Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Encouraging Food Allergy News on a College Campus--UW-Madison

As a proud graduate of University of Wisconsin-Madison, it is no surprise to me that this compassionate and progressive school would have a proactive approach to students' food allergies. I had to share this story from The Capital Times. It is inspiring and comforting. And besides that, University of Wisconsin-Madison is a terrific school. I loved my years there and I'm happy to see their accommodating measures for food allergies. My girls have visited Madison many times and said they want to attend the university someday. I say--go for it, girls!

I know it seems like a long way off to some of us, especially if your child has just been diagnosed. But I thought it was important to share this story as we all enter into back-to-school mayhem. If a huge university can have a positive food allergy policy for their food service, so can every school, everywhere.

Madison is just a great place and the campus rocks. I'll never forget when we took a trip with our two kids, then 4 and 18 months. My daughter wanted their delicious ice cream (made on campus from the school's own cows from agricultural studies!) and a student worker got a new scoop and opened a new container of ice cream just for her. My daughter still remembers that kind gesture.

This story should serve as reminder to all of us dealing with school flak that schools can and should help us make school a safer place for food-allergic kids.

Go Badgers!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First Day of School with Food Allergies

Today was the day for us--that annual holiday known as The First Day of School! For many parents, the first day is exciting plus a little sad, since summer is over and your kids are one year further away from being your babies. :) And for food allergy parents, the first day is a mixed bag of anxiety (major or minor depending on your experience), cautious optimism and nerves. Even though my daughter is 10 and allergy aware, you never know what type of food allergy-related issues you will encounter.

Lately I have received many e-mails from readers with school concerns. The number one best piece of advice reminds me of that Journey song: "Don't Stop Believing." Except that I would change it to "Don't Stop Communicating." Even though we have forms galore and copious doctors notes to present to the school each year, that is no guarantee that everyone understands what needs to happen and that things are settled once and for all.

One thing to remember is that, as parents, we are most concerned for our children so we are their best advocates. Plus, teachers have increasingly large class sizes--we can help them out by staying on top of class parties, treats policies and up-to-date medications.

Don't stop communicating. Check in with your child's teacher and keep in touch with the health staff. Become known to them and then you will be in the know. If your work schedule doesn't allow volunteering or making treats, you can still check in with e-mails and phone calls. If you can find the time, showing up as a party coordinator or occasional volunteer will give you great insights on what food allergy issues still need to be addressed at your school.

Don't stop communicating. Or believing for that matter. Do what you can to be your child's best advocate and then have faith that your school year will be happy, safe and reaction-free.

Happy school year to all of you!

Friday, August 20, 2010

CBC News - Canada - What teachers and parents should know about severe food allergies

As many of you already know, I really love Allergic Living magazine. The editor, Gwen Smith, recently shared her expertise in this story for Canadian news. CBC News - Canada - What teachers and parents should know about severe food allergies

Even if you don't live in Canada, the tips included in this story are excellent, including ways to discuss food allergies with non-allergic families. From suggestions on communicating with schools to grocery shopping when you're handed a list of restricted foods, Ms. Smith covers it all.

Also, my inbox is filling up with back-to-school questions as the Big Day draws closer. If you do a search on my blog using keyword "School" many previous posts filled with tips will come up for you. I've written on preschool, daycare and elementary school, so I hope there is info that you can use. If not, please let me know and I'll be sure to address your questions!

I also know that many people are anxious right now (and believe me, I always am too. Though it gets a little better each year.) I believe that anxiety can work for us, forcing us to make sure we have the things we need to protect our child. So use your anxiety to your advantage! You're going to experience it anyway, might as well get something positive out of it. :)

I'll post more about coping with food allergy parental anxiety at a later date, but first let's get through the beginning of the school year! Good luck everybody and keep checking back for more school year tips and advice.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Food Allergy Back-to-School Roundup--Part 1!

Back-to-school time is here and so I thought I would share some of my favorite resources for a safe, stylish and healthy year when you have a student with food allergies.

One big question is how to talk to the school and other parents about your child's food allergies. Beyond what you'll find here at The Nut-Free Mom Blog, I hope you will also check out author and food allergy advocate Linda Coss' excellent take on the subject with her article: Attack of the Peanut Butter Sandwiches.

Nut allergy mom and eco-friendly "Litter Free Lunch" entrepeneur Felice Farran is offering your kids a stylish and "green" way to bring their safe lunches to school with her current sale promotion "The ABCs of Going Litter Free".

And if you're wondering what to pack in your safe and eco-friendly lunch containers, why not place your order for nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free bakery goodies (like individually-wrapped cookies) from the Sweet Alexis Bakery? Sweet Alexis founder Michele Fellows offers the most tasty dairy-free, egg-free and nut-free baked goodies around and is currently offering some good deals. Please take a look and be prepared for some happy kids!

