Friday, June 28, 2013

In the News: Food Allergies, Nut Allergies and Summer Travel

Earlier this week, quoted me and others (like Anaphylaxis Canada) in a story about food allergies, celiac disease and travel. The story focused on international travel and it had some good information. For example, it looks like many European countries are getting on board with accommodating allergies and celiac disease. You can read the full story by clicking this link. Thanks to the author of this story--she has food allergies herself, so she wanted to spread awareness. I appreciate that she included my remark about not letting allergies hold you back. True, some destinations are better than others, but if you're willing to be flexible, travel with food allergies is something you can incorporate into your life with relative ease.

In the spirit of the season, I gathered links to some of blog posts I've written about travel in the summer.

Here are two links about summer travel including some tips on managing allergies at your destination. Click here and here for these articles.
Regarding air travel with nut allergies: I discuss a spring break trip and how we dealt with the airlines. Click here for that story.
If you have not seen AllergyEats, check it out! It is nationwide (U.S. only) free site that provides peer-reviewed food allergy restaurant advice. You can narrow it down by city, state and multiple food allergens. Even if you don't see a review on a restaurant, you will see what is at your destination and can begin researching. I've used this site and it's very helpful.
One thing I strongly suggest is to have access to a kitchen or even a small refrigerator at your destination whenever possible. That way, you can serve your child safe breakfast or lunch without a lot of searching for "something safe" when everybody's stomach is rumbling and the family is starving. The little 'fridge is a big stress-saver.

If you want a quick link to the food allergy policies on airlines, check the right sidebar of my site for a link to Allergic Living magazine's excellent guide.

What works for you when you travel? Share your tips with us.

For more on coping with nut allergies in general, click here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Nut-Free Summer 2013: A Roundup of Food Allergy Posts for a Fun, Safe Summer

Homemade ice cream break with my youngest. See below (and search the blog)
 for nut-free frozen treat recipes.
Summer is in full swing by now. Most of us have kids out of school and things like parties, road trips and seasonal treats like ice cream and barbecues are on the horizon.

I have written quite a bit about summer with food allergies, so I thought I would share some of my favorite and most useful summer blog posts for those who haven't seen them. For those who have, I hope these will serve as helpful reminders.

Going to a summer party or barbecue? Check out these tips.

Are you scheduling a road trip to visit family or friends? Here's some advice on travel with food allergies.

Sending a child to camp or thinking about it? Here is our day camp story, plus a link to the transcript of a talk I co-hosted on The Motherhood dealing with camp, sleepovers and play dates.

Looking for homemade ice cream? Here is a recipe for nut-free, egg-free basic vanilla. Making ice cream and frozen treats is a fun and easy summer project on a rainy day or for “bored” kiddos.

If you’re concerned about nut allergies and sunscreen, here is a popular post discussing some options. The comments box below this post has great suggestions from readers, too.

And for anyone looking for an overall approach to living the nut-free life, check out my e-book guide for parents and caregivers of kids with life-threatening nut allergies. Grandparents, family members and teachers find it helpful, too.  As always, I appreciate the great feedback I've received from readers of my book. Thank you!


