Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Managing Food Allergy Anxiety April 20, 2017

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According to a study out of the Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, children with food allergies are more likely to experience anxiety and depression than their non-allergic peers.  And, the more foods they are allergic to, the more likely they are to internalize those feelings of helplessness and vulnerability.

 

How does anxiety present itself in children?  What are the signs parents should look for?

Because children often lack the ability to identify the source of their stress and articulate their feelings clearly, anxiety tends to present in a number of different ways.  Some of these include:

  • stomach aches
  • headaches
  • clinging
  • avoidance: not wanting to go to events or school
  • changes in sleep and eating
  • tearfulness
  • daily persistent worries

 

Periods in a child’s development also make them more susceptible to anxious feelings; such as ages 7-10 when kids are old enough to understand serious health risks but are still too young to manage their fears efficiently.  Similarly, pre-adolescents (tweens ages 10-14) typically develop an awareness of germs, disasters and things that could possibly go wrong, making this age range primed for feelings of nervousness and worry.

 

What can parents do to help their children manage their anxiety?

  1. First and foremost, parents need to model calm. (More on that below…)
  2. When speaking about their food allergies, frame risk in a positive way.  For example, “reading ingredient labels, asking questions and carrying your epinephrine will help keep you safe;” “eating peanuts may make you feel sick;” “having regular cheese can make it hard for you to swallow and breathe…”.  DO NOT talk to kids about death, dying or their mortality.
  3. Give them words for their emotions so that they can express themselves and relieve some of that private, pent-up worry.
  4. Validate their feelings.  Anxiety about food allergies can spill over into more generalized anxiety.  Their fears and perspectives are real to them.
  5. Tell your child a story about a time you had anxiety.  And, if possible, maybe something you did to overcome it!
  6. Explain to your child that everyone experiences some level of anxiety.  It’s a normal part of being human.  But when it becomes overwhelming we need to talk about it to help let it go.
  7. Encourage your daughter or son to socialize with friends and family.  Being with others is a great distraction and reminds them of the support that surrounds them.
  8. Teach them skills to relieve stress, such as breathing techniques, getting out to exercise, or compartmentalizing the discussion of food allergy worries to 10 minutes a day and then moving on.  These are important techniques for life!
  9. Reassure your child that they are in good hands, both at home AND away, like at school, at grandma’s, etc.  Kids need to know they are secure and that those in charge know what they’re doing.
  10. Empower them!  Practice what to say to their friends, family, teachers, and restaurant staff about their food allergies.  Teach them what to do in case they suspect they’re having an allergic reaction.  Work together to read ingredient labels and manufacturing warnings.  Allow them to ask questions at the doctor’s office. The more capable they feel, the more in control they will be!

 

What about us?  

As food allergy parents, we – too – are familiar with the stress and anxiety related to the management and realities of food allergies.  It is as, OR MORE, important that we manage our own anxious feelings as parents so that we can be a model of calm and security for our kids.

 

Anxiety – in all forms – clouds good decision-making (it’s science!).  Keeping worries in check allows us to be more effective parents by approaching decisions and assessing situations with cautiousness and calm.

 

When adults feel out of control, they tend to overcompensate.  This primal need to protect our children kicks into overdrive, leaving parents spinning their wheels in a world they cannot sanitize or make safe enough.

 

Kids tend to absorb the perspective of their parents and they can become frightened if adults around them are very stressed or scared.  Therefore, it’s critical for parents to adopt a healthy attitude towards food, food allergies and the greater world to help their children manage their own food allergies.

 

What can we do to keep ourselves calm?

  1. Find support.  Connect with other food allergy parents or spend time with understanding friends.  Socializing reminds us that we’re not alone with our concerns.  Feel free to use Allergy Shmallergy’s Facebook page to post questions or connect with like-minded parents.
  2. Arm yourself with information.  Familiarize yourself with food labeling laws, causes and symptoms of a reaction, and your emergency action plan.  If you can, learn to cook!  In short, empower yourself!
  3. Adopt simple solutions for your food allergy hurdles.  Resist the pressure to be the perfect baker, for example, and focus on surrounding your child with LOVE.
  4. Trust in others who’ve shown understanding towards food allergies.  A lot of food allergy parents only feel their child is safe when he or she in in their total control.  It’s important to let go a little and let others help.  If you’re at a friend’s house, let the host find a safe snack  – you can still approve the ingredient list, but it will give you a window into their decision-making abilities.  Let your child’s teacher become his or her food allergy-ally while they’re at school.  Every child needs a village.  More importantly, every parent needs one too.
  5. Prepare and approach food-related situations with CAUTION without assuming CATASTROPHE.
  6. Get out and exercise.  Talk a nature walk.  Have a date night.  Be sure to find outlets and activities that bring you joy.

