When I was pregnant, I did the sensible thing and batch cooked loads of my favourite meals and put them in the freezer to make life a little easier when baby arrived. Smashing, eh? Except all of those meals contained milk, butter and cheese to some extent, so when we discovered three weeks into the rollercoaster that is being new parents that our screaming, sick but beautiful bundle had CMPA (cow’s milk protein allergy) it was up to Steve to eat every single one of those meals out the freezer, while I needed to adopt a whole new shopping and eating strategy. Over the last 16.5 months I’ve learned to scan a label pretty darn quick and made clever swaps in all of my favourite recipes. We do a monthly online shop at Tescos for special allergy treats and a weekly top up of fresh veg at Aldi.

I get hangry pretty quickly, a trait my daughter shares with me, so it’s important we’re never caught out without suitable easy meals or snacks to grab. If you’re just starting out on  your CMPA breastfeeding or weaning journey, here are some of the habits we’ve adopted to ensure meal times go smoothly and we never have a food SOS. I hope you find them useful.

Menu Planning

I’ve planned evening meals for years. Not only is it cheaper but it makes organising cooking and eating around multiple work schedules much easier. When Alex began weaning she was still struggling to gain weight, so we wanted to make sure she had exposure to lots of interesting, nutritious and high-calorie foods. To help with this I wrote out a meal plan for her breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week ahead and popped it in the fridge so whoever was looking after her that day knew what was on the menu. This really helped to ensure she was getting lots of good fats and calcium in her diet. As a plus, when we have a dietician appointment and they ask what she’s eating, we can just take along a few of the old menus as examples. My dietician was pretty taken aback with how organised we were but doing these little meal plans really helps to give me peace of mind. Now, we generally only plan our evening meal but I’ll pore over our cookbook collection regularly to look at new meals to introduce. I find looking through cookbooks really relaxing so this is never a chore to me.

Batch Cooks

Chilli

As anyone who has a baby or toddler knows, cooking time isn’t in plentiful supply some days. However, since neither I or Alex eat milk or soya products, it’s not really easy to grab lots of prepared packaged food. It’s not too healthy to do so either ,so we still do a lot of batch cooking or making extras for the freezer. We use products like Oatly cream, Oatly creme fraiche and Violife cheeses in some recipes, and I’ve been experimenting with a lot of vegan recipes lately.

We’re really not fans of eating the same thing every day for a week anyway, so extra portions always go in the freezer in those nifty tinfoil trays, so that we can take them out on days we know cooking from fresh will be a squeeze. We also make mini versions for Alex that we can just lift out of the freezer the night before and send to Granny and Grandpa daycare with her if needed. I love having soups for lunches, so I throw extra portions of those into those special freezer bags so I can have a different flavour every day.

Below is a sample of what’s nestling in our freezer right now. We always have plenty of frozen veggies in there too as accompaniments, including things like broccoli, chopped butternut squash and green beans. As you can imagine, the freezer is pretty packed out, so much so I’m starting to wonder whether when we move it might be wise to invest in some kind of huge commercial type freezer like these from Alexanders Direct.

In our freezer for quick meals

  • Pasta bake
  • Shepherds/cottage pie
  • Stew and dumplings
  • Chilli
  • Bolognese
  • Lasagne
  • Soups

Takeaway Alternatives

Fish and chips

Oh how I miss takeaway. Eating takeaway with an allergy to cater for has unfortunately proved an absolute minefield. I’ve become a bit of a grump about it and hate hearing delivery drivers ring the doorbells in our street. Luckily, I now have a plan for when the desire for takeaway type foods arises and that’s to reach in the freezer. Sainsbury’s stocks a breaded cod fillet that’s milk free in their fridge section, which goes down a treat with some Mayflower curry sauce (buy in B&M) and some frozen peas blended with mint, a squeeze of lemon and Oatly cream, not forgetting some home cooked chips. Tesco has a few different options in its free from section including a sweet and sour. Asda has a chilli beef, lemon chicken and prawn toast in its fridge takeaway section, which we simply add some stir-fried noodles and veg, and voila! Waitrose has a couple of super-tasty curry options that Alex loves too. I’ve a future post earmarked to cover current options in more detail because I’ve personally found the odd takeaway ready meal to be a shopping saviour. The key is to know what’s in your nearest supermarket for if the takeaway urge should bite or like us, have a few things stashed in your freezer.

