Friday, April 26, 2013

Nut-Free Supermarket Finds Friday: Skeeter Snacks

This week's Nut-Free Supermarket Finds Friday is Skeeter Snacks. Skeeter makes its four delicious cookie varieties in a dedicated, nut-free facility, making these cookies safe for peanut and tree nut allergies. (Check the ingredients; they contain other top 8 allergens.) Flavors are: Chocolate Chunk, Chocolate Cubed (for triple chocolate experience) -- this one is new, Golden Oatmeal and Skeeterdoodle, (a twist on the cookie classic, snickerdoodles, a delicious cinnamon sugar cookie.)

Skeeter Snacks reached out to its Facebook fans this week and asked them to show their support by purchasing their treats at the following supermarkets: Hannaford, Food Lion and Shop Rite. It's tough to get what is viewed as "specialty" items in supermarkets, but guess what: millions of us need these types of foods. Not just the families with allergies themselves, but also the people that we know: friends, families, sports teams, clubs, etc.

Many of you are already fans of these cookies, but for those of you new to this product, you can find the cookies in many stores throughout the U.S. See the company's web site for a store locator. You can also order online from Select Walmart stores carry Skeeter and you can also find them at Costco, Market Basket and other stores.

I love companies that take the worry and guesswork out of snacks and treats for us; no calling to find out if the item has cross-contact risk for nuts, etc. And that's rare in a cookie company. The dedicated nut-free facility approach saves so much time and SO MUCH confusion. Friends want to know what are safe cookies for your child? Skeeter Snacks has tried to solve that problem. In fact it was created by two dads who have kids with nut allergies, so they've been there! Best of all, the cookies are delicious for everyone, nut allergies or not!

If you are unable to find Skeeter in a store near you, you can let your supermarkets know that you would like these cookies stocked. Or in the case of stores that already carry these treats, let them know that you'd like to keep them in stock. Usually, the store will have a request form you can use; stop by the customer service desk.

 So if you like these cookies (and anyone I know who has tried them, has liked them. We LOVE the chocolate chip in this house), then please snap them up if you see them and if you don't see them, ask for them!

Thanks to Skeeter for a great product and for continuing their efforts to expand their presence in grocery stores, making it easier for families to find. They are also a valued sponsor of this site.

Where do you buy your Skeeter Snacks?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Planning for the School Year with Food Allergies: Getting Started

I know, I know, we have our hands full just finishing this school year. Or maybe your little one is getting ready to begin kindergarten in the fall. That's a long way off, right? Not for those of us managing food allergies at school. Begin the conversation now.

Why I am stressing you out when it's not even May yet? I'm trying to save you some stress later and I speak from experience as someone who spoke to the principal in August back in the day before my daughter started kindergarten. The principal was hard to hunt down, especially before the school offices opened. Not to mention allergy offices.  Offices get crowded and allergists are busy filling out paperwork for their many food-allergic patients. Don't wait until the last minute.

Many parents are apprehensive to make that initial contact with a school because they aren't sure how they will be received. Or maybe a parent is simply unsure how to make the contact. My advice: just do it. Don't worry, in this day and age, you are not alone no matter what a school might tell you. They've likely heard previous food allergy requests. Be firm, knowledgeable and calm. It goes a long way.

Here's how you get started:

Who do I call?

Begin with the school's health office. Tell them you have a child with life-threatening food allergies and ask them what forms you need to fill out for a child to have and/or carry medication at school and any other forms they might require for medical purposes. It is also a good idea, especially at a new school, to place a call to the principal, introduce yourself and your child, and ask for details on the school's food allergy management practices.

Next, call your child's allergist. Have them fill out a Food Allergy Emergency Action Plan for your child; remember, most schools want this renewed each year. If things haven't changed for your child's condition, the doctor will have to fill out the same instructions, but make sure they are dated currently. If you plan to have a 504, the doctor will need to provide detailed background paperwork. Schools require up to date info, especially if any accommodations are to be made for Individual Health Plans or 504s, or for students to be allowed to self-carry medications like epinephrine. Your materials must be dated the current school year or they will not be honored.

You will also want to identify and call your district nurse. They are generally the people who will be issuing and signing off on medication forms and emergency plans. Get to know them and be sure to ask them what if any additional forms you might need or actions you need to take for your child's health and safety.

Know your facts, know your rights.

One piece of advice before you contact anyone: Know your rights. For example, if you want your child to have a 504 Plan (this refers to a section of the Americans with Disabilities Act and is a binding legal document that protects severely allergic children at school) then know that you must be evaluated for one if you request it. Many districts have a Special Needs Coordinator that you can speak to. If not, call the principal or if necessary the superintendent of schools. Here is an excellent source of 504 Plan information from the Arizona Food Allergy Alliance web site.

