Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Food Allergies: Taking a Minute to Reflect on the Last Day of School

Today is the last full day of school in our district and as I always am when a school year goes well, I am thankful and grateful that my daughter enjoyed a reaction-free year. School can be filled with many food allergy-related pitfalls and regular readers of this blog know that I've covered many of these in detail. (Just search key word "school" in the search bar to the right for several articles on managing food allergies at school.)

However, as the year draws to a close without a reaction, I like to take a deep breath and enjoy what went right. For those of you who have sent your children to school for the first time this year, you are probably feeling a special sense of relief now that it's over. As someone who has been managing and helping my child manage food allergies at school for nearly 8 years now, I can tell you that it does get easier,  especially as kids get older and more able to speak up and care for themselves. That doesn't mean I never have worries, and now we have new challenges like an overnight field trip next year for 8th grade.

But for now, I've got all of that on the back burner. I'm simply thankful that things have gone well. I encourage you to thank your child's teachers and any others who have helped you child manage allergies and/or asthma this year. It's always nice to say "thank you" to the health office workers, too. They've probably gotten to know your child well because they of their formal health plans and medications at school. Let them know that their concern and care are helpful.

On a housekeeping note, don't forget to bring home your child's medications and any new health forms. If you plan to go to a new school or are going to school for the first time next year, please click this link for some helpful information. Most school offices stay open for a few weeks after the last day of school, but after that it may be difficult to speak to anyone at school until the fall. So if you have anything you need to take care of, now is the time!

I'm sure that all of us have things we wish had gone differently but hopefully summer will give us some perspective on how things can be better handled next year. One tip is to join your school's PTO--if you can, get on a party committee. You'll be in a much better position to navigate food allergies and voice your concerns. So many times, people just aren't aware of the role that minimizing food plays in keeping kids safe and included.

If things went well for you this year, it's no accident. It means that you and your child did a great job of handling things and it also means that you have established good communication with your school. And let's be real: some schools are more allergy aware than others. If you found yourself in the position of food allergy "pioneer" this year, then I know you had your share of challenges (I've been there!). Hats off to you!

Life with severe food allergies can be challenging, but as you meet each challenge, it's great to celebrate the little victories. Tell your kids that you are proud of them--and be proud of yourself, too. Whether it was communicating with school staff, providing allergy-friendly food, educating your school about allergies or even sharing your story with other parents, you did your part to help your child have a smooth school year. I admire you all!

Happy Summer!

For more on navigating life with severe nut allergies, click this link for my complete e-book guide.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Nut-Free Supermarket Friday Find, Plus Memorial Day Weekend Party & Travel Tips

Grilling on the go with food allergies? A disposable instant grill to the rescue.
For Memorial Day Weekend, I'm featuring something a little different for Nut-Free Supermarket Finds Friday: a disposable instant grill. No, it's not a nut-free food but we can cook nut-free foods on it and it eliminates cross contact risk from shared or public grills. For example, marinades can have peanut or tree nut products or oils and if you have allergies to fish or other foods, you never know what was on the grill if you're away from home. I've even seen peanut shells inside public grills at the park. 
These handy little grills are available at Walmart, hardware stores and supermarkets. Here's a link to disposable grills sold at Walmart.
If you're looking for Memorial Day Weekend travel tips, party tips or recipes, then click this link to a past post where there are info and additional blog post links for all of the above!
I hope you all have a happy, safe and healthy Memorial Day holiday with your family and friends.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Food Allergy Emergency Preparedness for Natural Weather and Other Disasters

The recent tornado in Oklahoma was a tragic event on so many levels. We are sending lots of good thoughts and love to anyone coping with this horrible crisis.

In a natural weather disaster where the devastation may be widespread and involve fatalities, water and food may be greatly limited, much less allergy-friendly food. Have you thought about how you would manage this situation? Weather disasters and other emergencies aren't pleasant to think about but since they don't happen when you expect them, it's best to be ready.

Here's a few tips for keeping on top of food allergies in a weather emergency or natural disaster:

Have a good stock of "safe," non-perishable food items that can be eaten by the entire family. Soy milk (if you can have it) doesn't require refrigeration and bottled water is always good to have on hand in case you can't use your tap water for any reason. I like to have cereal, crackers, pretzels and slow-spoiling fruits like apples and bananas on hand in case of a blackout. SunButter, if you can eat it, is also good to have as is non-refrigerated cheese and crackers (if you aren't allergic to dairy). Anything from Enjoy Life like trail mix and granola is safe for the Top 8 food allergens, gluten and sesame. These foods will keep well and give you much-needed energy if you are low on food and stressed.

Stock up on bottled water. In case the water is unsafe to drink, you need plenty of water. Look for sales and then store them in a safe place where family members won't grab a bottle for convenience.

