Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Food Allergy Advice for the Newly Diagnosed, plus Thanks for the Votes!

You might have been wondering what happened with that Top 25 Food Allergy Bloggers (at Circle of Moms on Facebook) contest I was asking you to vote for and I'm happy to say I'm in the top 25! Thanks to all of you who voted each day -- even more than inclusion in this group, your support and positive comments have meant the world to me.

As one of the Top 25 bloggers, I was asked to post my views on some aspects of parenting kids with food allergies and one of the questions was regarding my advice for parents new to food allergy diagnosis. Lately, I've been hearing from so many parents new to peanut and tree nut allergies and also from adults who have nut allergies themselves through this blog and my other social networks like Twitter and Facebook, that I decided to share a post about handling this new diagnosis.

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 food on hand--and bring it 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 autoinjector.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 medication. Leave Post-It notes by your front door or on the dashboard of your car, get your child a special fanny pack or medicine 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.

Start teaching your child about their allergy in age-appropriate ways. Kids need to learn how become their own advocates. You can help them, even at young ages, by role-playing different situations (such as what to do when offered a food that isn't safe), discussing unsafe foods and activities, and if they are old enough, (discuss when is the right time with your allergist) teaching them to self-administer their epinephrine autoinjector.

Kids who can advocate for themselves are more confident and happy kids as well as a safer ones. For younger kids, Beyond a Peanut flashcards and books like Ally the Allergic Elephant and The Princess and the Peanut are non-scary ways to teach allergy safety to your kids. For older kids, FAAN has a section of their website devoted to kids ages 11 and up.

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, November 28, 2011

Food Allergy Holiday News: Nut-Free Advent Calendars and Holiday Resources

This past Thanksgiving weekend (and I hope everyone had a safe and happy one!), I came across an item I'd like to share since it's something that many of you have been asking: Advent calendars.

Many of us remember these fun calendars from our childhood--the calendars begin with the date December 1st and offer a different door to open until Christmas on the 25th. Usually these calendars offer a little piece of Christmas chocolate behind each door.

Since chocolate is one of the most common candies with nut allergen warnings, most of us have had to give these up for our own kids. One source is Amanda's Own Advent calendar available at Peanut-Free Planet, the candy is nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free. You have to order these early, though!

New as of November 2013: Vermont Nut Free Chocolates now has Advent Calendars! Visit their web site and look under their "Christmas" section for details!

The crafty and artistic parents among us can make their own calendars--one of my readers made a beautiful one using felt pockets for each day; she then placed treats in the pockets. I'm very unskilled in crafts--my thing is cooking/baking--so if you are good at crafts, this is a great idea.

For the rest of us (or for those of us with a love of unique Christmas decor) I may have found a solution: wooden Advent calendars. (Two styles are pictured above). I came across these beautiful heirloom quality calendars while at a local store this past Saturday--check your local stores that sell Christmas decor. You can also buy them online at Byer's Choice.

At $85 a pop, these are not cheap. However, they are a beautiful Christmas decoration that is reusable and can become a family favorite that you can pass down to future generations. And best of all--they don't come with unsafe candy-it's up to you to supply the treat behind each door. In person, these really are gorgeous.

Let me wrap up with two sources for chocolate Hanukkah coins: Vermont Nut-Free Chocolate and Divvies. Vermont Nut-Free is free of peanuts and tree nuts only; Divvies is nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free and gluten-free. Visit their web sites to find out more.

In the coming weeks, I'll have lots more holiday tips, resources and special recipes. Please share yours by commenting below!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving and Food Allergies: Some Helpful Links!

Turkey Day is fast approaching and I know a lot of you have questions about having a safe meal with the family, dining out while you travel, finding safe foods and more.

Click this link to get some answers -- my annual blog post round-up for Thanksgiving.

