Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Fun for Everyone: Candy Bar Birthday Party April 12, 2017

I wish I could take credit for this adorable idea.  But I can’t.  My friend is just a genius.

 

Her own kids aren’t allergic, but my thoughtful and creative friend had kids with food allergies on her mind when she thought about what special treat her daughter could share with ALL of her party guests.  Like my friend, many parents are concerned with how to be inclusive of guests with food allergies.  Sometimes, the best answer is also the simplest.

 

After singing a rowdy chorus of “Happy Birthday” to our favorite 7 year old, the kids were each given a festive party bag that they could fill with any (or ALL) of their favorite candy.  Best of all, everything was dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free and most was also gluten-free.  There’s nothing that makes a child happier than being included in on the fun!

 

Plus, no goodie bag needed!  The kids all got to bring their loot home.  HUGE bonus in my opinion!

 

If you’re going to replicate this fantastic idea, I would recommend a few things:

  1.  Check Allergy Shmallergy’s Safe List of Nut-Free Candy page.  This is not a comprehensive list.  And, it doesn’t account for other allergies.  But you’ll find that many of the candies listed are also dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free.  Read ingredient lists carefully and if you have any doubts of an item’s safety, snap a photo and email the child’s parent to verify.
  2. Save ingredient lists and bring them to the party.  If anything needs to be double-checked, you’ll have all your information at hand.
  3. Be careful when serving similar looking items (like M&Ms and Skittles).  Not only is chance of cross-contamination a concern with unwrapped candy, but I’ve seen unsafe candy fall into safe candy bowls.  For the purposes of a party, I would stick to the idea that “everything on the table is safe for party guests” principle.

 

Look at this fun, inviting table set up!
Looking for containers and scoops like the ones above?

Set of 12 Clear Plastic Candy Scoops

Penny Candy Jars (set of 2)

Amcan Scalloped Container, Large

Vista Premium Quality Plastic 10″ Serving Bowl (set of 2)


  
Smarties.  A classic!


Caught red handed!  My son and his best friend/brother of the birthday girl.

(Thank you in advance! A portion of the proceeds of the affiliate links go toward AllergyStrong.org – an organization aimed at helping low income and at risk families with food allergies.)

 

Take the Reins in the New Year: Food Allergy Goals and Resolutions January 4, 2017

Filed under: Holiday,Uncategorized — malawer @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

happy-new-year-1063797_1280

 

It’s a new year!  A time to look ahead and move ever forward with our lives.  And with the beginning of each new year comes hope and possibility.

 

We’re moving forward into this new year with food allergies, so let’s do it with intention.  Let’s set some goals to color our journey and enrich our lives!

 

Here are some of my personal food allergy resolutions this year:

 

– Continue to foster a strong sense of self in my son. Empower him to speak up and stand strong.

– Arm him with enough information to help him make good, sound decisions – even as he approaches those risky pre-teen and teenage years.

– Teach my son cooking skills and creative work-arounds.  Balance his love of adventurous eating with a sense of both ingredients and process used to create various cuisines.  Asian fare with a sesame seed allergy?  Yes!  Dairy-free baking?  Of course!

– Continue to advocate for food allergy families everywhere – to make life easier and less stressful for everyone, ourselves included.

– Move forward in helping at-risk families with food allergies.  Learn more about ways to improve the lives of low income families, food insecure families, as well as those affected by natural disaster or other extenuating circumstances.

-Focus on food allergy education in schools and the greater community as well as positive parenting for food allergic families.

 

What are your food allergy goals for this year?  Let us know what you have on your radar for the year ahead.

  • Traveling with food allergies
  • Recipes and party ideas
  • Advocacy efforts
  • Latest research and treatment options
  • Empowering your child
  • Food allergies at school

 

What do you want to learn more about?

 

Stock the Shelves for Families with Food Allergies November 22, 2016

With the holidays upon us, gratefulness should be at the forefront of our minds.  It’s certainly on mine.  And, while I am so thankful for so many things, I can’t help but think of those who may be enduring hardship.

 

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unaltered photo from Salvation Army USA West via Flickr at http://bit.ly/2gcaVDo

 

In 2013 (and each year since), my sons and I have volunteered at a food assistance center in our area.  As I detail in my original post, Thankful (Nov. 2013), my eldest son – who is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds and dairy – took me aside as we were sorting donations.  “I couldn’t make a meal out of anything in here,” he whispered.  He was concerned that if a kid like him had to rely on a food pantry for his or her meals, they’d leave hungry.  In reality, his worry is not unfounded.  Food insecure families with food allergies are forced to make difficult decisions every day.

