Monday, February 28, 2011

The Award for Best Food Allergy Performance Goes To....

With the Academy Awards on TV just yesterday, it got me thinking about people in our lives that deserve the award for "Best Performance in Dealing with a Food Allergy."

As parents of kids with food allergies or adults dealing with food allergies, we can be faced with negativity at times. We've discussed this on this blog and also on my Facebook page (where I also asked readers to chime in on their "best food allergy performance" award-winners). However, most of us have those special people in our lives who go above and beyond for us. Or maybe we are impressed by our kids and how they handle their challenges.

In a previous post I discussed why I would give my daughter a "Best Food Allergy Performance" award. I am lucky that there are so many people in my life who support her and me even though sometimes dealing with food alleriges is inconvenient and even stressful for people. I'm thinking of my youngest daughter and how she is extremely careful about foods on behalf of her big sister and always is looking out for her. I'm thinking of my husband and how cautious he has become with regards to food, so that I feel truly supported and don't have to do all of the work myself.

Even more special, I'm thinking of the friends we have made who go out of their way--literally--to provide safe foods for my daughter. One of her friends even served "made in a nut-free facility" cupcakes at her own birthday party--just so my daughter could participate in the birthday treats. I'm thinking of the moms and dads who watch over my daughter during play dates and parties. I'm also thinking about the teachers who showed us empathy and did what they could to ensure that we could send our daughter into their classroom with confidence that she would be well.

I'm sure many of you have those special people in your lives, so be sure to thank them for all they do. Who would you nominate for "Best Food Allergy Performance" in your life and why?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Food Allergies Handled with Grace: My Beautiful Birthday Girl

Sorry, I'm just too proud of a mom to resist wishing my daughter Alexandra a happy 11th birthday today! She has taught me the meaning of grace under pressure with regard to the mature and matter-of-fact way she has handled her peanut and tree nut allergies from Day One. The girl has spunk, spirit and guts! Since it is Oscar Night after all, may I even say she has her own unique style and "True Grit." Even in kindergarten her teachers were telling us that she was careful with foods and would readily and (mostly) cheerfully decline anything she wasn't sure about.

My daughter was diagnosed at age 4 years old, and during one of our early allergy doctor visits, I remember how she decided to go to the doctor's appointment in a complete "Lizzie McGuire" (A past Disney TV series starring Hillary Duff, for the uninitiated :)) outfit including little high-heeled shoes and a purse. I know she was afraid but she put on her best fashions (!) and faced the situation with courage. She has always met her challenges with spirit, bravery and a positive attitude.

I'm also so happy at how she has grown. I find her independence heartening as she heads out into the world, though of course I still worry. She knows to check her own food, monitor many situations independently and educate her friends about food allergies while not making it the focus of her life. She is so much more than a girl with food allergies; it's just one aspect of her. That's how I want her to live and that's how she sees herself.

For many of you who have very young kids with a nut allergy diagnosis, take heart and make an effort to be cautious without focusing only on the negatives. We have tried to focus on the positive and my beautiful girl shows this confidence in everything she does!

Happy Birthday, Alex!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Food Allergy PSA from Dr. Oz

As many of you might now, Dr. Oz has featured food allergies on his popular TV show, including a demonstration of how detect the signs of anaphylaxis. This show was a wonderful public service. I especially appreciated it since I did not know what the signs of severe food allergy reactions were the first time my daughter experienced one.

Did you know that he also filmed a public service announcement for FAAN?

When public figures like Dr. Oz take the time to speak out about food allergies, it can have a very positive impact on the general public's awareness and acceptance of food allergies, besides giving them crucial health information.

Have any of you seen this PSA on TV before? I like the way he talks about the unexpected nature of food allergies and how they can happen anywhere at school. People think they can only happen in the cafeteria or lunch room, but they can happen anywhere. Awareness is the first step in making schools or any public venue much safer for allergic kids and adults.

Thanks, Dr. Oz, for your support of food allergies!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Food Allergy Book Giveaway: We Have a Winner!

I'm happy to announce that the winner of our Allergic Girl book giveaway is Karen! Congratulations! Karen will receive a copy of this upcoming food allergy book by author and blogger Sloane Miller. Thanks to all who entered and shared their heartwarming stories of how they approach food allergies with love. You all make me proud!

