Thursday, May 31, 2012

I'm Co-Hosting a Food Allergy Chat on The Motherhood!

Last year, I was privileged to join the amazing Lori Sandler of Divvies and several other terrific bloggers and various parenting experts in a wonderfully successful live chat series on The Motherhood web site, a parenting forum that I love. We explored many aspects of food allergies including summer camp, play dates, sleepovers and much more. Here is a link to that chat.

In their infinite wisdom, The Motherhood decided that more food allergy chats are a great idea! Hooray! I appreciate that this parenting forum is so open to addressing the problem of food allergies, and tackling it from many angles. So here are some more details on what will be a fun and informative live chat.  Can't attend? You can click the link below (the one right after "Where: The Motherhood, right here") and submit a question. They will also provide a transcript a few days after the talk.

You're invited to The Motherhood for a Live Chat!

What:  A live, all-text talk on The Motherhood, called Managing the Anxieties Around Food AllergiesWe're continuing the Navigating Food Allergies series with a solutions-oriented class on handling the anxiety and feelings of isolation that can come with managing food allergies. Dr. Jules Spotts will join Lori Sandler and a fantastic group of bloggers to talk about how it's going for you and to learn and share ways to make sure allergies don't define your kids or your family.

When: Tuesday, June 5, at 1 p.m. ET. We will chat for 30 minutes!

Where: On The Motherhood, right here -

Who: The all-text chat will be hosted by Lori Sandler, founder of Divvies Bakery and author of The Divvies Bakery Cookbook, and psychologist Dr. Jules Spotts. Co-hosting are these amazing people:

Barbara, Food Allergy Initiative,, Mom to the Screaming Masses,, A Mommy Story,, The Posh Parent,, The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network,
Emily, West of the Loop,, The Nut-Free Mom,, Food Allergy Mama,, The Allergist Mom,, Allergic Girl,

Co-host Twitter IDs:@FoodAllergyInit

Host Twitter IDs:

I hope you can join us!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Store-Bought Ice Cream and Nut Allergies: Here's the Scoop

With summer around the corner and warm weather taking over, lots of us are thinking about ice cream. Those of us dealing with nut allergies are wondering what ice cream we can possibly buy because store-bought ice cream offers an allergy label minefield. In fact, ice cream labels with regard to nut allergies (and other food allergies) are some of the most diverse and inconsistent out there. It's crazy! So how do you know what is safe for your situation and what isn’t? In the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken another look at ice cream labels from several different brands.

Here’s the scoop (forgive the pun): some labels are changing to include allergy statements and some brands simply have no allergen information on them at all. In fact, this is true for most of the “big name” brands. When you call or e-mail (Häagen-Dazs, Ben and Jerry’s and Edy’s are three I’ve contacted) they may tell you that the ice cream is made on the same lines with allergens but that a wash-down is done between batches. For severely allergic people, the chance of an allergen remaining, even in trace amounts, can be problematic, so personally I avoid these altogether. However, you might feel OK with the wash-down; that's certainly up to you.
Some brands (Cia Bella gelato, for example) have clear allergy warnings as follows: Made on equipment with eggs, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.

Blue Bunny brand will tell you detailed allergen information on their web site and packaging. Click here for a list.
A very few (like the coconut milk-based So Delicious brand) give an allergy statement on their packaging that explains a wash down system/allergen testing they do for each flavor, even though some of their flavors contain common allergens like peanuts. While I appreciate the information, I don’t want stuff made on shared lines, period. So I’ve skipped brands with those types of labels too, though I know some people don’t and haven’t had a problem. Like so many other foods or situations, this one is personal call based on your doctor's advice, child's past reactions and general comfort level with the product.
What about Popsicles and Italian ice frozen treats? I’ve had better luck with many of those over the years, simply for the fact that most aren’t sharing lines with ice cream that contains peanuts or tree nuts. Luigi’s Italian Ice and Popsicle brand are two I’ve used without problems for years. However, I recommend calling to check each year—because the labels are changing and production practices change often. So if you see something you like and there is no allergy info, it's a good idea to call or send an e-mail to the company.

