Roll with it

This year has been a big one as my little guy started kindergarten and I went back to work outside the home.  It has been a big adjustment for us all!  We’ve had some hurdles here and there but we found our rhythm and everything has gone better than I expected.

It’s been almost a year since my last post so let’s see……

Colin update:  He has done SO well at school.  He has an amazing teacher who has helped us with the big transition to kindergarten! We still don’t have definitive answer for why Colin struggles with food and pain so much.  His ultrasound series and barium swallow came up with nothing.   Doctors keep coming back to eosinophilic esophagitis.  Although his first scope didn’t find evidence of eosinophils, two doctors have now said they think that a future scope will find it.  The other theory is that he is experiencing functional digestive pain along with whatever they’ve yet to diagnose or due to his history of having so many food issues.  We don’t have any new meds or leads for now.  We actually did some therapy to help with pain management techniques.  It does help him a lot, especially at night when his pain is the worst.  We are trying to decide if we should agree to another scope.   Part of that answer may depend on his sister….

Yes, our older one has started showing signs of swallowing issues and digestive pain.  Although its been creeping up slowly over the last few years, it’s really been rearing its head the last 6-8 months.  What we originally thought was just classic acid reflux, hasn’t responded to several different medications and so she’s headed off to her first scope soon.   I’ve had a few moments of “Oh no!  Not you too!” but for the most part we are just taking it in stride.  We’ve been down this road.  My daily prayer is that they will FIND AN ANSWER because not knowing is truly the hardest part.

So on to more fun things…. like Cooking!

We had our kitchen redone!!  This was a plan 12 years in the making and we couldn’t be happier.  No more purple countertops or broken cabinets!  I have a wonderful island that makes working in our kitchen so much easier.  During the renovation I cooked most of our meals in an electric skillet on top of our dryer in the basement.   It was hilarious, sometimes ridiculous and often not what I’d call delicious, but it was worth it!

Safe Foods Update:   Although we don’t strictly avoid soy anymore, we stay away from soy flour.  We also avoid oats, chocolate and dairy.  I’ve had a few new dairy free finds that I’ve really loved and will be sharing them with you this week.  We are on spring break so I’ve been trying out some new recipes and having adventures with my two little goofballs!

If you have any spring foods you are loving, feel free to share below!




And we’re back to dairy free

So maybe I jinxed myself by saying that my son had graduated from MSPI.  Maybe we’re just moving onto the next phase of his body saying “Food and I are not friends.”   Whatever the reason, we are back to dairy free in our house.

We had another major downturn in Colin’s ability to eat over the winter. (I actually wrote a long post when I felt really defeated but didn’t publish it.)   Whereas last year Colin had severe esophageal spasms, this time it was mostly chronic, often debilitating nausea.  Colin lost interest in food, woke up in pain every night, became more upset about leaving the house and lost weight.  It was rough.

Five months, several doctors and a variety of hospital tests later, we still don’t have a clear diagnosis.  The most popular theory is that he has Eosinophilic Esophagitis.  It is basically allergy cells in the throat that shouldn’t be there.  There is no cure but there are some medication options to help manage it.    Two doctors said they’d bet this is what Colin has, but they think it won’t be caught/diagnosed until it does more damage to Colin’s throat.   The days he is in pain I get really mad that they can’t figure this out.  Thankfully he has good days and he is one tough kid.

Taking dairy back out of his diet has been helping somewhat with his esophageal pain and his nausea.   I’m glad I have the resources and experience under my belt to get back to living dairy free.   It has been a bit harder though, since Colin’s had a taste of the good stuff and isn’t super happy about removing things like his favorite waffles.   He’s figured out that staying off dairy helps him feel better so that’s more than half the battle.

So I’ll be posting more here as I’m back to reading every label and finding new recipes.

As always, feel free to share any dairy free or MSPI friendly food finds you love and keep fighting the good fight!








MSPI Graduate!

So we are still battling Colin’s throat/swallowing issues, with no new information despite a barium swallow test recently, but I decided it was time to recognize/celebrate that Colin no longer appears to have any reactions to milk, soy or any other foods.

MSPI Recap:   Colin was diagnosed FPIES and MSPI between 6 weeks and 3 months old.   I stopped eating any dairy and soy while nursing and then went on to do an elminiation diet myself.   At age 1 Colin could only eat corn, wheat, apples, carrots and chicken safely.   He nursed until 18 months and I ate only his safe foods.  We supplemented with Neocate after he turned a year old while slowly trying to add safe foods. Dairy and chocolate were our last ones to conquer. Colin is almost 5 and although I never would have believed this day would come, he is now free to eat anything he wants.

My guess is that if you are reading is, your next question might be, “How did you go about trialing these big triggers?”

