Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Happy Nut-Free Holidays: Nut-Free Candy & Treats Finds, Holiday Party Tips and More

Nut-free holiday cookies: you'll find the recipe in this post. Read on.

One holiday down, a few more to go! Holiday time is very busy for all of us, so I wanted to share some of my most popular holiday posts in a sort of "roundup" blog post.

I've included links to posts on nut-free holiday candy you can find at the supermarket, recipes for nut-free treats and holiday party tips that allow you to have a safe and healthy time with food-allergic family members. (Also see the post just before this one for info on navigating those holiday dinners with food allergies).

Food allergies can be very stressful at the holidays and sometimes we feel like we have to attend every party and event, even if we know it will be difficult. Depending on how close you are with the hosts and the strength of your interest in attending the party or event, go easy on yourself. If you want to skip something, it's OK. I don't advocate avoiding everything, but the amount of social demands this time of year can be overwhelming, and if you are a family dealing with food allergies, it can feel impossible to keep a kid safe at some of these things. So, use your judgment and have fun is my motto.

A word about candy, especially chocolate: labeling laws do NOT require "may contains" language or "processed on equipment with" language. Some companies may choose to put that information on a label, but it is, at this point in time, voluntary. So if you pick up, say, a chocolate in the shape of the "Frozen" characters and it has no warning for cross-contact, "may contain,", etc, that doesn't necessarily mean it is safe. Call/e-mail companies if you need additional information. If you can't find out the info, then use the links in this post for some safe nut-free suggestions. But remember: ingredients labels/manufacturing procedures can change and frequently do. Be an informed consumer and read labels, even if you see the item featured here.

I also want to give a thank you to Nutphree's and Surf Sweets, two nut-free food makers who are currently sponsoring my blog. Their products are delicious, high-quality, NUT-FREE always, and available in some supermarkets and specialty stores, making them a great resource for nut-free holiday treats. Nutphree's has its owns storefront in the Chicago suburbs, so check it out. Surf Sweets is also available online.

On to the nut-free holiday article roundup. Click each link to go directly to the article.

Are you a Pinner? Check out these boards on my Pinterest page:

For general nut allergy information, especially for those of you new to dealing with this issue, my e-book, The New Nut-Free Mom: A Crash Course in Caring for Your Child with Nut Allergies is a concise, compassionate resource. You can find out how to get it by clicking this link.

Your readership and kind comments mean the world to me! I'm so glad that this blog is a helpful resource for so many of you. As this year draws to a close, I wish all of you a wonderful, safe, happy, healthy holiday with your children and families!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Chicago-Area Friends: Halloween Candy Trade-In at Nutphree's Cupcakes -- Last 2 Days!

Hi everyone! I have a timely new mess
age for my Chicagoland readers! (And I apologize, I meant to have this up earlier. I've been light on the posts lately just due to life in general and the fact that I'm revising a book and trying to finish before New Year's. :))

Back to the news: The wonderful Nutphree's Cupcakes (one of my site sponsors) has this to say about all that candy the kids with food allergies may have collected a few days ago but can't eat: 

"We’re happy to be hosting our Trade Your Candy for a Cupcake program again this year. Kids can bring in their well-earned haul from Nov 1 through Nov 7 and take home a FREE cupcake or non-food treat! All candy collected will be sent overseas to deployed soldiers through Operation Gratitude."

Nutphree's is open until 6 pm tomorrow, so if you can, head over there! Check their web site for more info. If you've never been in this bakery, you will be amazed at the beautiful nut-free cupcake and treat selection.

I'm also happy to note that Nutphree's is bringing their cupcakes to several grocery stores in the Chicagoland area, including Whole Foods and  Mariano's.

THANK YOU Nutphree's for being such a caring (and delicious) resource to families dealing with nut allergies. Your baking creations are beautiful works of art and I appreciate all you do!

What if you live elsewhere? If you have a similar buy-back program for Halloween candy in your area or if you have info on nut-free baked goods available near you, we want to know about it, especially with the holidays on the horizon.

Which brings me to my next topic and one I will be covering with a new post next week:

Even before Halloween, I saw a post about nut allergy issues on a local parenting mag web site, so I will be addressing the issue of dealing with holiday, social situations and  nut allergies in the next few days on this blog. 

In the meantime, I've got lots of posts about Thanksgiving and nut allergies. Below you'll find two of the most popular; click the links below to read them. You can find even more articles, including nut-free Thanksgiving recipes, if you use key words in the search bar located in the upper left-hand corner of this site.

(Regarding this last post: Food labels can change -- at any time! Please always check labels/call companies if you need additional information on allergens.)

And of course, if you haven't already, check out my e-book for encouragement and advice on navigating life with nut allergies.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Halloween, Holidays and Nut Allergies: What's In Your Food?

That's Nancy Drew on the left. :)
It's official: we've embarked on the holiday season. How do I know? Well, besides the fact that every store is screaming Halloween, with some Thanksgiving and Christmas creeping in on those side aisles, Love Actually was on TV this weekend and the Hallmark network is starting their Christmas movie season on October 31st! Yep, you read that right.

I love the holidays but there is one thing that drives me a little bit nuts and that's, well, peanuts and tree nuts showing up in unexpected places. We can have lots of fun at this hectic time but we've got to be careful. No getting around it.

This topic is something I've covered in my e-book and also touched on in several blog posts, but I don't think it's something I've covered recently here, in detail, so please bear with me.

