Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Food Allergies: Overcoming Disagreements November 27, 2017

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The holidays are a magical time – filled with hope and kindness.  But when you have food allergies, holiday gatherings are sometimes filled with the possibility of being excluded, disappointed, or the fear of having a food allergic reaction.

As parents and patients, we feel like we are constantly educating others about food allergies.  Our extended families and friends surely should know by now how real and severe a food allergy can be – shouldn’t they?!  Unfortunately, many times our family and friends don’t understand.  They underestimate the severity of a reaction and the amount of time and energy we put in to preparing for a regular day – never mind a holiday!  We often feel let down and angry when others don’t take food allergies into consideration or are set on upholding their traditions at the expense of someone else’s health and safety.

These disagreements around the holidays can set off a chain of unhealthy interactions that could cause relationships to strain.  Don’t end your relationship with family or friends.  Try the techniques outlined in the article below first and see if you can teach them about what your life with food allergies is really like.

Please read this article I wrote, published in the magazine Allergy & Asthma Today by the Allergy & Asthma Network, for more information.

http://bit.ly/2ncAJHY

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Allergy-Friendly Thanksgiving Recipes November 20, 2017

It’s actually fairly easy to create a Thanksgiving dinner that everyone can enjoy easily.  With just a couple of ingredient swaps, there’s almost no part of this inclusive meal that you’ll need to omit!  Try some of the below, post a photo and let me know how it all turns out!

 

MASHED POTATOES

You’ll Never Miss It Dairy-Free Mashed Potatoes (via Allergy Shmallergy)

By using broth and dairy-free butter instead of buttermilk, these mashed potatoes turn out savory and delicious – right down to the last lick on your fork.  My guests have always loved this recipe!

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MUSHROOM GRAVY

Pacific Foods Organic Vegan Mushroom Gravy

Available at local supermarkets, this gravy is both dairy and egg-free.  Another thing it has going for it?  You don’t need to prepare it!  **This gravy DOES contain almonds (almond butter) – please avoid if you are allergic to tree nuts!**

Pacific Foods Organic Vegan Gravy

 

CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP/GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE

Did you know you can make your own dairy-free (and gluten-free) cream of mushroom soup?  Why is this important?  Because cream of mushroom soup is the base for delicious green bean casserole!

 

The Kitchen Girl blog posted an easy recipe for Can’t Believe It’s Vegan Cream of Mushroom Soup.  Her recipe uses unsweetened almond milk; but if you’re allergic to tree nuts (as we are) you could substitute that for unsweetened soy milk or rice milk.  And, as a bonus, her soup is also gluten-free.  Looks DELICIOUS!

 

The magazine Gluten-Free & More posted a recipe for Dairy-free, Gluten-free Green Bean Casserole.  It involves creating your own gluten-free breaded onions to top the dish – just like the original recipe.  Those onions are my favorite part – I’d double this part of the recipe for my table!

 

STUFFING

The big obstacle for allergy-friendly stuffing?  Gluten!  Those pesky bread cubes make it a tough sell for those with a wheat allergy or celiac disease.  Enter Williams-Sonoma: they carry Mariposa Baking Co. Gluten-Free Cornbread Stuffing.  This rosemary and sage version contains egg and soy (and is manufactured in shared equipment with milk), but is gluten-free and pre-packaged.  One less thing to stress about!

 

If you can’t make it to the market, you can also order Three Bakers Herb Gluten-Free Seasoned Whole Grain Cubed Stuffing (contains egg) from Amazon Prime!

 

DESSERT

Dessert is always tricky for those with food allergies.  Holiday desserts are typically filled with butter, egg, gluten and nuts.

 

But these Allergy-Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies have (almost) none of those things!  They are easy to make, can feed a crowd, and offer an alternative to make them gluten-free.  They combine the delicious, comfort of a regular chocolate chip cookies with the flavor-du-jour pumpkin spice!

 

Another favorite holiday dessert in our house is Sorbet Pie.  It’s light and refreshing (something much needed after a big, savory dinner) and it’s dairy-free, egg-free, peanut and tree nut-free.  Be sure to give the pie times to refreeze before serving!

 

 

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

 

Holiday Stress? 4 Tips for Celebrating with Less Than Supportive Family December 14, 2016

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I hear from so many readers this time of year who just need to vent.   Reports of disappointment and frustration frequently get voiced over extended family that isn’t supportive – or, in extreme cases, is totally defiant of – a family’s food allergy concerns.

