Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nut-Free Candy Corn Cookies for Halloween!

Candy corn shortbread cookies.
Last week, I talked about options for nut-free candy corn. Here's a link to that blog post if you would like to learn more about where to find nut-free candy corn.

This week, it's all about candy corn cookies! Made out of a simple shortbread dough that is nut-free and egg-free (and can be dairy-free if you use dairy-free margarine), you can create sliceable refrigerator cookies that resemble a kernel of candy corn. A lot of you were asking for egg-free candy corn and I haven't been able to find any.You might be able to make these egg-free cookies work instead!

I use this type of dough to make my youngest daughter's favorite short bread cookies, simply cut into squares, but as long as you keep it well-chilled, this dough is very easy to cut out and/or mold into whatever shape you want.

The great thing about this shortbread dough is its versatility. For example, to make a different candy corn shortbread, skip the food coloring, roll out the dough in to a rectangle and cut into triangle shapes. You can then make a simple confectioner's sugar icing, color it with food coloring and voila. Iced candy corn shortbread cookies.

Another use for this rich shortbread dough is to make round cookies with a nut-free candy corn in the center. Simply roll the finished dough into 1-inch balls, criss-cross with a fork to flatten slightly, then bake. While still hot from the oven, gently but firmly place a nut-free candy corn piece into the center of the cookie.

Now for the refrigerator cookies pictured above. These are surprisingly easy to make and they are definitely a great lunch box or party treat!

Candy Corn Shortbread Cookies


3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
(if using unsalted butter, add a tiny pinch of salt to the dough with the flour)
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
Yellow food coloring
Red food coloring
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with an electric mixer (Kitchen Aid or electric beaters) on medium speed until well combined. Add vanilla extract, then stir in flour.

When dough is well combined, divide into 6 equal parts. Take 3 parts dough and knead until it comes together. To this dough add yellow and red food coloring until the dough takes on a bright orange hue. (Add more yellow and less red to start, then add more if needed). I placed the dough back into the Kitchen Aid added the food coloring in order to mix the color quickly and thoroughly. Remove orange dough from mixer and set aside.

Next combine 2 parts dough and add several drops of yellow food coloring to make a bright yellow dough. Set aside.

You will be left with one part dough; leave that one its natural color.

Next, put out a large sheet of plastic wrap on the counter. Pat the orange dough into a rectangle about 9 x 2 inches and 3/4 inch thick. Use a ruler to make sure you have this measurement.

Take the yellow dough and pat it out into a slightly smaller rectangle than the orange dough, about 1/2 inch thick and 9 x 3/4 inches. Center the yellow dough on the orange dough.

Roll remaining plain-colored dough into a 9 inch roll, about 3/4 inches in diameter. Place this in the center of the yellow rectangle. Using plastic wrap and a spatula to create as even lines as possible, form the dough into a triangle shape so that it will look like candy corn when sliced. This is what it should look like:

Wrap the dough in plastic and chill until firm, a couple of hours. You can speed this up by placing in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut dough into about 1/4 inch thick slices. Place 1-inch apart on cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until set. (Test for doneness by pressing your finger gently on the cookie; no imprint should remain.)

Be careful not to over bake. You don't want these to brown at all.

Remove from cookie sheet and place on wire rack to cool. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Nut Allergy at School: A Sample Note from the Teacher

In my experience with elementary school, it's a good idea to let the parents of your child's classmates know about food allergies in the classroom. This not only helps reduce the incidence of unwanted and allergenic foods making their way into the classroom for parties and other events, but it also gives parents an idea of why this is happening and why the policy was instituted. The more the school backs you up on this, the better. Plus, some kids' Individual Health Plans or 504 Plans include a policy of reducing  or eliminating certain foods in the classroom.
Some teachers like to issue a letter at the start of the school year. Others may issue reminder notes before class parties or events. Our daughter's elementary school teachers have done this and it's been very helpful.