Make sure all your prescriptions are up-to-date and well-stocked. Check to make sure that you have several epinephrine auto-injectors, a bottle of Benadryl and whatever asthma or seasonal allergies your child needs well before a crisis hits. In the event of extreme bad weather, you may not be able to renew these prescriptions in a timely manner, so get them now. Keep them in a plastic resealable bag so they don't get wet.

Keep a generous supply of cleaning wipes and antibacterial hand wipes. If the worst happens and you have to leave your home for any reason, you'll be able to remove allergenic residue from surfaces. In addition, hand and face wipes will come in handy for personal use.

Have a"Go Bag" ready. At a food allergy conference I attended a couple of years ago, a dad who used to work with NYC on Emergency Preparedness discussed the need for a "Go Bag" that you have ready for your child in a convenient area of your home. This bag would contain up-to-date medications in addition to safe, non-perishable foods and drinks.

In addition, The American Red Cross has a site with excellent plans for preparing you and your family.

For anyone interested in helping to ensure that victims of the tornado have allergy-friendly/GF food if they need it, here is an official address for you:

Send shelf-stable Allergy Safe Foods and/or Gluten Free Foods (Please mark them as such on the outside of the box) to: Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, 3355 S. Purdue, Oklahoma City, OK 73139

You can also visit Peanut Free Planet for as they are sponsoring a disaster relief effort. Here's more from PFP:

"If you would like to send a food donation to the food allergy families that have been victims of the Oaklahoma Tornado you can order on our site. PFP will cover the shipping of the gift to the Oaklahoma Food bank. If you would like to donate $ to purchase products to fill in the gaps of other donations please purchase a gift certificate. When you order enter our address as the shipping address. 15252 Stony Creek Way Noblesville IN and choose in-store pick up and put "Oklahoma" in the comments section. The donations will be shipped Thursday morning. "

What about your family? Any tips you'd like to share? Or have you thought much about this topic?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

For Food Allergy Awareness Week: My Guest Post on The Food Allergy Mom

Kimberly, creator of the wonderful blog, The Food Allergy Mom, invited me to guest post for food allergy awareness week re: the importance of being "plugged in" online to the all of the great resources available. This topic is obviously one that is close to my heart since I have written both online and in print about food allergies, anaphylaxis and parenting for the past 6 years. Thanks to Kimberly for inviting me to guest post and thanks also for providing such a helpful resource to your readers!

Here's an excerpt from my guest post  on The Food Allergy Mom:

" “I feel alone.” That’s the number one thing that I hear from parents who have just begun navigating the world with a child who has life-threatening food allergies. I understand that feeling. In fact, it was that sentiment of feeling alone and wanting to connect that prompted me to begin writing my blog “The Nut-Free Mom.” " Read more by clicking this link.

I  am very thankful for the positive reader feedback over the years and grateful that so many readers have found encouragement, practical advice and emotional support via this blog and others.

One of the most important things about food allergy and anaphylaxis awareness is the connections! If you can find a way to communicate effectively and positively to others regarding food allergy, anaphylaxis and your child's needs, that's half the battle. One way to do that is to connect with other parents, learn from them and share your ideas so that together we find creative ways of managing life-threatening food allergies. So in that spirit, I hope you'll join a Food Allergy Awareness Week Twitter party hosted by Jennifer B of the awesome blog "Food Allergy Buzz."

It's easy to join the Twitter discussion, plus it's fast-paced and fun. Plus, you can win prizes from food allergy-friendly sponsors.  To find out more about this event which takes place tomorrow at 7 EST, click this link.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Food Allergy Awareness Week: Join the Twitter Party sponsored by Food Allergy Buzz!

Join the Food Allergy Awareness Week Twitter Party!
To kick off Food Allergy Awareness Week, I want to tell you about a fun opportunity to connect with other food allergy folks -- fellow parents, advocates and dedicated sponsors -- a Food Allergy Awareness Week Twitter Party! This event is hosted by Jennifer B of Food Allergy Buzz, one of the smartest, nicest and most dedicated food allergy bloggers and advocates that I know. She's been hosting these Twitter events for years and would love to make "food allergy" a trending topic on Twitter during the party.

It's really easy to participate, fast-paced and fun -- the hour flies by very quickly!

Here's more information about the Twitter party, including a link to the invite. Hope to see you there!

Food Allergy Awareness Week (FAAW) Twitter Party 2013

  • Thursday, May 16, 2013 • 7:00 PM Eastern
  • Hosted by Jennifer B
  • 339-364-8832
  • on Twitter

Join us for the 4th annual FAAW Twitter Party! This is a fantastic opportunity to connect with others in the online food allergy community LIVE at 7:00 PM Eastern. Chat with other food allergy friends, help promote food allergy awareness and maybe even win a food allergy prize from one of the party's sponsors. Click this link to see and respond to the invitation.