 

So, let’s try to make things a little easier for those with food allergies who are in need this holiday season.  If you can, I encourage you all to donate food allergy-friendly food to your local food pantry or regional food bank.  When you do, please attach the forms below to request that your donation be set aside for another food allergy family or individual.

 

AllergyStrong/Allergy Shmallergy Food Donation Forms

 

And, if you or someone you know works at a food pantry, please ask them to contact us at erin@allergystrong.com.  We’d love to work with local and regional pantries to help them support food allergy families year-round.

 

Some Suggested Items to Donate

  • Sunbutter, Soynut Butter, Wowbutter, or other alternative to peanut butter
  • Gluten-free Pasta
  • Dairy-free, long shelf-life Soy, Rice or Coconut Milk
  • Rice or Corn-based Cereal
  • Gluten-free cereal and oatmeal
  • Rice-based meals
  • Ener-G Egg Replacer
  • Gluten-free, dairy-free or egg-free baking mixes (muffins, etc)

 

 

Focus on Fun: Thanksgiving Games November 17, 2016


Thanksgiving and other food-centric holidays are tough for families with food allergies.  Traditional foods may not be safe and allergic family members sometimes feel excluded from the celebration.

 

Time to interject fun, family traditions that won’t fill you up and are cross-contamination free-guaranteed!

 

One of my favorite ways to do this is to have the kids go on a scavenger hunt.  If you have a small group dining, the hunt could be for objects in the house or yard.  If you have a large group, the hunt could be for answers to questions from family and friends.  [See attached.]

 

Download here:

Focus on Fun – Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunts

 

Pinterest also has a ton of Thanksgiving crafts that kids can complete while watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade and waiting for the turkey.  The art work could decorate the dinner table or the dining room!  This is a great way to get food allergic kids involved with the meal without worry about allergens.

 

Perfect for indoor or out!  Download the ready-made Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunt here:

Focus on Fun – Thanksgiving Scavenger Hunts

 

Halloween Snacks: Safe and Perfect for the Classroom or Party October 27, 2016

full-table-halloween

I had so much fun prepping for our Day of the Dead themed Halloween party!  Not only was it fun to lay out the decorations and style the table, but I loved coming up with fun and festive food to serve.

 

I planned carefully to create snacks that reflect the season and are fun – food that fits right in the spirit of Halloween!  The Halloween table – like all dining tables – is meant for everyone to be included – for me, fun, festive and inclusive food is especially important because my oldest son’s food allergies sometimes leave him without a candy option as he trick-or-treats.  As such, I needed to serve things that are food allergy-friendly.  And themed, safe food can be hard to come by.

 

First, I put our pumpkin innards (“pumpkin guts”) to good use.  We scooped and separated out the seeds. In a bowl filled with water, we strained out the rest of the pumpkin core and dried the seeds in a kitchen towel.

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Above, you’ll see two versions of pumpkin seeds – both are nearly everything-free.

 

 

The Classic:img_5770

Pumpkin seeds (approximately 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
2 Tablespoons dairy-free butter, melted
pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 300 F degrees.

 

With your pumpkin seeds already in a bowl, pour the melted butter substitute over the seeds and stir to combine.

Arrange the seed mixture on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast the seeds slowly, stirring occasionally.  At 25 minutes, add salt.  Roast for another 15-20 minutes, bringing the total roasting time to approximately 40-45 minutes.

 

 

Salty Sweet Pumpkin Seeds:img_5775

 

1 1/2 – 2 cups pumpkin seeds
2 Tablespoons dairy-free butter
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

 

Combine sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

With your pumpkin seeds already in a bowl, pour the melted butter substitute over the seeds and stir to combine.

Arrange the seed mixture on a baking sheet in a single layer.  Roast the seeds slowly, stirring occasionally.  At 15 minutes, add sugar mixture and stir.  Roast for another 20-30 minutes, bringing the total roasting time to approximately 40-45 minutes.

 

 

Next, I threw together some easy, no-brainer jello.  Good ol’ fashioned jello.  But check these out…

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…using the Skull and Crossbones mold, I made fun shapes that my kids gobbled down.  Tip:  spray the inside of the mold with cooking spray before pouring in the jello.  Use a little less liquid than recommended to keep the jello firm.  My larger sized box called for 2 cups of water – I used 1 1/2 cups instead.

 

And, finally, my favorite snack of all….  Stay tuned!  It’s worth the wait!

 

Day of the Dead Halloween Party October 25, 2016

Disclaimer: Allergy Shmallergy received these goods in exchange for an honest review.  I only feature products that I use myself and believe would be useful to the food allergy community.

