Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Consumer Alert! Food Allergens Show Up in the Nuttiest Places

If you're dealing with nut allergies, you know about checking for ingredients in food of course, but it doesn't stop there. Shampoo, lotion, cosmetics, sunscreen, hand soap--they all can contain nut ingredients.

Most of us are aware of those dangers, once we've read a few labels and seen how prevalent nut ingredients are in all sorts of products. Still, I came across a few new ones while perusing my FAAN newsletter. It just goes to show you--always check labels no matter what!

A few of the unusual products sited for food allergens:

Looseleaf tea -- nut allergens on the ingredients label

Packaged popcorn -- fish mentioned on the ingredients label

A type of multivitamin -- peanut mentioned on the label

Here are a couple of more that I've gleaned in my travels:

Beanbag chair filling--sometimes can contain peanut shells

Pet food, especially small rodent food and birdseed--often contains peanut ingredients

I'm sure you've encountered others, so if you have some "out there" ones of your own, please share then with us!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gluten-Free Pasta Follow-Up

A while back I blogged about gluten-free pasta and how it sometimes contains a protein called lupin that can cause reactions in nut-allergic people. I wondered if this is something we should look out for in restaurants, etc.

Well, I have some more info, thanks to my fellow allergy blogger and writing buddy who let me know the name of the gluten-free pasta that contains the lupin ingredient. It's called Bi-Aglut. Also, she found this at a conference for people with celiac disease and the people she spoke with there were also concerned about this pasta's potential to cause allergic reactions in those with nut allergies. In other words, it seems that many gluten-free eaters are aware and that's great!

It doesn't sound like this pasta is widely used in restaurants, but if you are at a restaurant that touts gluten-free entrees, you may want to ask.

Also, if you have friends that are eating gluten-free, maybe skip the pasta when you eat with them or at least take a peek at the package.

We still need to be careful of the gluten-free pasta, but at least it's probably not a huge issue for us--yet! :)

If anyone has any questions, let me know and I'll see what other information I can uncover.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wishing You a Warm, Wonderful Allergy-Free Holiday!

Just a quick note to wish you all a wonderful allergy-free holiday!

I appreciate your readership, the great allergy tips that you share and the warm show of support that you show to me and your fellow food allergy parents and sufferers all year long.

My best wishes for a safe and happy holiday season!

I'm looking forward to hearing about your holiday success stories and helpful tips very soon. You can expect lots more from me as well.

Best to you and yours!
The Nut-Free Mom

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Food Allergies Tackled in December Issue of Kiwi Magazine

Before it goes off the stands, check out the December 2008 issue of Kiwi Magazine featuring great food allergy tips from Gina Clowes of Allergy Moms.

The best thing about this article is that it talks to non-allergic families as well, and gives them tips for dealing sensitively with food-allergic kids. It's a great, short but thorough and well-written piece.

If you haven't checked out Allergy Moms yet, you really should. It's a treasure trove of great food allergy info and advocacy!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Food Pulled From Shelves After Tribune Investigation

The Chicago Tribune has produced yet another groundbreaking food allergy story on the front page of today's paper. Read it here.

After their food allergy investigation series, stores are now pulling items off the shelves that have undeclared food allergens.

When I read the article, I wasn't surprised that one source was quoted as saying "If I had food allergies, I wouldn't eat imported foods." I've blogged in the past about my family's avoidance of imported foods for our child, and it looks like that concern is not unfounded.

Also, imported or "fancy gourmet" foods are frequently served at holiday parties, so use caution. It's another great reason to bring a couple of your own dishes to the celebrations you attend.

The really scary part is that out of 50 foods the Tribune tested for this story, 26 of them had undeclared food allergens. Lesson learned: be aware of what is a high-risk food for your particular allergy. Educate yourself so that you are not only relying on labels and what the people who work at a given store are telling you. The buck stops with us.

The other thing I liked about the story is that it did not focus much on nut allergies--it talked about milk and gluten allergies. The reason I'm glad about this is that many times in the press and in our daily lives, folks concerned about nut allergies aren't taken seriously. Talking about the other "top 8" shows how widespread the problem really is.

Despite the fact they it appears they employ a legion of "nut-happy" food editors, this paper is making a big difference and the author of this article is a hero to all of us.

Better labeling and better manufacturing practices are what we've been waiting for--and stories like this will help us to get it.

Congrats to the writer, Sam Roe, for his helpful investigation!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Party Tips for Nut-Free Families

Holiday parties are in full swing now so I know that many of us are wondering how to cope and have fun at the same time.

To start with, my current FAAN newsletter called out several foods to look out for if you have peanut or tree nut allergies. Some are obvious, others not so much.

Here is their list: Holiday Foods that are High-Risk for Peanuts/Tree Nuts

Peanuts: Cheescake/Cookies/Meat marinade
Tree Nuts: Cake/Cookies/Pie and pie crust/Strudel
Also, here are a few of my own "watch-out" foods: gravy, chocolate, any type of sauce (sweet or savory), stuffing, casseroles

Please avoid desserts that you did not make. Did you know that 43% of food allergy reactions are caused by dessert foods? No matter how good it looks, no matter how much your kids want it--if you didn't make it, don't let them eat it. Desserts are so high-risk that it's just not worth it. Better put on your apron, Betty Crocker, and get baking. You'll thank yourself later!

Since you may be attending parties where you don't know the people well, you're going to have to be extra vigilant and flexible. Here are a few things to look out for:

Buffets. Lots of risk for cross-contamination here. Try to avoid having your child eat from a buffet, but if that's the hand your dealt, you can help the situation by asking the host or hostess if you can serve the allergic members of your family first. That way you minimize risk of contaminating food with serving spoons, etc.

Nuts in a bowl. Oh, boy I sure hate this one for so many reasons--cross-contamination and accidental ingestion when it comes to little ones, for example. But since this is a holiday entertaining staple, be prepared. If you have little children, ask the host/hostess if you can have the bowl placed where the child can't reach it. If you have very small kids, follow them around and point out that they can't have them. Make it a teachable moment.

Kisses. If you know a relative or friend just ate a big helping of a nut-filled food, ask them to kiss your child on the head or give them a hug instead of a big, wet cheek kiss. If you don't want to get into a big deal about the reason why, just tell them your child has a cold.

For the nut-free adults: Cocktails and coffee drinks. Hazelnut syrup, almond syrup, amaretto: these are just a few of the "unsafe" ingredients you'll find in a holiday cocktail. Ask for wine or bring ingredients for mixing one of your own specialities. Just don't cross-contaminate with the cocktail shaker.

Be a gracious guest and bring your own food and/or drink. You can't go wrong if you can contribute safe foods or drinks to the party spread. Your hosts will really appreciate it and you'll have more fun, too.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Nut-Free Holiday Cookie Recipes

As promised, here are 2 nut-free (and one recipe is also egg- and gluten-free) holiday cookies that are simple to make and bring to a holiday gathering. This is kind of a long post, so I'll save the holiday tips for the next one.

The picture you see is a family favorite, "Snowballs." I came up with this recipe to replace the "Pecan balls" that my grandmother used to make at Christmas time. This recipe is based on a Greek butter cookie called "Kourambiethes." It's very unusual for a Greek cookie to be nut-free so these are a find! I skip the spirits usually called for in the recipe to make these more palatable to children, but if you like, add a tablespoon and a half of brandy or ouzo to the dough.

1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar + 2 tbsp, plus lots more for sprinkling on cookies
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 - 1 tsp pure orange extract (optional)
1 scant tsp salt

5-6 cups of all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a standing mixer, beat softened butter until very light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and orange extract if using, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add flour a little at a time until soft dough is formed that can be handled easily. Taking about a teaspoonful at a time, (I use a tiny ice-cream scoop) roll into a small ball. Place on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar while still hot.

Makes about 6 dozen.

