Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Allergy-Friendly Hanukkah Doughnuts: Buy Them, Make Them, Eat Them! December 12, 2017

חנוכה - Hanukkah (5235439434)

As a food allergy consultant to schools, I get asked all kinds of questions and involved in all sorts of projects.  Recently, I received a fun assignment!  My daughter’s school asked me to find a safe doughnut to help them celebrate Hanukkah while adhering to their strict nut-free policy.

 

Hanukkah is celebrated over eight nights – recognizing the miracle of the burning oil in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem.  Recognizing that miracle, celebrants everywhere look forward to the tradition of indulging in food fried in oil each night, including doughnuts!  I mean, if we must…

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Traditionally, Jews serve sufganiyot, a jelly doughnut during Hanukkah.  The Big Bang Theorys Mayim Bialik offers this awesome vegan recipe (which means it’s dairy and egg-free!):

Mayim Bialik’s “Unbelievably Delicious” Holiday Recipe – Hanukkah Sufganiyot

 

I will acknowledge, doughnut making can be time consuming and messy!  Preparing doughnuts from scratch is also tough if you’re trying to feed a crowd.  Krispy Kreme used to be the go-to Hanukah doughnuts for my own family as well as for the classrooms I teach in.  Now that Krispy Kreme donuts are decidedly not safe, where can you buy a nut-free doughnut?

 

Enter Katz’s Gluten-Free Donuts.  Sold in boxes of 6, these doughnuts are gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free and soy-free!  You can find them in the kosher frozen food section of the supermarket.  There’s no preparation necessary – just thaw.  Or, for a mouthwatering experience, heat up for a few seconds in the microwave.  (I’m drooling as I write this…)

 

 

Be sure to check out our list of Allergy-Friendly BakeriesDun Well Donuts, The Donut Pub, Brandon’s Best Allergen-Free Sweets ‘N Treats and Amazing Donuts are just a few bakeries on our list that make doughnuts reviewers rave about.  There may be a bakery near you!  (And, if your favorite allergy-friendly bakery isn’t on the list, shoot us a note!)

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Deck the Halls: Allergy-Friendly Gingerbread House Round-Up December 4, 2017

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No one should miss out on holiday traditions.  But families with food allergies are hesitant to participate in activities that revolve around food, particularly baked goods.  Baked goods are often cross-contaminated with nuts and typically contain dairy and eggs – three of the top eight allergens responsible for 90% of allergic reactions.

 

Now with the options below, there’s no reason to sit out the holidays!  Check out these allergy-friendly gingerbread house ideas.  Everyone can gather together and decorate a gingerbread dream home safely!

 

BUY IT:

A&J Bakery’s Allergen Friendly Gingerbread House

If you’re lucky enough to live in Rhode Island, you might want to pop into A&J Bakery to grab their Allergen Friendly Gingerbread House Kit.  Otherwise, you’ll want to place an order now!  In addition to being vegan, these gingerbread houses are free from peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, gluten, wheat, soy and dairy.  The kit comes with the house (assembly required), five different types of allergen-friendly candy to decorate it with as well as some non-edible decorations.

 

Manischewitz Chanukah House

Finally, a Chanukah-themed house!  Manischewitz’s Chanukah House is made with vanilla cookie (a preferred flavor in my house).  Plus, it is nut-free, dairy-free and egg-free!  We have used this kit and it couldn’t be easier to put together and the walls are very sturdy – it surely could survive a candy hurricane (or a not-so-gentle little sister)!

 

MAKE IT!

Did you know that LEGO has a Gingerbread House!  It’s made of Legos, so it’s guaranteed to be allergen-free!

 

Melissa and Doug Mess-Free Glitter Christmas Tree and Gingerbread House

Baby, it’s cold outside!  Make today a craft day indoors with this foam decorating kit.  Kids can decorate it anyway they like without allergens OR mess!  A win-win for parents and kids alike!

 

If you’re determined to make the edible kind, you can use these easy-to-work-with Silicone Molds to create consistent and detailed gingerbread house parts.  [See below for gluten-free recipe!]

 

Sweet Ali’s Gluten-Free Bakery in Illinois has a great recipe posted along with How-To instructions for assembling a gluten-free gingerbread house.  Check it out!

 

DON’T FORGET!

