Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Visiting Amusement Parks with Food Allergies June 18, 2018

Headed to an amusement park this summer?  It’s a good time to plan your meals ahead so you don’t have a meltdown on your hands.  And, navigating an amusement park can be easy!  In fact, you may be surprised to see how many major amusement parks are well-prepared for guests with food allergies.  If you’ve recently visited an amusement park, please be sure to leave us a comment and let us know how it went!

 

Headed to an amusement park?  Consider these tips:

 

  • Pack (or ship to your hotel) snacks and hard-to-eat-safely items like breakfast, hamburger rolls, granola bars and desserts.
  • Bring a collapsible cooler (AND freezable cooler packs) to tote into the parks for the day.  They are great at storing safe food as well as keeping epinephrine auto-injectors cool during long, hot days.
  • ALWAYS carry two auto injectors.  Everyone wants to carry as little as possible to an amusement park, but two auto-injectors MUST come with you.  Consider a small backpack with a zipper so you’re not bogged down with a spillable purse or tote bag.  You’re going to need sunscreen anyway…!
  • Contact culinary services at least a week in advance to ensure you have a fun, easy and SAFE day at the park!

 

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Walt Disney World, Disney Land and Associated Properties

Disney is renowned for how it accommodates guests with food allergies.  They are truly the gold standard.  Guests can review menus and have access to chefs to obtain further information.  It is recommended that you discuss your food allergies with each server, as always.  There’s lots of excellent information and suggestions online, including contacting them prior to your trip should you have 4 or more allergens and how to bring safe food into the parks.

Disney Special Dietary Requests

 

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Universal

Universal Orlando recommends prepping for your trip by reviewing menus and discussing your allergies with a Guest Services advisor.  Plus, they outline how to bring your own food into the park should you need to!

If you’re headed to Universal Studios Hollywood, you’re in luck:  you can easily view what’s safe online.  Call Guest Services if you have multiple food allergies or further questions.

Universal Orlando Food Allergy info

Universal Studios Hollywood Dining Food Guide

 

Legoland

Legoland refers guests with food allergies to a Dietary Guide that doesn’t connect at the present moment.  They also suggest contacting  LLF-Food@legoland.com prior to your visit to answer specific questions.  Per their guidelines, outside food and drinks may be brought into the park for dietary needs.

Legoland Florida – Food Allergies

Outside Food and Alcohol Policy

 

 

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Seaworld

Did you know that Seaworld has designated dining facilities for visitors with food allergies?  There is at least one restaurant in each of their parks that is best suited to handle food allergy issues and preparation.  Click each link to read more about Seaworld’s food allergy preparations and policies.

Seaworld Orlando Food Allergy Info

Seaworld San Diego Food Allergy Info

Seaworld San Antonio Food Allergy Info

 

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Hershey Park

In addition to making allergen menus available at most of Hershey Park’s restaurants, dining for those with food allergies has just gotten easier with the addition of a gluten-free, nut-free, fish and shellfish-free restaurant.  Hershey notes that every nursing station is equipped with EpiPens, but – as always – remember to bring your own.

Hershey Park Food Allergen Information

Hershey Park Food Allergen Information

 

Sesame Place

Sesame Place keeps its allergen information to individualized questions.  They ask that guests ask specific questions to  AllergenfriendlySPL@sesameplace.com at least 3-5 business days in advance for additional information. A culinary representative will work with each guest to ensure a safe dining experience.  Guests with food allergies are allowed to bring in safe food.

Sesame Place Food Allergen Information

 

 

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Six Flags

Six Flags have a variety of restaurants at each park.  While you cannot see an allergen menu on their site, you may be able to get the name of food vendors and research ingredients that way (for example, Six Flags Great Adventure has a Panda Express that a visitor could research).  Should you have food allergies, you can bring food inside the park.  If you plan on eating at one of the parks’ restaurants, be sure to ask LOTS of questions about ingredients and prep including french fry oil and cross contamination.