Well for every food Colin has had reactions to, we trialed it by starting with the smallest amount of food and usually baked into something.  So for milk, we tried breads with milk as a minor ingredient.  Then we tried muffins and pancakes since they had more milk in them.   Then we tried 1 spoonful of cow milk yogurt.  Then a week or two later a few spoonfulls of yogurt in a day.  Then we tried cheeses.   We let a week go by in-between these food samples since Colin’s reactions are usually 24-36 hours after ingestion.  After cheese we tried a few licks of a low fat ice milk ice cream before trying full fat dairy.   We were amazed that he kept passing all the trials!

For soy we tried soy lecithin and then soybean oil in baked products.  Then we tried packaged products with soy flour/soy protein ingredients which had really given him issues in the past.   After passing that test we tried to get him to eat something with soy sauce in it.  He took one tiny bite.   Colin doesn’t like any kind of soy sauce based things or Chinese food.   We can’t give him a lot to find out if he’s 100% clear of this intolerance, but since he can tolerate the soybean protein in other foods, I’m taking this one off our list of things to avoid.

The day Colin got to eat his first ice cream cone, I  had tears of happiness.  I wish I could show you how his face lit up when we said he could have a real ice cream cone.    It has been SUCH a long road.   There have been so many firsts for him in the last year.   His first macaroni and cheese with real dairy.  His first real Smore around a campfire.  His first cocoa with whipped cream on it at our favorite breakfast place.   His first pasta with cheese in it.  Our family was able to “Go out to ice cream” anywhere and Colin could choose anything he wanted.    It has been an exciting and liberating time for him and our family.

Although we could really eat/cook anything now, it is hard for my brain to get out of the non-dairy routine.   I still tend to cook without a lot of dairy and I forget I can make things now that I’ve avoided for so long.   But really that’s not a terrible thing either.  Dairy can add a lot of fat to our diet so sticking to real foods and less cheese is probably better for us! Also, since Colin isn’t used to the taste of cow milk, he often prefers his old dairy-free alternatives.   He won’t drink straight cow milk, use real butter or eat many cheeses.  He is drinking almond milk right now and still likes the Earth Balance butter alternatives.

Colin is a very picky eater.  I think part of it is being a four year old but also MSPI has made him wary of trying new things.  Right now he is only eating a few foods due to his swallowing issues.  So we’ve gained some ground and lost some ground but we are really happy that his food intolerances have subsided.   (The doctor doesn’t think Colin’s swallowing issue is related to food.  We’ve been unable to positively/negatively affect the swallowing issue with diet, so we don’t think food is to blame.)

So if you’ve read this whole thing I want to tell you not to lose hope.   I didn’t think this day would come, even a year ago.

I plan to continue this blog even though we’ve overcome MPSI.  I was desperate to find resources when Colin was first diagnosed and I hope others will find the story of our journey and lists of foods helpful.     As the food challenges are now changing with whatever is going on with Colin’s throat, I am still busy making foods that make his body happy.  I could call it this Busy Hands Happy Throats, but I’ll just leave it as is  🙂

The Unexpected Speedbump

In the past few months, although my presence here has been quiet on my blog, our lives have been anything but.  I realized I had over scheduled myself/ over volunteered this year and became overwhelmed.  In the midst of my craziness though, Colin had a medical development that totally caught us off guard.

Day to day with Colin had been fine for so long that we took it for granted.  We’ve been eating/cooking/Living with MSPI for so long that we don’t notice it that much.  It is just another part of our lives we roll with.   And as we became comfortable with all of his sensitivities and found a diet that worked, we assumed that the toughest days were behind us and Colin would probably grow out of this. Or if not, we were ok with it since he and the rest of our family knows to plan and accommodate for what he needs.

At the end of this winter however, food again became the focus of every day. We had noticed Colin had some troubles with food, specifically chewing and swallowing.   Eating had never been easy due to his open bite so we didn’t think too much about it.  He seemed to be spitting out more food though over the last 6 months to the point where I wondered if it was time to get an outside opinion.  We talked with our pediatrician and then we made an appointment with an occupational therapist in our school district for 2 months out. While waiting for this appointment to come, one weekend suddenly Colin stopped swallowing any food. He would move food to the back of his mouth like initiating a swallow, but it would go no further.  Water, smoothies and oatmeal thinned to a liquid would go down but that was it.  I figured it was a sore throat or a tonsil issue, but he wasn’t sick and the pediatrician was very concerned.  The pediatrician couldn’t see any physical problems and got Colin to see a GI two days later.