 

There are all kinds of ways to make gingerbread houses using milk cartons, like we did in elementary school.  You can use icing to stick safe graham crackers to the sides of a small size carton of milk (8 or 16 oz size).  (Remember to wash the carton thoroughly before using if you are allergic to dairy.)  You could line the carton with candy canes or pretzel rods to make a delicious log cabin.  OR, you can line the carton in craft paper and decorate it with stickers, buttons, pipe cleaners, etc using glue!

A NOTE ABOUT ROYAL ICING and RECIPE:

 

Royal Icing (the kind used to stick candy to gingerbread houses) often contains egg.  But making royal icing is fairly easy and fun to do with kids.  Try this recipe:

2 cup *sifted* powdered sugar

4-5 tablespoons water

Combine sugar and 4 tbsp of water until smooth.  Continue adding small amounts of water until glossy and thick.

As I understand it, powdered sugar and water icings don’t do well in pastry bags (for piping).  We usually use a knife to carefully line the edges of the house parts and paint them directly on to the candy before sticking them on to our houses.

 

(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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is Lupin Allergy and Why You Should Care June 26, 2017

Lupin allergy is on the rise.  But most people haven’t even heard of lupin in the first place.    Travelers to Europe, Australia, Canada, the Mediterranean and even the U.S. should become familiar with it.  So should those who are gluten-free as well as those who have a peanut or soy allergy.

 

Read the article I recently wrote for the Allergy & Asthma Network, entitled “Why Is Lupin Allergy Becoming More Common?” to find out what lupin is, where it is found and who is most at risk for a reaction.

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Why Is Lupin Allergy Becoming More Common?
from the Allergy & Asthma Network dated June 14, 2017

 

Have you heard of lupin? Don’t feel bad; most Americans haven’t heard of it either. But that’s likely to change.

 

What is lupin?

Lupin (or lupine) beans are legumes – putting them in the same plant family as the peanut. Lupin beans are high in antioxidants, dietary fiber and protein and low in starch. And like all legumes, they are gluten-free.

Lupin beans are commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine. Sometimes ground into flour and blended into regular wheat flour, lupin is also widely used in Europe and Australia. There, lupin is frequently found in baked goods and pastas as well as breads, sauces, beverages (such as beer) and meat-based products like sausage and hamburgers.

Lupin is showing up in the United States as well. It appears most often as a substitute for gluten or soy in free-from products as well as replacement for genetically modified ingredients and animal proteins (primarily dairy and egg).

 

Can you be allergic to lupin?

Although not one of the “Top 8” allergens, lupin is beginning to make headlines in the food allergy world. For many, eating products containing lupin is completely safe. However, for a few, lupin can trigger an allergic reaction. The odds of having a reaction are higher if you already have a peanut allergy. This is called cross-sensitivity.

There is no evidence that lupin allergy is more severe than other allergens. Like all allergic reactions, symptoms vary. Those who are allergic to lupin have reported reactions ranging from hives, swelling of the lips and face, to gastrointestinal and respiratory distress, and cardiovascular issues.

 

Do manufacturers label for lupin?

Due to the frequent use of lupin in European and Australian packaged goods, coupled with reports of allergic reaction, manufacturers in the European Union are required to label for lupin. But this requirement is voluntary in places like the United States, Canada, Australia and other parts of the world where you may find lupin listed among other ingredients without special emphasis. U.S. laws and regulations only require labeling to highlight the Top 8 allergens.

Those allergic to lupin or unsure should be careful of unlabeled, over-the-counter baked goods like pastries sold at a bakery, bread rolls served at a restaurant or beer at a local pub.

 

Other names for lupin are:

  • Lupin Bean/Flour
  • Lupine Bean/Flour
  • Lupin Seed
  • Lupini
  • Termes
  • Altramuz
  • Tarwi
  • Termos

While lupin is currently popular in Europe, its presence is increasing in the United States and elsewhere. As the demand for gluten-free and other free-from goods grows, so may the use of lupin.

If you are concerned you may be allergic to lupin, speak to your board-certified allergist to discuss level of risk, testing and prevention strategies. Avoiding the allergen is the only way to prevent an allergic reaction.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.)

 

6 Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies March 7, 2017

pool-690034_1920 via pixabay

 

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.