Monday, January 31, 2011

Food Allergy News: Enjoy Life Foods Cookies, Now Even Tastier!

I was so excited when Enjoy Life Foods contacted me recently about their new cookies, complete with new packaging! My headline directly quotes the cookie boxes with its "Now Even Tastier" text, and it's easy to see what they're talking about. I pretty much had to wrestle the box of Lively Lemon Cookies away from my youngest daughter. Yes, they're THAT GOOD. You can even smell the delicious lemon aroma the minute you open the box.

We also sampled Snickerdoodles and Double-Chocolate Brownie cookies, the latter made even more amazing by the addition of Enjoy Life's dairy-free, nut-free chocolate chips. Snickerdoodles have all the wonderful cinnamon flavor and chewy texture you love, but with none of those pesky food allergens.

My whole family thought that each flavor of these delightful cookies were packed with flavor and that they had a great, chewy "soft baked" texture. Enjoy Life cookies cater to several different food allergies and intolerances, but you would never know they are "allergy-friendly" just based on taste alone. Plus, each is made with wholesome, natural ingredients so they're better for your kids than many other cookie brands out there.

The other thing that's great for kids with nut allergies is that all Enjoy Life products are created in dedicated, nut-free facilities. So you never have to wonder "Is this safe?" because it is. No cross-contact issues here, folks, so all you have to do is savor the cookies without worry.

I am always happy to hear about a new or improved Enjoy Life Product and I will be buying these again and again. I also recommend these cookies to my daughter's class and Girl Scout Troop meetings because NONE of the "Top 8" food allergens are present in these cookies and they also contain no sesame or sulfites. They're good for just about any allergy--and they taste good. A difficult combination to find, but Enjoy Life definitely achieves that here.

Please click this link to learn more about Enjoy Life and their fabulous line of products. You can also click the link to get some money-saving coupons!

Note: I was not compensated for this review, other than a few cookie samples!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Food Allergies and School Parties

Before I share some tips for dealing with school parties, such as any Valentine's Day celebrations that may be on the horizon for you, I want to share a link to an article about Illinois and how they handle food allergies at school, with regard to new legislation. I was interviewed for this article (you see my comments near the end of the piece) and I sincerely hope that schools are listening and paying attention to all sides of the "treats at school" debate.

Unfortunately, we just got more evidence of why schools really need to watch the extraneous food and snacks. I just read on Allergic Living's Facebook page, that yet again, another child was put into danger at school due to "sweet treats." Apparently, an unaware substitute teacher handed the child a chocolate with a hazelnut and the 7-year-old boy went into cardiac arrest after he ate. His life was most likely saved by nearly immediate epinephrine usage by his mother, as this happened to him at the end of the school day. The child was wearing his autoinjector and she was able to give it to him immediately. However, he still suffered two heart attacks. Is this enough to stop the constant candy-giving???? Another point: the candy had hazelnut, not peanut. People don't realize how serious tree nut allergies are and tend to focus on peanut. If your child has both or just tree nut, be sure that everyone understands the difference. I find it helps to name the tree nuts for people such as pistachio, hazelnut, walnut, almond, etc.

I would suggest forwarding both of these articles to your school, especially if you have had difficulties bringing home the seriousness of food allergies. Enough is enough. Most 7-year-olds will take candy if offered to them--so don't offer it to them!!! This is so simple to do. Something as simple as eliminating candy as a reward can save lives.

According to the article about the child who had the reaction, the candy in question was to celebrate another student's birthday. What happened to singing "Happy Birthday?" Our school gives each "birthday child" a free book of their choice from the school office and their birthday is announced during the beginning of the school day over the PA system. What about that? Or a sticker? Or nothing at all? Don't most kids get b-day treats at home anymore???

If I sound disgusted, I am. It's not that I'm against candy, birthdays or celebrations. I'm for all of them, but not as a focus at school. Why? It's just crazy to me that despite all the guidelines, laws and meetings, all the caution and care that most of a school staff will devote to food allergies can go out the window because one person is unaware. That's why I say no more food at school that isn't pre-approved. NO allergic child should be offered sweets, treats or outside food that wasn't provided from their own homes. Period. That would pretty much solve it.

I don't want to scare any of you off of school parties. Usually, if parents are involved and informed and teachers are kept up to speed, everything will go OK. However, incidents do happen and I think a proactive approach is called for at all times.

