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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Creating a Halloween for EVERYONE October 19, 2017

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Halloween is traditionally frightful.  Between the the ghosts and zombies milling about,  candy and party food shouldn’t be scary.  But the chaotic and exuberant fun of Halloween can be chilling for many families with food allergies.

 

Parents with food allergic children are justified in worrying when their kid comes face to face with his food allergy.  And, candy is full of allergens: dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, corn, egg…  It’s a wonder we survive!

 

Here are a few ways to keep your sanity during the craziest night of the year:

 

  1. Prepare your kids:  Remind them not to eat anything while they are trick-or-treating.  Reading ingredient lists on tiny packages in the dark is challenging (to say the least).  There’s plenty of time to taste test their candy when they get home.
  2.  Go with them to the front door:  Help little ones choose safe candy at the front door.  Your presence is also a good place to reinforce all those lessons on manners while you’re there.
  3. Cash in the allergens: Keep a variety of safe substitute candy or treats at your house.  Offer to trade your child’s unsafe candy for your pre-approved substitutes.  If you’d rather your child ditch most of his candy, The Switch Witch is a fun and magical way to cash his or her candy in for a small gift.

     

  4. Be reminded that sometimes ingredients and/or manufacturing practices change when candy is miniaturized.  Make sure you read ingredient lists of everything, including candy that has been safe in a larger size.
  5. Participate in the Teal Pumpkin Project:  You’re familiar with all those wacky blue pumpkins, right?!  Teal pumpkins mean that house has non-candy treats to offer for food allergic children. Move over orange, teal is the new black!  You can spray paint your own pumpkin or purchase one to reuse, like this one:

     

    • Teal Pumpkin Decoration For Food Allergy Awareness
    6.  Stock toys AS treats:  Instead of candy (or in addition to safe candy), consider stocking fun toys and tattoos.  Even kids might admit that there is a limit to the amount of sugar they can consume and something that will last past Nov. 1st will be fun!  This Halloween set gives you a variety of toys in one order – bonus!

 

  • 156 Piece Mega Halloween Toy Novelty Assortment; 12 Halloween Ducks, 12 Halloween Pencils, 12 Halloween Sticker Sheets; 48 Halloween Erasers; 72 Halloween Glitter Tattoos!!

7.  Don’t leave home without it:  Auto-injectors need to go everywhere with you – including trick-or-treating.  You know they’ll be carrying a bag!  Make sure that your child’s epinephrine auto-injector is in there with a flashlight.

 

8.  Allergy Shmallergy’s list of safe candy:  Sharing a holiday builds community.  Refer your friends and neighbors to Allergy Shmallergy’s list of nut-free candy to truly create an inclusive Halloween that EVERYONE can enjoy!

 

 

(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.)

 

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.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

The Classic:img_5770

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

Preheat oven to 300 F degrees.

 

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

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

 

 

Salty Sweet Pumpkin Seeds:img_5775

 

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

 

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

Vote for Your Favorites! Best of 2016 May 5, 2016

All this talk of primaries and politics has gotten me thinking:  let’s vote!  But let’s vote for something a lot more fun and delicious:  allergy-friendly food!

 

Please take this incredibly quick survey and let me know what foods your family loves and I’ll share our collective favorites.  Maybe you’ll suggest a new product to another food allergy family – or maybe you’ll find a new favorite yourself!

 

 

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/VDZMVHS

Thanks, everyone!

 

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…”