Allergy Shmallergy

Simplifying life for families with food allergies.

6 Tips for Traveling with Food Allergies March 7, 2017

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Spring break is on the horizon!  Can you smell the fresh air already?  Are you mentally packing your bags? (I am!)

 

Here are a few tips when traveling with food allergies:

locking-knob-883059_1920 via pixabay

  1.  Call your airline and inquire about their food allergy policy in advance.  Ask specifically about early boarding and in-flight announcements.
  2. Most airlines will allow passengers to board the plane early in order to wipe down surfaces (this includes seat backs, seat belts, tray tables and knobs, armrests). Be sure to bring enough baby wipes or antibacterial wipes (such as Wet Ones) to cover all the legs of your travel.  Again, ask about pre-boarding at the gate.
  3. Carry your epinephrine auto-injectors and antihistamines ON BOARD.  Do not pack these away in your luggage.  [*ALLERGY SHMALLERGY TIP*: Zyrtec makes dissolvable tablets which eliminate the worry over bringing liquids through security as well as anything spilling in your bags.]
  4. If you’re traveling to a warm weather destination, you’ll need to remember to keep your epinephrine auto-injectors at room temperature – even while enjoying the beach or pool.  Pack a cool pack (like this one) and an insulated bag (like this cute lunch bag).  Store the cool packs in your hotel’s mini-fridge (who needs a $15 bag of M&Ms anyway!?) or plan on ordering a to-go cup of ice to keep the medicine cool poolside.
  5. A hotel or resort’s food services manager can usually help you navigate menus.  On our last vacation, the food services manager had food allergies himself and was invaluable in hunting down ingredients and safe alternatives for our family.  Befriend this fantastic person!
  6. If you’re planning on visiting an amusement park, taking a hike or being similarly active, consider packing a backpack into your luggage (or use one as your carry-on!).  You’ll need to bring your epinephrine auto-injectors wherever you go – especially on vacation when you’re away from home cooking, familiar restaurants and local knowledge of hospitals and doctors.  Backpacks can make carrying it easier depending on the activity – simply slip the insulated bag into your backpack and go!

 

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Two more notes:

  • Airline travelers should bring their own snacks/meals on board flights to ensure their safety.
  • Refrain from using airplane blankets and pillows as allergen residue may reside there.
  • Bring a baby or antibacterial wipe to the bathroom to wipe down door  and knob handles.

 

 

 

Visiting DC? Here’s a Food Allergy-Friendly Game Plan March 4, 2015

Despite all this snow and ice, delays and cancellations, Spring Break is really just around the corner.  And, for many people, the spring and summer seasons offer a chance to visit our nation’s capital.  There’s so much to do in Washington DC, it’s almost mind-boggling.  I’m pretty sure I could keep a visitor busy for a solid 6 months here.  So, consider the below an outline and fill in with extras that pique your interests.  And, please let me know about some of your own allergy-friendly finds via Twitter or Facebook using @shmallergy or #shmallergyDC!

Day 1:  The Mall – Part 1

See:  What ISN’T there to see on the National Mall?!  Start at the Washington Monument (and definitely go to the top, it’s amazing – even the ride back down is memorable) and wind your way to the Lincoln Memorial, passing the WWII, Roosevelt, MLK Jr., Korean War and Vietnam War memorials.

Eat:  I’d recommend packing a lunch and having a picnic right on the mall.  There are some beautiful shaded lawns, benches beside the reflecting pools and vistas along the Potomac River.  There’s a Whole Foods in nearby Foggy Bottom (2201 I St NW) that will help you accumulate your dairy-free, gluten-free and other food allergy friendly snacks.  And, Foggy Bottom also hosts a SweetGreen (vegan, dairy and egg-free dishes), dc dosa (gluten-free options), as well as Roti (some gluten-free choices), Chipotle and Subway (where you can find their allergen menus online here).

Day 2:  National Zoo

Eat: Start the day with a hearty breakfast at Open City (2331 Calvert St. NW) where you can enjoy some straightforward favorites like poached eggs and ham alongside mouthwatering brioche french toast.  They serve tofu and fresh fruit here as well if you’re avoiding eggs, dairy, or wheat for example.

