Friday, June 29, 2012

Food Allergies and The Fourth of July! Safety Tips plus 3 Great Allergy-Friendly Food Resources!

While there is a lot of fun to be had at any holiday, holidays can increase food allergy risk. So the best defense is a good offense. Be prepared!

To help you enjoy a wonderful Fourth of July weekend, I'm sharing an information-packed post I wrote about the Fourth last year.

I also want to share a grill tip. If you are at a public park or somewhere where shared grills are in use, use some heavy duty aluminum foil on the grill to protect it from cross-contact with allergens left behind. The biggest "shared grill" culprit for nut allergies would be marinades (which may contain peanut oil, other tree nut oils, peanut butter, etc.), so when you place the foil on the grill before cooking, you protect your child's food from anything that may have been cooked on it before. Simple to do and an extra step to minimize risk--always a good thing!

Check the inside of the grill before cooking, too; I've seen peanut shells at the bottom of grills.

If you are going on a road trip, check out this post and also consider taking along some safe prepared treats. I'm happy to tell you about three of my favorites, who also happen to be sponsors of this site.

Sweet Alexis nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free bakery. Order fresh cookies, banana bread and so much more from this amazing bakery that is preservative-free and deliciously wholesome. You won't know anything is "missing" from these truly wonderful treats.

Take a minute and vote for Sweet Alexis by clicking this link. They can win a grant that will allow them to expand their business--and we all need businesses like these. Thank you!

Skeeter Snacks nut-free treats. These new nut-free treats come in convenient packs of two with three flavors: Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal and Skeeterdoodle (you know, those old-fashioned Snickerdoodle cookies, with cinnamon).  These are peanut and tree nut-free ONLY, a nice option if you have only nut allergy concerns. The cookies are crisp, yummy andfresh-tasting and were a hit with all of us at home. This business is run by two food allergy dads who wanted to offer their allergic kids a safe snack. Visit the web site to find out more.

Tasterie. Are you traveling? Order a box from Tasterie to take along on the road. Tasterie boxes are custom-made to fit your specific allergies, plus orders are geared towards healthful eating. This service was created by a physician with the assistance of a nutrionist; click the link to learn more. Check out the coupon code on their ad--you can save 10% off of your order.

One more thing; I just contributed a "Road Trip" food article to the current summer issue of Allergic Living magazine with lots of great allergy-friendly treats you may not even know about. Order your copy by visiting their web site.

I wish you all a safe, healthy and happy holiday with your families and friends!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Food Allergies and Kids' Sleepovers

Summertime seems to have kids saying "Sleepover!" even more than usual. For kids without food allergies, sleepovers happen usually without a second thought, on the spur of the moment.

But what if your kid has food allergies? Does that mean they can't attend this time-honored rite of passage?

In most cases, the answer is a resounding "no"-- if you're willing to take precautions and take an active role in providing a safe environment.  Most kids can go on sleepovers, even with severe food allergies.

I know that for many parents, the idea of sending a child with life-threatening food allergies to a sleepover is frightening, because you are used to being the gatekeeper for your child regarding food and environments that can be harmful to them. When you deal with severe allergies, sleepovers are a big step for both you and your child -- most sleepovers involve more than one meal not to mention multiple snacks. Then there are the environmental concerns. Maybe you've been keeping certain foods out of  your home, or skipping certain activities like going to an ice cream shop. For non-food  allergy families that isn't the case, so there is that aspect, too.

With two daughters entering the older elementary grades and now middle school, I've been confronted by the sleepover question with increasing frequency. Over the years, I've learned a few things that have helped my allergic daughter enjoy this independent time away from home. It's all about reducing risk and managing the allergy. Here are some things that worked for me:

- Have a straightforward conversation with the other family. First things first: you have to talk about it. Don't assume that anyone knows your child has severe allergies and what that means. The goal isn't scaring the other family and putting them on red alert, it's letting them know about the allergies and how to reduce the risk of reaction. This includes not serving the allergenic food at the sleepover, such as PB snacks, banana splits with walnuts, etc. It's so much easier to simply not serve a certain food than to cope with the residue that it leaves. Why even risk it?