Karen, I now need to reach you so I can send you your prize. Please e-mail me at with your contact info so your copy of Allergic Girl can get on its way to you immediately!

Here is Karen's story:

"Karen said...
The first Christmas after my 14 month old had her first reaction to peanuts was extremely difficult. Family members still were not very accepting of her allergy, brushing it off as not being very serious. Some even insisted that the traditional Christmas salad still have almonds in it even though we were told to avoid other nuts as well. It's been over 2 years since then and all of our family is extremely supportive of our now 3 year old. It's amazing to see how they go out of their way to make sure she's safe when she's over at their houses, at holidays and anytime! Their love and support mean so much to us and I can always count on them to think about reading labels and calling companies, etc. It takes time and a lot of learning to know what it means to be "nut/peanut free" and they have really come a long way!"

Since this giveaway got a great response, I will be doing more of these in the future. Keep reading this blog for more details.

Note: This winner was chosen at random via a computerized process.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Peanut Allergies, Spring and Gardening: Beware of Mulch and More

Spring felt like it was coming to Chicago last week for a fleeting moment, which got me thinking about gardening, bird feeders and much more. I've also had some recent questions and comments from blog readers about the "nutty" stuff they are finding in both bird seed and gardening items.

Non-edible food items frequently contain tree nuts or peanuts, and they are not regulated in the same way as foods are with regard to labeling. Always read the list of ingredients when buying gardening or lawn items and also birdseed for your feeder. It's surprising how many non-edible items will contain peanut or tree nut ingredients like shells or other matter.

Gardening items can be dangerous because, obviously, the go into the ground and young children will have access to them. If you have young kids, you know everything that looks edible (and even a few things that don't) will go directly into their mouths. So have fun with your spring garden, but be cautious!

Items to watch out for include mulch, plant food, enriched dirt for planting and of course, bird or small animal food.

A couple of years ago, a gardening item at Target stores called Buzzy Bee had peanut and tree nut allergy warnings. This is rare, however. Most of the time you need to read the labels and call companies if labels are unclear. Now, Spring can hurry up and arrive--just be prepared!

The book giveaway winner for Sloane Miller's "Allergic Girl" will be announced Wednesday after a random drawing, so come back on Wednesday and find out who won!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Food Allergy Treats: Two Nut-Free Granola Bar Recipes!

Some of the most difficult products to find are nut-free granola bars, which is too bad because they make great, relatively healthy snacks for kids and adults.

With that in mind, here are two nut-free granola bar recipes for you to try. The first is my own creation and the second granola bar (nut-free, egg-free AND dairy-free) is generously shared by Lori Sandler of Divvies! If you don't know about Divvies, you should! Lori creates amazing nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free baked treats as well as candy and baking ingredients. The recipe is from her recently released nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free cookbook: "The Divvies Bakery Cookbook."

A word about chocolate chips: both of the following recipes use them. If you want nut-free chocolate chips only, then check out Vermont Nut Free Chocolate for delicious varieties. If you would like egg-free, dairy-free and nut-free chips, Divvies and Enjoy Life Foods sell them.

OK, first off (the bar pictured above) is my granola bar recipe. These are easy to make and I was truly pleased with the result. They tasted a lot like store-bought, only better. :) I guess I was a little too pleased with them, because between me and my family, they have already disappeared!

The Nut-Free Mom's Nut-Free Oatmeal Granola Bars
2 cups old-fashioned oats, uncooked
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed brown sugar (light or dark)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ (or in a pinch, use same amount of whole wheat flour)
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt (Morton's makes this)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup SunButter brand sunflower seed spread
1 large egg (if going egg-free, use 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce instead)
2 tsp vanilla extract (Nielsen-Massey or McCormick's are my faves)

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with Pam.
- In a large bowl with a wooden spoon, mix oats, flour, brown sugar, chocolate chips, wheat germ or wheat flour and salt until blended. Stir in oil, honey, SunButter, egg or applesauce and vanilla until thoroughly combined. Pat mixture into pan with a wet hand (so you won't stick too much).
- Bake until golden around the edges, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on wire rack.
- When cool, cut lengthwise into bars of your preferred size. I did four strips, each into four pieces for a total of 16 bars.

