Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Peanut Allergy Plea: Please Don't Bake for My Allergic Child

I ran the following post a couple of years ago when I first began my blog and I'm running it again because of the many e-mails I've received from parents wanting to provide Halloween and other treats to nut-allergic kids in the classroom.

There's just no easy way to say it: please don't bake for my peanut-allergic child--or any child with a food allergy, for that matter. Please, please don't do it.

You may be the mom who "loves to bake the treats" and I don't doubt that your intentions are good. But the risks are just way too high. Please ask the parents of the allergic kids, either directly, or through the teacher, to contribute a safe item. So many allergic reactions occur because someone ate a cookie or a cupcake they "thought" was safe. I cite the story by Dr. Robert Wood in his book "Food Allergies for Dummies." A fellow allergist baked him cookies, assured him they were "safe" and because of cross-contact of which the baker was unaware, Dr. Wood (himself allergic to peanuts) needed 5 doses of Epinephrine to recover--his reaction was that severe.

Parents of non-allergic kids: Don't feel like you're excluding anyone. We don't want an allergic reaction in our child: Period. We are happy to provide a safe treat. It's easier, safer, just plain better for everyone.

Here's my original post: "The Nuances of Nut-Free Baking":

I just read that the PTO is looking for people to contribute home-baked goods.

This year, for the first time, they asked parents to label the baked goods "Nuts" or "Nut Free." I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read that piece of info.

Don't get me wrong. I'm thankful to the PTO moms who even thought about food allergies in the first place. And I know that they mean well. But if your child has a nut allergy, you know it's not that easy. It made me wonder who advised them on this issue. Had I known, I would have put my two cents in.

The good intentions of the PTO mothers, unfortunately, will be wasted on any food-allergic family that I know. We won't touch home-baked items from people we don't know (and of course no bakery items) because of the cross-contamination risk.

Here's the problem: just because an item was not baked with nuts doesn't make it nut free. For example: You use a knife to spread peanut butter on your kid's bread. You then slice into a stick of butter and spread that on your other child's bread. You put the butter back in the refrigerator.

Then, you decide to make a recipe for the bake sale that uses a half a stick of butter. You add the butter that touched the peanut butter knife into the recipe. You bake your brownies, cookies or whatever and you don't add nuts. Then you label the item "Nut Free." Voila! It's now contaminated by peanut matter not reflected on the label.

That's one scenario. I can think of many others, such as using a non-safe cake mix or frosting, or candy cake decorations that may have been processed on lines that process nuts. Besides utensils, shared bowls or the baker's own hands can transfer peanut or nut matter into recipes.

See, I know it sounds nit picky. But I can't risk my child having an allergic reaction. So of course we won't eat your home-baked treat. I'm sure it's delicious. It's nothing personal, really!

I considered baking a treat for the carnival and labeling it "Nut-Free. Prepared in a completely peanut-free, tree-nut free kitchen. My kid is allergic so I know what cross-contamination is. Eat it. It's safe. REALLY." (Or something like that.) I can still contribute, but I'm not counting on a food-allergic family to bring my treat home unless they know it's baked by me!

If I read that label, I'd still steer clear. You just never know. Better to skip the cake walk and bake something for my daughter at home. Better still if we could have "non-food" alternate prizes for various games and activities. Maybe next year!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Food Allergies Common and Growing Says LA Times

Some of you may have read this article based on a study by Johns Hopkins University, but if you haven't, check it out, here.

According to the story, one of the most common food allergies is to peanuts. Other studies have shown that tree nut allergies have grown right alongside peanut allergy. (The article doesn't mention tree nut allergy, but other sources have noted this connection.) So if people try to tell you that no one had a peanut allergy when they were a kid so therefore, they can't really be so numerous (an illogical argument to begin with), you can point them to this story.

I'm glad the LA Times reported on this increase because food allergies are altering the landscape of everything regarding eating: agriculture, restaurants, prepared food products, grocery stores, even how items are displayed before purchase due to cross-contact concerns.