Basically, any food is up for grabs at this time of year.  Well, this rule holds all year, but the fall and winter holiday season is the time that people break out the tree nuts, in particular. Peanuts also show up in all sorts of Halloween and other holiday candy. You've got to be vigilant with all the tasty treats out there and that includes candy, baked goods, savory dishes -- you name it.

 This is the best thing you can do: if you don't know what's in a food or can't identify an ingredient -- SKIP IT! I know it's not always fun, but it's the safest thing. And take heart, because there are so many good things out there right now. I'll include a couple of Halloween blog posts I've written at the end of this one for ideas. I hope everyone who is in the Chicago  area is already partaking of Nutphree's awesome cupcakes (now available at Mariano's grocery stores). They will custom make stuff for you at their storefront bakery or buy ready-made at Mariano's. You can always decorate them. 

Remember, too, that all treats don't have to be sweets. This is a good slogan for the food-allergic and unfortunately, one I can't take credit for -- it was on the most recent Oriental Trading Company catalog. If you haven't perused that catalog in awhile, you can simply go online to their site for terrific non-food Halloween treats, party games and a lot more.

Another thing I want to point out to not only the nut allergy newbies, but to everyone: not everything that contains peanuts or tree nuts is going to be obvious. So even if you've been doing this for a few years, be careful.

I remember last year's Halloween treats bag. My younger daughter got a bunch of those old-fashioned candies called "Bit O' Honey." I never knew that they contained finely ground ALMONDS and only discovered that when I read the minuscule print on the side of the candy wrapper. I'm so glad they listed it but I've known about that candy for pretty much my entire life and never knew it had almonds. Learn from me: never assume a candy is nut-free unless you've checked it out personally. 

Here are some other seasonal foods that make an appearance especially during the holidays, and that contain peanuts or tree nuts:

Marzipan  - this is an almond paste used to make candy but also to decorate cakes -- it holds its shape and you can make elaborate cake decor with it. There's nothing in the name to suggest nuts, but they are there.

Linzer Torte - this is a European fruit pastry (or cookie) with generally, almonds, in the crust. Avoid any torte for that matter -- "tortes" usually have tree nut flour as a large component of their ingredients.

Flourless chocolate cake -- again these cakes may contain almond flour in place of wheat flour. 

Imported candy - some imported candy can be safe for nut allergies -- Haribo brand gummy bears are one example. However, a lot of the cute, different and fun stuff you find at say, World Market, or other stores along those lines is going to have at least tree nuts in the ingredients, especially the chocolates.

Ferrero Rocher chocolates - these European chocolates have hazelnuts inside. Avoid them if you are allergic to tree nuts.

Nougat - nougat means nuts! Avoid any candy containing nougat.

Truffles - some delicious nut-free truffles exist, such as those from Dean's Sweets and Vermont Nut Free. (I recommend both companies for nut-free chocolate.) However, your garden variety truffle either contains tree nuts or came into contact with them. Avoid them.

Bags of assorted Halloween candy - check the labels. Your favorite brands sometimes package differently at Halloween to include a candy assortment that includes stuff you can't have. So what is "safe" may be alongside candy like Reese's, creating cross-contact risk. Stick to the bags of candy that are all "nut-free" such  as the assortments provided by  Tootsie Roll company. All of their candies are tree nut-free, peanut-free and gluten-free. Please also see candies like the all-natural, nut-free and top-8 allergy-free "Surf Sweets" candy. You can learn more about them by clicking the image with the Spooky Spiders to the right of this post.

This list is by no means complete -- you will have to look at everything you consume before serving it to a nut-allergic child or adult. However, I hope I've hammered home my point that many foods you or others might not think about may contain nut allergens and you can't ever assume that they don't without checking it out first.

Now for a few Halloween posts from years past. Click the links to go directly to those articles.

Nut-Free Haunted House Cakes and Nut-Free Candy Ideas - make an edible haunted house with a nut-free pumpkin cake recipe. Easy and delicious.

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

If you're new to navigating life with nut allergies or just need a refresher, check out my handy guide: The New Nut-Free Mom. On Amazon, Nook or for your computer/iPad.

Remember to consider all of your allergy needs before serving any food to an allergic person -- you are the best judge of your exact situation. For accurate, up-to-date information on foods and food labels, call the company directly.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It's Nut-Free Candy Corn Time Again! Peanut-Free, Tree Nut-Free and Yummy

On my Twitter feed today, I shared a funny graphic featuring a burly Game of Thrones actor suited up for battle and posing with the caption: Brace Yourselves, Pumpkin Flavored Everything Is Coming!

Just as an example, I think Starbucks already has its pumpkin spice latte for sale (but don't quote me on that.) I just know that I read an article stating that treat is being introduced earlier than last year. And that's just the tip of the pumpkin spice-flavored iceberg.

When pumpkin-flavored everything is arriving in our stores and eateries, that means that it's time to start scouting out the NUT-FREE Halloween goodies available to us.

I have many posts on this blog that talk about Halloween candy safe for peanut and tree nut allergies (and I'll have more, of course as we get closer to the big day) but with the pumpkin spice invasion already underway, I thought it was high time that I talked about one of the trickiest nut-free treats to locate: CANDY CORN.

There are candy corn lovers out there and candy corn haters. For those of you who belong in the former category, or who have kids that do, I am happy to share a tip on one of my favorite sources for nut-free candy corn: A & J Nut-Free Bakery in Rhode Island. They make truly tasty and yes, NUT-FREE candy corn that is such a huge hit (probably at least a little bit in part to the loyal devotion of my candy corn-loving blog readers) that they are now offering this Halloween delicacy year round.