Here's what to do if your child's classroom is having a Valentine's Day party:

1. Give the teacher a heads-up now. Don't wait until the week of, or even a few days before. Speak to the teacher, send an e-mail, pick up the phone, your choice, but make it a point to find out what is going on with regard to food. Does food have to be offered? If it is, offer to send in a safe treat and then emphasize that your child sticks to that and that only.

2. Check the crafts. Are any edible crafts being done or is food being used for inedible crafts? Ask now. These are a bad idea unless everyone is on the same page about what is safe and what isn't. I've found that is usually not the case, so suggest an alternative craft if you must. The store Michael's has tons of craft ideas; so does Target.

3. Be careful of candy in the actual Valentine. People love to attach candy to valentines. It's cute, no doubt, but can be hazardous to a kid with food allergies. Instruct your child not to eat candy on their Valentine and alert the teacher (depending on your child's age and maturity) to be on the lookout for this.

4. Send home a note a week before the party. Ask your child's teacher to send home a reminder note of what to avoid sending. If you have a dairy-free, nut-free classroom, for example, be sure to include some suggestions of safe brands and treats. If people are intent on bringing food, at least they will have some idea of what is OK for the kids with allergies.

5. Role play with your child. This may be the most important point. It's never too early to teach a child to refuse food they are not sure of. Our rule has always been: "When in doubt, do without." Teach your child to be polite but firm when offered food that may not be safe. This would pretty much include all candy and baked goods you have not sent to school, but pretzels, chips and popcorn brands can also be unsafe. Our daughter has always refused food since she we knew of her allergy and your child can learn to do the same. They will need this skill their entire life; why not start now?

If there's anything you think I've missed, please share it with us. We can make our school parties safe but you must speak up.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When Food Allergies Go to School: Chicago Tribune Reports

With the recent peanut allergy-related death of a Chicago 7th grader and the also recent enaction of FAAMA, it seems that schools may finally take food allergies more seriously. Still, resistance to using or even keeping epinephrine autoinjectors in schools is prevalent.

See this article from today's Chicago Tribune, an excellent piece that covers the main points that parents are interested in with regard to keeping kids safe at school. I especially appreciated the expert opinions such as that from leading allergist Dr. Scott Sicherer, who pointed out that many reactions that occur at school are from undiagnosed kids. He rightly suggests that having epinephrine autoinjectors stocked at school can save lives.

I can speak to this situation, as my daughter was undiagnosed when she experienced a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction at preschool. Nothing was done for her there and I soon found myself in a nightmare that luckily had a happy ending. It was frankly a miracle my daughter didn't stop breathing--she had every other symptom of anaphylaxis and even lost consciousness during the episode. She was 4 years old at the time.

The current Tribune article doesn't cover preschools. That's an entirely different can of worms that I will address in a future post. However, it does uncover what many parents of food allergic kids have known all along: people are reluctant to use an epinephrine autoinjector even if they witness the symptoms of anaphylaxis. Plus, currently no one will use an autoinjector on your child unless you have the doctor's order. So please have your documentation and orders on file. It's so important.

However, as the Tribune article also reveals, even that's not enough. As parents we must continue to be proactive and involved with our schools. We must monitor situations that are dangerous to allergic kids--and that means any food from a restaurant or a home kitchen. There is never a valid, curriculum-related reason to serve this stuff and yet you'd think banning restaurant food and home-baked cupcakes from a classroom is akin to getting an F on a midterm. I never saw this much food brought to school when I was a student and I don't know why we're seeing it now.

Even with FAAMA, food allergy emergency plans and epinephrine easily accessible, schools won't be safe until people understand what food allergies mean, what cross-contact means and that "peanut-free" doesn't only mean "recipe that doesn't contain peanuts." An understanding of what triggers a reaction can frankly remove any need for medication usage--because reactions won't happen if they are prevented.

The article also sites sobering statistics for those of us sending peanut and tree nut-allergic children off to school each day. What allergies are the most deadly? Peanuts first and tree nuts second. And people wonder why we don't want our kids constantly exposed to food all day long.

If the tragic case of the Chicago 7th grader can have any positive impact, it is to show that half-measures and misunderstandings with regard to food allergies are not only unfortunate and ill-advised, they can be deadly.

