Friday, April 30, 2010

The Future of Food Allergy from Allergic Living Magazine!!!

I am big fan of Allergic Living magazine, a Canadian-based 'zine that covers everything you need to know about living with allergies of all kinds and they devote a great deal of time to food allergies. Unlike some other allergy magazines out there, they don't dwell on gluten-and dairy-free eating--they always include nut allergies as a primary focus. It's the only magazine I know that really does this, so I love them for that. They also have a chart for air travel with peanut allergy that guides you on which airline to choose. Check their web site for details.

Right now, they have a 5th anniversary issue available--on newsstands in Canada, but if you live in the U.S. you may need to order it. I truly recommend a subscription! You can't afford to miss Allergic Living and what the awesome editor Gwen Smith brings to you. Follow Gwen and her magazine on Twitter!

The anniversary issue covers the future of food allergy--everything from a study of a hypoallergenic peanut to the use of Chinese herbs and their role in raising the threshold for allergic reactions. They also examine schools, workplaces, airlines and all public arenas and future policies for dealing with food allergy.

I hope you'll give Allergic Living a try. I realize that some of you may not know about it--so now you do. Let me know how you like it. I think you're going to wonder--as I did--how you lived without it!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Peanut Allergy and "The Brown Bag Lunch"

This is the time of year when many elementary school kids are beginning to have lots of outdoor activities such as Track and Field Day, outdoor field trips and other events that require the dreaded "brown bag lunch." I say "dreaded" because we know what that means for the other kids: "Peanut Butter City." Obviously, PB & J is the ideal portable lunch food for warm weather because it won't spoil in the hot sun. Still, brown bag lunches always make me uneasy because of the risk that peanut butter will be everywhere and also because--what do we pack for our kids?

Many peanut- or nut-allergic kids won't touch peanut butter substitutes because of the smell and texture--too much like peanut butter. So what do you do?

Well, for one thing, see if you can send your child with an insulated bag in which you can place one of those little freezer packs to keep things cold. I know that teachers don't want to be stuck with non-disposable lunch bags, but in our case it may be the best way. Talk to your child's teacher about your concerns. You can get some terrific, eco-friendly portable lunch gear at Litter Free Lunch--incidentally, this great business was created by another food allergy mom!

In any case, you're going to have to get creative. Here are some tips on how to ensure a safe and yummy lunch for your child on event day.

Make use of frozen juice boxes or water bottles. These time-tested little gems will help keep your child's lunch cold in a brown bag and will usually thaw by lunchtime on a warm day.

Think outside the lunch box. Because of the ease with which many non-peanut butter sandwich fillings can spoil, try skipping the traditional sandwich on "event" day. Instead, pack fresh fruit or veggie sticks, a couple of Enjoy Life Carmel Apple Bars or nut-free granola, crackers and/or banana bread or zucchini bread. My daughter's favorite is pasta salad (pasta, non-refrigerated vinagrette and cherry tomatoes).

Ask for nut-free seating. Whether it's a special picnic table spot or a separate, peanut-free picnic blanket (my daughter's school used this approach), the abundance of peanut butter in bag lunches requires attention to seating for the allergic kids. Kids should also bring some type of place mat for picnic tables--who knows what was eaten there before.

Don't forget the wet wipes! Since soap and water is not always available at an outdoor activity, pack enough containers of Wet Ones or some other wipe for the entire class to use after lunch. Your child's teacher can help you with this, since most will appreciate the efforts at general hygiene in addition to helping kids remove peanut butter from their hands and faces.

Readers, how have you coped with this portable lunch problem?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Food Allergy Awareness Week--Has Your Governor Gotten On Board?

Would you like your state to formally recognize food allergy awareness week? The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) has some news about how to get this done:

Food Allergy Awareness Week: May 9-15, 2010

Ask your Governor to Issue a Food Allergy Awareness Week Proclamation

Issuing a Food Allergy Awareness Week proclamation is a great way to help raise awareness in your State!

Ask your Governor to declare May 9-15, 2010 Food Allergy Awareness Week!
(Note: We have already received proclamations from Alabama, Illinois (yes!), Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Washington, and Wisconsin.)

Follow this link to find a customizable letter you can send to your state governor. It's so easy--they've got all the info you need right there!