My daughter is already asking for candy corn from A & J's, so I figured some of you might be hearing the plea from your kids.

If you're new to this whole nut allergy thing, you might be thinking to yourself "How hard can it be to find nut-free candy corn?" I hear you, but this is one of those tricky items that always seems to carry a nut allergy warning. That's why my family has become such A & J Bakery devotees--it's delicious, arrives quickly and it's produced in a nut-free facility.

I've also spotted nut-free candy corn at the Dollar Store, made by a brand called Sunrise Foods. I have not had a chance to re-check their packaging yet this season, so if any of you have, let us know in the comments.

Another seasonal treat that you may have spotted on the shelves: Spooky Spiders from Surf Sweets, one of my site sponsors. Spooky Spiders are an adorable and tasty organic gummy candy free of all the top allergens, gluten and artificial anything. Look for these at natural foods stores or order online from places like Peanut Free Planet.

Here are some more Halloween posts from The Nut-Free Mom blog that you may find helpful:

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

Trick or Treating with Food Allergies?

If you're a nut allergy newbie, welcome! I hope you find this blog helpful. If you're looking for a short and easy to follow guide to navigating life with a nut allergy, please check out my e-book today: Find it on Amazon here, or you can also get it in other formats, including for your computer or iPad. Click here for more details.

You can find A & J bakery candy corn by clicking this link to their web site.

What about you? Any nut-free candy finds or tips? Share in the comments below!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Back-to-School with Nut Allergies: Nut-Free Foods & Resources

Back to school time is upon us – for some of us, it’s already begun. To help you get ready for school with nut allergies, I have a bunch of links that I will share at the end of this post.

In the meantime, here's a new list of resources and items that you will find helpful in navigating a nut-free school year.
First I want to talk about the wonderful company, OK2BPNUTFREE, one of my site advertisers. Run by the parent of a child with nut allergies, the company offers eye-catching medicine kits to keep at school, allergy-awareness clothing and labels to help identify your food-allergic child’s belongings. Please check them out – I especially love the “shot kit” as it can be personalized for your child and will be easy to spot in case of emergency.

Now onto the nut-free food and snacks, always an issue at this time of year, what with lunches, after-school snacks, etc.  I’m always happy to find allergy-friendly foods on the shelves that clearly state “Nut-free” and that are made in a nut-free facility. Just kind of makes life easier. Luckily, those types of foods are increasing.

For example, I recently discovered the following:

Go Raw seeds. Most pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds contain frustrating statements about being processed on the same lines as peanuts or tree nuts. Not these: they clearly state NUT-FREE on the label. Plus they are “sprouted” seeds, so they are considered especially healthy to eat. Besides all that, these just taste great. The family is hooked. Please note that these seeds are not cheap; we paid $9 for a big bag at my local Fruitful Yield, a natural foods chain. However, they are an economical choice if you use them to create your own trail mix. I love prepared nut-free trail mix but it is $$$$!! (Seeds are not a nut, but please ask your doctor if your child can have seeds. Some kids with nut allergies are allergic to multiple foods.) for more info. Nut and peanut-free, gluten-free, vegan.

Soy Wonder Soy Butter. I’m normally not a big fan of soy butter and have tried multiple brands looking for one I like – and then I tried this stuff. I love the crunchy version. This is perfect for cookies, nut-free granola bars (see my recipe) and of course, sandwiches. I generally prefer SunButter sunflower seed butter for just about anything, but Soy Wonder is a great choice for baking because you have no worries about the green color you sometimes get when using sunflower seed butter (due to the photosynthesis of sunflower seeds.) I found Soy Wonder at Publix in Florida; you can also get it at some Walmart stores and order it online from Amazon. It's peanut/tree nut-free, wheat-free, dairy-free and gluten-free.

Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Morsels. – Regular size. I spotted these babies at Super Target a few days ago. Hooray! First ELF made the mini chips, then the chunks – both are good and nut-free. But the regular sized chips? Imagine the possibilities. These add a nice dark chocolate flavor to your baked goods, or add them to your nut-free trail mix with the seeds above. Nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free.

Nutphree's Cupcakes. If you are in the Chicago area, you can now find these fabulous peanut-free/tree nut-free cupcakes at Mariano's grocery stores. Look in the bakery where they have a specialty section of prepacked Nutphree's goodies. Visit the Nutphree's web site for more info. Nutphree's is a longtime advertiser on my site and I've used their products on numerous occasions.

Going back to school with a life-threatening peanut/tree nut allergy isn’t only about the food and the gear you need. Please see my posts below for even more discussion about navigating nut allergies at school. And all the best to you and your family this year!!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Disney World and Peanut/Tree Nut Allergies: It Really Is the Happiest Place on Earth

For years, I've heard about how nut allergy-friendly Disney World in Orlando, FL is and I can now say that I know it to be true firsthand. A couple of weeks ago my family finally went to Disney and while it was just a fun time overall, the approach to food allergies it what made the experience even more special for my entire family.

