Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sunscreen and Peanut/Tree Nut Allergies

With summer around the corner and some parts of the country already in full sunscreen mode, many of you have questions about what sunscreen is safe for your child with peanut or tree nut allergies. I'm happy to share some of my findings and suggestions with you as we head into the sunny season!

First, an important note: I'm speaking as someone who is not required to avoid coconut or shea butter for my child. Coconut (a tropical fruit, not a nut) has been labeled a tree nut by the FDA, but it's still usually not a problem for tree nut-allergic people. Shea is likewise thought to be low in allergy reactions.

That said, skin care and skin sensitivity tends to be very individual, so please let your own needs be your guide when determining skin care and consult your allergist if you are concerned about any ingredients--food-derived or otherwise. Many ingredients in skin care products can cause hives and rashes that have nothing to do with tree nuts or peanuts. That's why it's so important to know your child's skin and call the doctor if you see any problems.

For more information about either coconut or shea, here are some helpful articles on shea butter and coconut.

Another sunscreen concern that many parents of kids with peanut allergies have is regarding these two ingredients: arachidyl glucoside and arachidyl alcohol. Why? "Arachis" refers to peanut and "arachis oil" and its derivations refer to peanut. If arachidyl glucoside and arachidyl alcohol are in the sunscreen you want to use, I would recommend using something else until you can consult with your allergist. For some people these ingredients might not be a problem and for some people they might. Again, your individual needs will be your guide. In my case, I just avoid anything related to peanut.

Because of my daughter's allergies, I limit the brands we will try, but there are a few brands we've used without problems: some Neutrogena product,  Coppertone Water Babies and Vanicream. Click on each of these links for a list of ingredients; you can also call companies or e-mail them if you need more info.

If you are looking for organic products, the California Baby brand is widely available and a favorite among readers.

Another widely available and popular organic product is the All-Terrain brand. They make sunscreen and insect repellent, but be aware that coconut oil is used. Click the link for the company web site

Note: None of the products mentioned in this article reflect any endorsement of my blog on the part of said products. As with any product mentioned on this blog,the consumer bears responsibility for product choice and usage. If you have any questions about ingredients that are safe for your child, please consult your allergist. Thank you!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Food Allergy Tips for Spring Break!

Lots of you are heading out for Spring Break soon, or maybe you are already contemplating a summer vacation. Food allergies add some stress to travel, but if you plan ahead and know what you're dealing with in advance, you can help things to go much more smoothly.

We've flown and traveled several times with our severely peanut and tree nut-allergic daughter and I've covered this topic quite a bit over the years. The important thing is to use all of the same caution you would use at home. For example, check out the restaurants before heading to your travel destination and do your homework on them so that you have an idea of where to go ahead of time. And if you're heading to a warm climate, take advantage of the outdoors and have picnics! If every meal doesn't have to be in a restaurant, it's always more relaxing (and hey, you might even save some money).

And have your medication on hand at all times and be ready to use it, especially if you haven't dealt with a reaction in awhile. Having your meds on hand is crucial no matter where you are.

I have many more strategies that have worked for my family, so click the links below to read more. And happy, safe travels to you all!

Spring break air travel tips

Dining out tips when you are away from home

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Food Allergy-Friendly Recipe for the March Heat Wave: Pasta with No-Cook Sauce

Are you part of the "March Madness" heat wave that is sweeping the country? If so (or if you are lucky enough to live in a warm climate), I've got a great family recipe to share.

Usually, I don't make this recipe until the summer, but with 86 degree high temps in Chicago today, this is making an early appearance on the family menu.

No-cook pasta sauces taste fresh and delicious and they are SO easy. What more could a busy parent ask for?

Please note that you can alter this recipe to accommodate additional allergies, such as dairy or wheat by using gluten-free pasta and skipping the addition of mozzarella. The combination of fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and basil is so delicious all on its own.

I find that this sauce is a great way to get kids to eat some healthy vegetables (well, tomatoes are officially a fruit, but you know what I mean.) Enjoy this "summer" recipe before the heat wave is over!

Nut-Free Mom's No-Cook Pasta Sauce
About 6 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
Fresh basil leaves to taste (but don't be skimpy, they add so much flavor)
8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed, or boccacini (fresh mozzarella balls), optional
A couple of good dashes of olive oil (I use Colavita)
Dash of wine vinegar (or I sometimes use apple cider vinegar, which can be more appealing to kid palates)
Fresh garlic to taste, 1 or 2 cloves, pressed
1 tsp. fine sea salt (Morton's makes this) or regular salt
Coarse black pepper to taste
Freshly shaved Parmesan to garnish, optional

16 oz. package pasta of your choice--penne is especially nice

Combine all ingredients except pasta in a large bowl and let sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour so that flavors can blend.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, then toss immediately with "sauce" and serve.