In the meantime I was buying baby food, pureeing food and making smoothies for every meal, wondering if we were headed back to our Neocate days.   I was really wishing I hadn’t given away my baby food mill.   Colin was so desperate for food that wasn’t a smoothie that he suggested I put his sandwich through the potato ricer. So I did. Cue lots of laughing, mess and the conclusion that turkey sandwiches aren’t meant to go in a potato ricer. (He and I still giggle about this cooking experiment.) We got into a great GI who heard his history and said it was either Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EOE) or reflux (GERd) and that we should start Prevacid.  So we gave him prevacid capsules (opened and mixed into yogurt) but there was very little improvement over the next 5 weeks.   Colin could eat some very soft solids like cream of wheat but he would constantly clear his throat and then sometimes he would start to panic when his throat felt clogged.   He would cry and beg to go to the hospital. He was moving air and not choking, but these were scary moments for all of us while we waited for the painful feeling to pass.

During meal times I stayed with him while he ate to make sure he was okay. Meals took 45 minutes or more and he would eat tiny tiny pieces, spit out half of it but still have problems. Sometimes liquids would come back out. I thought that it was like having a baby again. My days were making soft food, feeding time, clean up a huge mess (from all the pieces and things spit out) and then repeat.   Since Prevacid didn’t help Colin, the GI requested an endoscopy with biopsies to check his throat, stomach and the beginning of his small intestines.  The doctor expected to find EOE cells based on Colin’s food history.

The scope went way easier than I expected. I had made a book of his sister’s trip to the hospital from a year before and we read it to Colin several times so that the places and procedures at the hospital were familiar to him when we were there. It also helped that Colin actually wanted to go because he was distressed about his food situation. Lastly, the hospital was awesome.  It had a children’s wing so everything is kid friendly. The nurse gave him Versed before the IV and anesthesia, so he was feeling relaxed and sleepy before it began.  He doesn’t remember much of it. After the procedure he had no pain or issues other than working the Versed out of his system.  He was like a drunk kid, wanting to run around and race cars but if I let go of him, he’d run into a wall.  I couldn’t leave him alone for a second and I hadn’t anticipated this part. It was kind of funny but I was glad my husband was home since I couldn’t even leave Colin for a second to use the bathroom myself. The immediate results of the endoscopy was everything looked ok but there were white plaques at the top of the esophagus. The doctor said it looked like EOE but usually you see them at the bottom of the esophagus as well. So we had to wait for the biopsy results for a conclusive diagnosis.

Ten days later the biopsy came back negative for EOE cells. A huge part of me was relieved, since EOE is not a diagnosis that has easy answers. But we were disappointed in that we were nowhere closer to figuring out what was wrong with Colin. By this time he was looking so skinny from his limited diet.

The doctor started Colin on Levsin (hyoscyamine sulfate tablets) to calm his throat at mealtimes. Her theory was that it was an esophageal spasm.   So we gave the tablets a try. They were tasteless and dissolved easily and quickly under his tongue.   Within a week we saw major improvement. He could eat a larger variety of textures and we had no more clogged throat-panic episodes.

So here we are today, about 3 months from when this started (It feels so much longer).   Colin is still eating a limited diet of soft foods. He loves hardboiled egg whites, raisin toast with lots of his butter so it is soft, bananas, a few types of cereal and some crackers. He can eat a jelly sandwich now but his favorite food, peanut butter, is too hard to swallow. He has been eating often and has put weight back on.

The GI said 50% of the time these spasms are caused by a virus that irritates the nerve endings in the throat. The Levsin helps calm it and eating is the way to retrain the throat to handle food. So we’ve got to keep eating and trying new textures. (Easier said than done with a stubborn and 4 year old.)   Over the next 2 months we are supposed to taper down the doses of Levsin and hopefully it will be something he just takes as needed in the future.

Thankfully making Colin his own meals and packing food for him when we leave the house is not new to me but it makes my heart heavy that he has more food challenges.   Hopefully this one will be a speedbump, not a mountain, and resolve itself soon.

Delicious Dairy Free Appetizer

So it has been a long while since I posted but I am back to writing now that both kids have settled into a school routine.   My youngest is now in preschool a few days so I have a little time to sit down at a computer before trying to get a bunch of stuff done around the house.  Better type fast!

As far as food goes, Colin still doesn’t eat dairy, soy proteins or chocolate.  I don’t know if he will grow out of it but we’ve accepted it, built accommodations into our life and don’t worry about it too much.  We had another milk trial this summer but it didn’t go well, especially after a few days of eating small bites of it.  His reactions are 24-48 hours later and really show themselves at nighttime.  He stops sleeping and cries all night.  He also usually has an eczema flair up and GI symptoms.   As a family we are used to this lifestyle and don’t feel as limited or concerned as we once did.  Colin can have soybean oil so that makes our life a lot easier since everything outside the house seems to contain it.   Although he has moments he feels he misses out, like ice cream at parties, for the most part we have yummy substitutions ready for him and we try to always make meals that he can eat.   Colin is growing and gaining weight well.  He has come a long way and we have become less stressed about food over time.

