Friday, May 29, 2009

BBC News Report: Nut Allergies Increasing Among Asian Children

Here's an interesting new report: The BBC reports that nut allergies appear to be increasing rapidly among Asian children in London. Of course, no one is quite sure why. It seems that nut allergies are increasing among all ethnic groups, even groups that include nuts as a major part of their diet.

I find this interesting because so many theories are floating out there--does not giving kids tree nuts and peanuts early in life cause nut allergies? Does introducing them too soon cause nut allergies? Some people say that the way peanuts are processed in the West has something to do with the increase in nut allergies. Who knows?

I'm sorry to see nut allergies spreading anywhere--it looks like no group is immune from them. Maybe we'll see a cure faster if more of the population becomes affected. I hope so.

Allergy-Free Frozen Treat Follow-Up

Whew, it's hot outside and it got me thinking about the feedback I received on a post I did about food allergies and frozen treats.

Many of us must avoid commercial frozen ice creams and treats due to cross-contact concerns or simply because the ingredients--dairy or eggs--may not be compatible with our allergy needs.

Before I offer another dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free frozen treat recipe to try, I just want to say that I loved what author Linda Coss told her dairy-allergic son about the ice cream truck. For those who didn't see her comment, she told her young son that the ice cream truck was "the music truck" and they enjoyed the music together. So clever and creative! If you want to try that line, give Linda all the credit.

For those of us who are nut-free and dairy-free, I discovered a couple of allergy-free dairy replacements that should help boost up the creaminess factor. One is Marshmallow Fluff (this may not be OK for egg allergies, so check the label.) The other is cream of coconut. Coconut is a fruit, so some people may be allergic to it (I'm quickly learning that you can be allergic to just about anything) but having a nut allergy does not usually include coconut. You can find coconut cream in the Asian or Latino aisle of the supermarket. You can cover up some of the coconut taste with cocoa powder or other flavors if your kids don't like it (my picky eaters do like it--go figure). Both of these ingredients can be substituted for soy milk in a recipe, so experiment and of course, post your results! Note: If you have ANY question about ingredients that are safe for you or family members, ask the allergist. In fact coconut was one of the first things I asked my doctor about since I bake with it fairly often.

A word about ice cream makers: buy one. I got a Cuisinart ice cream/sorbet machine for about $50 and it's worth it's weight in gold. Plus, wait until you see how impressed friends and family are when you inform them you made the ice cream yourself. :)

Now, onto the recipe. You do need an ice cream maker for this recipe but if you get one, you'll wonder how you lived without it, especially this time of year.

Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free Chocolate Ice Cream
Serves 6

5 cups soy milk
2 cups soy milk powder
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
1 cup powdered (confectioner's) sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I use Hershey's but Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate also makes a delicious version)
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla (McCormick's brand is safe for nut allergies last time I checked)

To prepare:

1. Combine soy milk, soy milk powder and vinegar in a blender and blend on high until well mixed.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the soy milk mixture with the cocoa powder and sugars and cook until the consistency is thick, like a chocolate pudding. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

3. Chill this mixture in the refrigerator until cold, about one hour. (You can quick-chill by pouring this into a bowl and setting it inside of a larger bowl filled with ice water).

4. Once chilled, pour mixture into an ice-cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's directions.

5. For best consistency, place the ice cream in a container and chill in the freezer for about 2 hours. Add toppings and enjoy!

Note: for an even creamier texture, substitute some of the soy milk for Marshmallow Fluff or coconut cream, according to your dietary needs.

Anyone else have some good nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free frozen treat recipes? Or how about soy-free as well? I bet Kelly at Food Allergy Mama at least one! How about the rest of you? I'll share some more of my own and my reader's best recipes as the summer continues.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Food Allergy Parents and the Dreaded "Phone Call"

My daughter is nine years old and has been in school since she was 3 (counting preschool). She also goes out a bit more on her own with friends than she used to. Since finding out about her life-threatening nut allergy when she was 4, I've come to dread unexpected phone calls from school.

Many of you can relate to the situation. Of course, when you see the number of the school (or the Girl Scout leader, or the soccer coach, or the band teacher, etc.) come up on your phone, you instinctively brace yourself for the worst. I have gotten a lot better about this, but an out-of-the-blue school phone call still has the capacity to chill my blood because I usually have "food allergy reaction" foremost in my mind.

I've gotten several school phone calls over the years--only one was for a suspected reaction. And that one, thank goodness, turned out to be a false alarm.

Now, this year in particular, I have received lots of unexpected school calls--forgotten gym shoes and library books, fevers, strep throat, and most recently this spring, (minor) bumps on the head during playground roughhousing.

