Monday, December 19, 2011

Merry Calypso Christmas!

by Kelley Lindberg

I have an essay published in this month's (December 2011) issue of Sail magazine. The editor at Sail kindly gave me permission to post it on my blog. So here is my Christmas card to all of you (click it to enlarge it). I hope your holiday season, whether you're celebrating Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa, the winter solstice, or just a time to share love and friendship with those around you, is filled with light and love.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Breaking Our American Food Obsession

by Kelley Lindberg

(Between a sick kid and major deadlines, I’m squeezed too tight to be creative today, so I’m presenting an oldie but (hopefully) goodie from my archive of blog postings. Enjoy, and see you next week!)

Americans are obsessed with food. It’s one of our worst habits (aside from overspending, exporting bad dramas, consuming the majority of world resources, and gloating as morons humiliate themselves on reality TV shows). As a culture, we adults have become so food-driven that we can’t conceive of having any sort of social function without involving food. It’s the ultimate crutch – “Well, if we can’t think of anything to say, we can always eat something.”

Want to get together with a friend for an hour? Let’s do lunch or grab a coffee.

Want to go see a movie? Let’s get a large popcorn, even though we just had dinner.

Kids’ play date? Let’s bring snacks.

Business meeting? Order doughnuts.

Going to a kids’ soccer game, in which we actually get them outside running around? Quick, make an assignment list so we know who’s bringing the Oreos and Kool-Aid. Our kids can’t possibly last one whole hour without refined sugar coursing through their blood stream.

Science Fair award ceremony? We’d better order refreshments, ‘cause nothing says “Good job dissecting that cow’s eyeball” like a dry, store-bought, prefabricated chocolate chip cookie (speaking of science experiments…).

It’s obscene. No wonder we are a nation known for our obesity. (Not to mention diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health problems.)

The thing is, kids aren’t born like that. We go to great pains to teach them this behavior.

Adults would never leave half a cookie uneaten on a plate. Kids do. All the time. They get full (or bored) and they stop eating. Whoa, just try and find an adult that can do that! To most kids, snacks are cool, but playing is better. Ask a kid: Would you rather have a pizza or a new Legos set (or Barbie, video game, or ticket to the latest movie)? I guarantee you the kid will pick the new toy or movie.

This food obsession is an adult one. We force it onto our kids. It starts early, and we reinforce it hard. So by the time they’ve become teenagers, they’re firmly locked into the unhealthy eating habits that characterize America.

The frustrating part is, even if we try to break the habit in our families, our teachers do it.

Although our school has a well-known policy against using food in the classroom as rewards, we still have incidents crop up every month or two where we have to re-educate teachers or parents or substitutes about it. That’s just going to be the way it is, as long as adults are involved in our school. “The class that does the best Nutrition presentation gets a pizza party! Right after lunch! Yea!” Hunh? Yep, an adult would dream that one up. The kids would rather get a free hour on the playground. No brainer. But no one ever asks the kids. We just apply our tiny little restricted adult brains to the problem and come up with… wait, I know! Food!

A friend of mine in another school attempted to introduce the idea that using food as a reward is a non-useful teaching tool. (She doesn't have food allergy issues. She does, however, worry about her kids developing unhealthy approaches to food.) At her community council meeting when she brought this up, she encountered the resistance all adults throw up when faced with change. The immediate reaction was “How on earth could we NOT use Tootsie Rolls as rewards for getting right answers?”

Right there, I see two problems. First, they’re using food as a reward – bad American habit! Second, they’re REWARDING kids for getting a right answer. What? We have to bribe our kids to answer every question, now? That’s setting up a true sense of entitlement – another one of American society’s big ills. Getting a good grade should be the reward. A sense of accomplishment is a reward. Praise from the teacher (“Good answer, Freddy”) is a reward. Our kids are being turned into guinea pigs who have to ring a bell to get a pellet. But that’s a different issue for a different day.

It’s time we adults began to take a hard look at our own eating and socializing habits, because we can’t expect our kids to have a healthy view of food if we don’t. That whole “Do what I say, not what I do” thing really doesn’t work.

If you agree with me, let’s talk about it. We can do it over lunch.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Gingerbread Men, Women, Houses, and Other Gingery Sorts of Things

by Kelley Lindberg

It’s rapidly becoming the time of year when gingerbread houses and gingerbread men (and their assorted wives, children, neighbors, dogs, and lawn furnishings) make their appearance. Traditional gingerbread recipes are full of common allergens, so I did a little sleuthing to find some allergy-safe recipes for those days when you have entirely way too much creative energy and time on your hands. (Yeah, right. We can all hope.)

So if you’re in the mood to go all Habitat for Gingerbread Humanity on your family, here are a few places to jumpstart your allergy-free baking frenzy:
And, if you are infected with the gingerbread house fever, but you REALLY don’t have the time or patience to bake all the components yourself (and let’s be honest here, doesn’t this really describe most of us?), A and J Bakery has an “Allergen Friendly House Kit” that is free from peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, egg, dairy, and sesame seeds. Cool, hunh?

Happy Gingerbreading!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Food Allergens in Nonfood Products

by Kelley Lindberg

If only food allergens were just in food.