The next recipe is from Living Without Magazine and it is egg-free, nut-free and gluten free. It is not dairy-free, but the magazine said you may substitute non-dairy ingredients for this cookie. Bring out your favorite holiday cookie cutters for this one.
Holiday Cut-Out Cookies
Makes 16 Cookies
¼ cup butter, canola oil spread or oleo, at room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
¾ cup brown rice flour
½ cup white rice flour
3 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons tapioca flour/starch
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons water or more
In a food processor, combine the butter, honey, sugar, vanilla and lemon peel and process for one minute.
Add the flours, potato starch, tapioca flour/starch, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder and baking soda, blending until mixture forms large clumps. Scrape down sides of the bowl with a spatula and blend until the mixture forms into a ball. (If needed, add more water, a tablespoon at a time.) Remove dough and shape it into a ball. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with baking spray or line it with parchment paper or non-stick baking liners.
Using half the dough at a time, roll dough out to ¼-inch thickness between sheets of floured waxed paper or plastic wrap. Keep remaining dough chilled until ready to use.
Cut rolled dough into desired shapes and place cookies on prepared baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.
Bake cookies in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are set. Switch pan position half-way through baking for even heat distribution. Remove cookies from oven and wait two minutes before transferring to rack to cool.
When cool, decorate cookies with your favorite gluten-free icing and colored sprinkles.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's So Darn Cold...Some Questions Answered About the Activade Auto-Injector Pouch

Remember this protective Epi Pen pouch I blogged about awhile back? With the bitter cold in large parts of the country, I've had a few questions from readers about the thermal qualities of this pouch.

I e-mailed the company about this and this is what they had to say:

"The insulating properties of our Activeaide™ auto-injector pouches consist of a unique tri-layer construction which includes: An insulating thermo-silver inner liner, an insulating and shock absorbent foam and a tough, latex free outer layer We list this with a photo under FAQ's, here is the link: http://www.activeaide.com/us/frequently_asked_questions.html

They also wanted me to remind people that the pouch does not protect your Epi Pen overnight in a cold and/or hot car. Unless something has a heating and cooling system, eventually the item will be brought to the temperature of its environment. I view this pouch as I would an insulated lunch bag or Thermos and would treat it accordingly. I have been using it and I think it's great for car trips or outdoor activities--it does provide protection from the bone-chilling cold currently sweeping Chicago.

So in other words, use your common sense, but know that this pouch is going to protect your EpiPen from the elements longer than if you just placed it in a non-insulated bag.

Tomorrow I'll post two nut-free (one is egg and gluten-free) holiday cookie recipes and some more holiday party tips. See you then!!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Secretary of Food--We Need It for More Reasons than They Think

I read this interesting OpEd piece in the NY Times last week that proposed the need for a "Secretary of Food" in the new Presidential administration.

Well, yeah. We could really use one. And not only because agriculture is suffering, as outlined in the piece.

What about all of this craziness with food labeling? Clearly, the FDA is letting things slide, as we've all seen through recent news reports. Plus, the needs of the population are changing with regard to food. Food allergies are rising with alarming speed, as we all know. And there is research being done to determine if certain foods aggravate or even cause forms of autism. What about genetically-engineered foods? These are all new things that we deal with.

Of course, with the hard-hit economy, people are also going hungry. So yes, I would agree that time and talent needs to be devoted to food in the world we find ourselves living in these days.

I would love it if I knew that special effort were being devoted to the many ways that our consumption and production of food has changed. What do you all think?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Beware of the Gluten-Free Pasta

Some of you may have heard of nut-allergic people having reactions to a certain kind of gluten-free pasta. I had heard of this a long time ago from another nut-allergy mom, but I had not done more research on this.

Then, just the other day, a gluten-free blogger friend of mine sent me this article link. Apparently, a protein called lupin is found in some types of imported gluten-free pasta, mainly from Italy and Spain.

This story is an eye-opener! I had little idea of how pasta could cause an allergic reaction in nut-allergic people until I read this. It is a confounding new development to me, since sometimes a plate of plain pasta is a good "go-to" meal to order for my daughter when we visit a restaurant. Now, I'm questioning if that's such a great idea.

I'm very unclear on how much gluten-free pasta is used in restaurants, and plan to do more research on this and will share my findings here. Some of our gluten-free readers may know more about this. If so, please let us know!

Nothing personal to our gluten-free friends out there :), but it seems to me that GF items often pose problems to the nut-allergic. If you have nut allergies in your family, be very careful with these products! Often, nuts can be used to "fill in the gaps" when wheat cannot be part of the recipe.

I don't think that we need to necessarily skip the pasta at a restaurant, but it certainly gives us more to think about. (Like we needed more, right?? :))

I certainly don't want to freak anyone out with this, but I wanted to make us all aware.
BTW, I just noticed that my last post was my 100th post! I can't believe it. Thanks to everybody who reads this blog and who posts here. I hope you're getting as much out of it as I am.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Nut Allergy Friendly National Restaurant Chains Anyone??

I'm hoping you all can help me with this one. As I've blogged about before, I'm a bit cautious about dining out with my daughter, though we do have a few "go to" places we visit with some regularity.

The other day I received an e-mail from an adult who was recently diagnosed with nut allergies. They wondered if there are some good restaurant chains that they could use for the purpose of business lunches. I agree that restaurant chains can be a good choice--you know what you're dealing with menu-wise ahead of time.

When I go out for an adult dining experience these days, I usually don't look at whether or not it's nut-free. So this question really got me thinking.

Of course, I directed this reader to Allergic Girl's awesome blog, but she usually doesn't go to chains.

In my family's nut-free dining out we generally stick to Mediterrean cuisine and American grilled stuff like burgers and unsauced chicken, etc.

I know that many of you out there will have some good thoughts on this, so let me know. Any chains you like? Any you would avoid? I'm all ears.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Allergy-Free Recipe of the Month: Cranberry Orange Bread

This month, I'm proud to present this festive, seasonal recipe from Kelly of the Food Allergy Mama blog. Like me, Kelly is a Chicago-area resident and her site is fabulous if you are dealing with multiple food allergies, including nut and dairy allergies.

So many times you see cranberry or fruited bread recipes that are just loaded with nuts. Not so with this one! Enjoy and let us know how it turns out.
from Kelly of Food Allergy Mama
2 T. water
1 stick dairy free margarine, melted
2 c. orange juice
1 c. water
Grated zest of 1 orange
5 c. flour
2 ½ c. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. whole cranberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and spray two 9 inch loaf pans with dairy free cooking spray. Set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine 1 c. plus 2 T. water, melted margarine and orange juice. In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a wire whisk.

Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir just until moist. Fold in the cranberries and pour into the prepared pans. Bake 50-60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Activeaide Auto Injector Pouch

I just got this new EpiPen carrier from Activeade, an Australian company that carries a variety of allergy-related accessories. In the interest of full disclosure, I was contacted by the company and asked to review the product. I've been looking for a product like this for awhile now, and I'm happy to say that it seems to be very useful.

I like it a lot better than my usual Ziploc bag approach--the EpiPen is better protected and easier to spot in my overloaded handbag.

The pouch is made from a light-weight, heavy duty material and it also has an padded thermal silver lining, to protect the medication from heat and cold.

A ring at the back (not pictured in the photo) allows you to clip it to a belt or hang it on a hook. The ring also allows you to attach an identification card (included) and there is room to store a small action plan card.

We recently used this product when my daughter attended a birthday party, and also when we went to visit relatives for the holidays. I like the bright color--easy to spot--and the thermal lining, especially with winter here. My daughter chose not to attach it to her body at the party, since it was a "gymnastics" party, but I still felt like the product would be easy for her to use that way, say, going on a Girl Scout outing or school field trip.

Another food allergy blogger, Jennifer B of Food Allergy Buzz commented on her use of this product recently and she had some good information about it. Click here for her comments.

You can also order a double wide EpiPen carrier, for carrying two Epis at one time, and there are more colors available too.

If you're interested, check the Activeaide website for ordering details. Even though this product arrived from Australia, I got it fairly quickly here in the States.

It's always great to find a new company that helps make allergic living a little bit easier! Let me know if anyone else orders this and what you think of it.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

My Letter to the Editor in the Chicago Tribune

First of all, I hope that everyone had a joyous, allergy-free Thanksgiving.

I just wanted to share that my letter to the editor was printed today in response to the Chicago Tribune's recent food allergy/labeling investigative report.

Click here to read my letter in full. It's about halfway down the page, with the title "Food labels."

So far only two responses to the food allergy report were printed, but mine was one of them!

I'm glad they shared my side of the argument and I would urge all of you to write to your local papers if you agree--or don't agree--with food allergy stories that you read. The more of our voices that are heard, the better!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Things to Be Thankful For If You're a Nut-Free Parent

Even though Thanksgiving and all of its potential "nutty" foods add more stress to our already hectic schedules, we can find a few things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving Day. One thing you learn quickly as the parent of a food-allergic child is never to take any good times with food for granted.