Stumped for some quick nut-free recipes? Here are three of my Thanksgiving faves:

Nut-Free Pumpkin Muffins

Speedy Sweet Potatoes

Pumpkin Cheesecake Ice Cream (for when you just need to overindulge)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Food Allergy News: Bill Would Permit Epinephrine to be Stocked in Schools

Pictured: Sen. Kirk with Brianna and Rhonda Adkins, and FAAN CEO Maria Acebal on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Nov. 15.
I want to ask you all for your help and advocacy as a new bill paves the way for a law that would permit Epinephrine to be stocked in schools.

I received the following notice from FAAN: The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN™) has been working with U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) on federal legislation that would encourage states to adopt laws requiring schools to have on hand “stock” epinephrine auto-injectors – meaning epinephrine that is not prescribed specifically to a single student but can be used for any student and staff member in an anaphylactic emergency.

A few days ago, this bill (S. 1884), the School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, was introduced in the Senate.

Earlier this week, FAAN CEO Maria L. Acebal, joined by Rhonda Adkins, wife of country music superstar and Celebrity Ambassador Who Cares Trace Adkins, and Adkins’s young daughter Brianna, visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill to urge them to support this lifesaving legislation.

Now we need your help to get your senators’ support! Please download our sample letter of support, personalize it, and send it to their senators.

You can look up your local senators at

In addition to protecting those whose epinephrine auto-injector isn’t immediately accessible during a reaction, this legislation will help save the lives of those who experience an anaphylactic reaction and don’t have a prescribed epinephrine auto-injector. Data shows that up to 25% of all epinephrine administrations that occur in the school setting involve students and adult staffers whose allergy was unknown at the time of the event.

Jenny: I can speak to this. My daughter's allergy was discovered a preschool. She had one bite of a peanut butter sandwich and went into anaphylactic shock. That's how we found out she had an allergy. Unfortunately, this is a common way for parents to find out their child has a food allergy. Every second counts--even if an ambulance gets there quickly you've lossed precious time without epinephrine on hand.

Only a handful of states have laws related to stock epinephrine. S. 1884, however, will provide an incentive for states to enact their own laws allowing school personnel to keep and administer a non-student specific epinephrine auto-injector in case of an emergency. (The state laws would be similar to the ones enacted in Illinois and Georgia in 2011.)

Thank you for your help gathering support for S. 1884. We will keep you posted as FAAN continues to work to secure passage of this important legislation. Together, we can save the lives of those with potentially life-threatening food allergies.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Food Allergy News: Allergic Living Magazine: Get the Winter Issue and Meet the New Associate Editor!

Allergic Living’s Winter Issue – Get It While You Still Can!
Many of you know that I have accepted a position as Associate Editor of Allergic Living magazine. I'm so excited to be a part of this great team and publication and look forward to collaborating with them. I will still be writing this blog as well as my other freelance articles while working with AL, but now I get to be part of an amazing team who cares about the issues that we do.

This magazine has been so helpful to me and my family over the years. They really get it--they know what it's like to live with not only food allergies but also environmental allergies, pet allergies, celiac disease, asthma, eczema, you name it. It's a great resource and I hope you will join me in subscribing.

I've been a subscriber of the magazine for several years, and was very happy to see them launch a U.S. edition last spring. I think you will find the info and columnists as helpful and supportive as I have!

So that you don't miss out on the winter issue, I hope you'll take the time to subscribe! Allergic Living has just about wrapped up our Winter issue and we’re really excited. The issue, if we do say so ourselves, rocks. It's one of our strongest food allergy and celiac lifestyle issues to date.

Just FYI, Allergic Living is available by subscription and the cutoff to subscribe and get the new issue is this Thurs. Nov. 17. It’s quick and easy to subscribe at Allergic Living's site.

Inside the Winter Allergic Living:
- Our cover (see photo above) is: “Throwing the Ultimate Party”. Why risk mystery foods at someone’s else’s place – let AL be your guide to hosting your own fabulous free-from party. Chef Simon has sensational recipes: From crispy duck breast to sweet and sour chicken balls, beef skewers, vegetable terrine and more – all AL’s recipes are free of top allergens and gluten.

- And now for dessert … Nut-free, dairy-free and gluten-free chocolate layer cake, plus elegant holiday cookie recipes, courtesy of the Gluten-Free Goddess.

