Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

Including Food Allergic Students at School September 17, 2018

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It’s the beginning of the school year!  Now is the perfect time to discuss best practices to keep kids with food allergies included in the classroom and beyond.  What are the best ways to keep a child safe at school?  How is teaching a food allergic child different from one without dietary restrictions?  How can teachers and parents better communicate to ensure a productive year together?

 

One of the most difficult and important places to manage food allergies is at school.  Parents, faculty, staff and administrators want and need to keep food allergic students physically safe during the school day – a place children spend the largest portion of their time outside the home. Inclusion at school is the “safe place” they need to develop psychologically and socially.

 

Where do schools begin and what factors should they consider?  

 

Education:  Not surprisingly, it all begins with EDUCATION.  Faculty and staff should be educated and reeducated about food allergies each year.  They should not only know:

but they should also learn about the perspective of their food allergic students who experience anxiety and exclusion at higher rates than their peers.

 

I urge all schools to consider adding Food Allergy Education to their Health curriculum.  Students are exposed to the idea of food allergies without understanding exactly what that means. Understanding food allergies is shown to build inclusion and community, stoke empathy and protect peers in students pre-K through high school.  In less than 20 minutes, a teacher can cover a basic lesson plan on food allergies and reap all of the above benefits in his/her classroom for the entire year.

food-2589686_1920 StockSnap

Exclude the FOOD (not the CHILD).

Eating In the Classroom:  Parties, holiday celebrations, and special events should be as inclusive and safe as possible.  I’ve heard from many families across the country whose children have been sent out of the room during class parties because their allergen was being served;  children who are sent to eat with the school nurse instead of their friends; children who are told to stay away from the group who are eating an allergy-laden snack while they watch.  When such a thing occurs, the message that student receives from their teacher is that their classmates’ enjoyment is more important than they are.  At such times, the student will struggle with feeling of self-worth and the [correct] impression that their teacher doesn’t know how to handle food allergies.

 

Eating Outside of Class:  Prepare for field trips by remembering food allergic students.  Snacks and lunches need to be safe.  And, don’t forget to bring emergency medication (and store it with a chaperone AT ROOM TEMPERATURE).  The best way to keep these special learning experiences special is with advanced preparation and by communicating with parents and the students directly to address concerns and implement solutions.

 

Think through the full school day for an allergic student.  How will they fare on the bus ride home?  What is the school’s policy on eating on the bus?  Is it enforced?  Is the bus driver trained and prepared to deal with an allergic reaction?  Is an allergic student allowed to carry their own epinephrine?  How does the driver handle bullying on his/her bus?  Addressing the entire school day from door to door will make a child with food allergies feel protected and looked after.

 

NYT Bullying Headline Screen Shot 2018-09-17 at 12.08.15 PM

Bullying by Peers or Adults:  Exclusion, name-calling or verbally doubting sets an example for the other students that such behavior is acceptable and results in stigmatizing the food allergic student. Bullying is another serious problem for all students but can have serious and even deadly results for students with food allergies.  Read the statistics here to understand the scope of the problem which is often based at school.

 

Uninformed Teachers:  Students with food allergies are savvy about their condition and quickly note when others aren’t as knowledgable.  Teachers who demonstrate a lack of knowledge do not instill confidence in even the youngest food allergic child.  Students who are concerned about surviving the day in their classroom, cannot learn.  Creating “safe zones” is psychologically beneficial to students with food allergies.  One such example is a peanut-free table or a classroom that bans a certain food for the health and protection of a student’s life. Another method is to establish a special line of communication between the teacher and student so they can express their concerns privately.  I recommend that teachers meet with a food allergic student and their parents to acknowledge that they understand the parameters of that child’s allergy, that they take it seriously, and agree upon the best method of letting parents know about upcoming events so that the family can prepare.

 

Solid and Protected Food Allergy Policies:  Schools must create a safe environment for students with life threatening food allergies. This protection begins with a comprehensive food allergy policy – one that balances safety with an emphasis on maximum inclusion.  The policy and procedures regarding food allergies need to be widely communicated, easily accessible, consistently applied and protected.

[Read: Food Allergy Policies at School (Aug. 14, 2018) – Considerations and Perspectives for more on what goes into a well thought-out policy.]

 


 

Inclusion means everything to food allergic students who already feel different from their peers.  Inclusion gives students a supportive platform from which to conquer the world.  Schools need safe places for kids to learn, socialize and play.   They are more than a place to grow academically; schools should be a space for students to blossom psychologically as well.  A lot of thought should go into how to include every child in the classroom – it might make all the difference for your students AND their families.

 

 

 

6 Sensational Books for Kids with Food Allergies December 19, 2016

The holidays are just days away!  Try giving a book that a family with food allergies will treasure.  Or, donate a book to your child’s classroom or school library!