Here are some things to be thankful for as a "nut-free mom" this year:

1. Our children. Yes, we spend a lot of time worrying about them, but they are beautiful and our reason for being. Their allergies force us to be more watchful, but they also force us to be more assertive and find out what goes into our food supply. Plus, they make sure we don't take ourselves too seriously--how can you when a toddler is making silly faces or you're hearing potty jokes from a kindergartner? Our kids are precious -- go give them a hug today.

2. If your child didn't have a reaction this year. We know how important it is to be thankful for that! I give thanks each time we go to a restaurant, a party or family gathering and my child doesn't have a reaction. If we make it through one whole year--it's party time!

3. If your child did have a reaction but they were OK. It's so scary when this happens, but we learn more caution and are prompted to take more safety measures if a reaction occurs, thereby preventing future reactions.

4. Family, spouses, friends, online support (like you readers). There's nothing like having a support system of people who help screen food for you at a function, care enough to ask questions at a restaurant, learn to use an Epi Pen or just let you vent. We couldn't do it without our support system.

5. Media who get it and are helping to spread the word. The recent Tribune reports, the major increase on food allergy stories in newspapers, magazines and on TV and the increase of food allergy bloggers shows us that this topic is getting more attention than ever before. With education comes knowledge, with knowledge comes tolerance. We're making big strides, even though it doesn't feel like it at times.

6. Ourselves. Time to pat yourselves on the back, nut-free parents. You made it through some tough times to get where you are and you're doing the best for your kids.

If you have any of your own, I'd sure love to hear them. Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all have a wonderful, allergy-free day.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Whole Foods Gets Exposed in Tribune Special Report

Here is Part 2 of the Chicago Tribune ongoing special food allergy investigation. Turns out that Whole Foods isn't so wholesome when it comes to their food labels.
The photos above is of chocolate chunks I purchased at Whole Foods about a month ago. The package states that "good manufacturing practices are used to segregate ingredients in a facility that also processes milk ingredients."
Turns out that was not the case--the opposite was true. Plus, several of the store brand 365 Organic chips have also tested positive for hidden, undeclared nut allergens. I almost served these to my daughter after being thrilled to find "safe" chocolate chunks at Whole Foods. Their approach is totally unacceptable--and potentially dangerous.
Click this link to read the whole story.

I would advise all of us to skip the supermarket chips and order from Vermont Nut Free until labeling practices are reigned in. Those of you who need to use dairy-free chips, what are your current sources for those? I'd like to share that here. Let me know!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Food Allergies Are the Topic of New Chicago Tribune Special Report

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I turned to the front page of the Chicago Tribune today. They are featuring a special, ongoing report on food allergies.

Today's lengthy front page story discussed the increased incidence of food allergies--turns out now it's 1 in 25 kids. That's a lot of kids. Too many, in fact.

It also focused mostly on the whole issue of food labeling--something that has been discussed at length here and on other food allergy blogs and web sites. The article estimates that 30,000 Americans require ER treatment each year for food allergies. And guess which foods are the biggest culprits with regard to mislabeling and also incidence of reactions: cookies, cake, ice cream and candy. Note to all you moms out there who feel guilty when you don't let your food-allergic kids have the treats their friends are having--keep up the good work. This stuff can cause a reaction--it's OK to deny your kids if you're not sure about the product.

The link to the article is here, if you'd like to read the full story.

I really cannot tell you how thankful I am that this major newspaper has decided to run an ongoing investigation about food allergies. You know some of the online comments are gonna get nasty, but you know what--let's get it out in the open. This story is going to educate people and that will help dispel some of the ugliness.

I've written to the Tribune a couple of times regarding food allergy stories that they have run and usually the paper's bias was against people with food allergies. This time, it looks like our voices are going to be heard. We're being taking seriously.

1 in 25 kids. It's about time!

Let me know what you think of the article!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Things Are Still Nutty on "Top Chef," but the CIA Has Us Covered!

As someone who loves to cook, I'm a big fan of the reality show "Top Chef" on Bravo, yet as the mom of a nut-allergic child, I'm often appalled at the culinary atrocities committed with peanut butter and nuts in the name of "top chefdom."

I'm still haunted by Lisa's "Peanut Butter Mashed Potatoes" from last season (ugh!) not to mention Stephanie's tomato and peanut butter concoction that was supposed to be made just for kids. Horrors! Then, Stephanie Izard, last season's winner, had the judges in rapture at the finale over "braised pistachios" served with lamb.

This is concerning to me, not because I want to hinder any one's creativity in the kitchen, but because I wonder what it indicates for future eating trends in restaurants. Of course, adding more nuts to restaurant menus means less choices in dining and more danger for my daughter.

As the new "TC" season began, I waited to see how the cheftestants would try to stick nuts in their recipes and I didn't have to wait long. The chef booted off last night even used pecans in her quiche!! And for the "New American" restaurant menu challenge last night, one of the chefs served a form of peanut butter sandwich as dessert. Oh, great. As if I didn't have those staring me in the face everywhere I go in the first place! I'm not looking for PB&J in fine dining, even if I didn't have allergy concerns.

Unfortunately, "New America" (our kids) is peanut- and tree-nut allergic in increasing quantities. While I love dining out myself, I always think twice when I take my daughter and watching these "rising star" chefs stick peanuts and nuts everywhere puts me on alert. I've often wondered if or how the big culinary schools, such as Culinary Institute of America (CIA), is preparing their new chefs to deal with food allergies.

Luckily, the food allergy community has a fearless leader that is helping make restaurants safer for us as I write this. Recently, AllergicGirl posted that she helped the CIA prepare educational materials for their students. Hurray for Sloane Miller (aka Allergic Girl)!!! Here is the link to Allergic Girl's blog post about her new video. As a food-allergic adult who lives her life joyfully and attends restaurants frequently, Sloane is a wonderful role model for us and our kids. I applaud her for this and for all the other things she does.

If you're interested in seeing what the CIA has to say, here is the link to their food allergy page: http://www.ciaprochef.com/foodallergies/index.html
So even though Top Chef may be nuttier than ever, at least new chefs are getting training in food allergies, thanks to people like Sloane. And that's a huge step in the right direction!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Food Allergy Advocates and the Motrin Ad/Babywearing Uprising

Have any of you heard the blogger buzz about this online Motrin ad that offended "babywearing moms" (that is, mothers who believe in keeping their infants close to their bodies in a sling, for bonding reasons)?? Click this link to view this online ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XO6SlTUBA38.

Apparently, both Twitter and the mom bloggers who "babywear" were losing it over this ad, so much so that they were able to get the ad killed in like, one day! That's right--an online ad--killed due to the outrage of mothers who were offended by it.

This "news story" was all over the Internet today, and when I flipped open my local paper, The Chicago Tribune, this morning there was an article on the 3rd page about the Motrin ad/babywearing controversy.

I bring this up because we food allergy parents and advocates could learn something from this. After all, offending the notion of babywearing, in my humble opinion, does not pose the same risk to those kids as bad media attitudes towards food allergies does to ours.

I can think of so many mass media examples that send up deadly food allergies as comical or even ridiculous, attitudes received by millions of viewers and having very serious ramifications. For example, I was appalled by a scene in The Nancy Drew Movie, of a couple of summers ago. About halfway through, Nancy performs an emergency tracheotomy --using a pen-- on a girl who was allergic to peanuts and had "passed out" after kissing a boy who ate peanut butter cookies at a party. It was treated in the film as humorous example of Nancy's all-around intelligence and prowess. Imagine trying to console my severely peanut-allergic 7-year-old after seeing this scene. It was no fun. Obviously the "kissing" angle referred to the tragic true story of the Canadian teen who died after kissing a boy who ate peanut butter.

In "Meet the Robinsons" a cartoon character's head explodes due to a peanut allergy--and that is also supposed to be funny. And wasn't there a Will Smith, Eva Mendes movie where he had food allergies and his face swelled up horrifically--garnering huge laughs, of course.

I'm sure there are many other examples, but the point is--we need to speak out when we see stuff like this or even negative or inaccurate news stories. Our kids' collective health can be affected by negative media images about food allergies. I know that FAAN wrote protest letters to the film studios about the Nancy Drew movie and "Meet the Robinsons" but I did not read a thing about this in my local paper.

