Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Resources for dairy-free living

Wow!  I received a great response to my post about becoming the type of mom I never understood – a mom who has kids with allergies bad enough to change the way we live.  I was thankful for the support I received and the warm words from everyone – thank you!

This has been a struggle for me in a lot of ways.  I grew up in a household that didn’t worry too much about what we ate.  I’m sure my mom worried, but what was considered healthy food in the ’80s certainly wouldn’t be as healthy today as we thought it was then.  If nothing else, our meals were balanced and we had all the food groups, but often the entree was made from a box, a freezer bag, or with a packet of sodium-laced flavorings.

When I got married, I started eating more from scratch, both for health and frugality.  But the hardest change to make has been this recent one.

It’s been hard because we’ve had to cut dairy out of our son’s diet.  And it’s difficult because of the way food is made, packaged, and sold – not because we have hangups about eliminating dairy.  There are over 20 names for dairy and dairy products that are acceptable for use in labeling ingredients on food.  Just when you think you have it all, you realize you missed something!

So with the help of the parenting101 community on, who came to my aid last month when I was trying to sort this out, as well as comments from you, my readers, and my own searches, I have compiled a list of resources for those of you trying to live dairy-free, no matter the reason:

Credit-card sized Dairy and Hidden Dairy Reminder Cards

Another Dairy-Free Reminder Card – this one is a little easier to read – thanks Care! – a website dedicated to people trying to live without dairy, both people with allergies and vegans.  I really like this site because it doesn’t focus on why dairy is bad (recognizing that people are coming to the website for different reasons) but provides tips for shopping, recipes, book recommendations, and up-to-date news and information about dairy allergy research.

How to go Dairy Free – an article that outlines some of the substitutes that can be made for dairy products.

Milk Free Pantry – need specific food recommendations?  MilkFreePantry has up-to-date information on the dairy-free foods available at many grocery stores.  This is my favorite quote from the blog: “Every item has been personally taste-tested. Any non-dairy item that tastes like water or cardboard has been denied approval by the Milk-free Pantry. Going without milk shouldn’t mean going without great taste.”

I see the crackers I bought last night for Thing Two made the list!

AvoidingMilkProtein – an interesting read!  Lots of random and fun information from a woman living dairy- and nut-free.

There were a couple of websites that are well-known anti-milk websites that I did not include due to the fact that they read like a conspiracy theory rather than a good, reputable source of information.  I have a hard time believing that any site that carries such a chip on its shoulder about a particular diet or lifestyle will give me accurate, factual information I can use to safely and effectively change our diets.

Other resources:

Managing Your Child’s Life-Threatening Allergies – this came highly recommended to me, even though my child’s allergies are not life threatening.  If anyone has an opinion on this book before I order it, I’d love to hear it!

The Milk-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free Allergy Cookbook – This cookbook was recommended to me by the same person.  I tend to use the internet more than cookbooks (with the exception of my 1979 Good Housekeeping cookbook) but it looks like a good source for recipes.

As always, if you have any more resources, chime in!


I’ve become what I never understood…

It occurred to me today that I’ve become what I’ve always hated.   Okay, well maybe not hated, but never truly understood.

I’m a part of a community online where frequently I hear moms talk about their kids’ allergies and sensitivities.  They would go on and on about how they could only buy food at the Whole Foods Store or wash their kids in triple purified castille soap.  The woes of having to provide lunches because school lunches were full of nasties and not being able to participate in the average birthday party without bringing their own cake.  I was of the opinion that these moms were, well, making it up.  Or at least making it worse than it was. There were too many moms like this to all have kids with real allergies.

But today I realized I am that mom. That mom that finds trips to the natural food store necessary.  That doesn’t let her kids have foods with artificial colors in them, except for momentary lapses in good sense.  The one that cloth diapers and freaks out whenever there’s an ingredient on a bottle of lotion that sounds scary.

We started out pretty laid back.  Thing One was born, and had a few skin troubles and trouble digesting cow’s milk for the first 10 months, but that’s normal, right?  Nothing to make a big deal out of – just keep slathering the lotions and steroid creams.