Besides just your own family members (or yourself) do you find more people you meet either have a food allergy, know someone with one or care for a child with a food allergy? In my own experience, I've found this to be increasingly true in the last five years. What about you?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Peanut Allergy News: Halloween Tips and Treats

Halloween is definitely scarier when you are caring for a child with a severe nut allergy. During Halloween it seems like every candy either contains or "may contain" peanuts, peanut butter, almonds or "nougat" i.e. nuts.

After many years of dealing with peanut and tree nut allergies AND having my daughter safely participate in trick-or-treating, I can tell you that having a fun and nut-free Halloween can be done. It just takes a little creativity, a little planning and a lot of tolerance for hundreds of mini Snickers Bars and Reese's cups.

Here are a few tips for safe trick-or-treating with peanut and tree nut allergies or any food allergy, for that matter:

- Carry two Halloween bags. One is for "possibles" that is, candies you will review with your child when you get home and one is for "unsafe" candies. The unsafe candies will go to friends, neighbors or your workplace the next day--or in the trash, your choice. Separation of bags is important because trust me on this: one exploded Snicker's bar all over the "possibles" places them in the "unsafe" pile and that is really no fun at all.

- Make sure your child eats a meal or snack before trick-or-treating. Take a hungry child with a food allergy and dangle some Halloween candy before them--are they going to be tempted? Most likely. So don't let that happen. Filling little tummies before sending them out helps prevent your child from making bad choices purely out of hunger.

- Enlist the neighbors. If you have very young children, they can probably grasp being denied candy but not why it must be so. A few friendly neighbors can save the day here. If they are open to it, provide some of your neighbors with "safe" candy that they can offer to your little one when they ring the doorbell.

- Do a candy swap. This can be a two-pronged approach. First, we swap "unsafe" candies with our child's friends who don't have allergies. Most kids are willing to give up their lollipops, gum and other safe candies for my daughter's unwanted Reese's, Snickers and other nut-filled chocolate treats. (Chocolate is usually the most unsafe thing out there on Halloween if you have certain food allergies and especially if your child has nut allergies.)

Secondly, we tell our daughter that she can turn in any unsafe candy to us for a "safe" treat bag. I fill it with nut-free chocolate from Vermont Nut-Free or Divvies and some inedibles such as some lip balm, a book or maybe some inexpensive Halloween earrings, now that she's older. In past years we used Halloween books, Hello Kitty nail polish and coloring books. When she was younger we did a Halloween treasure hunt so that she could have fun finding the treat bag. I'll tell you a secret: she still enjoys the Halloween treasure hunt.

The candy swap adds a fun element to having to give up candy and will greatly lessen any feelings of being "deprived."

- Consider candy size and ALWAYS read the labels. Different sized candies may be produced on different production lines, so check each candy before giving it to your child, even if you think it's OK. Food labels like to surprise us, so be cautious and thorough.

If the item does NOT have allergy or nutrition information on it, don't use it.

- Emphasize other elements of Halloween, not just food. Years ago, Halloween had many facets besides getting candy treats; in fact, candy as the focal point is a relatively modern invention. I remember my grandparents telling me that Halloween used to be more about costumes, playing games, scaring their friends (all in good fun, nothing dangerous!) and having Halloween parties. Plan to do all of the above if you can. Plus, researching the origins of Halloween can open up discussion and take some of the focus off of candy and sweets.

- Enjoy Halloween and autumn traditions so that trick-or-treat isn't the whole show. Pumpkin picking and carving, vists to apple orchards, baking safe cookies and enjoying the beautiful autumn weather are all great ways to enjoy the Halloween season.

For more safe Halloween ideas including a list of candy suggestions, click here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Surf Sweets: Halloween Candy Safe for Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy!