 

 

 

 

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

 

Play Ball! March 30, 2016

I love seeing more and more stadiums adopting the peanut-free game concept.

 

Lucky for us in DC, the Washington Nationals just released their peanut-free game schedule.

Sat. April 23 at 1:05 vs. Twins

Sun.  May 15 at 1:35pm  vs. Marlins

Sat. June 11 at 12:05pm vs. Phillies

Fri.  July 1st at 6:05pm vs. Reds

Sun, Aug. 14 at 1:35pm vs. Braves

Sat. Sept. 10 at 7:05pm vs. Phillies

 

Call or contact the stadium directly for ticket pricing and further information.

 

Not a Nats fan?!  (What’s wrong with you?!  Just kidding.)  Check your local team’s website for their own schedule of peanut-free games.  Don’t forget minor league teams who are awesome about getting in on the action and making baseball fun and safe for everyone.

 

UPDATE:

Rejoice, Seattle fans!  I just heard from the Mariners!

For the past several years, we’ve been offering the opportunity for fans with peanut allergies to come to games at Safeco Field and sit in sections with a reduced risk of exposure to peanuts.  Information about the games, the precautions we take and a special ticket offer is all available at Mariners.com/NoPeanuts.

 

“Take me out to the ballgame.  Take me out to the crowd! Buy me some pretzels and cold snow cones…”

 

 

 

 

Pizza Hut – Again. February 18, 2016

 

I can’t believe I’m writing about Pizza Hut – again.  But here I am.

 

At this point in time/education, at their size, there’s no excuse for not having their act together when it comes to food allergies.  And yet…

 

My son was due to attend a birthday party that involved a trip to a nearby Pizza Hut.   Since we don’t have one very close to us AND they have a strange relationship with food allergies (see “Correction: Pizza Nut… I Mean, Pizza Hut” from 2012), I needed to do extra homework in preparation for my son to eat there.

 

I started by reviewing their allergen menu.  But since my son is allergic to food OUTSIDE the top 8 allergens, I also placed a call to double check my findings.  I don’t take unnecessary risks – especially in a birthday party-type situation.

 

It took three phone calls to get a customer service agent on the phone due to high call volume on three different days.   After waiting close to twenty minutes each time, I finally got a live voice.  I presented the facts simply, “My son is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts (so all nuts), sesame seeds and dairy (which means milk, butter and cheese).  I have read your allergen menu online but I still have a few questions.”

 

I went on to explain what my son would order (a regular, personal size pizza with only sauce) and asked my three easy questions:

  1.  Does the sauce have dairy (particularly, cheese) in it?  It’s impossible to tell from the online menu since most pizza is covered in mozzerella, but his won’t be.
  2. Is sesame used anywhere in either the crust or the sauce?  It can be ground up like flour and used as an ingredient you can’t see.
  3. Are there any cross-contamination issues I should be aware of with nuts or sesame seeds?

 

Simple, right?  Should be an easy answer there…

 

Not only could the customer service not answer the question himself, but he put me on hold while he asked a “nutritionist” somewhere in his office.  Sounded promising… until he came back to the phone and told me to go to the online allergen menu.  I reminded him that I had already reviewed it and had questions that this online menu didn’t answer.

 

I already felt that my questions (which I’d like to remind Pizza Hut concern the safety of my child) weren’t being heard and my concerns were being dismissed.

 

He put me on hold again to retrieve information from the nutritionist.  “OKAY!” he returned. “Go to the nutrition menu on our site and the calories for each meal should be listed beside it.”

 

Huh?!  It sounds like neither the representative nor the nutritionist understood what kind of information I was asking for and both were just blindly answering.

 

I repeated my questions and directed him towards an ingredient list.  “Well,” he jumped in, “concerning sesame seeds:  We DO offer a gluten-free crust.  So your son should be okay there.”  Again, WHAT?!  Back to the drawing board.  Time to education yet another person in the food industry about the difference between gluten and sesame seeds…

 

He returned to the nutritionist and came back yet again without any helpful information. But, the customer service representative took my contact info and assured me that the nutritionist would get back to me within 24 hours.

 

“Terrific,” I said – exhausted from the ineptitude. “the party is in three days, so that will be just in the nick of time.”

 

It is now eight (8!) days later and I still haven’t received a reply from Pizza Hut’s customer service OR their nutritionist.

