While I've been enjoying the fabulous cuisine in Puerto Rico (a very close second to Mexican food, which is also the food of Heaven), it has presented an interesting dilemma to a mom of food-allergic kids.
We first became aware of Ariana's food allergies about four years ago. Her reactions included hives, incontinence, eczema and behavioral symptoms. Once we eliminated her allergens, her skin cleared, she was diaper-free day and night, and her behavior went back to the calm little girl we knew was inside. I often wonder how many kids struggle with allergies that cause problems in toilet learning or behavior that the parents don't recognize--I wasn't familiar with those symptoms before.
The first year we were eliminating wheat, dairy, corn, eggs, peanuts, green beans, olives, and possibly some others that I've forgotten. Since she was breastfeeding, I had to avoid all her allergens, too. Later, she passed some food challenges, but Joel started breaking out in hives. He tested positive to black beans, pork, corn, and dairy. While hives are never fun, the only one who has ever gone to the hospital for a reaction is Elena, who is allergic to eggs, rice, cinnamon, berries and black beans.
We try to eat what we want as much as possible. I can make allergen-free versions of just about everything, especially desserts. The kids cook all the time and are very aware of what they can and cannot eat, and watch out carefully for Elena. Thankfully, many of the foods that they couldn't eat before are now safe for them. Right now, we only have to avoid Elena's allergens, as well as black beans for Joel, and eggs, green beans and olives for Ariana.
While we aren't as healthy as I would like to be, cooking from scratch and constant label reading has helped. We still do some fast food, etc. as well as some convenience foods. At the same time, the kids don't even bother to ask for things like turquoise cereal or yogurt, because "it has too many chemicals and weird things in there". And though we don't strictly avoid peanuts, with all the other allergy issues I have been reluctant to have them a regular part of our diet.
However, the first several days in Puerto Rico, Ariana was having horrible breakouts of eczema. It was the worst I had ever seen her. Puerto Rico uses olive oil in everything--one restaurant we went to told us that they didn't have a single thing that didn't contain EVOO. Usually, oils aren't as allergenic, but EVOO is. And because it isn't always obvious which foods contain, we have had to resort to fast food every day for her. I don't like a constant diet of BK or McD's, but at least they don't contain olive oil.
The hotel breakfasts were almost entirely egg-based, and it has been difficult for her to get any protein. Some days our excursions have meant that we have incredibly active mornings, and she really needed something substantial. So she has been eating PB&J every morning now. Elena and I have also done this many days. Even though Ariana's skin is clearing up, I still feel as if I am doing something forbidden.
So, our food world has turned upside down--we are deliberately seeking out junk food and PB. At least no one is reacting now.