For those of you looking for a nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free variation (or just a different, delicious taste) here is Lori Sandler's recipe from The Divvies Bakery Cookbook. Thank you, Lori! These look and taste great! I love the addition of the shredded wheat cereal and dried fruit. Lori suggests this as a topping on dairy-free "ice cream," on its own as cereal or mixed into oatmeal. Yum!

Andrea's Mom's Granola Bars (from "The Divvies Bakery Cookbook", Copyright 2010, St. Martin's Press. Recipe reprinted with permission from the publisher)
4 cups oats
2 cups shredded wheat, torn by hand into threads, not dust!
2 cups puffed wheat or puffed rice
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup honey or agave nectar
3/4 cup non-dairy margarine
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup dried fruit of your choice (Lori suggests cherries, blueberries, apricots, apples or raisins)
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter or soy nut butter
1/2 cup Divvies Semisweet Chocolate Chips (

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
3. Combine the oats, shredded wheat or puffed rice, brown sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Transfer the mixture onto two lined baking sheets.
4. Bake the granola for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and watching carefully so it does not burn. Rotate the pans on the racks for even heat distribution. Remove the granola from the oven when caramel in color.
5. While the granola is baking, pour the honey or agave nectar into a small saucepan and place over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes until boiling. Turn off the heat.
6. Add the margarine to the honey and stir until completely melted.
7. Once the granola has baked, pour it into a large metal bowl and add the dried fruit. Keep the oven on.
8. Slowly pour the hot honey mixture over the granola. Mix with a spoon (that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray) until well coated.
9. Add the sunflower of soy nut butter and mix with the coated spoon until the hot ingredients melt the sunflower seed butter.
10. Pour all the ingredients back onto one of the parchment-lined baking sheets. Place a fresh piece of parchment paper on top of the warm granola bar mixture, then light press the mixture with the heel of your hand, pressing it into a 12 x 6 inch rectangle.
11. Remove the top layer of parchment paper, and place the baking sheet back into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet twice.
12. Remove the granola bars from the oven and gently press chocolate chips evenly into the top. Let sit for 15 minutes, then cut int thirty-six 3 x 2 inch bars while still partially warm.
Makes 3 dozen 2 x 1 inch granola bars.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Food Allergy Reactions: Communicating the Symptoms to Young Children

Recently, some readers have asked for advice on describing allergic reactions to young kids. They also wanted to know how to teach young children how to describe it to them, the parent, or to other adults.

This is a great question, because with kids getting diagnosed at younger and younger ages, they may not remember their severe allergic reactions. Some kids are diagnosed nowadays without experiencing that severe allergic reaction, so they may not know how to tell if they are having one.

In our case, my daughter reacted at age 4 for the first time and it was sudden, violent and life-threatening. She remembers the exact feelings she had, to the point that she was able to detect herself having a reaction at school. She got help right away, was given Benadryl, I was called to school and she made a complete recovery. The reaction, thankfully, turned out to be mild. However, had she not gotten help right away, it very well could have escalated. You never know how severe an allergic reaction is going to be.

I give you our story to show you how important it is to teach kids how to recognize the symptoms and how also to tell you, their caregiver, grandparent or daycare worker that they may be having an allergic reaction.

If you can't see hives or facial swelling, that doesn't mean a reaction is not taking place or about to take place. Kids may complain of an itchy throat or tongue, or even a "sore" throat. They may tell you that the food they are eating just tastes "wrong" to them or "spicy" or "sour." They may spit out a food (that's good if they do) because of an allergen you may not know if present. For example, from a very young age, my daughter would spit out foods immediately that contained any peanuts or tree nuts. We just thought she was picky! I wish we had known better.

Kids may also describe tummy troubles--they may feel nauseous or like they have stomach cramps. Breathing difficulties may be described as "my chest feels funny."

Here is a great link to the FAAN website that lists several examples of what young kids might say if they are having an allergic reaction.

Teaching your child to describe an allergic reaction
If your young kids have verbal skills, they probably have their own way of describing to you when they feel ill. When my oldest was very young, she would tell us "There's a bug in my throat" when she felt sick in any way. This was because in the past she had heard one of us say "She caught a bug" and then she confused that with the expression "I have a frog in my throat."