What if the customer service lines are closed when you want to call? I stick to the when in doubt, do without rule. It's always better to at least know the facts when serving a food, so if you don't know if it's safe, skip it. I find that it helps to be armed with cookies, fruit treats or other goodies when attending parties or family member's homes so that you always have something to offer your child in case the "house ice cream" is off-limits.

Sometimes it just seems easier to make your own frozen treats, especially if you are dealing with multiple food allergies. I love having an electric ice cream maker (from Cuisinart, about $50 but I use it a lot) because you can choose whatever ingredients and flavors you like. You can make sorbet, ice cream, frozen yogurt—all without worry and with a lot less of the bad stuff like chemicals and additives.
What if you want a quick treat and don't feel like waiting hours for your dessert to freeze? Have you seen the Zoku?  This fun little device makes ice pops and other frozen treats in minutes. These are so fun for kids and adults love them too—I’m thinking of picking one up this summer. They are sold at places like Williams-Sonoma and other home stores—if the kids are driving you crazy over summer break, this makes a fun project for them besides a healthy snack.
And then there’s the good old-fashioned way of creating a frozen treat. My kids still love helping to make homemade frozen Popsicles. If we have to avoid some of the store bought stuff, let’s use it to our advantage, parents, and keep the crappy stuff out of the house! Use real fruit, yogurt (if you can have it—if not, use extra fruit or juice or even a dairy-free substitute) and just a little sugar and you will give your kids a taste for healthy foods—without them even knowing it.
Here’s a favorite and easy recipe to try. Use ice pop molds or even sturdy cups, treat sticks that you pick up at the craft store and your kids’ favorite fruit for these.

Homemade Fruit Ice Pops

About a cup of your kids favorite fresh fruit or a combination: strawberries, bananas, blueberries and mangos are all favorites around here.
About 1/3 cup white sugar or to taste; you can also use honey to taste.
2 cups plain Greek yogurt (or add fruit juice, more fruit or non-dairy yogurt substitute)
Blend fruit in food processor or blender with a couple tablespoons of sugar until smooth. If you want to remove fruit seeds, skins, etc., press the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Set aside. (If you are making all-fruit pops, add addtional juice and/or pureed fruit, then place half of the fruit mixture in the molds before putting in the freezer for an hour. Add popsicle sticks  into semi-frozen pops and rest of fruit mixture before going on to the final freezing step).

In a separate bowl, stir together yogurt (or yogurt substitute) and the remaining sugar until dissolved. Divide this mixture into 4 ice pop molds or cups and put in the freezer for one hour.

Add the fruit puree into the semi-frozen yogurt and swirl to create a pattern (but don’t blend thoroughly). Place your popsicle stick or the cover of your ice pop (the stick portion) and freeze for at least 2 more hours until solid.
To serve, take them out of the freezer for about 5 minutes, then remove from the molds or cups.

Note: I personally avoid ice cream shops due to cross-contact risks from scoops, other flavors, toppings and the tainted scoops going into all of the various flavors, increasing the risk of cross-contact. A lot of ice cream shops (like Baskin Robbins) now carry nut allergy warnings in the store; this post is intended to help tackle ice cream we buy at the supermarket. If you have any questions or concerns about any product, please contact companies/shops directly so that you can get all the details and be an informed consumer--that's the best defense against reactions! Thank you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Summer and Food Allergy: My Best Tips (and Some Nut-Free Recipes) for a Safe Memorial Day

Looking forward to the holiday weekend? I know I am--it's the official kick-off to summer! But while parties are fun, they can also add food allergy stress. Here are some suggestions on how to have a happy, healthy and allergy-safe Memorial Day celebration. This link includes my BBQ sauce recipe, too!

Road trips are on the agenda for many of us this weekend--possibly with relatives' homes as the destination. Here's a link that talks about safe road trips and how to prepare the extended family for a happy, allergy-friendly trip.
If you have an ice cream maker (or even if you don't) here are two simple and summery frozen treats to share with your family and friends: Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream and Lemon Ice. Cuisinart makes a basic but very nice electric ice cream machine that you can find usually under $50 at places like Target or other stores that sell kitchen gear.