Last week, the phone rang at about 11:15. It was the health aide. My heart started a bumpety-bump. What now??? The health aide is a kind soul so she prefaces her non-emergency calls to parents with "This is the school health office. It's not an emergency!" She then told me that my oldest, the allergic one, had a minor head bump and they had watched her in the office while applying an ice pack and then sent her back to class.

I got off the phone, relieved to hear my daughter seemed OK but then concerned because you never know with a head injury! I figured I'd have to keep an eye on her for the next 24 hours--I know kids who've gotten concussions so yes, it does happen.

But then I had to laugh at myself--I've probably spent most of my worrying hours on food allergy related issues. I realized that my daughter has the allergy stuff down--now I just have to remind her (again!) not to get too close to a moving tire swing. (The kids at her school are obsessed with the tire swing.) I don't even think about the tire swing. I've sure never worried about it. See, as my grandmother always said, it's the things that you worry about that never happen. (Most of the time, I've found this to be true.)

So if, like me, you worry that every school phone call could mean serious trouble, take heart--kids can get into lots of other hi-jinks besides a food allergy reaction. Remember that the next time the school calls, then take a deep breath and say hello.

Now that school is ending soon for many kids, the same goes for day camps or other activities. I've agonized (privately) each time I've sent my daughter to these things. Will I get The Phone Call this time?

A couple of years ago my daughter attended Girl Scout camp. She really wanted to go, so we researched the situation and then sent her. It was pretty close to home but she would be eating there--I sent her lunch, so that wasn't a huge issue. Peanut butter was not on the menu, and they had an EMT on staff at the camp so I felt pretty good. But I sure hoped she wouldn't need them.

Turns out she did--she scraped her foot on the bottom of the pool and needed a Band-Aid. So common. So simple! So much wasted worrying!

The last day of camp, my daughter's Brownie leader called. This had to be "the call!" I thought. And on the last day of camp! But again, no emergency. The call was food allergy related, though. The leader said my daughter wanted to know if she could have one of the treats on the cookout--I think it was a s'more. She apparently didn't want to eat it without me giving it the OK. (Well, at least she was paying attention when I told her not to eat stuff she wasn't sure about.) I had the leader read the labels to me over the phone and then gave the thumbs up.

As parents of children with a serious medical condition related to food, we always need to be cautious, of course. As a speaker at the recent FAAN convention put it so well: "Anticipate a reaction, but don't expect it." In other words, be prepared, then don't worry. Easier said than done but this year I'm going to give it a try.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

O'My Goodness! Nut-Free Decorated Cookies!

One of my readers, Kelsey, gave me a tip on a nut-free cookie company in Lake Bluff, Illinois called O'My Goodness.

She had recently received a bunch of beautifully decorated cookies and wanted to share the news with all of us. Thanks for the info, Kelsey!

The site maintains that their facility is peanut-free, so I e-mailed the company and asked if it is tree nut-free also. The company's VP sent me a reply which stated that the company uses no nuts of any kind in its products--they only make plain iced/decorated butter cookies and gingerbread cookies. Sounds good to me!

Check out the link to see the selection--they really are stunning and apparently delish as well. I will have to let you know when I try them myself, but Kelsey says they're great. I am a miserable cookie decorator but am working on it. Being able to buy professionally decorated cookies would be a little slice of nirvana.

On the customer message board, one grandmother wrote in to say how happy she was that her peanut-allergic granddaughter got to eat the "wedding favor" cookies provided by O'My Goodness at a recent event. So if you need that type of thing, check them out.

The company ships all across the U.S. and will do expedited shipping as well. If you have any concerns, please contact O'My Goodness directly, but based on the information I received, it looks like they're a go for nut-free kids.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Peanut Flour Warnings for General Mills Cereals

I just got an alert from my local food allergy support group and wanted to pass it along.

Please check the ingredients lists of your General Mills cereals very carefully. The company is adding peanut flour to Cocoa Puffs. Some of their other cereal products contain new allergy warnings for nuts as well as for other foods including gluten.

The link above contains an exchange in the comments section of the blog between someone at General Mills and the Allergy Moms web site readers. The General Mills exec maintains that you can trust the labels on General Mills products and that they explicitly list allergy warnings wherever appropriate.

I know that Frosted Cheerios (a General Mills cereal) contain almond flour despite the fact that the name of the cereal contains no reference to nuts--we found that out just as our daughter was about to eat Frosted Cheerios at a relative's house. This was about a year ago and as I recall, there was no "called out" allergy warning. Almond flour was simply listed as an ingredient. The labels may have changed since then--I'm sure we'll all check our cereal boxes now!