 

Despite the growing number of cases, food allergic kids often feel alone with their allergy. It is so important for kids with food allergies to see this aspect of themselves reflected in literature and elsewhere.  Plus, these books are great teaching tools for both a child with a food allergy as well as their siblings and classmates!

 

1.The Bugabees – Friends with Food Allergies, by Amy Recob
Ages: preschool – 7
bugabees-book
Beautifully and colorfully illustrated, The Bugabees is a story about eight insect friends who each have one of the different Top 8 food allergies.  They talk about their need to stay away from various treats and lightly touch on allergic symptoms they might experience.  Importantly, the bugs each repeat a mantra for kids with food allergies which reinforces that they can have fun without their allergen!  My daughter immediately noted that her brother has food allergies and was singing along with their rhythmic mantra by the end!

 

bugybops-book

2.  The BugyBops – Friends for All Time is the sequel in which the Bugabees friends learn about why their friends avoid certain foods, what an EpiPen is and why it’s important, and what they can do to keep their friends safe.  This is a fantastic companion book to The Bugabees!  I would highly recommend for a classroom visit and school library.
Ages: preschool – 8

 

3. Joey Panda and His Food Allergies Save the Day: A Children’s Book, by Amishi S. Murthy, MD and Vivian Chou, MD
Ages: Preschool – 8
joey-panda-book

Written by two pediatric allergists, the story of Joey Panda – a kid with multiple food allergies who is nervous about his first day of school, a situation that many food allergy families face.  To Joey’s surprise, not only does he find out that many of his new friends are already familiar with food allergies but that he has the knowledge and power to become a superstar.  This is story that acknowledges a child’s fears about going to a new school with food allergies and turns it into a story of empowerment.  Just the kind I love!

 

4.  The Peanut Pickle, A Story About Peanut Allergy, by Jessica Jacobs
Ages: 3-8

peanut-pickle-book

Ben has a peanut allergy.  Sometimes he finds it hard to talk about.  But now that he’s six, he’s finding ways to tell family and friends about his food allergy.  Kids with food allergies will recognize themselves in Ben and the situations he faces – important for children who often feel alone with their allergy.  This is a great book for your child to practice what to say to keep him or herself safe.

 

5.  The Princess and the Peanut Allergy, by Wendy McClure
Ages: 5-9
The Princess and the Peanut Allergy

Centered around two best friends, Paula and Regina.  Regina wants a nut-laden cake for her birthday.  Her friend, Paula is allergic to peanuts – causing problems for them both.  The girls have an argument that is ultimately resolved when Regina realizes that having her nut-filled cake may compromise her friendship with Paula.  And, Regina surprises her friend by ordering her birthday cake nut-free.  The princess and pea analogy used to enlighten Regina works as a way of explaining that even the smallest bit of peanut could be extremely harmful to someone who is allergic to them.  Importantly, the book addresses some of the social issues that can arise from having a food allergy and helps articulate conflict resolution in an age-appropriate way.

 

6.  The Peanut-Free Cafe, by Gloria Koster
Ages: 5-9Grant is a new student at the Nutley School – where everyone enjoys PB&J at lunch. As a result, he’s forced to eat by himself at a peanut-free table.  In an effort get to know him, the school offers an irresistible peanut-free cafe for anyone willing to give up their peanut butter.  This story is clever and the idea of a creating a peanut-free cafe at our house and at his school greatly excited my son!

 

 

 

(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.)

 

Holiday Houses and Candied Cheer December 16, 2015

Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

It has been a very busy holiday season so far… and we’re not done yet!  We’ve eaten an entire crop of potatoes in the form of latkes.  I’ve hosted three Chanukah parties; attended numerous holiday concerts; shopped, wrapped and cooked until I broke a sweat.  The kids decorated the house and graciously ate as many doughnuts as they could manage. Finally, we’re building.  Yes, building!

 

Holiday houses, that is.   And, as much as I’d love to create a gingerbread house from scratch, it just isn’t going to happen during such a busy month.  So, I’ve been leaving no gumdrop stone unturned in my search for allergy-friendly, off-the-shelf kits.

 

Here are a couple of fabulous allergy-free finds:

 

Manischewitz Chanukah House:

This nut-free house is easy to assemble, a cinch to decorate and delicious to eat.  It is not gingerbread, but rather vanilla cookie which my kids prefer.

Check ingredient list here: nut-free, lactose-free, contains soy and wheat.

Manischewitz Do-It-Yourself Chanukah House Vanilla Cookie Decorating Kit

Sensitive Sweets Gingerbread House:

How fantastic to find such an allergy-friendly kit!  Gluten, dairy, egg, soy, tree nut, peanut-free and vegan.  And, look how gorgeous the final product can be!  Too beautiful to eat!

Check ingredient list here: Gluten, dairy, egg, soy, tree nut, peanut-free, vegan.

 

A&J Bakery:

A&J Bakery not only manufactures gingerbread houses, but they make Gingerbread Men in their nut and gluten-free facility.  These Gingerbread Men would make a great kids’ activity for a holiday party.  They’re individualized and ready to eat in minutes!

