Thursday, April 28, 2011

Food Allergy Product News: Nut-Free Chocolate for Mother's Day! Get Exclusive Coupon Code Here!

Yes, Easter just ended but Mother's Day is right around the corner! What better way to celebrate than with chocolate?

I'm so happy to share that my friends at Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates, my all-time fave nut-free chocolate maker, is offering Nut-Free Mom blog readers an exclusive coupon for one week only!

Here is a link to some of the great Mother's Day gift ideas that Vermont Nut Free has on offer.

Nut-Free Mom blog readers will receive a 10% discount on all items in the order, excluding shipping charges. This coupon is effective April 28th through May 6th. Enter NFM10 at the top of the shopping cart in the keycode box. It is not case-sensitive.

Because many of us do not want any foods that contain peanuts or tree nuts in our homes, and because we like to share with our family and friends, this is a great gift for us moms, so start hinting now! You can also ask for favorite baking stock-up items like delicious nut-free chocolate chips and baking bars. Please visit the website to see all the chocolatey and scrumptious options.

I know that Vermont Nut-Free gets busy at every holiday, so order now! I hope someone in my family reads this...I love the truffles and chocolate chips! ;)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Nut-Free Pretzel Bakery Kim & Scott's Introduce a New Gluten-Free Gourmet Pretzel!

When Kim & Scott's Gourmet Pretzels contacted me about their new Gluten-Free Pretzels, I was very interested to try them. I've been a fan of Kim & Scott's for years and have enjoyed their pretzels, available in the frozen section at the supermarket (check their web site for stores) and also fresh from their nut-free bakery in Chicago called Cafe Twist, which I visit often with my family. You can read a review of that restaurant here.

My family avoids all baked goods that are nut-free, but because we don't cope with either celiac disease or wheat allergy, we have not sought out gluten-free baked goods. I was curious to see what these would taste like and what my kids would think. They are serious fans of the "regular" Kim & Scott's pretzels so how would they feel about gluten-free?

Turns out that they LOVED them. My youngest daughter ate her first gluten-free Bavarian pretzel as an after school snack and that one was soon followed by her second. I told her that it was gluten-free and asked if she could tell the difference. She said no. I grabbed a bite of my own pretzel. Amazingly, to me these taste like Kim & Scott's regular Bavarian pretzels (my personal favorite). If anything, they are slightly sweeter with a very slightly different texture than the wheat variety. But if you were to give me a gluten-free Kim & Scott's pretzel and not tell me, I don't think I would have known the difference. In a word: delicious.

My oldest daughter is the one with the nut-allergy, so she has always appreciated the nut-free aspects of Kim & Scott's pretzels and she informed me that "Kim & Scott's makes gluten-free taste good." I heartily agree.

It is very difficult to find products that are both gluten-free AND made in a nut-free facility. How wonderful that there is now a great new snack option for those of us who need nut-free bakery items as well as gluten-free.

If you would like more information about this product or other Kim & Scott's products, please visit their web site for details.

FTC note: I received food samples, but no $$ compensation for this review.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Food Allergies and Seasonal/Pet Allergies...Triple Whammy

Even though I've been dealing with my daughter's food allergies and seasonal allergies for years, I still find myself having to make tough calls about her health vs. socializing. We are fortunate to have so many understanding friends and neighbors but sometimes we just have to say "no" to one thing and find a different solution. And that doesn't have to be tragic.

I want to share a quick story because I sometimes feel that parents beat themselves up over the things their kids have to "miss out on" due to food allergies or other allergies.

My daughter and her really good friend have been trying to arrange a sleepover at the friend's house for several weeks now. This was supposed to take place this coming weekend. Well, right now, seasonal allergies are really taking a toll on my daughter's health. She's on medication but the pollen count is giving her a lot of stuffiness and breathing problems.

Last week, she hung out at her friend's house (the one who wanted to host the sleepover) and when she got home, she was stuffy, wheezing and needed her asthma inhaler. Turns out that the seasonal allergies that already existed were being aggravated even more by an apparent allergy to her friend's pet guinea pigs.