I've found that most other parents are very open to suggestions on foods and frequently they have called me to check in about what they would like to serve. We also discuss checking food labels (though I send a lot of the food, see below), using epinephrine, recognizing reactions  and cross-contact issues that can result. If another family is uncomfortable with any of this, it's better to know up front than to find out if something goes wrong--and your child isn't helped. Most parents I've spoken with are happy to work with us, but they need to know the details first.

Click this link to download a great new babysitter/drop off form created by Allergy Home (run by two allergists) and Kids with Food Allergies Foundation. It is great to print this and share it with the other family.

Consider your child's age and level of maturity. It seems to me that the sleepover age has decreased quite a bit in recent years--age 6 now seems to be the time most kids begin asking for sleepovers. I always thought this was a bit young, even for kids who have good understanding of food allergies. Even for kids without food allergies: many times this age group is good with sleeping at another house until about midnight and then they want to go home!

Waiting until your child is a bit older and more able to advocate for themselves (not to mention have good reading/verbal skills regarding labels, etc.) is helpful. One exception would be with a family who is very close to your family and who already knows the drill with regard to foods, hand-washing, etc.

- Begin with a "small" sleepover, especially for the younger age group. Especially for kids under age 10, keeping the group to two or three kids provides a great opportunity for independence while reducing the chaos --and food allergy risk -- that larger groups undoubtedly create. Keeping it small allows you and the other family to work together easily on food choices and activities that don't pose undue risk.

- Send food for the party and do restaurant research for the other family. For example, many of my daughter's friends order pizza at a sleepover,  so sometimes the parents will ask where we order our pizza.  If I  don't know the restaurant, I call for the parents to find out what the food allergy deal  is there. If I'm just not sure  about a food being offered, I give my daughter dinner before the party.  In the case of snacks, desserts and breakfast, I send  all of the above.

A nice thing to do is to bake something that everyone can enjoy for breakfast the next day--simple blueberry muffins or banana bread allows your child to have a safe treat along with everyone else. However, I've often sent cereal in a container along with a small container of milk and a plastic spoon. I tell the parents it's not that I doubt their cleanliness, etc.--it's about cross contact and reducing that risk. If repeat invitations are any indication, no one has been offended by this. I think most people appreciate that some of the burden is being taken off of them.

Send your child with their own pillow, blanket, etc. This is especially important if your child has any environmental or pet allergies.

Consider where the kids will sleep. If someone just had a party in the basement with peanuts or other allergenic foods, that may not be the best place for the kids to place their sleeping bags--there could still be residue, etc. Likewise, any pets that might eat foods with peanuts/tree nuts (guinea pigs, for example) shouldn't be in the room with the child who has an allergy.

Encourage your child to have fun and empower them to speak up if they need help. Be optimistic about the sleepover and tell your child they will have fun. You will want to reinforce all of your safety rules with your child, but as long as you've worked with the other parents, try to keep your anxieties to yourself. No child will enjoy themselves if they are given too many dire warnings or if their parents seem unsure about having them attend. However, you want to be gentle but firm in telling your child to ask an adult for help if they need it.Tell them they  can call you anytime of the day or night and ask the other parents to tell the child they are open to questions or calls for help.

A successful sleepover will make your child feel like any other kid and it goes a long way into showing them that they can manage their allergies. Once they feel like they have the allergy situation under control, they can get to the good stuff about sleepovers: watching movies, discussing bands and staying up way too late!

Is your child with food allergies at that "sleepover" age? How do you feel about sleepovers?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Food Allergy News: The NEW Nut-Free Mom is on the Nook!

I'm very excited to announce that The NEW Nut-Free Mom is now available for the Nook! I've been planning to get it up there for awhile, so here it is. (I have a Nook myself.)