Although we have a good collection of dairy and soy free recipes to choose from, I am a recipe hunter.  I am always on the lookout for something new to make.   With tomatoes in season here, I am sharing one of my favorite summer appetizers.   It’s great when the tomatoes are ripe and have real flavor, but if you can’t get great tomatoes that is okay too.  The recipe is DOUBLE tomato- meaning it has sundried tomatoes in it that really pack a punch of intense tomato flavor which can help overcome lackluster fresh tomatoes.

The original recipe for this bruschetta had cheese on top of it but the one time I tried it, the cheese was really unnecessary.  It think the appetizer is better without it! I use roma tomatoes if they look good at the grocery store but if you use another type that is very watery/seedy, scoop some of the seeds out before you add them to your bowl of ingredients.   Also any balsamic vinegar will work but if you get some sweet aged balsamic, like a 25 year aged bottle where it is thick and sweet,  it is even better.   Lastly you can serve this bruschetta on top of bread or serve it in a nice bowl with bread around for guests to top it themselves so it doesn’t get soggy.



adapted from


6 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped  (or other tasty tomatoes in season)

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive or canola oil  – chopped or julienned

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped finely

1/4 teaspoon salt  (I use kosher salt)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 loaf French bread


Preheat oven to broil setting.

Combine the chopped roma tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, salt and pepper.  Allow it to sit 10 minutes for flavors to mingle.

Cut your French bread into 3/4 inch slices.   Place them on a baking sheet in a single flat layer.   Broil for 1-2 minutes until toasted. Remove from the oven.

Spoon the tomato mixture on the top of the toasted side of the bread.  Serve immediately and enjoy!

A Challenging Fall

I’ve been absent from my blog for two months but it hasn’t been absent from my mind.  At Halloween I wanted to share the idea I saw online of having food-free options in your treat bowl. Before Thanksgiving I wanted to share the dairy free menu I made for Colin.  But I was a bit overwhelmed and I didn’t make it to the computer.  Since my last post, I’ve had the most challenging weeks in my life since Colin was little and we were in the throes of colic, elimination diets and finding him diagnosis.

In the last two months we had two deaths in our family and some concerning medical issues arise in an immediate family member.   Stressors like this have their way of spiraling outward, throwing our family off of center and affecting other parts of our life.  I often felt like I was failing as a mother and captain of the ship, but some good people in my life helped me to see that it was the rough waters and not my lack of steering that were causing these other problems and to give it some time.  They were right and things are improving all around.   Our hearts are healing and doctors say the scary medical stuff has been ruled out, that the medical issues will be manageable.  I pray that we are on the other side of this rough patch and that we can fall into the easy peace of normal day-to-day routines again after the holidays.

So onto the holidays.  I wanted to share two of my favorite cookie recipes I am making again this year that are dairy and soy free.  Hopefully they will bring you or someone in your life joy this season!

1.  Puffy Sugared Cookies – I make them in holiday colors and let the kids do the colored sugar.  A great family activity!

2.  Pecan Cookies – my husband’s favorite dairy free cookie I make.  I often make a half batch of these since it makes quite a few! I find I like to use a variety of butter substitutes so I don’t taste just one in my cookie but if you can’t find these ones, try Spectrum shortening or a variation of things you can find/can eat!


Pecan Cookies

adapted from original on AllRecipes


1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy Free Spread

1/2 cup Earth Balance Coconut Spread

1 cup canola oil

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups chopped pecans

1/2 cup white sugar for decorating


Preheat oven to 375 F.  Cream together the Soy Free Spread, Coconut Spread, oil, 1/2 cup white sugar, brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar until smooth.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Stir in the vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Stir dry ingredients into the creamed mixture.  Mix in the pecans.  Roll dough into 1 inch balls and roll ball into remaining 1/2 cup white sugar. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.  Flatten dough balls slightly with your finger.   Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are golden.


From our family to yours- Have a Happy New Year!

Summer Update, Busy Bags and Recipes!

So I know it has been a while since I posted so I figured I’d make it a full one!

It has been a busy summer!!  The kids have had summer programs, swimming lessons and the usual summer fun while my husband and I decided to try our hand at installing a paver walkway ourselves (and we survived, marriage intact). Vacation preparations took up most of my time in June and then we drove to Florida for a week.  Our trip was a wonderful success and the kids wore themselves out playing in the sand and swimming everyday.