 

These incidents often center around the holiday table – at a time of year when parent anxiety can be heightened and when all parents put extra pressure on themselves to make the holidays magical for their children.  Family gatherings are typically filled with unspoken expectations.  Which is why it can be doubly disappointing (and sometimes volatile) when things go wrong.

 

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you relax and have fun with your extended family and friends as you celebrate this season:

 

  1.  Educate:  Many adults did not grow up knowing a single person with food allergies.  What comes off as careless to those of us who live this reality, may simply be a matter of ignorance.  A little education may go a long way.  If you want to start that process before you arrive, suggest they watch the Discovery Channel documentary, “Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America.”
  2. Distract and Enjoy:  Perhaps you have a history of issues surrounding meals with your food allergies. If you know your family and your food allergies will not mix, don’t forego the time spent together.  Maybe you can host or help cook the meal.  Maybe you skip the meal and instead all go ice skating or sledding or on the hunt for the best Christmas lights in town.  New traditions will forge new memories!
  3. Be Flexible:  When it comes to the meal, we know you cannot compromise on safety.  Nor should you.  But if you can compromise on other parts of your visit, that may help reduce stress for all.  Be flexible when you can.
  4. Focus on Family:  Just remember that family relationships are important.  Not just to you but to your children.  Try to strengthen that relationship by creating positive memories throughout the year.  Having strong family bonds will defuse the anxiety and expectations of the holidays.

 

For further information about how to navigate family dynamics, please read Food Allergies and Family: Disagreements Not Break-Ups.

 

Food Allergies and Family – Disagreements Not Break-Ups April 12, 2016

I hear stories all the time from food allergy parents that their family members aren’t taking their child’s food allergy seriously.  And, this – of course – can have serious implications.  I’m also saddened to hear when this difference in perspective leads to family disagreements – or worse, families cutting one another off completely.

 

Our parents (our children’s grandparents) didn’t grow up with this alarming rate of food allergy.  In fact, many of them didn’t know a single person with a diagnosed food allergy.  Times have changes and current parenting is more active and vigilant than it was 30 years ago.  I’ve explained to many a grandparent that the rise in food allergies is not a trend of parent over-sensitivity or as a result of over-protectiveness, but -in fact- an actual, black and white medical diagnosis.

 

Grandparents and other family members may not understand the amount of work and preparation it takes to safely raise a child with a severe food allergy: the advanced preparation when eating out; repeated education of others; familiarity with labeling laws (such as the FDA’s FALCPA in the United States), alternative names for allergens and a general sense of where it might pop up and cause problems; the worry about our kids and the exclusion we fear they face.  Let’s face it, none of us were prepared for the intense amount of work prior to our family’s first food allergy diagnosis.

 

If there’s one thing I know for sure though, it’s that a parent’s love for their child is fierce.  It knows no bounds.  As food allergic parents, that fierce love we have for our children and our instinct to protect them may come off a little strong.  And, understandably so when we feel like their lives are in danger.  But in the face of difficult decision-making, our anxiety over their well-being may not offer the patient, gentle voice that our family and friends need in order to truly hear our concerns.

 

It doesn’t help that food allergy parents feel disrespected when their own parents don’t fully abide by or outright disregard their guidance about how to feed (and therefore protect) their children.  Food allergy parents can feel betrayed when others are unwilling to make changes to protect their children.

 

So, what can you do when you’re at odds with your family over your child’s food allergies? 

 

First, have a kind but firm talk about the allergies and severity of the possible reactions.  Do this when your child is not present.  Expect a lot of questions, so come prepared with answers from your allergist or pediatrician.  Bottom line: be informative and remain calm.

 

Reminder: don’t put your parents (…siblings, friends…) on the defensive.  Remember the “I” statements you were taught in school.  Now’s the time to employ them.  In essence, phrase your emotions with “I feel…”  rather than pointedly, “You” statements.  “I’m worried that Charlie will have a dangerous allergic reaction because he’s a toddler who doesn’t know the difference between peanuts and raisins,” rather than “You’re not listening to me: put away the peanuts!”

 

Share your learning curve.  Relate to them by reminding yourself (and them) how overwhelmed you first felt when you first received your child’s diagnosis.  They probably feel this way too right now: they’re trying to take it all in and food allergies have likely seemed very far off and remote to them.