See:  Make your way up Connecticut Avenue to the unmissable National Zoo.  Wind downhill while at the zoo via the Asian Trail, passing by our beloved pandas and impressive elephant habitat.  And, take a rest in sight of the famous O-line, an overhead ropes course that the orangutans freely travel from one building to another.

Eat Lunch: Take a short taxi ride to the kid-friendly and ever-delicious 2 Amys Neapolitan Pizzeria.  They don’t take reservations so you don’t need to worry about rushing through the zoo to get there.  Just sit back, and try not to drool over the amazing crust.

Then, See:  Take the opportunity to walk off lunch by strolling a couple of blocks across the street to The National Cathedral.  Between the stunning grounds and gardens, serene setting and unusual gargoyles – there’s something for everyone here.  Bonus points if you can find the Dark Vader gargoyle.

Map of Smithsonian museums on and near the National Mall

Day 3:  Back to the Mall – Part 2

See:  Did I mention that the National Mall hosts EVERYTHING!?!  Get there early and snag a ticket to the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing to see money being printed.  Then, meander over to any of the MANY amazing Smithsonian museums.

Eat:  Walk over to Old Ebbitt Grill.  This restaurant was a favorite of several presidents including Teddy Roosevelt (*read its full history – it’s like eating in a Washington historic landmark). Bonus, Old Ebbitt Grill is part of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group which takes food allergies very seriously.  I’ve found their serving staff to be knowledgeable in regards to food allergies and willing to thoroughly find solutions to allergy questions and substitutions.

Then, See:  A very short walk from Old Ebbitt Grill is The White House.  Regardless of politics, you just have to see it.

Day 4: Capitol Hill

See:  In addition to touring the Capitol building (and trying not to sing “I’m Just a Bill” from Schoolhouse Rock aloud), be sure to stop by the Library of Congress.  Thomas Jefferson’s personal library is on display there and the LOC’s exhibitions are fascinating.

Eat:  Tortilla Coast is probably one of my favorite restaurants in DC.  It’s great for families, relaxed and a favorite of Hill staffers which is how you know it’s good!

Then, see:  Head to Penn Quarter where you’ll find the National Portrait Gallery and catch sight of portraits of all kinds of history-making Americans.  Or, cross the street and check out the Spy Museum!  Being in Penn Quarter sets you up perfectly for a night out.   Catch a Washington Wizards or Georgetown Hoya’s basketball game, a Capitals hockey game, or concert at the Verizon Center.  Or, hop a cab to the National’s Stadium.

Eat Again:  If you’re in the mood for a burger, you’re in luck:  Clyde’s has a fabulous one along with its many other offering and (as mentioned above) is very food allergy savvy; and Shake Shack is an easy go-to with a well-informed online menu to browse before you go.

Day 5:  Georgetown and Arlington

See:  Today is a day to stroll.  Georgetown is full of history from its cobblestone streets to its beautiful university.  But some of the fun in Georgetown is shopping, checking out the canals, and strolling by the Potomac’s waterfront.

Eat: If you find yourself at Georgetown University, you have to eat at The Tombs.  It’s an institution and, again, part of the food allergy aware Clyde’s Group of restaurants.  It purportedly inspired the setting for the 1980s classic “St. Elmo’s Fire” and is a great place to catch a game on TV.

Then, See:  Hop across the river to visit Arlington National Cemetery before plopping back on the bed in your hotel room and realizing you’ll have to plan a second trip to see all the DC has to offer!

 

Holiday Talk: Hosting a Guest With Food Allergies November 17, 2014

Holidays are filled with memorable family gatherings.  And, as warmly anticipated as most of them are, if you are hosting a guest with food allergies it can bring up some anxiety.  How will you make your guest feel included while keeping them safe?  What does it mean to be a good host to someone with food allergies?  How far will you need to stray from your familiar recipes to make the meal safe for sharing?

