Last month, we featured Allie using Nima to help her navigate a gluten-free life as a college student at Stanford. We recently had a chance to connect with Allie’s family from Ohio. Here is Allie’s mother’s perspective on Nima and some bonus words from her dad.
Q: As a family you had discussions with the Stanford dining staff to help create a safe eating option for Allie on campus. What were those conversations like?
Andrea: We did not choose the college based on their celiac friendly (or unfriendly) policies but certainly assumed that Stanford, being in California the land of the “granola head,” would be very prepared to feed our daughter. We prepared ahead of time by figuring out the contact person and making an appointment for the day of move in. The staff was very responsive and seemed very interested in hearing about Allie’s need for healthy food, free of gluten with no cross contamination. We made a plan for her to work with her dorm cafeteria to choose the meals for the week and set up times for pick up. We ended up purchasing some color coded equipment (baking sheets etc) for the kitchen to segregate the preparation areas/items. Unfortunately, living the life of a freshman where friends make plans with no notice and dealing with kitchen staff that had many other distractions ended up being a less than ideal situation for Allie. We ended up figuring out that it would be easier to ship her food (frozen at home) overnight.
Q: Were there any other food related preparations you made with Allie before she left to college?
Andrea: We bought Allie a microwave, mid sized refrigerator, and mid sized freezer. She also had some items to prep food in her dorm room. We established a relationship with the Office of Accessible Education to exempt Allie from the regular food plan in subsequent years. This office also prioritized for Allie to get a single room so she didn’t have to deal with a roommate situation that would be uncomfortable (sharing microwave and having gluten in her room/food prep area)
Q: Andrea, we heard about your wonderful Brazilian food and other meals you’d cook and freeze in bulk for Allie before she owned her Nima. What were your thoughts when you first heard about Nima, a device that can test your daughter’s food for gluten?
We heard about Nima from the very beginning and we anxiously waited the arrival of this “liberating” machine. We have always respected the medical need for Allie to have a true gluten “free” life and we ended up deciding that having a gluten free home would help with this endeavor. Shipping food to Allie was a common sense solution at the time. Now that she has a Nima, she can venture forth much more as she eats out. Instead of relying on packaged certified foods or the frozen food from home, Allie can test and try restaurant food, supermarket food, and even go to someone’s house. Where before Nima she was always playing russian roulette, now she knows whether she can eat something or not. Plus once she orders and tests the food, if it’s a “no gluten found,” she can truly enjoy every bite. Nima has been a truly life changing method for our daughter.
Q: Allie loves the food cooked at home, which she mentions is now a 100% gluten-free environment. What are some of Allie’s favorite gluten-free dishes at home?
Andrea: We developed a gluten free challah recipe and I would say that is her favorite “home cooked” treat. She also loves eating some American staple foods that are difficult to find in restaurants such as hamburgers and ribs. And I always get a request for “rosemary french fries!”
Q: Are traditional Brazilian cuisines easy or difficult to convert to gluten-free versions? Any good dishes we should know about?
Absolutely! Brazilian food is very based on rice and manioc flour so a lot of Brazilian dishes are naturally gf. Brazilian cheese bread is the most popular at home (manioc flour, eggs, and cheese). White rice and black beans are always a favorite.
Q: Allie shared her story about the family trip in Miami where all the dishes tested positive for gluten. Can you recall any feelings or thoughts during that experience? Do you have any other family memories with Nima?
Andrea: My initial thought was “We drove all this way to find this restaurant and now she can’t eat any of the food!” Frustrated for Allie that she had to watch us eat our food was number one. But this feeling quickly changed to “Thank goodness for Nima” because she would have eaten the food and then been sick for 3-4 days which would have ruined her vacation (not to speak of the damage the gluten would have done to her GI system!) My favorite Nima memories were on a cruise we took in December. We haven’t been on a cruise since her diagnosis. We worked with the chef before the trip to make sure someone would make her gf food. Allie tested every dish she ate. We became very friendly with the chef and the food manager and soon, we would have both men standing by for the 3 minutes it took for the smiley face to come up and then we would all clap! She had some yummy food on the cruise and Nima was why!
