Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Happy Nut-Free Holidays! Tips for Navigating Holiday Parties, Baking Resources, Class Parties and More!

Have a sweet holiday by planning ahead for
potential food allergy pitfalls.
We're in the heart of the holiday season and if you have kids with food allergies, that can mean extra stress. Everything from holiday parties to visiting Santa at the mall takes on a new dimension when dealing with life-threatening nut allergies, but you don't have to let food allergies stand in the way of enjoying the holidays! True, food is everywhere but if you plan ahead and are prepared for it, you can keep the allergic family members healthy and happy and best of all, keep yourself healthy and happy.

If you are just starting out with severe nut allergies, finding a balance can sound impossible, especially dealing with holiday parties. Take a deep breath, realize you can't do it all and then check out my best tips for a nut-free, stress-free holiday including advice on navigating holiday parties.

Here's one tip I didn't include in that post but realize I should have. When you attend a cookie exchange, potluck, or really any holiday party with food of unknown origin, I do not recommend the following: asking everyone in the room whether or not the food has nuts in it as a basis for evaluating whether or not you should feed it to your allergic kiddo.

Why? Because, even if the food doesn't have nuts in it, cross-contact could have occurred during the cooking/baking process. Or the cook or baker could have used ingredients that have a cross-contact warning. Or the cook/baker's kitchen might have a lot of the allergen present and cross-contact can occur that way. Or one of the kids could have eaten peanut butter and stuck their finger in the batter when Mom or Dad or Grandma wasn't looking.

I could go on, but I think you probably get the gist: you have no way of knowing if a food is safe if it's unlabeled and made in another kitchen where the family does not deal with allergies. I know it's hard but it's best to avoid these home baked items of unknown origin.
What if Santa is giving out candy?

Recently, a reader wrote to me regarding how to deal with Santa at the mall when he's handing out candy and such after the kids visit him. This is a tough one because kids believe that Santa knows everything about them, so why would he give them unsafe candy?

Ideally, you have taught or are in the process of teaching kids to question any candy they get -- even if given to them by a trusted adult. Santa is no exception and you can tell the kids that he is very busy and occasionally makes a mistake. If your child gets candy from Santa and you can't determine if it's safe or not (for example, it has no label), one thing you can do is to immediately switch it with something from your own pocket. If your child questions you, you can say, "Oh, Santa gave you the wrong thing by mistake. One of his elves gave me this candy. I checked it and it's safe for you." Or whatever works for your situation -- you're a parent, I'm sure you're creative.

A lot of us will be baking, so if you have vanilla extract questions? Click here for baking tips and ingredients info. For those of you with general baking questions, this post has some thoughts for those without allergies who want to bake for us, while this post is geared to the families personally dealing with nut allergies.

Need nut-free Christmas dessert recipe ideas? This archived post has some good ones, plus check out my Pinterest board, "Christmas Sweets (Nut-Free)."

For some general advice on nut allergies and the holidays, check out these 6 excellent tips from SunButter sunflower seed spread: they quoted me and shared some of my fave tips for parents.

Looking for nut-free candy finds at the supermarket? Here are some that you will see on store shelves.

School parties this week? Click this link for an article about food allergies and school parties that I wrote for Chicago Parent magazine.

Please feel free to share your holiday solutions in the comments below. All best wishes for a very happy holiday season!

For more parent-to-parent advice on successfully navigating nut allergies, click here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nut-Free for the Holidays: Hershey's Nut-Free Chocolate Options plus Nut-Free Holiday Food Resources!

If you're dealing with nut allergies at the Christmas holidays, you've come to the right place. Today, I'm featuring one of my favorite annual posts: nut-free candy, supermarket finds and online retailers specializing in nut-free goodies. Here's to a peanut-free and tree nut-free Christmas!

One question that I get a lot is: Is Hershey's chocolate nut-free? The good news first: a lot of it is. Hershey is a company that will label for any and all cross-contact risk. While not all of it is safe for those with peanut and tree nut allergies, you will be able to tell by reading the label: they list it. If you do NOT see a "may contains" warning or something similar, then, according to my numerous conversations with Hershey, the product is safe for you to use.

That being said: read each label carefully (for any product!). Here's an archived post all about Hershey brand chocolates; the post includes the company web site and phone number if you need more info on any of their products. I always encourage people to do their own research as we don't all share the same allergy issues, but in general, Hershey is one of the best-labeled food brands out there.

Pictured above are a holiday favorite: Hershey-ettes. I often use those to decorate our homemade gingerbread house and they make a fun stocking stuffer.

Likewise, the Tootsie Roll company is well-labeled and all of their items are made in a peanut-free, tree nut-free, gluten-free facility. Besides Tootsie pops, rolls and those types of candies, the company makes Andes brand mints and baking bits -- peppermint and chocolate mint, both perfect for holiday baking at this time of year.

Here are some more of my favorite allergy-friendly companies. Below you'll find nut-free candies, raw ingredients, bakeries and treats, many of which I'm happy to have as sponsors of this site. Best of all, many of these resources are online for super-easy shopping -- no fighting through crowds, bad weather or traffic!

From a company based in Chicago, these all-natural organic gummies are free of the top 10 food allergens and they are now available in a fun "holiday mix" that I intend to use as decor for my Christmas baking. These would also be a great stocking stuffer!

