Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Graduating to a Summer Blog Break, Plus a Nut-Free Basil Pesto Recipe!

Hi everyone and Happy Summer! As many of my regular readers know, I've not been blogging as much lately and that's for many reasons. One is that I've been working on some new and non-food allergy writing projects, the other is that I was super-busy getting my oldest daughter through her last few days of 8th grade. Yep, I have an 8th grade graduate, heading to high school next year.

Getting to this point with my daughter, who has severe peanut and tree nut allergies, has been a long but rewarding road. Those of you who read my blog regularly probably know that working with schools regarding food allergies has been one of my most frequently blogged topics. It's a big one.

As I sat in the audience watching my daughter receive her diploma, I thought back to kindergarten and how much we've been through together. School with food allergies hasn't always been easy -- field trips, parties, lunch tables and just understanding from others -- has been a challenge at times.  For those of you just embarking on the school with food allergies "journey" (not to sound like a reality show), take heart and remember to communicate. With everyone. Frequently. It's the only way, and if you go about it in a reasonable manner, you will be successful.

Many people still need a food allergy education so never feel badly about speaking up and speaking out. Reasonable, safe solutions can be found and kids with severe allergies CAN have a safe and healthy school experience, especially if compassion and preparation are involved. What I really want to say is that if we did it, so can you.

Use the "search" bar on the top left hand side of this blog to find lots of posts to help you with school.

After 6 and a half years of writing this blog, the time has come for me to take a break from it. I'm sure I will still have things to say about nut allergies -- always. Still, with a shortened summer due to our extended snow/cold days following a tough winter, some exciting summer travel and some new writing projects that I'm highly committed to, I feel the need to take some time off of the blog.

When I started The Nut-Free Mom blog in January of 2008, I'd been dealing with my daughter's food allergies for 4 years and I felt like I had learned a lot I wanted to share. I've been so happy to hear from the many wonderful and supportive readers of this blog who have also shared their stories with me. I'm also grateful that I was able to share much of what I've learned not only here, but in my Nut-Free Mom e-book parenting guide. Many of you have written to me or have taken the time to write a positive review of this little book and I'm happy that so many of you have found it and are still finding it useful -- it continues to be selling well on Amazon Kindle.

The Nut-Free Mom blog has more than 600 posts, so if you're just finding me, you have plenty to keep you occupied! I also encourage you to check out my e-book and Pinterest boards that deal with nut allergies. My Pinterest button is to the right of this post -- I have a lot of boards but many of them deal with allergies. If you're a Pinner, see you there!

Before I take my summer break, I want to share a recipe I've wanted to put on the blog for YEARS but for some reason, I never did. It's very fitting for summer: Nut-Free Basil Pesto. Basically, this is a cross between a traditional Italian pesto that has pine nuts or walnuts (a no-no for us, of course) and a Provencal "pistou" which is a basil sauce without nuts or cheese. (Don't worry, this recipe has cheese but no nuts. :))



The basil in my garden is booming -- maybe you have an herb garden too but if not, basil should be cheap and plentiful at the supermarket right now.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy it and enjoy your summer!

Nut-Free Mom's Nut-Free Basil Pesto

This doesn't make a huge amount, but a little pesto goes a long way. It's very flavorful! Toss it with pasta, add it to pizza or even to cold summer soups like gazpacho. If you have a LOT of basil, double the recipe.

2 cups firmly packed, fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
2 sprigs of fresh parsley (or use mint if you have it in your garden for a refreshing note)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons unsweetened dairy butter or dairy-free margarine
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or dairy-free cheese)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients EXCEPT the oil. Process until ingredients are finely minced. With the motor running, gradually add the olive oil and blend thoroughly.

You can freeze your pesto (in ice cube trays, if you like, for individual servings) for several months (how about a little pop of nut-free pesto on the kiddo's lunch pasta), but bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 1/2 cup.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Food Allergy Awareness Week: Small Gestures Add Up All Year



Is this your family's constant refrain? You are not alone!
This week is Food Allergy Awareness Week (and this month is Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month), so there are many activities being implemented to bring awareness and attention to the seriousness of life-threatening food allergies. These large gestures are wonderful and come about due to the dedication of parents, advocates and physicians who want to spread the word and make the world a more aware place for people suffering from life-threatening food allergies aka "anaphylaxis."

Before I go any further, in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, I want to give a little PSA to all reading now. If you or your child suffer from allergies please remember to ALWAYS carry epinephrine at ALL TIMES. And always check foods, read labels and skip foods when you can't determine their safety. Being cautious of foods and carrying medications are the two best things you can do! I know I've said it many times, but this week especially, it's worth saying again.