As the babywearers proved, by speaking out we can affect what images we see in the media--and at a much greater benefit to our kids!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Taming Holiday Stress for Nut-Free Parents, Part 2

Part of the stress that arises from dealing with a food allergy is that so many times something unexpected will crop up. That is especially true during the holidays where there is so much food, family parties and other activities that make a nut-free parent feel overwhelmed at times.

We may feel "hypervigilant." I'm sure you all know what I mean: The nagging feeling that you have to constantly scan the room and every potential danger for your child. Doesn't make for a very fun time, does it? That's one reason so many parents want to skip certain festivities and I'm all for doing this if you simply need a break. But most of the time, we can push through our fears and celebrate happily while keeping our kids safe.

My FAAN newsletter addresses this problem in the latest issue. One of the things that Lisa Provost discusses in her article "Managing Holiday Stress" is how to cope with unexpected situations. One suggestion I really liked was to appoint a family member, spouse or friend as your "support person" during the holidays. You may need someone to vent to, and it's good to know you've got someone to rely on ahead of time. (And hey, feel free to vent here!)

When you encounter an unexpected food allergy challenge this holiday season, Ms. Provost suggests the following tips:

- Take several deep breaths and consciously work to clear your head. This literally gives you breathing room to decide what you need.

- Mentally review your safety plan. There is much you cannot control, but being prepared, and reminding yourself that you are prepared, can lessen the anxiety.

- When you encounter judgment, resistance, or lack of empathy and understanding, find appropriate ways to express your feelings of anger, hurt, disappointment, anxiety and sadness. You may choose to state your feelings to the person involved or to remove yourself from the situation. Later you can discuss your feelings with a trusted friend, write in your journal, walk or do whatever you find most effective for managing intense emotions.

Many of us may travel during the holidays and that only adds to our stress. Besides actual travel concerns, we may worry that our child's needs may not be met at our destination. If we stay with relatives or friends that we see infrequently, we may rightly be concerned that they are not as familiar with our child's condition or needs.

I send an e-mail to my relatives a few weeks before a visit that outlines nut-free foods, meal preparation, etc. I do it in a very friendly way, but I get the point across. Also, I suggest an EpiPen "refresher course" for everyone who may be caring for your child during the holidays. I'm not saying to do this the second you arrive, right after the coats come off. But fairly early in the visit it doesn't hurt to remind everybody how to use the EpiPen and to see if anyone has questions for you.

There will be more on this later in the season and as always, I welcome your comments and tips!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Holiday Stress Management for Nut-Free Parents, Part 1

Ah, the holidays. They're meant to be relaxing and enjoyable and for the most part, they can be. But food allergies add another dimension to these joyous times, and most of us find our stress levels on the rise as they approach.

There are a lot of reasons for this but namely it's because the holidays involve so much FOOD! Yes, that's part of the fun but for us it also can cause major stress as we dodge those food allergy bullets that make life so interesting for us all year long. Oh dear, is that pine nuts in the stuffing? Did Aunt Mary make her famous pecan powdered sugar cookies and Oh My Gosh, did you say you're serving the cousins peanut butter at the sleepover??? Like many of you, I'm the one breaking out in hives at the thought of all of this stuff and I don't even have a food allergy myself.

Luckily, we're not alone. I recently received my wonderful FAAN newsletter and they cover all the ins and outs of what parents may be feeling as they get ready to deal with the stuffed turkey and cranberry sauce. So here is Part 1 of their excellent tips for dealing with holiday stress management, by Lisa Provost, M.S. N.C.C., L.M.H.C.

In a section entitled "Anticipating the Expected" she suggests the following tips:

- Role play with you and your child how to handle
any difficult situations you foresee

- Talk to an uncooperative family member
if you fear they won't be diplomatic

- Prepare a favorite allergen-free dish so
you're sure there will be something safe to eat

- Monitor an event at school so you can be
sure your child eats only safe foods

Good advice, all of it! I'll have more to share in future posts. And of course, I'd love to hear from you about your holiday stress tips!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Nut-Free News about Vanilla Extract!

With the holiday baking season upon us, (yum!) I've had several e-mails about the safety of vanilla and other baking extracts. This is obviously a big concern for those of us who bake nut-free because most companies also produce almond extract.

I contacted three of the biggest manufacturers of vanilla extract and baking products: McCormick, Nielsen-Massey and Wilton. I'm very happy to report that 2 out of 3 of them don't even use "real" almond for their almond extract. Wilton, as most of you may have discovered already, is the most challenging, since they do have peanuts and tree nuts in their facility, even though some items are not sharing production lines. If you'd like to use their products, I'd say it's your call to make. Also, you may have to do some digging about each individual product. Their response below contains more info.

OK, here's what each company had to say in response to my e-mails inquiring about the safety of their extracts.

McCormick: "McCormick and Co. does not use peanuts or tree nuts in any of our facilities. The Oil of Bitter Almond used in our Pure Almond Extract is extracted from apricot kernels, not the almond itself."

Nielsen-Massey: "All of our products are nut free. We do not process anything with tree nuts in our facility. In fact our Almond Extract is actually made from bitter almond oil which comes from stone fruit pits such as peaches. Please be assured that all of our products are safe from nut allergens."

Wilton: "I have attached a link from our website that displays our vanilla extracts and the following allergy information:


No Peanuts/treenuts in the product but there are peanuts/treenuts present in the facility


No Peanuts/Treenuts in the product but there are peanuts/treenuts present in the facility

As far as our sprinkles and decorations are concerned, because we are very specific when it comes to food allergies, if you would kindly provide me with a few stock numbers from our website of some decorations that you are interested in because we want to make sure that we provide you with the correct information."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Allergy-Free Recipe of the Month: Sweet Potato Corn Chowder

I've been posting a lot of baking recipes lately, so here's one for dinner or a hearty lunch. This comes from "Living Without Magazine." The sweet potatoes make it very autumnal, don't you think? And most kids like the taste of these vegetables all together.

Serve with some bread (gluten-free, if you like) and a green salad.

Sweet Potato Corn Chowder
Serves 6

4 ounces salt pork, slab bacon or pancetta, diced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 pound sweet potato, peeled and diced
4-5 cups gluten-free chicken or vegetable broth
3 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels, cooked until just tender
1 cup cream or plain soy or rice milk, heated
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

In a large soup pot, cook salt pork or bacon over medium heat until crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove crisp pieces and place on a paper towel to drain. Reserve for later use.

Add onion to pot and sauté until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Carefully drain off half of bacon grease and discard.

Put sweet potatoes in soup pot and add chicken stock to cover. Simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Puree half the corn in food processor or blender. Add puree and whole corn to sweet potatoes. Simmer until heated through, stirring often.

Just before serving, add hot cream or milk of choice. Stir in parsley. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Serve hot.

TIP: For vegetarian corn chowder, use 2 tablespoons oil or margarine instead of salt pork.

Each serving (made with cream) contains: 381 calories, 24g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 43mg cholesterol, 37g carbohydrate, 366mg sodium, 5g fiber, 8g protein

Recipe by Rebecca Reilly.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Have a Happy, Allergy-Free Halloween!!!

Today can be a scary day for those of us who have food-allergic kids, but we can still have a great time. I'm having a Halloween Open House for our new neighbors tonight and my daughter is really looking forward to that. Forgive me if this is short---I've got Guacamole with Monster Eyeballs (olives) to prepare!

If you decide to go Trick or Treating, just remember to bring two bags--one for the obviously nutty stuff like Snickers and Reese's and one for the possibly safe candy you can sort out later. We usually end up pitching most of the candy and sending it to my husband's office or giving it away to friends and my daughter doesn't mind--she just likes dressing up and going out. Plus, she gets a goody bag filled with Vermont Nut Free Halloween chocolates--and let me tell you, that stuff is good.

Also, if you have a FAAN Trick or Treat for food allergy box, don't forget to bring it along! Even if you don't Trick or Treat, consider sending a donation to FAAN--clearly, we still need a lot of education and research regarding food allergies.

Carry your EpiPens and be prepared, but most of all have fun! And if you decide to skip Trick or Treating, you can still have fun with non-food activities like age-appropriate Halloween movies and games.

Whatever your family is up to today, I hope you have a great, SAFE time. Please be sure to share your Halloween stories with us! I hope they're only scary in a good way!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nut-Free Halloween Recipe: Frankestein Monster Toes Cookies

As I searched for treats to serve at our Halloween Open House I found these cookies in the Pillsbury Halloween recipe magazine.