Six Flags

 

Busch Gardens

Busch Gardens seems to take food allergies seriously.  They answers a lot of excellent questions right on their website and provide ways of obtaining even more specific information should it be needed. Busch Gardens Tampa even offers allergen friendly dining facilities.  Again, collapsible coolers are allowed for those with dietary restrictions.

Busch Gardens Tampa Food Allergen Info

Busch Gardens Williamsburg Food Allergen Info

 

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Cedar Point

Cedar Point’s website identifies dining locations that serve certain allergens as well as a few that do not serve certain allergens.  If you have multiple food allergies, this may take a little cross referencing to find a few things that are safe.  They do not list information about brining in safe food from outside – so you may have to contact them directly.

Cedar Point Special Dietary Needs

 

Knott’s Berry Farm

Knott’s Berry Farms follows the same process as Cedar Point in identifying products and locations that use allergens.  They also identify certain locations and products that are free from specific allergens.  Again, they do not list if you can bring in safe food from outside the park. Contact them directly should you need additional information.

Knott’s Berry Farm Dietary Needs

 

Canada’s Wonderland

Once again, Canada’s Wonderland follows the same process as Cedar Point and Knott’s Berry Farm in helping guests navigate the park.  They list dining options by allergen, so if you have multiple food allergies, expect to cross reference these lists.  They do not state whether or not you can bring in safe food from outside of the park.  Contact them directly with additional questions.

Canada’s Wonderland Dietary Needs

 

 

 

Creative and Fun Non-Food Ideas to Fill Your Easter Eggs March 25, 2018

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Having food allergies can be limiting during food-centric holidays.  They are especially hard for kids during candy-themed holidays like Easter, Valentine’s Day and Halloween.  Children with food allergies are often left out or feel excluded from the goodies AND the fun.

 

But it can be easy to make sure Easter is enjoyable for everyone.  Many families fill the candy void by using non-food treats.  If you need some inspiration for how to fill your Easter eggs this year, look no further!

 

1. Glow Rings:  Boys and girls alike love glow rings.  They fit any finger and extend the fun into the night.  Maybe it will send the kids outside while you clean up dinner!

2.  Sticky Hands:  You can ball these up easily and fit them inside eggs.  Sticky hands are perfect – kids love softly slapping against windows and mirrors and stretching them as far as they can go!

3.  Squishy Animals:  I don’t know exactly why, but these little squishy animals are addictive.  They’re a great replacement for fidget spinners and fantastic for the kid who loves collections.

4.  Stretchy Ninja Flyers:  Okay, full disclosure… I want these right now – for me.  They look like so much fun! Small enough to fit in your pocket (or egg!) and great for an active kid.  Have a contest to see how far you can make your ninja fly!  Be the fastest to fling and retrieve your ninja!

5.  Emojis!  Everything emoji-related is so popular right now.  Yes, even the poop emoji.  Especially the poop emoji!

6.  Itty Bitty Nail Polishes:  This set of Frozen-themed nail polish could be divided and placed in a number of eggs.  It will be like finding a rainbow!

7.  Wind-Up Toys:  These are fun for everyone!  Plus, this pack comes with 28 assorted toys.  Use some now, save some for later!  And, these are fantastic to bring to restaurants or other places where your children might need a little diversion.

 

Happy Easter everyone!

 

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

 

New Snack Alert! Enjoy Life Granola Bars September 6, 2017

Note: Enjoy Life sent me their new granola flavors to sample.  I am reviewing because I truly enjoyed them and believe they are a good product for families like mine.

Your lunch game just got easier.  Enjoy Life recently released granola bars in a few new flavors – and they are anything but ordinary.  While on vacation with our extended family, we decided to have a taste test.  We’re a picky crew, because between us we are allergic to:  peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy, eggs, pineapple, shrimp, salmon and gluten (celiac).