In order to participate in the FAAW Twitter Party you will need a Twitter account.

To be eligible for a prize, you must:
1. rsvp YES to this invitation
2. follow @FoodAllergyBuzz on Twitter
3. tell friends about the 2013 FAAW Twitter Party on Twitter and/or FB (send us the links for the Tweet and FB post!)
4. participate in the party using the #foodallergy hashtag!
Sponsors include Surf Sweets, Onespot Allergy, Enjoy Life Foods and Peanut Free Planet!

For more information, click this link:


Friday, May 10, 2013

The Nut-Free Buzz About Biscoff: Europe's Peanut-Free Peanut Butter Alternative and Cookie

Today's Nut-Free Supermarket Find Friday item is...Biscoff! So many of you have asked me about Biscoff in recent weeks and months that I thought it was high time I posted about this product, or really line of products since in addition to a spread, Biscoff makes delicious cookies. Crisp and sweet, they taste a little bit like a cinnamon-y gingersnap. My entire family loves the cookies and the spread.

Just a note here for those of you looking for a peanut butter substitute: I don't think of the Biscoff spread as a true peanut butter alternative, like say, SunButter, because the Biscoff Spread is made from cookies. Yes, it's very delicious, but it's not a health food. Still, if you want to try something new, Biscoff is some tasty stuff. Also it may look like peanut butter but it smells or tastes NOTHING like peanut butter, a boon to kids who, because of severe allergies, are repelled by other substitutes.

Biscoff items are a product of Belgium and since I always like to double-check any foods not made here in the U.S. due to labeling concerns and manufacturing practices, I am happy to say this company appears to be very transparent about their allergy info. Here's the nut-free deal with regard to this product:

Biscoff  spread is made in a nut-free facility as are the cookies. Biscoff Spread is packaged (not produced) in a facility that also has hazelnut items being packaged there as well. This does not trouble me, since the facility where the Biscoff is produced is nut-free, according to the company and the say they take precautions during packaging. Click this link to the Biscoff FAQs page as well as an excerpt from the company web site:

"Does Biscoff contain any nuts? Should I be worried if I have any nut allergies?
Both Biscoff Cookies and Biscoff Spread do not contain any nuts and are produced in a facility that contains no nuts.

Biscoff Spread is packed in a facility that packs other products that contain hazelnuts. Our packer guarantees 0% contamination for Biscoff Spread with any other products that contains nuts. Biscoff Spread is packed in a separate dedicated line and is never packed on shared equipment used for other products containing nuts.

Biscoff Crumbles are packed in a facility that processes eggs, nuts, peanuts and sesame."

I have never seen the Biscoff Crumbles in stores, but obviously avoid those.

More allergy info from the Biscoff web site:

"What are the allergy warnings for Biscoff Cookies and Biscoff Spread?
Biscoff Cookies and Biscoff Spread both contain wheat and soy. Biscoff Cookies and Spread are both Vegan."

Note from me (Jenny): this product contains sunflower oil, so avoid if you have a sunflower seed allergy.

You can find Biscoff spread and cookies at most well-stocked grocery stores. I've seen these items everywhere from my local Jewel grocery store, to SuperTarget and Walmart.

If you think you'd like to try this and get creative with recipes, check out this link I found from The Huffington Post, all about Biscoff and recipes that use both the spread and cookies. They may not all be nut-free recipes, but they are certainly yummy-looking and creative. You can always alter them to make them "free from" what you need to avoid.

For more information about Biscoff products, visit their web site:

Please note: With any foods mentioned here, you are the best judge of what is safe for you and your family. If you have any questions about any foods mentioned here and whether they are safe to consume, please ask your doctor.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Food Allergies and Mother's Day: Here's to You, Moms

Yes, that's pretty much what I do.
I ran this post a couple of years ago and I realized that this is a message I'd like to repeat for those who haven't seen it yet -- I can't really say it any better. It all still holds true.  A very happy Mother's Day to you all! I hope that you all know you're not alone in your struggles and concerns. Thanks to all of you for all of the support and positive feedback over the years, too.

Mother's Day is almost here and I want to give a special thanks and recognition to all the mothers out there and especially to those of you dealing with food allergies. Of course dads, grandparents and family members care too, but I know that mothers take the brunt of a lot of the day-to-day stuff with food allergies.

This year you probably:

Met with school staff or other caregivers about your child's food allergy
Worried when your child went out without you
Were nervous serving your child food in a restaurant
Stayed up late baking cupcakes for a class party
Showed several people how to use an epinephrine auto-injector (including maybe even your child)
Researched the Internet about food allergies for hours
Had a real food allergy "scare" or a false alarm (incidentally, both cause gray hair equally)
Were a regular at the pharmacy
Took your child for allergy testing
Filled out endless paperwork so that your food-allergic child could attend a camp, participate in a sport or other activity
Did I say stayed up late baking cupcakes???