While I love that there is a week especially devoted to the  cause of food allergy awareness, I think it's important to point out what I think most of us already know. If you are dealing with life-threatening food allergies every week is "food allergy awareness week." I'm going to guess that you are frequently telling others about allergies as you help your child (or yourself) navigate through a world in which a common food can be more than hazardous to your health -- it can be potentially lethal. This is a difficult concept for many people to get their minds around, so educating others about allergies is a continual process.

Recently, a food allergy awareness opportunity came about for me kind of unexpectedly. My daughter was in a school play and had a lead, so as part of the party-planning committee I ordered specialty cakes from Nutphree's,  a local nut-free bakery, for the entire cast, with the play's theme as the decoration. Nutphree's outdid themselves -- the cakes were the talk of the party and dozens of kids took pictures of the cakes. A lot of people saw the "Nutphree's" logo on the cake boxes and asked me about the bakery, food allergies and how we manage them. One of the volunteers was a pediatrician in our area and he thought it was great -- so many of his patients now have nut allergies, he said. It was great to spread the food allergy awareness this way. (And it didn't hurt that the cakes looked beautiful and tasted great -- they were a wonderful conversation piece.) See below.

Isn't this gorgeous? We had a cake with yellow frosting and red accents, too.
The dice were edible and much-coveted by cast members.
My point is: Any time you tell others about life with food allergies, you are making an impact. Think about it. For example:

Did you speak to a restaurant staff member about allergies recently? How about a family friend? Did you provide treats for a play date or steer a parent towards an appropriate snack due to allergies?

Did you have to turn down an invitation to an ice cream shop or a bakery because of cross-contact risk? Did you have to refuse any food -- and did you politely explain why?

Did you speak to a teacher or another parent in your classroom about cutting down on food allergy risk? Maybe you baked a treat for a get-together and substituted an ingredient (like SunButter for peanut butter) and explained to someone why you had to do that?

Did you see a label change on a food (for better or worse)? That's because of customers (like you and me) calling with questions. Or maybe a restaurant you frequent began putting a note on the menu, i.e. "Tell your server about any food allergies." That stems from people speaking up about allergies.

If you  have made a special effort to educate others this week regarding life-threatening food allergies, kudos to you and thank you! It does help. As we all know, it can be a lot of work to navigate life with allergies, so whatever you have done, large or small, remember it does all add up. Every gesture and every interaction makes a difference.

For more on navigating live with nut allergies, click this link for my nut allergy parenting guide, a concise and encouraging approach for dealing with the newbie to nut allergy lifestyle.

I also encourage you to check out a virtual event on Twitter, hosted by the wonderful Jennifer B of the blog Food Allergy Buzz. This Friday, May 16th, to culminate Food Allergy Awareness Week, is a Twitter gathering to help raise awareness. Last year "food allergy" was "trending" on Twitter due to this gathering -- no easy feat. Click here for details about joining the event.

What about you? How do you promote food allergy awareness in your everyday life?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Nut-Free Mom Blog Gets a Food Allergy Blog Award, plus, Food Allergy Awareness

Thank you to Healthline for naming The Nut-Free Mom blog as one of their top food allergy blogs of 2014! This is the third year my blog has received this award and I am extremely grateful to be recognized in this way. Thank you, Healthline!

Click this link to see the other winners; you'll see some of your favorites and might even find some new ones. I'm definitely in good company. A big congrats to all of the winners!

As nice as it is to receive an award, the most important thing to me is the way that blogging has allowed me to connect with other parents and even teen/adult nut allergy sufferers coping with the same issues. If I have helped any of you in any way by sharing my experiences and knowledge, that is exactly my goal.

And if you are a new reader, let me give you a warm welcome and invite you to peruse my 630 + blog posts that deal with the many aspects of nut allergy management. Just type your key words into the space in the search bar located in the upper left hand corner of this blog and let it rip!

Since my receipt of this award is so close to May, which is Asthma and Allergy Awareness month, I've been thinking about some posts I've shared in the last year that seem to have resonated most with readers. I realized that many of these popular posts have, at heart, the issue of food allergy awareness. If you have already seen these posts, thanks for reading! If you haven't, I hope you'll give them a look.