These delicious gourmet chocolates are safe for peanut and tree nut allergies and they make great stuff year round, but their Christmas and other holiday items are especially wonderful. Great holiday shapes, baking chocolate, hot chocolate, gourmet truffles and new this year, hot chocolate mix and Advent calendars. Our Christmas is not complete without some caramel pretzel bark and some Santa-shaped chocolates. They also make a nut-free "M & M" type candy called "Skippers" which is one of my daughter's favorite nut-free candies.

Based out of Portland, Maine, this craft chocolatier is NUT-FREE and creates simply delicious, sophisticated chocolates. You can stop into their storefront shop if you're lucky enough to live nearby, otherwise, order seasonal and unique chocolate truffles online. I've received these chocolates as a gift and they are incredible. For the adult with allergies or the parent of a child with allergies who doesn't want any nut allergens in the house, these a  great gift of self-indulgence. 
(Unfortunately ;) ), my kids love them too.

A top 8 allergen-free facility, with great options including popular seasonal candy canes and starlight mints (though the starlights need to be ordered in bulk. Good for parties, though!) You can find these pretty much anywhere -- we love them.

They have great seasonal mixes, are all-natural and delicious with really creative flavors. You can find Gimbal's at Walmart and many other supermarkets. Top 8 allergen-free, gluten-free too!

You can order these delicious cookies online, but Skeeter Snacks nut-free treats are increasingly found in stores like Walgreens, CostCo and Toys R Us, so be on the lookout! All the great flavors are here and they use wholesome "real" ingredients, but in a dedicated peanut-free and tree nut-free facility. If you're looking for a nut-free cookie to share with a group, these won't break the bank either. They've got lots of fun ideas like edible crafts and decorating on their Pinterest page.

More help for the holidays:

If you need advice on navigating nut allergies, family parties and have general questions about dealing with nut allergies (as many of us do, especially during the holidays), check out my e-book. Available on Amazon and also Barnes and Noble, this is a reliable resource for your many questions and concerns.

Nut-free bakeries

For the bakeries below: Order now if you need baked goods for the holidays! Many of these bakeries are getting booked, so make that call now if you need something. :)

This is a fabulous nut-free local bakery that offers pickup and delivery of custom creations, or you can now find Nutphree's cupcakes in Mariano's grocery stores in the Chicago area. They make beautiful cupcakes and layer cakes, so don't wait if you need something for the holidays. Recently they created gorgeous custom cakes for my daughter's school cast party (Guys and Doll)  and they were the talk of the evening!  Dedicated nut-free facility. (Local delivery only.)

They've got a storefront in Danver's, MA with a huge selection, gorgeous decorated items and such, but you can order many of their goodies online including seasonal cookie kits and nut-free macarons! They are a dedicated nut-free facility that ships nationwide.

A nut-free bakery out of Lynnfield, MA, Jeanne's has a beautiful array of goodies for you to choose from. They will ship out of state--check with them for details. They offer undecorated cookies for cookie-decorating parties, too. Dedicated nut-free facility!

If you need nut-free, egg-free and dairy-free, the folks at Sweet Alexis have you covered. They will ship nationwide and they also operate a storefront in California. Check out their beautiful seasonal goodies like cookies and cupcakes -- all allergy-friendly!

Healthy Food Options

If you and your kids need a sugar break, there are some wonderful nut-free treats out there that will fit the bill.

A company out of Michigan, Candice Foods makes the most amazing snack bars I've ever tasted and they are free of most common food allergens plus gluten. With flavors like Chocolate Mint, Raspberry and many more, you get a sweet treat that's even good for you! Dedicated nut-free facility, organic, all natural. Order online; available in some local MI stores.

Free of the top 8 allergens plus a few others, they make all-natural foods that are nut-free, delicious and good for you. We love the nut-free trail mix, new Decadence Bars and pretty much everything they've got. The granola is great for a coffee cake topping -- and it's nut-free! They also make dairy-free chocolate candy bars called Boom Choco Boom. Available in many supermarkets.

My favorite peanut butter substitute, I use this stuff in a lot of our holiday baking, including my "world-famous" No nuts 'peanut butter' chocolate bars. (That recipe is not a "health food" one, but at least you're getting some healthy protein!) The website is filled with more recipes for snacks and baked goods as well as entrees. Peanut-free, tree nut-free, gluten-free.

I hope these food resources are helpful to you! Please be sure to share your favorite additional resources and remember--always check food labels and call companies with your individual questions.

Check back on the blog soon for more holiday recipes and info to help make your season bright -- not to mention healthy and nut-free.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Nut-Free Baking: Info You Need to Know

That delicious-looking dessert may not be safe for someone with severe food allergies.  
Holiday baking time is upon us once again and that's OK with me, for the most part. As readers of this blog know, I am no stranger to baking, so bring it on!

But first, let's talk about baking for food-allergic people when you are not dealing with food allergies in your home. As I always do at this time of year, I've received several questions from friends and relatives of allergic people who would like to make a safe and nut-free baked creation, or who have been called upon to do so for the purposes of a holiday meal.

Before I get into substitutions for peanuts/tree nuts in recipes or what brand of food coloring to use, this is the first suggestion I always have for anyone with this question:

Talk to the allergic person's family (or to them directly, if they are old enough). They may not feel comfortable serving any baked goods not produced in their own nut-free (or dairy-free, or egg-free, etc.) kitchen. So, please ask them. They'll be happy to talk to you and grateful for your interest, I can almost guarantee.