Another right that is frequently questioned is the right for a student to carry and/or have access to an epinephrine auto-injector in the classroom. Many states have laws that formally protect this right; here is a link that shows you where your state stands. Just because the law may not exist, though, doesn't mean your child can't have their medication nearby at all times. It just means that you may have to get an additional note from your doctor and be a little more assertive about it. What if your child is too young to self-carry and needs an adult to help? Check this recommendation from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology:

 "For younger children, the epinephrine device should be kept in the classroom and passed from teacher to teacher as the child moves through the school (e.g., from classroom to music to PE to lunch)." 

Click the link to see the entire document; it has excellent recommendations for all ages of allergic students. Thanks to reader Irene R. for sharing this document on my Facebook page.

One more word about a child's access to medication. I can't tell you how many times a parent contacted me to say that their school told them the epinephrine auto-injector "had" to be kept in the school office and not with the child in the classroom, or with their child at "specials" like PE or Art. No, no and no. That does not work. If an epinephrine auto-injector is to be effective, it must be administered quickly in case of emergency.

Some people appear to believe that auto-injectors have magical properties, kind of like Harry Potter's wand. All you need to do is have it somewhere in the building and the magic will happen. You have to be clear that this is not the case--just being in the building is not good enough. Medication has to be at arm's length to be of any use. Your allergist can help you with this; mine wrote a special medical directive and it really helped get the message across.

I just read about a mom who went to replace her daughter's epinephrine prescription and the school could not locate her child's medications for EIGHTEEN minutes. To be blunt, that's life or death if you are in an emergency. Don't listen to the "we keep it in the school office" or "it's in a locked cabinet" baloney. No one can deny your child access to life-saving medication.

The last thing I want to do is get any of you on the defensive before you even know how the school handles allergies. Please don't assume the worst before you call but DO be prepared with facts, documents and a cool head.


Here is a link to many back to school resources that will be helpful as you get back to school.

For training modules that schools can use, there are many new and wonderful resources. Two of my favorites are from Allergy Home, a site run by leading pediatric allergists; this module is free. You should also check out EpiCenter (TM) Medical, a new and easy-to-follow educational training module that explains anaphylaxis and describes treatment and prevention. Click the embedded links to find out more.

I wish you all a very smooth transition and preparation into school! Get started now and you'll have a much better summer and safer new school year.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Nut-Free Supermaket Finds Friday: Enjoy Life Foods (TM) Granola!


Granola makes a healthy snack and a nutritious add-in to many recipes, but as you may have discovered, a good nut-free granola is hard to find. So that's why I chose this week's Nut-Free Supermarket Friday find: Enjoy Life Foods Nut and Gluten-Free Granola. This flavorful and healthy snack comes in three flavors: Cinnamon Raisin Crunch, Very Berry Crunch and Double Chocolate Crunch. (Double yum).

We love all three at my house, not only as a snack but as a great recipe add-in. For example, the Cinnamon Raisin Crunch makes a tasty addition to several recipes I have on this blog including as part of the streusel topping for my Nut-Free Sour Cream Coffee Cake (just add a half a cup to the streusel for flavor and crunch) and it's the granola I use for my Honey Granola Muffins.

You can also stir any of the flavor varieties into oatmeal or add it to my nut-free granola bars in place of chocolate chips.

The Enjoy Life Foods web site has nutritional and ingredients info for each variety. Here's some information on the Cinnamon Raisin Crunch flavor:

Crispy bites of brown rice granola sprinkled with raisins and a touch of cinnamon!

Brown Rice Flakes, Evaporated Cane Juice, Brown Rice Syrup, Raisins*, Rice Crisps (Rice Flour, Rice Bran, Raisin Juice Concentrate, Honey, Salt), Inulin (Chicory Root Fiber), Ground Cinnamon, Ground Flaxseed, Salt, Natural Cinnamon Flavor, Rosemary Extract.

Allergen Info
Gluten Free, Wheat Free, Dairy Free, Peanut Free, Tree Nut Free, Egg Free, Soy Free, Fish Free, Shellfish Free.

Source: Enjoy Life Foods web site.

I buy Enjoy Life Nut and Gluten Free Granola at my local supermarket down the street ( a division of SuperValu); it is also widely available at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores. Enjoy Life's web site has a store locator. They also have a full list of recipes for each of their products on their site. Sign up for their newsletter to gain coupon savings, also on their site.

You can also check the Enjoy Life Foods web site for full nutritional/allergen info on their other granola flavors and products.