We’ve had some horribly unsuccessful attempts at ordering from takeaways including one attempt to have a Chinese when trialling soya. This ended up with me in tears and eating toast because the takeaway called us just as we plated up our meal to tell us it did have milk in after all. I wanted to eat that takeaway so much, after that I made a concerted effort to look for fakeaway options every time I go to a new supermarket. I love cooking Thai, Indian and Chinese food from scratch but sometimes you just want to put your pyjamas on and take the easy option. Keeping a stock of safe alternatives at home makes these occasions far more stress free for us.

Toddler Snacks

Pasties and Pinwheels

From dropping off the centiles in the red book to steadily climbing then galloping upwards once allergen free, we’ve done a pretty good job at fattening up our dinky daughter. We tried to follow BLW as much as possible, though we did give some foods like dairy free yoghurt on spoons, handed those to her to eat. We found a lot of the ‘safe’ toddler snacks lacked calories and flavour. Rice cakes, puffs etc didn’t cut the mustard so we didn’t bother with them. The one exception to this being Kiddylicious wafers, which Alex still loves more than, well, me. Shop bought toddler snacks and particularly allergy safe ones seem to be crazy expensive, so we keep a variety of snacks for Alex in resealable bags that we can just take out on the day and pop in the changing bag or her Yumbox. Our favourites include:

  • Savoury flapjack
  • Pinwheels and pastries (many readymade puff pastries are dairy/soya free)
  • Muffins – banana and blueberry, olive and cheese, carrot cake are regulars
  • Pizza slices (made with pastry)

Alex isn’t much of a sandwich fan at the moment, despite being a carb lover generally. If she does decide to change her mind on that front I’ll be following Nomi Palony’s tip of freezing sandwiches to grab and go on days we go to soft play. We’ve only just recently felt brave enough to start going to soft play with Alex but have quickly learned that the ones in our area are absolutely terrible for catering for CMPA, so we’re developing our own SOS strategy for that too.

If you’re breastfeeding a CMPA baby and wondering how you’ll adapt, hopefully this post has given you some reassurance and ideas. It’s a learning curve but with a few shopping strategies under your belt it’s easier than you’d think.

If you have any questions about our transition to a dairyfree diet, please pop them below. I’m always happy to help other CMPA Mamas get into the swing of things.

 

 

collaborative post

You may have noticed I’ve not posted for a while, eating out isn’t something I get to do very often at the moment, which is why yesterday (my birthday) was all the more upsetting. I’ve decided not to mention the restaurant name, at least at this stage, because I don’t think one staff member’s attitude should reflect on an establishment. Also, your boss did try and rectify the situation and then as we were settling down for the night you sent my partner an email. Before I respond to your lengthy communication, let’s take a little look at the comments you wrote on our booking and left on the bar for everyone to see, including my partner who spotted his name as we walked past to leave the restaurant after taking the decision to cancel our booking. He snapped this photo. I think it’s important to highlight that the notes next to the booking about my dairy allergy and us possibly wanting the tasting menu ‘waa waaa waaah!’ were added at the time of booking.

IMG_5441 (1)

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 06.42.17

Screen Shot 2017-11-01 at 06.42.56It’s a long one isn’t it? I do think you could have safely cut it to start at “I hope that our Chef/Owner following my ghastly unforgivable actions was somehow able to provide you with an experience that met your requirements”. As it happens, he did cook us a lovely meal, it came out quickly, which suggests putting together something dairy free wasn’t beyond the capabilities of a talented kitchen team, after all. I’ll add some fancy numbers to this when I get the chance so that it’s easier to see which of your points I’m addressing, but for now I’ll just approach this in order, as I should be getting ready for work after a poor night’s sleep.

The narrative

Thank you for iterating the order of events from my partner contacting you on numerous occasions prior to our visit up to and through our attempts to order food yesterday. Please note, we aren’t actually married, sorry about that, my boyfriend did mention I was his girlfriend but let’s not quibble about a lack of wedding ring. I agree for the most part with your account of our attempts to order and thank you for offering up your ‘feelings’ about it. Let me tell you about mine. Dining out is embarrassing for me. Asking questions makes me feel awkward, difficult, guilty even.Once the things you can’t have start stacking up, you begin to feel more and more disappointed. While you did suggest changes to the dishes mentioned, these were, let’s be honest, for the most part omissions. Scallop and pickled veg in place of scallops, pastry and other delicious accompaniments isn’t as innovative as your restaurant ethos. And being offered lamb and double cabbage for mains while probably lovely tasting was making my tummy grumble louder. I’m a breastfeeding mum who doesn’t get much sleep and runs around a lot, which is why we asked if you could offer any carbs. I suggested chips as I know some restaurants cook them separately. I’m sorry that’s not the case at your establishment and that my partner suggesting you make some was so ridiculous. I was hungry. What would have been really lovely is if you’d actually taken the time to talk me through what I could have on the menu or what could be created easily without too much inconvenience. Whether subsconsciously or consciously your curt manner, sighs and lack of effort to check in advance about the suitability of the menu items that day made it obvious to us that we weren’t going to dine as valued customers. At this point, rather than eating a meal we would be disappointed in we decided to pay for our drinks and go elsewhere.