 

If necessary, spell out the seriousness.  It can be hard to truly admit – most especially to yourself – the possibility of a severe food allergic reaction and its real consequences.  I have a lump in my throat just writing about it.  Watch the Discovery Channel’s 2013 documentary “Emerging Epidemic: Food Allergies in America” with your parents and siblings (again without the kids present).  The first 10 minutes of this multifaceted documentary deal with an anaphylactic reaction and is a firsthand example of the dangers of food allergies.

 

Remember that old habits die hard.  Most habits are not malicious, but they can be dangerous.  My own father had a nightly habit of snacking on a bowl of nuts, which he continued to do unconsciously when we visited.  When my son could crawl, I reminded him again that this wasn’t safe.  I was frustrated having to restate this every visit, so to drive the point home, I told him, “These nuts are like arsenic for my child.  Leaving them on the table is the equivalent of leaving a loaded gun for my toddler to figure out.”  It clicked immediately.  My dad apologized profusely and has since been phenomenally careful with my son’s allergies.

 

Invite them to a doctor’s appointment.  Allow them to ask as many questions as they have.  Maybe give your allergist or primary care physician a heads up so they know to allow a little extra time for questions and answers.  Hearing the information from a medical professional often underscores what you’ve been saying all along.  You know how your kids listen to their teachers but not you?  Your parents might be the same way.

 

Remind them that as much of an inconvenience as it is for them to adapt to your allergy-friendly lifestyle, assure them that it is SIGNIFICANTLY more so for you and your family.  Make it easier for them to navigate by suggesting some of the tips in The Host’s Guide to AllergiesThe Host’s Guide: Part II; and the Host’s Guide: Part III.

 

Invite them to participate in your lives by organizing activities that DO NOT revolve around food or meals.  I know that’s hard when we talk of family because food and socializing traditionally go hand-in-hand.  But, there’s no need to sacrifice your relationship with even the most obstinate family member – just take away the point of contention:  food.  I know that tensions can flare in the process of trying to win over someone’s mindset, but – by doing other things and removing the obstacle – perhaps you will both come to an understanding about your different perspectives.

 

Families are important.  They are our best cheerleaders.  They remind us of who we are and where we come from.  And, they teach our children all kinds of lessons we can’t impart alone.  By trying to handle differing opinions over a difficult issue like a child’s food allergies in a calm and collected way, we are also modeling great conflict resolution to our kids who pick up on more than we’d like to believe.

 

Food allergy parents need support too.  Parenting is hard.  Parenting a child with life-threatening allergies to something as common as food makes it exponentially more challenging.  Families should be there to help out and pat us on the back for encouragement, to give us a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) after a particularly rough day.  And they should be available to envelope our kids in love, support and safety so they grow up to be confident, self-assured adults with loving families of their own.

 

 

 

 

Hosting Guests with Food Allergies for the Holidays? No Problem! December 11, 2013

As if there isn’t enough to do to get ready for the holidays, preparing your house for visitors can be stressful.  And, treading into the unfamiliar territory of food allergies can completely overwhelm hosts.

 

Well, never fear!  Allergy Shmallergy is here to help and get you started to safely hosting a guest with food allergies.

 

1.  Speak with the food allergic guest or parent (if a child has food allergies) and understand the scope of his/her food allergies.

 

2.  Ask for a list of a few foods that would be helpful for the guest to have on hand.  For example, my parents always make sure there is soy milk in the fridge and safe cereal for my dairy and nut-allergic son.

 

3.  You may wish to consider keeping a basket or clearing out a small drawer to keep safe snacks and food for your guest.  This is especially helpful if your food allergic guest is a child. By knowing where to find safe food, this may reduce the chances that he/she will accidentally reach for something that could cause a reaction.

 

4.  As for the kitchen, if you regularly cook with your guest’s allergen, you’ll want to thoroughly wash the cutlery, cutting boards, counters, pots and pans that you plan on using to prepare food.  A run through the dishwasher should sanitize them, but a good scrub in the sink will work as well.

 

5.  Discuss your menu with your food allergic guest.  In a perfect world, everything would be safe for him/her, but try to ensure that he/she can make a meal out of what is on the table .  Check here for easy substitutions:

Baking Substitutions from the Pros

And, there are many options for dairy-free margarine and butter in the average supermarket.  Look for Smart Balance Organic and Earth’s Balance brands to name a few.

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6.  Finally, be sure to learn how to use your guest’s emergency medications.  You probably won’t need to use them, but you’ll feel much more confident just knowing how.