Along with the passing of laws, which are just pieces of a larger puzzle, parents need to keep bringing home the fact that food in the classroom needs to be drastically reduced or eliminated unless absolutely necessary--i.e., actually meal times. Lives depend on it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Peanut Allergy News: Valentine's Day Chocolate!

Almost everyone loves chocolate on Valentine's Day. For those of us caring for kids with nut allergies (or who have nut allergies ourselves) it can be difficult to find chocolate that is not only nut-free but also delicious.

Internet shopping to the rescue! Luckily, there are a few really good nut-free chocolate candy companies out there with everything we need to treat our kids or ourselves. You may have heard of some of these before but for those of you who haven't seen these before, allow me to introduce you.

First up is Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate, one of my all-time favorites. I've ordered from them numerous times and every product I've tried is absolutely delicious. Best of all, both of my daughters go ga-ga over this stuff! This is true gourmet chocolate at its finest. You can find beautiful heart-shaped boxes of nut-free truffles and fudge if you really want to impress. Plus, there are many Valentine's Day-themed chocolates that will make your child's day! In fact, Vermont Nut-Free has pretty much every holiday covered in terms of chocolate. They also offer great baking chocolate if you want to whip up a homemade treat. Check them out . I got a note from them that they get busy this time of year so if you want your order by February 14, head there now!

Next is Divvies, a fabulous nut-free candy company that is also egg-free and dairy-free. They have all sorts of Valentine's Day themed goodies and a great array of candies in general. I also like them because they offer a choice for people dealing with multiple food allergies.

Finally, many of you have tried Enjoy Life Foods chocolate treats. Candy bars like Boom Choco Boom (crispy rice is my favorite) are free of the top 8 food allergens as well as sesame and sulfites. While Enjoy Life does not offer Valentine candy, per se, you can check out their website for Valentine's Day themed recipes using their delicious, allergy-friendly chocolate products like dairy-free, nut-free semi-sweet chocolate chips!

Later this week: online nut-free bakeries!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Peanut-Free, Tree Nut-Free Valentine's Candy: Sweet Tarts Conversation Hearts

I'm bringing back my Valentine's Day post about conversation hearts from Sweet Tarts. Please note: these have nut-free status, only. I will be sharing more Valentine's Day treat ideas soon, so keep visiting!

When we first found out about my daughter's nut allergy, it was really hard to find "safe" candies for each holiday, especially the really iconic ones like candy corn for Halloween and of course, conversation hearts for Valentine's Day. It seemed like every candy heart package had a nut allergy warning on it, so she couldn't eat them at class parties or at home. Bummer.

Luckily, Sweet Tarts Hearts are the allergy-free answer to our  nut-free conversation heart problem. The candies are the Willy Wonka brand, made by Nestle, so I did a little digging to ensure these candies are safe for peanut and tree nut allergies.

The Wonka web site states that you should "check the back of the package" to locate allergen information. Just to be sure, I called Nestle and asked about the Sweet Tarts Hearts. They assured me that if there were any cross-contact risk for the "Top 8" allergens, this info would be reflected on the label with warnings such as "Processed on equipment that also processed nuts (or the other top 8) or "Made in a facility that also processes peanuts (or egg, etc.)

To clarify: There is a product called Sweet Tarts brand GUMMY hearts and they DO have a peanut and tree nut allergy warning. It appears they are made in a different facility from the converation-style hearts. They look very different too, as they are larger than the candy hearts and a soft "gummy" style of candy. So be careful and read all labels.

Of course, if you ever are unsure about a candy, just call the company as I did. The side benefit of calling is that they usually send you free stuff or coupons.

Important note: This post refers to the Sweet Tarts brand candy hearts ONLY! You will often see other brands of conversation hearts in the stores. Two popular brands are Brach's and Necco. Many candy hearts  carry peanut allergy and/or tree nut allergy warnings--at least in my most recent research. So be careful not to confuse Sweet Tarts with any other brand. It's up to you, the consumer to check! Thanks for your cooperation and understanding. :)

Personally, I like the taste of Sweet Tarts better than the "traditional" candy hearts. I bought these at Super Target, but I've seen them for sale everywhere. Enjoy!