It’s one thing to have to learn to read ingredients labels on the food you buy at the grocery store. But it’s crazy to realize you have to read labels for just about anything else, too. It’s surprising the places that common allergens, like nuts, eggs, milk, or gluten, will show up.

Last year, we received a cute polar bear soap dispenser as a gift. My son snatched the dispenser for his own bathroom, and I was so busy with other holiday activities I didn’t give it a second thought. Over the next few weeks, we began to notice that my son’s hands were becoming red, dry, and itchy. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong. After trying several lotions, reminding him to thoroughly rinse any soap off his hands when he washed them, and otherwise scratching our heads, I found myself standing in his bathroom one day staring at the polar bear dispenser. I had never checked its ingredients. Come to think of it, I don’t remember if it even came with a list of ingredients. I removed the dispenser from his bathroom, replaced it with some soap I know is safe, and within just a couple of days, his hands cleared up and he was back to normal. There must have been a nut oil, such as almond or macadamia nut, in the soap all along.

This time of year, gifts of soaps, lotions, and perfumes are common, so it’s a good reminder to check all labels. And if you or your child is experiencing allergic rashes you can’t get rid of, look especially hard at all of your soaps, lotions, detergents, and cosmetics.

Here are some of the unexpected places where you might find food allergens, especially nuts, milk, soy, eggs, or wheat:
  • Body lotions, creams, and moisturizers
  • Exfoliants
  • Shampoos and conditioners
  • Soap
  • Shaving creams
  • Makeup and cosmetics
  • Nail polish fast-dry
  • Household cleaners
  • Toothpaste
  • Dentist office toothpaste and polishes
  • Vaccinations and shots (many are egg-based)
  • Medications and vitamins (check both active and inactive ingredients)
  • Bird seed (often contain nuts)
  • Top soil (sometimes contains ground nut shells)
  • Fertilizers (sometimes contain ground nut shells)
  • The sand in sand & water tables (often uses crushed nut shells)
  • Play-Doh (contains wheat)
  • Moon Sand (contains corn starch, but the company states it does NOT contain wheat, gluten, milk, egg, casein, or peanut ingredients.)
  • Paints
  • Adhesives on stamps, envelopes, and stickers you have to lick (many contain wheat)
  • Livestock bedding
  • Pet food and treats
  • Beanbags (including some beanbag chairs, hacky sacks, beanbag-type stuffed animals, and doorway draft blockers, which might contain ground nut shells)
  • Ant traps and mousetraps
  • Potpourris
  • Scented candles
After you’ve lived with food allergies for a while, reading ingredients labels on grocery items becomes second nature. But it’s good to remember to read labels on everything your allergic family member comes into contact with, not just the things they eat.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Allergy-Safe Thanksgiving and Holiday Party Tips

by Kelley Lindberg

Thanksgiving is on our doorstep, with its family get-togethers and that huge traditional meal. And as soon as that’s over, we head right into the rest of the holidays, with office parties, family gatherings, neighbor parties, traditional dinners, non-stop goodies….

Egads. Andy Williams says it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the foodiest time of the year, which makes it even more stressful for those of us with food allergies.

It’s worse if you have small children. Older kids and adults can understand how to avoid the foods that make them sick, and they can often adjust by limiting what they eat at the party. But for younger children who want to eat everything they see, or who are playing with other young kids who will invariably have food on their hands, it’s a much bigger issue.

So here are a dozen holiday survival tips that I’ve gathered from friends, family, and UFAN members that hopefully will help make this time of year a little easier to manage.