Gummy candies are a childhood favorite and a wonderful part of Halloween (gummy worms, anyone?) and it has been notoriously difficult to find a nut allergy-friendly version. Not anymore! Every parent of a nut allergic child needs to know about Surf Sweets! This delicious gummy candy is launching its new Surf Sweets Sour Worm Halloween Pack, now available at Whole Foods Stores throughout the U.S and specialty retailers just in time for “trick or treating." I've also found Surf Sweets at local stores including Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park -- it's always exciting to find candy sold at retail that is made in a completely nut-free facility!

The new Surf Sweets Sour Worm Halloween Pack contains 20 individually wrapped Surf Sweets Sour Worms in a specially designed, Halloween-themed bag. It’s the perfect treat for trick or treaters or party favors.

In addition to its new Sour Worm Halloween Pack, Surf Sweets offers seven unique varieties of its mouth-watering organic and natural gummy candies and jelly beans in 2.75-oz packages: Gummy Bears, Gummy Worms, Organic Jelly Beans, Sour Worms, Organic Fruity Bears, Gummy Swirls and Sour Berry Bears. It also offers three snack-size packs (0.9-oz) of its Jelly Beans, Gummy Bears and Sour Berry Bears.

Surf Sweets uses only the highest quality organic and natural ingredients for its candies, and they’re all free of corn syrup, synthetic dyes, artificial flavors and GMOs. All Surf Sweets candies are gluten free; dairy and casein free; allergy friendly, meaning that they contain none of the most common food allergens (wheat, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, fish, shellfish); and Feingold approved. And all Surf Sweets candies are produced and packaged in a dedicated nut-free facility.

These are great not only for trick or treaters but for class parties. In fact, I'm helping at my daughter's party where there are multiple food allergies. I will definitely bring the new Halloween packs with me. I also think the gummy worms would be great added to a safe "Worms in the Dirt" recipe (I'll have a safe recipe up soon!) or added to juice drinks as a spooky touch at a Halloween party. Fun, yummy, organic AND allergy-friendly--how can I resist?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Peanut-Free School Lunch Ideas: Even I Get Stumped

School has been in session for awhile now and it seems that many parents -- of allergic and non-allergic kids alike -- are seeking peanut-free lunch ideas. Some people need an alternative lunch because school is peanut-free or their child wants to sit a lunch table with a friend (love this reason!) and then of course there are those in the same boat with us: peanut butter just isn't an option.

I occasionally get stumped myself, something I discussed on my blog post for Sunbutter in August. Another issue is people who use tree nut butters instead of peanut butter. We can't do those either since my daughter and an increasing number of kids are also tree nut-allergic.

If your child will try it, Sunbutter is a great PB substitute that contains no tree nuts (though it does have some traces of soy. I believe Sunbutter is trying to change that.)

For all of us who need options, whether you are nut-free mom or you just have a nut-allergic child in your life, check out delicious list of 15 peanut-free lunches from Parenting magazine. I love the creativity and nutrition factor in these lunches!

Offering kids something other than peanut butter for lunch has a nice side option in that it teaches kids to enjoy a variety of foods.

What's your favorite, go-to nut-free lunch?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Food Allergy Walk for a Cure: Support Team Nut-Free Mom

Calling all blog readers! I need your help! I'm doing the FAAN Walk for a Cure fundraising this year, and I am seeking donations from my you, my loyal readers.

I know I have the best blog readers in the world and you all truly inspire me. I am eager to hear about your concerns, struggles, obstacles and triumphs on this food allergy journey because I am on it with you. That's why I started this blog and now, that's why I'm walking in Chicago on October 17th.

This blog has long been the place where we converge to discuss the challenges of living with nut-allergies. Many of you either have a child or family member with a nut allergy and lately I've been hearing from adults with nut allergies.

We all want the same things: advocacy, education, and ultimately a workable cure for this life-threatening condition. FAAN is hard at work to make all of these happen. I don't know what I would have done without them in the early days of my daughter's diagnosis, and I am hoping the $$ contribution from my walk will help them keep up the good work.

Here is the link that will take you directly to my fundraising page. Click the "Support Me" to donate. Thank you in advance! I hope to see you in Chicago soon!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Halloween and Peanut Allergies: Trick or Treat???

