Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Top Chef Chicago Goes Nuts!!!!

I'm a big Top Chef fan (I've watched every season) and last night's episode was kind of an eye-opener for me regarding the way the culinary world still thinks "kid food = peanut butter."

The chefs' challenge was to cook a low-cost nutritious meal for kids. They had kids as their sous chefs from a very good program here in Chicago that helps teach kids about good nutrition. At least 2, and possibly 3 of the chefs used peanut butter as a key ingredient in their dishes. In other words, even chefs, who should know all about food and certainly about peanut allergies, went straight for the Skippy. (Actually, since the chefs shopped at Whole Foods, it was most likely organic and probably pricey.)

I know that they were limited to a budget of $10 and peanut butter is cheap. Still, I wonder if chefs receive food allergy training in most culinary schools--I'm looking into it and will let you know.

In any case, I still love Top Chef but am disappointed in their peanut prediliction when kids are concerned. Luckily, a few high-profile chefs in the U.S. are working to make their restaurants "food-allergy friendly." I'll post about that soon.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Living Without" Update, Food Allergy "Source" Roundup

I just came from my local Borders where I was thrilled to find the latest issue of "Living Without" magazine. This has not been available in most bookstores, until now, despite the fact that it has been published for more than 10 years!

If the magazine isn't sold at a bookstore near you, ask them to order it. It's so validating to see someone devote an entire magazine to food allergy issues.

Also, as a freelance writer, I'm busy developing article ideas about living with food allergies. If anyone would be willing to be interviewed as a source in the future, please e-mail me at I am always looking for quotes on the topic of parenting with food allergies. If you are an adult living with food allergies, I'd love to hear from you as well.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Do Food Allergies Promote Healthier Eating Habits?

Maybe we can use our kids' food allergies as an excuse to help them eat more healthfully. Many of the foods that kids are allergic to these days are foods that parents have come to rely on, sometimes offering too much of a certain food or offering these foods too often on the family menu.

Examples would be peanut butter (nut allergy), cheese & ice cream (dairy allergy and lots of white bread (wheat/soy allergy).

Supermarket peanut butter is loaded with fat, sodium and sugar. So having that off the list is not such a bad thing. Likewise, dairy products, while healthy in small amounts, are not so healthy in large quantities due to high amounts of fat and cholesterol.

As parents of kids with food allergies, we're forced to find ways to feed our kids that don't include classic kid "greatest hits." (Will there ever be a day that people don't push PB&J on kids? I hope so!)

Thanks to a case of strep throat over the past week or so (a family affair, unfortunately! :)) I've had some extra time to sit around watching BBC America. I love that channel--it almost made up for the high fever and difficulty swallowing. (Not to mention the horse-sized penicillin tablets. Bleh.)

BBC America has a very eye-opening nutrition reality show called "You Are What You Eat." It takes people with very unhealthy eating habits and makes them look at what they eat in an average week, kids included.

After viewing tables full of fries, pizza, take-out food, etc. people are usually ready to try some new "healthy" foods. Gillian McKeith, the host of the show, has a very strict eating plan that avoids dairy, wheat products, red meat, etc. (She does allow nuts, though not peanuts.) She's big on giving kids soy milk and rice milk, instead of cow's milk. She loves whole grains like quinoa, etc.

Participants seem to get very healthy on this diet. I mean, these people not only lose weight, their skin improves, their hair looks better, everything. It got me thinking, through the fog of ibuprofen and OJ, that maybe she's onto something for the food-allergic parents among us.

Now, I'm a baker, a cook and I love to eat all kinds of foods, so I definitely wouldn't want to give up all fats and sugar forever. (That's what baking's all about.) But it's great to find out about - and to try - some alternatives to some of the biggest food allergens out there. At the very least, it's food for thought!

(Note: I'm not a nutrionist and am just spouting off, as I am wont to do on this blog. If you have nutrition questions, please ask a professional. Thank you.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Fear of Flying

This whole American Airlines debacle has made me think about the true feasibility of flying with my young family at any time in the near (or not-so-near) future. It doesn't sound very appetizing - especially when your child has a severe peanut allergy.

I mean, if these airlines don't even have their wiring up-to-date, how the heck can I expect them to provide a "peanut-free zone" on their plane?? It's pretty scary.

My family has not flown a lot but when we have, it's been pretty disappointing to see the way food allergies are handled (or more accurately, not handled). We've always told the booking agent about our daughter's peanut allergy and been given the line "yeah, yeah, we know all about peanut allergies, we don't serve peanuts, it's not a problem." This was American Airlines, BTW.

So then we get on board. American does not serve peanuts. But it does have "snack packs" available that DO contain other nuts. Also, on one flight, peanuts were encrusted along the sides of our assigned seats , so I had a little clean-up job to do. Once we were up in the air, I heard a mother turn to her young son and say "I brought your special peanuts." I wanted to turn around and say "Lady, let me tell you what you can do with your special peanuts." But a mid-air fracas is not what I was after. People on airplanes LOVE peanuts. They love them. As my 2nd grader would say "They love them so much they want to marry them."