I know that summer is winding to a close, but for any of you contemplating visiting Disney World in the future, I thought I had to share this summer vacation story. Disney World does their best to help and accommodate guests with food allergies. Even better, they do it in a friendly and knowledgeable way. Here's our experience:

When we first arrived at Disney after a long road trip, it was very late at night and everybody was hungry. We wound up in Tomorrow Land in one of the few late-night Magic Kingdom restaurants, Cosmic Ray's, and spoke to one of the workers. Without batting an eye, she brought out a binder with all of the foods that people with peanut/tree nut allergies could eat -- it was so detailed it even had photos of some of the ingredients used and their labels so you could read them yourself. And that really set the tone for the rest of our trip. We were pleasantly surprised at how well nut allergies were handled at the different parks and restaurants.

Everywhere we went, food allergies were handled in a very professional way. Everything was very well thought out -- more than I've ever experienced. For example, we were able to get into the Be Our Guest (Beauty and The Beast castle) for lunch one day and you ordered using a touch screen. The meal was then delivered to your table (in Disney lingo this is "counter service."). During the touch screen ordering process, you were able to enter what food allergies you had, if any, and then the screen showed you what items you were able to order. It made the entire process much easier for us, that's for sure! In addition, a Disney chef came to our table to discuss our order and answer any questions. The best part: my daughter was able to have a delicious chocolate cupcake with amazing chocolate filling and decoration including a chocolate piece that said "Be Our Guest" in gold. Yes, a cupcake. If you deal with nut allergies, you know what a big deal that is. Apparently certain of the desserts at Be Our Guest were baked on site in separate areas. So, bring on the cupcake!

We even got to visit Gaston's Tavern later that day, right near the Beauty and The Beast Castle. Again, they referred us to a binder with thorough food allergy info. Guess who got to enjoy a ginormous cinnamon roll? It was wonderful to be able to serve my daughter some baked goods and sweets that are normally off-limits due to cross-contact.

A view of the Beauty and the Beast castle tower and spires.
We were fortunate to have been able to book another character dining experience, this time with an advanced reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table located in the iconic Cinderella castle. You book your reservation online and again, you are asked at that time to enter any food allergies in your reservation. At this character dinner (which was pricey, granted, but you get several souvenirs including a professional photo with Cinderella, photo ops with 6 princesses, take home souvenirs, and pretty much everything a princess could want), the chef came to our table and talked about the food in detail. He explained how he would go about creating a safe meal, a few substitutions he would do and how the kitchen worked. He knew his stuff and he persevered explaining everything to us even though the place got very noisy as someone got engaged at the restaurant as he was talking to us :)) He was very sweet to our daughter and delivered the substituted food to the table himself. Pretty impressive. Kudos to you, Chef Carlos.

Snow White came to chat at Cinderella's Royal Table.

Now,my  daughters are older -- 11 and 14. They're not tiny little kids anymore but at Disney it doesn't matter. Everyone gets to be a kid there and treated to a good experience. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of everyone we dealt with.

This  is where we ate at Epcot. Tres bien.

We also visited Epcot. Now, of course we avoided the Chinese food there, but we did walk into a French bistro with no reservation. Again, the chef came out, substituted some bread for an allergy-safe bread (it was gluten-free, too and my daughter said it was tasty) and suggested safe menu items. He displayed an excellent understanding of cross contact so we felt very good about the whole thing. And lo and behold, while were eating, Belle (she's French, of course) walked by us right outside the window. Talk about serendipity.

To be clear: you can't eat everything at Disney World if you have a peanut/tree nut allergy. However, the clear labels, the detailed binders and the knowledgeable restaurant and food service staff will do everything they can to explain what you CAN have and how they can provide you with a happy, allergy-free dining experience. Even the "walk up" restaurants, for the most part, had decent options for our daughter. And like I said before, they take cross-contact seriously. With hundreds of restaurants at Disney, I obviously didn't visit them all but the ones I did were awesome.

We also visited Universal Studios and Harry Potter World/Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley and they had similar binders which were very helpful. However, my daughter could not have the much talked about beverage -- Butter Beer. They had it listed for cross-contact with peanuts/tree nuts but at least they warned us, which we all appreciated. We at at the Three Broomsticks Tavern (I think that's what it was called. It was a long day. :) Also, the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley seemed to have similar menu and set up. Just check with the staff when you arrive at the restaurant and they will steer you towards their allergy info.

By the way, here's how to make Butter Beer at home. Take some cream soda, add a couple of spoonfuls of butterscotch ice cream topping or syrup (I use Hershey's, please read labels!) and swirl it together. Add some ice. Top with whipped cream and some more butterscotch.  Yum.

I hope I was able to shed some light on Disney World for anyone thinking about going there. Of course, everyone has different needs so I encourage you to visit the Disney World web site as we did to get started with your plans. When you see how they handle things, it makes you realize that nearly every restaurant could approach things the same way with the right education.

Disney gets an A+ from my family. Hope to see it again -- soon!

For more info on managing daily life with nut allergies, check out my e-book, available on Kindle and other formats (see the right side bar of this blog for more info.) Thanks to everyone for your great feedback on my book!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Graduating to a Summer Blog Break, Plus a Nut-Free Basil Pesto Recipe!

Hi everyone and Happy Summer! As many of my regular readers know, I've not been blogging as much lately and that's for many reasons. One is that I've been working on some new and non-food allergy writing projects, the other is that I was super-busy getting my oldest daughter through her last few days of 8th grade. Yep, I have an 8th grade graduate, heading to high school next year.

Getting to this point with my daughter, who has severe peanut and tree nut allergies, has been a long but rewarding road. Those of you who read my blog regularly probably know that working with schools regarding food allergies has been one of my most frequently blogged topics. It's a big one.