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Trick or Treat banner from Oriental Trading

 

 

Halloween is almost here!  I hope you are all busy painting and decorating your teal pumpkins.  Teal pumpkins are a great way to let food allergy families know that you support them by offering non-food treats.  And by now, you all know that Oriental Trading has an enormous selection of non-food treats to fill your Halloween buckets.  These trick-or-treat items have a huge impact on kids with food allergies who often cannot collect almost any candy.  Food allergic kids can feel very left out at Halloween which is why it’s important to find ways for everyone to have fun safely.

2016-10-25-15-23-56

My middle son sporting a pair of glow in the dark vampire fangs…

[Oriental Trading supports the Teal Pumpkin project.  Check out their Halloween selection here.]

 

And, don’t forget to check their coupon page (you never know!):  Oriental Trading Coupon & Promo Page

 

We have a tradition of hosting an annual Halloween party at our house.  I began this as a way of ensuring that my son had plenty to eat and lots to celebrate when he was a young trick-or-treater.  Initially, he was allergic to so many foods that I couldn’t find a single candy he could enjoy safely.

 

I’m happy to report that he has since outgrown a few allergies.  Most candy is still off limits to him.  But surrounded by great friends at a pre-trick-or-treat dinner and post-candy-swap, he doesn’t mind.   Every year, the party grows and grows to include more families and more fun!

 

This year, I’ve create a Day of the Dead themed Halloween table.

halloween-middle-table

The playful patterns and colorful sugar skulls dress up any table.  Check out the cups!

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I couldn’t resist these plates and napkins – so I infused a little of the traditional Halloween with the addition of these irresistible black and white plates and napkins.

img_5807

 

Just like an outfit, accessories can make a table.  This sugar skull bowl and small skulls were a great addition to the black and whites at play.

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Are you looking at this table runner?!  You can’t quite tell from the photos, but it has spiders at the center of the webs and glitters in the light.  And, that pumpkin?!  I’ll be using it on my table through Thanksgiving!

 

 

I also picked out this silicone mold – which can be used for ice or to dress up snacks!

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Here’s a list of the items I used to create my Day of the Dead Halloween table:

 

Day of the Dead Candy Dish

Glittered Spider Table Runner

Foam Orange Pumpkin

Skull & Crossbones Ice Cube Tray

Skulls

“Trick or Treat” Halloween Cardboard Pennant Banner

Spider Web Dinner Plates

Large Polka Dots Dessert Plates

Boo Beverage Napkins

Day of the Dead Disposable Cups

Glow-in-the-Dark Vampire Teeth

Colorful Halloween Spider Rings

Day of the Dead Skull Wall Decoration

 

 

Now that the table – and the mood – are set, stay tuned later this week to see what I’m serving!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Motivations: Food Allergy Baker, Nicole Seevers and Cole’s Moveable Feast August 29, 2016

Filed under: Holiday,Order & Ship,Parent Sanity,Uncategorized — malawer @ 3:45 am

 

My hats are off to all the parents out there who are taking time out of their lives to make life better for all of us with food allergies.

 

I’d like to introduce you to one such parent, fellow food allergy mom, Nicole Seevers of Cole’s Moveable Feast.  On a quest to ensure her son always feels included, she began experimenting in the kitchen.  The results aren’t just safe and delicious for her son, Cole; they are scrumptious for everyone!

 

We were the lucky recipients of the above OUTSTANDING allergy-friendly dessert: iced tea cupcakes with lemonade frosting – possibly my favorite flavor combination of all time. I opened the box and thought they might be almost too beautiful to eat.  Almost.  Their mouth-watering aroma sucked me in immediately.  I’m usually more of a frosting girl (and, oh my gosh, was this frosting good), but it was the moist and tasty cake that balanced the tart and sweet original frosting so well that just made the treat.  My kids loved them and my extended family had no idea they were made without wheat, dairy, peanuts or tree nuts.  I’m planning on ordering these again for my next brunch.  And my food allergic son has requested I call Nicole for his next birthday.  That’s ONE thing off my party planning list!

 

Nicole can cater to almost any allergy and any occasion.  Check out her gallery of goodies at Cole’s Moveable Feast.  And, for those outside her delivery area, please check out our ever-growing list of allergy-friendly bakeries on Allergy Shmallergy’s Allergy Friendly Bakeries page.