Being a Mombie on Halloween

To address the confusing paragraph about the wine – which only serves to highlight your lack of allergy knowledge – it was indeed a horrific oversight on my part to forget to check if the wine contained milk. That’s what we were checking for by the way – if a bottle mentions sulphites ( a separate allergen) it should make mention of whether it’s milk filtered. Thankfully, it wasn’t. In a full year of being dairy free, I’ve never forgotten to check, I was incredibly upset because the reality that my baby might be caused pain as a result sunk in quickly. Yes, that’s right, it’s not myself who is allergic to dairy, it’s my child. Over the past few weeks as a sleep deprived parent I’ve put things meant for the dishwasher in the fridge, for the dishwasher in the bin and worn both my underwear and outerwear inside out. Too much information? My baby is teething and I’ve not been getting much sleep, I can only presume my one and only oversight was due to that and the excitement of dining at what was previously my favourite restaurant. I would mention however that you did know I had a dairy allergy – your staff are required by law to be trained on allergens in ALL your products and to check labels of any ingredients or products. 

 Gross Misconduct

It was on the way out that my boyfriend spotted his name on the iPad, photographed it and showed it to me. I felt my face flush and eyes wet. HOW DARE YOU. Your job is to make diners feel special, as I questioned at the front of the restaurant – do you have no empathy? I didn’t choose the dairy free life, it chose me. Previous to yesterday we’ve dined with you a handful of times since you opened and had a completely different experience, we were treated as valued customers. As we told you, I’m dairy free because my daughter has a cows milk protein allergy and feeding her myself is the best possible thing for her. It’s hard. I have to check every label for the supermarket shop, I pack snacks for us both wherever we go, I miss social occasions, I haven’t been blogging. But I do it because breastfeeding is proven to help allergies, it helps heal, prevent further allergies and is a great comfort to my daughter during a reaction. Guidelines recommend I continue until she is two years old. Just as some added information, my feeding her rather than giving prescription formula (which is without the benefits I listed) also saved the NHS upwards of £5,000. I appreciate society didn’t ask me to breed, but I do hope that money saved is useful for operations and paying for NHS staff. Maybe think about that next time you’re sat in the doctors. Additionally, breastfeeding lowers my chances of cancer and my daughter’s risk of developing problems such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. More money in the bank for other poorly folks,  I’d say!

After some shouting and crying you were persuaded to get the owner, so I would like to apologise to other diners who were disturbed. They may well have been celebrating special occasions too and I hope it wasn’t spoiled for them, though I think the responsibility for that situation undeniable lies with you, your lack of professionalism and your prejudiced attitude. We are all human, it’s true, but if you are, as you say, ‘cynical’, and you’re unable to direct frustrations appropriately, I’m not sure the hospitality industry and in particular, front of house service, is for you.

Let’s talk empathy

Addressing your request that we are empathetic to restaurants because of my whacky dietary requirements that have been successfully managed by kitchens including your own with ease, I’d like to just outline why we’re luckily in a great position to be empathetic.

  • I’ve worked on and off in the hospitality industry since I was 13 years old. I’m not ashamed to say I was 34 yesterday, so not quite your 22 years. Also, I’ve only worked in lowly positions like waitress, deli assistant, bar person, events assistant, street food server. I’m proud to say I’ve never treated a customer as you have.
  • My partner has worked in the hospitality industry on and off since the age of 14. He’s a year younger than me, as he loves to remind me, so that clocks up a nice 20 years. He has (and does) work in managerial positions. He would be sacked on the spot if he wrote the comments you did on that iPad.
  • We didn’t just land and expect you to cater for what is a very common dietary requirement – particularly with the rise of veganism. You were given 11 days notice, multiple calls and emails from my partner – this should highlight that the dietary requirement was serious.
  • While cross contamination is always a risk, environment health best practice advises keeping allergens separate. Sensible measures like washing hands and cleaning pans and substituting with safe ingredients is sufficient to avoid issues for us. We have dined out successfully in high street chains and other award winning restaurants. At both ends of the scale servers elsewhere have made an effort to identify and satisfy my requirements without making me cry. One to think about when you look in the mirror there. Time to sharpen up those customer service skills,
  • With the notice given, it would have been perfectly possible to make some simple changes in advance. My partner had stated we would be happy if there was just one option for me. For example, that pastry that couldn’t be eaten because of the milk glaze? You could have simply made one portion without milk glaze that morning. Genius, huh? If you’d like any further tips on easily adapting your crazily complicated menu, I’d be happy to put you in touch with my mum, who successfully cooks multiple course Sunday dinners for myself, my diabetic dad and my baby. All with a smile on her face despite having MS.
  • Our booking was purposefully midweek, early lunch so that you wouldn’t be too busy and would therefore find it wasier to accommodate us. The restaurant wasn’t busy when we arrived. You made the difficulty.

