot, so you'll have to be satisfied with a photo of the pre-cooked version!

Unfortunately, I forgot to photo the final product and we ate the lot, so you’ll have to be satisfied with a photo of the pre-cooked version!

The Best Chocolate cake in the World

We’ve enjoyed a peaceful weekend away in South Wales.  The weather hasn’t been the idyllic temperatures and sunshine of July, but we had a great time anyway.  The odd rain shower or clap of thunder didn’t stop us celebrating my Uncle’s birthday in style.  We had a BBQ and buffet feast, including my now infamous Lamb and mint burgers and G and M insisted that I made a birthday cake to mark the occasion.

Courtesy of fanpop.com

Courtesy of fanpop.com

Last week’s Lemon drizzle cake was a big success, but I was still not satisfied with the granular nature of the sponge that comes from baking with rice flour.  Since then I have been searching for a recipe to make the perfect rice flour cake and discovered this one that assured me that the granular texture would be a thing of the past.  Having uncovered such a promising recipe, I just needed a reason to bake it and what could have been better timed than a family birthday?

For the first time I ventured into the mystical world of cooking with xanthum gum – a substance much mentioned in gluten-free cooking, but something I had yet to actually use.

SAM_1456

We mixed together the xanthum gum, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and once again watched the chemical reaction between that and the white wine vinegar that the recipe required.  M was enchanted by listening to the ingredients fizz and watching the bubbles of carbon dioxide rise to the top of the mixing bowl – “just like the volcano we made with Daddy”.

I had erred on the side of caution given my previously chronicled inability to bake cakes thatrise and made up one and a half times the quantity of cake mix.  I needn’t have worried.  Perhaps xanthum gum is the answer to my baking issues, I just don’t know, but I had more than enough cake mix to make a double layer cake and a dozen cupcakes too, all of which had a lovely depth to them.

I decided to use the classic flavour combination of chocolate and raspberries and layered the cake with raspberry jam, vanilla butter icing and dried raspberries.  I finished it with a garden-themed decorating scheme and was proud of, at very least, how the cake looked.

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That evening, I nervously cut into the cake and served it to the assorted, gathered family members.  The cake was beautifully moist, the chocolate sweet but not over-powering and, best of all, there was not one single sign of that granular texture I’ve come to loathe when baking with rice flour.  G gave it a resounding 10 out of 10, M stated that it was the “best cake ever, cooked by the best Mummy ever” and even the harshest of critics complimented me on how delicious the cake was. So the conclusion I’ve reached is that this is a cake recipe to treasure and I’ve now just got to work out how to adapt it for as many different versions and occasions as possible.

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