The note does not have to be long or filled with medical detail. Keep it informative, but also short, sweet and to the point. Notes don't solve everything, and I know parents get a lot of notes sent home that they disregard. But the benefit of the teacher issuing a note shows parents that this is policy and just part of the class rules.

Here is a sample note from the teacher alerting classmates’ parents to the presence of nut allergies in the classroom. Despite the fact that most elementary schools in the U.S. are not nut-free throughout the school, many classrooms strive to be nut-free in order to reduce additional risk from foods. This letter reflects that type of policy.
For every teacher who helps keep our kids safe and healthy during the school day, THANK YOU!
Sample Note to Parents from Your Child’s Teacher

Dear Parents,

This year we have students in our 4th grade class with severe allergies to peanuts and/or tree nuts. Because of the seriousness of this allergy, we are asking you to refrain from sending peanut or tree nut products to school for snacks or class parties. 

Your child is still able to eat what they like in the lunch room, where a peanut-free table will be available for allergic students or students who have not brought nut products with them that day. However, due to shared computer equipment and art supplies in the classroom, as well as the ease with which food residue is transferred from one student to the other, we would like to keep our classroom “nut-free.” 

Our goal is to make school a safe place for all of our students. We appreciate your cooperation and understanding. If you have any questions, please contact (your child’s teacher). For a great source of food allergy information, visit www.faiusa.org.


Your Teacher’s Name
What about your school? Do they issue a note or reminders about not bringing in certain foods?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Food Allergy Halloween News: Crazy for Nut-Free Candy Corn!

A and J Bakery nut-free and gluten-free candy corn.
It's a bestseller, so order yours quickly!
For a lot of people, candy corn looks and tastes like the essence of Halloween. Folks seem to either love it or hate it...but most love it. I know that my kids love it and I do too, especially as a decoration for cakes, cookies and cupcakes. In recent years, it's been hard for me to find nut-free candy corn that I could safely hand out to my kids at Halloween time. Most candy corn seems to carry peanut and/or tree nut allergy warnings, such as the Brach brand, which is widely available but off-limits to the nut-allergic.

Because I need both peanut-free and tree nut-free candy corn, my choices were a bit limited, but I did find two companies that are meeting the nut-free candy corn challenge head on. First up is the awesome A and J Bakery in Rhode Island. This nut-free bakery sells their signature nut and gluten-free candy corn each year both in their store and online. A and J candy corn is made with real honey and the dedicated nut-free facility is an added bonus for me. I ordered mine last week and can't wait to try it! Be sure to order early. Apparently, this is a sell-out item each year well in advance of Halloween. In fact, if you look at Peanut Free Planet right now, they say it is sold out on their site.
Go directly to A and J Bakery web site to order yours.

Next, I found Sunrise Brand Candy Corn. The facility is nut-free, but this brand of candy corn was recalled for milk and sulfites last July. It is available at Peanut Free Planet and check your local grocery stores. Dollar Tree stores have it, too. Check out this post from Food Allergy Buzz, a trusted source, about Sunrise Candy Corn. The Peanut-Free Planet link above has more info about Sunrise facilities, too.
Sunrise foods candy corn. Check your local stores for
this brand or order online.

Some of us might be looking for peanut-free only and not tree nut-free. Jelly Belly sells peanut-free candy corn but it is NOT tree nut free, as it is produced on the same lines with tree nut products. While Jelly Belly has gone peanut-free in recent years, it is NOT a tree nut-free company. Look at this post from Smart Allergy. If you have further questions about Jelly Belly, please contact them directly.
Grocery stores and pharmacies sometimes sell candy corn under their private label brands, and they rarely contain allergy info. If they DO say "peanut-free" be sure to double check that they are also tree nut-free if that is a concern for you. Some private label store brand candy corn may be safe for you, while others might be produced on the same lines with candy containing peanuts or tree nuts, rendering these candies unsafe due to cross-contact risk. For example, last year I contacted CVS and found out that their candy corn is produced on lines with chocolate covered peanuts--a fact not included on the label. (Companies must only list ingredients, not production info.)
And now, I've got to mention the latest Oreo flavor to hit the shelves: Candy Corn Oreos.