What to do? The date was arranged, the plans had been made, the hosting family couldn't be nicer or more accommodating with our daughter's food allergies.

I decided that we needed to host the sleepover at our house and try again at the friend's home when spring is over and the pollen count subsides. (My daughter is a lot better in the summer than the spring). My daughter has hung out with the guinea pigs in the past and not suffered intense symptoms, so I figured she just couldn't take the pet allergies and seasonal allergies all at once. I worried a little bit about offending the parents of my daughter's friend, but knew I needed to make the call.

Well, when my daughter came home for lunch, she had already taken care of it. She spoke to her friend, explained the problem and they decided the sleepover should be at our house. I didn't even need to sweat this. Obviously, it's no fun for a kid to have an asthma attack, so my daughter advocated for her own situation and it was resolved.

Everyone knows that it is more fun to attend a sleepover at someone else's house, so I did feel a little bit bad that my daughter couldn't do that this time. But you know what? She was OK with it.

I frequently hear from parents who are really sad that their child can't visit an ice cream shop like they, the parent, used to do as as a child. Or they worry that depriving their child of a treat at a birthday party will damage their child's self-esteem. I'm not saying that this can't happen, but kids are smart and resilient. Don't make a big deal about it and there's a good chance they might not, either.

My biggest obstacle now: deciding on an appropriate movie for the girls to watch. That's OK. Sometimes it's nice to be faced with a parenting challenge that's non-allergy related.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Food Allergy Safe Easter Celebrations!

Easter will soon be here and so will family celebrations that naturally revolve around food! However, food allergy safe Easter celebrations are possible. I wanted to compile some of my best tips for holiday dining with the family.

Easter is tricky because a restaurant Easter Brunch is often part of the festivities. Please be extra careful at a "buffet" brunch. Risk of cross-contact is astronomical and many brunch dishes contain tree nuts. Sometimes bringing some safe foods for your child is the best thing you can do when faced with this issue. Don't take a chance at buffets. If you know you will be going to a brunch, call the restaurant now and see if you can have a "safe" item prepared separately in the kitchen.

Now, onto the at-home celebrations! Last year, I received the FAAN spring newsletter and I want to share a few of their allergy free Easter tips:

1. Instead of decorating real eggs, paint, decoupage or bead wooden eggs available at craft stores or online. Plastic eggs can also be decorated using stickers, ribbons and permanent markers.

2. Fill baskets with small toys, cars, dolls, crayons or mini stuffed animals, instead of putting the focus on food.

3. Organize an Easter egg hunt using plastic eggs. Fill them with coins or stickers or even coupons for activities such as roller skating or movies, instead of candy.

I also want to address family meals because of course, they are part of the fun but you've got to be careful. Here's what works for me:

1. Communicate about the allergy early and often. Whether you plan to attend a dinner outside of your home or you are the host family, you want to put the word out now about your nut allergy concerns. Things to discuss would be safe brands of bread for stuffing, gravy sauces or sauce enhancers or mixes, stuffing recipes in general (many contain pecans, pine nuts or other nuts), desserts and cross-contamination when cooking or baking. You want to give people plenty of notice about the food to help ensure safe choices. Many times people set their menus and decide what they plan to bring to a dinner early, so go on, make that call today!

2. Offer to provide safe alternatives to family favorites. Does someone always want to make pecan pie or peanut butter blossom cookies? See if you can make an alternative pie or offer to make the cookies using SunButter (sunflower seed butter) or soybutter. Or, introduce a new recipe that may become a nut-free family favorite.

3. Be careful at the buffet table. Buffet tables present cross-contact problems, since serving spoons may be used for more than one food. You may ask to serve your child first to prevent cross contact, or prepare a separate plate for your child in the kitchen.