As I sat in the audience watching my daughter receive her diploma, I thought back to kindergarten and how much we've been through together. School with food allergies hasn't always been easy -- field trips, parties, lunch tables and just understanding from others -- has been a challenge at times.  For those of you just embarking on the school with food allergies "journey" (not to sound like a reality show), take heart and remember to communicate. With everyone. Frequently. It's the only way, and if you go about it in a reasonable manner, you will be successful.

Many people still need a food allergy education so never feel badly about speaking up and speaking out. Reasonable, safe solutions can be found and kids with severe allergies CAN have a safe and healthy school experience, especially if compassion and preparation are involved. What I really want to say is that if we did it, so can you.

Use the "search" bar on the top left hand side of this blog to find lots of posts to help you with school.

After 6 and a half years of writing this blog, the time has come for me to take a break from it. I'm sure I will still have things to say about nut allergies -- always. Still, with a shortened summer due to our extended snow/cold days following a tough winter, some exciting summer travel and some new writing projects that I'm highly committed to, I feel the need to take some time off of the blog.

When I started The Nut-Free Mom blog in January of 2008, I'd been dealing with my daughter's food allergies for 4 years and I felt like I had learned a lot I wanted to share. I've been so happy to hear from the many wonderful and supportive readers of this blog who have also shared their stories with me. I'm also grateful that I was able to share much of what I've learned not only here, but in my Nut-Free Mom e-book parenting guide. Many of you have written to me or have taken the time to write a positive review of this little book and I'm happy that so many of you have found it and are still finding it useful -- it continues to be selling well on Amazon Kindle.

The Nut-Free Mom blog has more than 600 posts, so if you're just finding me, you have plenty to keep you occupied! I also encourage you to check out my e-book and Pinterest boards that deal with nut allergies. My Pinterest button is to the right of this post -- I have a lot of boards but many of them deal with allergies. If you're a Pinner, see you there!

Before I take my summer break, I want to share a recipe I've wanted to put on the blog for YEARS but for some reason, I never did. It's very fitting for summer: Nut-Free Basil Pesto. Basically, this is a cross between a traditional Italian pesto that has pine nuts or walnuts (a no-no for us, of course) and a Provencal "pistou" which is a basil sauce without nuts or cheese. (Don't worry, this recipe has cheese but no nuts. :))

The basil in my garden is booming -- maybe you have an herb garden too but if not, basil should be cheap and plentiful at the supermarket right now.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy it and enjoy your summer!

Nut-Free Mom's Nut-Free Basil Pesto

This doesn't make a huge amount, but a little pesto goes a long way. It's very flavorful! Toss it with pasta, add it to pizza or even to cold summer soups like gazpacho. If you have a LOT of basil, double the recipe.

2 cups firmly packed, fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
2 sprigs of fresh parsley (or use mint if you have it in your garden for a refreshing note)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons unsweetened dairy butter or dairy-free margarine
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or dairy-free cheese)
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

In a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients EXCEPT the oil. Process until ingredients are finely minced. With the motor running, gradually add the olive oil and blend thoroughly.

You can freeze your pesto (in ice cube trays, if you like, for individual servings) for several months (how about a little pop of nut-free pesto on the kiddo's lunch pasta), but bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 1/2 cup.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Food Allergy Awareness Week: Small Gestures Add Up All Year

Is this your family's constant refrain? You are not alone!
This week is Food Allergy Awareness Week (and this month is Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month), so there are many activities being implemented to bring awareness and attention to the seriousness of life-threatening food allergies. These large gestures are wonderful and come about due to the dedication of parents, advocates and physicians who want to spread the word and make the world a more aware place for people suffering from life-threatening food allergies aka "anaphylaxis."

Before I go any further, in honor of Food Allergy Awareness Week, I want to give a little PSA to all reading now. If you or your child suffer from allergies please remember to ALWAYS carry epinephrine at ALL TIMES. And always check foods, read labels and skip foods when you can't determine their safety. Being cautious of foods and carrying medications are the two best things you can do! I know I've said it many times, but this week especially, it's worth saying again.

While I love that there is a week especially devoted to the  cause of food allergy awareness, I think it's important to point out what I think most of us already know. If you are dealing with life-threatening food allergies every week is "food allergy awareness week." I'm going to guess that you are frequently telling others about allergies as you help your child (or yourself) navigate through a world in which a common food can be more than hazardous to your health -- it can be potentially lethal. This is a difficult concept for many people to get their minds around, so educating others about allergies is a continual process.

Recently, a food allergy awareness opportunity came about for me kind of unexpectedly. My daughter was in a school play and had a lead, so as part of the party-planning committee I ordered specialty cakes from Nutphree's,  a local nut-free bakery, for the entire cast, with the play's theme as the decoration. Nutphree's outdid themselves -- the cakes were the talk of the party and dozens of kids took pictures of the cakes. A lot of people saw the "Nutphree's" logo on the cake boxes and asked me about the bakery, food allergies and how we manage them. One of the volunteers was a pediatrician in our area and he thought it was great -- so many of his patients now have nut allergies, he said. It was great to spread the food allergy awareness this way. (And it didn't hurt that the cakes looked beautiful and tasted great -- they were a wonderful conversation piece.) See below.

Isn't this gorgeous? We had a cake with yellow frosting and red accents, too.
The dice were edible and much-coveted by cast members.
My point is: Any time you tell others about life with food allergies, you are making an impact. Think about it. For example:

Did you speak to a restaurant staff member about allergies recently? How about a family friend? Did you provide treats for a play date or steer a parent towards an appropriate snack due to allergies?