I had one more thought…Allie is the bravest person I know. She doesn’t let her disease keep her down or affect how she socializes. One of her big passions is traveling and, since her diagnosis, she has traveled quite a bit, especially during her gap year. She once traveled through New Zealand with packages of crackers, almond butter, and nuts. Nima has opened up a whole new world for her. Now when she travels, many times with language barriers, she can test her food and try to eat local food which she could have never risked before.
Q: Any tips or words of encouragement for other parents of college bound children with food sensitivities?
Andrea: If possible, choose a college that takes gluten free seriously (e.g. Cornell). Arm your child with “go to” safe choices (perhaps there is a food service that can deliver or a nearby proven gluten free restaurant) for take out when friends spur of the moment decide to eat out or order pizza. Communicate carefully with the college kitchen about expectations and schedules. Have your child always use Nima to ensure their food is safe.
Please pass along my sincerest thank you to all who will listen at your company. I know that you all already know you work for an amazing company with a wonderful product. But, truly, your product is actually keeping our daughter healthy. Celiac disease is incurable and managed by diet (for most). Having a device that ensures our daughter isn’t ingesting her kryptonite is a mother’s true life saver. We owe this peace of mind to you all.
Some words from Michael, Allie’s father:
I know Andrea has already answered a number of your questions, but I would be happy to add my own thoughts.
First of all, let me thank you for your positive interactions with Allie. I know she has really enjoyed getting to know the Nima team and learning more about your operations. Also, thank you for your interest in Allie’s story. She is a courageous young lady, and I am sure an inspiration to your readers and other Nima users. And her Instagram blogs are certainly gaining followers quickly.
As a parent and a physician, I am well aware of the fact that there are significantly worse diagnoses than Celiac disease, and we are lucky that Allie’s overall health is now excellent. But as her Daddy, I can tell you it is still heart-wrenching to see the daily impact that her Celiac has on her lifestyle. Most of us are lucky enough to walk out of the house in the morning not worried about what we are going to do for food for the next 24 hours (or the next 1-2 weeks if we are headed out on a trip or vacation). We know that we can grab a coffee at a cafe or the airport, a bite at the cafeteria at work, go out for a nice dinner, or order in a pizza if we are stuck at the office. Celiacs simply cannot do this and stay healthy and safe. It is a constant nagging pressure and time-consuming necessity to plan every meal and snack EVERY single day of Allie’s life BEFORE she can plan any activity and BEFORE she can even leave her home for the day. It is a constant reminder of her disease and a daily chore.
The Nima sensor has at least freed a bit of that worry, since we can now sometimes safely eat out or try a new restaurant (although we still research ahead of time and still quiz the kitchen staff about cross-contam etc.) without leaving the house with 1-2 days worth of heavy prepacked food and ice packs for her to literally lug about in her backpack.
The reduction in stress with a Nima smiley allows Allie to actually enjoy a meal out without worrying if it’s going to result in her being bedridden in pain for the next three days and cause significant body inflammation for weeks to months. It’s such a joy to see her relish every bite of a rare dinner out as soon as the smiley pops up! A “gluten detected” from her Nima is definitely a mood squasher, especially when it happens in a restaurant that she has pre-researched and looked forward for weeks to visiting, but at least it keeps her safe and healthy.
This is especially useful in allowing Allie to travel, which is one her favorite pastimes. Even with her Nima, it is worth mentioning, she still has to bring some kind of certified GF backup in case of a restaurant failure like the one we had in Miami that Andrea described to you.
Thank you Allie, Andrea, and Michael for sharing your story with the Nima community! If you have any Nima stories to share, we’d love to feature you too! Just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.