Check ingredient list here: free of top 8 allergens.

featured product

 

Sweet Nature Candy Canes:

These candy canes are made in a gluten, dairy, tree nut, peanut, egg, fish and shellfish-free facility.  Their allergen information page is impressive and their candy canes minty and fresh!  Spangler, the parent company also makes our favorite, safe lollipops, DumDums!

 

Check ingredient list here: free from wheat, gluten, dairy, tree nut, peanuts, egg, fish, and shellfish.

Eleni’s New York:

Among the insanely adorable cookies and treats that Eleni’s offers for nearly EVERY occasion are these fantastic and creative Color Me! holiday cookie sets.  The Hanukkah one below is sold out, but you’re in luck – there are still Christmas sets available!

Color Me! Hanukkah Gift Set

Check out ingredient lists here: everything is nut-free (and Kosher). Woohoo!

 

Living with food allergies can be crazy.  Especially during the holidays.  These gingerbread, Chanukah houses and other treats are such an easy way for my kids to feel included in the fun.  They all love to work together to create the perfect house, covered in as much frosting and candy as they can manage.  They’ve been excited to participate in the fun of decorating and devouring gingerbread cookies at a party.  And, we ALL love setting out a treat like nut-free candy canes knowing that anyone that walks through our door can enjoy them – safely and with confidence!

 

 

 

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

 

Correction: Pizza Nut… I Mean Pizza Hut… February 18, 2012

Update:  While it appears that Pizza Hut has updated their allergen information to remove some of their peanut and tree nut designations on their menu, I was still surprised to see what allergens were present in non-obvious menu items.  For example, their sauce still contains egg, dairy, wheat, soy, shellfish and gluten.  The lasagna contains tree nuts.  I stand by my recommendation below to check their allergen list before visiting or ordering from a Pizza Hut if you have food allergies.

Updated Pizza Hut Allergen List

http://www.pizzahut.com/files/pdf/updated%20ph%20allergen%20list%2004.17.09.pdf

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I had heard through the grapevine that Pizza Hut’s sauce is not safe for people with tree nut allergies.   Sure enough, if you check on their website, not only is Pizza Hut’s sauce made on equipment commonly used to manufacture tree nut products, but also egg, milk, wheat, soy and shellfish products.   If you frequent Pizza Hut, it might be worth it to check out their allergen chart as I found many surprise cross-contamination issues.


 

Allergy-Free Coyotes? Game On! November 10, 2011

Check it out!  The Phoenix Coyotes are offering allergy-free suites for rent from which to enjoy a game or concert at Jobing.com Arena.   The Allergy Friendly Suite is “a private suite for families who want to enjoy NHL hockey and world class events in a setting that is shared by people with like symptoms.”

 

Because peanut allergies statistically have the highest risk of reaction, the suite is entirely peanut-free and is meticulously cleaned prior to each use.  The suite also features an Allergy-Friendly Menu that is free of all top eight allergens.

 

For more info, read on at http://goo.gl/M6Gi8.


Jobing.com Arena's North Entrance (6/13/05)

 

Did You Know Some Vitamins Contain Allergens?! September 19, 2011

Have you ever read the back of a vitamin bottle?  Not just the supplement facts, but the ingredient list?  I was surprised to find just how many common allergens can be found in a given children’s multivitamin.  You’ll probably need a magnifying glass to do it, but it may be worth your time to check.

 

Ever since Silk Soy Milk became a cross-contaminated product (with tree nuts) – one that we could no longer purchase – my FA son has been boycotting all soy and rice milk products.  My concern began to focus on calcium intake.  After stocking up on calcium fortified orange juice, I turned to a multivitamin.

 

I sat down and got comfy in the aisle of our local pharmacy and studied the Supplement Facts section of each bottle to determine which had the most calcium.  I scanned the long lists of ingredients of each product I considered, made my choice, and headed home. My younger son loved them; my FA son…not so much.

 

A few days into the vitamin regime, I randomly skimmed the back of the bottle again.  I don’t know what made me do it, but I’m glad I did.  Among the nine, long lines of teeny tiny printed ingredients was lactose.  Milk!  In a vitamin!  I couldn’t believe it!  He showed no symptoms, thank goodness, and I couldn’t believe I had missed it the first time.

 

Having investigated further since this discovery, I’ve noticed that many vitamins contain common allergens.   In addition to dairy, I’ve seen children’s vitamins that contain wheat, soy, dyes of all colors, corn, and strawberry.

 

To solve my dilemma, I again took a seat– this time, in the aisle of a vitamin store — and carefully read the backs of all of their multivitamins.  I went home with one that contains soy, but is free of wheat, yeast, gluten, milk, artificial colors and all nut derivatives.  I feel much better about its safety and it satisfies my son’s supplement needs.  Now, let’s just hope he likes it…