Nut-Free, Egg-Free Vanilla Ice Cream

Break out the ice cream machine for this great basic vanilla ice cream recipe! Also known as "Philadelphia" ice cream, this traditional recipe does not contain eggs. Because of this, this ice cream tends to stay a little bit "soft serve" but it is delicious.

1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp pure vanilla extract (McCormick brand is what I usually use--Nielsen Massey is also great.)
4 cups heavy cream or heavy creamy mixed with half-and-half for a lighter flavor
3/4 cup white sugar, preferably superfine
Pinch salt

If using a vanilla bean, split in half and scrape out the seeds. (Keep the pod to make vanilla sugar, basically a vanilla bean placed inside a closed container of sugar for about a week. Wonderful in everything from cakes and cookies to coffee drinks.)

Combine all ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions. Serve immediately or freeze about 2 hours for a firmer consistency. For optimum flavor, allow to soften slightly in the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving.

Dairy-Free, Nut-Free Lemon Italian Ice (Granita)
1 cup sugar (use superfine if possible)
2 cups water
4 large lemons

1. In 2-quart saucepan combine sugar and water; heat to boiling over high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes. Set saucepan in bowl of ice water to cool.

2. Meanwhile, from lemons grate 2 teaspoons peel and squeeze 3/4 cup juice.

2. Stir lemon peel and juice into sugar syrup; pour into 9-inch square metal baking pan. Cover, freeze for 2 hours and then scrape to break up the ice crystals. Freeze again at least 3 hours or overnight. To serve, let soften slightly and use a metal spoon to scoop up the ice shards. Transfer scoops of "ice" to dessert dishes and enjoy!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lauren's Hope Food Allergy Bracelet Giveaway Winner Announced! Plus, A Cake Gallery

Lindsey Karr, you are the winner of our Lauren' Hope Medical ID giveaway! The random drawing was held using Congratulations! Lindsey, please e-mail me your address info and if you want a bracelet for a boy or girl, and I will forward it to Lauren's Hope! My e-mail is:

 And a huge thank you to everyone who submitted cake photos for our first ever Nut-Free Mom blog Cake Gallery! Talk about love on a plate. What beautiful creations, what lucky kids, what great parents, friends and family who helped create wonderful birthday memories. I got a little teary-eyed looking at these masterpieces and especially the happy kids celebrating with these amazing cakes. I can't think of a better or more joyful way to honor Food Allergy Awareness Week.

This is a long post, due to all of the photos, so take your time, enjoy these photos and get inspired for your next baking task! If I missed someone's photo in this post, I apologize--I got so many responses one may have slipped by. You will be featured in the next Cake Gallery and thanks again!

Anne was the first to join the gallery with this Rice Krispie cake creation
for her daughter with multiple food allergies.

Noah blowing out the candles on his giant cupcake mom Cathering baked
using Cherrybrook Kitchens allergy-friendly mix.

Lissa's lawnmower cake for her two-year-old son who loves lawn mowers!

LeeAnne also made this Superman-themed cake for her son.

Jane Anne's Hot Wheels racetrack cake for her son, David, is a work of art.
Jamie's daughter enjoyed a pink cake for her birthday party!
A cookie cake from Jamie, for her younger son's 3rd birthday.
Homa made this chocolate strawberry cake for her daughter's birthday using two Cybele Pascal recipes.
Jamie made this Star Wars cake for her son's 6th birthday...all of her kids have tree nut allergies.
LeeAnne created this awesome rocket cake for her 4-year-old son.
Cecilia created this adorable b-day cake for her daughter who loves Elmo.
Ali's son got this sea-worthy creation for his birthday.
Laine made this cool rocket ship cake for her young son with multiple food allergies.
Mom Ali had her daughter's Grammy made this bunny cake for her birthday.