For our road trip I made oodles of busy bags, which are activity bags for the kids to do in the car or to pass the time in restaurants.  Some are just fun and some are educational.   I keep the individual activities in gallon-size ziploc bags and for car trips I bring along a tote bag full of them.  One of my favorite resources for busy bag construction this year was the site  All Our Days, which had a huge roundup of busy bag ideas.    I especially loved things from this site I could print, laminate and throw in a bag, like Duplo Block Counting.  If you don’t have a laminator, self laminating pouches are available at office stores or on Amazon.   Some of the big busy bag hits with my kids this trip were Button Snakes,  Toy Car Racetracks, and Dry Erase Activities,   I also found a great resource of playdough mats that I laminated and put on a book binder ring.   I took along several  mini playdough containers we had lying around the house which were the perfect amount of playdough for these mats.

busy bag pic

I love our family trips but vacation planning and packing always stress me out.   This year was no different but sometime during our 14 hours in the car my husband and I reflected on our vacation preparation and realized that we are getting faster at  packing and feeling much less anxious about feeding Colin away from home.  The packing is getting easier not only since we have less “baby stuff” to bring along, but we’ve made a master packing list that is expediting the packing process.  I made a list on the computer of everything to pack for everyone in the family and all the food items we usually need. Now I just print out before a trip and update it when we find things we need to add or delete.   Taking Colin on trips is getting easier since his diet is expanding and we have a few trips under our belt to know what works.  We pack A LOT of our safe foods and decide what recipes we will make during our week away.  Easy pasta dishes, Colin’s favorite homemade pizza, a huge stash of safe kids snacks and lots of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches got us through this last trip to Florida.   For a road trip like this one we bring one giant bag of food supplies for the week and one bag of “Car food” that has safe snacks and sandwich making materials so we can avoid fast food.

As far as Colin’s health, he is doing really well. He is happy and growing well even though his is a super picky eater.  We’ve been doing milk challenges recently by giving him small bits of  baked goods that contain milk, since we heard that is often an early success.  So far he has been doing pretty well, well enough that I am feeling a little more optimistic about his future relationship with dairy!   He will go to a Kids Day Out program at least one day this fall and I had hopes he might be able to eat more of the snacks that the kids take turns bringing.  Cheese and yogurt won’t be on his safe list but items with traces of dairy might be okay.  Other than dairy we are just trying to get him to branch out from eating peanut butter all the time.  He refuses to touch vegetables unless they are  chopped up beyond recognition and on his pizza. So I make a big “Colin Pizza” once a week to make sure he is getting some variety.  We haven’t been doing Neocate smoothies as much lately, mostly since I ran out of it, but I heard Neocate came out with a strawberry flavor which I would like to try. I really wish that stuff was cheaper.  We are giving Colin both gummy vitamins and gummy calcium supplements daily and he is drinking more rice milk, so I am less worried about his calcium intake.   We haven’t been to a doctor in a long time so I don’t know how he is doing for weight/growth but I don’t have any concerns.

In the cooking world, since the warm weather arrived we have been grilling everything we can.   We grill meats and our veggies side dishes so we can sit outside and let the kids play and also keep the heat out of the house.   My husband is the designated griller at our house, so I catch a little cooking break in the summer.  I handle the side dishes.  Mostly I get some fresh veggies, toss them in olive oil and then heavily season them with various spices from our spice cabinet.   I season until they taste almost over seasoned and then throw them in a grill basket.   My husband puts the veggies on before our main dish, since they usually take at least 20 minutes to cook, and lets them coast along while dinner is cooking.  My favorites are zucchini, onions and mushrooms.  I often use seasoning blends from Penzeys like “Northwoods,”  “Sandwich Sprinkle” and/or their “Ruth Ann Muskego Chicken and Fish Seasoning.”

Here are a few other side dishes we have made recently that were well received at the dinner table:

1.  Ina Garten Roasted Carrots with Dill

2.  The Pioneer Woman’s Pretty Fruit Salad

3.  Strawberry Spinach Salad  (If you can’t find soy free worcestershire sauce, just skip that ingredient)

So that about sums up things at our house.  Once the school year starts for both of the kiddos, I hope to be posting more regularly, since I will have a couple hours by myself for the first time. But for now we are enjoying the last few weeks of summer!

If you have a warm weather recipe you love, do share!








Beef and Broccoli over rice

Things are going well at our house.  Holiday season is in full swing.  The Christmas tree is up, I’ve got most of the presents bought, a few wrapped and I”m narrowing down this year’s list of cookies to make.