I hope you find it on your local supermarket shelves, but can also order online!

Note: Nut-free supermarket Friday finds products are chosen for their peanut and tree nut-free status. They may contain other top allergens; please evaluate your own allergy needs regarding any products mentioned here. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

All About Tree Nut Allergies: For One Thing, They're Not Peanuts

Tree nut allergies are not peanut allergies. But you can be severely allergic to
one or both. What are tree nuts? Read on...
When telling someone that you or your child has a nut allergy, you have probably discovered that many people take this to mean a peanut allergy, only. However, in recent years, studies have shown that an increasing number of people with peanut allergies have a tree nut allergy, too. (This is the case with my daughter and I know many of you share this.)

According to a study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, the prevalence of childhood tree nut allergy increased significantly in the last 10 years. (1.1% in 2008, 0.5% in 2002, and 0.2% in 1997). Here is a link to that article.

Tree nut allergies are sometimes difficult to explain and these allergens are often difficult to avoid. With their "super food" status, it seems that tree nuts like almonds, cashews and walnuts are now everywhere, being added to just about everything. Approach any new foods with caution and keep up on the labels/practices of your favorites in case of changes.

Of course, many people have a tree nut allergy -- only -- and no peanut allergy. So in this case, you really might have to be extra clear when explaining what you need to avoid.

I can think of several occasions when I described my child's nut allergy to someone and told them that she was allergic to both peanuts and tree nuts. Unfortunately, the message doesn't always get through. One time, a teacher at a park district class my daughter was enrolled in with a friend assured me that "no nuts are used--we know about allergies."  However, almond oil was one of the main ingredients in a project. (They were making glitter lotion.) Almond is a tree nut and one of my daughter's most sensitive tree nut allergies. She wisely avoided the product and everything was OK. But had she been younger/less informed, who knows? Obviously, when I found this out it was scary and disappointing. I realized that I needed to be more clear.

Part of the problem with communicating about tree nut allergies is that peanut allergies get so much press and buzz. If you don't deal with this issue daily, you won't always understand the nuances and that's understandable. So what are tree nut allergies? Here are some facts to help separate the peanuts from the tree nuts.

What the heck is a tree nut?

That's a good question and one I asked my allergist when my daughter was diagnosed with peanut and tree nut allergies. Tree nut allergies are one of the most common food allergies and unfortunately, they can also be one of the most lethal. Tree nut allergies tend to be a lifelong allergy.  Basically, tree nuts grow on trees so they include (but are not limited to) pecans, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, pine nuts and cashews.

However, it's not that simple. Everything that grows on a tree is not a tree nut and every thing called a "nut" is not necessarily something to avoid. Seeds are not tree nuts. Sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are not tree nuts. Coconuts are not tree nuts--they are a fruit. Shea nuts (found in hair and skin products and sometimes as "butter" or oil in foods) are not considered allergenic tree nuts by most allergists. Nutmeg, a popular spice, is actually not a tree nut but the seed of a fruit. See this article about shea butter in an article from Allergic Living by clicking the link. You can read more about tree nut allergies at the FARE website.

Big word of caution here! You can be allergic to just about any substance so before serving any new foods to your child (or yourself) or using a skin/hair product, ask your allergist.

When telling someone about a tree nut allergy, I find it helps to list some as an example. "My daughter is allergic to tree nuts and peanuts. Tree nuts are things like cashews, almonds, pecans and walnuts and many others." It emphasizes that we are not talking about peanuts, but a separate food item.

When speaking to your kids or family members about tree nut allergies, it's really helpful to give a visual of what the types of tree nuts look like. If you don't keep them in the house, your kids might not know! To help educate them, check out this web site. It gives a visual photo for many types of tree nuts.

Peanut-free foods don't always mean tree nut-free

In recent years, many companies have chosen to place labels on their foods that say "peanut-free." (This is not required by law). But that does not necessarily mean "tree nut free." Keep in mind that the FDA calls coconuts "tree nuts" for reasons known only to them. So companies may or may not have tree nuts on the premises--however, if they have coconut, it can't say "tree nut free" on the label.

Peanut-free baked goods may also NOT be tree nut-free. Check into this before buying anything labeled "peanut-free" only if you need to avoid tree nuts, too. The best way to do this is by contacting the company. Never assume peanut-free means tree nut-free too. It doesn't. I talk more about this issue and how to navigate in my e-book since the labeling on nut-free vs. peanut-free is still pretty inconsistent.

What if I only deal with a peanut allergy? Do I need to avoid tree nuts, too?