Here is the direct link, on the Barnes and Noble web site.

No Nook? No problem.

You can still read the book on your smart phone, Mac or PC, iPad and more. Click this link for a list of free Nook apps available.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone for the support of my e-book, "The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Nut-Allergic Child" on the Kindle. I appreciate the great feedback, reviews and general well wishes! This book is for parents of kids facing a diagnosis of life-threatening nut allergies for the first time, but it's also useful for any caregiver: grandparents, relatives, close friends.

The book offers a concise, easy-to-understand approach with practical tips and warm encouragement from a parent who has been in your shoes. I put my heart into this book and I hope it is helpful to you all.

The New Nut-Free Mom on the Kindle

Regarding how to buy/read the book on the Kindle; same story as the Nook. Kindle has free apps you can download to your smart phone, Mac or PC, iPad and more. Click this link to find out how to download via the Kindle or Kindle apps.

As always, thank you for your support and readership of my blog! It means the world to me. More blog posts coming soon...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day and Food Allergies: Let's Hear It for the Guys

With Father's Day around the corner, I wanted to celebrate the dads, stepdads, grandfathers, uncles and all of the special men in our lives who help our kids with food allergies. Even though this blog has "mom" in the title, I do hear from many dads who are concerned about their food-allergic kids.

These guys deserve to be celebrated for the special things they do to make sure that their kids with food allergies are protected, healthy and loved. So I asked my Nut-Free Mom Facebook page readers to share their stories. I have collected several heart-warming snippets here. To read the Father's Day stories in full, please visit and "like" my Facebook page. The stories are scattered throughout the Wall on my FB page. Please share your own stories in the comments below or visit my page.

Of course I need to start with my own husband, who is the most wonderful dad ever. As soon as we found out about my daughter's nut allergy following an anaphylactic reaction, he immediately decided that the house would be peanut and tree nut-free. As someone who loves peanut butter and almonds, etc. this was tough for him, but he never once complained. He is now a big fan of SunButter. :) My husband calls restaurants, helps out on field trips and has visited the school with me during our yearly health meetings with school staff. He also encourages our daughter to do everything she wants to do in life. We are lucky to have him.

I also want to mention another friend and neighbor who is a chef by trade. He volunteered to make all of the fresh food for our school's 6th grade end-of-year party and he also baked a large, decorated cake for the class. This was all so that the many kids in our class with nut allergies could enjoy the food without worry. He also volunteered to serve the food and help chaperone the party, along with a bunch of other people including his wife and daughter. The party was a huge success and the kids were in heaven. In general, we just cope with not being able to have bakery cakes and much of the food at parties, but that day my daughter didn't have to. It meant a lot to her and to us. Thanks to Tom F.!