 

Amazingly, these were a big hit with everyone, allergic and otherwise.  Everyone had their own favorite flavor.  Mine was the Caramel Blondie.  Sweet and buttery, the caramel tasted fantastic dotted with chocolate chips.  Why hasn’t this flavor been created sooner?!

My cousin, a chef, loved the Carrot Cake granola bars.   The cinnamon-y, pumpkin spice flavor was just right balanced against the sweet carrot taste.  Your kids will LOVE eating their vegetables this way!  If only it counted towards their daily intake!

Her daughter, 6, preferred the Lemon Blueberry Poppy Seed.  What a sophisticated palate – clearly the child of a cook!  These were moist and delicious like the others.  The blueberry and poppy tastes were complimented by the citrusy lemon.  Yum!  I’d eat these for breakfast!  Is that a thing?!

 

Best of all, as always Enjoy Life is free from: gluten, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, soy, fish and shellfish and are Kosher and Halal and non-GMO.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best (and Worst) Practices of Some of Our Favorite Restaurants June 12, 2017

Restaurants need to pay attention to food allergies.  Aside from the obvious risk of health complications, misunderstanding of such common and serious conditions comes off as uninformed, unsympathetic, and negligent.  Sometimes even the best restaurants aren’t well-informed or trained about handling food allergy requests.  But when a restaurant gets it right, it earns a customer’s loyalty forever.  Below are some of the best and worst practices among our experiences.  I’d love to hear some examples of BEST practices from YOUR dining experiences by commenting below.

 

To understand what’s happening behind the kitchen doors, read Allergic Living’s Special Report, What Restaurants Are Getting Right and Wrong on Food Allergies.  And if you work at a restaurant, please read Simple Strategies for Restaurants to Manage Food Allergies for easy ways to improve food allergy service.

 

 

Hops (Greensboro, NC)

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The reputation of this burger joint was impossible to ignore.  And, we knew from our first year eating here that it was well-deserved.  In fact, I had been impressed that they offered gluten-free beer and buns, despite the fact that we do not eat gluten-free.

However, one night, arriving with a large group of friends, we noticed that a vegetarian burger containing nuts was added to the menu.  This greatly increased the possibility of cross-contamination for our peanut and tree nut allergic son.  We asked the server if the restaurant could clean a small portion of the grill before making my son’s hamburger. No. Could they grill his burger in a pan?  No.  Would they consider grilling his burger on a piece of clean tin foil?  No.

 

So, we walked across the street and ate there instead.  Rather than thinking flexibly, the restaurant has lost our business – not just our family’s business, but that of our entire group.

 

Miyagi (McLean, VA)

This Japanese restaurant is always crowded.  Its sushi is consistently fresh and delicious.

 

When we explained that my son had a sesame seed allergy and could not have any sesame on his order, they seemed to understand.   But it was a different story when the plate arrived with sesame seeds covering the side dish.  And the replacement was sent back on the same plate with the side dish scraped off.

 

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill (Moorsetown, NJ)

Driving down the New Jersey Turnpike, we all grew hungry and needed a break from the car.  We decided to stop at Firebirds off exit 4 on a whim.  And, what a great choice!  The food was great and the servers were extra careful with our food allergy requests.  The chef himself came over to our table to answer each question we had.

“I like to visit each table with food allergies personally,” he said, “so that you know I understand your concerns and we can discuss a plan so you know you’re eating safely.”

The chef watched his best friend deal with celiac disease and food allergies at restaurants and wanted to change that experience for his own customers.  The effort was enormously appreciated!

 

Clare and Don’s Beach Shack (Falls Church, VA)

This local restaurant is an experience unto itself.  In addition to its fun and friendly indoor ambiance, it has generous outdoor seating with a fire pit for the cool months and live music for the warmer ones.  The owners always make everyone feel warm and welcome.  Their quick response to our questions (even when that requires contacting suppliers or figuring out how to make something safe on the fly) is part of their natural, good-natured customer service.  And, it’s something we’re incredibly grateful for.