Cross-Contact of Foods -- The Raw Chicken Analogy

If you are a household who uses a lot of whatever the allergic person is allergic to, cross-contact, also known as cross-contamination, can occur.

I know -- cross-contamination. Gross. That term sounds like we think you don't have a clean kitchen. Rest assured, the problem is not cleanliness, but rather the entire process of baking to make something safe for allergies is completely different from what you are probably used to.

The kitchens of people dealing with life-threatening food allergies are often free from the allergen completely, and that's to avoid the possibility of a trace amount of this allergen getting into the food. If not free from the allergen, we are keeping everything separate and even using different utensils, pans, cleaning gear -- the list is nearly endless. This is something that may have taken us months or years to learn how to do properly so I for one don't expect others to "get" it immediately.

Sadly, cross-contact with allergens can happen easily--too easily. The environment in which food is prepared is just as important as ingredients. So is the placement of the items once baked. Take a "nut-free" cookie baked in a "nut-free" facility and then put it on a bakery display next to hazelnut cake and peanut butter cups. Now the "nut-free" cookie is unsafe due to possible cross-contact.

Bake a plain vanilla cake in a small kitchen that just produced a peanut butter cupcake. The plain vanilla cake may be harboring peanut matter and is not "safe" for those with a nut allergy.

Cross-contact is the reason for food labels that say "may contain peanuts." It’s the reason for companies choosing to create and label foods "made in a nut-free facility." Cross-contact presents a real risk and ought not to be downplayed.

I've heard Chef Ming Tsai talk about his food allergy-friendly restaurant
Blue Ginger and how he tells his chefs to treat any food allergens like they are "raw chicken." When dealing with raw chicken you change cutting boards and utensils and wash your hands frequently or risk salmonella. I think the Raw Chicken Analogy is as good as any I've ever heard. After all, everyone accepts that raw chicken can contaminate otherwise safe foods. The same goes for allergens--one slip up, the allergen is in the food and it is no longer safe for an allergic person to eat. And you -- or they -- might not even know it's in the food.

Can You Bake Safely for a Severely Allergic Person?

Obviously, this is a very individual answer and you will have to evaluate your personal situation. In general, though, this is not something you can do on the spur of the moment if you have a kitchen containing a lot of a particular food allergen. A "wash-down" may not do the trick.

It helps to think of food labels when you evaluate whether or not you want to take on "nut-free" baking in a kitchen that uses nut ingredients. You've probably seen a food label that says "processed on equipment that also manufacturers peanuts and tree nuts." People with severe nut allergies are advised by their doctors to avoid foods that are labeled this way, in order to avoid trace amounts of an allergen.

If you use peanut butter and other nut products like tree nuts, then your kitchen products would be labeled: "Processed on equipment that also processes peanuts and tree nuts." Companies label this way even if they do wash their equipment -- because human error is always a factor. Allergic people need to avoid these types of items from store bought foods, so of course the same holds true for homemade.

An exception would be that you are a close friend or family member of the allergic person, you are very used to dealing with it and your other family members are on board with keeping the kitchen area pristine during the process. This is not to say that you can't teach people how to bake and cook allergen-free, but it does take some planning, preparation and understanding of food allergens. If you want to do this and you are not that aware of how to go about it, I suggest talking to the person familiar with the allergy and going over the process with them, step by step. For example, I know that many of us have family who have learned to bake nut-free an cross-contact -free, so kudos to them.

Due to necessity, I trust very few individuals to produce nut-free food and that's not because I don't honor their good intentions, but rather, it's an issue of cross-contact risk.  If people refuse to eat something you've prepared for allergy reasons or to serve it to an allergic person, please don't take it personally. It's not about you, it's about health and staying out of harm's way. My e-book speaks to the issue of cross-contact and kitchen safety with regard to nut allergies, if you're interested in learning more.

If You Are the One with Allergies in the House

Maybe, to be able to guarantee your child a safe treat, you prefer to handle the baking. I've got several links for you to help you find some good ingredients and methods. Plus, check my Pinterest boards. I've been adding to the nut-free recipes under "Thanksgiving Foods", "Christmas Sweets (Nut-Free)" and "Holidays and Food Allergies." Plus, I just have a ton of recipes on my boards in general, so check them out. You can go directly to my Pinterest page by clicking on the "Pinterest button" to the right of this post. You can also find recipes on this blog by using the "search" tool in the upper right hand side of the blog. Use key word "recipe" to see what I've got posted here.

Please note: for any ingredients mentioned here, please ALWAYS check the labels. This is what I do, and I do stay on top of this as best I can, but things can change. Always check the label and if you want more information, call the company. What you use should always be up to your specific allergies (I deal with peanut/tree nut only) and your own comfort level. Thanks!

Now for the baking links from this blog:

Info about Libby's canned pumpkin and Carnation Milk (two seasonal favorites).

The Nut-Free Home Baker (this article features some of my favorite baking resources).

Vanilla Extract Questions: Answered

Thank you to everyone who is concerned about baking nut-free for their family or friends! For all of us who are doing a lot of the baking on our own to ensure safety, remember:

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Thanksgiving and Food Allergies: Let's Dish

You know what I'm talkin' about....
Regular readers of this blog know that I choose a positive approach to managing life-threatening food allergies. Personally, I think it's the best way to manage life's challenges. We can only be upset about the changes and restrictions for so long before we have to move on and live. I have written several posts about managing life-threatening nut allergies at Thanksgiving (I'll list those in a minute) and I firmly believe that in most cases you can make this holiday safe and fun for all.