 

Inspired by her story and motivation, I took a moment to ask Nicole a few questions…

 

1.  Tell us about how you got into the baking business?  Were you always a baker?
Not long ago, a lot of my friends and family would have been surprised to see the word ‘baker’ connected to my name.  I grew up here in Virginia, and like most people, food was a big part of my family life.  My mom and my grandmother were wonderful cooks, and the desserts were especially good. I learned a lot from them, but it wasn’t a passion for me. I headed to New York after college and stayed there for 12 years, practicing law and eating a majority of my meals in restaurants. My husband is a great cook, but it was never really my thing.  When we did eat at home, I was usually in charge of dessert (I have a big sweet tooth). But things got more complicated when our second child was born.

 

2.  What inspired you to bake allergy-friendly goods?
My son Cole. As soon as we introduced solid food, we knew. His first taste of yogurt made him sick. He vomited and started wheezing. Eggs did the same thing. Over the course of the next few months, we learned he was allergic to dairy, eggs, tree nuts, buckwheat, sesame and shellfish. He also has asthma and spent nearly a year avoiding gluten to try to reduce inflammation. I think under normal circumstances, it could have been overwhelming, especially for someone who didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. But I had watched my own mom handle it. My younger brother struggled with the same allergies and more … including wheat, soy and corn. Those are tough allergies anyway, and in the ’70s, there was no popping into Whole Foods for an allergy-free snack. But my mom rolled up her sleeves and dealt with it.

So for me, it meant figuring out how to make sure Cole didn’t feel deprived or left out. Celebrations are big in our family. I wanted to learn how to make treats we could all enjoy. And it turns out, I LOVED baking. But what about when Cole was invited to a birthday party? Or when he started school, and had to say ‘no thanks’ every time a parent brought in cupcakes for a celebration. I was spending so much money on expensive, processed snack foods that were allergy-friendly but kind of bland. I thought, I can’t be the only one who wants better options. So this spring, I launched Cole’s Moveable Feast.

 

3.  Do you cater only to the food allergic community?
At first I did, but then people started asking me to do “regular” cakes for their events also.  But I’d say 90% of what I do is customized around specific allergies. Frankly, I like some of my allergy-free goodies more than the regular kind! I probably shouldn’t admit that, huh?

 

4.  What are some of your biggest challenges in the kitchen?
Time and space! It’s me, one oven, one dishwasher and two mixers.  I have a separate pantry and fridge for bakery ingredients and dedicated cabinets for equipment. But allergy-free recipes, especially those without gluten or eggs, require additional steps and ingredients, so it takes longer and makes a bigger mess.  And I’m fastidious about sanitizing surfaces and equipment, especially between orders. That takes more time than you’d think. So I’m starting to think about next steps … my dream is a bakery where anyone can walk in and find something on the menu board. Cole has never experienced that.

 

5.  Is there any allergen/other obstacle you’ve had a hard time accommodating?  How do/did you overcome obstacles?
Oh yeah. It’s hard enough to bake without egg, dairy and gluten. In fact, I had to come up with my own gluten-free flour blends and egg substitutes, because I just couldn’t get my baked goods where I wanted them with commercially-available substitutes. But when you take soy and corn out of the equation, it gets even harder. Those ingredients are everywhere because they’re cheap (and genetically-modified and federally-subsidized, but that’s a rant for a different day). But I’ve gotten there, after lots of research and working closely with my customers … and throwing out a TON of failed experiments. I am so thankful for the Internet, for all those people that forged ahead of me and blogged about it. And for companies like Earth Balance, Authentic Foods and Enjoy Life, among others, that are dedicated to producing high-quality allergy-free ingredients.

 

6.  Has taking customized orders forged a connection to your clients?
YES! That was the biggest surprise in all of this. I figured, if I got lucky, word would get out and I’d get a nice flow of orders listing the ingredients that needed to be excluded. I didn’t realize that nearly every single order would come with a unique story. The mother that was told a party venue could handle her child’s food allergies … until they heard it was soy. The child with a severely restricted diet that hasn’t had cake in years. The adult struggling with health issues. Everyone has something they’re dealing with, but we’re wired to connect and comfort, love and celebrate, through FOOD. When I can be part of that connection, it’s  awesome. Baking for someone can be a very intimate act.

 

7.  What has been the most rewarding aspect of starting your company?
Well first and foremost, it’s that connection I was talking about. I really can’t believe I get to do this. Meet interesting people, help them out, bake and get paid for it?! It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone, forcing me to connect, solve puzzles, make mistakes, rethink. But also, my three kids are SO excited about it.  I love letting them be a part of this, letting them witness the fact that you can find what brings you joy and go after it.  My dad has always pushed me to do that: to have a vision and do the hard work to make it happen. I want my kids to learn that lesson too.