I am grateful to the chef who cooked us a delicious meal – provided on the house. Waaaa waaaa waaah, indeed. I can appreciate you can’t work a million iterations of the menu through the kitchen but cooking for me was certainly possible. I drank an additional gin and tonic and cup of coffee on the house too, for reference, and added my delicious Oatly Barista to finish it. Your younger serving staff were a credit to your establishment. Hopefully they won’t pick up your prejudice or cynicism and go on to have successful careers in catering. I would like to thank them for making extra effort to make me feel at ease after your failings.

Unsurprisingly, we won’t be dining at the restaurant again while you remain working there in your role. You guys probably won’t miss the few hundred pounds a year we spent with you since you opened or the votes that I made for those awards that you’ve won. I’d suggest you review your career path and implement proper allergy training. When our next special occasion comes round, we’ll spare you the incredible inconvenience of trying to eat with you.

Regards, Fay Nyberg (also known as Mrs Lightley, though somewhat lacking in the relevant sparkler or marriage ceremony)

If there’s one foodstuff that has helped mould my identity it’s cheese (there’s a pun in there) I’m a true turophile – hard, crumbly, soft, veiny, spreadable, blue, melted, any way it comes  – I LOVE CHEESE. However, in a cruel twist of fate I’m also intolerant of cow’s milk – something that’s gotten worse again as I’ve gotten older and seems to be particularly triggered by the good stuff, namely nice cool glasses of milk, sauces made with cream, and, my enduring first love, CHEESE.

Never to be defeated I indulge my habit when I can by concentrating my cheese munching efforts on goat and ewe varieties, which have the added bonus of tending to be lower in fat. Unfortunately, most people who are allergic to cow’s milk will also be allergic to goat and sheep milk, however, I do seem to tolerate them better. And, when I’m feeling really naughty and just can’t help myself, I go a bit wild and eat some mature cheddar and brace myself for the consequences. Cheese is a very beautiful thing and is without a doubt my favourite food and not being able to eat mass amounts of the most common kind has forced me to be more creative in the kitchen. This recipe was borne out of a deep and unquieting yearning to indulge in an old food favourite – macaroni cheese. The photo’s really don’t do justice to this cheesy carborific treat,. I included a small amount of the hard ewe’s cheese pecorino in both the sauce and topping of my mac and cheese to intensify the flavour, but you can leave it out if you want to keep things soft and creamy.

 

Recipe (serves 6)

500g pasta (I used a mix of wholewheat and white conchigle)

six thick rashers of bacon

two cloves of garlic

two teaspoons dried thyme

wholewheat dried breadcrumbs

one beef tomato

sauce

300g goat’s cheese log

100g pecorino (grated)

700 ml soya milk

lump of sunflower margarine

two level tablespoons flour

salt and pepper to season

two tablespoons dijon mustard

Mac that!

Stage one: Pasta perfect

There’s no pretending this recipe is good for you, but throwing some wholewheat pasta into the mix made me feel like I was at least trying to compromise. I boiled up 250g of white and brown pasta shells with a pinch of salt and drained before tipping into a ceramic lasagne dish. I chose conchigle instead of macaroni as it’s easier to get hold of the wholewheat variety of the former and the shells keep lots of lovely cheesy sauce inside them once baked.

 

Stage two: Garlic+Bacon=Barlic or Gacon?

This meal was a real treat so I used a whole packet of thick bacon roughly chopped and cooked with the two cloves of garlic sliced. This made the bacon nice and garlicky and the garlic nice and salty (yuuuum!) I didn’t add fat to fry my bacon and drained off the fat in the pan afterwards (again doing my best to be good).

Stage three: Bulletproof goat’s cheese sauce (made with La Roux)

I used a hefty amount of flour in my roux as I was afraid the soya milk wouldn’t thicken well and I knew the goat’s cheese would mask any flour flavour. After adding my soya milk gradually to the pan I stirred in the mustard and melted in my 300g of goat’s cheese, which I chopped into chunks.