Shannon G. from Facebook told us about her husband's efforts to help her 8th-grade daughter with life-threatening peanut allergies:
"Bill (her daddy) has gone above and beyond! ... He is very particular about who comes around her while we are at the races or out in public,he even had yard signs and stickers for the front door made that say NO PEANUTS OR PEANUT PRODUCTS! He is a truly awesome dad and advocate for his children! :) We try to keep her busy and let her have as much of a social life as possible. She wanted to learn gymnastics, Bill enrolled her....she wants to learn the violin. ...shes got a new one!!!! Anything shes interested in Bill does his best and works his tail off to provide it! She couldn't ask for a better dad!!!! Bills the best! :)"
Christi P. had this to say about her husband and also her kids' grandfather (her dad): 
"My husband reads everything meticulously. The first thing he did when we were informed of all their allergies was to find a way to make, wheat-free, dairy-free (and nut free of course) pancakes to keep up with his weekend pancake tradition.
My father, their grandpa (Papa) with my Mom, has been known to drive 2 hours to the Vermont Nut Free factory in order to procure Halloween and Easter treats. He (with my mom) has also driven an hour and a half to babysit my kiddos. It's not always easy to find babysitters when we inform them of their allergies."
Kamisha Y. shared this touching story about her recently deceased dad:
"Our daughter Peyton was two years old when we found out she was allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Peyton ate a half of a half of a cashew and went into full blown anaphylaxis, by the grace of God we was at one of my son's doctors she was able to be treated and rushed to the local children's hospital. Our lives have taken a 360 having a child with food allergies, not only is she allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, but she has a mild dairy allergy also. But my daddy...oh gosh...first let me say he past away Jan 10, 2012 from leukemia. But, before he got sick with cancer he loved all of his grandchildren, but he and my Peyton had a special bond. When he found out that she had food allergies he made it a point to educate himself on reading boxes, and what foods she could eat. Papa (that's what the grandchildren called him) wanted Peyton to be able to feel normal even though her life had changed (she was to young to understand it). My dad made it a point to make sure that everything that came in his house that was eatable was not going to cause an allergic reaction to his granddaughter...and I will forever love him for that."
Lily's Little Gems said:
"I am lucky that Lily's dad is an A& E nurse so he was able to spot what was happening when Lily had her first anaphylaxis from eating some crunchy nut cornflakes. We didn't know at this point that she had such a severe nut and peanut allergy. Since then, we have lots of EpiPen (R) auto-injectors and he has "trained" all of Lily's nursery staff in how to use the EpiPen (R) and how to spot a reaction and what to do etc... He is my rock!"
Joyce B. shared this story:
"My husband has never once complained that we've had to give up all peanut butter products, even though he really misses it and would love to eat it all the time. He's been a real support to me as well, and I've learned to read food labels and as I've been the watchdog at the gate, so to speak, making sure our home is safe for our son. He never looks at it as "things we can't have" but rather, a new opportunity to live a bit differently."
From Tiffany T.:
" My husband sometimes doesn't understand about cross contamination( as I have more time for research), [but he] is very supportive of decisions that I make and guidelines i put into place for her. Her first attack he listened, didn't question, did what I asked ... After the ambulance and hospital and me remaining calm, I put our daughter to bed, scared to leave her and fell into his arms crying. He just hugged me; I asked why are you so calm? He said i knew you had it under control and trusted you every step of the way."

Kimberley B. said:
"My husband has gone to the school and talked to the classes about my son's allergies. He was the one to get the awareness posters approved for the cafeteria. he even drops by to eat lunch at school with my son at the peanut free table, where he always gets to answer the questions about food allergies the other kids have."
Jerri K.:
"My husband goes on so many of the class field trips to make sure our Jake is never excluded and always is accommodated in every activity...he is our sons biggest fan."
Along with the Father's Day theme, I want to introduce you to a new site sponsor: Skeeter Snacks. This nut-free cookie company was started by two dads! Visit Skeeter Snacks to find out more.

Thanks so much to everyone who shared their stories with us! Please let the guys know how much this support means.

Happy Father's Day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In the News: Food Allergies and Restaurants

Lately, the news has been full of stories that touch on food allergies and restaurants. I wanted to share some of them, because dining out with life-threatening food allergies continues to be a stressful experience. We can never be 100% certain that we are being heard in a restaurant regarding allergies -- or that life-threatening food allergies are completely understood by restaurant staff and chefs. That said, there appears to be a growing awareness, so I wanted to share some stories and links that are interesting and/or helpful as we strive to find "safe" places to eat.

A family member forwarded me this recent Wall Street Journal article about how restaurants are coping with diners who have food allergies or food restrictions. Much of the article deals with gluten-free issues, but there is some significant mention of life-threatening food allergies. Click here to read the story.

The Allergic Living Facebook page recently shared this link about a new bill in Rhode Island that proposes each restaurant should have mandatory training on food allergies, to the point that at least one person on staff must be expert at dealing with them. This bill was led by a teen with nut allergies. Currently, Massachusetts is the only state in the U.S. that has any kind of enforced food allergy law with regard to dining establishments. You can read this news story here.

