Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Great Nut-Free Baking Debate

Lately, the issue of "nut-free" baking has been cropping up in my life. Specifically, people without nut allergies in their families who volunteer to do nut-free baking for my child, (for a party or dinner.) My daughter recently attended a party that featured two adorable summer cakes: a sand castle cake and a watermelon shaped cake. The mom who made them is a wonderful lady and she offered to make them "safe" for my daughter. But I told her not to worry--I'd bring a treat. I felt a little bad, but I know they have peanut butter in their house. So I skipped it.

I did an entire post on "nut-free baking for the non-allergic" awhile back and in theory, it can be done. But, deep down, do we, as "nut-free moms" trust other people to "get it?" I've been examining this idea and I'm sorry to say, I'm not sure that I do.

There are just so many variables. Do the bakers use peanut butter--is it in their house? Did the spoon they used to mix the batter previously touch peanut butter? Were the baking tins washed thoroughly enough to remove all traces of allergens? How about the oven? The cooking surfaces? The cutting boards, mixing bowls, etc. The other ingredients--did someone stick a knife in peanut butter and then a knife in the butter? And on and on it goes.

There's a scene in the episode of the PBS series "Arthur" where Binky Barnes had nut allergies. He has a nightmare about dealing with his food allergies and, when questioning the cafeteria lady (I forget her name) about a food, she says: "It was made with an egg from a chicken who once dreamed of a peanut." I sometimes feel like that's how I'm coming across, but I really feel like I have to be completely satisfied with how someone prepared something before my daughter can get a bite.

I personally feel squeamish when someone else bakes something that my daughter ends up eating--though she has done so, without incident, such as homemade (so good!) pumpkin pie during visits to my in-laws at Thanksgiving. VERY occasionally she'll have a piece of homemade birthday cake at a party of a close family friend who has been over all the details with me. But that's pretty rare.

What about all of you? Do you trust informed people to bake for your kids? Or just skip it all together? I'd love to hear your feelings on this.

BTW, THANK YOU to everyone who participated in my tag. It was fun!


Jake said...

I know I may catch some flack for this, but our attitude with our peanut allergy-having 19-mo-old would be to let him eat it, but keep an eye on him, and have the benadryl and epi-pens ready and a cellphone to call 911 if necessary.

Our little guy has never experienced anaphylaxis (yes, I'm fully aware that that's no indication that next time he won't), just hives and rash, so we try not to freak out more than necessary.

I realize that not very many peanut allergy parents feel the same way, and that's fine for them.

Jennifer said...

I generally do not allow my son to eat things baked by other people, but he is aso allergic to eggs so in some ways that makes it easier to tell people he just can not have it.

I don't trust that people get it, although we do have one close family friend who does keep nuts in the house, that we allow him to eat there, but that is all, and she is very familiar with his allergies.

I think it is a matter of personal comfort zones, but it is not in ours.

Unknown said...

Everyone has different comfort levels. I think you really have to focus on what feels right for you. I operate under the assumption that most people without food allergies in their immediate families are not going to understand how dangerous a trace of peanuts can be.

Therefore, the only homemade food we allow our peanut-allergic son to eat is food we make at home or that my parents make. (They are beyond vigilant.) When we eat in restaurants, we do not order dessert (except at Blue Ginger) and he does not eat the bread. It is so easy for us to just bring our own safe, special goodies instead of taking that chance. I am not going to take a chance. He's only 4, and he depends on me to take care of him and protect him. We are "peanut-avoiding purists", and oddly enough...I think we are all eating healthier too with all the good meals (and snacks!) from home.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on this. When someone bakes something, there is really little question if Tyler can eat it for me. I keep his special snacks stashed in both cars and my husband's office (he's a pastor and I can't tell you how many of the congregants want to bake for Tyler...ugh!!). That way he never goes without. People may think I'm overreacting but I don't care. They won't have to give him a shot, sit in the ER for hours, and undo the psychological damage a reaction can cause.

I do make a couple of exceptions. My sister in law has two children with tree nut allergies (they are twins). As a result, I trust her and my mother in law to cook for Tyler. They understand completely. If my mom did not live so far away (we never get to visit!! She comes to us instead), I would also trust her, as well. She's proven several times she understands Tyler's allergy completely.

Jenny said...

Yes, it's great when grandparents are so supportive. I'd trust my mom to bake for my daughter, absolutely.

I agree with Jennifer B. when she says that having food allergies in the family forces everybody to eat healthier. That's true because you're the ones doing a lot more of the cooking, so you know what's going into the food and you can make healthier choices about which ingredients you use.