4. Suggest an alternative to "mixed nuts in a bowl" and peanut-laden Chex mix-style snacks from the party. Yes, these are a big hit with many family members, but see if you can bring an alternative snack. These are particularly dangerous because younger allergic children may grab these items and eat them before you can stop them. Also, people spread the nut dust and residue around with these snacks. If your child touches the hands of someone who was recently snacking on this, and then eats something "safe," a reaction can occur because they will then ingest the nut allergen along with the "safe" food. This just happened to the child of a friend of mine, so be careful.

5. You bring (or make) dessert. Desserts are one of the top foods to cause allergic reactions, so don't chance it. You make the dessert. It may seem like a lot of work but honing your dessert-making skills is a must if you're a nut allergy caregiver. Also, everyone loves desserts, so if you make a good one you'll be one of the "heroes" of the dinner! :)

6. If you're really concerned, bring a safe meal for your child. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may not feel the meal is safe enough for your child to eat. That's OK--it happens. Just bring something extra for them and serve it to them without a lot of fanfare. If anyone asks, use the situation to increase awareness: "Alex can't eat the dinner because of her nut allergy." You never know--this simple statement could result in more cooperation from others for the next celebration.

Happy Easter!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Allergic Living Magazine--U.S. Version, Just Launched!

For those of you new to the world of food allergies and even to those of you who have been dealing with food allergies for awhile, I have to tell you about Allergic Living magazine. This amazing resource for people living with food allergies, environmental allergies and asthma, is chock-full information about all aspects of life with allergies. Unlike some other publications, it does not focus mainly on gluten-free living, but delves into life-threatening food allergies in greater detail than you'll find anywhere else. What's more, Allergic Living recently issued a U.S. edition (they are based in Canada) to deal directly with the many aspects of life with food allergies in the U.S.

Allergic Living's latest issue, the new U.S. edition, focuses on one of the toughest aspects of living with food allergies: dining out. With a feature article by Sloane Miller of Allergic Girl (the blog and the book), you'll find page after page of awesome advice and support, so don't miss out! This article also features tips from top chefs including Ming Tsai and Top Chef Masters' Susur Lee.

In addition, you'll find new monthly columns from FAAN CEO Julia Bradsher and also a column from Gina Clowes of AllergyMoms.

I had the pleasure of finally meeting Gwen Smith, editor of Allergic Living, (after e-mailing, Facebooking for months) at the recent FAAN conference in Chicago. (I'll post my conference recap later this week.) She is such a warm, bright and knowledgeable advocate for people living with food allergies and we had a great time chatting in between sessions. Gwen has food allergies herself so she knows what she's talking about!

It's rare that I've found a resource as complete as Allergic Living so I just wanted to share it with all of you. I hope you'll check it out! Let me know!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Peanut Allergies and Easter: More Treats Ideas (incl. Non-Edible) plus our Giveaway Winner!!!

Congrats to Jennifer N. of Minnesota--you won the Vermont Nut-Free Easter chocolate giveaway!!! Please e-mail your complete name and address to so I can get the prize to you! :)

Thanks to all who entered the giveaway!! These have been a big hit so I will have more in the future.

Many of you commented about the non-edible Easter treats you like to offer, so I wanted to share some of my own. Here is a link to a post that I wrote that discusses some ideas for Easter baskets. Candy is traditional but for food-allergic kids, other items can be just as fun. Share this list with friends, family and churches.

I'm heading to the FAAN conference this weekend, so if you see me there, be sure to say hello!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Peanut Allergy Easter Candy (and other Food Allergies): The EB Has Some Options! Plus, a Vermont Nut-Free Giveaway!

For those of us dealing with peanut allergies and other food allergies at Easter, we often feel like the Easter Bunny may have a sparse basket to share with our food-allergic kids and family members. I'm happy to report that there seems to be more options than ever before that make it a lot easier on EB. Also, non-edible items are a big hit at my house and I encourage you to try those as well. I'll have more on non-edible suggestions in an upcoming post. Now, onto the candy!