Surf Sweets fruity hearts are always nut-free and free of the Top 8 food allergens. for store locator

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Food Allergy and Family Fights: Part 2

After my previous post on food allergy and family fights I heard even more stories about family strife revolving around food. Some of you have shared that you feel a lack of respect from family. Many of you have experienced a lack of communication with family members with regard to food they are serving. Others find that family members get angry about food restrictions.

These are very common occurrences, unfortunately. However, I don't believe that most people want drama and bad feelings. The best way around this is to be clear, consistent and positive.

This is not always easy. As I've mentioned in other posts, food allergies can bring out bad feelings simmering below the surface that may have more to do with existing relationships and less about the food allergies themselves. For example, if you never really got along with one of your in-laws or they are critical of you to begin with, expect friction. Many people don't understand food allergies and love to imply in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that they don't respect your parenting. Ask yourself if food allergies are really the cause of the friction. If not, you may be better equipped to handle hegative comments and actions when they occur.

From my own personal experience, here are a few suggestions on coping with some common food allergy scenarios that may cause fights:

Provide concise factual information. I think the number one reason for trouble is lack of understanding. Please give your close relatives any relevant brochures or medical information that you have (perhaps provided by the doctor) and suggest web sites to them such as The FAAN website for more information. Be honest about the seriousness of food allergies and keep it simple. Explain that you must protect your child and that they need to do certain things to protect your child as well. This is not an opinion; it's a fact. So be factual and businesslike when explaining the situation.

Describe the allergic reaction. Many of us have the "moment" when we first witnessed our child in the throes of a serious allergic reaction. If others (such as grandparents or siblings-in-law) weren't present for this, give them the details. Likely, they will be appalled. Explain that no allergic reaction is predictable and that you must do what you can to avoid one in order to avoid a life-threatening scenario. A lot of people mistakenly believe that food allergies result in a hive or two and a stomach ache. The people I've shared our allergy story with come away with a much better understanding of why I handle it the way I do.

Once you've made a decision, don't keep explaining or apologizing. Let's say that you just don't feel safe serving your child from a large dinner menu because you question the way the food was cooked. You decide to bring your child their own meal or maybe you greatly restrict what you allow them to eat at that meal. Some people are going to want to talk about it. They'll want to know why you're doing this ("it doesn't have nut in it"), they'll start asking about how your child copes at school, they'll question your logic, you name it. It's human nature and simple curiosity in some cases; in others, people may be angry that you don't want your child to eat their food.

While educating and explaining has its place and I certainly advocate for those things, I don't advise making this the main meal topic, especially in front of your child. For one thing, many kids really dislike being focused on in what they view as a negative way. For another, discussing life-threatening reactions to foods isn't exactly appetizing table talk. If you are getting peppered with questions about what your child eats, simply say: "My son has food allergies. We need to restrict his diet." And then change the subject. If they keep it up say, "I'd love to explain this to you later, but for now let's enjoy our meal."

Family relationships with regard to food allergies may take years of adjustment. Or, you may find that some accept it immediately and some are really skeptical. You can't let your own actions be swayed either way. It's your job to protect the health of the allergic person whether it's your child or yourself. Do what you have to do and be as upbeat as possible but don't let it get you down if you can't convince everyone.

There's another thing I've learned and that's that food allergies aren't for the faint of heart. Neither is parenting, for that matter. Hang in there, everyone. And please, keep sharing your stories here!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Food Allergy News: A Nut-Free Recipe to Warm You Up: Minestrone Soup

I've been asked for this recipe ever since I mentioned it on one of my social networking pages a few days ago so here it is! Since much of the country is covered in snow right now, this should hit the spot. I will also post Part 2 of Families and Food Allergy Fights next week--I'm waiting to hear a few more comments so I know what you'd like to see addressed the most.

I know that some people who deal with peanut allergies also must avoid legumes. White beans are usually used in minestrone and I do use them here. However, this soup is so flavorful that you can add another vegetable of your choice (spinach or Savoy cabbage would be good) and it will still have great flavor. I would suggest adding a bit more pasta than I call for in the recipe if you must skip the white beans to make it a little heartier.

Slow cooker fans, rejoice! I made this recipe from start to finish on the stove recently (including simmering for 30 minutes) and then placed it in my slow cooker on low until time to eat. If you go this route, then add the balsamic and extra salt and pepper right before serving. Sorry I don't have a photo to accompany this! I planned to take one but the soup was consumed before this could happen. Next time, everyone will be instructed to step away from the soup until I get my pic!