Your kids might have similar sayings. Role play with them and discuss, using terms they will understand, (such as the ones I list or those listed in the FAAN link), how a reaction might feel. Discuss with them what they will do if they feel this way.

One thing to note is that some children will look for a place to go and be alone, such as the bathroom, if they are feeling ill. You don't want a child who is experiencing a reaction to be alone because the reaction can advance before you or anyone else finds them.

Stress to your child that if they feel any allergy symptoms, they should go find an adult immediately and tell them. Period. Practice this with them and you can even make a game out of it to make it feel less scary.

Visual images of food allergens and potential allergy situations are also helpful. Be sure to check out Beyond a Peanut educational flashcards, a perfect tool for young children.

It's never fun to have to teach your child about life-threatening allergic reactions but think of it as an investment in their future health and independence. As kids grow older, the number one line of defense against them having an allergic reaction is: themselves. Kids who learn what to do, what to avoid and how to get help will be more confident and a lot better prepared.

Also, if your child has food allergies and special needs, please check out this article that I wrote recently for the Chicago-based magazine, Special Parent. Kids with special needs may need different approaches.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day and Food Allergies: A Love Story and Book Giveaway!

Since it's Valentine's Day, it got me thinking about the things we do for love as food allergy parents. Sometimes the things we do are easy, like baking cookies for the class. (OK, sometimes not so easy, I'll grant you.) Or tagging along on our young child's play date, just to be sure they don't have an allergic reaction.

Other things aren't so easy. Anyone who's faced opposition about our child's allergies from the school, resistance from other parents or even family members can attest to that. It's very hard to single out your child and also single out yourself for what many people perceive as requests for "special treatment." It can also be difficult to explain our child's serious medical condition to other people without either coming across as "Debbie Downer" or as too glib. I find myself walking that tight rope constantly--I don't like to dwell on the negatives, but I have to do everything I can to make the people who care for my daughter understand how to help her stay healthy.

It's not easy to watch your child have a severe reaction, undergo uncomfortable medical tests or even be denied a sweet treat that "all the other kids are eating."

Sometimes we get angry when we're not taken seriously. Other times we doubt ourselves--are we doing too much, or not enough?

Not to get all sappy on you here, but if you are a parent who loves your child, you already have everything you need to get through the hard times of caring for a child with a severe food allergy. Love for our child is what keeps us going. A parent's love is the extra ingredient in everything we bake and do. Nothing can surpass it, so remember that the next time you're struggling, as we all do, with food allergy issues.

And speaking of love, here's some love for my wonderful blog readers, a book giveaway! Sloane Miller of the blog "Please Don't Pass the Nuts" will give away one copy of her upcoming book "Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies" to one lucky Nut-Free Mom blog reader. As an adult living with food allergies, Sloane has been a big inspiration to me as I raise my daughter. She is awesome and this book will be, too!

All you have to do to get a chance to win your copy is to post your own food allergy love story in my comments box. It can be about something you've done for your child, something someone else has done, something loving you wish for the allergic person in your life, etc. As long as it's about love and food allergies, it counts! Keep posting your stories on The Nut-Free Mom blog all week for your chance to win. Good luck!

In the meantime, give the food-allergic person in your life an extra a hug and Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Peanut Allergy and Pasta Sauce Brands, Plus a Nut-Free Sauce Recipe

When you begin scrutinizing food labels for potential allergens, you never know what you're getting in for. Because current FDA laws only require actual ingredients to be listed, cross contact info sometimes makes it to the label, and sometimes it doesn't. Calling the company and doing some "food detecting" may be in order. The information you uncover (or don't uncover) will likely have an impact on what brand you toss in your shopping cart.

No matter what type of prepared food I buy, I like to see what else is offered by that brand, in a similar product. For example if I see jarred pesto sauce (may contain nuts) sitting next to red sauce, I may not buy that brand before placing a call to the company to check for cross-contact concerns.

As someone who likes to cook sauce from scratch (I find it relaxing to make sauce, don't know why but I do), it's rare that I buy pasta sauce these days. However, some nights that's all us busy families have time for and there are some really good-tasting prepared sauces out there.