Friday, June 14, 2013

Nut-Free Recipe: No Nuts 'Peanut Butter' Chocolate Squares

For anyone who has eliminated peanut butter from their home or other nut butters due to their child's peanut allergy or tree nut allergy, but who still craves it once in awhile, this recipe is for you. Using a peanut butter substitute in place of traditional peanut butter, these squares are so good. I found a similar recipe using Snickers candy bars and I thought--why not SunButter and chocolate chips instead? It turned out to be a good experiment and they have become a family fave.
I used the new Hershey brand "Baking Melts" in this recipe for a change of pace from chocolate chips and may I just say: Yum! The large chocolate discs stay soft and melty and are really delicious. A word about Hershey: they will mark their products for "may contains" and shared equipment. If you need more info, they recommend you call them. I've called them many times, use their products and feel comfortable doing so. As always, what product you use is totally up to you! I would also suggest using Enjoy Life Foods nut-free, soy-free, gluten-free and dairy-free mega chocolate chunks in these squares, or any of your favorite chips.
I've heard from so many of you that your husband or other family members have given up peanut butter at home (my DH has, too) so this would be a nice sweet treat to bake up for Father's Day. (But of course, they're good any time.)
One word of warning: these dessert/snack squares are NOT low-cal and they are addictive. But they have oatmeal in them, so they can't be all bad, right? Ok, you've been warned. :)
For those of you avoiding sunflower seed butter for allergy reasons, of course soy butter would work in this recipe. If you don't like to use peanut butter substitutes altogether, then why not treat Dad to my other reader favorite recipe?  Big Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookies.
Nut-Free Mom's No Nuts "Peanut Butter" Chocolate Crumble Squares
1/2- 3/4cup (or more to taste) SunButter (TM) sunflower seed butter or soy butter
1/2 cup (or more to taste) of your favorite nut-free semi-sweet chocolate chips, chunks or baking melts. (I use Hershey or Enjoy Life)
2 sticks of butter or dairy-free (or regular) margarine, melted
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (I use McCormick)
1 tsp baking soda (Arm & Hammer)
2/3 cup dark brown sugar (I use Dominos's)
1 - 1/4 cup oats, uncooked (I use Quaker Oats)
2 cups all-purpose flour (I use Gold Medal)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a 9 x 13 inch pan with baking spray (I use Pam with flour or regular Pam). In a large saucepan or in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl, melt the butter or margarine. Remove the pan from the heat (or microwave) and stir in the flour, baking soda, oats, brown sugar and vanilla until completely blended and crumbly.
Press about 2/3 of this mixture into your prepared pan. Alternate scoops of SunButter (I use a small ice cream scoop) and scatter your chocolate pieces evenly in the pan, about 1/2 inch from the edge of the pan. If you like, smooth out the scoops of SunButter a bit for a more even amount in each bite. (I usually do this.)
Crumble the rest of the oatmeal mixture evenly on top. Bake for 22-25 minutes until the edges are golden brown, then cool the pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars or squares to serve.
Makes 24 bars.
 Please note: You and your allergist are the best judges of what to serve your child. Any questions about whether or not the foods in this recipe are appropriate for your situation, please call your doctor. For product questions, please contact companies directly. Thank you!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Father's Day and Food Allergies: Readers Share Their Stories

This site is called "The Nut-Free Mom" but I am happy to say that many dads read it, too. Dads, grandfathers, stepdads and anyone who is "like a dad" to your child can make a huge positive impact on your child. So many dads are happy to take on this challenge and it truly helps lighten the load -- for everyone.

For example, some dads start businesses to help their nut-allergic kids, such as Brian Walker of Nutphree's Cupcakes here in the Chicago suburbs.

Same goes for Skeeter Snacks--a company started by two dads of nut-allergic kids.

AllergyEats is a site run by a dad, Paul Antico, who has kids with food allergies. The site helps you choose restaurants based on allergic customer's feedback. I've used it--it's a great tool for travel!

And did you know that Vermont Nut Free Chocolates is a family business, too?

Just day to day support can make a difference in the family's life, whether it's a dad calling a restaurant (my husband often does this for my daughter) or just being there so a child can attend an event or birthday party.

It can be difficult to get everyone on the same page, something I discuss in my e-book, including ways to help improve this situation.  But in honor of Father's Day, I asked readers to share some positive stories of how the dads in their life have helped them and their kids manage food allergies.

The following are a just few stories from readers (the rest are on my Facebook page for Nut-Free Mom.). Share yours at the end of this post if you like -- we'd love to hear. And if you're a Dad yourself, stand up and be counted. We appreciate you and your help!

Nicole Smith of Allergic Child had this to say about her husband's role in helping manage her son's food allergies: " My husband flew across the country to cook safe food for our son, Morgan, while he attended the Boy Scout National Jamboree in 2010. The Jamboree lasted 10 days and my husband shopped, cooked and delivered 30 meals for Morgan, hauling it in for miles over dusty roads in coolers."

Reader Allie S. said: "When eating at restaurants my husband always makes sure that my little girl handles talking to wait staff, showing her chef card, meeting the chef, etc-on her own with his guidance. He also reminds her to bring her first aid backpack and carry it herself, so she'll remember on her own and get used to it for when we aren't there. He's so good at teaching her what to do, how to be confident, and to advocate for herself. Oh and he used to love cashews, but only eats them if he's on another continent!"

Jerri K. said: "My husband goes on field trips with our son and cooks every night. He also is showing our son how to use the grill in hopes of capturing his interest for future love of cooking, which will be an important life skill. He also has instilled a great motto...Eat to live, Don't live to eat!"

Reader DM K said that her husband advocated for his daughters in the grocery line--apparently someone was complaining to him about the restricted diets at school and he set them straight in a very respectful but compelling way.

Emily H.: "Dad gave up his favorite night time snack, a spoonful of peanut butter."

Thanks to all who shared a story. Come back on Friday for a nut-free recipe that Dads (and kids--heck, everyone) will love.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day Trip Time with Food Allergies: Bring a Cooler Tote and Chill Out! Plus, Nut-Free Lunch Ideas

Life's a beach if you come prepared to deal with
food allergies on your day trip.