Homemade Minestrone Soup

1 can (14.5 oz) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (you can also use the same size can of Great Northern Beans, if cannellini are not available)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
5 cups of meat stock, chicken stock or vegetable stock (I use Swanson's beef stock or organic broth)
1 (1 lb./500 g) can plum tomatoes with their juice
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
1 zucchini, coarsely chopped
small bunch of cauliflower, coarsely chopped
1/2 tbsp dried basil
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup dried elbow macaroni or shells
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh parsley
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook briefly, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, the tomatoes (break them up in the pot with a wooden spoon), carrot, zucchini, cauliflower, basil, oregano, sugar and bay leaf. Cover partially and simmer until the vegetables are tender-crisp, about 20 minutes. Add the macaroni and cook uncovered until al dente (cooked, but still with some bite), 8-10 minutes.

Add the beans to the pot along with balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste and garnish with parsley and Parmesan. I usually swirl a little more olive oil on top for extra body, as well.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Food Allergies and Family Fights: Part 1

Many of you have contacted me recently or posted on this blog about how food allergies have created family strife. Some common reasons for this are that relatives don't believe that a child or other family member can be seriously harmed or have their life threatened by a seemingly innocent food. Other times, the emotional ties to tradition holiday or celebration foods that contain potentially harmful allergens causes family to butt heads. For me, one of my biggest challenges--and it's one many of you struggle with as well--is explaining cross contact issues. For example, we're often told "this doesn't have nuts in it, you can have it." Well, no, because we don't know the environment it was cooked in (or we do know and have deemed it unsafe due to allergenic foods also present there.)"

The list goes on. I wish I could give you a one-size-fits-all solution to these disagreements involving food allergy and family, but since each family is different and each allergy is different, this is not always possible. I'm not a therapist, I'm just a regular parent who has had to face many of these same issues. Based on my experiences over the years, I can tell you what's worked for me. This topic is too important to be covered in one post--for one thing it would be too long. :) So here is Part 1 of my suggestions for dealing with food allergies and family.

Evaluate each situation individually. You probably have discovered that certain family members are more open to dealing with food allergies than others. You are going to have to take this into account when saying yes or no to foods and events. For example, an aunt may have removed all nut-containing foods from her home and be a meticulous label-reader. She may consult you before serving certain foods. Obviously, attending events hosted by this person are going to feel better to you, though you still have to check up on things. Another family member may insist on serving the peanut butter blossom cookies she's always served on Superbowl Sunday along with bowls of trail mix and peanuts in the shell, despite your efforts at trying to minimize these foods. You will have to deal differently with this person since they may not be hearing you. In these extreme cases you may have to skip the party. It really depends on how much the other person is open to the situation and this may vary depending on the person and/or event.

Be honest about your concerns.
In the case of food allergies and families, as in so many others, honesty is the best policy. If you feel that someone is not "getting it" or you are worried about a menu, speak up, politely, please. :) Let's face it, no one is going to be as concerned about food allergies as you are. They may not consider some things that you feel are obvious. Speaking up (directly to the person you have the issue with) in an honest and straightforward way, helps to prevent not only allergic reactions but hard feelings later on.

Accept that not everyone in your circle will adapt as you hope they would. This is a tough one, I know. You may have some terrific support from most family members, but one or two folks just won't accept, understand or accommodate food allergies. You can't control that, but you can control your exposure to them and any food they may offer. It's sometimes better to quietly feed a child a safe food from home and go on with the party rather than taking a big stand over and over. Some will accept food allergy needs in time; some never will. Best to be cautious and move on.

Don't feel apologetic about food allergies. I find that many parents are really shame-faced when asking for reasonable accommodations for their child. Some people feel guilty about having menus altered or about bringing a safe food for their child even if they've been told things are "safe." This is not your fault so stay upbeat and do what you have to do. Can you imagine feeling guilty over other medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or asthma? Probably not, but food allergies invoke a guilt fest. I think one reason is that food allergies are a "hidden" condition for the most part and those who have them look perfectly healthy. You may feel like others think you are making a big deal over nothing, even when you know you're not. Stay firm about staying safe -- it's just something you have to do.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Peanut Allergy and the School Year: Review at the Halfway Mark

With the school year half over, now is the time to update or address any ongoing issues at school. You may also need to restock essential supplies, be it updated medications or safe treats for class celebrations.