When I learned about cloth diapering, I quickly made the connection between Thing One’s eczema and the chemical fragrances in diapers.  My niece was reacting to Luvs at the same time, and a connection was made in my brain. Sure enough, using cloth diapers significantly reduced the outbreaks.

Thing One in Cloth Diapers - August 2007

Our first step onto the slippery slope of crunchiness.

Then Thing Two, our second son, came along. At four months old, almost exclusively breastfed, and he was constipated.  No, not that breastmilk poops-once-a-week thing.  Constipated. We watched him scream and grunt in attempts to go to the bathroom, and I wanted to cry just as hard as he was crying.  Don’t even dare suggest we try prune juice.  That was over months ago.  We moved on to the harder stuff  by the time he was 8 or 9 months- children’s laxatives, dried fruit, extra water.  It finally dawned on us several months ago that this might be an allergic reaction to milk products.  Sure enough, removing milk, yogurt, cheese, and other major dairy products helped some.

But he’s still having trouble.  After speaking to the doctor (and getting a prescription strength stool softener) she said that what I was describing was a full milk protein allergy, and that I would have to be careful to check all foods for milk products, including ones you wouldn’t normally think of or know about – whey and casein, for example.  And it occurred to me that daddy, who does most of the cooking and snack handing-out, might be inadvertently giving Thing Two foods that had those things in them.  To top it off, Thing Two also reacts to almonds, with vomit and diarrhea baths.

That begs the question, what can Thing Two have?

So last night we went through our cupboards.  Did you know that Saltines have whey in them?  Or that Spaghettios use cheddar cheese in their sauce?  I bet you didn’t know that even soy cheeses often use cow’s milk whey as the second ingredient.  For the first time in my life, I truly understood why the FDA mandated allergy warnings on all food products – some of those ingredients hiding milk products were completely foreign to me, and without the warning, I wouldn’t have caught them.

Our little demon, Thing Two

And don’t forget the artificial dyes!  It took us only a few tries to figure out that Thing One was highly sensitive to FDA Red 40.  When a normally well-behaved little (then) two-year old boy is screaming and literally bouncing off walls after having a cherry-flavored sucker…well, you figure it out fast.  No more Tylenol for you.

Top it off with the fact that Thing One is very sensitive to synthetic fragrances in bath products and laundry detergents, and Thing Two is sensitive to other chemicals in drugstore brands (though the fragrances don’t seem to bother him…)

Suddenly I’m starting to align myself with all those moms I thought were crazy and overprotective years ago!  Suddenly I see that their attitudes and behaviors were based on trying to do what was right by their children, struggling to keep their children healthy, rash-free, and sane.  It wasn’t about being super-mommy.  It was about self-preservation.

And it’s not easy, because unfortunately, a lot of the world reacts like I did – that allergies and sensitivities are either something to live with or they are not common enough to be worth catering to in the general marketplace. And it’s frustrating to not be able to easily provide the things that would best serve my children without resorting to specialty stores, the internet, and a hawk-eye. It’s frustrating to be planning a pizza party at Pizza Hut with friends in a few weeks and to know that Thing Two will not be able to participate unless I let him eat cheese-less pizza.  And I don’t doubt they used milk in the dough.  We haven’t even approached what we will do for Thing One’s fourth birthday and the cake we will eat in 2 weeks!

So I’ve become one of them:

* I can only shop for Thing One’s groceries at Whole Foods or another natural foods store.  This isn’t a matter of snobbiness.  I still get most of my groceries at Kroger.  But if I want to buy imitation cheese (or even a good goat’s milk cheese) that doesn’t contain dairy, I have to go to the natural foods store.  I couldn’t find a substitute at Kroger, Publix or Walmart.  The same for ice cream, convenience foods like macaroni and “cheese” and many other products.

* Suddenly, the best option for eating is to cook from scratch.  Which sounds really domestic and good housewife (except that I mentioned my husband does the cooking, right?)  But face it – when even the Spaghettios contain dairy, it’s sometimes easier to whip up a plate of veggies, panfried chicken, and a fruit salad for dessert than to navigate the iffy waters of ingredient lists on frozen foods.