Did you have to turn down an invitation to an ice cream shop or a bakery because of cross-contact risk? Did you have to refuse any food -- and did you politely explain why?

Did you speak to a teacher or another parent in your classroom about cutting down on food allergy risk? Maybe you baked a treat for a get-together and substituted an ingredient (like SunButter for peanut butter) and explained to someone why you had to do that?

Did you see a label change on a food (for better or worse)? That's because of customers (like you and me) calling with questions. Or maybe a restaurant you frequent began putting a note on the menu, i.e. "Tell your server about any food allergies." That stems from people speaking up about allergies.

If you  have made a special effort to educate others this week regarding life-threatening food allergies, kudos to you and thank you! It does help. As we all know, it can be a lot of work to navigate life with allergies, so whatever you have done, large or small, remember it does all add up. Every gesture and every interaction makes a difference.

For more on navigating live with nut allergies, click this link for my nut allergy parenting guide, a concise and encouraging approach for dealing with the newbie to nut allergy lifestyle.

I also encourage you to check out a virtual event on Twitter, hosted by the wonderful Jennifer B of the blog Food Allergy Buzz. This Friday, May 16th, to culminate Food Allergy Awareness Week, is a Twitter gathering to help raise awareness. Last year "food allergy" was "trending" on Twitter due to this gathering -- no easy feat. Click here for details about joining the event.

What about you? How do you promote food allergy awareness in your everyday life?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Nut-Free Mom Blog Gets a Food Allergy Blog Award, plus, Food Allergy Awareness

Thank you to Healthline for naming The Nut-Free Mom blog as one of their top food allergy blogs of 2014! This is the third year my blog has received this award and I am extremely grateful to be recognized in this way. Thank you, Healthline!

Click this link to see the other winners; you'll see some of your favorites and might even find some new ones. I'm definitely in good company. A big congrats to all of the winners!

As nice as it is to receive an award, the most important thing to me is the way that blogging has allowed me to connect with other parents and even teen/adult nut allergy sufferers coping with the same issues. If I have helped any of you in any way by sharing my experiences and knowledge, that is exactly my goal.

And if you are a new reader, let me give you a warm welcome and invite you to peruse my 630 + blog posts that deal with the many aspects of nut allergy management. Just type your key words into the space in the search bar located in the upper left hand corner of this blog and let it rip!

Since my receipt of this award is so close to May, which is Asthma and Allergy Awareness month, I've been thinking about some posts I've shared in the last year that seem to have resonated most with readers. I realized that many of these popular posts have, at heart, the issue of food allergy awareness. If you have already seen these posts, thanks for reading! If you haven't, I hope you'll give them a look.

Nut-free baking for the non-allergic. This is one of the areas that I feel needs the most awareness since it deals with the food allergy awareness "biggie" of cross-contact and how to prepare "safe" foods. If you haven't already read this post, here is a link (and you can find it in the right side bar of my blog as well.)

My best advice for parents of kids with life-threatening food allergies. I've thought a lot about this topic over the years and watching my own kids grow, this post sums up the most important things I've learned.

Working around food allergies at school parties. If you have school-age kids, you know this is a big one! Check out this post for tips on navigating the food allergy minefield that class parties can be.

Thanksgiving with Food Allergies: Let's Dish. Look, I know we just had the spring holidays, but the thoughts and suggestions in this post can be applied to pretty much any holiday, because what do holidays all have in common? Food! This post offers advice on coping with holidays and allergies.

What I really hope is that blog readers find practical advice and especially, helpful encouragement from a parent in their shoes. This is the other reason I wrote my nut allergy e-book guide for parents, because I firmly believe that even though food allergies are serious and must be regarded as such, they don't have to get in the way of anyone living a full life.

Thanks to all of you for your continued readership! Now, let's hear from you. What are some of the biggest issues you face when navigating food allergies?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hey, Easter Bunny! Here Are Some of My Favorite Nut Allergy-Friendly Easter Sweets Picks

The cutest chocolate bunny I've ever seen; it's from Dean's Sweets.

Easter is soon arriving and with it, one of the biggest candy holidays of the year. If you're worried about peanut and tree nut allergies, you may not be hopping for joy at the thought of all the candy out there that is clearly off-limits for your kids. 

Still, you'd be surprised at some of the good stuff out there, both in stores and/or online. I've posted some of my favorites for you to check out. Please keep in mind that YOU are the best judge of what to serve your allergic child or family member. If you have any questions, I urge you to call companies directly.

Some of these finds are peanut/tree nut only in keeping with the theme of my "nut-free" blog; but there are some goodies here that are free of many other allergens and/or gluten.


Dean's Sweets, a nut-free chocolatier in Portland, Maine produces delightful seasonal items including the bunny pictured above. Both milk and dark chocolate available; they even have chocolate-covered matzos for Passover. You can walk into their charming store or order online. See this link for more information on their seasonal products.

Andes Mint Chocolates/Tootsie Candies. I found the Andes Easter-themed Chocolate Mint candies at my local Target and I just found out that Andes makes solid chocolate bunnies as well. A Tootsie Corporation Brand, Andes Mint Chocolates are peanut-free, tree nut-free and gluten-free. Click this link to see the Tootsie Corporation's complete selection of Easter goodies including egg-shaped Tootsie pops.

York Peppermint Patties Egg-Shaped Chocolates. This brand is part of the Hershey corporation so they will mark for allergens. My daughter loves these things. No nut allergy warnings but they do contain milk/egg. Read the label and call Hershey for more info.