  1. When you are invited to someone’s house for a meal or snacks, tell them immediately about your family’s food issues. Most people really want to keep you or your child happy and safe, and they will try hard to accommodate you. Hostesses don’t want to be surprised by a food allergy at the party, and then feel guilty that they served something unsafe. Tell them up front – trust me, you will really be doing them a favor.
  2. If you’ve got a relative or two who just doesn’t “get it” and insists on bringing their famous nut-topped casserole, make sure you talk to them calmly beforehand about how serious the allergy is, and how skin contact can send you to the ER on Thanksgiving, which isn’t where anyone wants to be. If they still don’t get it, ask another relative to talk to them.
  3. If diplomacy doesn’t work and you know there will be food around that will put your child at risk, remember that this is YOUR life and YOUR child, and you don’t have to do anything dangerous just because someone else thinks a traditional casserole is more important than your child. Don’t be angry or pouty, but explain that although you love them, your young child will be at risk and you’ll be anxious the whole time, so you’re going to skip the huge family gathering and catch up with people later one-on-one, when it’s easier to make sure you don’t end up spending your holiday in the ER. You can tell them that when the child is older, that maybe you can again join the giant food-fest, but for the next few years, you’re going to create your own holiday tradition within your own immediate family, where you know your child is safe. Family gatherings aren’t fun if you feel threatened, bullied, neglected, or ridiculed. Therefore, don’t put yourself or your child in that position. It’s okay to say no. If someone’s feelings get hurt, it’s not your fault. They chose to put your child at risk. You can choose to skip their party.
  4. At the party, ask the other parents to make sure their kids wash their hands after dinner. This actually works out even easier if you talk to the kids – kids seem to “get it” and accommodate their cousins/friends more matter-of-factly than most adults. So talk to the kids, and then remind them after dinner, and they’ll probably be happy to oblige.
  5. Carry some simple safe food with you. If there’s nothing safe at the party, you can always pull it out and let your child eat that. I used to carry safe chicken nuggets (cooked, chopped, and chilled) everywhere we went when my son was younger. I still tuck a couple of safe granola bars in my purse even now, just in case we can’t find anything at a party for him to eat – at least that will tide him over until we can make a graceful exit and find him some safe food.
  6. When going to a potluck, always volunteer to take the dessert. When people bring desserts, they bring their fanciest creations, which for some reason almost always seems to ensure they will include the most common allergens like nuts, chocolate, and dairy ingredients. So volunteering to bring a dessert will cut down on some of that risk, and will ensure that your food-allergic family member gets something sweet to look forward to at the end of the meal.
  7. It goes without saying, but make sure you have your antihistamine and EpiPens with you.
  8. When you first get to the party, check out the food table, ask who made each dish and talk to them about the ingredients, and then decide which foods you feel comfortable with your child eating. Then take the child to the table and calmly explain which items are safe, and which items will make him/her sick. Try to do this before everyone is loading up plates – it will be more chaotic and noisy if you try to have this conversation while people are crowding the table, and your child will sense the stress.
  9. When people say things like, “Gosh, your child’s allergies must be AWFUL! He can’t eat ANYTHING!,” try to turn it into a more positive statement. Those comments can stress kids out and make them suddenly think they’re missing out, when they were perfectly content a few minutes ago. So try to answer with “Actually, it’s not so bad once you learn a few ways to substitute safe ingredients/learn where to shop/read an ingredients label” or whatever works for you. Other fun replies include, “You’d be surprised how much healthier we all are now that we don’t eat all those cream sauces and processed foods.” Or, “It’s made me a much better cook, now. Would you like to try my fruit salad?” The main thing is to make them understand that dealing with food allergies might be an adjustment at first, but once we get our new routines established, it’s manageable, and our children are totally normal. (It’s perfectly acceptable to mention that Aunt Bertha’s green beans with the nut topping would have been so easy to make with safe bread crumbs or crushed potato chips or cracker crumbs instead. In fact, it’s kind of desirable!)
  10. If you can, try to make an announcement before everyone starts filling their plates, asking them please not to use serving utensils in more than one dish. If they dip the sour cream spoon in the safe potatoes, those potatoes aren’t safe any more.
  11. Move dishes with unsafe ingredients to one side of the table, and safe ones on the other side. If it’s not your party, explain to the hostess what you’d like to do, and they’ll be fine with it.
  12. And finally, I have a little trick I like to use called bribery. Before the party, I make a deal with my son that if he can’t eat any of the desserts, he will get a special dessert when we get home. If I was organized enough to make it first, then I show it to him and say, “This is for you after the party, no matter how late it is, as long as you don’t throw a fit over the food at the party.” If I don’t have time to make it first, I promise him we’ll make it together the next day. That deal worked wonders when he was little, and it kept him from trying to sneak unsafe treats.
Do you have more suggestions? Post them in the comments so we can all learn from your experience and ideas. And here’s looking forward to a safe and yummy holiday season!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Honey and Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

Honey seems pretty simple. I’ve never really given it much thought. Here’s the sum of what I generally think about honey: It’s a natural sweetener, it’s made by bees, and beekeepers are crazy folk who don’t mind getting stung.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a small bottle of local honey at an arts and crafts fair, thinking it would be nice to support a local farmer. That started an interesting learning experience.

As I was talking to one of the beekeepers, she told me that eating local honey can help your seasonal pollen allergies (hay fever), because the honey is made using local pollens and therefore helps desensitize you to those pollens. I thought that was sort of interesting and decided to look into that a little more.

When I got home, my friend (who was also at the craft fair) called me and told me that after I left, the same woman had told someone else that their bees spend the winter in an almond orchard. The woman also said that most of the bees in this area (Utah) winter over in almond orchards (presumably in California). My friend knows of my son’s nut allergies, so she immediately called me to tell me this.

So that sent me into research mode.

The first thing I researched is the claim is that some people seem to find relief from seasonal pollen allergies by eating a teaspoon or two of local honey every day for months before pollen season hits. (According to the beekeeper I talked to, you should eat honey made within 20 miles of your home, so that you’re sure of getting the same pollens that you’re exposed to in the air. What a great sales pitch!) The idea is that it’s a form of desensitization, sort of like allergy shots. See “Can You Fight Allergies with Local Honey?” on the Discovery Fit & Health website for more on this concept.

However, the few medical studies I located on this show no conclusive proof for this claim. So while there may be anecdotal stories saying some people find relief, it hasn’t been scientifically proven. If it works for you, great. But don’t expect a miracle. Here is an article from the New York Times about one of these scientific studies: “REALLY? Eating Local Honey Cures Allergies.”

The next thing I discovered is that people can actually be allergic to honey. Honey itself contains proteins, and you can develop an allergic reaction to anything with a protein molecule, so it is possible to develop an allergy to honey. And, like other food allergens, it can sometimes cause anaphylaxis.