Only your allergist can answer that question, but if they tell you to avoid with no evidence of a tree nut allergy, there are a few common reasons. One: cross-reactivity. Some studies have shown a significant percentage of cross-reactivity between peanuts and tree nuts in allergic people. Here is a link that explains this. Also, the processing and manufacturing of peanuts and tree nuts means that they may come into contact with one another, resulting in cross-contact risk. This is why you must carefully evaluate packaged/processed peanuts or tree nuts if you have allergies to only one of these foods.

With any food you're unsure of, ask your allergist.

What about you? Do you deal with tree nut allergies or just peanut? Or both? Have you ever had trouble explaining the two?

For more about managing daily life with peanut allergies and/or tree nut allergies, check out my e-book: The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Nut-Allergic Child

Sources for this article:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
FARE -- Food Allergy Research and Education
Allergic Living Magazine

Please note: This blog is not intended to be used as medical advice. Ask your doctor about safe or recommended foods or substances. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Food Allergies and Anxiety in Kids

Food allergies and anxiety: this can pose a real problem for a child's quality of life. In recent weeks, many of you have posted or e-mailed me about your children having what you felt was extreme food allergy anxiety. As a parent, I can share that our own attitudes about food allergies in our lives will have a big impact on children. Being positive with kids helps, so does teaching them to manage allergies so that they feel more confident. I have more about that here and in my e-book.

Child development. i.e., kids getting older and encountering new stresses, will also play a role in kids' feelings and anxieties. Your pediatrician can discuss normal child development/age appropriate behaviors with you.

However, sometimes it feels that a child is having too much anxiety and it's hindering their enjoyment of childhood and of life. As I'm not a mental health professional, I turned to Jennifer Slack, LCSW of the site Food Allergy Therapist for some input. I asked her to tell me when parents should consider turning to professional counseling/mental health care for a child with food allergies. The following is her detailed response to my question:

Please note: Jennifer is on a parental leave from her practice as of  November, 2014.

Indicators that a child with life threatening Food Allergies

 would benefit from professional support

For children with life threatening food allergies, the anxieties and fears of anaphylaxis are real and valid.  It makes sense that children would develop a heightened sense of awareness of their safety and their mortality when having to think about everything they eat.  This can be even more heightened if a child has experienced an anaphylactic reaction.  They need this awareness in order to survive and stay safe.  But what if this awareness starts to interfere with a child’s happiness, mental well being, and the ability to enjoy social situations, friends, food, family, school etc?  When this starts happening, a child is no longer experiencing the joy of childhood and it might be beneficial to reach out for extra support. The following are examples of indications that a child might benefit from seeing a qualified mental health specialist.


1.       Unreasonable fear of trying new foods, even when they know they are safe

2.       Odd behaviors such as a desire to wear gloves at all times, being afraid to be touched, reading labels excessively or repeatedly asking “safe” person (i.e. mom) if they are SURE the food they are eating is “safe.”

3.       Anxiety and frustration about discussing their food allergies with people. 

4.       Excessive distrust of even safe people (i.e. scared to eat safe foods at home, fear of familiar foods, sticking to only a few foods and refusing to eat anything else)

5.       Expresses feelings of isolation, being left out, having difficulty making friends

6.       Getting embarrassed when needing to ask questions, and refusing to ask, and possibly taking “risks” by guessing

7.       “Forgetting” epinephrine auto-injector on purpose to avoid eating once arriving at a restaurant

8.       Frequently “forgetting” epinephrine due to not wanting to carry it due to embarrassment, inconvenience, etc. (increasing risk, and sometimes occurs with adolescents)

9.       History of being bullied about food allergies

10.   Panic attacks/emotional meltdowns in situations where food might be involved (i.e. going to a restaurant, and out of fear the child has a “meltdown” rather than knowing how to express valid fears so that they can work through them

11.   Child/adolescent has not been learning (for whatever reason) how to manage food allergies and is getting old enough to do so, and doesn’t know how, so experiences anxiety when learning how to self advocate

12.   Other symptoms of anxiety include racing or obsessive thoughts about having an allergic reaction, avoidance, difficulty sleeping, excessive worry and difficulty focusing on other tasks and activities, etc. 

One clarification: It’s a good thing for kids to ask questions and to start verifying the safety of foods. The more kids participate in their own safety, the better. The indicator that it's a problem is when the child is still having intense fear about something bad happening even after all the facts confirm the safety from a trusted source. For example, I have seen kids who are struggling to trust their parents and they will have thoughts like what if somehow a peanut still somehow managed to get into their food even though there is absolutely no evidence that would support this (i.e. no peanuts are even in the house and all ingredients used have been confirmed peanut free).