That being said: I don't know of any other holiday that strikes more fear into my heart when I'm not the one preparing the meal. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but  Thanksgiving season is arguably the most "nutty" time of year and I don't mean the long lines at the grocery store and erratic drivers on the road.

No, I'm talking about tree nuts and peanuts being pretty much everywhere. Even if they are not an actual ingredient, so many of the seasonal packaged foods that come out this time of year have a cross-contact allergy warning on the label. Snacks, pretzels, stuffing, Williams-Sonoma gravy base (I LOVED that stuff, so that one still burns me), pumpkin bread mix, pies, candy, cookies, baking ingredients: the list is endless.

Then there are the bowls of mixed nuts that are a holiday tradition at so many homes. Hey, I get it. Before life with tree nut allergies, I would partake. But nowadays, seeing the anaphylaxis I've seen and knowing what a I know about cross-contact, I'd rather see a live snake on the snack table.

Special, chosen diets are another issue that is cropping up more in recent years. Many of us have family members or friends that have taken on a chosen diet (and please, I'm not talking about a medically-recommended one) that they approach with near-religious fervor. Trying to explain that you haven't chosen your allergy-restricted diet but, instead, it has chosen YOU, is an often headache-inducing discussion. Unfortunately, many of the new trendy diets these days are nut-centric, often prompting a discussion about whose dietary needs are more important or valid. Good times.

When It's Not About the Nuts

Every year around Thanksgiving I get blog comments and e-mails from family members of people with nut allergies or other allergies who want me to settle their family disputes. I'm flattered to be asked, but to paraphrase one of my favorite lines from a classic Thanksgiving movie: "How can I settle your family dispute? I can't even figure out how to use the can opener!"

Food is very emotional and traditional. My husband and I both come from a long line of people who love to cook, bake and eat and who have very strong food traditions. I understand that tradition is important but I also believe that you can maintain your traditions and still have a family meal together. How you work this out may be individual to your family.

One question I get a lot is: should every single thing on the table be "safe" for the allergic person? The answer is: it varies. I can't tell you that because I don't know your specific situation. But some questions to consider are: Is the child very young and doesn't know not to eat something? Is the parent of the allergic child able to provide some food to share (this is my favorite approach). Does eliminating this food throw off the meal completely for everyone else or can the menu be adapted with relative ease by the cook or cooks? Does the host/cook even know how to make an "allergy-safe" meal? As you can see, you have to consider what you're dealing with personally.

Even if you can get people to agree on not serving a certain food or using a certain ingredient you may be interpreted as someone who simply needs to be humored. That's frustrating because it's so not true.  I don't know many people who relish the role of being spokesperson for food allergies at every holiday meal, me included. It just goes with the territory and maybe if I'm lucky, someone will listen and think differently. Or maybe not. That I can't control.

We don't choose the food restrictions for our children. The medical condition -- that is, a life-threatening, diagnosed allergy -- dictates what is safe for a child to eat. I follow our doctor's orders. Here's my "choice:" avoid a food or traces of it, or wind up in the ER or worse. When thought of that way, it's a no-brainer that I'm going to have to try and figure out what's going into the food. If I can't determine it, we avoid it.

On the flipside, I know everybody looks forward to the traditional Thanksgiving feast. I do, too. Sometimes we have to work around things and sometimes people have to work around us. It can be done, provided you can talk about it.

Working It Out

Finding a solution is going to be different for everyone. Your child may be allergic to one thing; they may be allergic to 12 things. So obviously, that will dictate some of your approach.

Here are some past posts where I talk about solutions for dealing with food allergies at Thanksgiving.

Nut Allergies at Thanksgiving

Food Allergy and Family Meals

Food Allergies and America's Ultimate Food Fest

Since I've been hearing from many readers lately about family and food allergy strife with regard to the holidays, I felt the need to vent a bit. However, I've also been very encouraged by stories from readers as well as the people in my own life who do their best to help us out during a very stressful time of year for our family.

We're all doing our best, so let's remember that. Work together if at all possible and be thankful for the gift of food and the blessings of family.

For more on talking to family members about food allergies and dealing with life in general with regard to nut allergy management, check out my e-book, "The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Nut-Allergic Child."

If you would like to share this post with your social media followers, click on the "Share This" button that follows this post and you can share with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and more!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Nut-Free, Homemade Halloween Treats, Plus Last-Minute Ideas on Pinterest

These shortbread cookies can even be made dairy-free. Delicious!
Halloween is just a few days away so I want to post some links to two reader-favorite Halloween recipes that I created for my family:

Frankenstein Monster Toe Cookies

Candy Corn Cookies

These two recipes are pretty easy and definitely festive. I hope you enjoy them!

I hope you'll also check out my Pinterest boards -- I have nut-free Halloween recipes and fun Halloween ideas from a variety of sources.

Halloween Candy Exchange

What to do with all the Halloween candy you can't have? If you live near Chicago-area bakery, Nutphree's, bring your unusable Halloween candy to their bakery and they'll give you a free cupcake. They will send any unusable candy overseas to the military, so it's a win-win situation for everyone.

