February 1, 2012

Food can be fun for children with food allergies

Food is fuel. Food is also fun! One of our weekly highlights is seeing photos of what Keeley McGuire packs in fun bento lunches for her lucky daughter, who also happens to have a peanut allergy. We’re proud Keeley shares her story here, and we love watching her daughter thrive. Thanks, Keeley! Check out this recent creation:

Check out this clever Peekaboo Star Lunch!

Peekaboo Star Lunch from Keeley’s clever kitchen.

My name is Keeley and I have a little site called Keeley McGuire Blog. When I started blogging last year, I didn’t really know what direction I was headed – I just knew I needed a creative outlet. I started sharing some crafts, recipes, my love affair with my crockpot, and what I called “silly sandwiches” for my daughter, aka Little Miss.

If you’re a mom looking to spice up your kiddos’ lunches, start simple. Use a cookie cutter on the sandwich! It takes the same amount of effort to cut a sandwich into a fun shape with a cookie cutter as it does to cut it in half. Then, get as clever as you’d like.

So adorable! Three Little Pigs themed lunch!

Three Little Pigs (get lunch inspiration from your kids’ current favorite books!)

Finding out about childhood food allergies

My daughter was diagnosed with a severe peanut allergy just before her first birthday. I first found out about her allergy when her daycare (at that time) provided the kids with peanut butter to use for a craft. I’ll never forget that phone call – that feeling.

Little Miss also began speech therapy at the age of one and half, which eventually lead to an educational ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis. My baby, just barely two at that time, was now going to be going to a special needs school, five days a week all day. I was a young mom, handling her allergy and now ASD diagnosis alone. This little girl was my world though. Even though I was scared, tired, and at times felt like a horrible mother, the early intervention was the most amazing thing that could have ever happened!

Daunting task of packing nut-free school lunches

I was very blessed with the fact her very first teacher had a daughter of her own with a peanut allergy, so I was comforted to know she was in good hands. However, I was left with the daunting task of packing school lunches every day for just a wee-tot who was incredibly picky. At that time, she wouldn’t eat sandwiches, most vegetables, the only meat she would touch was a chicken nugget, and I was still learning the ins & outs of her allergy (what foods were okay, what weren’t) so I felt like I had little options. I would cutout small bits of cheese and breads or crackers. Send applesauce or yogurt. That’s about all she would do.

Even though Little Miss was limited in her choice of foods, I came upon so many great products as she continued through school and grew; at first just for myself. I remember trying many of the alternative spreads and not liking any – thinking it was hopeless search. I don’t remember when I first discovered Sunbutter, but for this Mama who was once ADDICTED to peanut butter & honey sandwiches, I was thrilled to have something delicious to use again!

Creative, waste-free lunches

As Little Miss progressed in school, so did her speech, her sensory issues, and even her food palette. As she began to become more open to trying new foods, I was also trying to find ways to make her lunches more fun and not just a boring brown sack every single day. It was my amazingly supportive and wonderful sister who introduced me to bento making – A creative and waste free approach to lunch.

Bento lunches

I remember looking at pictures of true Japanese kyaraben bentos and just being in AWE of the amazing artistic talents some of these mothers had. I was nowhere near that caliber, so I started simple. Making her “silly sandwiches” as I mentioned above – a sandwich shaped like a fish, a monster face, or even cut into the shape of a hand to make her Sunbutter & jelly a little more entertaining.

It then expanded into her fruits and vegetables. I found she was more apt to try something new if I cut it into a fun shape or let her eat it with a toothpick. It was a win/win – I got to have fun making her lunches, she tried new” good for me foods”, AND she didn’t care about not being able to enjoy hot lunch like the rest of the kids because they all thought her “special lunches” were pretty cool.

Heart Shaped Food, will warm the hearts of your little ones!

How Keeley literally says “I Heart You” to her daughter at lunchtime.

Little Miss progresses

Now, her lunches have become the main feature of my blog. I have packed her lunch every single day since she was the age of two. She is now six and this has been her first school year without an IEP – meaning she met all her educational goals thanks to the early intervention, amazing teachers, and her therapists along the way. It’s been so much fun to see how she and her lunches have evolved  – truly the creative outlet Mama always wanted, yet I send her to school knowing that her lunches are safe for her allergy, healthy, and make her feel as special as she is to me.

Do you have other tips for parents of children with food allergies? What’s your story? What works for you? We’d love to hear about it. Comment here or on our SunButter Facebook page.



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