Crystal made this for her adult daughter (also Crystal) for her baby shower. She said
it was her first time using fondant icing--great looking cake!
LeeAnn had a talented friend make this My Little Pony cake for her daughter Rylie's birthday.
Because I had such a huge response, a Cake Gallery will be a regular feature of the blog. And don't worry if you're not a cake baker and decorator. Next week I will have updated list of allergy-friendly bakeries that will do the work for you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Have Food Allergies Made you a Cake Boss? Plus, Bracelet Giveaway Update

Hi everyone! Food Allergy Awareness Week is fully underway and it's been heartening to see so much interest and positive advocacy for those with food allergies.

Just a reminder that my Lauren's Hope Medical ID bracelet giveaway ends at 10 pm tonight. Please follow this link to enter the contest if you haven't already. (Please enter your comment to win on that post only in order to be part of the random computerized drawing.)

I encourage you to follow Lauren's Hope on social media because they frequently offer great deals and promotions, along with innovative and attractive new products. Here's how you can connect:
1. For new product alerts, sales and promo codes subscribe to Lauren’s Hope email alerts

2. Become a fan of Lauren’s Hope on Facebook

3. Follow Lauren’s Hope on Twitter!/laurenshopeid

4. Follow Lauren’s Hope Food Allergy board on Pinterest and/or follow all of our boards on Pinterest

You can win one bracelet -- either for a boy or a girl, thanks to our friends at Lauren's Hope I will announce the winner this Friday. Good luck!

Now, who likes "Cake Boss?" My kids love that show and we are amazed at what Buddy and his crew can create. Around here, we do our best but we're no "Buddy." Still, when I ask my kids what the secret ingredient is they always say "love." Corny, I know--but it's true!

I had that idea in mind when FAAN asked me to contribute to their blog, "FAAN Notes," for Food Allergy Awareness Week--their theme this year is "Because I Love Someone with Food Allergies." Click the link for my story of cake baking and decorating--one I'm sure many of you will relate to.

Which brings me to my next request. Anyone who has made a cake or other treat for a birthday, holiday or special event--if you have a photo of it and you'd like to share it, please send a jpeg to and I'll post some of them on Friday along with our bracelet winner's identity. Let's celebrate our baking efforts! Include your child's first name if you like and the reason for the baked treat (i.e. birthday, whatever special occasion it was).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Food Allergy Awareness Week Giveaway from Lauren's Hope Medical IDs!

To help us kick off Food Allergy Awareness Week, our friends at Lauren's Hope Medical IDs are offering a terrific giveaway: allergy ID bracelets for kids!

Lauren's Hope offers a great selection of jewelry for men, women and kids. Nut-Free Mom readers now have a chance to win one of these cute bracelets.

All  Lauren's Hope bracelets have a prominet ID tag and medical symbol. In fact, customers have asked them over the years to make these smaller but they won't -- they want them easily visible to EMTs if necessary.

Here's what you need to do for your chance to win:

Please post a comment on my blog only--not my Facebook page. Please include your name and first initial.

You should also check out Lauren's Hope social networking -- it's your best chance to hear about their frequent sales and constant stream of great new products that help protect allergic kids in an emergency.

 Here are some ways to connect with them online:

1. For new product alerts, sales and promo codes subscribe to Lauren’s Hope email alerts

2. Become a fan of Lauren’s Hope on Facebook

3. Follow Lauren’s Hope on Twitter!/laurenshopeid

4. Follow Lauren’s Hope Food Allergy board on Pinterest and/or follow all of our boards on Pinterest

You have until this Wednesday at 10 pm to enter to win! Remember, comment on my blog and please include your name and first initial. We will get full info from our winner after a random drawing.

Thanks Lauren's Hope for this generous giveaway to help celebrate Food Allergy Awareness Week!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thought for Mother's Day: Food Allergy Parenting is Like "Finding Nemo"

Mother's Day is coming up, but I want to talk about the father from "Finding Nemo" that fabulous Disney film that is being re-released in 3D to celebrate its 10th Anniversary. ( was out that long ago????)