What do you do with the Halloween candy you can't use? Any candy exchanges like this in your area? Please share them! We'd love to hear your ideas.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Halloween with Food Allergies -- Thoughts from a Mom Who's Been There

It's that time of year again! You know--when you start seeing articles talking about how "scary" Halloween is for kids with food allergies (I've said it on this blog!). All clichés aside, I've always believed that if kids with food allergies really want to participate in Halloween trick or treating, there are ways to do this. It doesn't have to be scary and intimidating. With a little common sense and a lot of flexibility, it can be fun and even educational about what foods are safe and what foods are best to avoid.

I have several posts about how we've handled Halloween over the years and now that my oldest (with allergies) no longer goes trick-or-treating, I am here to tell you that for us, at least, Halloween can be a lot of fun whether you decide to trick or treat or not. If your child doesn't want to trick or treat, don't force them. As parents, sometimes the prospect that our kids are limited from certain things because of allergies is more painful for us than it is for them. They often don't know any other way of life so it's less of a big deal for them. I'd rather be positive about the things they can do. Below are two of my most popular Halloween posts:


If you have a very young child who is not going to understand or appreciate that mom and/or dad have to take away a lot of their candy "score," you might want to limit the trick or treating and try some other fun stuff instead. Maybe they can just trick or treat at grandma's house or the homes of a few friends who are in the food allergy loop and will have some "safe" treats to offer. Again, my posts above have some ideas.

Some kids don't particularly enjoy Halloween--food allergies or not. So if they would rather hang out at home and pass out candy, don't assume it's all about the allergy. For example, my non-allergic child hated getting into a costume until she was past age 5. She did not enjoy Halloween until kindergarten, much to our general amusement. Once I realized this, I let it go. The important thing is that the child feels good about what they're doing. This goes double for kids with allergies -- if they're forced to go out and then have to give up all the candy--that's no fun for anyone!

One important note regarding food allergies and school: Speak to your child's teacher now.  Ideally you have a written plan in place for dealing with food allergies in the classroom, but it never hurts to touch base and reiterate how your child should not be given unauthorized food.

Halloween is a great time to work with your child on saying "no" to foods that are not given the OK by you. The trade off is that your child will get some "safe" treats -- edible or non-edible, your choice, of course -- when they do have to say no. Over the years, I've found that helps ease the "pain" of refusing the mountains of unsafe candy kids may encounter at Halloween. Again, my blog posts above have some suggestions for alternative activities/treats at Halloween.

If you're in the market for some delicious and nut-free Halloween candy or treats, please take a look at several of my blog sponsors (to the right of this page, just click the image to go to the company web site)-many good nut-free choices there! Peanut Free Planet is another excellent source --this site is a treasure trove of not only nut-free but other "free from" candies and treats.

My daughter is  headed for high school next year and she is a well-adjusted, confident young woman. I can guarantee that even if she felt badly at times that she had to turn in most of a candy bag, this has not been an experience that has had any lasting negative effects that I can see. It's hard to deny candy to a little kid who is asking for it. But attitude is everything. Be upbeat and find alternative activities, alternative treats -- there are many more of them out there right now -- and it does help.

For all of you just beginning the journey that is holidays with food allergies, hang in there. Follow your gut instincts, focus on having fun with your kids, keep your safety measures in place and the rest will fall into place.

Don't forget to enjoy your kids. Now that my kids are older, I already miss the days when my oldest wanted to dress up and trick or treat, hand out candy, watch Halloween Town on TV or whatever. Parents, I know it can be stressful but enjoy these enthusiastic little faces while you can. They'll be grown up before you know it.

However you decide to handle it, have a fun, happy and safe Halloween! For more general advice on living with nut allergies in general, check out my e-book.Thanks to all of you who have made it a bestseller on Amazon!

Yes, that is a Nancy Drew pumpkin on the left, for the Nancy Drew nerds out there.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Nut-Free Halloween "Haunted House" Mini Cakes, Plus Halloween Candy Ideas

Hi everyone -- it's been a busy couple of weeks, with my daughter's first overnight field trip to the state capitol and her lead role in her jr. high musical, my younger daughter's numerous after-school activities and of course, all the usual back to school stuff. I'm sure you all can relate--hey, it's October already!

Since Halloween is coming up quickly, I wanted to share a post from the archives about a reader-favorite edible nut-free Halloween haunted house project. Click this link to learn how you can create a mini "haunted house" out of a delicious pumpkin cake  -- nut free, of course.

Nut-free candy corn is always a big request this time of year and I've got a post devoted to that, (click here), but I wanted to share a new find at the supermarket. Starburst brand makes fruit-flavored candy corn. I've dealt with them in the past and it seems they will label for "may contains" but of course, if you have questions, call them.