Some readers have written to me about Ragu pasta sauce and apparently there was some concern it may contain tree nuts due to a few jars with this warning. I have contacted Ragu (as have many readers) and they assured all of us that their labels would reflect cross-contact concerns and that the plain sauce is safe unless otherwise marked. However, please contact them if you have further questions. We all know how quickly things can change.

I put the pasta sauce question to my Twitter followers who deal with peanut and tree nut allergies. Some of you liked Muir Glen and Gia Russa brands, while others went with Emeril's Organic brand.

At the supermarket the other day, I saw that Prego, Barilla, Amy's Organic, Classico, Bertolli and Mezzeta did not carry nut allergy warnings, along with the other brands we've listed already. If you use these brands, have you ever called the companies and what have they said? Let us know!

Besides being fresher-tasting, a homemade sauce is a great option because we know exactly what goes into it.

Here's my recipe for my favorite pasta sauce. It does contain organic beef; if you want to go meatless, this recipe is still good. :) Just be sure to add plenty of fresh parsley and basil. Also, as with any pasta sauce, the longer you simmer this, the better it gets. It's even better the next day. My family loves this recipe! Try it out this Valentine's Day. They'll think you're amazing.

Nut-Free Mom's Super-Quick Bolognese Sauce
1 lb. ground beef (I use Laura's Organic ground round)
A couple tablespoons olive oil
Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
4 cloves of minced garlic
1/2 tsp (or less if you like less heat) red pepper flakes
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 cup low-sodium beef broth (I use Swanson's organic beef broth or stock)
1/3 cup red wine; alternatively, use orange juice
1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes (I use Hunt's Natural)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (I use Hunt's)
About 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley or to taste
1/4 cup shredded basil or a couple tsp dried
1 tsp dried oregano

Heat olive oil in pan and add beef. Season meat with black pepper and brown in a deep skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, crushed red pepper and oregano. While this is cooking, grate onion into meat mixture using a hand grater. Cook a few minutes to soften the onion, then add broth and wine or OJ. Stir pan and deglaze, incorporating any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add tomatoes and half the parsley and basil. Stir again, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. (You can do this while you boil water and cook pasta). Right before serving, sprinkle with rest of parsley and basil. Serve with your favorite pasta.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Food Allergies and Valentine's Day: Make It Sweet

What is Valentine's Day without chocolate? If you haven't ordered yet, you'll want to quickly snap up some nut-free treats from Vermont Nut Free Chocolate, pronto! From truffles to heart-shaped candy, it's all good and 100% nut-free, facility, products, everything..

Peanut Free Planet is another online retailer with a wide variety of treats perfect for Valentine's Day. I recently ordered some Seth Ellis Chocolatier SunButter Cups from Peanut Free Planet and they just arrived! Can't wait to dig in...but I'll hold off until after school. Don't want my kids to miss out!

Enjoy Life Foods offers this yummy allergy-friendly Valentine's Day recipe you can try with your family. I found pink Jet Puffed Brand (by Kraft Foods) marshmallows at my local supermarket (marshmallows are used in the above recipe). They contain gelatin but no egg whites for those of you dealing with dairy and egg allergies as well as nut allergies. My kids loved them--the marshmallows are even heart shaped.

What about school parties? Food is offered at school on Valentine's Day for many of us. For example, our school is offering an ice cream blast on Monday to celebrate the holiday. I was given advance notice from the teacher, which was great. However, I will be putting my Cuisinart into action and sending my daughter with her own ice cream that day.

What are some good non-edible treats to suggest for an allergy-friendly classroom? Every school kid likes pencils, stickers and other non-edibles. If another parent wants suggestions for edible treats, Smarties brand candies and Dum Dum Suckers are two kid favorites that are free of the top 8 food allergens. These are easily found in the supermarket, so that's a bonus. Stay away from Brach's conversation hearts (nut allergy warnings) and all chocolate treats; chocolate is just too risky for nut allergies and kids with dairy allergies can't have it, either.