I could go on an on. The bottom line, Moms, is to be proud of all you've done for your child this year. Being a mother is not for the faint of heart, as my pediatrician told me when my daughter was just a  baby. That goes double if your child has any type of chronic medical condition. In fact, it's important to take care of ourselves as we also take care of our kids, something I cover in my e-book.

Mother's Day is supposed to be a day of celebration for mothers--not necessarily a day of complete rest, though that is nice. But food allergies don't take a break, so I bet a lot of you--like me--will be baking and/or cooking for Mother's Day. I'm baking a coffee cake to bring to a brunch. My kids LOVE this cake and I am happy to make it for them. Nothing is better than being to serve my allergic daughter something that she can eat along with everyone else. I'm not officially "off duty" and that's OK. Are we ever really off duty as parents? As one of my favorite writers, Nora Ephron, said in one of her essays about being a parent: "The worry is forever."

Mother's Day is a great time to reflect on how close your child's allergies may have made you and your child. This may seem like a strange silver lining, but I'll leave you with this. The other night, my daughter and I were watching Top Chef Masters and they were doing a wedding. One of the tasks was making a wedding cake. She turned to me and said "Mom, will you make my wedding cake? Then I know it will be delicious AND safe for me."

She trusts me. She knows I can bake good cakes. She knows she can count on me. That's what Mother's Day means to me. After I got done swallowing the big lump in my throat I told her I'd be honored.

Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Attention All Food Allergy Friends: Carry Your Epinephrine!

When my daughter was first diagnosed,
we had sticky notes like this all over the house.
When your child (or you!) received a food allergy diagnosis and you discovered a risk for anaphylaxis (potentially life-threatening allergic reaction), one of the first things you probably received was a script for an epinephrine auto-injector. You were likely told that you must carry the auto-injector with you at all times, you filled the prescription and goes on. When you are first absorbing the many changes that food allergies bring, sometimes you can forget to pack the epinephrine. Or maybe you don't think you really need it everywhere, especially if you don't plan to eat.

The simple rule about epinephrine auto-injectors is that we never know when we'll need them. So always carry them! In fact, most allergists recommend carrying at least two at all times for a multitude of what-if reasons.

It's easy to forget these little life-saving doodads when you're rushing around fulfilling your life obligations. But--these things are too important to forget. They will save a life, period. To paraphrase an old TV ad: "Don't leave home without them." And in fact, even if you are at home, have them easily accessible at all times. Pick a cabinet and put a sticker on it or a sticky note--whatever you have to do. Tell everyone who cares for your kids where you either stored or packed the epinephrine. Truly, these small steps can make a difference by saving a life.

Tragic food allergy fatalities usually have one commonality that is heart-breaking: no epinephrine was available for the person suffering the reaction. This is reason enough to turn the car around and head home if you forget it. I've done it so many times and even if I've been late for something I've never regretted making sure I have the epinephrine. As my husband's late grandmother used to say "Better a red face than a broken heart." Amen to that! Carry the darn things.

I know it's a pain to remember to carry epinephrine auto-injectors, so I have some suggestions that worked for me. If some of these seem over the top, they are meant to be. Because, after all, the goal is having the auto-injector available at all times!

Whether you are using the EpiPen(R) or the new Auvi-Q(R) auto-injector, if you don't have them with you, they won't work. My daughter's first allergist held up the auto-injector and said "This is no good if you don't have it with you. Always have it with you." Point taken and I've always remembered that good advice no matter what.

Tricks for remembering/quickly locating your epinephrine auto-injector:

1. Use lots of sticky note reminders (see photo above). Place reminder notes on your front and back doors, the sink, your car dashboard, the kitchen cabinet, the TV screen--anywhere you think will be useful at helping you remember.

2. Wear it: OneSpot Allergy has auto-injector belts for both the EpiPen(R) and Auvi-Q(R). The company Olli Lolli even makes khaki pants that kids can carry it in. Whatever works--do it!

3. Have a special, recognizable case for the auto-injector. My daughter loves her carrying case from Epi-Essentials. If she doesn't have this visual reminder in her bag, then she knows not to leave without it.

4. Get your kids in the habit of remembering their auto-injectors. Practice having your kids bring you the auto-injector before you go somewhere; as they get older, have them carry it. (You carry a backup of course.) I'm so glad I did this; now my daughter is excellent at remembering and usually already has it packed before I ask "Do you have your auto-injector?

5. Practice drills for locating epinephrine. Pretend you need the auto-injector and time how long it takes to find it. It shouldn't take long--only seconds! If it takes too long to locate find a new spot for it.

I hope these tips help! And remember:

What works for you? How do you remind yourself to carry your epinephrine?