I always like to share new finds, so here's what the bag looks like:

I found these candies at SuperTarget in the Halloween section and also at my local supermarket.
Another great source of peanut-free, tree nut-free, gluten-free candy is Tootsie Roll. Here's a post I wrote about them last year. They make many candies that have the "nut-free" symbol on them.
If you are looking for a candy that is not only free of allergens but also artificial flavors and colors, please check out Surf Sweets organic gummies. They're a longtime site sponsor and they make amazing candy. Check out "Spooky Spiders" (pictured to the right of this blog) and they make other seasonal candies, too. Available at Whole Foods and natural foods stores as well as other stores where they sell organic goodies.
Of course, you should always check any food to make sure it is right for your exact situation.
That brings up another good point. This blog is more than 5 years old and so, if you see a food from a post that is several years old, please always re-check it. Unfortunately, things can change; I make a good effort to stay on top of changes, but something can slip past me. Also, if I'm talking about a specific food, I try to give info that is very specific to that food and where/how it's manufactured. The larger food companies may have dozens of manufacturing facilities that affect the allergenic qualities of a food. One type of food from a company or brand may be made in a nut-free facility, while other foods from that company may not be. Confusing, I know, so it pays to check labels and call companies or e-mail them if you need more answers.
Has anyone found any new nut-allergy "safe" candies on the shelves this Halloween season? Let us know.
Also, be sure to check my Pinterest boards for nut-free Halloween treats and ideas. A direct link to my Pinterest boards is available just by clicking the "P" button to the right of this post. I'm adding to those boards regularly and it's a nice convenient place to find good stuff. Hope to see the Pinners there!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Nut-Free News: French Macarons from Cakes for Occasions--Nut-FREE!

Nut-free French macarons...yes, NUT-FREE.

I don’t know about all of you, but while I can bake many things nut-free, French macarons made nut-free are just not in my repertoire. And that’s been kind of a shame for my daughter with severe nut allergies.

If you know anything about popular culture trends, then you know that French macarons have become the "new cupcake.” Macarons are now standard fare at local bakeries and macaron designs are even becoming a popular trend. Recently, I spotted macaron-themed items at the craft store Paper Source – they’ve got macaroon tea towels, pillboxes, aprons, thank you notes, etc. The new cupcake, indeed! 

Sandwich cookie (aka French-style) macarons like those pictured above are colorful, light, airy and culinary cute personified. However, they are normally made with pulverized almonds or some other tree nut. Obviously, tree nut allergic people can’t partake of these trendy little treats.
Well, until now. I was amazed when Cakes for Occasions nut-free bakery in Danvers,
Massachusetts, a longtime site partner of mine, told me that they now sell nut-free macarons in their storefront as well as in their online store. They asked if I wanted samples and of course the answer was YES.

I waited until my kids came home from school one day before I unveiled the treats. We were impressed by how well the delicate cookies traveled (from Massachusetts to Illinois), how fresh the cookies tasted and how delicious they were. The cream frosting in the center is just perfect and the cookies themselves are chewy and light—just as a macaron should be but without the pesky tree nuts for those of us who can’t have them.  These nut-free macarons would make a wonderful tea party treat for any girl aged 8 to 88 and, they are festive for birthdays, holidays or other special events.

My oldest daughter was very grateful because while she was interested in the whole French macaron craze, she could never actually enjoy a real, live macaron. Luckily, these were worth the wait. Thank you, Cakes for Occasions!
For information on ordering, visit the Cakes for Occasions web site or click here. They are located in Danvers, MA so if you live in the area, stop in and try them. Currently retailing for $24.95 for 15 French-style macarons. The bakery has many more online offerings so check out the website for info on cakes, cookies and other pastry items, all made nut-free.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Working Around Food Allergies at Class Parties: Some Fun, Food-Free Ideas for Everyone

Skip the label reading, wasted money on the "wrong"
product and enjoy a food-free class party.

I'm re-posting a popular blog from last year. Many people have told me they used these ideas, so for those of you new to nut allergies or to The Nut-Free Mom blog, here you go. :)

School is back in session and that means that classroom party season is back in full force. As parents of kids with life-threatening food allergies, school parties can mean the following things: late night baking sessions, marathon grocery store trips in search of allergy-friendly, tasty foods (that won't break the bank) and dealing with the sometimes mystifying efforts on the part of party planners to include some type of edible treat  -- no matter what! Even if several kids in the class have food allergies or intolerance, this unfortunately does not deter some determined foodies.
To me, it just seems easier -- not to mention safer -- to skip the food rather than try to come up with a food that fits multiple allergies or food intolerance. It's a nice change of pace, too, from all of the candy, snacks and sweets that are offered to kids on a daily basis.

I want to offer some solutions for food-free class parties, because with 1 in 12 kids suffering from a food allergy, it's bound to affect more classrooms with each passing year.  Plus, many kids' allergy health plans have "food-free" classrooms as part of the requirements. Clearly, all of us could use some alternatives to edible treats.

Here is a list to explore and please feel free to share it with your child's teachers. To gather these supplies, instead of sending individual parents out to buy food for parties, why not ask parents for a set amount of money and then designate "buyers" for these items? Set a budget for parties and go from there whenever craft items or non-edible treats are needed.

Food-Free Class Party Ideas

Crafts. These are always a hit. If you are not one of those naturally "crafty" parents, you can find some wonderful ideas and deals online. I love the crafts page at Family Fun magazine, since you can search according to age, event and season, among other things. Check out Oriental Trading Company online for some other festive craft ideas for fall like this small pumpkin faces craft kit and this kit for a turkey headband.

Games. Your teacher will undoubtedly have some fun game ideas, but again, online sources abound. I really like the Class Parties website and its suggestions for crafts and games.

If you're one of the creative parents, even better. For example, one mom in my daughter's class had the kids team up to write their own Halloween stories and then act them out. The kids loved it! Plus, I've seen some really great seasonal games at Target and other discount stores. Last year I bought an inexpensive but cute "Halloween bucket" game for my youngest daughter's classroom. Use the season to spark your imagination and ask your kids for input. You'll soon see that you don't need food to have a good time.