 

Never fear!  As a parent of a food allergic child, I can tell you there are a few simple steps you can take that will alleviate your anxiety and win over your guests:

 

1.  Have a conversation with the food allergic family.

  • Find out what the allergies are so you can do your best to substitute or exclude them from recipes.
  • Ask them what their biggest challenges are when it comes to the type of meal your serving, whether that be Thanksgiving, breakfast, desserts, etc…
  • Discuss cross-contamination in relationship to cutting boards, baking dishes.  Most of the time, a simple cleaning either in the sink or dishwasher suffices, but it’s important to talk to the food allergic family as everyone’s food allergy triggers are a little different.
  • If you are hosting this family overnight, get the brand names of a couple of snack foods that are safe for the food allergic child/individuals.  It’s important to stick with these particular brand names because recipe, manufacturing equipment, and methods can make something as simple as a pretzel go from safe to unsafe very easily.
 

2.  Search Allergy Shmallergy, FARE and other blogs for allergy-free substitute recipes.  For example, Shmallergy’s You’ll Never Miss It Dairy-Free Mashed Potatoes are easy to make and are a crowd favorite at every table we sit.  Keep your recipe handy for the guest family to review.  You may never understand how touching a gesture like this is to us.  Safe mashed potatoes from a host can make my son’s whole day!

 

3.  Brush up on the signs on anaphylaxis (among them: hives; itchy lips, tongue, throat; swelling of tongue, lips; wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath).  Watch this video (less than 2 minutes) to familiarize yourself with how to use an EpiPen (one common type of epinephrine autoinjector).  Your guests will appreciate you taking their allergies seriously.

 

4.  Keep ingredient lists of the food your cooking with for reference.  I can’t tell you how many times I read and reread new brand ingredients to be sure they are safe for my son.  And the peace of mind it gives me is more than appreciated.

 

The best ways to be a host to a food allergy family is to create a warm, welcoming environment – as with all guests.  The time you share together will define your memories.  And the effort you make to keep all your guests healthy will surely be one of the fondest ones of the season.

Food Allergy families:  what would you add to this list?  Please add your suggestions below!

 

Safe Travels! Apps for Food Allergies July 5, 2014

Summer is a great time to hit the road (or the sky!). But travel can pose some issues for those with food allergies.  New restaurants, meals on the go… they can be hard to sort out safely.  Here are a few apps to play with over the summer that might just help out:  

 

Restaurant Nutrition:

While developed as a way to check for nutritional information of restaurant chains, it also includes ingredient lists whenever possible… Making that last minute rest stop a lot easier to navigate.  Available (free) for iPhone and Android platforms.    

 

Yummly:

So, you’ve spent all day at the beach or on a hike and your gang is exhausted.  Sounds like you’re eating at the rental house tonight!  Do you need a dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free dessert?  Try checking out Yummly.  What I love about this site is that you can search for recipes WITHOUT certain ingredients.  Who doesn’t want to make this amazing recipe?!

Mini Peach Pies

Mini Peach Pies via Yummly.com

Allergy FT:

Traveling abroad with a food allergy can be tricky?  You will want to make absolutely sure that your waiter and chef know you know a food allergy.  Allergy FT translates your food allergy from English into Spanish, French or German allowing you to communicate in roughly 57 countries!  Best of all, no internet connection is involved so no soaring internet rates!

 

 

Emergency Apps:

  • The American Red Cross app may be useful for any number of reasons.  But for us, it’s symptoms and advice on anaphylaxis is particularly helpful.   
  • FindER will use your phone’s GPS to locate the closest ER to wherever you are.  While I hope none of us ever has to use this, it’s good to know it’s available.

 

I’d love to hear of any other apps people are using and finding helpful!  And, of course, safe travels wherever your plans may take you!

 

Vacationing and Staycationing with Food Allergies March 13, 2013

It’s that time of year and not a moment too soon:  Spring Break is upon us!

 

Whether you’re traveling near or far, there are a few things you should do to make sure your spring break is exciting and safe.

 

 

Staying close to home doesn’t mean you can’t shake up your routine.  Explore that neighborhood you’ve been meaning to check out, visit a museum, wander an outdoor market…  But before you go, you may want to do a little prep work:

1.  Sometimes it’s the museum closest to you that’s the hardest to visit.  If you’re heading to a museum, theme park, theater or zoo, you may wish to do some prep work.  These venues often have limited nutritional options, waitstaff often cannot track down ingredients in their high-paced and sometimes chaotic environment and the safety of their menu cannot be guaranteed.  Compound that with a picky eater and you could have a fun-ruining meltdown on your hands.  So, before you go, stick one or two of your child’s favorite dry snack in your bag along with those EpiPens – just in case.

