Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

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!

 

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.”

 

 

 

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!

 

Farmers’ Markets Might Just Be Fabulous January 26, 2015

Today, my daughter and I took a little field trip to Union Market in Northeast DC to have lunch with my brother from out of town.  Leave it to him to already be tuned into the cool DC-find that is Union Market.

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I pulled into a ghost town of a closed wholesale food district and thought I must be lost.  But as I have a fascination with industrial areas of cities (don’t even ASK where that comes from!), I was fascinated, not flummoxed.  Making one last turn, I stumbled upon the spot.  A bright, industrial warehouse housing what is basically an upscale, indoor farmers market and series of food stalls.  I’m glad I had only brought my try-anything toddler.  I’ve long been a little leery of farmer’s markets, food trucks and small stalls because of their limited offerings and my belief that the limits of their kitchens might make for a potentially dangerous cross-contamination situation.  With my oldest son allergic to peanuts, tree nuts and sesame seeds and my middle guy going through a picky eater phase, this type of establishment can be a disaster.

But, boy was I surprised today!!  Look at some of the great things I found today:

Here was a bakery that posted the ingredients of all of their breads (and there were MANY – all delicious looking).  Notice what they don’t list:  dairy, eggs, sesame seeds, and peanuts**?

[**I did ask at the stall and the breads were made in the same facility as tree nuts.]

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While not everything fit the allergy-free mold here, they did have several dairy-free options:

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Vegan means egg and dairy-free!

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Let us not forget all the fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables on hand to prepare something safe and delicious at home:

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I can’t wait to bring my food allergic son here (below)!  I checked with the staff and their biscuits are peanut, tree nut and sesame seed-free!  Breakfast sandwiches on biscuits.  I’m still stuffed but my mouth is watering!  Mmmm…

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And, my younger son will LOVE the bagels they import (below) from New York.  There’s nothing like a NY bagel!

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Whether it’s Union Market, Eastern Market, or a farmer’s market near you, get out and explore.  These small businesses were extremely responsive to our allergy concerns and, no matter whether the food was safe or not, I LOVE supporting them!

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Union Market, Washington DC

 

New Years Resolution? Learn to Cook and Avoid Food Preparation Problems! January 13, 2014

Eight years ago, when my son was first diagnosed with food allergies, I was a terrible cook.  Truly terrible.  If you saw the Discovery Channel documentary, you may have noticed the burnt spoon that had caught fire when I “blackened” chicken noodle soup.  That’s right:  I burnt soup.  Take a moment:  I know you’re all very impressed.

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As soon as the doctor listed my son’s food allergies (at that time: peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, dairy, eggs, soy, wheat and corn), I was thrust into a whole new world.  One in which I would have to cook.  And, the result would need to be edible. (Gasp!)

 

Now, many years later, I actually enjoy cooking.  I can’t have enough cookbooks and I love the challenge of turning something that isn’t initially allergy-friendly into something safe and delicious.

 

But the biggest bonus must be the understanding and innate sense of what goes into a dish.  It has helped me innumerable times to determine what is safe for my son while we’re out enjoying the world!

 

It’s important to have a sense not only of ingredients, but also of the process in the kitchen.  A sampling of questions, I’ve needed to ask are:

  • Can you check the breading on fish?  Or, the breadcrumbs in the meatballs?  Breadcrumbs very often contain sesame seeds.
  • Are the chicken nuggets/calamari/fried zucchini coated with egg?
  • Is there egg in the salad dressing?  Some contain either eggs or mayonnaise.
  • Does that sauce contain flour?  Many are thickened with gluten flour.
  • Is there parmesan cheese in the marinara?
  • Do you add milk to your scrambled eggs/omelet/pancakes?

The more hands-on experience you have in the kitchen, the more you’ll understand what kinds of things you may need to look out for in others’ kitchens.  You’ll be surprised at how often you save yourself from a potential reaction.  So, cook and speak up!

 

Here are a few tips for starting out:

  • If you’re brand new in the kitchen, don’t feel overwhelmed by trying to make a main dish and sides.  It’s okay to try ONE new recipe and buy preprepared sides or make a new side dish and buy roasted chicken.
  • While looking at recipes, don’t be put off if they include your allergen.  Simply do a little research to see if there’s a safe alternative and/or omission.  We just omit peanuts from our Kung Pao Chicken dish.  And, we sub-in soy milk for regular in pancakes.
  • In choosing a recipe:  read the recipe in full once before you even go shopping.  It may call for “1 garlic clove, minced” which you could mince yourself or buy pre-prepared.
  • And, while reading the recipe, take note of prep time as well as cooking time.  Ingredient lists often list ingredients that have been pre-prepared like garlic noted above, a pie-crust pre-baked, or “3 cups spinach, sauteed”.   This translates to time, so simply be aware and plan accordingly.  This was tricky for me for a while.  I can’t tell you how many times I served a meal a whole HOUR after I thought it would be ready.
 

Good luck, watch your soup, and send me picts (and samples – mmmm!) of your best recipes!

photo: countryliving.com
 

McKeever’s Pub July 16, 2013

I can’t believe I just discovered a gem in my own backyard!  We have a local pub here in McLean that impressed me.

 

McKeever’s is a little place with a great, big response to food allergic patrons.  When my son was ready to order his burger and fries, we asked our usual litany of food allergy questions:

 Can you check the bun’s ingredients for sesame seeds?;  What kind of oil do you use for french fries?;  Is there any concern of cross-contamination in the frier?;  etc…
 

The waitress waved over the manager and both ladies informed us that not only was everything assuredly safe, but that the restaurant’s owner shared similar food allergies.  At that, my sons perked up!  The owner uses dairy-free butter (begin hallelujah chorus) and fries their food in safe vegetable oil.  In fact, after a customer began frequenting their restaurant with different food allergies, they began keeping a book listing all the ingredients in all their food, including those from each of their suppliers (Cue the choir of angels!).

 

McKeever’s staff is not only knowledgable and serious about food allergies, but they respond with a smile.  If you go, you’ll likely see us there!

 

 

Hit the Road With a Fast Food Travel Packet May 21, 2012

Ahhhh… with great weather upon us, it’s time to hit the road!   ‘Tis the season for road trips and long weekends away.  And, being on the road is no place to be unprepared for dealing with meals if you have a food allergic passenger.

 

Aside from packing loads of safe snacks to tide the kids over and my son’s medicine, we never leave home without our Travel Packet.  A little general research in advance has gone a long way for us.  Not just of our destination – to help us pick a safe place to eat when we get to town (wherever that may be) –  but research to help us on the road as well.

 

Over time, I’ve kept a folder of allergen and ingredients lists for fast food chains in our car.  It has been immeasurably helpful when the kids are begging for a break somewhere in between destinations.  And, it’s easy to start the process online.  As you continue to travel, take note of the chains (and local stops) on your route.  Once you find new ingredients lists, continue to keep them in your travel folder.

 

Here are a few links to get you going (feel free to share more with others in the comments section below):

 

By sharing tips and links, your Travel Packet will be fuller than your gas tank and will make your vacation just a little more peaceful!  Happy trails!

 

**NB:  A big thank you to Jennifer for kindly reminding us to please be sure to look for updates to your packet before setting out on each new adventure as restaurants occasionally change their recipes.**