Halloween is on everyone's mind these days and if your child has severe food allergies, the prospect of candy is definitely scarier than any other aspect of this holiday.

When my daughter was first diagnosed with life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies, we considered not doing the whole trick-or-treating thing. It just seemed counterproductive and potentially harmful emotionally. Why be handed lots of candy that you can't eat? We thought about doing other Halloween activities, like attending Halloween-themed events at the zoo and Chicago museums, but seriously thought about just skipping the candy routine.

My daughter was 5 years old at the time and all she cared about was dressing up like a Disney Princess (that year, I think it was Sleeping Beauty.) She really wanted to go door to door in her fancy costume and I didn't want to have her miss out. Thinking back to my own childhood, Halloween was never only about the candy. It was mostly about dressing up and hanging out with my friends after dark. Candy was a nice side benefit--but definitely not the whole show.

Why should it be any different for my daughter then? We decided to take her out and just have her hand us the obvious unsafe candies--Snickers, Reeses, Butterfingers, M&Ms, and sort through the rest of it later.

It was amusing to see the reactions of neighbors who tried to hand my daughter a Snickers bar. She would politely refuse, ask if they had anything else and then say "OK, then. Thank you anyway" and skip back down the street. Most were like "huh?" A few thought she was being ungrateful or picky. So what? She was so empowered. Finally, I said "just take the candy and I'll put it in a separate bag." That's what she did and all was well.

When we got home, I traded her unsafe candy for a Halloween treats bag: Bonne Belle lip balm, stickers, safe candy and a Halloween book. She loved it!

By the next year, she was running back to me to hand me Snickers bars and the running to the next house without a second thought. Let me tell you, people love their Snickers. I had a bag full of them by the end of the night. No matter. Being with her buddies and dressing up was enough for my daughter--plus she knew she got her own special goody bag later.

A lot of you may wonder "what's the point" about trick-or-treating with nut allergies but if your child really wants to do it, I say go for it. It's a way to show them that they can participate with other kids, while still being careful about their allergy. Now that my daughter is older and her trick-or-treating days are numbered, I'm so glad she enjoyed this. I don't think she'll remember the bag full of Snickers as much as she'll remember the good times she had dressing up, seeing "spooky" decorations and running around in the dark with her friends.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Halloween Cookies Safe for Peanut Allergy: Frankenstein Monster Toes!

It's October first which means it's once again time for some peanut- and tree nut-free Halloween cookies! This fun recipe for "Frankenstein Monster Toes" cookies (tweaked from a recipe I found that used almonds)is a big hit with family, friends and blog readers alike. My recipe also now appears in the Chicago Parent online cookbook! The cookies make a great, nut-free addition to Halloween parties and are just a great treat that makes both kids and adults smile.

I found the recipe for this basic sugar cookie in a Halloween-themed food magazine and modified it to fit my own nut-free specifications. If you have kids with dairy, egg or wheat allergies or celiac disease, you can substitute your favorite "safe" sugar cookie recipe. Just be sure to refrigerate your dough for at least an hour.

Frankenstein's Monster Toes Cookies

1 pouch (1 lb. 1.5 oz.) Betty Crocker sugar cookie mix--or use your favorite from-scratch sugar cookie recipe
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup melted butter or margarine
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I use McCormick)
7 drops NEON green food color (McCormick makes this--check the supermarket baking aisle)
36 Mike and Ike or other "safe" jelly beans such as Surf Sweets or Vermont Nut-Free

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. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. For each cookie, roll heaping teaspoons of dough into 2-1/2 inch finger shapes. Be careful not to make the shapes too big or too flat--the dough spreads a lot during baking!
3. About 1 inch from the end of each "toe" squeeze dough slightly. With knife, gently make lines in the dough to look like "knuckles"
4. Bake 6-8 minutes until set. The edges of the 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 fingernail. Cool cookies one minute; remove to cooling racks. Let cool completely, about 15 minutes.