Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Teaching Kids to Manage Their Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies

Teaching kids what allergens look is important so that they know what to avoid.
With school in full swing and food-centric holidays and events a constant reality, now is an excellent time to think about how well your child is able to advocate for himself with regard to food allergies. Obviously, very young children need lots of help, protection and direction. But as kids get older, you can begin incorporating some of the responsibility for managing allergies into their routine.

Each child’s own maturity will dictate much of your approach, but it’s never too early to start teaching kids how to protect themselves. It’s not often talked about and sometimes it’s uncomfortable to think about, but your child can be the first line of defense in any attempt at preventing a severe allergic reaction. It's important to have your child's school and caregivers on board, but don't forget the most important person: your child.

Teach kids to be their own best advocates.

Your approach will vary according to age and maturity. For younger kids you can start by showing them what the allergens look like and what they need to avoid. Does your child know what a peanut or a tree nut looks like? Make sure they know and understand, by showing them pictures of these items and discussing them, and be ready for some funny questions.

A friend of mine showed her 3-year-old nut-allergic son some pictures of peanuts and told him to avoid them if he saw them. Later that night, she was pulling a pan of baked potatoes out of the oven and he said “Why are you and Dad eating those big giant peanuts?” As much as we chuckled about his question, her son had a point — baked potatoes DO kind of look like peanuts, especially if you are a little kid trying to do the right thing. So be sure to review the foods that are safe and how to tell the difference.

My daughter was served a pizza while on vacation a few years ago and despite the fact that we spoke extensively with the restaurant before ordering it, when it arrived she told me it didn't look right. She said "Mom, I think there are pine nuts on the pizza." Sure enough--there they were. (Pine nuts are considered a tree nut and those with tree nut allergies should avoid them according to most allergists). At first the pine nuts looked like slivers of garlic, so she had a sharp eye! Her ability to know a pine nut's appearance prevented her from eating the pizza and we were able to avoid a potential reaction.

Kids are offered food constantly

It seems like no matter where you go, kids are being offered food — at the supermarket deli, bakery, dentist, your place of worship, even the pediatrician. Use these instances to teach your child to say “No” to any unknown foods, politely but firmly. When my daughter was younger, I liked to carry a few safe treats around in my bag for those times she had to refuse an unsafe food. It is nice reinforcement that, no, you might not be able to have that cookie, but here is a cookie you can have.

School, daycare and friends’ homes are other places where there will be a high probability that food will be offered. Allowing your kids to see that food allergy management is just a part of your daily life and normal experience will show kids that it’s OK to refuse foods if they aren’t sure about them. To help kids deal with having to say no to foods, it's always a good idea to carry safe snacks and/or to provide the play date treats. Another that helps: directing kids' interaction away from food and more towards playtime. In the end, teaching kids that fun with friends doesn't always have to focus on food can only be good for their general health. Silver lining, yes!

Adults need resources and encouragement, too.

It's not always easy to be the gatekeeper and instructor in the very important role of teaching a child to manage life-threatening peanut and/or tree nut allergies. Check out the following resources:

Beyond a Peanut educational flashcards -- great for all ages, caregivers, kids, parents, relatives and friends.

The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Nut-Allergic Child -- my e-book is a guide for parents facing nut allergies and it's filled with support, practical advice and encouragement.

Supermarket finds-- one of my recent blog posts features nut-free foods found on the store shelves(always read the labels; things can change.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Nut-Free Valentine's Day: Supermarket Finds

This Valentine's Day "candy bank" from Tootsie Roll Corporation (R) has
clear allergen labels. Labels like this are becoming easier to find.