I am sorry to say, I can't find them anywhere in my area as they have apparently SOLD OUT at some local stores. But I hope some of you can find them and I will keep looking. These are golden Oreos with yellow and orange filling. With any Oreo product, read the label carefully for nut allergy warnings. So far, the new "limited-edition" "basic" Oreo flavors I have seen have not had nut allergy warnings. Nabisco will mark for "may contains" so please read the labels and call the company directly if you have further questions.

One more thing: the beautiful foodie blog Sugarcrafter has a recipe for homemade candy corn. If you have the time and desire to make this recipe, let us know! She did an amazing job with these.

I have a candy corn-inspired goody or two up my sleeve for upcoming blog posts, so be sure to come back soon.

NOTE: You are the best judge of what is safe for your family. Please do your own research on any products mentioned here to make sure that it fits your allergy needs. Thanks for reading this blog!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Teaching Kids To Manage Peanut and Tree Nut Allergies

Make sure your kids know what to avoid by
 showing them what allergens look like.

With school in full swing and food-centric holidays and events a constant reality, now is an excellent time to think about how well your child is able to advocate for himself with regard to food allergies. Obviously, very young children need lots of help, protection and direction. But as kids get older, you can begin incorporating some of the responsibility for managing allergies into their routine.
Each child’s own maturity will dictate much of your approach, but it’s never too early to start teaching kids how to protect themselves. It’s not often talked about and sometimes it’s uncomfortable to think about, but your child can be the first line of defense in any attempt at preventing a severe allergic reaction. It's important to have your child's school and caregivers on board, but don't forget the most important person: your child.
Teach them to be their own best advocates.
Your approach will vary according to age and maturity. For younger kids you can start by showing them what the allergens look like and what they need to avoid.  Does your child know what a peanut or a tree nut looks like? Make sure they know and understand, by showing them pictures of these items and discussing them, and be ready for some funny questions.
A friend of mine showed her 3-year-old nut-allergic son some pictures of peanuts and told him to avoid them if he saw them. Later that night, she was pulling a pan of baked potatoes out of the oven and he said “Why are you and Dad eating those big giant peanuts?” As much as we chuckled about his question, her son had  a point — baked potatoes DO kind of look like peanuts, especially if you are a little kid trying to do the right thing. So be sure to review the foods that are safe and how to tell the difference.
My daughter was served a pizza while on vacation a few years ago and despite the fact that we spoke extensively with the restaurant before ordering it, when it arrived she told me it didn't look right. She said "Mom, I think there are pine nuts on the pizza." Sure enough--there they were. (Pine nuts are considered a tree nut and those with tree nut allergies should avoid them according to most allergists). At first the pine nuts looked like slivers of garlic, so she had a sharp eye! Her ability to know a pine nut's appearance prevented her from eating the pizza and we were able to avoid a potential reaction. 
Kids are offered food constantly
It seems like no matter where you go, kids are being offered food — at the supermarket deli, bakery, dentist, your place of worship, even the pediatrician. Use these instances to teach your child to say “No” to any unknown foods, politely but firmly. When my daughter was younger, I liked to carry a few safe treats around in my bag for those times she had to refuse an unsafe food. It is nice reinforcement that, no, you might not be able to have that cookie, but here is a cookie you can have
School, daycare and friends’ homes are other places where there will be a high probability that food will be offered. Allowing your kids to see that food allergy management is just a part of your daily life and normal experience will show kids that it’s OK to refuse foods if they aren’t sure about them. To help kids deal with having to say no to foods, it's always a good idea to carry safe snacks and/or to provide the play date treats. Another that helps: directing kids' interaction away from food and more towards playtime. In the end, teaching kids that fun with friends doesn't always have to focus on food can only be good for their general health. Silver lining, yes!
Adults need a boost, too.
It's not always easy to be the gatekeeper and instructor in the very important role of teaching a child to manage life-threatening peanut and/or tree nut allergies. Check out the following resources:
Beyond a Peanut educational flashcards -- great for all ages, caregivers, kids, parents, relatives and friends.
The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Nut-Allergic Child -- my e-book is a guide for parents facing nut allergies and it's filled with support, practical advice and encouragement.
Supermarket finds-- one of my recent blog posts features nut-free foods found on the store shelves(always read the labels; things can change.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Food Allergy-Friendly Snacks: Fruit and Veg with Two Dips!