* I’m also suddenly considering whether or not the $9.50 bottle of Burt’s Bees is better for my kids than the $10.50 bottle of California Baby.  And not even thinking about the price,  because at least I know it’s not going to break my kids’ skin out.  (I chose Burts Bees this time, by the way, because it smells so good, like my My Baby Love soap bits.)

But…is it just me, or is paying $9.50 for a 12 ounce bottle of baby shampoo a bit insane?

* I’ve become super crunchy for laundry as well.  I stopped using chlorine based bleach,  and started using soap nuts.

*Cloth diapers remove the chemical fragrance reactions from disposables, which has made a huge difference.

*And obviously we have to check food and medicine labels for artificial dyes.  While Thing One has outgrown most of the out-of-control behavior triggered by Red 40, we still notice significant mood changes when he eats things like red M&Ms.

Yes, I think I finally understand.

Be Resourceful – Use What You Find!

Last winter, we were facing another cold season of high heating bills and increasing food costs, we got creative with what was available to us.  You can do the same by keeping your eyes and ears open!  By using under- or unutilized resources, you can save money while using nothing that isn’t readily available, decreasing strain on resources.
Our church here in NE Ohio bought a piece of property several years ago and has left it undeveloped.  We found out that the property had an apple tree that wasn’t being harvested.  With the elders’ permission, we went and picked – and picked up – three large buckets of apples.



Plus, G, who was 2-and-a-half at the time, loved eating them!

G eating our apples

G eating our apples

We didn’t stop there – with heating oil prices so high, we looked for cheaper ways to heat.  Now, I’ll admit  – our first goal was to keep decently warm.  However, we found that heating with locally and sustainably harvested wood was ecologically about the same as oil – which I’ll go into on a later post.  To keep warm, we searched out locals who had cut down trees on their property for other reasons than selling the wood, but who were selling the wood as a residual effect.  If we couldn’t find anyone in this situation (and with seasoned wood) we bought from local businesses who obtained their wood the same way, but were a little better at it than us!

Of course, there are lots of other resources – dumpsters (check your local codes for the legality of dumpster diving in your area), your community groups – churches, legions, freecycle, and guilds, and finally, your friends and family!

The Dangers of Plastic Water Bottles?

It seems I’ve been reading a lot lately about the dangers of plastic, and more often, the problems associated with disposable water bottles. In fact, many Blogher bloggers joined together to encourage Pepsi Co. to forgo bringing Aquafina to the BlogHer conference earlier this month. Pepsi Co. complied, but frustrated the women’s efforts when they brought Sobe Life Water instead.

But what’s the big deal? The bottles can be recycled, right? The water is healthier than tap, right? And it brings in jobs to the areas producing bottled water…right?

Well, no, not entirely. There are several misconceptions of bottled water I’d like to share:

1. Plastic bottles can be recycled.

Yes, this is true.  But during processing, those bottles can leach hazardous chemicals into groundwater.  They are washed and heated, which releases toxins.  Not all of the bottle can be recycled, either – the plastic bottle caps can not be recycled in my area.

Not only that, but while it’s more efficient to recycle plastic than to drill for more petroleum, it’s not as efficient as reusing the same container over and over.  But don’t do this with plastic bottles!  Reusing water bottles creates a petri dish for bacteria, and washing and heating them can break down the plastic and leach chemicals into your cool drink.  You are better off with a reusable high-quality bottle, like the one made by Sigg.

2. Bottled Water is healthier than tap water.

Bottled water companies have been trying to get consumers to believe this for years.  Yet, it’s simply not true.  In October of last year, The Environmental Working Group released results of a study of contaminants in bottled water.  I’ll let you read everything, but Sam’s Choice and Acadia tested at the same levels of contaminants as standard tap water.  Which it was – from Las Vegas.  Other brands far exceeded the voluntary standards set for the bottled water industry, some containing pharmaceuticals and fertilizers!

Why is this allowed?  Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has standards in place for contaminant limits in water.  On the other hand, bottled water falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, which appears to not have legislation to support regulation of the bottled water and contaminant levels.  The rules under the EPA are much more stringent than under the FDA, or so this Government Accountability Office study says.  So while bottled water companies portray snow-capped mountains and bubbly springs, what you are getting is questionable tap water from some of the largest cities in the country.

