Food Allergy Education Network

Gina Mennett Lee is the President and Founder of Food Allergy Education Network. Through this blog, she shares her experiences navigating the world of food allergies as mother, advocate and educator.

Gina is a winner of Top 25 Food Allergy Moms - 2012

What's your best advice for a mom struggling with cooking for children with food allergies?

It can be overwhelming at first to cook for a child or children with food allergies. I’m of Italian heritage so most of the foods that I’d learned to cook contained ingredients my daughter is allergic to. It was like I had to learn to cook all over again.

My best advice is to:

• Focus on what your child can have instead of what they can’t have. Truthfully, the healthiest foods are often foods that most children with food allergies can eat. Fresh fruits and vegetables paired with meats and/or grains are simple, healthy options.
• Experiment with new spices to infuse flavor.
• Get to know common substitutions for your child’s allergen(s), then remake traditional dishes using these substitutions.
• Spend some time online reviewing allergy-friendly recipes. Many of the blogs listed here have great recipes. I try to post recipes that I think will be helpful.
• Invest in a couple of allergy cookbooks.
• Hang in there. Over time, you will begin to build a new repertoire of foods for your family.

What's your favorite allergy friendly product?

There are many products that I have come to rely on and I am thankful that they are available. I’ve narrowed these down to the ones that I have found most helpful.

Cherrybrook Farms Mixes: I use Cherrybrook Farms Chocolate Chip Cookie and Brownie mixes for parties and celebrations. I sometimes even put the mixes into cupcake tins and make them into cupcakes. There hasn’t been a party yet where someone hasn’t asked me for the recipe. Everyone loves them.

Divvies: I order Divvies products for special occasions and holidays. Their cookies are a favorite in our home.

Ian’s Frozen Foods: Some days are very busy and the Ian’s chicken nuggets are a quick, safe meal that I give my children. Just add a salad or some veggies and you're done.

Spicely Organic Spices: Their spices are free of most allergens. They are also “certified organic, vegan, kosher and gluten-free.”

KozyEpi “Epi Princess” Pouch: My daughter loves her Epi-Princess Pouch. I like the fact that caling it an “Epi Princess” Pouch makes her feel like having to carry it is a good thing. It’s large enough to carry 2 Epis, 2 spoon doses of antihistamine, her inhaler and her spacer. We’ve had it for several years and it hasn’t needed to be replaced yet. They have great options for boys, too.

What's the biggest challenge raising a child with food allergies?

I’ve found that the challenges change as my daughter grows. When my daughter was a toddler, the biggest challenge was educating everyone around her and keeping her safe. As she has grown, I have begun to realize that there is much more to food allergies. The emotional aspects are just as difficult to navigate as keeping my child safe physically.
Education still continues to be a major concern, which is why I continue to work as a food allergy educator and advocate in my role as President of our non-profit, Food Allergy Education Network. The education has broadened beyond family and friends to a larger audience of teachers, caretakers, school boards, legislators and the community.
Being an effective advocate is another important challenge. Children with food allergies take on a tremendous amount of responsibility at a young age. While I want my daughter to feel empowered to advocate for herself, I also feel it is important to advocate on her behalf. I feel, the least that we (parents, teachers, coaches, etc…) can do as the adults in her life is to do the worrying and planning for her so that she has the space to be a child. This means making sure she has a good 504 Plan in place at school, planning for her to safely attend social outings and events, and giving her the freedom to safely explore activities that interest her (Currently they are dance, TaeKwonDo, and lacrosse).
The on-going challenge that I have as a mother is trying to keep my life in balance. I’m still working on this. So much of my time is dedicated to working on the mission of our non-profit that I sometimes forget to make time for other areas of my life. I know that when I can regularly exercise, practice yoga, spend time with family and friends and pursue a creative outlet that I am much happier and healthier.
I hope that by sharing my experiences it helps others realize that they are not alone in this journey. I don't have all the answers but I do believe that together we can overcome most challenges that come our way and be better for it.