Divvies is a fabulous choice for egg-, nut- and dairy-allergic people. Click the link to discover chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and other fabulously delicious "safe" candies for Easter. Hurry though--they tend to sell out quickly--they're that good!

For nut allergies only (this is what my family deals with) we love, love, love Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate. This is guaranteed, nut-free goodness made in a dedicated nut-free facility. Currently, Vermont Nut Free is backed up with Easter orders and can no longer guarantee Easter delivery. However, Vermont Nut-Free was also kind enough to offer a nut-free chocolate Easter giveaway to readers of The Nut-Free Mom blog! VNF recently provided me with Easter chocolate and I can ship it to you directly. The winner will receive: a dark chocolate Easter Bunny pop, a crispy rice chocolate bunny bar and a small Easter-shaped chocolate assortment (2.8 oz). Yum! That certainly dresses up a nut-free Easter basket! Please note: this is peanut- and tree nut-free only. May contain other food allergens such as egg and soy.

All you have to do is comment on this post TODAY and TOMORROW ONLY (Wed. and Thurs.) for your chance to win. When commenting, I'd love to hear how you celebrate Easter nut-free (or other holidays nut-free, egg-free, wheat-free, dairy-free, etc.). I will announce the winner on Friday so that we can get your candy to you in time for Easter Sunday! Winner will be chosen at random.

Note: When commenting, please give your first name and an initial. Please do NOT post as Anonymous. I need to know how to identify the winner. Thanks in advance for this!

Finally, if you're in the supermarket and want to pick something up, I've got a few suggestions that are safe for nut allergies since that is what I am most familiar with, but I also have a couple of choices safe for the Top 8 food allergies as well. The list below in no way encompasses everything out there, so I'm welcome to comments that share your "finds."

Chocolate eggs:Cadbury mini chocolate CANDY COATED eggs. These are made by Hershey. Hershey has stated to me that they will always mark for cross-contact, so read the labels. Creme-filled and caramel Cadbury eggs have nut allergy warnings but the candy coated ones, called Cadbury Mini Eggs do not.

Hershey chocolate for Easter. Not everything is free of nut warnings, but many of you have reported finding "safe" chocolate bunnies, chocolate eggs and more. Always check the label on these and contact Hershey for more info, but it looks like there is a fair amount to choose from these days.

Starburst jellybeans, Gimbals jelly beans. I don't recommend Jelly Belly just yet though they recently went "peanut-free." The company has reported that older bags of candy may still contain peanut flour.

Sweet Tarts "Eggs, Chicks and Bunnies": Egg and wheat allergy warnings.

Marshmallow Peeps: These are gluten-free as well and do not contain egg ingredients; gelatin is listed as an ingredient. There are SO many kinds of Peeps out there now; it's mind boggling. :) If you can have them, go for it.

Safe for the Top 8 (including celiac disease)
Surf Sweets Gummy Bears. You can find these in the candy section at Whole Foods as well as other natural markets. These are made with organic fruit juice and no artificial dyes.

Yummy Earth Lollipops. These are also available at Whole Foods and they are natural and delicious besides being allergy-friendly.

Enjoy Life Candy Bars. These are free of the Top 8 allergens and the crispy rice Boom Choco Boom is a little slice of heaven. Anyone would like this in their Easter Basket. Find these at Whole Foods; for other retailers visit their web site.

Note: It is always your decision what to serve your child, so if you have questions or concerns, please always contact the candy manufacturer for more info. Food labels can change; always read the label to be sure of ingredients/cross-contact risk.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Navigating Food Allergies: Join Our Live Web Chat!

As I've mentioned previously, I am co-hosting a live, interactive class called Navigating Food Allergies: At Camp, On Sleepovers and Playdates on and I hope you'll join me!!

When: Tuesday, April 12, at 1 p.m. ET

Where: TheMotherhood – here’s the link to the page where the class will be held.