At this point of the school year, you probably have a pretty good idea of how your school is handling food allergies. If there can be improvements made, now is the time to say so. After all, teachers have now had an opportunity to see how often food is brought into the classroom, often with no forewarning.

I hope you'll check out my Chicago Parent article about food allergies in the classroom. These tips can be used all year long.

Here are some things that may need an update as the school year begins its second half:

Check with the Health Office regarding meds. Are all of your child's medications up to date and unexpired? This can include epinephrine autoinjectors, of course, but also anihistamines and asthma medications. You will also want to make sure any new staff are up-to-date on medication usage.

Are food allergy policies being followed consistently? Something tells me I'm going to get a lot of mail on this point. :) By now you've had experiences in the classroom, both good and bad, that will alert you to what procedures are taking place. You may need to issue some reminders and just be aware of what goes on at parties and such. For example, I volunteer each year to send food to the classroom for my daughter's parties but others always send food at the last minute and guess what--it's usually unsafe. Other times, lunch room policies go by the wayside or class size prevents safe lunch-eating areas for allergic kids. If you notice any problems, now is the time to discuss your concerns with your child's teacher and/or school admin.

Send in a new stock of safe treats. Even though our school doesn't allow b-day treats, sometimes treats are offered for unexpected rewards or celebrations. Ask your child's teacher to store some safe treats for your child to turn to if a surprise treat is offered at school. If your child is older, have them keep some packaged treats in their locker or backpack.

Evaluate what is working and what isn't. You and your child's teacher and other admin if necessary may need to make some adjustments based on experiences you've had in the first half of the year. In fact, expect this because you can't know what every situation will entail. If you feel some things should be changed, don't delay in scheduling time to talk to your child's teacher or other school staff.

A final word: a lot of people ask me what to do if schools don't "get" food allergies. Unfortunately, every school is different but one thing remains the same. You are your child's best advocate and if you really feel that something is endangering your child, please speak up. Some problems can't be solved overnight but opening a dialogue is a good first step.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New to Nut Allergy? Here Are Some More Helpful Tips

Since so many of my new blog readers are also new to nut allergies, I wanted to expand on my recent post that discussed some basic ways of coping with a new food allergy diagnosis. I've been thinking a lot about this topic for the last few days and considering what has helped me the most as I began learning about life with food allergies.

Based on my experiences as a parent, here are some of the things that have been most important on my food allergy journey:

Be ready for your world to be rocked. Severe food allergies make you look at nearly everything you do with fresh eyes. Food is so ingrained in our traditions, social events and emotions that you may be surprised at how much food plays a role in your life. Things are going to change for your family, that's for sure. However, all of the changes won't necessarily be negative. As I said in my previous post, my whole family eats healthier now. However, knowing that common foods have the potential to harm your child can make the entire world seem unfriendly at times. Don't be surprised if you feel a lot of strong emotions that you need to discuss with family, spouse or friends. If you really feel overwhelmed and it's interfering with your life, seek professional counseling.

Give yourself time to adapt. You may feel apprehensive about certain situations once you know you are dealing with a severe food allergy, so don't push yourself. Knowledge on how to cope with restaurants, school, play dates and family members will not come to you overnight. It's OK to feel scared or confused. As you learn more about food allergies and manage situations successfully, you will gain confidence. But don't expect this to happen immediately. You need time to accept the situation and learn what works and what doesn't before you can begin educating others about it and advocating for your needs.

Always have safe foods on hand--and bring them wherever you go.Food is pushed at kids almost constantly (many of you know this already) so don't get stressed, be prepared. If you are heading out with your child, be sure to bring safe alternatives so that you are not tempted to offer unsafe food simply out of hunger or desperation.

Don't forget the epinephrine.If you're like me, you switch bags or purses, rush around in the morning or are simply human and sometimes forget stuff. Epinephrine is so important, however, that I've turned around and come home rather than go anywhere without my daughter's epinephrine autoinjector. Leave Post-It notes by your front door or on the dashboard of your car, get your child a special fanny pack or medication carrier but find ways to remember the epinephrine. It won't help anyone if it's sitting at home in a cabinet; epinephrine autoinjectors can and do save lives.