Colin is doing great. He has found his appetite!  Although the pediatrician said a toddler’s appetite usually slows a bit at this age, Colin is just finding a new interest in food.  He is asking to eat and eating quantities that make my husband and I do a double take.   He still  has a lot of foods he doesn’t want to eat, including most vegetables, but he is slowly broadening his diet.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are his all-time favorite.  He wakes up in the morning and asks me to make him one for breakfast every day.  We haven’t been doing as many smoothies, therefore very little Neocate Jr., but we found some gummy vitamins and gummy calcium supplements that he seems to tolerate.

Yes, food is going better, which always feels good.  I also found a new recipe last week that I couldn’t wait to share.  I was hungry for something that tasted like Chinese food and so I Googled “Beef and Broccoli.”  One of the first results was a recipe from Food. com.  I decided to give it a try, making it soy friendly.   I substituted coconut aminos (which I buy at Whole Foods) for the soy sauce.  Since the coconut aminos are a bit sweeter than soy sauce, I used less brown sugar than the recipe called for and added salt.   The recipe called for a whole teaspoon of ground ginger, which is a lot more than I use in other gingery dishes.   While cooking it I thought the ginger was going to be too intense for my family, since it smelled so strongly of ginger, but by the time it hit the table the ginger had mellowed and it was delicious.  Both kids gobbled it up and my husband said it was the closest to real Chinese food we’d ever made at home.

I served the beef and broccoli over rice.  I used jasmine rice, since it is my husband’s favorite, but use brown rice, quinoa, couscous, or whatever your family prefers.  Just start the rice before starting the stir fry.  Cooking a stir fry usually goes quick and it needs your attention.

Two more notes- If you can’t use cornstarch try arrowroot starch or leave it out.  It thickens it but leaving it out won’t ruin the dish completely.  It has lots of great flavor going on! Maybe cut out the water that goes into the sauce in Step 2.    Second- make sure to cut your beef thin and against the grain.  A cheap cut of meat can be pretty good if you cut it right.  Look for the lines running in the meat and cut perpendicular to them.

Beef and Broccoli

3 tablespoons cornstarch, divided

1/2 cup water, more if needed

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 lb boneless round steak, sirloin or flank steak cut into THIN slices  (I used sirloin)

2 tablespoon canola oil

4 cups broccoli, cut into small florets

1 onion, cut into slices

1/2 cup Coconut Aminos

1 tablespoon brown sugar

A good pinch of salt  (about 1/8th teaspoon)

1 teaspoon ground ginger

(hot cooked rice for serving)



1.  In a Ziploc bag or medium-sized bowl, combine 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons water and the garlic powder.  Add the beef and combine.   Let it sit while you are chopping your onions and broccoli or just continue to step two.

2.  Combine the coconut aminos, brown sugar, salt, ginger, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch and the remaining water.  Set aside (This sauce will go on near the end.)

3.   Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add one tablespoon of oil.  Add the beef and cook until beef reaches desired doneness.  (For me this means all red is gone.)  Remove the beef from the pan and keep warm.

4.  Add one tablespoon of oil to the pan and cook the broccoli and onion.  If broccoli florets are large, add 2 tablespoons of water and cover pan to help it steam.

5. When broccoli and onion are cooked add the beef back to the pan.  Give the sauce you made in Step 2 a quick stir and pour it over the beef and vegetables.  Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes to thicken.

6.  Serve over rice.

Soy and Dairy Free Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving holiday is this week.  Last year I did a post of my Thanksgiving Food Plan and recipe ideas.  Like always, these food occasions are doable, just require some planning.  Thanksgiving is butter heavy all the way around so I usually ask for a bit of help from my in-laws and do quite a bit of cooking on my own.  At first I was hesitant to ask people to help us with our eating needs,  but I’ve found them very happy to help and relieved that we won’t be sitting there with empty plates.   I am able to eat dairy again since I am done nursing but here is my plan for Colin:

1.  Turkey – I check to make sure there is no butter/soy oils in or on the turkey.   One side of our family is smoking the turkey which is excellent.  I usually give Colin a piece of from the inside of the cut, just to be safe.

2.  Veggies-  I called my family and asked them to leave small bowls of plain veggies to the side.  Veggies like corn, carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes and so on  I will microwave and season myself.  I use olive oil, Earth Balance Soy Free Spread and things like spices, fresh herbs, brown sugar and chicken stock to liven them up.  I travel with a bag of our cooking basics to make sure I have safe items on hand.

3.   Cranberry sauce-  We make this recipe every year, which takes less than 10 minutes.   Crunched for time? Buy a can of cranberry sauce.  All the cans I’ve found are dairy and soy free.