Nut-free baking for the non-allergic. This is one of the areas that I feel needs the most awareness since it deals with the food allergy awareness "biggie" of cross-contact and how to prepare "safe" foods. If you haven't already read this post, here is a link (and you can find it in the right side bar of my blog as well.)

My best advice for parents of kids with life-threatening food allergies. I've thought a lot about this topic over the years and watching my own kids grow, this post sums up the most important things I've learned.

Working around food allergies at school parties. If you have school-age kids, you know this is a big one! Check out this post for tips on navigating the food allergy minefield that class parties can be.

Thanksgiving with Food Allergies: Let's Dish. Look, I know we just had the spring holidays, but the thoughts and suggestions in this post can be applied to pretty much any holiday, because what do holidays all have in common? Food! This post offers advice on coping with holidays and allergies.

What I really hope is that blog readers find practical advice and especially, helpful encouragement from a parent in their shoes. This is the other reason I wrote my nut allergy e-book guide for parents, because I firmly believe that even though food allergies are serious and must be regarded as such, they don't have to get in the way of anyone living a full life.

Thanks to all of you for your continued readership! Now, let's hear from you. What are some of the biggest issues you face when navigating food allergies?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hey, Easter Bunny! Here Are Some of My Favorite Nut Allergy-Friendly Easter Sweets Picks

The cutest chocolate bunny I've ever seen; it's from Dean's Sweets.

Easter is soon arriving and with it, one of the biggest candy holidays of the year. If you're worried about peanut and tree nut allergies, you may not be hopping for joy at the thought of all the candy out there that is clearly off-limits for your kids. 

Still, you'd be surprised at some of the good stuff out there, both in stores and/or online. I've posted some of my favorites for you to check out. Please keep in mind that YOU are the best judge of what to serve your allergic child or family member. If you have any questions, I urge you to call companies directly.

Some of these finds are peanut/tree nut only in keeping with the theme of my "nut-free" blog; but there are some goodies here that are free of many other allergens and/or gluten.

CHOCOLATE

Dean's Sweets, a nut-free chocolatier in Portland, Maine produces delightful seasonal items including the bunny pictured above. Both milk and dark chocolate available; they even have chocolate-covered matzos for Passover. You can walk into their charming store or order online. See this link for more information on their seasonal products.



Andes Mint Chocolates/Tootsie Candies. I found the Andes Easter-themed Chocolate Mint candies at my local Target and I just found out that Andes makes solid chocolate bunnies as well. A Tootsie Corporation Brand, Andes Mint Chocolates are peanut-free, tree nut-free and gluten-free. Click this link to see the Tootsie Corporation's complete selection of Easter goodies including egg-shaped Tootsie pops.



York Peppermint Patties Egg-Shaped Chocolates. This brand is part of the Hershey corporation so they will mark for allergens. My daughter loves these things. No nut allergy warnings but they do contain milk/egg. Read the label and call Hershey for more info.




Cadbury Mini Eggs (with the hard candy shell). These are made by Hershey and Hershey will list for cross-contact with allergens. We love these little candy eggs and they make a great cake/cupcake decoration. Please don't confuse these with the Cadbury Creme Eggs (you know, looks like an egg yolk in the center); those have nut allergy warnings. But you won't confuse the two, because you're reading labels, right? :) See the picture above and call Hershey directly if you would like more information.

New Easter treats basket from Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates.


Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates is a longtime family favorite that never fails to please. You can order pre-made Easter baskets or order individual nut-free bunnies, chocolate creams, jelly beans and other seasonal chocolates. My kids love them all. Click here to find out more.

BAKED TREATS

Nutphree's Easter cupcakes. Delicious cake with sinfully rich frosting.

Nutphree's Cupcakes (pictured above) makes beautiful cakes (like my daughter's most recent b-day cake), cupcakes and cookies. They are Chicago-area only, but well worth mentioning since I know a lot of you live in the Chi-town area. Call Nutphree's for more details; all info is on their website. And, for those of you near a new Mariano's grocer, you can find Nutphree's in Mariano's stores. Nutphree's is a sponsor of this site. 

Candice Foods Protein Bars are a healthy choice and they are SO delicious. You can get them in some Midwest natural foods stores but ordering online is a breeze. These are free of many top allergens, gluten-free and kosher. Like Nutphree's they are owned by a parent of kids with allergies. Click this link to find out more. Candice Foods is a sponsor of this site.

JELLY BEANS/GUMMY CANDIES



Surf Sweets jelly beans are all-natural and organic, available at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores. Really nice flavors and beautiful, springy pastel colors. They are nut-free, gluten-free and free of many other top allergens. See their web site for more info.