Another problem with honey is that it’s made by honey bees carrying pollens back to the hive. That means pollen molecules from all those flowers can be found in the resulting honey. So if you’re having an allergic reaction after eating honey, it is nearly impossible to know if your reaction is caused by the honey itself or the pollen suspended in the honey. The website says some authors of studies recommend that allergists look at honey as a possible allergen when they can’t find another culprit causing food-allergy reactions in a patient.

What I can’t find out is if being allergic to almonds means you’re also allergic to almond flower pollen. I know that if you’re allergic to birch pollen, you might also react to almonds (along with apples, kiwi, pears, peaches, plums, coriander, fennel, parsley, celery, cherries, carrots, and hazelnuts). But the world of cross-reactivity and oral allergy syndrome is complicated. So I’m not sure if almond-allergic people can safely eat almond-grove-produced honey.

So I think the short answer is: be cautious. If you have been having allergic reactions that you can’t identify, there is a possibility, it seems, that you might be getting exposed to your allergen through honey. Honey is an ingredient in a surprisingly large number of commercial food products. If this seems to be happening to you, talk to your allergist about performing an allergy test to the honey you buy.

On the other hand, if you’ve been eating honey just fine with no problems, don’t let this article make you panic! If you’re not having symptoms after eating honey, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to assume that honey is a problem for you. So enjoy your sweet tooth.

Everyone is different, every allergy is different, and everyone’s body chemistry is different. And I’m not a doctor, of course! I just thought I’d share what I found out this week about honey. Investigate this more with your allergist if you suspect honey may be causing problems for you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Bright Light of Friendship

by Kelley Lindberg

The Italian Renaissance artist Giotto di Bondone had it figured out when he said, “The sincere friends of this world are as ship lights in the stormiest of nights.”

My son started junior high this year, and with that milestone, I’m discovering that I continue to have to learn ways to let go. But I was recently reminded, once again, that just because I can’t always be there to solve problems for him, smooth the way, and anticipate obstacles doesn’t mean he’s on his own.

A couple of weeks ago, he attended his very first dance at the junior high school – a Halloween dance. As if it’s not weird enough seeing your child go to his first dance, I also had to contend with the idea that there would be food there. But I felt a little better about that this time because one of his friends had stepped in to keep him (and other allergic kids) safe.

Since it was a Halloween dance, the student council had planned a creepy activity where you stick your hand in a box labeled “eyeballs” or “brains” or “guts” and gross each other out. The eyeballs are really grapes, the guts are really cooked spaghetti, etc.

But here’s where the value of friendship comes in: one of the girls on the student council has been really good friends with my son (and with his allergic friend) since preschool. So during one of the planning meetings for the dance, she brought up the question of kids in the junior high with food allergies and suggested they make the creepy-feely exhibit allergy-safe.

The teacher and council agreed, a quick email was sent to one of the food-allergic parents for suggestions, and voila! We were involved in the planning and shopping and we could help make the dance allergy-safe. (And it turned out to be a truly awesome Halloween dance!)

I’ve often said that today’s kids are far more allergy-aware and allergy-accepting than grownups. This generation of kids is growing up with food-allergic classmates and teammates, where in my generation, food allergies were all but unheard-of. That makes us grown-ups less inclined to remember about food allergies than our kids, who are around them all the time.

So as my son races head-long into his rebellious teenage years, it’s comforting to know that some of his fellow teenage rebels will also be friends who care enough to keep an eye out for hazards.

Thanks, B, for being there for your allergic friends, and for keeping those lights burning in a stormy sea.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Dressing Up Rice

by Kelley Lindberg

Rice. White rice, brown rice, Spanish rice. Okay, that pretty much covers my repertoire of rice cookery.

Apparently I’ve been a little restricted in my thinking.

A friend sent me this link to an article in The Atlantic, “The Rice Principle: A Reminder That We Share Similar Appetites,” and it made me realize that there’s a lot more to love about rice than I realized.

Especially for people with gluten or wheat allergies, rice quickly becomes a staple – but how can we dress it up so that it’s not always the same old thing? Food fatigue can be such a problem, even for people without food allergies (I run out of dinner ideas by Tuesday every week), and it’s an even bigger problem when you’re restricted in the foods you can eat.

This article, by chef Tamar Adler, rattles off an amazing number of ideas for jazzing up rice with simple, easy-to-find and easy-to-cook ingredients – of course, some of her ingredients are common allergens like egg or nuts, but by the end of the article, I was convinced that rice dishes are infinitely flexible, totally forgiving, and worth a second look. She even includes a recipe for Rice and Lettuce Soup. Really? Really! And she makes it sound good!

With a few easy substitutions, like using safe margarine or olive oil instead of real butter, her on-the-fly recipes sound like they’ll come together quickly even on a busy school night. And since rice is one of those foods that most kids like, that’s a plus.