For more tips on a safe, sweet and successful Valentine's Day class party, check out this link to my previous post on the topic!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Food Allergies in The New Yorker: What Restaurants Don't Know Can Kill You

I received my latest New Yorker magazine dated February 7 (with a caricature of Mayor Bloomberg on the cover) and it contains an article that is causing a lot of buzz around the food allergy community. "The Peanut Puzzle" explores theories on what may be causing food allergies and some of the research that is being done to desensitize allergic kids. (You cannot read the entire article online unless you are registered; you can find it at your local library or magazine stand, though.)

After a careful review of this article, I'm very mixed about it, mainly because it ends with a supposedly successful desensitization to milk and it gives the impression (if you don't know all of the research and details) that food allergies are pretty simple to cure. The article never explains that desensitization is not an actual cure, that is, removing the allergy. All that desensitization will do is raise a person's threshold.

The article does not reveal any brand new research: the "hygiene hypothesis" is mentioned, as is the low rate of peanut allergy in Israeli babies, the theory being that this is due to an infant food containing peanuts. Both of these theories have been out there for awhile. Leading allergists Hugh Sampson, M.D. and Scott Sicherer, M.D. are both quoted in the article. One striking thing that they both mention is that they don't know, and that no allergist really knows what is causing food allergies.

One thing this New Yorker article accomplishes, however, is that it brings home some startling facts about public perception of food allergies, especially with regard to restaurants. In a study that Dr. Sicherer conducted using 100 restaurant workers (managers, chefs, waiters) in the NYC and Long Island regions, whopping percentages of those surveyed had potentially deadly misinformation about food allergies. More than a third surveyed thought that food allergens can be "killed" by frying a food at high temperatures and a fourth believed that small amounts of food allergens aren't harmful. A fourth also were misinformed about cross-contact; they believed that simply removing allergenic foods from a finished dish (taking walnuts out of a salad and then serving the salad, for example) would not be harmful to an allergic person.

Despite being wrong on these accounts, 75% of the workers surveyed believed that they knew how to serve an allergic diner a safe meal. Wowsa. That scares me to the core, especially because incidents in restaurants account for about half of all fatal food allergy reactions.

Is it any wonder that I get more than a little antsy in restaurants? I share this information because many of you reading this right now are brand-new to food allergies. Because food allergies get so much media attention lately, you may wrongly believe that restaurants understand how to keep your allergic family member safe. Many don't. You need to be really cautious. For example, my family avoids restaurants where a lot of dishes serving nuts are on the menu. We won't allow our daughter to eat a salad if other salads on the menu contain nuts or nut dressings (the stats I list above back us up on this one.)

That's not to say that you can never eat in a restaurant. But don't shoot the messenger here, if you care for an allergic child or have allergies yourself, your carefree restaurant days of breezing in and out of establishments are over. Do your homework, read menus, make phone calls. If it doesn't feel right, don't do it. Learn to cook--it's safer.

I may not agree with everything in this article, but one thing I do agree with. The author states that "People with food allergies live under a constant threat in a society that is still poorly informed about the condition."

For information on handling food allergies in restaurants, please check out some of my former blog posts:

Check online menus before you eat

A great restaurant experience

A bad restaurant experience

Please also visit Allerdine and Allergy Eats for more helpful dining out info!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Food Allergies and Travel: My Top Tips

Apparently, the snow and cold have gotten everyone thinking about sunny vacation getaways! I've gotten many questions lately about safe travel with nut allergies and a lot of you are prepared to be exotic, because I've also had a lot of questions about travel to foreign countries with food allergies.

The main thing to remember is that you really have to be proactive when traveling with food allergies and you also have to be realistic. It doesn't mean you should stay home, but know that whatever you would do here in the U.S. is what you need to do in a foreign country: Communicate about your allergies at any eating establishments and avoid ones that look or feel "sketchy," bring your medication, bring some of your own food and just be ultra-cautious in general. Don't assume they know about cross-contact and check with food servers, managers and chefs when you dine out. Also, be aware that language barriers may be a problem. If traveling out of the country, you need to do extra homework about restaurants and available food in advance.

Here are some more tips on deciding if a vacation destination is allergy-friendly:

Try to get lodgings that have a small kitchenette or at least a refrigerator. Relying on restaurant food 24/7 can take a toll on families trying to manage food allergies. Having the option of serving allergic family members at least some meals or snacks prepared by you is going to cut down on risk factors and give you less to worry about.