Haribo gummy candies are a family favorite, partly because they are available in so many different varieties, including "Happy Hoppers" bunny-shaped gummies. Here's an allergen info link for Haribo but call the company if you have further questions. Find them at Target, Walmart and your local supermarket.



Gimbal's Jelly Beans are a wonderful allergy-friendly find, available at many supermarkets including Walmart. I've also seen them at Walgreens stores. So many unique and delicious flavors and best of all, top 8 allergen-free. They have seasonal varieties (above) but their basic jelly bean is available year-round. See their web site for a list of all of their amazing nut-free candies.

These are my favorites; I'm sure you have yours, but I hope this helps those of you who may just be starting out with nut allergies, or maybe those of you who are looking for something new. You might also like this archived post where I talk about some non-edible Easter basket treats.

Just to be sure we're all on the same page here: You are the best judge of the foods you can give to your child, so please note that while some of these candies may be free from several allergens, you will have to check labels and check with companies if you have further questions. Thank you!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Welcome to The New Age: What We Should Expect From Schools and Managing Food Allergies in the Classroom


I've been dealing with food allergies at school since 2004 and while I do think there is much more awareness about allergies these days, it still seems as a lot of us are having problems managing allergies at school.

Some parents tell me that they are not being listened to or respected with regards to life-threatening food allergies, even though they have followed the school's rules, i.e., filled out the paperwork, visited the allergist, met with the school staff and the myriad other tasks that go along with managing food allergies in daily life.

Just to be clear:  when I say "respected" I simply mean acknowledging that the allergy is real and that certain reasonable, necessary accommodations may be required. The unfortunate facts are that food allergies can be life-threatening and some classroom practices might require a little adaptation. What is troubling is that some parents are being called upon to frequently justify their child's allergies despite the fact that they've provided medical documentation, doctor's notes, etc.

If you're a parent feeling drained or frustrated by allergy management at school, don't feel alone because it takes effort to make things go smoothly -- sometimes a lot of effort.  Lately, I've been wondering: does it have quite so intensely difficult, with parents needing to be "pioneers" each year? After all, food allergies are not a brand-new problem.

I don't have all the answers but I, along with my daughter, have been managing allergies at school for more than 10 years. We've always tried to work with the school and usually we have been successful -- though not without struggle at times. With the era of food allergy awareness definitely upon us, I think we can have the following reasonable expectations. To me, these are the basics:

1. To be taken seriously if you have provided the appropriate medical documentation for the allergy.

2. To be treated with respect by school staff if you have concerns about your allergic student. If the person you're dealing with doesn't have the answers, they should be ready and willing to send you to the person who does.

3. To be prepared as parents to offer reminders or to engage in follow-up discussions, but not forced to re-invent the wheel and start at point A each time there is a new class party or field trip on the horizon. Having to re-open our child's health issues each time an event comes up is not only frustrating, it's dangerous as all of the major questions and concerns should have been settled at the beginning of the school year (of course you may always have to tweak things and make adjustments but a basic plan should be in place that doesn't deviate.)

4. To be ready to offer our assistance in educating others about allergies, with the understanding that many of us are new at this and are still educating ourselves. At this point in our collective experience, we should expect schools to be providing all staff with some food allergy education beyond just the basic epinephrine usage training that many of them receive -- a great thing, but only one part of the puzzle. Some basic discussion on cross-contact and allergen avoidance is equally important.

5. To prepare our child as best as we can according to their age and level of development with the knowledge that if something goes wrong despite our best efforts and our child's best efforts, (accidents happen, mistakes can be made) that the school knows what to do in an emergency and will actually do it.

While I am a huge advocate of parental support and teaching kids self-advocacy, the fact is that when kids cross the threshold to school, the school has a responsibility to them, just as it does to all students. It isn't just one or two students with allergies any more and sadly, the numbers continue to grow. In addition, schools are accommodating many types of special needs and food allergies are under that umbrella, so don't let anyone tell you that "no one" has any of the same issues as you. Unfortunately, they probably do.

You might also like these posts from The Nut-Free Mom blog:

Planning for the School Year with Food Allergies

Working Around Food Allergies at Class Parties

Teaching Kids to Manage their Nut Allergies

For a crash course in managing your child's life-threatening nut allergies (including communication tips and lots of emotional support), click this link.

Note: I'm a parent just like you sharing my experiences. If you have any medical or legal questions, please consult the appropriate medical or legal resources. Thank you!