The author offers several methods for cooking rice, and takes us on a quick trip around the world with her story – from Asia to Italy and several places in between. And even though she covers a lot of territory, she doesn’t even mention Spanish paella or Cajun-country jambalaya, both of which are filling dishes that let you toss in whatever veggies and meats you have on hand, regardless of what the recipe might actually call for. (Can’t eat shrimp? Toss in chopped chicken instead!) And don’t forget Greek Lemon Rice Pilaf (search for a vegetarian version if you can’t have chicken broth). 

So if rice is on your list of safe foods, check out her article, and like me, maybe it will help you start thinking outside the Minute Rice box.

And if you have a great rice-based recipe, share it with us in the Comments section!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Allergy-Safe Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

by Kelley Lindberg

Over the weekend, we went to a Halloween party – kids and grownups alike dressed up and spent a fun evening eating and having a great time.

Here’s something crazy: Four of the six families there had kids with food allergies. We didn’t plan it that way. We didn’t go out and hunt for folks with allergies. Food allergies are just becoming that common.

So anyway, in addition to our usual prohibition of milk, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, fish, and shellfish (which we’ve been eliminating from our parties for years), at this party we also got to eliminate gluten and citrus fruits.

And it still worked out great, with plenty of food to spare! We had tacos with all the fixings (including Daiya cheese and Tofutti sour cream), salsa, corn chips, pinto beans, Spanish rice, Jell-O Jigglers, cornbread, and pumpkin chocolate chip cupcakes. Those cupcakes were so good! I asked Cathy if I could post her recipe here, and she graciously said yes. They’re easy to make using an allergy-safe yellow cake mix! So here is her super-yummy recipe, just in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving get-togethers.

Cathy’s Allergy-Safe Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
  • 1 box safe yellow cake mix (Cathy used Cherrybrook Kitchen’s Gluten-Free Yellow Cake Mix)
  • 1 15-oz can of pumpkin (make sure it’s canned pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, and 1/4 ground cloves)
  • 1/4 c. rice milk
  • 1/2 c. dairy-free, nut-free chocolate chips (such as Enjoy Life brand)
  • Frosting
  • Safe decorations, like colored sugar, safe sprinkles, or plastic spider rings
Mix the cake mix according to the directions on the box, then add in the pumpkin, spice, rice milk, and chocolate chips. Pour into paper cupcake liners, and bake according to the instructions on the box. (Cathy baked hers at 350 degrees for 18 – 20 minutes.) Cool, frost, and decorate!

For frosting, try Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Cream Cheese Frosting (warning: contains soy), or use your own safe recipe. Cathy used this recipe, which tasted amazing:

Cathy’s Dairy-Free Cream Cheese Frosting (contains soy)

Beat until smooth, then frost.
Thank you so much, Cathy!

Allergy-Safe Trick-or-Treating Tips

by Kelley Lindberg

Last week I talked about ten ways to celebrate Halloween even if you have food allergies. One of those ways is trick-or-treating, which may surprise some people. But you really can make trick-or-treating safer, so this week, I’ll offer some tips for doing just that. Remember, these tips work just as well for trunk-or-treats, too.

Tip #1: No one eats anything until everyone gets home and the parent reads the label on every piece of candy. That way, no one is eating unidentified foods and having a reaction while you’re out in the dark a block away from home. Make sure the kids agree, understand, and agree again. No one sneaks anything (not even Dad).

Tip #2: If you child is super-sensitive to an ingredient, you might have them wear gloves with their costume, so that any allergenic candy that touches their hand on the way into the bag doesn’t cause a skin reaction. Toss the glove in the wash or in the trash when you get home.

Tip #3: Unlabeled candy is assumed to be unsafe. Period. The only exceptions are brand-name candies that you are already very familiar with and know are safe. (For example, I know Starbursts and Skittles are okay for my son, so I’ll let him keep those.) If there is a type of candy that he’s particularly interested in, I might promise to look for it at the store the next day, and read the ingredients there. But it goes into a separate container until we’ve seen it at the store and verified its safety. See my post from Oct 10, "Allergy-Safe Halloween Candy 2011, Part 2," for a list of Halloween candies and their ingredients – it might help you sort through what isn’t safe.

Tip #4: A week or a few days before Halloween, try setting up a network of “safe houses” – families in your neighborhood who will agree to have some “safe” candy to give to your child. Most neighbors would be more than happy to accommodate your child if they know ahead of time. No one wants to think they’re ruining a child’s big night. You’d be surprised how willing most people are to help.

Tip #5: Before you head out on your adventure (preferably several days before, so that the kids aren’t overly excited and can actually hear you), talk about what you’re going to do with any candy when the night is over. Here are some ideas:
  • Go trick-or-treating with a friend or sibling, and at the end of the night, dump both kids’ candy together, then make two piles – a “safe” pile for the allergic kid, and the other pile for the non-allergic kid. If they both know about this plan beforehand, they are usually more than willing to do this. (My son often trick-or-treats with a friend who has braces – there are plenty of candies the friend can’t eat because of the braces, and plenty that my son can’t eat because of allergies, and it’s amazing how generous they both have been about handing over “safe for you” loot.)
  • Buy a bag of safe candy ahead of time, and at the end of the night, let your child “trade” you for all the unsafe candy he brought home.
  • “Buy” the unsafe candy from your child – but establish a price ahead of time, such as a nickel a piece, a dollar a pound, or the whole kit and caboodle for a new DVD, a new toy, a trip to the movies, a night out with Dad, a visit to the dollar store, or other such treat.
  • Look for a dentist or other business in your area that buys candy from kids on the day after Halloween. There’s at least one dentist in Layton that does. The kids get money, and the dentist donates the candy to a children’s hospital, I think.
  • Let the child “donate” the unsafe candy to Mom or Dad, so they can take it to work and share it with their coworkers.
  • Let the child donate the unsafe candy to a local women’s shelter, food bank, homeless shelter, or family of a soldier – the soldiers always seem to appreciate candy that they can share with friends or give to children in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Got any more trick-or-treating tips? Post a comment and share!