- Sprucing up your home? Don’t miss our feature “The Home That Breathes”. Get out the bad toxins, while AL introduces you to the stylish furnishings that won’t off-gas VOCs.

- Gina Clowes, allergy life coach and creator of, offers great advice for helping your family to “get” your food restrictions; speaking of Gina--please click the link to subscribe to her newsletter. The latest issue contains food allergy holiday tips from advocates and experts--including me! Thanks, Gina. :) Other columns delve into how to keep safe at celebrations, and a look at how far we’ve come in food allergy research and awareness over the last 20 years.

- Food Allergy Features: We explore whether there could ever be a “safe level” of peanut in food and what your teen isn’t telling you about how he manages his food allergy.

- Allergy-Friendly Gift Guide: Perfect presents for your allergic child, courtesy of Jenny Kales, aka the Nut-Free Mom I also wrote a food page for Allergy Shots. Check it out!

- The Scoop: Our journalists bring you the latest, such as how scientists have figured out how to “turn off” peanut allergy in mice; the controversy over pets and the allergic on planes; and the wrenching story of a child tossed out of daycare – because of allergies.

I also want to thank everyone who voted for me in the Facebook Circle of Moms Top 25 Food Allergy Bloggers. Today, November 16 is the last day to cast your votes, so I hope you will visit now (see the button at the top right of my blog) or click here to vote. It's a tight race so every vote counts. Thanks for your support! It's been an honor to be on the board with so many of my favorite food allergy friends and advocates!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Peanut Allergy Picture Book Review: The Princess and the Peanut

When my daughter was younger, she used to question her food allergies and ask why she had this problem when others didn't. I used to explain to her that people have many things that make up who they are and her allergies were just one aspect of her. I explained that people are a mix of good things and sometimes, not so good things, but that didn't mean that the bad things had to drag her down. I told her if she didn't have her own unique mix of traits, she would be someone else and I didn't want her to be anyone else, allergies or not.

So when I read the new picture book "The Princess and the Peanut" by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and with beautiful illustrations by Micha Chambers-Goldberg, I could really identify with the sentiments expressed.

This "royally allergic fairytale" (as it says in the subhead) follows the original "Princess and the Pea" story but with a twist. Instead of a pea, a peanut is placed under the many mattresses of the princess and she suffers an allergic reaction.

The reaction is handled well, with medical accuracy and a non-scary approach that children won't find off-putting. Since I believe it's crucial that children are not afraid of epinephrine autoinjectors, I was really heartened to see the clever way it was handled in this book.

Once the princess undergoes testing, the castle then needs to be cleared of peanut and tree nut products, but best of all, the other castle inhabitants admit to their own allergies that they struggle with, showing that everyone deals with something. In the end, the prince decides he loves the princess better than peanut butter (and who among us parents hasn't decided that we love our "princesses" and "princes" better than peanut butter)and everyone learns to live a happy life with food allergies.

I loved this book and so did my two daughters who are well beyond the picture book stage, but who will probably always love princesses. They thought it was charming and gave a positive portrayal of food allergies. My youngest who doesn't have allergies was enchanted by this book because it shows how the people supporting those with allergies have to give things up sometimes, but they do it gladly and with love. She certainly does all of that and more for her big sister.

Kids and adults will love the richly drawn illustrations and charming characters, not to mention the useful allergy information and glossary in the back of the book.

To buy The Princess and the Peanut (a great holiday gift!) and to learn more about this book, visit the book's website.

Let me know how you and your kids like this book!

FTC note: no compensation was received for this review other than a sample copy of the book.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Food Allergies and Thanksgiving Road Trips

The following post is revised from one I wrote about summer road trips but the themes are the same: preparation will make staying with and visiting relatives over Thanksgiving go much more smoothly. Have the conversations now about what it will take for your allergic family members to be safe this holiday. If you are staying with relatives, please make sure to go over cross contact issues with them and ask if you can be part of the kitchen crew. I usually offer to make a few things so I know they are safe for my daughter to eat.

