Food Allergy and Celiac Mom: Sarah Dyer
A former marketer turned stay-at-home mom and blogger at Shine On Mom—managing a household with food allergies and celiac became a full time job that led this mom right to Spokin. We discover how an honest single post on Instagram turned into a career that would combine all aspects of her life.
Who are you managing food allergies and celiac for?
We are batting 1000 when it comes to food allergies and celiac. My eldest two children both have celiac disease and were each diagnosed around 7 years of age (they are now 10 and 9). My youngest has anaphylactic food allergies to tree nuts, milk and eggs—he was diagnosed with milk, egg and soy allergies at 9 months and outgrew soy when he was 4. We found out he had a tree nut allergy when he went into anaphylaxis after eating a bar with cashews and pistachios when he was 2—he is now 6. He also gets tested for celiac every 2-3 years.
How do you handle allergies in your home?
We do not allow tree nuts in our house with the exception of almonds (because my son is not allergic to them), but my celiac kids drink cow’s milk and we eat eggs and my youngest needs to eat wheat because of his celiac testing, so it takes a lot of focus to prepare food safely.
Generally, I make one meal that is safe for everyone. Some weekend mornings when the kids want pancakes I’ll make an exception and I make two separate batters, with two frying pans and two separate flippers, plates, two separate tubs of buttery spread etc., because we can’t seem to all agree on a good pancake mix.
Managing all that takes concentration, what are some of your go to recipes?
I used to enjoy doing the Mensa puzzles in the back of the American Way magazine on American Airlines. Now I feel like I get the same brain challenges by making sure we don’t have any cross-contamination in our kitchen.
My favorite recipes are the ones the kids devour and that work for everyone. I swear I’m not from the 50’s but I have an amazing meatloaf recipe that is a huge crowd pleaser and top 8 free (see the app for the recipe). I also make a mean coleslaw that everyone can eat, and BBQ ribs. My cooking skills are basic so whenever I find a recipe that is really easy and doesn’t involve a lot of work I put it on repeat for a long time.
What is your 'mom of the year' moment?
We’ve all been there, you think you’ve covered all your bases by preparing food for your child to take to a sleepover and then you find out cinnamon rolls are going to be offered for breakfast. The story has a sweet ending though—I tried the cinnamon roll recipe on the King Arthur Flour website and they were the best thing I’ve ever made in my life (find the recipe in the app). They are now a weekly staple in our house (and contrary to my comment above, are kind of time consuming to make but so worth it).
Given a milk allergy and celiac how do you handle the ubiquitous birthday party go-to, pizza?
Seriously, pizza is served at every birthday party and major school event, isn’t it? I will often volunteer to be the one ordering the pizza for big events so I can make sure we get a gluten free pizza in the order, otherwise I ask for one to be included and volunteer to cover the cost (no one ever takes me up on the cost though). I also always have frozen pizza to make one ahead of time for the kids to take to birthday parties, we are still looking for our favorite. My youngest isn’t a pizza fan so he’ll often take something else that he likes as a substitute.
Do you have a surprise travel find?
An all inclusive remote resort isn’t exactly a recipe for the perfect allergy and celiac friendly vacation but we were blown away by our experience at Beaches, Turks and Caicos. It was our first family holiday outside of a major US or Canadian city since all of our diagnoses and I was extremely apprehensive. But they have a great process that includes a Culinary Concierge who will help you decide what to eat and in which of their onsite restaurants. In many of the restaurants the chef would come out and speak with us about how we would like food prepared and reassure us that they were on top of our allergies. We had a wonderful time there and would absolutely go back again.
How did you hear about Spokin?
A few years ago I went to the Gluten Free & Allergen Friendly Expo as a blogger. I was feeling overwhelmed with a second celiac diagnosis and having just seen how severe my youngest's tree nut allergies were a few months prior. I attended a couple of seminars and in one asked the head of the event if she knew of a chef company I could reach out to just to get my feet under me and find us some good basic meal recipes. She said, "go downstairs to the expo and find Kendra Peterson at the Enjoy Life Booth, she is exactly who you need". I went and introduced myself, got her contact info and started following her on Instagram.