 

2.  Ditto for outdoor markets.  Unless you’re going to a farmers market or pick-your-own farm, it’s often impossible to rely on the cart or truck vendors to know a full ingredient list and/or guarantee that their food is safely prepared without cross contamination.  So, again, plan on eating just before your visit to that flea market and, again, bring treats for the kids.

 

3.  If you’re taking your kids to a new section of town, you’ll want to scope out an eatery nearby that is likely to be safe.  Regardless of whether or not you intend to have a meal while out, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for more fun (or random bouts of hunger).  Check out the options online (including menus) and make a phone call or two to ensure that something can be safely prepared just in case a meltdown occurs.

 

4.  Some of the fun of staycationing is mixing up your routine!   So, try having some dairy-free sorbet for breakfast (see a list of local places right here at Allergy Shmallergy).  Have a gluten-free picnic in the park.  Eat that nut-free dinner under a tent in the family room.  Fun and safety can go together very simply and easily!

 

If you’re going out of town:

1.  Be sure to pack your emergency on-the-go pack in your carry-on.  EpiPens are perfectly acceptable going through security.  And, be sure to include baby wipes to wipe down tray tables and arm rests on airplanes that serve nuts, if you are allergic.

 

2.  Again, pack snacks.  You can buy a drink at the airport but safe meals are more difficult to come by.  Not only is it sometimes a challenge to find FA safe meals at the airport, but getting information to ensure that they don’t contain allergens and are, in fact, safely prepared can be next to impossible.  Snacks will tide you over until you reach your destination.

 

3.  Airline meals and snacks may not be safe. Call the airline and ask them about their allergen policy.   For FA kids, it might be easier to feed them at the airport or bring a bagel or sandwich in addition to snacks onboard for long flights.

 

4.  If you’re traveling abroad, do a little research about how food is typically prepared.  In parts of Asia, soy sauce (which contains not only soy but also wheat) is commonly added to dishes.  In the Middle East, sesame seeds are quite popular.

 

5.   Talk to the hotel concierge to find any specialty items you may need.  For us, we contacted our hotel to find out where we could purchase soy milk for my young son while in the Caribbean.  While on the phone with the hotel, ask them to clear the minibar fridge so you can keep any specialty items fresh.

 

6.  Again, if you’re vacationing somewhere where the don’t speak your native language, you’ll want to feel confident that the waitstaff understands your food restrictions.  Try ordering some food allergy translation cards.  These cards, made by a number of wonderful companies, help you communicate your family’s food allergy (and other dietary) restrictions in a foreign language.  Encourage waitstaff to take the cards back into the kitchen so that chefs themselves can understand the parameters and make appropriate adjustments.

 

7.  Finally, arrive prepared.  When going abroad, our research indicated it might be tough to easily find a whole allergy-free breakfast for my FA son.  While we could order fruit, everything else offered at the resort seemed to conflict with his allergies.  So, we packed a bag filled with convenient breakfast food like small cereal boxes, raisins, and oatmeal.  He could have a head start to breakfast in our room while we got ready and snack on fruit, etc at the restaurant table.  Plus, we could use the empty bag to haul our souvenirs home.  A win-win!

 

The key to a successful spring break is relaxation.  So no matter what form that takes, use the above steps to ensure that a food allergic reaction doesn’t hamper your fun.

 

Spring Break travel March 3, 2012

If you can’t make it to Dubai this spring break (Danke, Dubai!), but are headed out of town with food allergies, you may want to consider one of these food allergy-friendly establishments:
  • The Kimpton Hotel chain has begun carrying gluten-free items, including pretzels which some of its locations stock in the mini-bar.
  • We already know about Fairmont’s Lifestyle Cuisine menus for guests with dietary preferences.  Now, they’ve begun offering kid’s size portions!
  • The Ritz Carlton and Marriott hotels at large have started noting gluten-free menu items.
  • Omni Hotels and Resorts are offering a gluten-free breakfast buffet section.
  • The Disney properties are notoriously food allergy-friendly, walking guests through buffet lines and guiding them through menus to ensure safe selections.  Call ahead and notify of your allergies.
For more suggestions, see Spring Break Bound.  And, bon voyage!