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When my son was diagnosed, one of the first nut allergy challenges we faced was the mums and tots groups minefield. Food perils lurked everywhere. Every playgroup we tried out served snacks (usually biscuits or toast), many children bought in food from home, boxes of cupcakes appeared on birthdays and, on one occasion, we turned up to trestle tables set up for a surprise end of term party tea. A lovely treat for the majority, ulcer inducing for the food allergy mum.

My stress levels reduced slightly as D moved on from the pick-up-anything-off-the-floor-and-stick-it-in-his-mouth stage, and I got to know the playgroup organisers and fill in the other mums on our recent experience of anaphylaxis.

Over the next couple of years, I’m guessing we’ll have new challenges to navigate with things like football and Beaver Scouts. But which out-of-school kids’ groups are allergy friendly?

As ever, there seems to be a wide spectrum of standards. Back in May, I was dismayed to read in the Western Gazette that Curtis Johnson (aged 14) had been banned from Cadet camps because of his nut allergy (see Somerset schoolboy banned from Army Cadet camps because of peanut allergy). However, Allergy UK reported that Brownies are Allergy Aware, so fingers crossed the boys’ scouting organisations are similarly clued up.

Directory of nut allergy friendly groups and clubs

A fellow nut mum then had the excellent idea of starting an online directory for nut allergy friendly kids clubs.

If you go to a playgroup or your children attend a club that inspires confidence in the way it cares for allergic children, please do post a comment below with the details. Once we have a few areas of the country covered, I will set up a searchable directory (along the same lines as the restaurant directory).

To get the ball rolling, here are the details of two of our regular playgroup haunts:

Prestbury Mums and Tots

  • Prestbury Village Hall, Macclesfield Road, Prestbury, SK10 4BW
  • 9.30-11.00 AM Mondays and Fridays (during term time)

Buttered toast and juice is provided for the children, plus tea or coffee for the parents. Two years on and the ladies behind the counter are well used to me scouring the ingredients lists at the start of each session for nutty ingredients and “may contain” warnings!

The Christmas parties usually take place on the final Monday and Friday before Christmas. All the mums bring in food for the children to share. For the last two years, I’ve made sure D sits at the end of the table and have brought in a selection of party food for him.

From September, I will be one of the organisers on a Monday – so do say hi if you stop by!

St Michael’s Church toddler group

Toys are set out in a gated off area around the altar. After half an hour, everyone goes into a side room for nursery rhymes and snacks (Rich Tea biscuits and juice or water for the children, tea and coffee for the adults). The biscuits are kept in a barrel jar. For the last two years that we’ve been going they’ve always served only McVities Rich Tea. One of the organisers previously worked in a school and looked after the allergic pupils’ EpiPens – so they understand the potential severity and the need to check the ingredients.

Word of warning: they often have end of term parties, involving food.

The toddler group is re-run on Thursday afternoons too (I haven’t been to the afternoon session yet).

 

So … which nut allergy friendly playgroups and kids’ clubs have you discovered?

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I’ve written previously about the dangers lurking at mums and tots groups for food allergic children. From the snacks served, to impromptu parties and surprise birthday cakes, the seemingly harmless staple of the toddler social scene can be a fraught experience for the food allergy mum.

This morning, I discovered another playgroup peril. The mouth-blown musical instrument.

We were finishing “tidy up time”, when the box of musical instruments came out. Set in the middle of the floor, twenty toddlers dive in, in a frantic bid to be the one who has the cymbals. Normally, there is no consoling D if he doesn’t have the cymbals. I may as well give up there and then and head home.

Today was different. Today, a selection of new instruments had been added to the box. Today, D emerged from the scrum blowing into a plastic yellow recorder.

After a split second thinking “what an irritating noise”, it dawned on me that sharing recorders really wasn’t the best plan for a child with a severe nut allergy. I grabbed it off him and wiped it, even though had there been any peanut butter traces from the last child musician on the mouthpiece, that really would have been too late.

Just another thing to be aware of, although I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this one. Buy my own pair of cymbals for D’s exclusive use? Leave before the singalong? Join in the toddler scrum to make sure he doesn’t grab the recorders?

For more information on unexpected hazards at playgroups and school, see the Kids With Food Allergies website, which has an excellent table detailing Potential Food Allergens in Preschool and School Activities and Crafts.

What unexpected food allergy hazards have you encountered at playgroup and school? I would love to hear from you!

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I’ve written in the past about the potential perils of the seemingly innocuous mums and tots group, for the food allergic child. Just when I thought I was into the swing of dealing with taking my 3-year-old son, D, to playgroups, this morning I was abruptly reminded that nut safety isn’t something that can be mastered just through habit. Even when doing the same thing week in week out, you need to expect the unexpected.

We went to our usual Thursday morning playgroup where part way through, there is a break and the children sit at tables to have a biscuit and drink of juice. Each week I check with the lady in charge that the biscuits are McVities Rich Tea and therefore safe for D to eat. However, today when I was putting my £1 coin in the tin, I notice packets of cakes. It was another little boy’s birthday and his mum had brought in some shop-bought iced fairy cakes (from Tesco) for everyone to share. On checking the packet, there were no nuts in the ingredients list but they carried the advisory wording “Recipe: No nuts. Ingredients: Cannot guarantee nut free. Factory: No nuts”. However, given they were just a “may contain”, we didn’t bolt, but I knew that D would have to make do with a Rich Tea come break time.