 I love the convenience and selection I get with online ordering for seasonal candy and nut-free items, but isn't it great when you can just stroll into the supermarket and find what you need? Here is a selection of nut-free (and other free-from) candy selections, cookies and treats for Valentine's Day.
Please note: You and your doctor are the best judges of what is safe for you and/or your allergic child to eat. This is meant as a guide, so please consider your own specific needs and check with your doctor about any foods or potential allergens that concern you. For additional product questions, check with the specific companies. Safety first! Thanks!
I discovered the following items at my local supermarket (a Safeway owned company), SuperTarget, Wal-Mart and Meijer. The following items were all marked as peanut and tree nut-free.

Not all items will be available in all locations, but in general, you will find these items in well-stocked stores:

Anything from the Tootsie Corporation, including pops, chocolate chews, and Andes Candies mints. Many of the seasonal varieties (such as the item pictured above) have Valentine's messages included. Andes Chocolate Mint Candies have a heart shape and message embossed on each chocolate. Sweet! See:

Gimbal’s Cherry Lovers Fruit Chews
These heart shaped candies are made by the Gimbal's company--top 8 allergen-free and gluten-free. Here's a link to the item on the Meijer website:;jsessionid=078083B9B44CC0FF3727B1CC134B3F0F.instance04 

Pez Candies
Everybody's favorite! Peanut-free, tree nut-free and gluten-free. See:

Dum Dums lollipops with Valentine's Day Messages
The time-honored kid favorite, free from peanuts, tree nuts and the most common food allergens. See:

Back of Dum Dums package.
Skeeter Snacks cookies made in a nut-free facility -- great flavors and taste! Available at many Costco stores and supermarkets. See:

The following are available at Whole Foods/Natural Foods Stores/Some Supermarkets

Surf Sweets Fruity Hearts
Seasonal gummies in an adorable heart shape from this all natural, organic candy company. Watermelon and cherry flavors. See:
Great out of the bag or as cupcake decor!
 Sha Sha Ginger Cookies
Heart-shaped Ginger Snap cookies, made in a peanut and tree nut-free facility and made with healthy, whole ingredients. The heart shape makes them perfect for V-Day. See:

Lucy’s Cookies
Nut-free, gluten-free and free of many top allergens. Delicious flavor varieties, too. (Be advised, for the peanut allergic also allergic to legumes, Lucy's does use some legume flours). See:

Enjoy Life Cookies/Candy Bars
Great variety of nut-free, gluten-free and top 8 allergen-free cookies and dairy-free chocolate bars. See:

Yum Earth gummy bears/lollipops
Valentine's Day-themed packs of organic gummy bears and lollies free of peanuts, tree nuts and the top 8 allergens. Also available at Target stores across the U.S. See:

Nut-Free Facility?
The following item was unclear if made in a nut-free facility but does not appear to be made on shared equipment. However, many Dove Promises items are made in a nut-free facility, so see the link below/call the company for details.

Dove Promises Chocolate Hearts. The rep said their candy would be labeled for shared equipment (i.e., if no warning, the item is not made on shared equipment) but due to the hearts being a seasonal candy, couldn’t tell me if they were made in nut-free facility as these facilities may change. Here is a link to nut-free facility product info for Dove Chocolates:

Remember, check with companies for more info if you require it, but I hope this gets you off to a good start!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Online Nut-Free (and more) Valentine’s Day Resources

Valentine’s Day is just about three weeks away so I've compiled a list of online resources while you still have some time to order. It’s great to have these online resources that deliver straight to your door. Please note that some companies may have deadlines for Valentine’s Day delivery; check company websites for details. Costs run the gamut from the budget-friendly to the higher-end and shipping is usually additional, so keep that in mind while shopping.

If you have any questions about ingredients, please contact the company directly (I’ve given you a head start by providing links for each company.) Most of these companies offer nationwide shipping. Again, check with them for shipping details/product availability.

I’ve included some treats that are more geared to adults than kids. Maybe you’ve got nut allergies yourself (like an increasing number of adults) or maybe your kids do and you don’t want “nutty” foods in the house. Either way, the adults need their sweets, too!