The recipe originally suggested dyed almonds for the "toenails" and almond extract as a flavoring. Of course, I nixed all of that and used safe Mike and Ike brand jelly beans for the toenails and substituted vanilla for the almond extract.

The recipe I'm listing below is certainly "nut-free" but it is based on a Betty Crocker cookie mix recipe (I'm all about "from scratch" but I'm having time issues!), and so it does contain other allergens. If your child has allergies to dairy or wheat, just use your favorite allergy-free sugar cookie recipe and be sure to chill the dough for at least an hour.

Here's the recipe:

Frankenstein Monster's Toes


1 pouch (I lb. 1.5 oz Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix)
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup melted butter or margarine
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use McCormick)
7 drops NEON green food color (again, I use McCormick)
36 Mike and Ike or other "safe" jelly beans


1. In large bowl stir cookie mix, flour , melted butter, egg, vanilla and green food color until soft dough forms. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

2. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For each cookie, roll heaping teaspoons of dough into 2-1/2-inch finger shapes. On ungreased cookie sheets, place shapes 2 inches apart. (A word to the wise: don't make the rolls too big or flat. This dough spreads quite a bit!)

3. About 1 inch from the end of each "toe" squeeze dough slightly; with knife, gently make lines in dough to look like knuckles.

4. Bake 6-8 minutes until set. The edges of cookies should not be at all brown. While still on cookie sheet and working quickly before cookies cool, gently but firmly press a jelly bean into the edge of each "toe" for the fingernail. Cool cookies one minute; remove to cooling racks. Let cool completely, about 15 minutes.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Nut-Free, Mom-Free Success Story

When my daughter was first diagnosed with her severe allergy to nuts, I was so concerned about how she would fare without me when she got older. It isn't possible to follow your child around their whole life, keeping them safe from allergens and in any case, who would want to? We moms have things to do and places to go and it's good for kids to be independent, right?

Right. Except I still had that lingering anxiety about my daughter's health and safety when I'm not there to monitor the food. And I still do. But I want to report that last Friday, my 8-year-old daughter successfully dealt with a potentially tricky food situation with no help from me. And what a relief that is!

Here's what happened: as all of you dealing with this know, you go over "safe treats" with everyone who cares for your child. And you go over it with your child. But you wonder if what you're saying sticks or not.

Well, this time it did--with my daughter anyway. At Girl Scouts last Friday, she was offered what were purportedly "safe" cookies and other treats. She was told stringently that the treats were "nut-free." (I think most of us know what a slippery slope that term can be.) But ---insert scary music--the food came in, as my daughter described them "plain white bakery-looking boxes" and when she asked for original packaging, there wasn't any. She also told me that the cookies looked like the kind I've served her before. But without a label, she was hesitant to indulge.

Now she was faced with a decision. Should she trust that the food was safe and eat it? Or should she stick with her intuition that told her it might not be safe? I'm happy to say that she held fast to our family's official motto: "When in doubt do without." She gave her share of the goodies to her allergy-free friends and went on with her meeting. I detected no stress, sadness or irritation from her. It was just another day in 3rd grade.

I was so happy that she was looking out for herself so well that I almost ran out and bought her a puppy! (Note, "almost.")

The bottom line of this story, for me, is that some of the burden was lifted from me that day. Of course, I'm going to follow up with the GS leaders (and provide my daughter with her own "back-up" snack for meetings) but I know that my daughter is doing the right thing without supervision. She's been listening. She gets it. She even sounds like she's over it, a little bit. (Years of not eating what other kids are probably immunes you to this after a while.)

So for all of you who have little ones and are worrying about the same things I do, hang in there. Keep teaching them how to check food labels and if necessary, refuse food politely. Role playing is very good. We still do this. And if you keep reinforcing the message, you'll have your own success story. I'm sure a lot of you do already! Kids are smart.

Now about that puppy--I'll have to see about that one.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Great Idea for the Little Ones: ALERT Clothing Company

I usually leave the allergy-related product reviews to fellow food allergy blogger Jennifer B. on her excellent blog Food Allergy Buzz. But when I got this e-mail the other day from Rebecca Nelson, founder of the ALERT Clothing Company, I just had to share. Click the link to visit her web site and I have also listed a link to the company at the right of my blog.

I know that many of my readers have very young kids, so this company may be just what you've been looking for. They make adorable T-shirts, etc. for food-allergic kids with great, colorful designs. The best part--each shirt clearly states that the wearer has a food allergy with statements like: "Food Allergy Alert: No Food Sharing at School, Please." What a great benefit if your child is very young and unable to express themselves yet about their food allergy!

I can think of many situations where these shirts would come in handy: day care, pre-school, family reunion, Halloween, Thanksgiving, a day at the zoo or amusement park....I'm sure you can think of some too.

I wish I had known about this place sooner! If any of you end up ordering a shirt, let us know how it works out for you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Help Linda Coss, National Food Allergy Expert, Get on the Tube!!!

I recently received an e-mail from Linda Coss, noted food allergy expert and author, and I am displaying it below. Basically, she wants us to e-mail talk shows to help get her on TV to spread the word about food allergies.

I know many of you out there appreciate her work, so of course we want to help her get on TV and make our concerns known to the nation!! At the bottom of her statements are several links you can follow that will help promote her with national talk shows.

All of you with food allergy blogs, please help Linda spread the word!!

Here's what she had to say:

"Greater public awareness of the realities of life-threatening food allergies helps all of our children – and one of the best ways to reach the masses is through the most popular TV talk shows.

I’m writing today to ask for your help. I’d like to start a grass roots campaign to get a few of the big shows to invite me to come on as a guest to discuss life-threatening food allergies. As the author of 3 books on food allergies, including a cookbook that is still considered to be “brand new” (an important consideration in the publicity world), I believe I am just the sort of “expert” that TV shows like to have as a guest. Plus, now that I’ve had a successful appearance on local TV (you can view the video at
http://www.foodallergybooks.com/), I’ve gotten over my fear of the camera!

I’m asking you, your readers, and anyone else you can get to participate to go online to the shows’ “suggest a topic” pages and recommend that the program does a segment on life-threatening food allergies, with Food Allergy Author Linda Coss as the guest expert. You can say something from your heart about why they should cover this topic, and then say something about why you’re recommending Linda Coss as the guest expert. Possibilities here include the facts that I’m the articulate author of 3 food allergy books, a former support group leader with over 13 years of experience, the parent of a college-age child with multiple life-threatening allergies, and one of the “pioneers” in the food allergy world.

Here are links to the first 3 shows I’m targeting:

§ Oprah:
§ Rachael Ray:
o Scroll down to the bottom to the “Anything Goes” section and then click on “Hey you…what’s on your mind?”
o Be sure to click on the “pass it on” button and give them my email, Linda@FoodAllergyBooks.com
§ Martha Stewart:
o Click on “Email Martha” on the left-hand side of the page

Of course, I’m open to suggestions for other shows that would be likely to present food allergies in a sympathetic light.

Thank you in advance for your help and support!"

Linda Coss

Monday, October 20, 2008

Aw, Nuts! Not Another Scary Halloween Treat Guide

The people at AT&T have gone a little nuts with their Halloween treat suggestions this year. I was flipping through my e-mail when a Halloween treats guide popped up. As soon as I saw the first "kids treat mix" containing almonds, I just had to see what else they were offering as "kid" Halloween treats.

Several recipes had peanut butter or peanuts--these were specifically under the "treats for school aged kids" section of their Halloween Treats Guide for parties.

Um, OK. What's up with that??? Just about everyone with school-aged kids knows to stay away from the peanuts. Just today, my youngest daughter went to her new friend's house for a lunch play date. (My youngest does not have any food allergies.) The new friend lives just down the block from us. As they were getting ready to walk to her house, she asked me if my child had any dietary restrictions or allergies.

Most moms I meet now ask this if they are planning to serve the kids any food. I know of almost no classrooms at my daughter's elementary school that does not contain at least one child who is allergic to nuts. And food allergies have been all over the news lately, especially as Halloween approaches.

So why is this online magazine telling you to stick nuts in everything for kids?? I have no clue. So here's my suggestion, learned the hard way after our neighborhood block party's "peanut hunt" a couple of weeks ago: Tell EVERYBODY about your child's nut allergy. Tell them right when you get the invite to the Halloween party or play date. Assume nothing!!!