And don’t forget UFAN’s NO-CANDY Trunk-or-Treat, this Saturday, Oct 29, 2011, at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. Decorate your trunk and bring non-edible treats (toys, small novelties, etc.) to pass out. There will be prizes for the best-decorated trunks as well as festive music. See for more information.

Whatever your family chooses to do for Halloween this year, I hope it’s spooktacular!





Monday, October 17, 2011

Ten Allergy-Safe Ways to Celebrate Halloween

by Kelley Lindberg

First, a quick “candy corn update”: is now selling A and J Bakery Candy Corn that is nut-free, peanut-free, and gluten-free, but it still contains soy, egg, and corn. (For those of you who hate candy corn, I apologize for the updates – but it’s a hot topic every year!)

Meanwhile…Halloween is about more than candy corn (yes, it’s true!). It’s also about parties and trick-or-treating, both of which can add stress to an already-stressed parent of allergic kids. So it’s time to post some suggestions for ways to help take the “scary” out of Halloween.

Especially for parents of newly diagnosed kids, this holiday brings up a lot of questions. Should we let them go trick-or-treating? Should we have a party instead? Should we stay home, lock the doors, and turn out the lights? What about that giant bag of unsafe candy?!!

In our family, we’ve discovered that the candy is really the least important part of the holiday. The adventure is the best part. Candy seems like the goal (“I’m going to fill this WHOLE bucket!”), but it’s really just the excuse for dressing up, running around the neighborhood in the dark squealing with flashlights, and getting together with friends.

Focus on the adventure, and create your Halloween traditions around the parts of the holiday your kids love best. Here are ten ideas for a fun Halloween:

1. Go trick-or-treating. If they want to trick-or-treat, don’t be afraid of it. There are plenty of things you can do with unsafe candy afterwards, and if the kids know about the rules ahead of time, it will be surprisingly easy to keep them safe while doing it. (I’ll post my tips for safe trick-or-treating next week. I promise you can do this if your kids have their hearts set on it!)

2. Have a party at your house – that way you can control the food that comes in and out of your door. Kids can wear costumes, decorate mini pumpkins, play games, or watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” (Okay, it’s probably too tame for kids these days, but it was always MY favorite.) If you go to a party at someone else’s house, call them ahead of time to offer your help planning the menu, bringing safe treats, etc.

3. Visit a haunted house or Lagoon’s Frightmares (which has attractions for tiny tots as well as older kids and teens).

4. Get lost in a corn maze. Many of them have additional attractions, like small rides, hayrides, or pumpkin patches.

5. Rent The Nightmare Before Christmas and snuggle up together in the dark with your favorite safe popcorn or candy. Wear your costumes, or indulge in some Halloween pajamas for the whole family!

6. Catch a movie at the theater (the kids can dress up!).

7. If your kids are a little older, reserve tickets for a “ghost tour” of your local city. In Salt Lake City and Ogden, Utah, you can find these tours offered by storytellers through Ogden & Salt Lake City Ghost Tours. (Just be sure to buy your tickets ahead of time.) The tours run from Oct 20 – Oct 31, 2011.

8. Stage a “Zombies vs Aliens” soccer game or Frisbee match – invite all their friends to join. It could be even more fun after dark with glowstick-bracelets (available at most dollar stores)! (Or it could be “Zombies vs. Humans,” “Princesses vs Superheros” or any other combination your kids like.)

9. Attend the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City. It’s not to be confused with Halloween at all, but this Mexican celebration honors and remembers loved ones who have passed. The Cultural Center is hosting this annual family-oriented community gathering featuring altar displays, folk art exhibit, and more. You don’t have to be Catholic or of Mexican descent to attend – what a great way to expand your kids’ horizons and bring new meaning to “remembering our lost ones.” (Note that skulls made of sugar and bread shaped like human bodies or bones is a traditional part of Día de los Muertos, so be aware that there will be allergens present.) The celebration istelf will be on Nov. 2, 2011, from 6pm - 9pm, but he altars will be on display from Oct 17 - Nov 3.

10. And finally, don’t forget UFAN’s FOOD-FREE Halloween Trunk-or-Treat on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2011, at the Intermountain Medical Center (southwest parking lot), 5121 Cottonwood St., Murray, UT. Decorate the trunk of your car, and bring plenty of non-edible goodies (small toys and novelties – no candy or food!) to pass out. There will be decorated trunk prizes and festive music, so don’t miss it! See UFAN’s website,, for more info. This year’s Trunk-or-Treat is presented by UFAN, the Utah Eosinophilic Disorders Support Group, and the Intermountain PKU and Allied Disorders Association.