Makes 4, good-sized main dish servings.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Food Allergies at School? "Safe" Easter Party Strategies

Spring has sprung and Easter will be here soon, bringing with it more opportunities for parties at some schools.

Based on my own experiences and my own observations at numerous school parties over the years, I have some suggestions about how to make parties safe for everyone, fun for everyone and definitely less stressful for parents, teachers and kids.

1. Speak to your child's teacher now. If your class has a party and wants to include lots of candy, now is the time to discuss it. Don't wait--if you act now you may have a chance to have a positive influence that will make the party more food allergy-friendly.

2. Keep the sweets list simple. If your school absolutely will not be swayed away from serving candy, then ask the teacher if you can supply a very short list of candies that are appropriate for nut allergies (or whatever allergy you are dealing with. This works best if there are not multiple, differing allergies in the classroom). For example, Gimbal's brand jelly beans are free of the top 8 food allergens and available at Walmart. Sweet Tarts candy eggs are safe for nut allergies (but check for other allergens). Other items for my short list include Yummy Earth lollipops (free of top 8 food allergens) and Surf Sweets gummy candies (check their web site for coupons). Smarties candies are always a standby, too--they are free of the Top 8 food allergens. I try to avoid chocolate treats simply because the nut allergy risk is always high for chocolate; calls to companies are usually required, so it's a good idea to keep the chocolate to a minimum for the school parties. (Plus, the kids with dairy allergies have problems with most chocolate, too).

The idea is to limit the choices or it gets too confusing and leaves too much room for error. DO give other parents some direction, though, so that they know what they can bring in, and not just what they can't. Your child's allergies, along with any other allergic classmates, will determine what is appropriate and safe.

3. Emphasize non-edible activities. There is too much food at school and frankly, most teachers are probably not enjoying the sugar buzz that the candy creates in the classroom. What about some fun, creative crafts? Younger kids love to make things! For example, this adorable bunny basket that I found on the web site for Family Fun magazine would make a great class craft for up to 4th grade. (Above that grade, the crafts aren't so appealing to kids, from what I've seen, anyway). Most parenting magazines will have fun kid crafts to do for spring, so ask your child's teacher if you can limit the food to one or two items (or nothing at all during class time) in favor of games and crafts. If you can, it's really helpful to offer your time preparing the crafts or supplying some of the materials.

4. Pool your resources and designate shoppers. Is there a great chance that someone is going to bring in something unsafe if multiple parents are shopping for the party? In my experience, yes, and that creates two problems. One: you now have unusable candy to deal with and screen and two, you are probably going to risk making some parents angry who took the time to buy food that isn't being used. That does not help food allergy parent PR! Instead of sending food, see if you can ask parents to send in a few dollars and then figure out who will shop for the party. Less is more.

5. Try not to segregate the allergic kids. Some schools deal with food allergies by allowing unsafe candy in the classroom and then limiting kids with allergies to designated areas. While I appreciate that they don't want the kids with allergies to come into contact with allergens, hence the segregation, this sends a terrible message to not only the allergic child, but the entire class. Basically, you are telling kids that a specific type of food (that may be eaten at home or any other time) is more important to include than their classmate. If your school tries to do this, please supply them with some of the suggestions I include above such as a short list of candy and non-edible crafts. Having kids with food allergies in the classroom can be a time to teach tolerance to the other kids. But segregating kids says otherwise. Think about it.

What has always worked best for me is lots of communication and being willing to step up and provide food, resources or supplies and/or showing up in the classroom if the teacher needs extra help. Things won't always go the way that we want them to, but by asking for change and advocating for less food-centric parties, you are making things safer for future parties.

What challenges are you facing as school party season heats up once again? What is your approach to parties?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nut-Free St. Patrick's Day Must-Have: Nut-Free Irish Soda Bread!

When you have a peanut or a tree nut allergy, Irish soda bread from the bakery is off-limits due to cross-contact risk, but that's OK because I prefer the wholesome goodness of baking my own.

Here is a link to my St. Patrick's Day post from last year, that included two delish nut-free recipes for soda bread. I hope you enjoy them!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Food Allergy News: The Nut-Free Mom on WBEZ's news magazine "Eight Forty Eight"

It was a beautiful day to be at Navy Pier in Chicago and that's where I was today as a guest at WBEZ, the local Chicago affiliate of National Public Radio. The morning news magazine "Eight Forty-Eight" (named after the Grand Ave. address of the Navy Pier building)featured the topic of food allergies and I was honored to appear as the parent voice for this topic. My daughter Alexandra (pictured above) joined me on my radio adventure.