In fact, they’ve become so accommodating with and accustomed to my son’s orders that when the ticket comes into the kitchen, his meals often return to the table with a greeting from one of the owners herself.

 

Burton’s Grill (Charlottesville, VA and elsewhere)

This restaurant gets kids’ menus right.  Rather than ordering and substituting everything as food allergy families usually do, this menu allows kids (and their parents) to customize each piece.  And for those of us with dietary restrictions, that means more options, less hassle.  We still had a few questions for our server (safety of hamburger buns and fry oil) and were pleased to see the seriousness with which they sought the answers.  Such a great experience, we made a repeat visit within the same weekend.

 

Harvey Cedar’s Shellfish Co (Long Beach Island, NJ)

This is a perennial favorite for our family and friends.  A down-to-earth seafood restaurant with friendly staff is a no-brainer.  But nothing with food allergies is completely straight-forward.  As my son became more and more adventurous and we posed more and more questions about their menu, one server in particular took it upon himself to create an allergen menu with the help of the owner and chefs.  We were hugely impressed with this simple and easy to navigate menu.  It has encouraged my son to try even MORE menu items which has resulted in his love of swordfish, mussels, and lobster!

 

La Tela (Kiawah Island, SC)

We waited for 45 minutes to sit down at this popular wood-fired pizza and Italian restaurant just off Kiawah Island.  By the time we had been seated, it was late and the kids were STARVING.  We had a great time eating here a couple of years prior and were looking forward to a good meal.

When we told the waiter my son was allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds and sensitive to dairy (because of his EOE), a manager returned to discuss the menu with us.  She had thorough knowledge of kitchen preparations and ingredients.  As it turns out, because they use pine nuts in their pesto pizza (which contaminates the oven) only salad and plain pasta were safe for him – a HUGE disappointment.  But they were willing to prepare pasta for my son in a dedicated pot to ensure it was safe.  He was not thrilled, but we appreciated the extra step.

Unfortunately, the pasta arrived covered in sauce – something my son doesn’t like and specifically ordered against.  When we pointed this out to our server, he was clearly put out.  Annoyed and not hiding it, he said that although the kitchen could prepare another batch of pasta, it would take a very long time.  He suggested that my son just eat the meal in front of him.

The last thing you want to do is tell a food allergic child (or anyone with a medical condition) to just suck it up.  We left frustrated with our mixed experience.  While the restaurant itself was great, this visit emphasizes how much of your experience lies with the individual you are working with.  In our case: the server.

 

Sandbox (Long Beach Island, NJ)

Breakfast is tricky for those with dairy allergies.  So much of what kids want to order in the morning (pancakes, waffles, even scrambled eggs) is made with milk.  My son has become used to having fruit and bacon when we’re out at breakfast.  But on this one morning, he really wanted French Toast.  There were a lot of hurdles to overcome before we could safely order this: safety of the bread and preparation surface, can they coat it only in egg…?    Yes on all accounts.  This specially prepared French Toast – made in a separate pan – makes my son SO happy.  Sandbox’s flexible thinking makes him feel great and relaxed.

 

But, when we spoke with the owner, we experienced a funny lack of awareness.  While we complimented her restaurant at being so good at handling food allergies, she made a few insensitive comments.  We told her about my son’s many food allergies. Having been a former teacher, she said, “Oh!  I would have HATED to have you in my class!”  Later, my son asked, “What’s wrong?  Why wouldn’t she have wanted to teach me?”  Not the message you want your customers leaving with.  Also, you wouldn’t say that to someone in a wheelchair or with a serious illness.  Why say that to a child who similarly didn’t choose to have food allergies?