Don't go anywhere too remote. If an allergic reaction happens, how soon can your child get to a hospital? This should be a factor in planning where you will go and where you will stay during your trip.

Be prepared with chef cards for restaurants. FAAN and AllerNotes offer chef cards (also in languages other than English) which can be really helpful whether you are traveling abroad or staying in the U.S.

Will this destination be easy or difficult in terms of avoiding food allergens? If you want to relax and have fun, you definitely don't want to be facing a food allergy minefield each day. For this reason, my family needs to think about the local food. In the American South, peanuts, tree nuts and peanut oil are used--a lot. If we're going there, we need to be extra careful. Think about local foods and if you can find enough safe places to eat at that destination.

No matter where you go, you can never take a vacation from vigilance. It's tempting to throw caution to the winds on vacation. After all, you're there to relax. However, planning ahead with regard to what to feed a food-allergic child means never letting your guard down. The more prepared you are before you leave, the more fun you'll have.

FAAN has some very reassuring and helpful tips about dealing with airline travel. Please read it, including the sidebar links. You'll find tips on everything from what to do before you fly to how to deal with the flight crew if things go wrong. Also, as most medical experts agree, the risk of an in-flight reaction is low if you don't actually ingest peanuts or tree nuts. Everyone should read this before booking your next flight. Here are a few highlights:

Bring your own snacks. Don't let allergic individuals eat the airline food. Ever. That's the best way to stay safe.

Try to take the first flight of the day or as early as possible. Early in the day, the flights are cleaner. Planes are not thoroughly cleaned between flights, but they are overnight.

Make your reservation over the phone and speak to a live person; don't book online. You have a better chance of having your allergy needs put in your reservation order if you talk to a rep.

Ask to board early, so that you can clean your seating area. A note from your doctor would be helpful here and be polite, but firm. There's no reason they shouldn't accommodate this request; put on your best smile and go for it.

Bring something to cover the seat. A beach towel or something like it would be good. This will offer an extra layer of protection from peanut residue.

Readers, what have your experiences been? What has helped you while traveling? Let us know!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Food Allergies and Groundhog Day, the Movie: Is There a Connection

We'll we're officially snowed in today, here in Chicago, and ironically it is also Groundhog Day. For those of you who've seen the classic Bill Murray film "Groundhog Day" from the 1990s, you'll remember that being snowed in following a Pennsylvania storm is what prompted the plot of this film. Bill Murray's character had a bad attitude, was cynical and just generally not very nice. He was definitely a glass half-empty person and all around miserable. He didn't enjoy the little things in life much less the big things and his attitude affected not only his entire life, but the lives of those around him. Ultimately he was stuck living the same day, over and over again. However, when he changed his way of thinking, eventually, he was able to have a positive and bright future. His attitude was the key.

Why am I thinking about this movie with regard to food allergies? Well, it struck me this morning that for a lot of us, (including me, at times, I plead guilty) dealing with food allergies can feel like "Groundhog Day." After all, every day you're living with food, potentially unsafe situations and finding yourself having to constantly explain, over and over again, how to keep your child safe.

Can it get depressing at times? Of course. Sometimes we deal with this stress by getting angry at others or by having a negative attitude towards new people and experiences. Like the Bill Murray character, we think we've seen it all, done it all and may expect the worst from other people because we've been burned before.

Like anything else in life, attitude is key with food allergies. Sometimes, situations or events, like a food allergy death in the news or even an insensitive comment can get you down. But if you view living with food allergies as just part of life and even try to see the positives such as healthier eating for the whole family, you and your kids becoming more compassionate of others, even learning to be more assertive--you will get a better attitude and it will get easier. Also, each time you have a new experience and it turns out well, you'll get more confidence about you and your child's ability to handle life-threatening food allergies. If you are never open to new experiences, your child won't be prepared to life a more full life independently and you definitely don't want that.

Trying new experiences does require caution when you deal with a food allergy that can be life-threatening. You should never take unnecessary risks with food. However, if you are careful and make safe food provisions, you can open up your family's life and experiences. Food allergies just mean that you need to be careful, but you can still live your life.

Happy Groundhog Day, campers!