We still eat the plain Cheerios without incident at my house but it just goes to show you that you must read all labels, all the time. As ingredients labels continue to evolve, I'm sure we will all be faced with new decisions about old standby foods.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Food Allergies and Frozen Treats!

With that exciting music of the ice cream truck comes the yearly dilemma for those of us who have food-allergic kids.

I know that some of us avoid commercial ice cream/frozen treats altogether, but for those of us who don't (yet!) you know how tough it is to find a safe treat. Whether your kids are nut-free or dairy-free, I've found most popsicle products to be safe. However, with the new labeling requirements, I'm concerned that's going to change soon.

Just last weekend, my daughter tried to purchase a "Lemon Chill" (basically nut-free, dairy-free Italian Ice" from the ice cream truck that slowly rolls down my block a couple of times a day (it seems!). She ended up with "Lemon Blast"-- basically the same product, but with a warning saying that the product was made in a facility that processed nuts.

Well, that pretty much goes for all ice cream/frozen products if you do some digging. My daughter didn't want to eat it after viewing the label and I compensated her with the allowance she'd used to buy the treat. Lesson learned--check the labels even if you think you've eaten it before and are in the throes of ice cream truck bliss (especially then).

I consulted the excellent book "Food Allergies for Dummies" and here's what Dr. Robert Wood had to say about ice cream and peanut allergies: "Although ice cream produced in North America is rarely manufactured on dedicated peanut-free lines, I believe that ice cream from major manufacturers is generally safe. However, be careful of the small manufacturers - one study a few years ago of small ice cream manufacturers found that peanut contamination was quite common. Allergic reactions to peanut are rarely traced back to cross-contaminated ice cream from major companies." Hmm, interesting. I've often wondered about Snicker's ice cream and vanilla cross-contaminating. He then suggests you call the company. Of course, I've done this but I'll do it again. They may have changed their tune and/or policies.

Frozen "Slurpies" from 7-11 have become another issue in our home. 7-11 is walkable from our house and so all the neighborhood kids clamor to get a Slurpie on a hot day.

We were OK with those--until the day we saw a frozen hazelnut Slurpie-type drink right next to the cherry and orange. (I know--what the heck is with that? Guess they're competing with Starbucks.)

My daughter was pretty bummed and who could blame her? We try to stay upbeat about this stuff but this time my husband and I looked at each other and said in unison "That stinks."

But as she always does, my daughter rallied and invented her own Slurpie recipe. Basically, a handful of frozen strawberries, some ice cubes and sugar to taste all thrown in a blender and blended on high. It tasted very good--and let's face it, it was better for her!

Try it. And also, here's a safe "lemon chill" Italian ice recipe I found in one of those encyclopedia cookbooks--I think Good Housekeeping. It's really easy and does not require an ice cream machine. Your kids can make it with you.

Dairy-Free, Nut-Free Lemon Italian Ice (Granita)
1 cup sugar (use superfine if possible)
2 cups water
4 large lemons

1. In 2-quart saucepan combine sugar and water; heat to boiling over high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium and cook 5 minutes. Set saucepan in bowl of ice water to cool.

2. Meanwhile, from lemons grate 2 teaspoons peel and squeeze 3/4 cup juice.

2. Stir lemon peel and juice into sugar syrup; pour into 9-inch square metal baking pan. Cover, freeze for 2 hours and then scrape to break up the ice crystals. Freeze again at least 3 hours or overnight. To serve, let soften slightly and use a metal spoon to scoop up the ice shards. Transfer scoops of "ice" to dessert dishes and enjoy!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Every Week Can Be Food Allergy Awareness Week

Since it's Food Allergy Awareness Week this week, many people are doing special things to promote even more awareness in their communities. In addition to the "festivities" hosted by FAAN and others (including an FA Twitter party on Friday -- more on that tomorrow) I've read some well-written, heartfelt blog posts this week. It's helpful to read about other parents and their kids going through the same things as you.

This week has also got me thinking about how much food allergy awareness you can promote just in your daily conversations with other parents. And for those of you on Facebook, you know how adding a link here and there can spark conversations that you otherwise wouldn't have.

For example, a lot of the moms in my neighborhood and my daughter's kindergarten class are on Facebook. When I post a link, sometimes I get feedback, questions or commiserating from other parents of nut-allergic kids. Beyond my Facebook interactions, I may happen to drop my allergy concerns into conversations from time to time or address them when my oldest daughter is asked to a party or event.