4.   Bread –  I make my own bread and bring it.  This is one area I like to have something safe and yummy, especially since the stuffing will be off-limits.  This challah bread, made with the canola oil option, is delicious.  I’ve made it for several years now.  I recently found Pepperidge Farms makes some frozen bread rolls that are dairy and soy free (check the variety you buy to be sure).

5.   Dessert-  I am making Colin a dairy free pumpkin pie, using a canola oil based crust and rice milk in place of the evaporated milk (see last year’s Thanksgiving post).   I also will bring fruity jello and coconut whipped cream, since I don’t know if he will go for the pie and I know it will be hard for him to see everyone else eating whipped cream.

I think Colin will get plenty to eat and I’ll be happy to know he isn’t missing out on a lot and has a lot of option on his plate to try.

For all those celebrating turkey day, I hope you enjoy a delicious meal, are surrounded by people you love and have a happy Thanksgiving!

How I Keep the Kids Busy While I Cook

Living the MSPI lifestyle is hard.  It requires SO much time in the kitchen.   I’ve had other moms ask me how I can make meals everyday and so much from scratch while taking care of my kids.  Some days are easier than others but really it is a constant challenge and always evolving.  Today I thought I would share some of my strategies for getting meals made and keeping the kids busy.

I try to give my kids things to do that they can’t get into too much trouble with, or make too much of a mess, and also make it something they don’t get to do all the time.  Obviously these ideas will be appropriate at different ages but hopefully you might find a new idea that might help you!

Infants/Little Ones

1.   Move a bassinet or baby swing near the kitchen. I would sing, rock and jiggle with a free hand (or foot) to help soothe cranky babies during the witching hour,  which unfortunately coincided with dinnertime.  If you can, hang toys that you keep just for this time of day on the bassinet or swing mobiles .  Our bassinet mobile had toys that could be removed so I used those baby links on everything to rotate toys in and out.

2.   Place an Exersaucer/Jumperoo near the edge of the kitchen.  Again, rotating in “new” toys often keep them occupied longer.

3.   A  blanket , activity mat, or high chair near kitchen with chewable items on it they didn’t usually get.  I  often pulled out baby safe kitchen items like my rubber bowl scraper, a soft sided whisk that didn’t make a good whisk, and plastic measuring cups.  Both of my kids loved to play with our silicone hot pad.  It was the “kitchen lovey” for a long time.

4.   Use a Sling/baby Bjorn/Ergo Carrier – Obviously you have to be smart about what food prep you can do safely with a child attached to your body.  Heat or knives are no no’s and little hands that want to “help” can make cooking much more difficult.  I would often alternate between carrying baby and giving him time in the swing or activity mat, depending on what part of a recipe I was working on.  I also learned to do food prep with one hand and a baby on the other hip.  I used a pizza cutter for one-handed cutting and used a food processor for chopping things.

Toddlers and Preschoolers

Location – a little table or blanket near the kitchen is great. Even with my older kiddo, setting out a blanket at 4pm on the floor is novel. I think it reminds my kids of picnicking so it is fun. It keeps them close to me for a bit and helps and keeps them in my peripheral vision while prepping foods.

1.   Painting with water – I let the kids “paint” on a chalkboard, a spare piece of cardboard or on an Aquadoodle mat near the kitchen.   Sometimes I use  the waterpens that came with the Aquadoodle mat and other paint with water toys and other times I give my kids a bowl or cup that is hard to tip over and just a tiny bit of water and a paintbrush.  We are talking like a tablespoon or two of water so if it spills, it is no big deal.  I give my kids a paper towel in case of a spill.  (I teach cleanup skills pretty early on- before age 2!)

2.   Cleaning with Bubbles – I put a tiny bit of dish detergent in a large bowl and turn the faucet on high to fill it with water and lots of bubbles.  Then I put a big blob of bubbles on the front of my dishwasher.  My kids love to play in the bubbles with hands, paintbrushes or safe kitchen tools like a rubber spatula.  Then I give them a towel and they just wipe off any residue  when they are done.   Bonus- a cleaner appliance!

3.   Dance party –  At 4pm my kids are often getting grumpy.   I’ve found that turning on music they like and having a dance party lifts spirits.  I start the dance party off with them and then cook a little, dance a little.   We do kids music and upbeat appropriate adult music.

4.  Pots and safe kitchen toys –  The old standby.  Get out a few pots, lids, a wooden spoon or two and let your little ones be loud and creative.  Tolerate noise as long as you can.  I often kept a few homemade noise makers in with my pots to complete the band like a toilet paper tube filled with rice and the ends taped shut.  Make a tambourine by folding  paper plate in half, adding a handful of dry macaroni added and stapling around the edge to close.