What: The class is called Navigating Food Allergies: At Camp, on Sleepovers and Playdates. Join the experts to talk about ensuring your kids have fun and safe experiences in these environments away from home. Lori Sandler, Divvies Bakery ( will lead a discussion with Sandy Rubenstein of Camp Wingate*Kirkland ( and Renee Flax of the American Camp Association (, who have worked with many families managing food allergies. Come with questions and your own best approaches. The focus is all about making sure your kids are taken care of physically, emotionally and socially so they can have fun!

The class is sponsored by ConAgra Foods and hosted by TheMotherhood.

To find out even more info about The Motherhood as well as the Navigating with Food Allergies series, click here.

Can’t wait, and I hope to see you there!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Food Allergies, Travel and Dining Out

After my last post about airplanes, a lot of you are wondering how we got along on our trip with regard to restaurant dining. Yes, the airplane does seem tame in comparison to dining away from home on an extended trip--that's when the "fun" really starts.

I have several things that I do to screen a restaurant, particularly if we have never been there before. I have a 3-pronged approach to restaurants and communication is the key.

1. Look up the menu online or in person. Some menus now say that they "welcome allergic diners" but even if they do, carefully review the menu items. Does the menu have a lot of risky foods? Do they state that they use peanut oil or other nut oils frequently? Is it a huge menu with lots of dishes (and thus, lots or chance for cross-contact or mix ups)? If this is the case, I move on to the next place. There is too much cross-contact risk for me to feel comfortable.

To me, a simple menu is much better. I call that a "clean" menu. That's what we strive for when dining out and it seems to work. Once you find a menu that looks OK then you need to...

2. Call the restaurant. Ask to speak to the manager and ask specific questions and evaluate the answers. We always ask what oils are used, for example, and how they handle an allergic diner's order. Is it separated from potential allergens with clean pans, utensils, etc? Is the manager comfortable with your questions or does he/she seem worried or unsettled? You're trying to find out their comfort level with food allergies and diners. Also keep in mind that language barriers and certain cultures may not be as understanding of your needs. That's why we avoid cuisines such as Asian or Indian restaurants where there is just too much risk of nut allergen contamination. You must be clear and you must be ready to walk away. A meal isn't worth the risk. Find somewhere else.

3. Reinforce your needs once inside the restaurant. Locate the manager or chef and speak to them about your order; sometimes the server has no idea what ingredients are in a particular food, so don't rely on them alone. Also, order a simple meal without sauces for your allergic diner. Grilled foods are a great choice. Avoid meals with tons of components--sometimes it's hard to figure out what is in those. If you want it spelled out for the chef, you can download a free chef card template from FAAN. If, once inside the restaurant, something seems off or they change their tune, please go elsewhere. It's never worth it--and will you really enjoy the meal if you're worried about allergic reactions?

This sounds like a lot of work but generally it is a pleasant experience. We've had very good experiences with chefs in general. Any chef worth his or her salt will want you to enjoy your meal and will want to provide you with a safe dining experience. If you get a bad vibe, leave.

Our recent trip to Florida did not involve a ton of restaurant dining since we stayed with family members. When we did venture out to eat, we called in advance. Luckily, we found the most awesome Greek restaurant, The Greek Islands, in Ft. Lauderdale where the chef/owner answered the phone and was also the cook. He knew his stuff and served us up some wonderful meals. Also, Greek cuisine, traditionally, only uses tree nuts in the desserts (which we skip anyhow) and it is not known for its use of peanut oil--they like olive oil or other vegetable oil. (However, always check with a Greek restaurant--can't speak for all of them.)

Here is a link to another post I wrote about travel and dining out.

I also like this link for dining out tips from FAAN.

Another wonderful resource on dining out with food allergies is found in Sloane Miller's recently released food allergy book: Allergic Girl: Living Well with Food Allergies.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Peanut Allergy News: Successful Spring Break Air Travel

We're back from Spring Break in Florida, so since I'm fresh from air travel with nut allergies I wanted to share our experience.

The prospect of air travel can be frightening for families dealing with food allergies for so many reasons. Close, cramped airplane seats, peanuts or tree nuts served to all passengers as snacks, recirculated air, food brought on by other passengers, food left over from previous flights are all of concern.