It's wonderful to spend time with family members at Thanksgiving, but of course food allergies don't take a holiday. However, safe feasting and celebrating can be done with some honest discussions and advance preparation.

Here are a few things that have worked for me.

- Call ahead. Don't just show up at your appointed time and expect everything to go smoothly. Especially if you're staying with relatives and even if you aren't, give a shout out and discuss the food allergy situation. You will want to give people a heads up about foods to avoid but also you want to reassure your family that you will help provide safe meals and won't leave it all up to them.

-Discuss the menu well in advance of the holiday. Lots of nut allergy/food allergy pitfalls lurk in Thanksgiving family favorites, so make sure to help plan how the menu can be safe and delicious. Can we skip the walnuts in the turkey stuffing and maybe make an apple pie instead of pecan? What about snacks, appetizers and side dishes? If a buffet will be served, served allergic people first, in the kitchen to avoid cross-contact. If at all possible, allergic people should at least be able to eat some of the main entree and side dishes, if not every dessert, etc. Compromise is needed here, so begin discussing foods early and give people time to plan. Of course, if you don't feel that the foods are safe or you strongly suspect cross-contact with unsafe foods, don't serve it to them. If you can make or buy some of your own safe foods for the feast, all the better. Which brings me to the next point...

- Bring or offer to make food. Pack enough non-perishable safe treats, either homemade or store-bought foods known to be safe, so that your allergic child is not left without good stuff during family meals or snack times. Stocking up will also save you and your family the stress of last-minute grocery runs or overheated discussions about "just one bite won't hurt" and "why can't he have the plain M&Ms?" etc. If you're flying and want to keep the load lighter, plan to shop or bake something when you get there.

- Be fun. Food is part of the social fabric that holds families together but it can also be divisive if you're dealing with food allergies, so don't let all the focus go to the food. Once you arrive, organize a family vs. family football game, go to a movie or museum or bring your favorite board game and engage everyone in a fun activity that doesn't revolve around food. Everyone will be having too much fun to comment on what your kid is or isn't eating.

- Plan activities that allow you to bring your own meals. If you're going on a day trip with the group, make sure you can bring some food so that you don't have to rely on the food allergy-unsafe food options.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Holiday Recipe Re-Do for Nut Allergies/Food Allergies: My Story

Food allergies change everything, even beloved family recipes you've always taken for granted. It's no secret that food is something that creates happy family memories and traditions. But what do you do when life-threatening food allergies remove a family favorite from your holiday routine?

A few years ago, I entered the Chicago Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest and became a semi-finalist. Part 1 of the contest was submitting an essay to the editors, which I've included here. Part 2 was a cookie sampling, which sadly, I did not win. I think my cookie may have been too simple for them--the winning cookies seemed to have about 25 ingredients each. I know the recipe rocks and that's why I'm including it at the end of the essay.

One thing that food allergies forces us to do is become creative and make up our own holiday traditions. I hope you enjoy my story and will share your own "recipe re-dos" for your own family faves.

Reinventing the Snowball
As a child, my favorite Christmas cookie, bar none, was made by my beloved Irish grandmother, Mary, who passed away in 1989. She called them “Pecan Balls” and these small round cookies were delicious: buttery, nutty, rich and covered in lots of powdered sugar. As a lanky child with an enormous appetite for cookies, I could put away 10 at time. In my mind, I dubbed them “Snowballs” because of their round shape and white sugary coating.

The cookies kept well, so my busy grandmother made them about a week in advance of the holiday. Unfortunately for her, I snuck into the shiny Christmas cookie tins and helped myself after school, before bed, whenever nobody was looking. As holiday season rolled around each year, the mere fragrance of these cookies as they baked in the oven immediately called to mind family celebrations, gift-giving and good food.

Now I’m a mother of two young children and I love to bake. Of course I was anxious to try these cookies out on my daughters. However, when my oldest daughter was diagnosed with a severe allergy to nuts, the “Snowball” tradition looked in danger of disappearing. Obviously pecans were out of the question and I wondered where on earth I would find a nut-free version of this beloved holiday treat.