5.  Magnet toys-  I have several different magnet based toys- a magnetic refrigerator farm, a toy with magnetic letters as well as some Melissa and Doug magnets.   Kids can play with them on the fridge or on the back of cookie sheets.   I store the magnet sets in ziploc bags in the bottom of one of my kitchen cabinets.  I pull them out usually just when I’m cooking.

6.  Chalkboard Time-  I’ve used a chalkboard easel, a small child’s lap chalkboard as well as a chalkboard wall decal/sticky paper like this.  I put some of the wall decal kind on a wall near the kitchen so my kids can color to their heart’s content while I’m cooking.  LIght colored chalk is great and easy to clean off clothes and walls if my little guy gets a bit too crazy.  Although we do paint with water sometimes on the real chalkboards, I haven’t tried it yet on the wall decals.

7.  Coloring with Crayola Color Wonder-  In the beginning I couldn’t take my eyes off my little one for a second during coloring time for fear of walls, faces, floors, etc. covered in beautiful two-year old art.  Then came Crayola Color Wonder products.  They only work on the special color wonder papers.  I wouldn’t let my kids run around the house with them, just in case there is something they can in fact ruin, but for moderate supervision art time, they are great!

8.  Screen Time-  Our kids get a very limited amount of screen time (TV, Kindle, Computer etc.).   I purposely save it on some days for when I really need some dedicated cooking time.   When I’m up to my elbows mixing meatloaf or madly throwing ingredients into a searing hot wok are good times for my kids to have their 20 minutes.   I am fortunate to have a kitchen open into the living room so I can see my kids.  Colin doesn’t last long, but five minutes “alone” is five minutes!

9.  Busy bags –  I’ve started making a box of these games to keep for restaurant outings or any time I need to keep the kids busy without my help, like dinner time or long car rides.   Just Google “busy bags” and you will find a million little games/activities for kids. These ideas aren’t something you can put together right before dinner.  They are something to make for when you need to keep them busy.  I keep my busy bag activities in labeled ziploc bags and stash them in the kitchen cabinet, car and diaper bag.  Colin’s current favorite game is Button Snake.   (Mine is nowhere near as pretty as the one on that link.  Colin just gets felt squares I could cut out of our felt scraps).  Hannah’s favorite right now s a bag of 10 cards with a dry erase marker from this set of Usborne Book activity cards.  – No craft skills needed on that one!   For a long time Colin loved to play with a baby wipes box containing lots of baby food jar lids.  Any time we finished a jar of food I put the lid in the dishwasher and added it to the baby wipes box.  Colin loved dumping them out and then putting the lids back in through the wipes slot.

10.  Small snack –  Sometimes my kids are melting down right as I need to cook and it is because they are suffering from the crabbies of low blood sugar.  Not the medically serious type, just the “I am a toddler who needs to eat soon so I’m losing my mind” type.  I try to find a small healthy snack that they can munch on while I”m doing a bit of food prep.  Is your table not near your kitchen? Try the picnic blanket idea from above!  My kids hang out and “picnic” with me and stay occupied much longer.  A few apple slices are good. Hey, I’ve already got the knife and cutting board out anyway. Some dry fruit or veggies, Happy Baby puffs, or a “trail mix” of things your kids can eat (keeping a bag of this stuff around is helpful).  We don’t eat until 6 pm so a small snack at 4 usually doesn’t affect dinner appetites but if it does, you can try to make your snack one of the food groups you are NOT serving at dinner to keep their food intake nutritionally balanced.

11. Cooking with me – I try really hard to find opportunities for my kids to participate in the cooking process as early as they can.  When I go around gathering ingredients I give them one of the unbreakable items to hold and they help me get everything to the counter.   I’ve sat my kids up on the counter and I’ve also sat on the floor with them to let them dump, stir, mash and so on.   Yes it takes a little longer and we may make more mess but they love it.  We practice counting and measuring, they get both fine and motor practice, they might pick up a cooking skill here or there as time goes on but even more importantly, we have fun and make some memories.

Some other things that have helped me are The Toddler Busy Book, by Trish Kuffner, when I really need some new ideas for things to do with the kiddos.

Other Helpful Thoughts:   To make cooking even easier, I try to plan ahead.  (It’s always about the planning with these allergy diets isn’t it!)  If I know I’m making something like chili, that takes a lot of chopping, I might take an hour out of my Sunday afternoon and let my husband watch the kids while I do a bit of prep work.  I will even freeze bags of chopped onions and peppers to make dinner time during the week a little less hectic.   I’d love to get the “Once-A-Month-Cooking” thing down but I’m not there yet.   At my best I might think to double an easy recipe like meat and veggie spaghetti sauce or meatballs and freeze half for another week when things are busy.

Hope you found something to help your week go a little smoother and happy cooking!