I cut some (but not all) of the rind off, which is why there are a few visible chunks in the photo on the right. The rind itself melted away once the mac went into the oven to bake. I also added to the sauce around a third of the pecorino, some salt and a good hard dose of cracked black pepper.

Stage four: Crusty crumb

After mixing the bacon and sauce through the pasta (above) it was time to assemble for baking.  I sliced the beef tomato and laid it flat across the top of the mac and cheese (extra vitamins right there) and coated the top in a mix from the remaining pecorino, dried thyme and breadcrumbs. I then baked for 20 minutes at 200C and voila!

I made this when a few friends were over to stop me going on a huge cheese binge all at once, but it’s so deliciously rich (as mac n cheese should be) just a small portion with a green salad is seriously satisfying!

I definitely felt a whole lot of amore for this pie as soon as it came out of the oven. The pastry treat was put together following a special request for a birthday pie, unfortunately my busy writing schedule meant that the pie-making didn’t occur until a whole month after the birthday took place – but, it was definitely worth the wait. Luckily, the time lapse also gave me plenty of time to muse over appropriate fillings (a pie must be matched to the individual because beauty is in the eye of the pie-holder) and in the end I came up with this meaty Mediterranean treat.

Be warned; this pie is quite heavy – like a pizza it’s designed to be a meal in itself, so I served it simply – a warm slice with some rocket and spinach on the side. Baking it in a tray meant I had enough left over for two people to eat like a king every lunch time for a week, but it’s a great pie to make for a buffet and it’s easy to make vegetarian by omitting the cured meats. In total the ingredients only cost around ten pounds and you get at least 12 super slices out of it – bargain!

Recipe (makes one hefty tray of pizza pie slices)

2x 500g shortcut pastry (yes, I cheated on this occasion)

340g mild goat’s cheddar

200g half fat red cheese

Two medium red onions

3 eggs

400g tin chopped plum tomatoes

20 black pitted olives

Handful of frozen sliced peppers

1 large glug of balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon olive oil

Squeeze of lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of dried basil

1 packet of sliced chorizo (about 140g)

1 packet of sliced pepperoni (as above)

1 tablespoon tomato puree

Pie Assembly

I wanted to achieve a nice layered effect with my pie, but I was also aiming for moistness without my pastry going soggy – a difficult task for a tray pie considering the ingredients I’d chosen – but the outcome was perfect! I’ve broken the assembly down into four stages, though I unfortunately don’t have any photos of the process as my camera is on the blink and my iPhone is less of a photographer than I am (the iPhone photo above doesn’t do the pie justice).

Stage 1: Getting saucy

To avoid the nice cool pastry going limp at the sight of the pizza sauce layer, I made my sauce first and then allowed it to cool before assembly. The sauce itself was a very rich and flavoursome take on a traditional tomato sauce found on pizzas. It was created by draining my chopped tomatoes and combining with the olive oil, olives (sliced), sliced peppers, garlic, balsamic vinegar and basil. Heating the sauce until it started to thicken into a paste I added a squeeze of lemon juice and the tomato puree towards the end to intensify the flavours.

Stage 2: Feeling cheesy

The cheese layer is based on my mother’s show stopping cheese and onion slice recipe, which I adapted to try and make it a little healthier. I actually used far less cheese than Ma Mere and used a combination of mild goat’s cheddar and 50% reduced fat cheese to lower the fat content. As well as having 40% less fat than normal cheddar goat’s cheese is much friendlier for people like me who are allergic to cow’s milk (and too much cheese!). I chopped up the two onions fairly small and put them into a mixing bowl before grating in all of the cheese and giving it a good mix round. I then seasoned with salt and pepper and added two whisked eggs – this binds the cheese and onion mixture together and makes for a nice melty and moist pie).

Stage 3: Going flat out

The nice easy bit! I greased my baking tray and rolled out my pastry to fit with a little extra to seal the ends. I then added the cheese layer and pressed it down with my fingers to get a nice even spread. Next, I spread the cooled pizza sauce on top using the back of a wooden spoon.

Stage 4: Nice to meat yer

Finally, I layered my chorizo and pepperoni on top, with slight overlap between each slice so that there was full coverage of the sauce underneath in order to prevent my pastry crust going soggy! I was very generous with the meat (I usually order double pepperoni pizza) but if you are vegetarian you could always use a thick layer of spinach or courgette slices instead. I sealed the pie by brushing a mixture of whisked egg and milk on the bottom layer and pressing on the crust. To finish I brushed the mixture on top for a nice golden glow and cooked at 170 in a fan assisted oven for about 35 minutes, brushing the lid a few more times for a good even colour.

 

Just like pizza the pie’s yummy cold!