I never make a big deal about it unless I have to or if somebody asks (don't want people's eyes glazing over when I talk to them), but I find that the more I get to know the other parents, the more questions about food allergies many of them have for me.

This is a great thing. The way I see it, the more people who can put a face to food allergies, the more willing they will be to understand it and accept it. You're much less likely to be hostile to a condition or problem if you personally know someone who is going through it.

I'm certainly not hitting the people I see every day over the head with food allergy news, but as they get to know me, they do tend to come to me with questions or ask for my opinions. I'm sure many of you out there have the same experience.

So while Food Allergy Awareness Week only comes once a year, don't discount those brief conversations you have with others. You never know the positive effect you may be having. On the other side of the coin, even if someone is ignorant, don't react negatively. I always figure you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, so if you respond in kindness and get your point across calmly, you can do a lot of good.

I'd also like to thank all the parents who have educated people about EpiPens, made allergy-free cupcakes, hosted a family party to avoid food allergy concerns or just put up with ignorance without getting rattled. You're "celebrating" Food Allergy Awareness Week every day. Keep up the good work!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Food Allergy Awareness Week: Top 10 List by FA Author Linda Coss!

More good stuff to share in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week! Author and food allergy pioneer Linda Coss wants me to share her Top 10 List of things that FA Parents Want. Click this link to read the list. Check our her website while you're there--she has some great books for sale.

I agree with her on all points! What would your Top 10 list look like?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Kicking Off Food Allergy Awareness Week with the new FDA Chief

To kick off Food Allergy Awareness Week, I thought I'd include a link to a profile of the new FDA Chief, Margaret Hamburg. The FDA is a huge part of food-allergic consumers lives, like it or not, since we're so reliant on food labels.

With regard to accurate food labels for allergic consumers as well as a lot of other major concerns (salmonella anyone?), this woman has her work cut out for her. However, looking at her credentials, she looks like she can do the job.

I'm curious. If you could, what would you like to ask this new FDA Chief? For example, I'd love to know when food labels with regard to allergies will become standardized. "May contains" is pretty straightforward (though many of us, according to studies I've read and statements posted here, don't heed those) and "Made on equipment with" is also understandable. The one I hate is "processed in a facility with." That could mean the food is a "do" or a "don't" but it leaves way too much room for interpretation by the consumer in my opinion. I mean, if many don't heed "may contain" then likely they will bypass "made in a facility with."

I'd also like to ask her to ensure that food allergy labels are not overly inclusive,-- one label I saw (and posted about last September) listed all top 8 allergens on a container of decorating sugar for baking. We definitely want fair warnings, but food allergic consumers are so limited in their choices that we don't want to be opted out of potentially safe foods just because a company doesn't want to bother with us.

I'm hopeful things will improve overall with this changing of the guard and let's make sure it does by asking questions of companies and answering the FDA when they ask for our input as they did this past January. I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Mother's Day, Nut-Free Moms!!!!

Since I don't plan on being anywhere near a computer tomorrow, let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Mother's Day today! :)

Being the mother of a food-allergic child has so many challenges; I hope you will all take some time for yourselves and enjoy yourselves and your children.

I'm happy that so many moms (and dads!) are reading and getting helpful tips and support from this blog. I wish each and every one of you a beautiful day of relaxation and love from your family. I also hope that, by now, you have taught someone other than yourselves how to do some allergy-free cooking. You deserve a break!

Enjoy the day!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Food Allergy Restaurant Roundup Part 2--Pizza and More

Before I get into the restaurant round-up, you can read a Q&A by The Nut-Free Mom on the site Food Allergy Assistant today. I really appreciated being featured on this site--it's a great resource written by a mom who has a lot of experience with food allergies so be sure to check it out!

And now, as promised, I've got some more restaurants recommended by blog readers. I thought I'd offer some pizza joints since lots of people with nut allergies rely on pizza (including my family) as a safe go-to food when dining out. The only thing you need to be careful of is "gourmet" pizza since it often contains pine nuts or things like pesto sauce. Keep it simple seems to be the best pizza policy for nut allergies.

I received several nut-free pizza recommendations from readers, so here are the top 4 mentioned: Pizzeria Uno, Papa John's, Aurelio's Pizza and Girodano's. Aurelio's and Giordano's and Pizzeria Uno also have gluten free menus available.

Coincidentally, I just received my latest issue of Living Without magazine and it had a feature story about dining out with food allergies with a sidebar list of restaurants with gluten-free menus. The magazine suggested that a place that offers gluten-free food usually will be able to accommodate other food allergies and sensitivities. Since nuts are often a big part of a gluten-free diet, I'm not sure I agree completely with that, but it's a good sign if a restaurant already anticipates customers with dietary restrictions.