 

Rocco’s Tacos (throughout Florida)

Rocco’s Tacos is our Florida obsession.  My whole family loves eating at this festive and delicious restaurant.  It’s made even easier to love because across locations, Rocco’s takes food allergies seriously.  They seek out ingredients and are creative at work-arounds when necessary.  At our most recent visit in Boca Raton, the server approached us to let me know that his brother had food allergies, conveying that he understood our questions and concerns whole-heartedly.  That kind of information is so helpful when explaining what you (as the food allergy family) are looking for.

And, look!  They flag food allergy orders from the kitchen to table so that mistakes are avoided.  Love that system!

 

Sakura (Vienna, VA)

Japanese hibachi restaurants, as it turns out, can be a fantastic place to eat with food allergies.  Many do not use any dairy.  And their prep surface is diligently cleaned right in front of customers.

 

Sakura’s menu clearly states that they don’t use peanuts or peanut oil in any of its menu items.  They take time to understand the food allergies at our table and craft a careful plan to cook each meal in the proper order to ensure its safety.  When we eat with our extended family, as we often do, we need to avoid my son’s food allergies as well as my in-law’s – that means, no peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy, or shrimp.  They prepare everything with ease (and great skill!) right in front of us.

 

Panzone’s Pizza (Long Beach Island, NJ)

Panzone’s boasts some of the best pizza on the Jersey Shore.  But it was when we began ordering their other menu items that we realized how easy they made things for food allergic families like ours.  The owner pulled out a binder filled with ingredient lists for all menu items, including those from her suppliers.  Stock from suppliers is typically our biggest roadblock for information.  Restaurants often have no idea what is in a supplied item and cannot take the time to call to inquire.

 

Perusing Panzone’s ingredient binder allowed us to partake in items that are usually not safe elsewhere: like (cheeseless) cheesesteaks, amazing breaded wings, and fish tacos.

 

6 Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies March 7, 2017

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Spring break is on the horizon!  Can you smell the fresh air already?  Are you mentally packing your bags? (I am!)

 

Here are a few tips when traveling with food allergies:

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  1.  Call your airline and inquire about their food allergy policy in advance.  Ask specifically about early boarding and in-flight announcements.
  2. Most airlines will allow passengers to board the plane early in order to wipe down surfaces (this includes seat backs, seat belts, tray tables and knobs, armrests). Be sure to bring enough baby wipes or antibacterial wipes (such as Wet Ones) to cover all the legs of your travel.  Again, ask about pre-boarding at the gate.
  3. Carry your epinephrine auto-injectors and antihistamines ON BOARD.  Do not pack these away in your luggage.  [*ALLERGY SHMALLERGY TIP*: Zyrtec makes dissolvable tablets which eliminate the worry over bringing liquids through security as well as anything spilling in your bags.]
  4. If you’re traveling to a warm weather destination, you’ll need to remember to keep your epinephrine auto-injectors at room temperature – even while enjoying the beach or pool.  Pack a cool pack (like this one) and an insulated bag (like this cute lunch bag).  Store the cool packs in your hotel’s mini-fridge (who needs a $15 bag of M&Ms anyway!?) or plan on ordering a to-go cup of ice to keep the medicine cool poolside.
  5. A hotel or resort’s food services manager can usually help you navigate menus.  On our last vacation, the food services manager had food allergies himself and was invaluable in hunting down ingredients and safe alternatives for our family.  Befriend this fantastic person!
  6. If you’re planning on visiting an amusement park, taking a hike or being similarly active, consider packing a backpack into your luggage (or use one as your carry-on!).  You’ll need to bring your epinephrine auto-injectors wherever you go – especially on vacation when you’re away from home cooking, familiar restaurants and local knowledge of hospitals and doctors.  Backpacks can make carrying it easier depending on the activity – simply slip the insulated bag into your backpack and go!

 

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Two more notes:

  • Airline travelers should bring their own snacks/meals on board flights to ensure their safety.
  • Refrain from using airplane blankets and pillows as allergen residue may reside there.
  • Bring a baby or antibacterial wipe to the bathroom to wipe down door  and knob handles.