Food Allergy Awareness Week is such a great invention--and a wonderful way to get our communities to learn about the realities of what food allergy mean, who they affect and how to prevent reactions. An official state proclamation gives this important advocacy effort even more legitimacy.

If your state isn't on board yet, click this link now and let them hear from you.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nut-Free "Nutella" Substitute--Safe for Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies!

I know I've been talking up my recent discovery of Sunbutter lately, but bear with me while I share my latest use for this peanut butter substitute. I used to be a big fan of Nutella, that chocolate-hazelnut spread that is a European sensation but is now widely available in the U.S. I don't have peanut butter or tree nut products in my house anymore, but I definitely have missed Nutella. I bet some of you do, too.

Last week, I remembered that I had (from years ago) a peanut butter-chocolate recipe that was meant to be used as filling for dessert calzones (this recipe was suggested if you didn't have access to Nutella). I used to make these dessert calzones using only Nutella, but that was back in the days before nut allergies came into my life.

I dug up this book and decided to use Sunbutter in this recipe, along with a few other of my changes. I know that some of you with nut allergies also are allergic to seeds, so if you can have soy butter, you can replace the Sunbutter with that. In fact, I've seen a soy butter-chocolate spread at the supermarket, but making your own tastes a lot better if you have the time. Also, I tend to prefer the taste of Sunbutter over soy butter, but of course, use what is appropriate for you.

So here goes: the Sunbutter-chocolate spread recipe followed by the one for dessert calzones. Enjoy!

Sunbutter-Chocolate Spread

2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Hershey's)
2/3 cup milk (any kind--substitute non-dairy if you need to)
1 tsp vanilla extract (I use McCormick or Nielsen-Massey)
1/2 cup Sunbutter sunflower seed spread

In a medium saucepan, stir the sugar and cocoa powder until blended. Gradually stir in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly, then lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for at least 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and Sunbutter, stirring until smooth. Let cool thoroughly before using.

Store this in the refrigerator. It will keep for about a week.

Dessert calzones with Sunbutter-chocolate filling

Use your favorite pizza dough recipe or buy pre-made dough (I sometimes use Pilsbury brand). Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll each piece into a 6-7 inch circle. Spoon two tablespoons filling into the center, then fold dough into a half-moon over the filling. Pinch the edges together and fold bottom half over top, crimping to seal well. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving 2 inches between each calzone. Bake until well browned-between 12 and 20 minutes, depending on your oven. Remove from oven and sprinkle with confectioner's sugar. To die for!!!!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Food Allergies and Teasing: How to Cope

Just to be clear, I'm not talking about bullying, but teasing. Bullying is not to be tolerated. No way, no how. But teasing happens. It's part of life. I'm still teased by adults because of my 6' height. Seriously. So of course I'm going to expect that, like most kids who exhibit any kind of "difference," my daughter has had to deal with some teasing about her food allergy. Sometimes the comments have been provoked by the fact that she was eating something different at a birthday party; other times, kids harp on the fact that a particular food didn't have nuts as an ingredient, so why wouldn't she just eat it?? (I would have given anything to see my then 7-year-old first grader try to explain cross-contact to her classmates--which she did, many times. Good girl.)

Teasing has eased up quite a bit as my daughter has gotten older and with so many kids in her grade having various food allergies as well as other medical conditions, she is not such a novelty anymore. In fact, many times kids have been incredibly compassionate. In third grade, one boy even invited my daughter to "tag" him in a game because he knew she had asthma symptoms from her seasonal allergies and couldn't run as fast as usual. (What a guy! He can take her to the prom as far as I'm concerned.)

Even with these improvements, teasing still persists. At a friend's house recently, my daughter stood by the refrigerator with her friend, getting drinks. Her friend's older sister told my daughter: "Everything in there has peanuts in it. April Fool!" My apparently unflappable daughter took it in stride at the time and then told me about it later.

I tend to not get very upset at these incidents, mainly because any type of difference is cause for kids to tease others. Unfortunately this is part of growing up and as long as no one is putting unsafe foods in my daughter's face or threatening her, I tell her to shrug it off. And happily, she does.