Nut-Free Candy, Bakery Items and Sweet Treats:

Dean’s Sweets is a nut-free chocolatier offering rich handcrafted chocolate truffles in a gourmet variety of adult-friendly flavors (cayenne pepper and champagne, to name two!) These are special chocolates, no question! Order online or stop in their shop located in Portland, Maine. Address: 82 Middle Street Portland, Maine 04101 Phone: 207-899-3664 Dean’s Sweets now serves nut-free hot chocolate in the store, so if you’re in the area, bring your date!

Vermont Nut Free Chocolate is another favorite, creating everything from a box of delicious nut-free chocolate truffles, to seasonal chocolate lollipops and much more. They’ve got a beautiful selection for Valentine’s Day. We love pretty much everything from Vermont Nut Free and are huge fans of their new chocolate caramel pretzel bark. Plus, they’ve got baking chocolate! Order online at and visit their store at 10 Island Circle Grand Isle, VT 05458

Nutphree’s Cupcakes. Serving the greater Chicago area, only. We LOVE Nutphree’s Cupcakes, Chicago’s only completely nut-free cupcake bakery! Beautiful creations to fit each season with new flavors arriving all the time. Order online or by phone (847) 754-4320 or stop in their new storefront: 259 E. Rand Rd. Mount Prospect, IL, 60056 Delivery is available; call for details.

Cakes for Occasions This nut-free bakery in Danvers, MA has many creations available for online ordering or stop in their shop for some amazingly artistic baked goods. Special order through their online store or stop in: 57 Maple Street, Danvers, MA 01923 • Tel: (978) 774-4545

Skeeter Snacks cookies are baked in a dedicated nut-free facility--hooray! Made with "real" ingredients and very yummy--for kids and adults alike.  You can order online ; Skeeter Snacks are becoming increasingly available in supermarkets and select Costco stores. We especially love the chocolate chip!
Eleni's Cookies. This nut-free, kosher cookie bakery in NYC is famous for its whimsical approach--these are definitely "designer" cookies! Click the link for a complete selection of Valentine's Day cookie gifts:   And check out their new Valentine's Day cookie decorating kit: STORES: Chelsea Market 75 Ninth Avenue @ 15th Street Madison Avenue 1266 Madison Avenue @ 90th Street

Nut-Free, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Valentine’s Day Treats and Sweets

Divvies bakery offers baked goods and seasonal candy including a new chocolate “crispy” heart for Valentine’s Day. Visit Divvies online to see their complete Valentine’s Day assortment. (Many candies are gluten-free, too). Visit for more info.

Sweet Alexis Bakery has nut-free, dairy-free and egg-free baked goods for every season including some wonderfully decorated cookies and cupcakes. Order online and save 10% on your order until January 31st. Promo code: vday13 Expires 1/31/13 Or visit their store: 2085 10th Street, Los Osos, California 93402 (Just South of Morro Bay, CA)
Amanda’s Own Confections This nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free chocolate company has a big selection for Valentine’s Day.

Peanut Free Planet has a terrific peanut and tree nut-free selection for Valentine's Day including some of my faves like Surf Sweets Fruity Hearts and Seth Ellis Sun Cups (just like peanut butter cups--but nut-free AND so delicious). Plus, many items are free from other allergens and/or gluten, perfect if you are dealing with multiple food allergies.

 Non-edible Valentine’s Day treats and crafts and more, perfect for the classroom

Thank you notes that raise awareness!

Peanut Free Zone is a company that’s all about allergy awareness. Now they offer custom allergy-awareness thank-you cards for your the caregivers in your life. What a nice way to say "thank you" to a special teacher, friend or caregiver for Valentine's Day. Even better: These cards have a thank you message outside and on the back of each card is a concise list of food allergy safety tips. For more info see:

 Non-edible party favors and crafts
Oriental Trading Company has a wide variety of budget-friendly crafts and small toys. Much of their Valentine's Day selection is currently on sale. Click here to find out more:

Valentine’s Day crafts:
Parents Magazine has a link filled with fun Valentine-inspired crafts. Share these for the class party if you want to cut down on food in the classroom.