Give people all the info they need so they can avoid their version of nutty "Fright Bites" or what have you. Then you can avoid Halloween drama that you didn't bargain for.

With all the food allergies out there, I really don't get why magazines and newspapers are still pushing nuts for the little kids.

Have any of you seen this type of thing lately in the print media or online? I tend to notice this stuff more than most would, but I bet there's some other stuff out there. Let me know what you find.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Nut-Free Mom's Top 10 Must-Have Items ala Nina Garcia of Project Runway

Project Runway aired its long-awaited finale last night. In tandem with that exciting event (see ya, Kenley!), my local paper published Project Runway judge Nina Garcia's top 10 "must-have items." Also, Nina has a recently released book: "The One Hundred: A Guide to the Pieces Every Stylish Woman Must Own."

Now, I love fashion. Love it. Don't get me wrong--I don't think the fact that I'm a mom gives me license to be schlumpy. But I got to thinking about all the stuff that we "nut-free moms" need to own in order to get ourselves and our kids through the day. Sometimes that stuff seems a lot more important.

So here is Nina's list, with my (tongue-in-cheek) nut-free mom "must-haves."

1. Nina: Animal print

Jenny: Camouflage, to help render you "invisible" when all the other moms want you to volunteer for every class party just because your kid is the one with the food allergy

2. Nina: Cashmere

Jenny: Nice apron to protect your cashmere during all the nut-free baking your bound to be doing as the holidays approach

3. Nina: Evening gown

Jenny: Attractive lounge outfit to rest in after a hard day of keeping your child "allergy-free" (Although, maybe an evening gown isn't a bad idea, for going to gala fundraisers for food allergy research!)

4. Nina: Investment bag

Jenny: Invest in a cute and convenient Thermos Cooler Tote packed with allergy-free treats for day trips with the kids

5. Nina: Jeans

Jenny: Jeans. Of course! I like the trouser ones this season. Comfy and chic!

6. Nina: Knee Boots

Jenny: Waterproof rain boots for tramping around in muddy pumpkin patches in the rain with the Brownies (for when the camouflage doesn't work and you're called upon to be a chaperon).

7. Nina: Little black dress

Jenny: Little black fanny pack stocked with Benadryl and an Epi Pen for your child to bring on play dates

8. Nina: Stilettos

Jenny: Comfy ballet flats that don't hurt your feet while you take your kid to all of their allergy and asthma appointments after school

9. Nina: Trench coat

Jenny: I'll keep this one. We all need outerwear, after all. And a trench coat is so Audrey Hepburn.

10. Nina: Wide-leg trousers

Jenny: Loose, comfortable trousers for those "intercept the unsafe treats" moments that require ease of movement as you leap quickly between a young child and a forbidden food item

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Enjoying the Little Things in a Big Way

The major bright spot of our very busy Columbus Day weekend (lots of do-it-yourself home improvements and kid events) was the fact that my daughter attended her first Girl Scout meeting at her new school and also her first birthday party of the new school year. Nobody got sick, nobody needed an Epi Pen, it was a success.

Now, to non-allergic families, the fact that their child attended a Girl Scout meeting and a birthday party without incident is probably not a big deal. But to me--and to so many of you--it is a HUGE deal. In fact, if we get through a restaurant visit, major family gathering, kids' party or any event where food is served, I'm privately relieved each time.

This weekend dealt me two big "potential food reaction" events I just mentioned above in one day. And they both went fine. In fact, when I went to pick my daughter up after each activity, I was able to observe her for a few moments without her seeing me. The big smile on her face and the other girls gathered around her told me everything I needed to know.

So even though I certainly wish that she didn't have a severe food allergy, it really has given me a new perspective. When it comes to her health, happiness and safety, I take nothing for granted. My daughter even got a kick out of the fact that the treat I sent with her (confetti cupcake with butter cream frosting) was the same as what the other kids were served. That kind of "treats serendipity" doesn't often happen, but when it does, it gives us both a boost.

And for those of you with very young kids, let me tell you--birthday parties do get easier! My daughter is very aware of what she can and can't have. The other kids are, too. In fact, the birthday girl informed her Mom of my daughter's allergies right when she introduced her. (I already had done this, of course, but good for her!)

Another thing to be thankful for this past weekend--worry-free dining out. My older daughter's socially-packed Friday enabled my husband and I to treat our youngest girl to dinner at a local restaurant. What a different experience!

We didn't have to ask about ingredients or wonder if her food was cross-contaminated. It is a very different and many times, liberating experience when I do any food-related activity "solo" with my younger, allergy-free child, but it is one that helps me see the other side of the coin. This lack of concern about what goes into restaurant food is the norm for non-allergic families. Having one child with allergies and the other without helps me to view the situation from both perspectives. (I'll save that complex discussion for another post!)

Bottom line: my daughter's allergy helps me be grateful for what may seem like "little things" to many people. But to those of us with food-allergic kids, the little things sure do mean a lot.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Nut Allergy Alert--Bread

I haven't seen an allergy alert for bread and nuts lately, so when I got this one I thought I should share it. This is from FAAN:



October 8, 2008

Arnold Foods Company, Inc., is recalling “Brownberry Whole Grains Bread100% Whole Wheat” due to undeclared almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts.

The product was sold through retail stores and bakery thrift outlets inIllinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
The product is in 1-lb., 8-oz. bags with green twist ties and a code date of “Oct 11.”

Consumers may return the product to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may call (800) 984-0989.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Halloween Safety Tips

I just got a press-release from Enjoy Life Foods, so I thought I'd pass it along. It has great tips for both allergic and non-allergic families on how to deal with candy and food allergies at Halloween.

AllergyMoms.com is another great resource that is quoted below. I have a link to both AllergyMoms.com and Enjoy Life Foods on my links list to the right. Here's the press release:

"Enjoy Life Foods® Teams with AllergyMoms.com to Ensure Halloween Isn't ‘Tricky’ for Food-Allergic Kids and Families
Provides tips for being allergy-aware this Halloween

Enjoy Life Foods, the country’s leader in allergy-friendly and gluten-free foods, teamed up with Gina Clowes of AllergyMoms.com to help ensure that kids with food allergies aren't scared to trick or treat this Halloween just because they can't eat the same snacks as others, and to ensure that no one is frightened if a food-allergic ghost or goblin comes knocking on their door.

These helpful tips for being allergy-aware this Halloween can make trick or treating safe and fun for EVERYONE:

Be proactive. If you know of children in the neighborhood with food allergies, ask their parents what types of candies are safe. They'll be thrilled to know you care.

Keep a stash of “safe candy” or fun trinkets. Have fun trinkets on hand such as bubbles, Silly Putty, tattoos, stickers, spider rings and bracelets. Kids with food allergies or intolerance will be grateful to receive something they can actually enjoy.

Be discreet. If you know a child has food allergies, don't ask “Oh, you’re the one with the peanut allergy, right?” Kids want to fit in and don't like to be singled out.

Everyone loves ingredient labels. Give out candy with clear ingredient labels so parents and children can decide which candies are safe.

Don't drop candy into kids’ bags. Allow each child to select his or her candy. More often than not, they'll know which candies are safe and which aren't.

Listen to the children. If a child says “No thank you,” it may be because they don't see a safe option in what’s being offered. Don't make a fuss by insisting they take candy that may not be safe for them.

Parents know best. Don't assume that peanut allergy is the only allergy. There are many types of food allergies and food intolerances, so it’s important to let parents decide what candy is safe for their child.

Think of your guests. If you’re entertaining for Halloween, don't leave candy dishes unattended and be mindful of children “stashing” candy. Young children with food allergies may be easily tempted by “unsafe” candy."

I have a few of tips of my own: Allergic kids should carry two bags (parents can help if your child is very young)--one for the "safe" candy (to be thoroughly checked over at home) and one for the unsafe candy. In our family that would be anything from Reese's, Snickers, etc. I came up with this after a "peanut butter cup" explosion in a treats bag that ended up contaminating a lot of the "safe" stuff.

Also, make sure you're not tracking nuts into the house via candy that drops on the ground. Again, those pesky peanut butter cups usually wind up smashed all over our front stoop. Have everybody shed their shoes directly after Trick or Treating.

