After a scary trip to A&E, Jumpy was diagnosed with a plethora of allergies. She was only six months old and I had no idea what to feed her. The list of things to exclude from her diet in itself was overwhelming: all dairy, wheat, eggs, nuts, seeds, soya as well as any sea food other than white fish. That new ‘free from’ world was completely new to me. Until then, I had never been exposed to allergies, intolerances or exclusion diets.
It was a terrifying time in my life as a mum. Feeding my babies came naturally to me, you see. Having to exclude certain foods from her diet and worrying about cooking something that could make her sick made me feel helpless. A lot of crying was involved. Trying to find cookbooks for the extent of her allergies was pretty much impossible. I did not know where to look and I had no friends who could offer advice.
I found food labelling incredibly confusing, so I went back to basics. Sliced ham seemed to cause a reaction (additives maybe?), so whenever I wanted her to have sliced ham, I would first make stock, then cook gammon in my homemade stock I knew for sure was safe. I would then slice the gammon into thin slices and give it to her. It also took five or six attempts to make my first decent batch of ‘free from’ muffins for her. It was a lengthy process but one I knew would keep her safe from allergic reactions.
A few months down the line, I discovered fantastic bloggers like Reneé at ‘Mummy Tries’ or Vicki at ‘Free From Fairy’ who shared recipes I could try for my baby. I also found out about Allergy UK and got some invaluable information from the charity. Hubby got better and better at finding ready-made snacks for Wriggly in the supermarket and the list of foods to avoid diminished after further testing and food challenges in hospital.
We now live with Jumpy’s allergies rather than fight against them and life is better, easier. We have not completely changed the way our family eats, but we have certainly tweaked our food prep and shopping to make our life easier. We now have a few favourite brands like Schär, Lazy Day Foods, debbie&andrews, Tesco’s ‘Free From’ range and Orgran.
Here is something I wish had been around when our ‘Free From’ journey started two years ago: Food Maestro. The brand new app is designed for families where there is an allergy, intolerance or other special dietary requirement. It was developed in partnership with Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital Trust. It has a directory of more than 75,000 products and 25,000 ingredients.
After downloading the app (Apple App Store or Google Play), it took a couple of minutes to register. When you set up our profile, you can select allergens, ingredients or filters (e.g. egg white, fish, food additives, may contain egg etc.) and if more than one person in the family has allergies or intolerances, they can each have their own profile within the app.
It took me exactly 3 minutes to set up Jumpy’s profile. When you select ‘egg’ as an allergen, eggs and products made with eggs will be included including albumin, lysozyme, egg white and egg yolk. There is also a note advising us to double-check the label in the case of a severe allergy. I find this incredibly reassuring, and a real time-saver.
What I would have given to have this app on the day Jumpy was diagnosed! After you have selected the allergens to exclude from the search, you can move on to ‘ingredients’ if you wish to avoid things like certain fruits, grains, preservatives or rice for example. You can then select some custom filters like ‘Halal Friendly’ or ‘Vegan’ if need be.
You can search for products by keyword, brand, product name or ingredient and the search results page will only show suitable products for the selected profiles. There are even ready-made searches created by Food Maestro’s dieticians to provide quick meal suggestions. This allows you to build lists of ‘safe’ foods, identify potential problems and check the list of ingredients.
The app shows you food that is potentially suitable. You can add it to your shopping list, to your favourites, ‘like’ products and check how many teaspoons of sugar per 100g are contained in the product.
Using the app for the very first time was really exciting. I created a shopping list of Jumpy’s favourite treats and it was so easy I kept giggling! It turned my food shopping for Jumpy’s treats into a fun session rather than a chore. I have to admit that although I do not watch our sugar intake, it was quite eye-opening to see the amount of sugar in some of the treats she enjoys.
I started by typing ‘Orgran’ because it is the brand of biscuits I get for small packs of mini biscuits I keep for her as emergency snacks in my handbag. I then typed ‘cookies’ and discovered a few types of cookies I had never heard about. I then went on to ‘Schär’ since it is one of our most trusted brands. I chose bread, pizza bases, pretzels, crispbreads, Oreo-like biscuits, chocolate digestives to name a few.
After I had added a few items to my list, I shared it with Hubby via email. I am in love with the app!
If I had to change one thing with the app, I would add an option to purchase all items on my list.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. I absolutely love the app and it is the sort of tool that would have been life-changing following diagnosis of Jumpy’s allergies. All photos and opinions are my own.