With summer, comes day trips and with that comes a need to prepare for all the eventualities. Getting kids ready to go anywhere seems like a military maneuver at the best of times, but when you've got kids with food allergies you've got to take a few more precautionary steps. I got to thinking about this during a recent visit to Brookfield Zoo, located just outside Chicago. But anywhere we go this summer -- the zoo, an amusement park, the beach -- will require the same level of prep.

So, here they are--my tips for successful summer day-trippin' with food allergies:

1. Get an insulated cooler tote bag. The Brookfield Zoo, like many other family-friendly day trip destinations allows you to bring your own food. I bought a chic insulated bag from Thermos (TM) and it was a godsend on our recent zoo trip. During one of my numerous trips to Target, I grabbed this cute, diaper bag-sized tote and some freezer packs for keeping sammies and drinks chilled. The extra front pockets were useful for the epinephrine auto-injectors, my wallet and assorted sundries so I didn't have to bring a separate purse. The best part -- you can find totes that aren't super-huge and don't weigh a ton, which is much less cumbersome to carry and easier on your shoulder blades! I recently saw several great-priced cooler totes at Target, my home away from home. Look for them in the "Summer's Up" section towards the back of the store, next to the gardening stuff.

2. Bring placemats for the picnic table. Lots of paper placemats exist nowadays, or just bring  paper towels or a washable tablecloth or mats to keep it eco-friendly. Since you just never know if the last family was packing peanut butter (and let's face it, they probably were), be ready to protect the table for your child which will reduce the risk of cross-contact from table residue. Besides offering protection from allergenic foods, covering a common table gives you clean surface -- which is just more appetizing for everyone.

3. Locate the First Aid station upon arrival. Many amusement parks, zoos and even large public beaches have these. You may never need this, but it's good to know where it is in the event of emergency.

4. Check and double-check that you have your epinephrine auto-injectors before departure. I don't know about you, but I seem to constantly be transferring my items from bag to bag all summer long. You don't want to leave your epinephrine auto-injectors behind (always bring two), only to discover that it's missing upon arrival at your destination. I place Post-It notes on my dashboard to remind me.

5. Stock up on the Wet Ones Wipes. For wiping hands before and after eating, you can't have too many of these. Great for little faces, too.

6. For restaurant tips on the road, check out AllergyEats. This free service offers peer-reviewed restaurants listed according to city, state and specific food allergies. They just announced that AllergyEats is now an affiliate to Open Table, a reservation resource. You can use your AllergyEats smart phone app to make Open Table reservations. Cool.  Click this link to find out more info.

So now that you've got your cooler and your plan to bring lunch, what do you bring? Obviously, your kids will have their favorites, but here are some ideas for you. I love this fake sushi wrap sandwich idea that I saw on Pinterest. A nice change of pace from a sandwich, and healthy, too.

Or about little fruit kabobs? Or cheese and ham kabobs? Any “kabob” or food on a stick is fun for kids to eat and easy to pack. Just keep the sticks separate and store the fruit or ham and cheese in baggies or reusable food keepers.

For a salty snack or treat, Pirate's Booty is always good and Pop Chips are nice, too as neither are fried in oil. Both are nut-free and Pirate's Booty is gluten-free, but they do have dairy.

Of course you need a sweet treat! If you don't feel like baking in heat, Skeeter Snacks peanut-free, tree nut-free cookies are a great addition to your packed lunch.

I also like to pack two of my favorite nut-free baked treats: Granola Bars and Nut-Free Brownies. The granola bar recipe is found by clicking this link, and here is my brownie recipe. My mom made these for us all the time when we were growing up.

Jenny's Nut-Free Brownies

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs (organic or free range if possible)
2 squares unsweetened chocolate; I use Baker's brand
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder; this gives you a cakier brownie with a higher rise. If you want chewier, flatter brownies, omit the baking powder.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Chop chocolate and butter into chunks. Melt chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl until butter is melted and chocolate is almost completely melted (about two minutes.) Remove from microwave and stir until all of the chocolate is melted. Set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix flour with salt and baking powder if using, in a small bowl. Pour sugar into larger bowl that can hold all of the batter. Using a heat-proof spatula, scrape melted chocolate mixture into the bowl with the sugar and stir until fully combined. Add eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly. Add vanilla.

Gradually add flour mixture into chocolate-egg-butter mixture until combined.

Bake for 16-18 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes up with a few fudgy crumbs clinging to it. (The 9 x 9 inch pan will bake up more quickly). Do not over bake.

Allow to cool, then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.

What do you like to bring on your day trips? Any tips you've found especially helpful? Let us know.