With summer travel in the near future for many families, I also want to mention two kid-friendly restaurants that you will find in Chicago and other big cities as well. Weber Grill Restaurant offers a gluten-free menu and will accommodate nut allergies. Of course, please check each item when you get to the restaurant, but it looks like their menu does not contain a lot of nuts or peanuts. I've heard good things about this restaurant from other nut-allergic diners.

For those of you with young daughters, you won't want to miss American Girl Place Cafe. They go out of their way to accommodate food allergies. In fact, when you call for a reservation, they even ask if you have anyone in the party with allergies. Along the way they will point to each menu item and tell you what's safe and what isn't. We've been there several times and my daughter was in hog heaven. They really treat food-allergic diners well. I know the store can be a hit to the old wallet, but the Cafe is really a treat and the food is generally very good.

Please always ask about ingredients and carry your medications when you visit any restaurant and know that in dining out there are no guarantees. I feel like I have to say that because I don't want anyone letting their guard down! Still, it's very encouraging to see restaurants branching out and trying to satisfy all types of diners. I hope this continues.

Of course, please let us know your stories! Thanks.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Undeclared Peanut in Granola Bars Sold at Target

One more reason not to eat commercial granola bars! Here's a peanut allergy alert from FAAN. I'm including it because these bars are sold nationwide at Target.

From FAAN:

"LeClerc foods is recalling "Market Pantry (that's one of the Target Brands) Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars" due to undeclared peanut.

The 15.2 oz boxes have a best by date of 18 JAN 2010 and a UPC of 85239 20124.

Consumers may return the product for a total refund. Consumers with questions may call 800-463-6144."

If you're looking for nut-free granola bars, I believe Enjoy Life Foods makes them. You can also buy them at FAB Snacks or Vermont Nut-Free online.

Spread the word!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Food Allergies and Comfort Levels

This past weekend my daughter was invited to go to a soccer game with her best friend. Her parents are aware of her food allergy, but to varying degrees. The mom is more on top of it, but the dad knows about it as well.

After agreeing on some basic rules, we sent our daughter off with my cell phone and asked her to eat only the snack we had packed for her.

I was feeling a little anxious because I realized after she left that I wasn't 100% sure where the soccer field was located. Of course, I want to know everything! What if, worse case scenario, we needed to tell an ambulance how to get there? I tend to envision worse case scenarios--I figure, be prepared.

My husband wasn't worried because my daughter had gone to soccer games with the same family before and had been fine. Also, she's very good about her allergies and knows what to avoid. We've also been teaching her how to use the EpiPen herself and how to recognize symptoms. But the best thing we tell her is: don't eat anything you're not sure of. I always send food with her anyway.

I called my daughter on my cell phone to find out the location of the soccer field and that was that. But I realized that my husband and I also have differing thresholds of comfort with her food allergy. For example, I find it hard to relax when eating in a restaurant with our daughter if it's overly busy or we haven't been there before. My husband doesn't really worry in a restaurant--although he is often the one to initiate the food allergy discussion with the staff.

It made me wonder what other FA families comfort levels are. For example, do you let your child eat at a restaurant if you're not in attendance? What about going to other places where there is high-risk food or the risk of food allergens? Do you let them go with precautions or do you have them skip it? Do you tend to worry more, or does your spouse? You get the drift.

Some of what you'll decide is relative to your child's age, but not always. Also, I've noticed peer pressure rearing its ugly head already with my 9-year-old girl. Like most "tweens" she dislikes being different, so my strategy is going to be consistency. Always following the same protocols for food will leave her well-equipped to manage it on her own. She won't have to wonder, "Well, once we handled food one way, and once we did it another way. Should I eat the food or not?" I want her to just not eat something she's not sure about and leave it at that. Keep it simple is my motto.

By the way, my daughter had a great time and returned home safely. I didn't get the "phone call." And I'm hoping that I won't get it, ever, if we make sure that she knows what to do.

Please participate in my informal survey and let us know what your comfort levels are with regard to your FA child's independent activities. This topic seems to be a hot-button issue for many families, so your answers should be interesting!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Living With Food Allergies Blog Carnival at Sure Foods Living

Check out the Living With Food Allergies Blog Carnival posted today at Sure Foods Living.

It's got lots of great tips and advice with regard to all sorts of food allergy topics. Two of my recent posts are up there as well.

And don't forget: please offer me some more of your restaurant stories. You can e-mail me at or post them here on the blog. I'll have Restaurant Roundup Part 2 on the blog next week.

Happy Friday!