Sunflower fruit dip..tastes kind of like a caramel apple.
Back to school time has me thinking about healthy snacks and treats. And lately, I've had many reader questions about processed foods and which ones are safe for nut allergies. (See my previous post for some nut-free suggestions.)

However, with food labels largely inconsistent and requiring additional research (and processed foods filled with so many unwanted additions like chemicals and hydrogenated oils), it's easier and healthier for us to turn to simple, whole fresh foods for snacks and treats. But then there's that age-old parental question: how do you get kids to eat the good stuff?

In the toddler and preschool years, my way to encourage fruits and veggies was with dips and creative plating. Now, I'm no food stylist (and I've got the pictures to prove it) but it's amazing how a little "playing with their food" will encourage a kid to eat healthfully. The other thing that works wonders is dips and dunks for the fruits and veggies. Kids love to dip and dunk their food, so let 'em have at it with these two dip recipes I'm sharing here.

The fruit dip recipe that follows is based on one given to me by a book club friend--she used peanut butter. I replaced this with SunButter, but if that work for you, another really good dip is Greek yogurt with honey swirled in. Can't have dairy yogurt? I've seen more non-dairy yogurts popping up in my local grocery stores lately. One more thing about yogurt: I prefer Greek yogurt and it's pretty easy to find these days. If you can't find it or don't have it on hand, you can create a thicker, creamier yogurt by draining plain yogurt in a coffee filter set inside a strainer. Strain over a bowl in the fridge and discard liquid whey that collects on the bottom.

SunFlower Dip
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup SunButter sunflower seed spread (or to taste)
3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey, or sweetened to taste
For serving: crisp apples cut into slices.  Bananas are another good pairing
with this, but whatever fruit your child enjoys is great.
Whisk the first three ingredients together until fully combined. Spoon into the
middle of the plate or into a small ramekin (shown in the photo). Arrange the apple slices
around the dip in the center of the plate in a flower shape. Watch the fruit and dip disappear!
Cover any leftover portion of the dip; it will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

The following herb veggie dip is based on a Greek yogurt and cucumber dip my family loves. If your kids don't mind a little texture, some unseeded English cucumber grated into this dip is awesome! Even if you don't incorporate cukes into this, they are great served with the dip on the side. Use my recipe as a template depending on your child's palate and tastes. You are basically jazzing up plain yogurt so that it tastes more like ranch dressing--only healthier.

Herb Veggie Flower Dip

It's not Picasso on the plate, but it gets them eating their veggies!

1 cup plain Greek yogurt
Minced garlic or garlic powder to taste
 (go easy on the garlic for younger palates)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 shredded cucumber, well drained (optional)
Fresh or dried dill
Fresh minced parsley (optional)
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and let sit for about half an hour in the refrigerator to let flavors develop. Serve with your child's favorite veggies, or if you are feeling energetic, arrange a celery stalk and baby carrots as show above. (Tip: Little kids seem to really like this presentation). Cover and refrigerator any leftover dip; it will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Nut-Free Lunch Box Ideas: Spotted on the Shelves