I want to thank WBEZ for offering me this opportunity to help educate the public about what it's like to parent a child with food allergies. That is truly appreciated. And I was so fortunate to be paired with the knowledgeable and very personable Dr. Steve Handoyo. He explained the scientific side of allergies in an extremely clear and thoughtful manner, so thanks also to Dr. Steve!

Here is the link to the radio show ; you can listen online or download a podcast.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Food Allergy and Summer Camp: Resources for Parents

With spring comes thoughts of summer camp for our kids. But what if they have life-threatening food allergies? Obviously, we are going to have some serious concerns that need to be addressed by the camp, but in many cases our kids can participate.

The photo I share above is of my oldest daughter as a Girl Scout, nearly five years ago. She desperately wanted to attend Girl Scout day camp, a story that I shared here in an essay that I wrote for Allergic Living magazine. (By the way, today is the last day to subscribe to receive the spring issue! I've contributed some food and product info, and there is even an interview with author John Grisham who suffers from food allergies. Subscribe by following this link.)

Like you, I had my doubts and serious concerns. My daughter was only finishing second grade, so she still needed lots of help managing her allergies. Luckily, we had a successful week but I did receive a few phone calls while camp was in session--just one was food allergy related.

Sleepaway camp is not something we've tackled yet, but my daughter would like to. I would approach any camp the same way that I did with her day camp.

First of all, I would suggest that your child not be the pioneer allergic camper unless you can really trust the camp administrators to understand food allergies. I say this because it is really much better if they already have food allergy plans in place, have served allergic campers successfully and have gone through the drills needed to execute an emergency action plan if it were needed. Of course, it's up to you, but one of the deciding factors for me and my husband when we allowed our daughter to attend GS camp was that they had separate forms and contact people for food-allergic campers and a full time EMT at the camp. Plus, the camp was not in an overly remote location--basically, it was not an hour to the nearest hospital. I know, not pleasant to think about but important to know.

Second, what is the food service situation? If day camp, can your child bring their own food and who will take care of it for them? Can you be given a menu so that you can anticipate any food allergy problems in advance? If a sleepaway camp, are the cooking staff trained in food allergy management and do they know about cross-contact issues? Do they know how to provide an allergic camper a safe meal? Try to speak to the people who do the actual cooking.

Also, does the camp serve peanut butter to campers and if so, how do they protect the allergic kids? For example, do they offer separate eating areas and is handwashing enforced before and after lunch?

Third, what do they do with the epinephrine auto-injectors? Where are they stored, can your camper carry one and who knows how to use them?

If at all possible, I highly recommend a nut-free camp for those dealing with life-threatening nut allergies. There are more of these than you think. I was a co-host at a live online chat at The Motherhood last year with Lori Sandler of the awesome Divvies (famous nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free treats) that discussed summer camp, parties and play dates. Lori invited some wonderful leaders of camp associations to attend and they had some terrific resources and advice. You can click here to see the transcript/summary of that chat.

The bottom line is that you have to do your homework before giving the OK to any camp. Check out food service, the available emergency medical care, common camp activities (for example, are they big on art projects involving food?) and investigate the training given to the camp staff. Discuss these things in person if possible, but don't rely on e-mail alone. An initial phone call is helpful, too. I've found that it's important to have an actual conversation with the staff because you get a better opportunity to determine their comfort level with your questions and concerns.

Your child's age and responsibility level is also a key factor. For me, sleepaway camp is better for the older kids, since we can usually count on them to be more self-sufficient at managing their allergies.

You're the best judge to decide if your food-allergic child is ready for camp, but for those of you who have taken the plunge, how did it go for you? Any advice for newbie campers out there?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Food Allergies and "Safe" Activities: How Do You Decide?

One of the most frequent questions I hear from parents of kids with food allergies and peanut allergy, especially, is whether or not a certain activity is "safe" for their child. It stands to reason: Peanut residue (and tree nut, too, if you've got that concern as my family does), is all around us and often in the spots where you'd like to bring your kids. Events like the circus, baseball games, arena sporting events (like basketball or football), concerts, indoor playgrounds at the shopping mall -- just about every place you can think of might have a significant amount of allergen in the environment.

As parents, we might wonder: what are we supposed to do with this information? We can't keep our kids away from anything and most of us don't want to do that. This is one reason I'm so glad to see more and more baseball teams offering "peanut allergy-friendly" sections or "peanut-free" baseball games. Since peanuts are tradition at baseball, limiting them in certain sections takes a huge weight off parent's shoulders, especially those of us who've watched their child have a reaction during a regular game.