Non-edible treats. Why not skip the traditional sugary foods and give students small toys (available at places like Oriental Trading Company or local party stores for low prices, especially if you buy in bulk), stickers or personalized pencils. One of my favorite online sources is the For Teachers Only website. Personalize pencils for the class with their names or a message like "Happy Thanksgiving." The cost might even be cheaper than food depending on seasonal sales, etc.

You can find other affordable novelties at the always entertaining and resourceful website for Oriental Trading Company.

Share printed recipes. Is your school having a World Cultures Day? A food-free alternative would be to have students bring in printed recipes and tell the class the stories behind the recipes. You can learn so much from hearing these stories and if kids make the foods at home, maybe they can be given a chance to discuss them at a later date. This approach takes the focus off of managing so many homemade, unlabeled foods which in turn, helps teachers as well as allergic kids.

For reasons of time and general health as well as food allergies, many schools are choosing to limit the food at parties, but if you can offer some replacements, that's a great step in the right direction.

For more on organizing class parties around food allergies, read and share this article I wrote for Chicago Parent magazine.
For nut-free Halloween ideas including snacks (for home parties or if your school insists on serving food) I hope you’ll check out my Pinterest boards for Halloween treats, nut-free school lunches and more. They’ve been a hit with parents of both allergic and non-allergic kids.
It’s hard to believe, but the holidays are just around the corner. If you’re dealing with a nut allergy diagnosis and would like some guidance on dealing with relatives, foods and other issues that affect your new, nut-free lifestyle, check out my e-book on Amazon and on other devices such as the Nook or yourcomputer/iPad.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Food Allergy News: We've Got the Auvi-Q (TM) Epinephrine Auto-Injector

I swear the fact that the purse matches the Auvi-Q (TM) is completely coincidental.
Ever since the Auvi-Q (TM) epinephrine auto-injector was introduced to consumers several months ago, my 13-year-old daughter with severe food allergies has been curious about these new compact devices. She liked the idea of a small auto-injector that would fit easily into a purse and she liked the fact that the device "talks" to you and guides you through the process.
It all sounded pretty awesome. However, we still had our pen-shaped epinephrine auto-injectors and they hadn't expired yet, so I suggested we wait until our next allergist appointment to ask for a prescription. Let me state up front that I have never been asked to review or endorse these products (and I'm not looking to do so), I am only speaking as a fellow consumer and giving my consumer opinion (and sharing my daughter's thoughts on the device).
OK, back to the allergy appointment. When we asked about it, our allergist was enthusiastic about the Auvi-Q (TM). She said it was a great choice for a teen. I was a little bit skeptical at first because we've been carrying a different auto-injector for so many years. 
After seeing the compact size of the Auvi-Q (TM) AND hearing how it guides you through the process, my daughter and I both agreed -- we wanted to carry it. It really is a great little device!
The allergist brought up some good points about the Auvi-Q that I hadn't considered, such as the fact that it might be a good choice for grandparents, teachers or other caregivers, given the fact that it has voice-guided instructions. (Please don't rely on those alone, though. For anyone caring for your child, of course you want to personally train them in how to use the device. Each package comes with a trainer for that very purpose.)
As the person with allergies who would ultimately need to carry it and/or use it, my daughter saw some other benefits. The small and convenient size is a huge bonus for her, because she self-carries her epinephrine everywhere she goes. She's  a girl, so she wants to be able to fit her epinephrine in a cute little purse. OK, that may sound trivial, but if kids feel good about carrying the epinephrine they are more likely to carry it. For boys, this device fits easily in a pocket. Here are the dimensions of the Auvi-Q, taken from the company web site: 3 3/8 inches wide, 2 inches high and 5/8 inches thick. It's smaller than a cell phone, for example.
Two Auvi-Q devices are inside this small purse, with lots of room
left over for a cell phone and other stuff.
The other point my daughter brought up was that the Auvi-Q does not seem "scary" to her. I get that.  This small, compact, card deck-shaped device is non-threatening to look at and my daughter thought it might encourage her to be less afraid in an emergency. She also said that the voice instructions were comforting and reassured her. Apparently, she's been afraid she might forget what to do in an emergency. This makes sense as any of us might go blank -- even if we are well-versed in epinephrine usage -- when faced with having to self-inject or having to inject our child in an emergency. 
Again, even with voice instructions, my doctor said to practice using the device via the trainer and to have an emergency plan available to caregivers. Just an FYI, the most recent food allergy emergency action plan from FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) has instructions on how to use the Auvi-Q (TM). Click here to find that document.
Now for the cost. It's basically the same as other epinephrine auto-injectors but your doctor can give you a $0 co-pay coupon that will also knock $100 off the price of a set of two auto-injectors if you are paying for prescriptions out-of-pocket. Again, read the fine print on the coupon, but it is effective until December 31, 2013. As with any new prescription, make sure your insurance covers these before ordering! You can access a coupon by clicking this link and registering on the site.
To find out more and to see a demo on how to use an Auvi-Q, visit the company web site by clicking this link. Many readers of this blog have been curious about the Auvi-Q (TM) device. If any of you have any questions about the best epinephrine device for your particular situation, I encourage you to speak to your doctor.
Whatever epinephrine auto-injector that you choose, be sure to carry at least two at all times. Epinephrine can't work if you don't have it with you!
Note: Please contact your allergist or physician with any questions about epinephrine, anaphylaxis and your specific medical needs. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nut-Free School Lunch Ideas and Resources for Back to School

Our district began the school year today and I know that many of you have kids back at school soon or maybe they're already there. And you know what that means: LUNCH! Sending kids with food allergies to school each day means that we are packing lunch 5 days a week -- a nut-free lunch. For some of you it might be a lunch free from other allergenic foods too.