Teach your child how to handle the allergy on their own. Parents are sometimes terrified of this, but if your kids are going to live a healthy life they need to learn how to be their own advocates. Role play situations, discuss unsafe foods and activities and if they are old enough (discuss when is the right time with your allergist) teach them to self-administer their autoinjectors. Kids who can advocate for themselves are more confident and happy kids as well as a safer ones.

Embrace cooking and baking from scratch. Not everybody loves to cook but once you deal with food allergies it's actually more stressful not to cook. Why? Because when you frequently visit restaurants or pick up take-out you don't have control over what's going into your food--and that can mean risk of allergic reaction. Plus, cooking at home is healthier overall (and not just lower-risk for food allergies)and its more economical, too. If you don't have tons of time to cook on busy week nights, then cook what you can on your less busy days and freeze meals in advance. Also, be sure to have one or two quick go-to meals in your recipe arsenal and keep the main ingredients on hand at all times.

Be cautious but enjoy your life. This is what our first allergist told us and he was right. You can't stop living because you now deal with a severe food allergy. That's not to say you should take unnecessary chances on food or downplay the seriousness of the situation. However, if you go forward in a positive way, you will affect the outlook of your entire family. If you are the parent of an allergic child, you want them to be happy and live life to the fullest, even though you may worry about them. Adapting to food allergies can mean having to alter how you go about some things, but don't let it limit you (or your child, whoever has the allergy) too much.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year, New Food Allergy? Here's What To Do

As we ring in 2011, I have noticed a huge increase in the number of e-mails and posts I've received from parents facing new nut allergy diagnoses in their kids and I've even heard from several young adults with new nut allergies.

The most frequent word I hear is "overwhelmed." This is so understandable. It is overwhelming. The wealth of information alone (often conflicting) can be hard to absorb. Plus, you may wonder if you'll ever have a normal life again, if you will ever learn to decipher food labels and if your child can even go to school. You wonder if every food has the potential to harm your child and/or you. Life can seem very scary and very surreal.

I've been there and I can tell you that things improve. But I can't sugar coat the facts: your life will change, sometimes in ways you may not even foresee now. Some of the changes will be hard to deal with; some may even be positive in the long run. I can think of two positive changes: becoming healthier in our family eating habits and learning to be more assertive in life and ask for what we need. I also have a truly compassionate daughter whose own struggles have made her want to be helpful to others facing different challenges.

Food allergies are never welcome and they make life more difficult at times. But you can live well with them. Here are some things that have helped me and my family:

Seek expert medical advice from an allergist. I've found the best people to handle the medical aspects of food allergy have been our allergists. Find a board-certified allergist and then follow their advice. Keep up on yearly visits, appropriate testing and keep in contact with them about medications. An allergist will be more knowledgeable on food allergies than most pediatricians, not to knock them because they're helpful, too. But an allergist will be more up-to-date on the constantly changing aspects of food allergies and this will be invaluable to you.

Always stand firm about food allergies. You'll meet people who don't take food allergies seriously, who may even blow them off completely. Sometimes those closest to you won't accept the situation. Be prepared for it. Usually, ignorance about food allergies is the key reason. If you know that something is not safe then avoid the food, situation or if need be, the person until they "get it." Risking an allergic reaction to preserve any relationship is never worth it. As we saw recently in Chicago, food allergies can be fatal when not clearly understood or properly respected.

Be informed but don't overload on random info. This is the hardest thing because Internet access can uncover some crazy stories and information. Stick to respected resources such as The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, Allergic Living magazine and The Food Allergy Initiative for research and facts. (And I hope you'll visit me for lifestyle tips and food allergy news.) Overloading on stories of food allergy deaths or unproven medical information is never helpful and may be harmful.

Knowledge is half the battle. The good news is, if you're reading this you probably have received medication, medical advice and are just generally prepared to face a reaction if it occurs. Witnessing an allergic reaction without any knowledge of what may be causing it or without any medication to treat it is much, much worse. If you know what you're dealing with, you can avoid or safely adapt to potentially harmful situations and cut down on risk.

I want to wish a healthy and Happy New Year to you all! Let's be safe together and please continue to share your input and comments!