It was also nice to hear from a Dad.

I have a feeling this debate will be in our lives for a long time so it's good we all have our strategies for dealing with it!

Unknown said...

Jenny, you are right--it IS good to hear from a Dad. The food allergy blogs & discussion groups tend to be populated mostly by Moms. Great to have a Dad in the conversation, Jake!

ZM said...

Oh, it's a tiered system. Let's see.

First, I always offer to bring something of my own. If we're visiting a family new to us, I say, 'you clean, I'll bring snack.' And I try to bring snacks that folks can buy - Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have a range of allergy-friendly snacks that we get for my kids.

Second, I open the conversation. I explain about cleaning: you have to vacuum the sofa, to get those hidden Cheerios. You need to wipe down the countertops, change the tablecloth, sweep and vacuum the floors. Just teaching people about cleaning gives them an idea of how significant allergy-safe protocols have to be, and once they get that, we're usually fine.

I invite them next to my place (unless they've been there already), and talk about how our home is a safe zone. I don't want to think about whether I left a crumbs from the morning toast on the counter, and the kid put his apple on those crumbs. Whatever it is, i want to prep and eat food with confidence - and no stress. People see that and start thinking. Usually that I'm crazy, but hey.

Finally, I advise them (okay, insist politely) that they should review each ingredient with me - wheat, for example, crops up in wierd places) and then I let them bake. And I show up with Epis and Benadryl, and commiserate about how hard it is.

Amazingly, lots of people get it. We've had a year of the Eldest going to birthday parties where folks made Cherrybrook Kitchen mixes - one mom even made the wheat-free one, and invited the Toddles to come, too. People get it. But first? First they get my little training system.

lizzyb said...

While friends and family try their hardest, they often fail to read labels for familiar foods. A "nut free" cupcake, for instance - topped with M&Ms. Or they won't realize that donut holes with "filberts" actually contain hazelnuts. So for back up - I always travel with a bag of DARE brand cookies (and keep a bag in my son's "nut free" classroom at school), and I request that those who are baking from mixes save boxes/labels. I tell them that reviewing labels helps my son "learn" to fend for himself - when in reality he is doing this for years - it is more a peace of mind issue for him with the food on hand. His and our "best friends" know the drill, and we will eat home cooked baked goods. Casual acquaintences actually appreciate our brining "safe" foods.

Jenny said...

I am so inspired by the comments I've been getting on this perpetually hot topic for food allergic families--it seems you Nut-Free Moms (&Dads) have some great strategies for dealing with this.

I love "Mama O' The Matrices" tiered system. That is pretty much what I do, too, but you explained it all so perfectly! Thank you--I hope others will take your lead.

Also, thanks to lizzy b for pointing out that having labels on hand and knowing what certain ingredients actually are (i.e. "filberts" are hazelnuts) goes a long way towards protecting our kids.

Leila said...

Been bouncing around peanut allergy blogs today... just ended up here and read this post.

I don't have a peanut allergic kid.

I'd not trust myself to bake for one.

My kids' school is peanut free, nothing can even be 'processed in a facility....' so I'm pretty aware of peanut allergies and what I can and cannot send to school.

I bake for my kids -banana bread mainly- and while I'm 99.99% sure that it's safe... I can't be 100% sure.

During the school year, there are few peanut products in the house... Don't bother buying peanut butter, since the kids can't eat it. Still, I cook with products that are processed in a facility etc even if I don't send them to school or use them to make school food.

Just to say... I think doubting is the way to go. I'm pretty aware, and very careful and yet still....

Jenny said...

Thanks, Leila, for your insights.

As someone who does not deal with peanut/nut allergy on a regular basis, it's especially valuable to hear from you.

I think you also point out that ALL mothers of school-aged kids are forced by circumstance to work through the food allergy maze together. It sounds as if you are really trying to understand the issue--something us "nut-free moms" truly appreciate.

Thanks for reading!--Jenny

River of Tears said...

My 3yr old daughter has a life threatening peanut and tree nut allergy. She spent two days in intensive care unit after eating a cashew.

I would let her eat food made by her aunt and grandparents, they are peanut butter fans and they didn't have it in their houses prior to us knowing about her allergy. They are great about reading labels and they know what to look for so I am fine with the food they make.

So far she has only been invited to one party and I didn't let her eat the cake. I didn't think about it in advance and I didn't bring her a substitute and I felt bad about her not having cake, but the chance was just not worth it.