 

 

 

Managing Food Allergies In the Snow November 30, 2016

winter sledding in the snow, winter break

photo taken by Kevin Jarrett

Winter is an important time to get outside. It leaves you feeling refreshed and invigorated. Winter weather invites us to engage in all kinds of fun and unique activities. Ice skating and hot chocolate go hand in hand. Snow days beg for sledding down sleek hills. Cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, and even hiking are fabulous ways to appreciate the quiet beauty of the season.

 

And, of course, there’s my personal passion: skiing.

 

No matter what your winter passion is, please read Let It Snow! (below) for some important tips on how to carry your epinephrine auto-injector and how to manage your food allergies in the cold and on the slopes!

 

See our story and read how to enjoy – not endure – the season in the Winter 2016 edition of Allergy & Asthma Today:

 

Allergy & Asthma Today – Winter 2016

Or read it here:

Let It Snow!  Managing Food Allergies In the Snow

Our family loves wintertime and winter sports – skiing, sledding, ice skating, you name it. My son has multiple food allergies, so we always carry epinephrine auto-injectors with us, even in the cold, and we make sure they are safe and secure.

 

Epinephrine must be kept at room temperature in order for the medication to remain effective. When you plan to go outside in the cold, carry your auto-injectors in the inside pocket of your winter coat.

 

If you have no interior pockets, or they’re not big enough, get creative. We made a holder for our epinephrine auto-injectors using a pencil case and a lanyard – anything to keep the epinephrine close by and at the correct temperature.

 

Gone Skiing

 

When my son was old enough, my husband – an avid skier – was excited to get him on the slopes. But the idea of trying to manage his food allergies on a ski vacation seemed challenging.

 

Who could I track down to get ingredient information for food in the ski lodge cafeteria? How was I going to store and easily access snacks and lunches that were safe for my son? Could I rely on the ski school to look out for him and his food allergies?

 

During recent ski trips, we found food service employees were knowledgeable about food allergies. Several of my son’s ski instructors needed no introduction to epinephrine auto-injectors – some had food allergies themselves, which made them even cooler in my son’s eyes.

 

The staff walked him through cafeteria lines, read ingredient lists, and helped him find safe alternatives for group snacks – all at 10,000 feet.

 

If you’re planning a trip to a ski resort, here are some food allergy tips:

 

  1. Call ahead. Ski lodge operations may seem relaxed, but they do take food allergies seriously. We spoke with a food services manager at one ski lodge who outlined their offerings, looked up food suppliers and tracked down ingredients for us – all before we stepped foot in the snow. Ask about the lunch routine during ski school and what kinds of food students receive. Are they given snacks? Do they have free choice in the cafeteria?

 

  1. Show up for ski school classes early with your epinephrine auto-injectors. Talk with your child’s ski instructors and if necessary, teach them how to use an epinephrine auto-injector – and when to use it. Remind them they will need to store it in an inside pocket of their ski jacket to keep it close to room temperature.

 

  1. Consider meeting up with your child’s ski school class for lunch to help your child navigate the cafeteria line. But don’t expect to eat with them! Skiing creates fast friendships and your child will have more fun hanging out with their ski buddies.

 

  1. Pack some safe snacks and store them someplace readily accessible. Kids are often hungry when they get off the slopes and ski lodge cafeterias typically close right when the lifts do.

 

Now … Bring on the snow!

 

 

Breathing Easy On the Slopes

 

Many people with food allergies also have asthma. When outside in wintertime, cold, dry air can be an asthma trigger. Wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth warms the air you breathe and helps keep the rest of you warm as well. Tuck a quick-relief bronchodilator inhaler into an inside pocket of your jacket just in case you start to cough or wheeze.

Food Allergies

Enjoying a fantastic winter vacation. Skiing in Park City, Utah.

 

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)