"Finding Nemo" was the first film I ever took my daughter to. She was two years old and at that time we had no idea she had a life-threatening food allergy--she hadn't had a reaction yet (though she was repelled by peanut butter for some reason????). In fact, before the movie I took her to Noodles and Co. for macaroni and cheese--a place we no longer visit because of the nut allergy warnings on the door. She claims to still remember going there--maybe because it was one of the last times.

But getting back to Nemo, little did I know that the story of Nemo, his dad and Dory would become a parallel to my own parenting journey.

Most of you are familiar with the movie's plot: Nemo loses his mom in a terrible way, causing his already uptight dad to spend most of his time trying to keep him safe from harm. When Nemo is trapped by ocean divers looking for exotic fish, his father begins a quest to find him and bring him home.

The film is one of my favorites: it's funny, poignant and has exciting animation. The message is also touching to any parent: you have to let kids go at some point, even when there is danger -- and danger is always going to be there. In other words, sometimes parenting is really painful.

Here's the kicker: Nemo's dad is right when he tells Nemo not to go too far into the ocean. His overprotective dad fears, in this case, are 100% warranted and accurate. While we laugh at Nemo's dad and his "silly" worries, we also have to admit: the guy was right to have fear. But it's how you channel it that makes all the difference. At the end of the film, Nemo is a lot wiser and a little more cautious and his dad is a little less worried. They reach a happy medium.

What does all of this have to do with food allergies? I think a lot of us feel like Nemo's dad. We know the dangers are out there but other's aren't always seeing it. Still, we want our kids to live life as best as they can. So we have to find that balance of what works for us, our kids and our family situation. That's what I try to do and that's what many of you are trying to do, especially as you first enter the role of "food allergy parent."

And there is the Dory factor. Her famous line "Just keep swimming" makes her invaluable to Nemo's dad who relies on her to keep him going through the tough times. Dory's chipper attitude is helped by the fact that she has no long-term memory! So she doesn't even recall that danger is there and just does things. Now, as parents of kids with a serious medical condition we don't have the luxury of throwing caution to the wind whenever we want, but a little forgetfulness in terms of "what if? what if? what if?" can help us achieve more of a healthy balance as long as we know we've done everything we can in terms of taking precautions and preparing our kids.

When I talk to moms and dads who are new to dealing with nut allergies, sometimes I feel like an annoying "Dory" in the sense that I want people to "just keep swimming." But believe me, I've been on the other side. I didn't start out feeling confident about my daughter's allergies--it kicked the breath out of me and at  times it still does. I do understand what you guys are going through and while I do try to keep positive, that's not to say I don't think food allergies are a huge challenge that is often distressing. A lot of the time I'm more "Nemo's dad" than Dory if that's any consolation for those of you who think that parenting a child with medical challenges comes naturally to a lucky few. It doesn't--you have to work at it and it takes time to adjust, something I talk about in my e-book.

It's not always easy. But, annoying though it can sometimes sound (especially if you are in the thick of dealing with all of the life adjustments) let's all do our best to "just keep swimming." Our kids will thank us someday.

I want to wish all of you a beautiful, safe and Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Food Allergies, Asthma and the Pursuit of Happiness

Last night, I watched my daughter perform her first ever "big solo" role in a musical and not only was I very proud to see her shine, but it got me thinking. I take nothing for granted because in the early days of my daughter's diagnosis of food allergy (and later, some severe asthma issues) I often wondered how she would be able to do "regular" things like performing in a show with a bunch of other kids.

Like so many of you who are confronting nut allergies and asthma for the first time, I was simply overwhelmed at first with the task of keeping my daughter safe and knowing what foods to feed her. Not fully understanding or having experience with allergies and asthma, I wondered how we would be able to allow her to participate in activities we had always assumed were part of childhood--camps, birthday parties, school, play dates -- and eventually, extracurricular activities and sports.