In doing some research for a "flying with food allergies" article, I came across a Southwest Airlines message board devoted to people's favorite peanuts served on Southwest. (Incidentally, most passengers vote for the honey roasted.)

You would not have believed the comments posted in response to passengers who had family members with nut allergies. One smartmouth said that peanut-allergic people need to charter private flights and "not make our lives a living hell."

A living hell?? Really. Just because you don't get peanuts for a few hours? Well, there's proof that everything really IS relative.

I know that I need to do a better job of making sure that we have a "peanut-free" portion of the plane to sit in. Clearly, I need to make a nuisance of myself with every ticket agent, flight attendant, etc.. But I have to say, are people fearing terrorism more while in flight, or the loss of their precious peanuts?? I wonder.

I mean, come on, even baseball stadiums are offering peanut-free zones now, in some cases, or offering "Peanut-Free" day at the ballpark. And these are BASEBALL stadiums. Every 7th inning they sing: "buy me some PEANUTS and cracker jack." And yet, they're willing to be flexible!!

There is no corresponding "peanut" song for airlines, of course. If airlines did have a song, may I volunteer to write it? How about "Give me some peanuts and cracker jack, then I'll have something to do while I sit for hours on the tarmac...." Or something like that.

How have others handled flying with food allergies? If you have some tips to share, I'd appreciate it.

My own are: bring Clorox Wipes for wiping down the seats. Ask to board early so that you can remove any peanut residue left over from previous flights. Talk to every airline staff member you see in order to make sure you get a peanut-free zone. Lastly, bring earplugs so you don't have to listen to your fellow passengers complain that they are being unfairly "peanut-deprived."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Life Lessons for Mom from the Peanut-Free Table

Am I smarter than a 2nd grader? I realized to my chagrin, that this Mom might need to be "schooled" on a few points. Not too long ago, I learned quite a few things from my daughter when she described a recent peanut-free table experience. I could definitely take a few tips on keeping my cool from my kid.

According to what my daughter tells me, she gets questioned pretty frequently by her friends and classmates about her severe allergy to nuts. This is especially true when she is sitting at the "peanut-free" table with non-allergic kids. (And hey, for the record, I'm glad they're with her. That means they weren't "packing peanuts" that day.) Naturally, conversation sometimes turns to the ins and outs of being a "peanut-free" kid.

The questions are normal, but they don't necessarily thrill me, especially when kids ask things like "Will you die from your allergy?" She gets asked this fairly often and she always answers "I could, but I won't." I really hate that my 8-year-old even has intimations on her own mortality but I'm glad she is confident that she will be OK. Still, I wish sometimes I were there to help buffer these questions.

Turns out I don't need to be there. This child has it covered, even when the questions get a bit more unecessary. For example, late last week some kids wanted explicit details about what symptoms my daughter would exhibit if she were having an allergic reaction. Not that this is bad, either. If everyone knows, they can help my daughter if she needs it.

My daughter described some of the symptoms of a severe food allergy reaction, including facial swelling. Unfortunately, everyone thought this was a hoot. (I'm sure they were having cartoon-like visions of what would happen, I'm not saying they meant her any harm.)

When I told my daughter that she could offer to change the subject if her friends' questions bothered her, she said "They are only concerned about me. They don't mean anything."

Then, one of the girls started holding up all kinds of non-food objects (dollar bills, pencils) and asking my daughter if she were allergic to those. Apparently the other kid was looking for laughs but from my perspective, of course, it's not too funny.

I waited to hear how my daughter handled the teasing. You can bet that I felt like flying out of my chair and giving the other kid a piece of my mind. The Mother Bear instinct kicked in, big time. I couldn't help it.

My daughter said "Oh, I just laughed it off. I pretended it was funny. But I didn't feel like talking much anymore."

My heart twisted in my chest at her last remark, but I felt incredibly proud of her reaction. Why not? Life is too short to debate the small stuff, especially when someone is just trying to get your goat.

Bottom line: Just when you think you're running this mothering show, the kids turn it all upside down on you. Am I smarter than a 2nd grader? Maybe not, but I'm getting there. I think.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

"Living Without" Magazine--Check It Out

I just came across a great magazine so I thought I'd give it a shout out here. It's called Living Without and it's a publication geared towards people with food allergies and sensitivities.

The home page says that the magazine is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. That's no surprise, since the incidence of food allergies really started to explode at about that time.

I can't believe I never had heard of this before and as soon as I get moved into my new place I'm ordering a subscription. In the meantime, I'm going to try to get my hands on a copy.

It looks like the 'zine is not yet available most stores, but you can order it online. Hopefully it will be more widely available soon. I've seen "Diabetic Living" at the supermarket checkout line, so hopefully Living Without won't be far behind.

Kudos to the editors for creating such a great resource for people with food allergies! Thank you.