As kids get into school or daycare settings, they may become objects of occasional teasing. Of course, serious incidents should be reported to the teachers, but what about thoughtless, offhand comments? Here are some tips to help your child deal:

Explain that the other child likely doesn't understand. Most of the teasing my child has experienced has stemmed from ignorance about food allergies. Tell your child to calmly state that "I can't eat the cake because I could get very sick. If you want to know more, ask my Mom." This actually works--most young kids won't want to be "busted" by a parent!

Let your child know that everyone gets teased sometimes. Any difference in children is duly noted by the others. Explain to your child that everyone has something about them that's different and that they are not alone. People are unique, so even the "teasers" may have a problem your child just doesn't know about.

Encourage their snappy comebacks, but don't let kids tease back. My daughter sometimes would ask kids "what's the big deal?" or "how would you like it?" when they teased her about her food allergies. However, I told her not to pick on them in return. Two wrongs don't make a right and all of that. When kids speak up for themselves, others usually think twice about saying something next time. And speaking up seems to boost self-esteem as well.

Help them laugh it off. I remember when a girl in my daughter's second grade class said things like "Are you allergic to pencils?" I would tell my daughter: "Boy, that was a silly comment. Who's allergic to pencils?? She must not have had anything better to say!" and we laughed it off together. By dissecting the teaser's comments, I think I helped my child to see the remark for what it was: pointless, silly and in the end--harmless.

By helping our food-allergic kids see that teasing is a part of life for everyone, they can learn how to feel confident and not ashamed for something that is only one part of who they are.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Food Allergy Fundraiser from Peanut Free Planet -- Today Only!

Have you visited the food allergy support site Kids with Food Allergies? Then you know how much great information and support you can find there. If you haven't check them out! They've teamed up with nut-free online food purveyor Peanut Free Planet for one day only--Friday, April 9th. Today only, 5% of PFP sales will go to the Kids with Food Allergies organization. In addition, everyone who makes a purchase today will receive a goody bag chock full of delicious items from Sunbutter, Sweet Alexis nut-free, dairy-free and egg-free Bakery and many more of your favorite nut-free food brands.

This is too delicious to pass up--and you'll help support a wonderful cause. As soon as I'm finished typing this, I'm heading over there myself.

I just found out about this goody bag giveaway and fundraiser from Sweet Alexis, a company I can personally vouch for as super yummy (the banana bread! the cookies!) and best of all, safe for my nut-allergic daughter.

It's great to be able to offer your child safe and nut-free treats that are also good to eat! What are some reader nut-free food favorites? Let us know.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

For Food Allergy Kids (and their Parents) On the Go: Lucy's Cookies!

When my daughter was first diagnosed with her allergies in 2004, snacks and especially baked treats that were made in dedicated nut-free facilities were all but non-existent. Those that did exist were not widely available--you had to trek to specialty markets, etc. For a mom with a preschooler and a toddler at the time (yours truly) that was not easy to achieve. I ended up earning a inadvertent master's degree in home baking that serves me well to this day, but was time-consuming to say the least.

Picking up a snack on the go for my food-allergic daughter at say, Starbucks, was also out of my reach. After Kindermusik in town, we liked to go get something to eat and drink. She could never buy anything to eat at Starbucks and I always had to bring something. I know she coped with it fine, but there were days when she really, really wanted to be able to get a snack there like everyone else.

For today's parents of very young kids with food allergies, you now have the option that I didn't when you drag the kids to Starbucks for your daily dose of caffeine: Lucy's Cookies. These have been available at Starbucks for a few months now, and my daughter recently tried the sugar cookie (there are several other varieties, including chocolate chip) for the first time. I took a small bite as well to see how it tastes. Made of all natural, organic ingredients, these cookies do not contain most major allergens including nuts, dairy, eggs and wheat. The sugar cookies contained, of all things, chick pea flour! To me, the cookies were very good and crunchy and I liked the fact that they were made for a healthy lifestyle as well as food allergies. Another bonus: they are one of the few "organic" and "vegan" snack foods I've found that are not processed alongside of peanuts and tree nuts.

My daughter can have wheat and dairy, so I wondered what she would think of the cookies. She reported that they were "different but good." That was the same response I had. I liked that they were not overly sweet and they had a great crunchy texture.