Cadbury Mini Eggs (with the hard candy shell). These are made by Hershey and Hershey will list for cross-contact with allergens. We love these little candy eggs and they make a great cake/cupcake decoration. Please don't confuse these with the Cadbury Creme Eggs (you know, looks like an egg yolk in the center); those have nut allergy warnings. But you won't confuse the two, because you're reading labels, right? :) See the picture above and call Hershey directly if you would like more information.

New Easter treats basket from Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates.

Vermont Nut-Free Chocolates is a longtime family favorite that never fails to please. You can order pre-made Easter baskets or order individual nut-free bunnies, chocolate creams, jelly beans and other seasonal chocolates. My kids love them all. Click here to find out more.


Nutphree's Easter cupcakes. Delicious cake with sinfully rich frosting.

Nutphree's Cupcakes (pictured above) makes beautiful cakes (like my daughter's most recent b-day cake), cupcakes and cookies. They are Chicago-area only, but well worth mentioning since I know a lot of you live in the Chi-town area. Call Nutphree's for more details; all info is on their website. And, for those of you near a new Mariano's grocer, you can find Nutphree's in Mariano's stores. Nutphree's is a sponsor of this site. 

Candice Foods Protein Bars are a healthy choice and they are SO delicious. You can get them in some Midwest natural foods stores but ordering online is a breeze. These are free of many top allergens, gluten-free and kosher. Like Nutphree's they are owned by a parent of kids with allergies. Click this link to find out more. Candice Foods is a sponsor of this site.


Surf Sweets jelly beans are all-natural and organic, available at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores. Really nice flavors and beautiful, springy pastel colors. They are nut-free, gluten-free and free of many other top allergens. See their web site for more info.

Haribo gummy candies are a family favorite, partly because they are available in so many different varieties, including "Happy Hoppers" bunny-shaped gummies. Here's an allergen info link for Haribo but call the company if you have further questions. Find them at Target, Walmart and your local supermarket.

Gimbal's Jelly Beans are a wonderful allergy-friendly find, available at many supermarkets including Walmart. I've also seen them at Walgreens stores. So many unique and delicious flavors and best of all, top 8 allergen-free. They have seasonal varieties (above) but their basic jelly bean is available year-round. See their web site for a list of all of their amazing nut-free candies.

These are my favorites; I'm sure you have yours, but I hope this helps those of you who may just be starting out with nut allergies, or maybe those of you who are looking for something new. You might also like this archived post where I talk about some non-edible Easter basket treats.

Just to be sure we're all on the same page here: You are the best judge of the foods you can give to your child, so please note that while some of these candies may be free from several allergens, you will have to check labels and check with companies if you have further questions. Thank you!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Welcome to The New Age: What We Should Expect From Schools and Managing Food Allergies in the Classroom

I've been dealing with food allergies at school since 2004 and while I do think there is much more awareness about allergies these days, it still seems as a lot of us are having problems managing allergies at school.

Some parents tell me that they are not being listened to or respected with regards to life-threatening food allergies, even though they have followed the school's rules, i.e., filled out the paperwork, visited the allergist, met with the school staff and the myriad other tasks that go along with managing food allergies in daily life.

Just to be clear:  when I say "respected" I simply mean acknowledging that the allergy is real and that certain reasonable, necessary accommodations may be required. The unfortunate facts are that food allergies can be life-threatening and some classroom practices might require a little adaptation. What is troubling is that some parents are being called upon to frequently justify their child's allergies despite the fact that they've provided medical documentation, doctor's notes, etc.

If you're a parent feeling drained or frustrated by allergy management at school, don't feel alone because it takes effort to make things go smoothly -- sometimes a lot of effort.  Lately, I've been wondering: does it have quite so intensely difficult, with parents needing to be "pioneers" each year? After all, food allergies are not a brand-new problem.

I don't have all the answers but I, along with my daughter, have been managing allergies at school for more than 10 years. We've always tried to work with the school and usually we have been successful -- though not without struggle at times. With the era of food allergy awareness definitely upon us, I think we can have the following reasonable expectations. To me, these are the basics:

1. To be taken seriously if you have provided the appropriate medical documentation for the allergy.

2. To be treated with respect by school staff if you have concerns about your allergic student. If the person you're dealing with doesn't have the answers, they should be ready and willing to send you to the person who does.

3. To be prepared as parents to offer reminders or to engage in follow-up discussions, but not forced to re-invent the wheel and start at point A each time there is a new class party or field trip on the horizon. Having to re-open our child's health issues each time an event comes up is not only frustrating, it's dangerous as all of the major questions and concerns should have been settled at the beginning of the school year (of course you may always have to tweak things and make adjustments but a basic plan should be in place that doesn't deviate.)

4. To be ready to offer our assistance in educating others about allergies, with the understanding that many of us are new at this and are still educating ourselves. At this point in our collective experience, we should expect schools to be providing all staff with some food allergy education beyond just the basic epinephrine usage training that many of them receive -- a great thing, but only one part of the puzzle. Some basic discussion on cross-contact and allergen avoidance is equally important.

5. To prepare our child as best as we can according to their age and level of development with the knowledge that if something goes wrong despite our best efforts and our child's best efforts, (accidents happen, mistakes can be made) that the school knows what to do in an emergency and will actually do it.