Here is the most important lesson to learn from air travel: There is absolutely no way you can ever eliminate all allergenic foods from your flight. There are many reasons for this; I witnessed several incidences. For one thing, even though some airlines no longer serve peanuts, they sell "snack packs" to people willing to pay for them. These packs often contain a pack of tree nuts. Secondly, airlines in general do not even offer snacks anymore or lunches, dinners, etc. unless you are flying First Class. (And I don't know many families who do that.) What does that mean? Due to the "no snacks" policies, I saw many families bringing on full lunches or buying food at the airport for the plane trip.

Both of our flights got delayed and in one case, re-routed due to bad weather and we ended up on one flight several hours longer than had been anticipated. People get hungry and want to eat.

Deciding whether or not your severely allergic child is fit for air travel is very personal and something you should speak to your doctor about. In our case, we have successfully flown several times with our severely allergic daughter. I'm not saying it's not stressful at times, but having preparation and a game plan definitely helps.

If you do decide to fly, you can take proactive measures. Here are some things we did/considered before flying.

The airline. Know the policies of the airline before you buy a ticket. Note: They will NOT change their policies for individual passengers in most cases. By choosing an airline that does not serve peanuts/tree nuts as the in-flight snack given to all passengers, you can reduce risk. Use Plane Sheets and ask to board early to clean your seating area. We've done this. Usually, we run into other families boarding early to clean seats, too (on a recent flight, we were one of three families boarding early because of allergies.) I can't emphasize enough that keeping your cool with the airlines is key. They have been known to boot passengers with allergies if the families start making demands that are not "in policy." That's why I strongly recommend that you know the airline's policies before buying the ticket.

Take your inhaler/epinephrine auto-injectors/anihistamine in your carry-on. Having a note from your doctor is nice because you can show it if someone questions your meds. However, on recent flights not one person questioned our daughter's auto-injectors or other medications. In fact, they announced at the airport security that these items were allowed. Having important meds close at hand is crucial, so don't put them in your bag that will go in the cargo hold; carry those with you at all times.

The time of day. We were unable to get the earliest flights of the day, so we did fly on planes that had been previously vacated by a previous flight's passengers. Many times the early flights are "cleaner" i.e. other passengers have not had a chance to leave food residue.

Board early. We asked the attendants at the check-in desk if we could board with the young children/needs special assistance group so that we could clean our seating area before others boarded the plane. This was a huge help and we were able to do this on both flights. I cleaned the arm rests, looked at the seats and immediate floor area and the tray tables. I wiped off the surfaces my daughter would touch with wipes (not too strong-smelling, since some people react to fragrances esp. in a plane's close quarters) and we were good to go.

Bring safe snacks/hand wipes.
My daughter had food for the flight so the food on offer wasn't an issue. We also served her a bottled or canned drink during the beverage service. Some airlines use a communal bottle and cups for water and juice. It's possible for snack items to get into these vessels so we chose sealed containers. Before eating her own snack, my daughter used a hand wipe (her suggestion, her choice. I liked it. :))

Seating. We strove to get seating in a row just with our family. On the way home, our family had split seating so I put my daughter next to the window with me in between. That way, there was a person between her and the other passenger not in our group. If you have enough people in your party, claiming an entire row is a nice way to reduce the food exposure.

Important note: Don't ever assume that an airline will make an announcement telling passengers that they must refrain from eating peanuts, tree nuts or other foods due to an allergic passenger. Read the allergy guidelines of an airline on their web site or call them directly to find out how they handle allergies. Every airline is different. If you determine that airline travel is unsafe for your situation, it's better to figure that out in advance. Your allergist can help you make this determination, along with the policies of the particular airline you want to use.

 Allergic Living magazine has a great airline info sheet that compares airlines and their food/peanut policies so please check out that great, well-researched resource.

I will have more posts about our recent travel experiences, so please check back soon!