Help arrived in the form of divine intervention. My mother-in-law (who incidentally is Polish) gives each new bride (or groom) a copy of a wonderful Greek Orthodox Church cookbook first published in 1950. One day while flipping through this book, I came across a cookie that sounded very similar to “Pecan Balls”—without the nuts. I was surprised since Greek desserts almost always contain nuts, but this cookie looked promising. Called “Kourabiethes,” the cookie is ball shaped, buttery and rich with a hint of orange. The warm cookies are then covered in powdered sugar.

After tinkering with the recipe a bit, I baked my version of “Snowballs” for a family Christmas party and everybody went (okay, I’ll say it) “nuts” for them. A new tradition was born out of necessity. But isn’t that the way most enduring recipes are created?

To me, this “melting pot” cookie recipe is symbolic of my daughters and their heritage. My new version of “Snowballs” keeps a bit of my childhood family tradition and mixes it with the heritage of my husband’s family. The recipe honors my Irish grandmother, and owes part of its success to a Polish grandmother with a Greek cookbook. But most important of all, Christmas for my family may be “nut-free,” but it doesn’t have to be “Snowball-free.”

Nut-Free Snowballs Recipe (Holiday Cookies)
1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for sprinkling on cookies
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
5-6 cups of all-purpose flour

(for a more intense orange flavor, add 1/4 tsp of orange peel)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a standing mixer, beat softened butter until very light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, egg yolk, vanilla and orange juice, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add flour a little at a time until soft dough is formed that can be handled easily. Taking about a teaspoonful at a time, (I use a small ice-cream scoop) roll into a small ball. Place on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes. Roll in powdered sugar while still hot, then sprinkle liberally with powdered sugar when cool.
Makes about 6 dozen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nut Allergies at Thanksgiving: Some Foods to Watch Out For

I know Halloween is still a recent memory, but it's never too early to think about Thanksgiving, arguably the biggest food holiday in the U.S.

Since this is about fall and autumnal foods, tree nuts usually make a strong appearance on many Thanksgiving tables. Just look at any magazine with recipes right now and you'll see things with pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.

One problem for nut allergy sufferers is that many times, tree nuts are a hidden ingredient in foods.

If you are visiting another home for Thanksgiving, you will want to take the time to discuss the menu early. For example, a turkey stuffed with walnut and bread stuffing will not be safe for a nut-allergic person to eat. Can a different stuffing be used--or baked in another home in a separate dish if it absolutely must be served? These are things to think about and negotiate with your friends and relatives well ahead of the holiday.

Here are just a few popular Thanksgiving foods that will have tree nuts as a hidden ingredient:

Turkey Stuffing

Salad dressings (walnut oil, hazelnut oil)


Cranberry relish--one recipe I saw had ground up walnuts


Pie crust--many recipes I've seen for fall pie crusts have ground up walnuts or pecans as an ingredient.

Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy your food, but also to be super careful about what you serve to anyone with severe allergies. It's a great idea to bring your own foods for your child if you just don't think any safe options are available and too much cross contact risk is an issue. If you can, work with the hosts to provide a menu that makes everyone's tummies happy while also being safe.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Food Allergy Fears and How to Manage Them: Allergic Living Magazine

The day after a food-filled holiday like Halloween is a good time to reflect on handling food allergies in a way that makes your child aware, but not fearful.

I love this article from Allergic Living magazine that addresses the fear factor inherent in dealing with food allergies and how parents can manage it.

I know a lot of you are new to nut allergies and you may be wondering how/when to get the point across to your kids. This article gives some helpful advice and great perspective and it shares the philosophy that I have which is to make sure that kids understand the real risk and not be overly concerned about their allergies while still maintaining a healthy respect for them.

I hope we all enjoyed a safe Halloween and I'm sure learned a thing or two about how to make it go more smoothly next year if there were any bumps in the road.

The winter holidays are coming up with their many food challenges so let's take today, at least, to enjoy the relative quiet!