Thank you to Jennifer for sharing her input and for her dedication to helping those with food allergies!
Please note the following medical disclaimer: This post/site is not intended to treat medical or mental health issues. Please see a qualified doctor, allergist or mental health professional for any or all health problems. Thank you.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Nut-Free Supermarket Find Friday: Clabber Girl Baking Powder! (Plus some nut-free recipes)

Clabber Girl® brand baking powder makes nut-free baking a lot easier. 

Nut-Free Supermarket Finds Friday on The Nut-Free Mom blog is back! This week's focus is Clabber Girl Baking Powder, a company that has been around quite awhile and has been displaying a "made in a peanut-free facility" symbol on their baking powder for years. Still, many people are not aware of the product's nut allergy-safe status. I use this baking powder not only for  the peanut-free symbol, but also for its excellent quality. Since I'm a frequent baker, I use it a lot.

Next time you are at the supermarket, take a spin through the baking aisle and look on the back of the Clabber Girl canister. You'll see a symbol that says "peanut-free facility." Look carefully--it might be gray or red, but it's there. Usually, Clabber Girl features a yummy recipe on the back of the canister as well, so be sure to check those out, too.

Companies are not required by law to label in this way, so I appreciate seeing this symbol.Of course, since I deal with tree nut allergies as well, I investigated Clabber Girl's practices with regard to tree nuts. Here is an excerpt from the most recent customer service interaction I had with the company on February 7, 2013:

"Our facility is peanut free, however we do manufacture products with tree nuts.  These products (gelatins, puddings and cookies) are not manufactured in the same building as the baking powder and baking soda that we produce, so they are segregated.
Any and all baking powders produced by the Clabber Girl Corporation do not contain any spices, flavors or colorings. They do not contain any of the following commonly recognized sources of allergenic responses: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean, mollusks, tree nuts, wheat, barley, rye, peanuts, and soybeans.  Examples of the food products most commonly known to cause allergic reactions as stated above, are not present in any of the ingredients which are in any of the baking powder formulas produced by the Clabber Girl Corporation, corn starch, bicarbonate of soda, sodium aluminum sulfate, acid phosphate of calcium."
Does reading about baking powder make you feel breaking out your baking ingredients and whipping up something good? Me too. If you're so inclined, here are two recipes from my site in which I use Clabber Girl baking powder. Either one would be perfect for Mother's Day! Here you go:

Nut-Free Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

Heart-Shaped Scones

For more information on Clabber Girl's peanut-free policies, please check out their  web site. If you have any questions about their facility, you can fill out a contact form, also available on their web site.

Note: If you have concerns about any food item and need more info, please contact the company directly. Manufacturing practices can change over time, so be sure to get updated information as needed. It's up to the consumer to decide what is the best option for their situation. And thank you!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Peanut and Tree Nut Allergy Safe Baseball Alert: The Chicago White Sox First Ever "Nut Allergy Awareness" Game, April 20th 2013

It's not too late to get your tickets for the Chicago White Sox 2013: Nut Allergy Awareness Game! I just heard from a rep for the White Sox and they have seats still available. If you're a Chicago White Sox fan, you won't want to miss this event that creates a safe space for your peanut and/or tree nut allergic child to enjoy a good old-fashioned baseball game on the South Side!

The info regarding this game was originally sent to me by Judy T., a Nut-Free Mom blog reader and baseball fan. Thanks, Judy, for the info! And thanks also to Dustin Milliken and the Chicago White Sox for creating this event! The game is on a Saturday, so hopefully, many of you can make it!

White Sox are pleased to announce the first Nut Allergy Awareness Game

The game is scheduled for April 20 at 2:05 PM and is against the Minnesota Twins. There will be three sections with "limited exposure" to peanuts/nuts.

Please join us, on Saturday April 20th when the White Sox play the Minnesota Twins at US Cellular Field. There will be a special designated area in the club level for anybody with a nut allergy and their family and friends. No nuts or anything containing nuts will be allowed in the special seating area. There will also be a special food table in the area featuring foods that do not contain nut products. There will also be food options for people with milk and egg allergies.

In addition to the specially priced tickets, each family that purchases tickets will be eligible to win 1 of 2 autographed White Sox Items. These winners will be selected randomly and will receive their autographed item on the day of the game.

All of the information you will need is attached. You will need to send back a waiver for each person that has a nut allergy with the order form. If you have questions, please feel free to call Dustin Milliken at 312-674-5186 or email at

More info on peanut-free baseball:

Want to know if there are any games in your area? The web site Free to Enjoy Baseball is a great resource, featuring the most up-to-date listing of games throughout the U.S. and Canada, both MLB and the minor leagues. Peanut Free Baseball is the sister site of Food Allergy Buzz.