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.