When break time arrived, around 20 children sat around three tables and the organisers handed each a cake. With the exception of D. And his little sister. Although my daughter has no known allergies as yet, we avoid all nuts with her too, until such time as she can be tested. I also thought this was a good tactic for not making D think he was the complete odd one out. Mummy was depriving his sister of a cake too…

D made no bones of the fact that a Rich Tea was not an adequate substitute for a cake. I explained that the cakes might contain nuts and make him poorly. As he looked from child to child, all eating the cakes, in an attempt to mollify him, I found myself chirping “but don’t worry, after this, we’ll go to the supermarket and buy a cake which doesn’t have nuts!”.

So after playgroup, we trotted down to Tesco in Macclefield town centre where I spent an increasingly fraught 15 minutes or so reading every label, on every type of cake in the cake aisle. D is at the age where he has no problem repeating the same phrase or question 500 times over. “We hab chocolate cake? We hab chocolate cake, mummy?”. And on. And on. After he’d said it, oooh about 50 times, I was certainly regretting promising something I couldn’t deliver.

EVERYTHING said “may contain nuts”.

Cadbury milk chocolate mini rolls: may contain nuts.

Kipling pretty much anything: may contain nuts.

Nestle smarties cupcakes: may contain nuts.

Eventually, I found some Fabulous Bakin’ Boys flapjacks. Unfortunately, toddler son viewed these in the same light as the Rich Tea: a poor second for a chocolate cake.

I gave up, bought a bag of giant Cadbury buttons and hauled us all back to the car.

Anyway, moan over. I guess my point is, in an entire cake aisle, I was surprised that Tesco didn’t stock at least one option suitable for nut allergy sufferers. In our local Sainsbury’s, you can always usually count on finding a Just Love Food Company tray bake (see picture).

I’m actually going to buy some Fabulous Bakin’ Boy cupcakes, which come individually wrapped in sellophane, to keep in my bag, so I can whip them out should there be any further surprise birthday celebrations. In the meantime, I’m off to take a couple of paracetamol and inhale the remainder of the chocolate buttons.

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It is the Anaphylaxis Campaign’s second annual orange wig day on Friday 17 May 2013.  The aim is for members to wear an (extremely fetching!) orange wig all day to raise awareness and money for the Campaign’s work.

The Anaphylaxis Campaign is a UK charity which supports people at risk from severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). I can vouch that my family has certainly found the information on their website invaluable since my son’s peanut allergy diagnosis. As well as providing help and support to its members, the Campaign also educates sectors such as the food industry, schools and health professionals on the medical aspects of allergies, food labelling, risk reduction and allergen management.

So far, we’re planning to wear our wigs to playgroup, the park (weather permitting!) and the supermarket…

So, if you are in the Macclesfield area and see a lady with bright orange hair, with a toddler and a baby who’ve clearly inherited the same beautiful locks, then do say hello (or give us a wave!) and make a donation at http://www.anaphylaxis.org.uk/get-involved/ways-to-donate.

Photos to follow on Friday!

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Friday 17 May 2013

And here they are! Thanks to everyone at playgroup for your donations … and quote of the day goes to the lady who kept a straight face whilst saying “Dear, can I just ask … who does your hair?”.

Anaphylaxis_Wig_1

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Anaphylaxis_Wig_3

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I recently read an article on ABC News about a new range of “Don’t Feed Me” t-shirts, on which parents could tick off the foods to which their child is allergic. The t-shirts are aimed at children under five, who aren’t yet able to communicate their allergies or to read. By wearing the t-shirt, for example to nursery, a party or with a new babysitter, the child’s carers will be reminded about which foods are off limits.

It seems that many allergy parents are fans of these types of t-shirts. However, the jury is still out on this in our house. My son (D) is now 2 1/2 and hasn’t yet started going to playdates or parties by himself. He is either cared for by his dad and I, nursery or his grandmothers, all of whom are fully aware of his allergy and the foods to be avoided. He won’t be going to a playdate or party by himself unless (1) we were confident that the parents hosting were aware of his allergy and knew how to keep him safe and (2) ideally also that D can communicate for himself that he cannot eat nuts.

Dr Wayne Shreffler voices the concern in the ABC article that the t-shirts could act as “bully magnets” and, once the children are old enough to read, I think this is a fair point.

So, at the moment, I’m unconvinced. However, I may well change my tune over the next couple of years, and if I do, I will certainly keep you posted. In the meantime, if you are thinking of giving allergy t-shirts a go, here are some websites I have come across which you may find useful:

Further resources

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As we approach the first anniversary of my toddler son’s anaphylactic reaction to a peanut cookie, I thought it would be a good time to take stock and think about all the things we’ve had to learn since his allergy diagnosis. If you are reading this as the parent of a young child recently diagnosed with a life threatening peanut or nut allergy, I hope you find this useful. Continue Reading

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So, my daughter C reaches six weeks of age and I am certified fit to drive again after my c-section. To look at D, you would not guess what he had been through. His spell in intensive care had certainly not impacted his energy levels. It is two weeks post anaphylaxis and peanut allergy diagnosis and we all have cabin fever. Following C’s arrival, he had taken to going round the house saying “bye bye baby” (his first sentence, no less). I was also developing finely honed ninja car catching reflexes, as he hurled his die cast collection in his little sister’s direction. I needed to get him out of the house and burning off some energy at a playgroup, pronto. Continue Reading