 

Unfortunately, my son injured himself playing sports and couldn’t attend the birthday party.  But there was no way I felt comfortable with him eating at Pizza Hut if customer service AND a nutritionist couldn’t tell me if cheese or sesame seeds were in their sauce and crust.  The already hard decisions about how to accommodate my son’s food allergies so that he feels included in social situations was made that much more difficult by a lack of both understanding and a total lack of response.

 

They may no longer be referred to as “Pizza Nut” in our house (they once listed peanuts and tree nuts in nearly all of their products).  Now, we call them “Pizza Not.”

 

 

 

Three Sweet Ways to Say “I Love You” Dairy, Egg, Peanut and Tree Nut-Free February 11, 2016

Since we have the weekend to prep for Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d suggest three simple and sweet ways to brighten your Valentine’s day.  All three are easy to prepare, GREAT for classrooms and parties, and all are dairy, peanut, tree nut and egg free.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

 

 

Cupid’s Arrows

Grab some fruit and a cookie cutter and you have yourself one adorable (and healthy – shhhh…) fruit kabob!

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Sweetheart Sorbet Pie

Trickiest thing is remembering to prep this a few hours in advance.  And, then not eating it before presenting it to your sweetheart.

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Rice Krispie Hearts

Subbing out the dairy, makes these hearts safe and scrumptious.  If you have letter cookie cutters, you could also spell out the words, “LOVE” or “HUGS” or “XOXO”.  Infinite possibilities!

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Skiing Mount Snow: A Food Allergy Review February 8, 2016

(Please read: Lift Lines and EpiPens: Skiing with Food Allergies)

 

 

Last March, we took a ski vacation up to Mount Snow in Vermont.  The folks at the mountain were extremely helpful when it came to food allergy issues, including handing over ingredient lists for us to review.  And, as it turns out, my son’s ski instructor was well-versed in carrying epinephrine as his younger brother had food allergies.  We had SUCH a great experience there, I wanted to pass along a few *specific* points of information for those of you thinking about going.

We were happy to learn that the hamburger buns at all lodges were sesame seed-free and SAFE for my son!  An unusual find!

Not a great photo from my frozen hands, but the chicken nuggets were made by Tyson, a brand we deem safe at home.  Dairy, egg, sesame seed, peanut and tree nut-free.

For those of you on a gluten-free diet, you’ll be excited to hear that they not only offered gluten-free bread at the main lodge, but they sold Liz Lovely gluten-free cookies as well as Monkey Chew nut-free, gluten-free granola bars.  Woohoo!

For dinner, we found this great restaurant, Last Chair.  The food was excellent, the manager and waitresses knowledgeable about food allergies PLUS they have an arcade to entertain the kiddos while you wait for a table.  A win all around!

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Clearly NOT dairy-free, but check out that plate of nachos.  That’s a PIZZA TRAY underneath.  The Last Chair is not skimping on portions!

 

Milk Alternatives -Best of the Best January 8, 2016

Getting the proper amount of calcium is a tough job for those with a dairy allergy.  There are many ways to incorporate dairy into your diet (see How to Get Enough Calcium When You’re Dairy-Free), but a nutritionist recently told me that the best way to get calcium is to drink it.  And, sometimes you just want something cold and delicious to pour on cereal.

I recently stumbled upon an article from Real Simple (April 2015) where their food contributors reviewed a variety of milk alternatives to come up with the best tasting among them.

Here’s the original link to the article:  The Best Milk Alternatives.  And, below are they’re declared winners.

Best Original Soy:  Silk Soymilk Original

Best Vanilla Soy:  Silk Soymilk Vanilla

Best Unsweetened Soy:  365 Everyday Value Organic Soymilk Unsweetened

Best Vanilla Almond: 365 Everyday Value Organic Almondmilk Vanilla

Best Unsweetened Almond: Almond Breeze Almondmilk Unsweetened Original

Best Rice: Pacific Foods Rice Non-Dairy Beverage Original

Best Oat:  Pacific Foods Organic Oat Non-Dairy Beverage Original

 

Now I can’t speak about the almondmilks since my son has a tree nut allergy.  I can, however, vouch for both the Silk soymilks and the Pacific rice milk.  He enjoyed them both.  But if he were to put in a vote for best milk alternative, he’d put two thumbs (and maybe a foot) up for Silk Very Vanilla Soymilk.  Tastes great and works fabulously well as an ingredient in baked good.

We’ve also tried Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Soymilk Vanilla which came in as his close 2nd favorite.

 

What kinds of milk alternatives do you use?  Any input on creamers, cream cheese, sour cream?  Bring ’em on!  The more votes the better!