For moms who also want to bake at home, you definitely want to pick up a copy of The Food Allergy Mama's Nut-Free, Egg-Free and Dairy-Free Baking Book. Written by fellow Chicagoan and food allergy pal Kelly Rudnicki, this is a wonderful resource for moms who want to bake soul-satisfying treats for their kids. You can order the book from your favorite online book retailer or directly from Kelly's website. If you have been wondering what you can bake for a child with dairy, nut and/or egg allergies, wonder no more. From cookies to cakes, you'll find school-friendly treats that also work for daycare, playdates and class parties.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Peanut Allergy-Friendly Chocolate Cake Mix for Easy Bake Ovens!

As summer winds down (and forced indoors by stifling heat and other bad weather), we've been running out of activities around here. Then, recently, my daughters dug up their Easy Bake Oven and are having a blast making treats.

The baking mixes that come with Easy Bake and other kid ovens normally carry peanut and tree nut allergy warnings, so we have been unable to use those. Luckily, we found a self-published book online that featured "homemade" recipes for "little oven" treats. Besides being nut allergy-friendly, making your own recipes offers your kid without all the chemicals and they're much more affordable, too.

Here is one of my kids favorite recipes--we tweaked it a little from the original and it works great. Store the mix in a cool, dry place and note the yellow cake variation.

Nut-Free Easy Bake Oven Cake Mix
1 1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use Hershey's or Vermont Nut-Free
1 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight bag or container

To make a cake: Mix 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cake mix with 1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine and 1/2 a beaten egg (you can also use egg subsitute like Egg Beaters)

Pour into Easy Bake baking pan that's been greased and floured

Bake in mini oven for about 15 minutes.

Use this same basic recipe to make yellow cake mix as well--just leave out the cocoa. I'd add a little vanilla with the wet ingredients for better flavor.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Food Allergy Checklist for Back-to-School!

Depending on when your school year begins, many of us have bought our backpacks, pencils, shoes and other school must-haves, but as we know, nut-free parents have a few more items to cross off our lists before sending out little darlings out the door.

Some of the following items are important if your child is a new student to the school (e.g. an initial meeting with the principal) and some will need to be done ever year (like providing medical forms an updated food allergy action plans). Before the First Day, be sure you have checked the following items off of your list:

•Speak with the principal (preferably in person) to let them know your family's needs. Ask them if they can include an item in the first parents' newsletter about food allergies at school and basic precautions to take (offer to write it, if they don't have time.)

•Work out a cafeteria plan if necessary. For example, will there be a dedicated peanut-free table? If not, what precautions will be taken for your child's safety? Can you introduce a peanut-free table if one does not yet exist, for kids who haven't brought peanut butter or nut products?

•Find out (from health office or principal) who is trained in epinephrine auto-injector usage.

• Make sure all medication is current and/or not about to expire soon.

•Have at least 2 epinephrine auto-injectors for school--one for the health office and one for your child's classroom.

•Invest in a fanny pack or other carrier for your child to carry their medication in.

•Make sure you have all of your doctor's notes and food allergy action plans filled out and ready to go. Be sure to initiate a meeting with the school nurse or district nurse to discuss emergency procedures (this can be combined with the principal meeting for convenience.) Include a recent photo of your child that can be glued/taped onto their emergency plan. FAAN has free, downloadable Food Allergy Action Plans on their website.

•Write a letter to your child's new teacher explaining their condition and offering to be the "Treats Parent" for the school year. If you're not the Room Parent, get their name, phone number and e-mail so you can contact the person (or persons) in charge about food before the first class party.

•If your school allows birthday party treats in the classroom (our new school doesn't!), make sure you send a "treats bag" with safe goodies with your child on their first day.

•Make sure your child has a MedicAlert or other medical I.D. bracelet and invest in additional "awareness" bracelets such as those found at Allermates. If your child feels fashionable, they will be more excited about wearing them.

Whew! That's my list...what do some of you have on yours? If I left out anything important, please let me know!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Food Allergy News: Allergic Living Responds to Joel Stein

I promise I am not devoting this blog to the people who denigrate food allergies, but I wanted to share this link to Allergic Living Magazine's response to Joel Stein's latest Time Magazine article. In my Tuesday post, I shared the news that Mr. Stein wrote a story that discusses his baby son's recent nut allergy diagnosis. Turns out he found out the way most of us find out--by rushing to the ER watching a child in the middle of an anaphylactic reaction. When applied to other parents, this event was hilarious to him just a year and a half ago, but not so much now that he's taken a trip to the ER with his own precious child.

Read what always enlightening editor Gwen Smith has to say.