3. Water brings health to the local economy.

This may be true to a certain extent, but it’s just another way the complete truth has been twisted into a partial truth.  With mechanization, water bottling plants will not require many jobs, and manufacturing traditionally ends up being the job of low-paid, under skilled workers, often illegal immigrants who will send their salaries across the border.  Even if the workers are legal, a bottled water plant will add very little to the economy while draining local resources.

Not only that, but by buying water, concern over the local water supply goes down.  Ruchira Shah over at Just Means recently told a story about her trip to Istanbul. The rich can and do afford the bottled water, including the influential members of the government.  Regulation of local water supplies are compromised when those with a voice don’t use it, and the poor and voiceless are the ones that suffer from that lack of regulation.

As for us, we’re requesting Sigg water bottles for the kids for birthdays and Christmas.  We’ll afford our own when we can, but until then, we drink the filtered water from our refrigerator door!  Lately I’ve been buying flavored sparkling water to avoid drinking pop, but I think it is coming time to get used to drinking plain water again!

Buy Nothing Week 1 – Introduction

Since we are hopefully moving soon and our pantry is getting rather full, my husband and I have decided it’s time for a “Buy Nothing” week.  It’s not a new concept – in fact, many bloggers have done it in an effort to either clean out their pantries, make savings goals, or just to show it can be done.  There’s even a “Buy Nothing Day” and “Buy Nothing Christmas!”
It’s not new to us, either.  Rather than spending our grocery money on more food, we get creative and we eat out of the pantry.  We save the grocery money we would have spent for our savings account or for our bulk grocery purchases down the road.

So it’s time to do it again.  We need to eat the food canned last fall before this year’s harvest.  We have a lot of odds and ends in our freezer, as well as a lot of meat from the hind quarter we bought this spring. And the pantry has plenty of canned and prepared foods to be eaten.

I encourage you all, my readers, to join me in this.  It’s a great way to clean out the mismash of things that get put in our cupboards and never eaten, and to save some money for a goal!
There are some rules (though you can always make up your own!):

1. Only necessities may be purchased.  We have two young sons, so we keep basics like fresh fruits, milk, and oatmeal in the house.  That won’t change with the “buy nothing” plan.

2. No buying junk food, prepackaged food, freezer food, unless it complies with rule #1.

3. Food gotten free (from couponing, sales, samples, etc.) is always allowed.

4. Grocery savings must be put toward a specific goal.   In our case, we’ll be putting the money toward future large purchases.  Once we’ve moved, we’ll need to find a butcher and buy our beef and chicken, and that usually runs about $300 for 6-8 months worth of meat.  We also will be running out of some of the items we buy at Sam’s Club in bulk, so we’ll need some cash to restock those.

5.  This is the big one:  NO stocking up ahead of time allowed! The whole point of this exercise is to use up the foods we normally would overlook in favor of our usual foods and recipes.  It’s also to use up things we have an abundance of – we have a lot of peanut butter, and since we aren’t buying any snacks, we’ll make peanut butter bars and cookies.

This is a pretty arbitrary thing – I plan on buying a used spinning wheel tomorrow night, and I’ve got my eye out for inexpensive summer clothing in 12 month size for my fast-growing youngest, especially since summer is longer down in Nashville, where we are moving in the next few months.  Once I go through my boxes of clothing, I’ll be able to tell if I’ll need the same size in winter clothing (and I’m guessing I will since my oldest wore 12 month sizes during a southern summer, too!)

I’m not going to be recording specific amounts here most of the time.  I just don’t have the time or the inclination to write everything down!  But I’ll post updates about how we are doing!

If You Do One Thing – Washing Produce

If you do one thing, wash your produce in vinegar.  A ratio of 1 part white vinegar to 3 parts water will be sufficient to kill most bacteria on produce, and no scrubbing, either!
Not to mention you will be using something completely natural and even healthy on your food (vinegrette, anyone?) and the cost is significantly less than the $4 bottle of fruit wash you buy at the grocery store.

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