Mainly, I'm thrilled that my kid can now feel included in picking up a treat when we stop in to Starbucks. It's not a slice of lemon pound cake or a chocolate brownie, but to be able to get a snack on the go after all these years, is a great feeling. And it means less baking for me! :)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Give Your Food Allergy Essentials a Spring Update!

As the school year winds down, now is a great time to check your food allergy medications, bracelets and other gear to make sure that everything is up to date and current. For example, I came across one of my daughter's many EpiPens only to find that it expires next month. Several others don't expire until next fall, but I definitely don't want any duds laying around.

What about you? For those of you with kids in school or daycare, now is a great time to check the dates of your child's prescriptions (if you don't have them filed away already), see if they're getting low on anything (asthma inhalers or other medications for example) and to make sure that medical I.D. allergy bracelets still fit.

Also, since summer is coming, now is a great time to get those all-important medical forms filled out by your allergist. Allergists will be super-busy for the next few months, so get your forms in early.

Some of you have probably heard of the Center for Anaphylactic Support--they are a great group that offers EpiPen video tutorials as well as a FREE EpiPen renewal reminder service. Check the site to find out more--it's also a great site for friends and relatives who want to learn more about severe allergies.

If your child has outgrown their Medical I.D. bracelet (either mentally or physically), check out some new designs on the Medic Alert website. The Kid Smart program comes with a discount for children 17 and under. New Medic Alert jewelry include girly beading (for young fashionistas) and shoe tags that boys may prefer to wear. (On a side note, you'll also see adorable Alexis Fellows, daughter of mom Michele who runs the fabulous dairy, egg and nut-free bakery Sweet Alexis, when you click on the site!)

Spring updates can be a chore, but don't forget to do a spring sweep of your child's allergy needs. Anything I forgot to mention? Share your spring updates with us!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Last Minute Nut-Free Easter Basket Ideas for Food Allergies!

With only days to go until the Easter Bunny is due to arrive, parents of kids with food allergies find themselves unable to just grab a big bag of candy off the shelf and go. We've got to get creative when it comes to Easter Baskets since so much candy and food in general is off-limits at this time of year. There are a few candies for nut allergies out there. For example, this year I discovered Hershey mini eggs are safe. Also, Starburst jelly beans and some Sweet Tarts candies. For candy info, always check the labels. If you have questions about specific items, call the company. You'd be surprised how much this helps get labeling more clear. Keep those calls coming, folks!

But what if you don't want to sugar your kids up for the holiday? Besides the question of food allergies, many families aren't interested in over-feeding their kids tons of sugar. Of course, some candy and sweets at Easter are traditional and fun, but they don't have to be the whole show.

I think it's nice to offer food-allergic kids a balance of safe sweets and non-edible items that celebrate the season of spring.

Here are a few nut-free and allergy-friendly suggestions for last-minute Easter basket filling. Note: most are inedible treats.

- Chocolate dipped fruit (like strawberries). Break out the Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate Chips or Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips, melt them down and dip some strawberries in the melted goodness. If you stick a lollipop stick in the end, you have chocolate fruit pops. If you don't have Vermont Nut-Free or Enjoy Life chocolate chips in the house, Baker's Brand baking chocolate and some Hershey's baking chocolate is safe for nut allergies (check the labels for other food allergy warnings.) You can buy lollipop sticks at craft stores such as Michael's--look in the Wilton cake baking aisle.

- Kid-sized garden tools. Encourage your kids to help the garden grow with mini shovels, packets of seeds, gardening gloves, even small decorative garden stakes--Target has gnome and frog garden stakes for $3.99. (Of course, for young kids, be careful with the garden stakes). This is a great way to put the focus on spring and growing your own flowers, herbs and vegetables. One note: some gardening mixes may contain peanut or tree nut materials. Check the labels.

- Small books. Mini books about Easter, baby animals or Spring make a great addition to the Easter basket while encouraging reading. We always have included these in our kids' baskets and they are a hit.

- Windup toys. World Market has a great selection of small, inexpensive windup toys for Easter baskets. Kids go crazy for these!

- Easter or Spring-themed pencils and notepads. Target has some wonderful packs of these in their $1.00 section.

Readers, any other favorites? Let us know.