And of course, here is the link to Joel Stein's recent Time magazine article: "Aw, Nuts!" Ironically, Mr. Stein is now in the target audience for this blog--his son apparently has a tree nut allergy, not sure about peanuts, but definitely tree nuts including pistachioes. My daughter is also severely allergic to pistachioes and my blog is devoted to all types of nut allergies, not just peanuts. Wow. Who woulda thought we'd have something so vital in common?

Tomorrow I will return to my regularly scheduled blogging. But I thought an update was appropriate, since many of you have strong feelings about the Stein articles and their fallout.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Peanut Allergy News: Joel Stein Has to Eat His Nutty Words

I just discovered this piece of news from Food Allergy Mama, Kelly, and her recent post on Facebook. Remember Joel Stein, author of the truly vicious OpEd in the LA Times? Thanks to many kind readers, here is the link. (I had tried it a couple of days ago and it was broken.)

The gist of the Stein OpEd is that it lambasted parents of kids with nut allergies by calling into question not only the parents' rationality and intellect, but the reality of nut allergies in the first place. According to Mr. Stein, nut allergies are an invention of "rich, white, Yuppies" who want to "feel special."

Oh, dear. Mr. Stein is now going to have to eat his nutty words, preferably without any jelly to make it all go down easier. Because the August 9 version of Time Magazine has an article by Mr. Stein stating, that, wait for it...his 1-year-old son has nut allergies. Yes, you read that right. I guess truth is stranger than fiction.

At the time he wrote his '09 OpEd LA Times article, Joel Stein had zero tolerance for parents dealing with the often scary reality of a life-threatening food allergy. Unfortunately, I haven't gotten my hands on his current article yet because the Time website won't let you read more than a paragraph. I've got to buy the mag, inadvertently contributing to Mr. Stein's earnings. I have a feeling he can use the extra money. Maybe for a membership to FAAN? Or for expensive medication and allergist visits? Or for allergy-friendly foods (which tend to cost more)?

I am saddened for anyone who learns that their child has a life-threatening nut allergy, don't get me wrong. I hope that child stays safe and healthy. Hey, I know of a great blog about nut allergies that might be able to help.....

Unfortunately for Mr. Stein, the reality of nut allergies is not going to reveal itself to him overnight, allowing him to quickly dismiss his previous beliefs and move on. Over the next months and even years, he'll have to cope with many issues he may have never even considered when he wrote his damaging OpEd.

However, when he's ready to find our community, we'll be here with our tips, advice and support because we've already been where he is now, that is, sitting up at 3 in the morning worrying about our child. It all gets easier, Joel. Especially if you keep an open mind.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sunbutter Video Contest! Peanut Allergy and Tree Nut Allergy-Friendly!

Sunbutter peanut-free, tree-nut free sunflower seed spread came into my life a few months ago and now I wonder how my family ever lived without it. For years our house has been a no peanut butter zone.

Now, with Sunbutter, we've got an even better (I think) alternative to good ol' peanut butter. It's also even better for you than peanut butter, with less fat. My nut-allergic daughter likes the chunky version of Sunbutter with whole sunflower seeds and so does her little sister; my husband and I pretty much enjoy every version! I also like to substitute Sunbutter for peanut butter in recipes. It's a great swap and delivers great flavor.

If your kids enjoy Sunbutter, that simple fact can win your family some prizes because I just got word that Sunbutter is hosting its first-ever video contest! Just record your child enjoying a Sunbutter snack and submit it to enter. Here is the link to find out more!
Please help spread the word (no pun intended) about this great new contest from delicious and nutritious Sunbutter!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Food Allergy-Friendly Baking! The Divvies Bakery Cookbook

I was thrilled to receive my copy of the recently-released Divvies Bakery Cookbook. For those of you who haven't yet heard of Divvies, this is a wonderful resource for people allergic to nuts, eggs and dairy. The website offers cookies, candies, cupcakes and even chocolate completely free of nuts, eggs and dairy. And the best part--they are delicious!

I've mentioned Divvies several times to my readers as a resource for nut-free candies, cake decorations and much more. I'm happy to say that the Divvies Bakery Cookbook provides a wonderful resource to anyone who wants to bake free of nut, eggs or dairy. Get your sweet tooth ready because you're going to need it! I really love this book and can't wait to dig into some of these treats!

Written by Divvies founder Lori Sandler with all the insights of a mother who has spent some serious time in the food allergy trenches, the cookbook is filled with treats for family gatherings, birthday parties and snacks. You'll even find recipes for kid-friendly drinks, applesauce and more! Notes from Lori's son, Benjamin, offer a personal touch. Along the way, Lori shares some of her food-allergy survival tips and tricks as well as plenty of baking advice.

You can buy The Divvies Bakery Cookbook directly from the Divvies website as well as and your favorite online book retailers. Thanks to Lori for her devotion to providing wonderful treats to food-allergic kids!

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary book but no other compensation for this review.