While I am a huge advocate of parental support and teaching kids self-advocacy, the fact is that when kids cross the threshold to school, the school has a responsibility to them, just as it does to all students. It isn't just one or two students with allergies any more and sadly, the numbers continue to grow. In addition, schools are accommodating many types of special needs and food allergies are under that umbrella, so don't let anyone tell you that "no one" has any of the same issues as you. Unfortunately, they probably do.

You might also like these posts from The Nut-Free Mom blog:

Planning for the School Year with Food Allergies

Working Around Food Allergies at Class Parties

Teaching Kids to Manage their Nut Allergies

For a crash course in managing your child's life-threatening nut allergies (including communication tips and lots of emotional support), click this link.

Note: I'm a parent just like you sharing my experiences. If you have any medical or legal questions, please consult the appropriate medical or legal resources. Thank you!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Nut Allergy Spring Roundup: Nut-Free Recipes, Spring Break Travel Tips and and More

Daylight savings time has officially begun, so for those of us huddled in our parkas in many parts of the country, (except for today -- it's warm(er) and sunny!), that means spring is on the horizon.

I've been hearing from many new readers lately who may have not seen some of the spring-related content, so I wanted to offer a post featuring some of my reader-favorite "spring" topics. For my longtime readers, I hope you don't mind a refresher course with some timely reminders.

Spring Break Travel
For those of you flying to your destination, check out this post. In particular, I talk about our experiences traveling by airplane, a stressful endeavor but not an impossible one. Lots of tips and resources in this post. If you have any questions about you or your child's ability to fly on a plane, it's a good idea to speak to your allergist.

St.  Patrick's Day
Looking for tasty, St. Paddy's Day-themed treats or crafts to do at home or at school? I hope you'll visit my St. Patrick's Day Pinterest board where I've admittedly gone a little overboard collecting "green" ideas for this fun holiday. You'll also find my two favorite Irish Soda Bread recipes -- easy and delicious and nice to have on hand since regular bakeries are off-limits to the nut-allergic. A word to the wise regarding anything I post on Pinterest: I do my best to screen out anything "nutty" but sometimes recipes do contain nuts. I am obviously not advocating that you use those recipes unless you are able to make a "safe" substitution. :) I often suggest substitutions in the "notes" potion of the Pin.

Spring Recipes Book
Last year, Surf Sweets collaborated with me on a spring sweet treats recipe book -- this little e-book is available for free online and has recipes that can be adapted not just to nut-free, but also to gluten-free and dairy-free. Check it out by clicking this link. Surf Sweets has organic, top 10 allergen-free jelly beans for spring -- click the image to the right side bar of this post to find out more.

Is It Allergies or a Cold?
Many people with food allergies also have seasonal allergies but often you can't tell the difference at this sniffly time of year. Find the post by clicking here. Remember - if you have any medical concerns about symptoms, call your doctor and/or allergist.

A Crash Course on Caring for Your Nut-Allergic Child
My e-book, The New Nut-Free Mom, is available on Kindle, Nook and to download to your iPad or computer. Click this link to find out how to get it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kids with Food Allergies and Summer Camp

Heavy snow, rain and overall weather misery in many parts of the country aside, spring is nearly here, which means summer is on the way. It's definitely not too early to be thinking about summer activities -- like camp. But what if your child, like mine, has life-threatening allergies to nuts or other foods?

If some of you are skeptical of the summer camp experience for your severely allergic child, I know how you feel. I summed up our family's experience in this archived Allergic Living magazine article where I discuss the ups and downs of my daughter's week at Girl Scout camp (she was seven years old at the time). The bottom line: it was a big success in spite of a few scares -- all non-allergy related!

For any parent contemplating camp, food allergy awareness must come into play. Some parents don't want to deal with camp and it's your call to make. You know your child better than anyone and what they are capable of handling.

That said, if you can find a camp that accommodates allergies, consider giving it a try (once you've done all of your research and feel confident, of course). I remember how excited my daughter was to attend Girl Scout camp. She still talks about it! In recent years, she has served as a volunteer at our local library and she has been an advocate for the younger allergic kids she encounters. I'm sure the positive role models and teen counselors she met at Girl Scout camp served as inspiration.

That's why I was so excited to hear about Camp Wingate-Kirkland, a nut-free camp in Cape Cod and one of my current blog sponsors. I first learned of this camp a couple of years ago when I was on a panel discussion (via the parenting website The Motherhood) with Lori Sandler of Divvies. Our group included Sandy Rubenstein, one of the owners/directors of Camp Wingate*Kirkland.

The online panel discussion dealt with specific actions to take in order to ensure the safety of food-allergic kids during play dates, sleepovers and summer camp. You can see a write-up of that very helpful and informative discussion by clicking this link.

I received this message regarding the camp's allergy policies: "Camp Wingate*Kirkland is food allergy-friendly and peanut-free. The training and precautions made by the camp staff allow your child to be a camper, not “the camper with allergies.”  For more info, click the "Camp Wingate*Kirkland" image on the right sidebar of this blog. It will take you directly to their web site; you can find their specific allergy policies there, too. Thanks to the directors of this camp for caring about nut-allergic and food-allergic campers!

Important Note:

For your child's health and safety, always speak directly to any and all camp directors for specific information on food allergy policies and accommodations. Please do your own research as you are the best judge of your family's specific situation and needs.

FARE has compiled a list of camps that advertise themselves as allergy-friendly; you can find the list for 2013 by clicking this link. Remember, things can change so please do your own research.

Have you found any local camps that will accommodate your food-allergic camper? How did it go?