Finally, consider hosting a Halloween Open House for your kids. Allergic kids sometimes feel very left out when they have to dump 90% of their treat bags, so it's nice to give them something else to focus on. We're planning a simple "stop by when you're done Trick or Treating" gathering for a few kids/parents on the block.

If anyone else has some tips you'd like to share, let's hear 'em!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Really Nutty Weekend

As if I didn't know it already, I got "schooled" once again on how much we nut-free moms need to keep on our toes when we go out and about in our communities with our allergic kids.

Chicago and it's suburbs and big on block parties and ours was this past Saturday. We're new to the street, so we were interested to attend. And let me just say, our new neighbors are so nice! We really like them, so I tried hard not to take offense when somebody came up with the brilliant idea of a "peanut hunt." Yep, that's right--a peanut hunt. I've never heard of this game, but needless to say, when I found out about it, seconds before it occured, my heart dropped to my shoes.

Following the hunt, some of the kids filled paper bags with peanuts to create an impromptu "pinata" and then exploded them all over the place. Peanut dust flying through the air, the whole nine yards. Needless to say, my daughter was far away from this spectacle (with a loyal friend in tow) but it made me a wee bit nervous, shall we say. Looking at the mounds of peanuts and shells everywhere, I also thought "Is this really necessary?"

I'm constantly amazed at how peanuts are still considered such a "go-to" food for kids. Now, the neighbors that came up with the hunt have apparently done this every year for many years. So you could say the peanut hunt is a tradition. (Also, they do not have young kids themselves, anymore and may be unaware of how widespread peanut allergies are.) And I understand that messing with "tradition" doesn't go over so well. My younger daughter even participated in the peanut hunt, though she didn't eat any and she washed her hands afterwards.

But still--the cross-contamination concerns were then multiplied for me about a thousand-fold. My daughter handled it pretty well. Once I convinced her that the peanut dust had settled and I gave her the all-clear, she re-joined the party and that was that.

I'm going to see if we can eliminate the peanut hunt for next year's party, but I'm not sure if I'll get support for this. After all, we're the "new people" and the organizers of the block party have lived here upwards of 25 years.

Many non-allergic parents are sympathetic to nut allergies, but I find that just as many get that "eyes glazed over" look when you try to explain why nut allergies are such a problem. And who wants to come across as "Debbie Downer" at a block party? It's a dilemma.

All's well that ends well and frankly, my daughter took herself out of the situation without anyone asking her to, so that's encouraging. But like my husband said: "People sure love their peanuts."

They sure do.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Recipe of the Month--Allergen-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies!!!

Welcome to October! Once again it's time for the "Nut-Free Recipe of the Month."

This month's recipe is courtesy of Heather at http://www.spewdfree.com/, a site that offers peanut-free, egg-free, dairy-free and wheat-free recipes. The following chocolate chip cookie recipe does not contain wheat, eggs, nuts or dairy, so it will be useful to have on hand if you have kids (or know kids) with multiple food allergies.

Thanks, Heather! You can also find a link to her site on this blog under the heading "Nut-Free Food."

SPEWD Free Chocolate Chip Cookies


3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup dairy free, soy free margarine, softened
1 recipe for egg replacer (mix together 1 1/2T oil, 1 1/2T water and 1t baking powder)
3/4 cup rice flour
3/4 cup oat flour
3/4 cup tapioca flour
1t baking soda
1/2t salt
1 package (10 oz) soy free, dairy free chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together sugars, flours, baking soda and salt. Add margarine and egg replacer. Mix thoroughly. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop rounded tablespoons full of cookie dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.

I'm always looking for allergy-free recipes so please feel free to send yours along. I'll give you full credit, of course, and a link to your blog or web site if you have one. Contact me at nut-freemom@sbcglobal.net. Thanks!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Are Peanuts Good for You?

That was the question I overheard the other day while watching my kids play at the park. A cute little girl, about 4 or 5 years old, was getting pushed on the swings by her dad. I was sitting on a nearby bench and I couldn't help but hear her as she babbled away on the swing.

Of course, my ears always prick up at the word "peanuts" so I waited to her what Dad would say. He said "Well, yes I guess they are." I, and many of you, would disagree, because from our perspective it would be nice if they weren't thought of as kid "go-to" food. However, nutrionally speaking, peanuts are a good source of protein (though, I would argue, not nearly as great as they're cracked up to be. Fat, cholesterol, etc.)

So then, the little girl said "Well, I had my friend over today for lunch. She's allergic to peanuts. She almost ate a piece of peanut popcorn (I'm guessing a snack w/peanuts or peanut oil) and her mom got her away from it just in time."

They then carried on with their conversation and it shifted quickly to other topics. I thought it was so interesting, though! Obviously, this young girl was confused and concerned for her friend. If peanuts are so "good for you," why does her friend have to avoid them and carry and EpiPen? Why does her friend's mom have to do a quick "food interception" at a lunch and play date? (How many of you have had to run interference before a very young child went for a seemingly harmless food it turns out they can't have?)

I felt for this other mother--I don't even know her, but I know what she's going through. And how many other mothers had to perform a "food allergy rescue" that day or just stress about a simple lunch date with their kids? Too many--but they're not alone, as we know all too well.

Based on this young girl as well as the kids my daughter meets at school, it seems to me that more and more young children accept peanut allergies with aplomb. It's the adults (especially the "message board haters" ) that seem to have a bigger problem with it.

Acceptance of this condition will take years for our generation, if it comes at all. However, this young girl gave me a glimmer of hope, that future generations will just accept that a friend or acquaintance has to avoid certain foods and then go about their business.

Wouldn't that be great?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Kids "Owning" Their Food Allergies

Recently, my daughter and I had a discusion that made me realize how much she is growing up -- and how that will affect how she feels about her nut allergy. As she gets older, she wants less input from me on how to manage her activities (well, she is officially a "tween") and that spilled over into a discussion about the FAAN walk coming up in Chicago this weekend.

We've never been to this walk. Usually, it falls on my wedding anniversary, and we've had plans that interfered with us participating. This year, though, the weekend worked for us. A few weeks ago, I asked my daughter if she'd like to attend.

I was surprised by the vehemence of her response, which was a resounding NO. When I asked her why not, all the kids there would have food allergies and she'd feel supported, she had an interesting take on it.

She told me that joining an event revolving around food allergies would only emphasize to her that she's "different." She told me that she just wants to be thought of as a normal kid, not as a kid having a food allergy.

She also told me that I don't understand what it's like to have to worry about food at a friend's house, or when we go out to eat. She said she knows about the "secret" candy stash I keep on a high kitchen shelf and that she feels bad she can't have something that I can. (Busted.)

Basically, she told me that she appreciates my support but that she has to handle the food allergy thing as she feels best.

It was an eye-opener to me and I wonder if some of you have heard similar things from older kids with food allergies. My daughter is right: this is her condition and I need to respect her feelings about it. I don't blame her for wanting to feel like a "normal" kid. Even though I've assured her that she is a "normal" kid, anything little thing that makes a kid feel different is a very big deal to them. All of us can remember back to grade school and middle school, when "fitting in" was about the highest calling you could have.

It tugged at my heart, to be sure, when I thought about how right she was. She needs to "own" her own allergy. And the last thing I want to do is force her to participate in something that doesn't feel right to her, even if it is a very good cause. She's young enough not to grasp the ways a walk like this can help her and kids like her, and just old enough to be sensitive about it. Maybe someday her views will change as her understanding grows.

Now, she knows about this blog and she said it's OK with her. (She thinks it makes her "famous.") Still, I will be respectful of her here, too.

So, this year I will donate to the FAAN Walk for a Cure, but I won't walk with my daughter. Maybe we'll be there next year, maybe not. Either way, it will be her choice and I'll be where I always try to be: on her side.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Recent Buzz on Food Allergy Labeling and My "Marketplace" Mention

In tandem with the FDA allergy labeling discussion going on today, NPR's "Marketplace" show did an item on food allergies and food labeling last night. And guess what--my blog got a mention! In July I wrote a post called "Is It Me, Or Are Allergy Labels Getting Way Wackier??" They summarized this post in the story. Follow this link to read/listen to the story on NPR. It felt great to have my blog mentioned right next to a quote from one of my food allergy heroes, Anne Munoz-Furlong, founder of FAAN.