First, the bad news about nut allergies and whether or not to do something: this is not a question with a one-size-fits-all answer. I still struggle with it, depending on the activity or event. For one thing, a child's age and awareness of their allergy will play a role; so will their level of sensitivity to an allergen. If you have a child who is extremely sensitive, you might not even ask yourself if you can do something involving a lot of the allergen; you just don't do it. For example, with all of the peanuts everywhere, we don't feel comfortable bringing our daughter to a baseball game without a peanut-free section, especially at an outdoor field where weather, wind and peanut dust blowing around in the air is a strong possibility.(Be sure to ask your allergists about your particular situation; everyone is different.)

The event itself is a factor, too. How big of a role does an allergen play in this activity?Sometimes that will decide it if for you.

Now the good news: most of the time, you can find a way around allergies and do the activities you and your kids enjoy. And for the things you can't do or don't feel good about doing--it's OK. Your kids can still have an awesome, full and happy childhood.

I think it's important for parents to give themselves a break when it comes to dealing with food allergies. While it's important to find ways to do things that kids really want to do, we shouldn't feel like we have to take heroic measures to do every single thing. I mean, let's face it: even without food allergies, most kids can't do every single thing they'd like to do.

I remember when my daughter was first diagnosed with severe allergies at age 4. We found out in a very scary way--anaphylaxis following one bite of a peanut butter sandwich.

At the time, my daughter was in preschool and was beginning to get invited to birthday parties. Tea parties for the girls were big that year, held in special venues that catered to little kids. Of course, the main focal point of these parties was, you guessed it, food. Lots of unsafe food. Baked goods galore, sweets, sandwiches with PB & J...you get the picture.

I got pretty good at deciding what parties we would go to and which ones we wouldn't. I'd ask a few questions. Was my daughter really excited about this party or person? Would she be devastated if she didn't go? If she did go, would it be worth it to send in basically an entire menu of separate food and then still be concerned someone would give her the wrong thing?

When my daughter was four, I also had a toddler and limited outside childcare (aka, grandparents, sitters), so I think that decided a lot of it for me, too. I couldn't drag my little one to every party and drive myself crazy trying to keep an eye on her and make sure anaphylaxis didn't happen, too. So we skipped a few parties if we really didn't know the hosts, I saved myself some stress, and yet my daughter still had a good time at the things she did attend. And I've found that most of the time, yes, you can do the things your kids want to do. But if not, don't worry. They will be fine.

So much of dealing with a first diagnosis of food allergies is just getting your mind around the lifestyle changes and challenges. You will find your own way of deciding how to do what's most important to you, but don't beat yourself up if you think you'll fall short by not doing everything and going everywhere. Some places and things will feel more "right" to you than others will and that's OK.

If you decide to go someplace like the circus or a hands-on children's museum where cross-contact might be a problem, it's a good idea to approach with the understanding that you might have to leave early. Have your hand wipes, medication, food from home and everything else you need, but be aware that you might want to cut the event short if you feel your child is having a problem with allergies. Sometimes you just won't know unless you try (and of course managing risk in the first place is important). For those of you new to nut allergies, I talk about all of this and more in my new e-book: "The New Nut-Free Mom."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Nut-Free Candy New: Amanda's Own Confections (Dairy-Free, Egg-Free and Gluten-Free, Too!)

Already stressed about filling your Easter basket with delicious but nut-free Easter candy? Stress no more. My kids and I recently had the opportunity to try the sweet and allergy-friendly treats from Amanda's Own Confections, a wonderful company that produces dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free and gluten-free chocolates and candies. Besides Easter candy, they've got an array of items for birthday parties, St. Patrick's Day, first communion and much more.

I'm always happy to pass on information about companies that are diligent in providing delicious candy that also adheres to nut-free (and other allergy-friendly) standards. It just makes life so much easier when we know that the allergy work has been done for us already. Then we can just sit back and watch our kids enjoy some yummy treats without the worry. Note: Be sure to save some of this delicious dark chocolate for yourself. Studies show that dark chocolate has health benefits for adults. Just sayin'.

What about soy? Here's what Amanda's Own says on their website: "Our chocolate contains soy lecithin, however, the soy protein has been removed." Check with your doctors about soy lecithin if that is a concern for you.

And here is some more information on the company's allergen-free facility: "Our suppliers have certifications from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stating that their facilities are dairy-free, peanut-free, tree nut-free, egg-free, gluten-free and sesame-free.There are no other products in our facility, so there is NO chance for any cross contamination from any other food allergens."

My kids loved the cute shapes and delicious deep dark chocolates we were given as samples, but the company also makes jelly beans and other nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free treats.

Best of all, Amanda's Own Confections are available in quite a few stores! Click the link for a store locator, or if it works better for you, you can order online.

FTC Note: Author was given food samples but no other compensation.