Most of us weren't born knowing how to create tasty, nutritious and appealing lunches week after week, but luckily there are many lunch resources out there to help busy parents deliver the noontime goods.

First I want to share some really wonderful and creative lunches that I found online and that I have pinned on my Pinterest page. For example, this link has a creative and nutritious variety of nut-free lunches that you can tailor to your kids' tastes and needs. Go to my Pinterest page and look for the board "Nut-Free Lunches" to find more nut-free lunch ideas. I encourage you to share your own lunch ideas in the comments box below for a future post that I will then add to my Pinterest page.

Some of the recipes on this blog can easily be added to a lunchbox. Reader faves include two soups (make for dinner and save for lunch!): Minestrone and Mexican Meatball Soup. Click the links to find those recipes; they offer a healthy serving of vegetables but in a kid-friendly way.

For sweet sides, my ever-popular Nut-Free Granola Bars and Big Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies are a nice treat, plus they're easy to make. Or try the "No Nuts 'Peanut Butter' Chocolate Bars." Made with SunButter or soy butter, these are a family (and blog reader) favorite.

While out and about, I recently spotted the above book called "Best Lunch Box Ever" by Katie Morford. (In bookstores and at True, this book does have some peanut butter and nut butter recipes, but the author acknowledges the prevalence of food allergies and assures readers that the recipes will work with PB substitutions like SunButter.

This book features lots of great ideas for leftovers plus many tasty and unique ways to work healthy fruits and vegetables into your child's lunch. My 10-year-old was flagging pages of lunches she wanted to try the day I brought it home. For those of you who have more adventurous eaters or for kids just plain tired of that same turkey sandwich (guilty on that one!), give this a look. You'll also find snacks and sweet treats that are designed to be healthy and nutritious as well as tasty.

If you're looking for prepared nut-free facility foods you can just pop in a lunch bag, three of my blog sponsors have lunch-perfect foods: Candice Foods protein bars, Skeeter Snacks cookies and Vermont Nut Free Chocolates (snack bars, granola bars and "nut-free" M&M type candies called "Skippers").

What about lunches free of dairy, egg and nuts? You can find wonderful lunches, dinners, snacks and sweet treats in Kelly Rudnicki's cookbook The Food Allergy Mama's Fast, Easy Meals. Most of these foods can be made gluten-free, as well.

And speaking of nut-free and gluten-free, if you need both and your child is young enough to appreciate a cute and tasty lunch, visit The Keeley McGuire Blog. This site is devoted to creating visually appealing, nutritious and delicious nut-free and gluten-free lunches. Even if you don't need gluten-free, take a peek just for inspiration alone. Your kids will be the envy of the lunchroom.

And, check out this past post (Nut-Free Lunch Items Spotted on the Shelves) about nut-free facility school lunch foods I've seen at the local supermarket. If you've seen any new ones, please let us know by commenting at the end of this post!

Online ordering is always a time-saving option when you need nut-free. For a huge variety of nut-free snacks and treats that you can order online, visit one of my favorite food sites, Peanut Free Planet.

What about packing these fabulous nut-free lunches? I found LunchBlox by Rubbermaid at Target last year and I love this eco-friendly reusable lunch packing system. The kids do, too. You will save a fortune on lunch bags and baggies while being kind to the environment. The salad kit, sandwich kit and entrée kit, respectively, all come with a blue ice pack for keeping foods fresh and cold. Best of all, they stack up and fit together so the lunches don't go rolling around. You will need a fairly roomy lunch carrier for these, depending on the size of the LunchBlox containers you use.

I also love the Laptop Lunches containers found at Whole Foods and online. These containers can be used to create a bento-style lunch and you can purchase a companion lunch "bag" (flat like a laptop) that perfectly houses each container. Again, the containers and lunch boxes keep foods from rolling around in the bag.

New to nut allergies?

In the past several weeks, I've heard from many parents whose child  received a recent nut allergy diagnosis: peanut, tree nut or like us, both. For support and guidance on navigating daily life with nut allergies, check out my e-book "The New Nut-Free Mom."

The book is available for the Kindle, Nook, iPad, Mac and PC. Free apps are available for your computer if you don't have an e-reader. Click this link for more details and a special thanks to everyone who has sent me great feedback via e-mail or posted a positive review of this book. It is very much appreciated!

Attention all Pinners, Tweeters and Social Media Mavens!

Did you know that all you have to do to share any of my posts on Pinterest, Twitter, Google + and many other formats is to click the "Share This" button at the bottom of my posts? By clicking Share This you will be taken to a menu of social media options that allows you to immediately share any post with family, friends or with your own social media page.

For example, some people have asked about a Pinterest button for my posts but apparently it's already there! Click "Share This" and you're good to go.

Share your lunches with us!

What about you? Tell us what your kids' favorite nut-free lunch combos are and they will be featured in a future post that I will include on my Pinterest board "Nut-Free Lunches."