The gorgeous craft and recipe website, Whipperberry, has a beautiful Valentine's craft using old crayons. This is a good one to do at home with the kids if you are "craftily" -inclined.

Not an online shopper? Come back to the blog on Friday for some nut-free Valentine's Day supermarket finds.
What are your favorite online resources for nut-free sweets?

 Note: The consumer maintains responsibility for ensuring any product mentioned on this page is free from any or all allergens that pose a concern. If you have questions about foods you see mentioned here, please contact the companies directly for more info. If you are unsure if a food or ingredient is safe for your child, please ask your doctor.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

When Restaurants Get Food Allergies Right: Maggiano's Little Italy

Maggiano's menu: note the "Chef Requests" Section and the
notation about menu items that refer to food allergies.

Life-threatening food allergies and restaurants, oh my! Before food allergies, you probably viewed restaurants as a place to relax, have fun with family and friends and enjoy a good meal that you didn't have to cook.

After the diagnosis of a severe food allergy, however, it's another story. Restaurants become something to navigate and the stakes are very high because if the restaurant doesn't fully understand food allergies and we don't have the awareness we need, an emergency can occur. Kind of takes your appetite away, doesn't it?

I know that I am always leery of trying a new restaurant and have pretty strict criteria about where I will take my daughter with severe peanut and tree nut allergies. Our family will only visit restaurants  checked out  in advance and who we feel understand how to avoid allergy mix-ups in the kitchen. The good news: this can be done, but it does take work. Eventually you can find some go-to restaurants. This is so important to me and I've learned so much about how to do this over the years, that I devote an entire chapter to restaurants in my e-book, "The New Nut-Free Mom"

Given how much stress an unknown restaurant can cause, it makes it even better when a restaurant doesn't run from food allergies, but decides to take it on and accommodate them. Recently, I experienced some of the best service our family has ever received at Maggiano's Little Italy in Oak Brook, Illinois. (They have other locations, click the link above for more details.)

Maggiano's (see their menu above) impressed me greatly with their proactive and educated approach. Important note: We stated our daughter's allergies (peanuts, tree nuts) over the phone when we made the reservation. Please always do this, wherever you go.

We wanted to take our kids out to dinner following a show during the holidays. In searching for a place near the theater, I knew that Maggiano's was an option, so I did some research (which I talk about in great detail in my book.)  I looked at the menu, checked their web site and finally spoke to them on the phone. It looked really good so we decided to try it.

Once we arrived at our table, the chef showed up just a few minutes later to talk about who had the allergies, what menu items we should avoid (not many, but if you go on your own--ask them. Menu items can change at any time) and to ask if we had any questions. This was before we had even spoken to our server, so clearly they have a system for marking their guests allergies while making the reservation.

The chef offered to help us choose a menu item if we needed suggestions for our specific allergy needs. He was very reassuring and it was so appreciated, especially given some of our past experiences at other restaurants and the lack of knowledge and care. In a word, wonderful.

Once I heard from the chef, I'll admit, I felt more relaxed  than I ever do in a new restaurant. The server also took note of our daughter's order and said she would clear it with the chef and that in fact, she "had" to do that since it was noted on our reservation that we had a guest with allergies.

Just to be clear: I never told anyone there that I have a blog or would be reviewing their service. This level of service regarding food allergies is what they do for everyone. In fact, I saw the chef go to several tables once we were seated -- I'm guessing -- for the same reason he came to ours. Food allergies are becoming more common as are food intolerances like celiac disease and believe me, you're not the first person who asked about allergies in any given restaurant.

Maggiano's gave me hope that more restaurants will be embracing the challenge of food-allergic diners instead of turning them away.