  

For more tips on hosting a guest with food allergies, read here:

 

A Host’s Guide to Allergies

The Host’s Guide: Part II

The Host’s Guide: Part III

 

Visiting With Food Allergies December 14, 2011

Many people, us included, are hitting the road during this holiday season to visit with family and friends.  We’re headed north to stay at my parents’ house.  Being a guest can be is fun for kids.  But, being a food allergic guest can be complicated.  Typically, guests are uncomfortable making too many demands on the host family.  However, without a lot of specific information, the hosts cannot look out for a food allergic guest’s well-being.

 

It’s important to remember a few things:

1.  Arm your guests with enough information to keep you or your food allergic child safe.  If you can’t eat wheat, for example, let them know something easy you eat for breakfast.  Remind them that leaving out bowls of nuts won’t be safe for a tree nut-allergic child.

 

2.  Offer to go grocery shopping.  For starters, it’s an appreciated gesture.  But, it also gives you an opportunity to buy a few things that ensures you eat safely at mealtimes (like dairy-free margarine and nut-free cookies).

 

3.  Be sure to bring your emergency medications.  As if you leave home without that anyway!  In addition to our On-the-Go Emergency Kit, I also bring my son’s nebulizer and accompanying medications (in case he has an asthmatic reaction), a bottle of Benadryl, and hydrocortisone cream.

 

4.  Teach your hosts how to use an EpiPen using the EpiPen trainer (see Familiarize or Refamiliarize Yourself With How To Use An EpiPen) and let them know where you keep it.  Remind your hosts not to feed your food allergic child without checking the food’s safety with you first.

 

Finally, if it makes sense, refer your hosts to the Grandparents’ Guide Parts I, II and III which gives hosts some helpful hints on how to safely host a food allergic child.  It’s not just for grandparents!

 

Happy travels!

 

The Host’s Guide: Part III June 15, 2011

An important step in hosting someone with a food allergy is preparing the kitchen.  This task initially seems daunting.  But I promise with a few simple steps, your kitchen can be food allergy friendlier in no time.

 
 

Step 1:  Put Away Food Allergens, If Possible

Something I have to commend both my parents and in-laws on was their thoughtfulness when it came to my son’s food allergies.  Both sets of grandparents, instinctively placed all peanuts, tree nut and sesame seed products out of reach from my then toddler.  This didn’t mean that we didn’t keep a close eye on him in the kitchen, of course.  But it did give us all some peace of mind knowing that he couldn’t reach these items on the top shelf of the pantry.

 
 

Step 2:  Create a Safe Snack Drawer

Again, I relay this wonderful idea from my parents and in-laws who cleared out a drawer in their kitchens and filled it with safe snacks for my son.  Now in elementary school, he knows that if he’s hungry he can safely choose anything from that drawer.  Should you lack space in your kitchen: don’t despair!   You can create a safe basket or storage bin instead.  When educating the food allergic child, be sure to make this safe space a big deal.  A special snack drawer will help everyone in the house learn which snacks are safe and deter the child from roaming uninvited amongst potentially unsafe food.

 
 

Bag of groceries
Step 3:  Plan Your Meals and Okay Them Before Shopping

If your visit includes meals at home (including breakfast!), it might be a good idea to talk to the child’s parents about this before grocery shopping.  There may be some hidden ingredient problems that parents who are well-versed in managing food allergies can warn you about as well as some simple substitutions to keep the meal on track.  For example, a sesame seed-allergic child cannot typically eat regular breadcrumbs.  A dairy-allergic individual cannot eat anything made with butter.  But both have simple substitutions found at local supermarkets.

Innova Classicor Wrought-Iron Oval Pot Rack

Step 4:  Pots and Pans; Cutting Boards and Counters

If you regularly cook with the child’s food allergens and plan to use your cooking tools to prepare a meal, you’ll need to wash them.  I encountered this problem right away upon discovering my son’s food allergies.  He was just diagnosed as severely allergic to peanuts right after I had made delicious peanut butter dessert bars.  Agh!  I called my allergist for some guidance on what to do.  He suggested we rinse off any peanut debris and stick the whole baking pan in the dishwasher.  That’s it!

I would also recommend you run all cutting boards in the dishwasher, if possible (or otherwise thoroughly clean) and wipe down all counters to avoid any cross-contamination issues.

 
 

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Hope this guide has been helpful so far!