GoGoSqueez (TM) Applesauce on the Go
Looks like it might be getting easier to find nut-free lunch foods at the supermarket. In the past few weeks during my back to school food-shopping frenzy, I've found a growing number of items aimed at kids that are both healthier from a sugar/fat perspective as well as being marked "nut-free." Sometimes these foods are free of other allergens and gluten, too. They are all well-marked to say nut-free or they mention what allergens they DO contain. This approach makes it SO MUCH easier to determine if a food gets the "nut-free" nod for your child's lunch so I hope this trend continues.
First up, I found, "GoGo SqueeZ" (TM) applesauce snacks (pictured above) at SuperTarget. They are marked as "Gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free" on the packaging and the containers are BPA-free. The packaging is squeezeable and resealable for eating on the go (and less waste) and it comes in many delicious flavors like applesauce berry and applesauce with cinnamon. (Please note that this product has a small cap, which may make these unsuitable for younger children.)

Also at SuperTarget (and exclusively sold there) I discovered Quaker School Days(TM) Chewy(R) Granola Bars. Up until now, granola bars from Quaker have not been safe due to the nut allergy warnings on the box. According to the Quaker Oats FAQs page, the company will mark if there is a risk of trace amounts or peanuts or tree nuts in their foods. These contain no such warning and in fact, the box calls out the allergens in very large print. Please be aware that the bars contain wheat, milk and soy ingredients. If you don't have to avoid these allergens, then these might be a great nut-free choice for your child's lunch. The bars come in two flavors -- Apple and Berry -- and at $2 for an 8-bar box, the price is pretty good.

Large print comes in handy here--no need for a magnifying glass as with some labels.
Quaker Chewy (R) School Days (TM) Granola Bars
Next, I found a ready-to-eat meal series of lunches called "Go Picnic(R)." One big warning on this one: These lunches are gluten-free, vegan and kosher, so there is only one lunch that is "nut-free," the SunButter and Crackers meal. What I like about this meal is that each item is individually wrapped, so there is not a cross-contact risk even though the company makes other lunches with nut items.
Everything from Go Picnic (R) is individually wrapped, so there is no cross-contact issue.

The SunButter(R) and Crackers meal we purchased feautured a small squeeze container of labeled SunButter (so everyone sees that it is not peanut butter), multi-grain crackers, fruit leather and two items from Enjoy Life Foods(R) -- No Nuts Seed & Fruit Mix and Double Chocolate Crunchy Cookies. The item pictured above has fruit bites, so please check the labels if you  see fruit bites included. For the box I picked up, the only Top 8 allergen listed was soy because of the SunButter -- it may contain trace amounts of soy.

Next up, I am so excited to share that Skeeter Snacks peanut-free and tree nut-free cookies are now available in many stores and will soon be in many more states. Some of you have told me that they are available at stores in your area including Costco and Walmart.
You'll find Skeeter (TM) in a growing number of stores (and ask your store to carry them if they don't already).

Check their website for a store locator or order online. These crunchy cookies are made in a nut-free facility and they come in three flavors--Chocolate Chunk, Oatmeal and Skeeterdoodle (a take on the snickerdoodle cinnamon cookie). We are big fans of these cookies; be advised they are nut-free only. Skeeter Snacks will be handing out cookie samples at the huge upcoming FAAN Walk this weekend in Houston, so if you are planning on attending the Houston FAAN Walk, say hello to the Skeeter folks for me!

Surf Sweets gummy candies..so many varieties to tuck into a lunch box.

Finally, if you are looking for a truly tasty and all-natural sweet treat for your kids, you can find Surf Sweets at Whole Foods and a growing number of stores. These tasty organic gummies are made in a nut-free facility and they never fail to please. Be sure to check out their fabulous seasonal gummies such as Spooky Spiders, coming up for Halloween and their every-popular Gummy Worms.

Anyone else have some supermarket finds to share?