I know that so many of us dread dining out at times, and for good reason. Not all restaurants are created equal with regard to food allergies. You have to be careful. But take heart, do your research and hopefully you will find some accommodating restaurants in your own neighborhood.

Remember, for any restaurant, be clear about your allergy needs and educate yourself on their menus and food prep. That is the first step, always. Carry your medications at all times -- don't go to a restaurant without those.

We'll definitely be back to Maggiano's. I'm really glad to have discovered their approach to food allergies. And I almost forgot--the food is delicious! A great family-style restaurant. Thank you to the staff, chefs and everyone who welcomed us.

Learn more about navigating nut allergies,
 including restaurants, in my e-book:

Friday, January 11, 2013

New Year Food Allergy Checklist -- Are You Ready?

Taking care of food allergy concerns early in the year
will prepare you for any upcoming events.

Since the kids are back in school and the holiday rush is over, now is a good time to take stock of how things are going with our kids and their food allergies. It is the beginning of a brand new year, so new activities may be on the horizon. It is also mid-year for those of us with school-aged kids and so some adjustments may have to be made.

(Also, since I feel the rush of organization coming over me as we embark upon a brand new year, I thought I would share this over-caffeinated sense of goodwill with all of you. :))

Here are some things to review as we begin 2013:

-Prescriptions. Are they up to date? Do you need any new epinephrine auto-injectors or updated medical forms for sports, school, or clubs? (We do--for all of the above.) Make a plan to get this taken care of in the next couple of weeks and you’ll thank yourself later when you’re not rushing around, trying to get in touch with the doctor and beating deadlines for registrations.

- Allergy appointments. For those of you who deal with seasonal or annual allergy appointments, it pays to make those appointments now, because in the spring most doctors are chock-full of people coping with seasonal allergies. You don't want to have to wait!

- Review emergency procedures/food restrictions. By now, most public schools in the U.S. have trained staff to handle
food allergy reactions, but it doesn't hurt to review this with your child's teacher as the second half of the school year begins. Also, if your child is in daycare, don't forget to review with your child's caregivers. Staff changes at centers may have occurred, too, or maybe your school-aged child is enrolled in a new activity. Now is a good time to go over emergency medication usage, restricted foods and any other areas of concern.

- Check your calendar for any upcoming events that may present food risk. Travel, school parties and field trips are all things that can present food allergy challenges. Review your family's schedule and your child's school calendar so you can tackle these issues in advance. Then you can be ready with treats, doctor's notes or "safe" restaurant choices when the time comes.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Latest Food Allergy News: Teasing, Bullying and What to Do About It

Stories on food allergy bullying starting making the rounds of the major news outlets over the holiday, and recently the journal Pediatrics released a study regarding food allergy bullying and its potential to impact the lives of kids with food allergies, and their families. Here is the link to that story.

Bullying is very serious and many kids have to cope with it, not just those with food allergies. What makes food allergy bullying especially dangerous is that some kids use food in aggression against other kids, and that can be hazardous to their health and might even endanger their lives. For example, pushing a peanut butter sandwich in an allergic child's face or threatening to do so.

Obviously, any bullying that turns physical must be dealt with immediately and stopped. Stop Bullying is a website that addresses bullying on every level including how schools can work to prevent bullying, what kids can do to stop bullying and signs that your child is being bullied. Many schools have a no tolerance for bullying policy. This should definitely include food allergies so if you have concerns, don’t hesitate to speak with school officials. Stop Bullying's site has guidelines for working with your school.

According to the Pediatrics article, about half of kids do not report the bullying, so you will want to watch your child for signs that they might be having a problem. The Stop Bullying site offers a list of possible symptoms that your child is being bullied. (Not every kid with these symptoms is being bullied, but the list offers a good place to start and can spark discussion with your child.)