We took each situation as it came, and step by step began to discover the parameters of what we would do. Each successful completion of an activity led to more confidence. Sometimes asthma intruded; it was worse when my daughter was younger and just developing seasonal allergies. Going outside among grass seed was enough to labor her breathing and require treatment. Coupled with food allergies it was rough going for a couple of years. Bottom line: extracurricular activities like the ones she does now were always something we wanted to do, but we wondered if certain things would even be possible.

So now here we are: my daughter is 12 years old and developing a wonderful singing voice (breath control required) and we are fortunate that asthma symptoms have abated quite a bit. (We don't know why, we're just grateful that they have.) My husband and I now drop our child off and go watch her as audience members, rather than volunteering backstage for each show (as we used to do when she was much younger and in dance recitals, for example). I enjoy every minute of this "freedom" because it wasn't always possible.

For those of you confronting allergies (and/or asthma) with younger kids it may all seem impossible to ever be able to let go and allow your child to participate in regular activities because, as we know, allergens are everywhere. Of course, you always have to be careful about foods and allergens, especially with regard to precautions. That never goes away.

But from one parent to another, I encourage you to do the things your child wants to do to the best of their ability. Every family has their comfort zones, but don't let the allergy keep your child from the activities they enjoy. It is so rewarding to see them grow and learn to manage things on their own as they get older and more independent. If you can find a way to work out the safety details (and that takes effort from you and cooperation from others, I know), your kids will gain the confidence they will need to help themselves stay safe and healthy later in life.

To see the young adult perspective first hand, check out this great video from the Food Allergy Initiative. Teens talking about their food allergies--it's great for parents to get this perspective.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Food Allergy News: Caution: Changing Labels!

Check the labels every time is a mantra I repeat to myself at the grocery store and something I strongly advise anyone to do if dealing with a life-threatening food allergy. We can know what to do -- but it only works if we actually do it.

We all make mistakes with food allergy  management, me included. But sometimes these mistakes are valuable learning experiences, especially if nothing bad happens as a result. The other day I was in a big hurry rushing around to get items from the store. Long story short, I wanted to get some olives for my husband and kids (they love Greek olives) so I grabbed some at SuperTarget, giving a cursory glance to the ingredients list and then tossing it in my cart.

I was over-confident because a) I'd bought these before, and b) I wasn't paying attention to the "imported" part (imported foods are usually a higher food allergy risk) and c) the Target brand olives I'd bought in the past were safe.

When I go through the store, I am reading labels but admittedly, like anyone else, I try to save time. And even though I've been dealing with nut allergies for years and I KNOW that there is no logic involved in food items and which ones "may contain" peanuts or tree nuts, I still felt pretty safe with Greek olives due to all of our past experiences with them.

Now, at the end of the day, this was a mistake that was caught in time. By my daughter, not by me, who went to open the package, read the label and showed it to me.

My daughter has always questioned me before eating the foods I bring home from the store and I've always encouraged it because I want her to learn how to deal with it but also--I'm human. I might miss something and she can read, so she should get in the habit of checking things herself.

I'm sharing this story because I believe some positive things came from it. First of all, my daughter proved that she is always checking her own labels . Yes! It's sunk in after all of these years -- and for those of you just starting out with peanut allergies, tree nut allergies and other food allergies, that's why I encourage teaching your kids to check foods from an early age.

Second of all, I learned that labels in stores are changing rapidly to keep pace with allergies, labeling laws and their own changing company policies due to consumer input. I'm glad the allergy warning was on the product, that is great and kudos to Target for their thorough labeling policy. But I didn't do my part. If labels ARE there, we can't become immune and we can never assume. We've got to read the darn things, every time.

For anyone who thinks they are being over the top for checking with companies and studying food labels each and every time they visit the grocery store--you're not. Keep up the good work.

I'm now instituting a triple check system for foods--once in the store, once in the checkout line and then once while I'm putting everything away. And of course, bless her, my daughter will still check foods before eating them.

Anyone else have a food label change on them suddenly? It's happening more and more it seems so lesson learned: don't assume about any food. Check the labels and prevent a possible allergic reaction.