This next article has nothing to do with food allergies, per se, but I wanted to include this link because many times, I have heard from those of us who are being perceived as "over the top" with regard to restaurant caution. Restaurants can be great, but they can also be hazardous to your health for basic food safety/hygiene/management reasons. (Those of you who watch Kitchen Nightmares know that they can fill an entire show with this topic!) Now add severe food allergies: caution is definitely required! Click this link to read about general dining out rules for health and safety.

I wanted to offer a great link from a dining out with allergies expert, Sloane Miller of Allergic Girl. She wrote a wonderful piece for Allergic Living magazine about dining out with food allergies/intolerance and she shares some wonderful tips and reassuring advice. Click here for the article.You can find so much allergy advice in this publication, so go to their web site to find out how to become a subscriber. I'm an associate editor and before that, I was a devoted reader/subscriber. And I still am, of course. :)

Finally, I hope those of you who are coping with nut allergies and feeling overwhelmed by a new diagnosis will check out my e-book : " The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Allergic Child, available on Kindle and on your computer using a free Kindle App. You can also download to your iPad. Here is the link to my e-book, available on Amazon. Here is what Susan Weissman, author of "Feeding Eden", a parent's memoir about raising a child with food allergies, had to say about my e-book.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Food Allergies and Summer: A Blog Post Roundup

Summer is in full swing by now. Most of us have kids out of school and things like parties, road trips and seasonal treats like ice cream and barbecues are on the horizon.

I have written quite a bit about summer with food allergies, so I thought I would share some of my favorite and most useful summer blog posts for those who haven't seen them. For those who have, here are some good reminders.

Going to a summer party or barbecue? Check out these tips.

Are you scheduling a road trip to visit family or friends? Here's some advice on travel with food allergies.

Sending a child to camp or thinking about it? Here is our day camp story, plus a link to the transcript of a talk I co-hosted on The Motherhood dealing with this camp and play dates.

Looking for homemade ice cream?Here is a recipe for nut-free, egg-free basic vanilla.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Explaining Food Allergy Needs to Others: What Do You Say?

We've all been there: our kids are invited to a party, play date or event. Sometimes you will attend with your child, sometimes you won't (especially as they get older). But the bottom line is that we are frequently called upon to explain severe food allergies to a person (or people) not familiar with our situation.

How do you explain food  allergy management and rules without scaring people away, or worse, misleading them into a false sense of security? What do you tell them? How much detail is enough?

This question is one of the most common ones faced by parents of food-allergic kids, simply because we often find ourselves in a bind. If you share too few details and important points, your kids can be in danger. However, if you go overboard in your explanations, you can risk losing someone's understanding, goodwill and ultimately, ability to care for your child because they are too overwhelmed to get the gist of what needs to be done.

It's also important to note that who you are dealing with makes a difference in how you go about teaching someone. For example, you are obviously going to have to explain things in great detail to your child's school staff and teachers, complete with medical documentation and other forms. However, there will be situations when others won't be invested and neither will you. So how do you make your explanation short, to the point and most of all, effective?

It will vary for each person and situation, and each person you meet and experience you have is going to shape how you go about this important education process. I firmly believe that teaching others is important, but the approach really makes the difference in how your point gets across. I also believe that while advocacy can and should happen each day, always putting yourself in a position of "guest lecturer" with everyone you meet is  a stressful position to be in. And it probably won't help as much as you think. There are ways of advocating that make it easier on you, too.

One really important thing to remember is that usually (and I know this isn't always true, but bear with  me) people who misunderstand food allergies are usually misinformed and not intentionally clueless or malicious. Once you deal with life-threatening food allergies for awhile you'll be saying to yourself, "How can they NOT know?" Once food allergies and the lifestyle changes that accompany it hit you, you will forget that you ever walked around not understanding allergies yourself.

I was recently reminded of this when one of my younger daughter's friends was diagnosed with celiac disease. Suddenly, I'm asking a whole bunch of questions and feeling uncertain of what foods are OK even though I have a basic understanding of the problem. It gave me even more compassion for those who are completely new to life-threatening food allergies.