It's always nice for your blog to be given a "shout-out" in the media, but the most important thing about this story is that it illustrates how dire the need is for consistent food labeling. The Marketplace story also brought up the issue that many of us have discussed lately and that is the fact that manufacturers don't want to spend money to have consistent food labels, and so they are just labeling everything "may contain the top 8 allergens." I know that so many companies are struggling right now and I sympathize, but there has to be a better way.

There's been a lot of buzz about food labels lately and I've got another great article on this topic for you to check out. This month's Chicago Parent magazine features a story called "Mom Takes on Food Industry" about one mother's efforts to make food manufacturers more aware about their labeling practices after her food-allergic son got very ill after eating a mislabeled food item.

I'm very interested to see what the FDA has to say today. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Poll Results--What Is Your Biggest "Nut-Free Parent Challenge?"

Thanks to everyone who participated in my poll, "What's Your Biggest Challenge as a Nut-Free Parent?"

Here's what you had to say:

According to the numbers, the most difficult challenge was "educating others about your child's food allergy." 33% of you voted for this one.

Coming in second was "Restaurants" (23%) followed by "School"(19%) and then, unfortunately, "Family members and friends who don't get it" (14%). "Travel" weighed in at 9%.

Nobody voted for "Child care" or "Play dates" which leads me to believe that many of the respondents are the parents of very young kids. When our kids are preschool age or younger, we have a much bigger hand in controlling their environments. And most preschools these days seem to be nut-free. It seems that once we get out of that realm is when we feel challenged.

I'm sorry to hear that family members, especially, aren't "getting it." The way to deal with that is by gently educating them and of course, not leaving our children with them (alone) until we're sure they do get it. I would hope that grandparents and close family members can be reasoned with on this issue--what have some of you done to accomplish this?

As far as "educating others" what do you think is the best way to do this? Personally, I'd love to give everybody a short handbook on nut allergies and ask them to read it. I'd recommend that we all make use of the brochures we find at our allergists' offices and take one home for grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Referring our family and friends to relevant news articles and yes, even blogs like this one, may also help.

The FAAN website is also a good place to refer people--I've had good success with that one.

Again, thanks for your participation. I'll have another poll up soon. It's helpful to see the areas in which we need the most support!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How's School So Far??

Many of us have had school in session for at least a week now and I am curious to see how things have been going. Also, I've been getting several e-mails and posts regarding school issues. It seems that this is the big thing on all of our minds right now! (Of course, besides our increasingly "interesting" political landscape, but that's a whole 'nother blog!) :)

As many of you know, my kids started a new school this year and I had a LOT of anxiety about how the whole nut allergy thing would be handled. I know that my daughter was anxious about how the other kids would regard her allergies.

I'm happy to report that so far, so good. Of course, it's early yet but I feel pretty good about the school is handling things. For example, when I needed to change my daughter's food allergy emergency plan a bit, they responded positively and quickly. Before school even began, I was asked to meet with all of the 3rd grade staff to discuss my daughter's allergies. Her classmates have been great, too. All the girls like her "fashionable" pink-and-red allergy ID bracelet, which certainly helped her get over her self-consciousness about wearing it!

We've only been in school for two weeks, but already we've been hit with a lot of decisions and issues related to food allergies (and yes, I'm the 3rd grade Treats Mom again this year!), so I'm sure some of you have some stories to share. Has anything unusual cropped up for you? How are you handling it?

And let's not forget the teachers. They're a big part of our food allergy "team" and I hope we all are having a positive experience working with them. Some of them are old pros at the allergy thing and some are learning for the first time, but they all care about kids and they can be some of our best allies at school.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Does Peanut Butter Still Have to = Back-to-School??

I'm curious--with school back in session have any of your local papers run any food feature stories lately paying homage to peanut butter as "that good, old-fashioned" school lunchbox food??

I only ask because earlier this week, on the 2nd day of school for Chicago public school kids, the Chicago Tribune Good Eating section ran a huge feature about peanut butter. The title page read:"The time is ripe for a peanut butter resurgence. Spread the love" with large pictures of peanut butter dripping off of a spoon, peanuts scattered about randomly and peanut butter cookies stacked up on a plate.

The picture alone was a turn-off, as was the first line of the story: "During the back-to-school rush, we think of peanut butter as a front runner in the lunchbox sandwich brigade."

Oh, we do???? And why does peanut butter need a "resurgence?" Unfortunately, it hasn't exactly gone out of style.

Where have these editors been? Even if your school does not support a peanut butter ban (more on this in a minute) most parents these days are familiar with food allergies, particularly peanut allergies. And many families, like many of you out there reading this right now, deal with food allergies in your own family.

My first thought (after ugh!) was "How archaic are these editors?" And my second thought was: "How insensitive are these editors?"

Like many of you, I've just spent that last several weeks filling out allergy forms, getting prescriptions ready, calling doctors, instructing others on safe foods and EpiPen usage, getting an allergy ID bracelet, and so on, etc., etc.

For this story to appear on the 2nd day of school was, I felt, a slap on the face to everyone who has approached their school on the dangers of peanut butter for food-allergic kids. I just have a gut feeling that someone, somewhere at the Tribune food department has to be ticked that their kid can't bring peanut butter to school, or has to curtail their consumption of peanut products at school. Otherwise, I can't account for their need to promote a peanut butter "resurgence."

Even given the fact that I'm admittedly sensitive to peanut butter being promoted as a "go to" lunch food for school children, I wouldn't have minded a story simply about peanut butter. It's their right to write about whatever they want. Some of my favorite food magazines have written peanut butter features--though those stories are generally geared towards adults cooking for themselves.

But here's where the Tribune story added insult to injury. To accompany their feature, the paper also ran an AP story called "Backlash to school peanut ban has unlikely allies." This story, which quoted some hideous "message board" responses to one school's attempts to institute a peanut ban, also quoted Anne Munoz-Furlong (head of FAAN) as being one of these "unlikely allies." FAAN does not support a peanut ban in elementary schools, due to the fact that they don't want to promote a false sense of security, thereby leaving allergic kids even more vulnerable.

You may or may not agree with that logic, but I think most of us agree that FAAN would never consider itself an ally of the hatred that is spewn by many of the people who oppose a peanut ban. Yet, the story implied FAAN is on the side of the sort of whackadoodle who suggested on a school message board that the solution to food allergies in schools is to kill all the kids who have peanut allergies: problem solved. And every single food allergy parent quoted in the article said something like "I don't want my kids in a bubble." Hmmm...have any of you heard that one before? Like any us want our kids in a bubble--the point is we want them to live and be well. Big difference.

One woman even said she trusted her 7-year-old to self-administer his EpiPen in an emergency, stating that he was "smart." Well, so is my kid but according to my doctor self-medication is not recommended until at least middle school.

I'm not making this stuff up: read the story yourself. Even worse, the print version of this story was accompanied by a photo of a woman wielding an EpiPen in front of her young son with a big smile on her face. The message I took away: "Look, peanut allergies aren't that serious, in fact, they're really kind of fun! See my big smile?" Clueless, clueless, clueless.

The fact that some people don't want to be inconvenienced by a peanut butter ban does not negate the life-threatening nature of peanut allergies. The fact that the Tribune ran an AP story implying that food-allergic families' concerns about peanut butter are basically without merit was, I felt, an attempt to justify their peanut butter cover feature.

The massive increase in food allergies among school children is old news at this point. Why did the the Tribune choose to run these stories, at this particular time? As we know all too well, NO ONE needs to be told to pack peanut butter in their lunch. They already do. Why promote it??? It's not like it's a new and exotic food.

As the people who read this blog regularly know, I like to stay positive about this topic. And I truly believe that life with nut allergies can be managed so that our kids can live happy, normal lives. Usually, this type of stuff doesn't get me down all that much. I know what I have to do.

So: news stories like these simply tell me that as parents of food allergic kids, we have a lot more work to do. Maybe we're not getting the message across clearly enough that peanut allergies are serious, can kill and need to be mitigated. Or we are, and people are choosing not to believe it.

By the way, I'm not suggesting that peanut bans are always the answer. But I don't think they should ever be off limits. Some schools may need them more than others--it's a very complicated topic. My daughter's current school does not have a peanut ban, and I'm confident she'll be fine. But I'm just one parent. All of us with food-allergic kids deserve to have our voices heard.

I wrote a letter to that editor outlining everything I just stated here. That's a start, but I give all of us the challenge: do everything you can to educate your communities about this. Education is the best enemy of hatred and ignorance. And it will keep our precious kids safer in the long run.