Please note: These items were chosen for their nut-free status, but the consumer should do their own checking as manufacturing practices may change. Not all of the foods may work for your family due to additional allergies or other reasons, so please check the labels on each food and ask your allergist/call the companies directly if you have further questions about these products and their appropriateness for your situation. Thanks!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Food Allergy and School: Love for the Peanut-Free Table

Nut-free or not nut-free...table. That is the question facing

many school-aged kids with allergies.
If your school-aged child is severely allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, or both, you've probably been offered (or maybe you've asked for) a nut-free or peanut-free lunch table. Our current school district recently went one step further to offer an "allergy-free table" that addresses multiple food allergies. Since these tables are frequently part of a child's 504 plan or Individual Health Plan, they are likely to continue cropping up at an increasing number of schools.

In general, though, it's usually a peanut or nut-free table being talked about at school. If your school is offering you this option, that is a sign that they are taking allergies seriously which is a very good thing. Unfortunately, the peanut-free table has gotten a bit of a stigma. Some of the common objections: nobody wants to sit there, it's punishment for having allergies, kids are isolated and alone, it's not the "real world" way of doing things, etc.

Please believe: I do understand why some of us might have that perspective, but as a parent whose child has used and benefited from a nut-free table, I want to reassure parents that it doesn't have to be that way. Especially in the younger grades, when kids are not as able to manage their own allergies, a nut-free table can provide a safe place to eat during the school day. For the "real world" objectors, I also am a strong proponent of helping kids live in the real world. But the fact is, in the real world, they can get up and move if allergens are presenting a problem for them. Not so in most schools with strict seating and behavior policies.

In particular, I want us to remember why these tables are being offered in the first place: to provide allergic kids with a clean, allergen-free place to enjoy their midday meal that reduces the risk of exposing them to a potentially dangerous allergic reaction.

From a social point of view, the table should be open to non-allergic kids who have brought an allergy-friendly lunch. Encourage your child to ask his or her friends to join them. Seriously, most kids are so used to the "free-from table" concept that they happily accompany their buddies to this table. If you are not finding this to be true for you, ask your child's teacher for some help in bringing kids to the table to join your child.

One day I asked my youngest (no food allergies) where she sat at lunch that day and she said "I tried to sit with my friend at the nut-free table, but it was full." This turned out to be a common occurrence--so many kids wanted to sit with the friends who had nut allergies, that they ended up having to take turns. I know that this doesn't always happen, but most kids will not want to sit apart from their good friends and will want to join them at lunch, no matter what table it is.

An alternative to an entire nut-free table that we were provided with at our previous elementary school was an "allergy-free zone." This was an assigned seat for the kids with allergies, usually at or near the end of a table. Only kids with cafeteria lunches (nut-free) or those without nut products sat in or near this zone. Because they had ample lunchroom supervision, this worked really well for my daughter. She still got to sit with her class and friends, but she was not plopped in the middle of a group of kids eating PB & J, something she felt uncomfortable about due to the severity of her allergy.

Today, I asked a local expert -- my daughter -- what she thought about nut-free tables in elementary school and if there was anything she thought parents needed to know about them. (Since she's sat at a nut-free table or in a "nut-free zone" of the cafeteria her entire school career up until now, I hope you will agree she's probably an expert on this topic.) She brought up some good points. She told me that as long as she could bring a couple of friends to the nut-free table, she definitely preferred sitting there at lunch for peace of mind. She told me she can't really enjoy her food if she's worried about cross-contact, which can result in an accidental ingestion.

However, there have been some struggles and she emphasized to me that everyone needed to know about the table and the rules for the table. That includes all the lunchtime supervisors and the kids, too, so that everyone understood that a few friends could sit at the allergy-free table provided they had a "safe" lunch and that the table would be reserved "allergy-table" use only. (A sign on the table itself proved helpful in this case.)

No one should be forced to sit at a specific table and every parent and child will have to make the decision about what seating option works the best for them and their situation. Work with your school to find the best solution. Based on our family's experience with the "nut-free" table, I've found that like most things in life, this table is what you make of it. If you view it as a safe place for a child to eat lunch and a way to reduce allergy risk so that they can get on with their school day, there is a good chance your child just might view it positively as well.