The fear of being bullied or teased makes some parents and kids afraid to reveal the allergy to anyone. To me that is a very unfortunate side effect because it has been proven that food allergy awareness helps in an emergency and can save a life. If a kid feels ashamed of their allergies, ironically, that may make them more likely to be bullied.  Plus, kids ashamed of their allergies might not want to speak up, advocate for themselves or carry life-saving medications. Better to anticipate this and help your child work through their feelings and role play some responses if they find themselves in a situation where they are bullied.

Teasing and unkind comments are another story. Not all kids with food allergies will be bullied physically, but I would hazard to guess that many kids with food allergies are subjected to verbal remarks, teasing and sometimes unkind comments. I wrote about post about teasing and food allergies that you can read by clicking here. (Food allergy-friendly company and friends, Tasterie, shared my past post on their own blog today, so thanks for spreading the word, Tasterie!)

Teasing and taunting is upsetting and of course, it can always escalate into physical bullying, so I really like Stop Bullying’s suggestions to help parents stop bullying before it can really even get started. A confident, prepared kid will be able to help stop bullying too.

What is your experience with teasing or bullying? What did you do about it?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year, New Food Allergy Diagnosis?


Click the link for more info on my e-book guide:

The following article was posted previously, but its message is perennial.  If you are beginning a new year with a new nut allergy and/or other food allergy diagnosis, hang in there. You will learn what you need to know. What follows are some of my best tips for getting started. (And check out my e-book for lots more info and encouragement).

Each year around the winter holidays, I receive an increase in the number of e-mails and posts I've received from parents facing new nut allergy diagnoses in their kids and I've even heard from several young adults with new nut allergies.

The most frequent word I hear is "overwhelmed." This is so understandable. It is overwhelming. The wealth of information alone (often conflicting) can be hard to absorb. Plus, you may wonder if you'll ever have a normal life again, if you will ever learn to decipher food labels and if your child can even go to school. You wonder if every food has the potential to harm your child and/or you. Life can seem very scary and very surreal.

I've been there and I can tell you that things improve. But I can't sugar coat the facts: your life will change, sometimes in ways you may not even foresee now. Some of the changes will be hard to deal with; some may even be positive in the long run. I can think of two positive changes: becoming healthier in our family eating habits and learning to be more assertive in life and ask for what we need. I also have a truly compassionate daughter whose own struggles have made her want to be helpful to others facing different challenges.

Food allergies are never welcome and they make life more difficult at times. But you can live well with them. Here are some things that have helped me and my family:

Seek expert medical advice from an allergist. I've found the best people to handle the medical aspects of food allergy have been our allergists. Find a board-certified allergist and then follow their advice. Keep up on yearly visits, appropriate testing and keep in contact with them about medications. An allergist will be more knowledgeable on food allergies than most pediatricians, not to knock them because they're helpful, too. But an allergist will be more up-to-date on the constantly changing aspects of food allergies and this will be invaluable to you.

Always stand firm about food allergies. You'll meet people who don't take food allergies seriously, who may even blow them off completely. Sometimes those closest to you won't accept the situation. Be prepared for it. Usually, ignorance about food allergies is the key reason. If you know that something is not safe then avoid the food, situation or if need be, the person until they "get it." Risking an allergic reaction to preserve any relationship is never worth it. As we saw recently in Chicago, food allergies can be fatal when not clearly understood or properly respected.

Be informed but don't overload on random info. This is the hardest thing because Internet access can uncover some crazy stories and information. Overloading on stories of food allergy deaths or unproven medical information is never helpful and may be harmful.

Knowledge is half the battle. The good news is, if you're reading this you probably have received medication, medical advice and are just generally prepared to face a reaction if it occurs. Witnessing an allergic reaction without any knowledge of what may be causing it or without any medication to treat it is much, much worse. If you know what you're dealing with, you can avoid or safely adapt to potentially harmful situations and cut down on risk.

I want to wish a healthy and Happy New Year to you all! Let's be safe together and please continue to share your input and comments!