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Keeping kids with allergies nourished is a full-time job

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That could've been my child. That's what struck me while reading about a local company accused of selling "gluten-free" bread that actually had gluten in it. Two dozen people became sick after eating the bread.

Gluten is particularly dangerous for people with celiac disease, who are unable to digest gluten and can become sick and malnourished from eating even a trace of the protein found in wheat, barley and oats. I don't know what it's like to have a child with celiac disease. But I do know the agony of having two children with food allergies that people often don't take seriously. I'm not talking about the kind of allergies that make them sniffle and sneeze, but the kind that start with hives and wheezing and can rapidly progress to a situation that warrants a call to the paramedics.

Feeding children who can eat a regular diet is challenging enough. But being a creative cook and providing safe choices for an eater with allergies is another thing.

For nearly seven years now, I have been tediously dissecting and researching food labels, scouring the Web for information, interrogating food companies and testing "allergen-friendly" products, cookbooks, recipes and more. I've been to every local health food store in the area, ordered specialty products from Canada and spent the last two years ferrying my kids back and forth to Duke University Medical Center for allergy studies. I'm a stay-at-home mom, but managing their allergies has become a full-time job.

So I know your challenges, parents. In this column, I'll address things all parents should consider when feeding their children, especially when it comes to food safety.

Food allergies are a roll of the dice. Not everyone has them, but about 3 million children in the United States do. And the numbers are rising, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network.

We discovered my son Ty's allergy to peanuts after a friend gave him a peanut butter cracker when he was 2. Now 9, he has outgrown his allergies to soy and eggs, and we are thankful for that, but peanuts and tree nuts remain a menacing problem.

We had to call EMS for my daughter Talia when she was just 8 months old. We had given her a few spoonfuls of baby yogurt and, not long afterward, we realized she was quickly losing consciousness. There is nothing like a trip to the ER with your infant to drive home the real danger of food allergies. We've since discovered that Talia, now 3, is allergic to wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts.

The worst part is that my daughter loves to eat. Every evening she goes to bed and puts in an order for bacon for breakfast. In the morning, the first thing she asks me is, what's for dinner, Mommy? My heart breaks every time we order something as simple as a slice of pizza or a birthday cake that she can't have. There is little that makes me happier than finding a new restaurant, food or recipe that she can eat and that tastes good. She wants nothing more than to be like other kids.

With this column I hope that we'll tread through this culinary minefield together, educating and encouraging one another, and knowing it is a battle well worth fighting.

Joyce Clark Hicks is a journalist and mother of two. You can reach her at joyce4indy@gmail.com.

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