At some point soon after, Kendra was featured by Spokin and I felt an instant connection to the site. It was a ray of positive light that zapped me out of the dread I had been feeling. I felt more empowered knowing there were people out there who felt the way I wanted to feel about food allergies and celiac—in control and not afraid.
How did Spokin get you to join their team?
After I started following Spokin and telling them how great all of their content was and how much I appreciated it as an allergy and celiac mom, the founder Susie, reached out to me on Instagram. I had recently posted about how I was trying to find a job, but had been out of the workforce for 10 years and didn’t know what my future should look like. After a 4 hour conversation with Susie it was almost a foregone conclusion that working at Spokin would be a great fit.
What are two of your favorite Spokin finds or wins?
I started following elliottsmom in the Spokin app, she also lives in Chicago and has a child with the same allergies as my youngest. I noticed she recommended Better Bites cupcakes, which are the allergy-friendly equivalent of Hostess cupcakes (yum). My kids think I am a hero for finding them. Well, it turns out I know elliottsmom! We used to be in a moms group together when our eldest children were babies and we had lost touch. I never knew her youngest had allergies; now we’ve been able to reconnect AND I found amazing cupcakes!
I also found Bareburger after doing a piece on Denise Woodard, the founder of Partake Foods—her daughter has similar allergies to my youngest and she spoke highly of Bareburger, so we decided to give it a try. Typical of allergy families we are now extremely loyal after having an amazing experience there.
I love that Spokin lets me find people like me, who share similar tastes or allergens and I get notified when they make a recommendation—that’s how I find my favorite items.
What is your favorite new feature in the app?
The Spokin app is undergoing huge changes and I am so excited about what is coming up. My favorite newest feature is the map feature that allows you to search for restaurants, ice cream shops and bakeries—anywhere!
One of our biggest challenges as a family has been eating out at restaurants, mostly due to my own preference for risk avoidance. But my kids notice and often ask to go out to eat. So with help from the Spokin app and recommendations from our amazing users, I am getting out of my comfort zone and becoming more willing to try new places.
Do you have any tips or advice?
I can't claim to have advice about what anyone should do for food allergies because every situation is very different. I do have things that have made my life easier and I feel like they keep my kids a little safer and happier.
Candy swap bucket. I have a bucket of candy hidden in our kitchen that the kids know if they get candy in a goody bag or offered some from friends they can politely decline or take it and I will swap it with a safe one for them. Then they never feel like they are missing out on treats.
Cupcakes at the ready. I always have cupcakes made in the freezer to send with the kids to birthday parties, events etc with all their own food—I found these great cupcake holders that make traveling with them easier. I usually make a pizza ahead of time they can take as well.
Pot luck stand-bys. Pot lucks are tough. We don’t eat anything at them so I bring a veggie tray and rice krispie treats, something everyone likes and my kids can eat. I also bring my trusty cooler full of food for my kids - and I feed them beforehand so they really aren’t hungry (but they always are).
Not being afraid to EPI. One of the biggest stresses I have faced is knowing when to use an auto-injector, and my stress levels when I decided not to EPI became almost unbearable. I used to be a lifeguard so am well trained in first aid and CPR, but I still pull out my Emergency Action Plan if my son has a reaction, just to ground myself and make sure I’m making smart decisions. We EPI’d him a month ago after accidental known ingestion and while I belabored giving him an EPI because I think he might be outgrowing his milk allergy, he actually asked for it. It is a much less stressful path to give one than to wonder whether or not you should.
My favorite place is a store in Toronto called Good Bye Gluten, an amazing Gluten Free and Allergy Friendly market with grocery items and prepared foods.
Three Items Always in Your Grocery Cart
Favorite Fast Food Joint
Chipotle. Although I have sent them a couple of notes because they got rid of our corn tortillas and my daughter loved their quesadillas. So I will keep on them to see if they will bring them back.
Sensitive Sweets. The owner, Melanie, is a food allergy mom and I order from them all the time; they are based in California but ship really quickly. I might move to California just so I can be close to them. And the ocean, but mostly the bakery.
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