I address this situation in great detail in my e-book, The New Nut-Free Mom,  (available on Amazon and for your computer) but I wanted to share a few other guidelines that have worked for me:

1. Don't apologize. Many times parents feel ashamed that they even have to bring up food allergies with another parent, family member or even acquaintance. When you feel this way (and we all do at some point) take a step back and breathe. Apologizing is appropriate when you've done something wrong. And you haven't--you simply have some special needs to discuss. If you keep this in mind, you can be much calmer, easy to understand and ultimately, more effective as a communicator. Of course, you should always profusely thank anyone who accommodates you but don't keep apologizing. If people truly like your company and want to spend time with your family, they will do what they can to help.

2. Adopt an upbeat tone and be proactive. It sounds so easy, but believe me, if you stay upbeat you have a much better chance of getting your message across. Simply saying something like: "Hey, thanks for inviting us to your party! We are very excited to attend. I just need to ask about the menu. My son has severe peanut allergies, so we're happy to bring our own food. We just wanted to know if there are any things we have to watch out for." There. Right away, you've taken the pressure off of the other person and opened the door to communication. In these cases, once I explain our situation, some people have even removed items from the menu. But if you don't communicate about allergies in advance and stay proactive, sometimes people feel guilty for having the allergen around the house and even resentful that you've put them in an uncomfortable position. That's not good from both your standpoint and theirs, as party hosts. Usually hosts want guests to feel comfortable so ask questions, make your concerns known in an friendly way and everybody wins. Or, at the very least, you know what you are dealing with.

3. Base your explanation on the person you are speaking with. For example, you will probably want to share every last medical detail of a recent allergic reaction with your child's grandparents because they are deeply invested in your child's health and because they are family members. However, if you're talking to an acquaintance about the neighborhood block party, for example, they probably don't want to hear all of that. So a simple: "My child is highly allergic to nuts and has experienced severe allergic reactions. Can we skip the peanut bags this year at the block party--all that dust and stuff blowing around can be hazardous to her health," will probably suffice.

4. Keep it simple. I touched on this above, but if you veer off into the latest medical news on food allergies or have someone suck you into topics that aren't relevant to the matter at hand, i.e. keeping an allergic person reaction-free, then you risk losing your message. They say it in politics all the time: keep your message simple and stay on message. It doesn't matter what the latest food allergy news is if all you're talking about is how to keep your child out of harm's way. I'm not saying to blow off someone who is just trying to make conversation, but if they want to get into a deep discussion about how your child got allergies, what you fed them as a baby, etc. you are going to get sidetracked. Try to shift them back to the matters at hand, e.g. "Can you make sure my little guy washes his hands before snack time after playing with shared toys? Thanks so much."

5. Stay firm but friendly when problems arise.  Some of you may have experienced the following: "I communicated my socks off in an appropriate way with my hosts, they told me not to worry, they had it covered and they STILL had bowls of peanuts all over the house. What do I say now?" Sadly, this does happen. Maybe it's happened to you. I'm sorry. It's happened to me. What do you do? Well, in this case, you are going to have to keep calm but be firm. Say "Hi there--I know we talked on the phone and you said you wouldn't serve peanuts. My little girl is too allergic to be around so many so would you mind removing them?" If they say no, you  can choose to leave but don't be tempted to get into a blowout argument at that time. If this is a close friend or family member, better to call them a few days later and talk it out.

Communicating effectively with others is always a challenge in our fast-paced, phone-texting, e-mailing society. Communicating effectively with others about food allergies is even more challenging--because health and life are at stake.What has worked for you?

LIVE CHAT REMINDER: I am co-hosting a live chat on The Motherhood with Lori Sandler of Divvies, a psychologist and a bevy of fabulous bloggers. Our topic is managing food allergy anxiety--always a good topic. Join us tomorrow, June 5, at 1 pm EST and register for the chat now by following this link. Hope to see you there!