There’s plenty to do this Halloween where you can control the food your child comes into contact with. So have fun, and don't get spooked by Halloween!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Allergy-Safe Halloween Candy 2011, Part 2

by Kelley Lindberg

Last week, I told you about some places online to order your allergen-free Halloween candy. This week, I’ll tell you about the candy I found in stores locally.

But first… an update on the Great 2011 Candy Corn Hunt. If you’re looking for nut-free candy corn, I found the Sunrise candy corn this week at the Dollar Tree – a huge bin of it, and each bag is only $1. I had my husband and son join me in an entirely non-scientific survey to compare the Sunrise candy corn with Smith’s Kroger brand candy corn, and we all agreed that the Sunrise candy corn has a better flavor (more honey flavor).

Also, many thanks to Daniella for tracking down the Jelly Belly Candy Corn. She contacted the Jelly Belly company to find out about the ingredients and manufacturing processes. If I understand all of her correspondence correctly, their candy corn contains soy protein, and it’s manufactured on shared equipment with milk, wheat, tree nuts, and coconut, but they say their manufacturing and cleaning processes are very stringent. If you’re allergic to soy, avoid them. If you’re allergic to milk, wheat, tree nuts, or coconut, whether or not you want to eat them depends upon your comfort level with possible cross-contamination, taking into account their assurances that their manufacturing processes are allergy-aware and stringent. For the complete information that Daniella received from the company, see Daniella’s blog post on her Smart Allergy blog.

As an alternative to candy corn, the Dollar Tree also has gumdrops shaped like pumpkins, called Gummy Candy Pumpkins. They’re not individually wrapped, but would be fun on safe cupcakes, etc. They contain corn, but are free from the other Big 8. They come 25 gumdrops to a bag, for $1.

Now, on to the Halloween candy I found in local stores. This year, I hit Sam’s Club, Smith’s, Target, and Dollar Tree. The biggest disappointment this year is that Wonka candy is increasingly unsafe – old standbys like Nerds now have egg warnings. Wonka is very good about labeling their candy individually, so be sure you read the labels before your kids consume it.

Remember, this is just a sampling of what’s out there. Double-check every label before you buy anything (I may have missed something or made mistakes as I scribbled my notes while standing in the aisles). If you find a mistake, let me know! Also, if you find a great source for safe candy, let me know that, too.

Remember that many manufacturers have multiple factories, so different sizes or packaging may have different factory warnings. Read every label every time.

First I’ll list candies that don’t list corn as an ingredient (because there aren’t very many of them). Then I’ll list the candies and treats that do contain corn, but are free from some or all of the Top 8 allergens (peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, soy, wheat, fish, shellfish). I've also thrown in a few non-candy ideas, like cookies or Slim Jims.

By the way, EVERYTHING on this entire list is nut-free and peanut-free. That's where I started, then I broke them down by the other allergens. I hope it helps simplify your Halloween season!

Corn-free as well as free from Top 8 (These candies don’t list corn syrup in their ingredients, so they may be safe for corn-allergic kids – please double-check ingredients):
  • Smarties (Target, 67 pcs per bag, $2.49 I think; or Smith’s has a 71-pc bag for $2.79 or a 180-pc bag for $6.99) [Note: Dollar Tree sells “Smarties in a Pouch” that contain corn]
  • Pixie Stix (Target, 120 per bag, $2.49 I think; or Smith’s has a 150 bag for $2.50 and a 250 bag for $4.99)
  • Giant Pixy Stix (Sam’s Club, 50 giant stix for $11.78)
  • Bob’s Sweet Stripes Soft Mint Candies (red & white peppermints) (Sam’s Club (290 per bag, $6.64)
  • Whistle Pop candy (doesn’t list corn, but does list “glucose syrup”) (Dollar Tree, 25 pops for $1)
  • Candy Jewelry (doesn’t list corn, but does list “glucose syrup”), (Dollar Tree, 15 pcs for $1)
  • Spongebob Gummy Krabby Patties (doesn’t list corn, but has “glucose syrup” and beef gelatin) (Dollar Tree, 10 for $1)

Corn-free, but contains Soy warning:
  • Marvel Superhero Halloween Candy (Walmart, 35 boxes per bag, $4.98; or Target, 52 pcs per bag for $2.49) [Note that I found Marvel Heroes candy sticks at Dollar Tree that contain corn, so read labels carefully]
  • Bakers & Chefs Starlight Mints (contains “glucose syrup” and traces of soy); (Sam’s Club has 620 for $6.78

Corn-free, but contains Wheat and Egg warning:
  • Wonka Nerds (Sam’s Club, $13.18)

Everything from here on down contains corn ingredients:

Free from Top 8 (Wheat, Peanut, Tree Nut, Milk, Egg, Soy, Fish, Shellfish):
  • Betty Crocker Halloween Fruit Snacks; (Sam’s Club has 48 pouches for $7.48; Walmart has 25 pouches for $4.96)
  • Kellogg’s Fruity Snacks (contains coconut oil) (Sam’s Club, 24 per box, $6.98)
  • Great Value Fruit Smiles (Walmart has 42 pouches for $5.28)
  • 24 Halloween Candy Sticks (Sam’s Club has 24 for $8.98)
  • 24 Halloween Lollipops (Sam’s Club has 24 for $8.98)
  • Skittles (Walmart has bag of 20 for $1.98; Target has bag of 21 for about $2.49, Smith’s has bag of 21 for 2/$6)
  • Starbursts (Walmart has bag of 32 for $198; Target has bag of 32 for about $2.49, Smith’s has bag for 48 for 2/$6)
  • Skittles and Starbursts Assortment (Sam’s Club has 172 per bag, $9.88, or Walmart has a bag of 45 for $4.48)
  • Skittles, Starbursts, and LifeSaver Gummies assortment (Target has 180 for $13.99)
  • Dum-Dums (Sam’s Club has 360 per bag, $8.08, or Smiths has 300 for $6.99, or Target has 350 for 9.99 or bags of 48 for about $2.49, or Dollar Tree has 26 for $1)
  • Marvel Heroes Candy Sticks (Dollar Tree, 22 for $1)
  • Jolly Rancher (Sam’s Club has 5 lb bag of 378 pcs for $10.48) [Note: in an assortment bag at Walmart, the Jolly Ranchers were listed has containing corn and soy]
  • Jolly Rancher Lollipops (Target has 18 per bag for about $2.49)
  • LifeSavers (Sam’s Club, 24 rolls for $8.74)
  • Baby Bottle Pops (Sam’s Club, 20 for $10.78)
  • Laffy Taffy (Sam’s Club has 145-pc tub for $5.72, Target has a bag of 32 for about $2.49; Smith’s has bag of 32 for $2.50)
  • Hot Tamales (Sam’s Club has 24 vending-sized packs for $14.17)
  • Mike & Ike (Sam’s Club has 24 vending-sized packs for $14.17, Target has bag of 21 small pouches for about $2.49)
  • Sour Patch Soft & Chewy (Target has bag of 16 for about $2.49)
  • Sour Patch Kids (Sam’s Club has 24 vending-sized packs for $13.32)
  • Swedish Fish (Sam’s Club has 24 vending-sized packs for $13.05, Target has bag of 16 small pouches for about $2.49)
  • Swedish Fish & Sour Patch Kids Assortment (Target has bag of 115 for $9.99)
  • Dots (Smiths has bag of 17 mini-boxes for $2.50; Dollar Tree has bag of 6 mini-boxes for $1)
  • Haribo Gummy Bears (contains coconut) (Smiths has a bag of 44 for $4.99)
  • Life Savers Spooky Shapes Gummies (Target has bag of 12 for about $2.49)
  • Bubble Babies Sour Gum Balls (contains coconut), (Dollar Tree has bag of 62 for $1)
  • Mini Sour Dudes Straws (Dollar Tree has bag of 10 for $1)
  • Gummy Candy Insects (Dollar Tree has bag of 15 for $1)
  • Gummy Body Parts (Dollar Tree has bag of 15 for $1)
  • Gummy Pirate Choppers (Dollar Tree has bag of 12 for $1)
  • Grave Gummies (contains coconut) (Dollar Tree has pkg of 12 for $1)
  • Smarties in a Pouch (Dollar Tree has bag of 35 pouches for $1)
  • Comix Mix Candy Sticks (Dollar Tree has bag of 22 for $1)
  • Push Pops (Sam’s Club has 24 for $10.62)

Contains Soy or Soy Warning (but free from other 7 top allergens):
  • Wrigley’s Gum (Doublemint, Big Red, Juicy Fruit, Spearmint); Sam’s Club (40 5-stick packs for $7.14)
  • Marvel Superhero Halloween Candy (Walmart, 35 boxes per bag, $4.98; or Target, 52 pcs per bag for $2.49)
  • Hubba Bubba Bubble Tape (Sam’s Club, $8.88)
  • Laffy Taffy Ropes (Sam’s Club, 48 ropes, $9.52)
  • Jolly Rancher Fruit Chews (Sam’s Club has 12 for $6.72)
  • Marvel Superheroes Halloween Lollipops (Walmart has bag of 65 for $4.98)
  • Jolly Rancher Snack-Size Fruit Chews (Walmart has bag of 40 for $1.98)
  • Kool-Aid Bursts drinks (Walmart has 6-pack for $1)
  • Star Wars Lollipops (Target has bag of 26 for about $2.49)
  • Big Chew Fruit Flavored Bubble Gum (Dollar Tree has bag of 88 pcs for $1)
  • Double Bubble Bubble Gum (Dollar Tree has bag of 30 for $1) [Note: The bag of 380 from Sam’s Club also has a milk warning]

Contains Wheat or Wheat warning (but free from other 7 top allergens):
  • Super Ropes (Sam’s Club has 30 for $10.98)
  • Wonka Super Shockers (Sam’s Club has 24 vending-sized pkgs for $13.18)
  • Sour Punch Straws (Sam’s Club has 24 for $10.46)
  • Red Vines (Sam’s Club, 15 bags for $6.88)
  • Twizzler Rainbow Snack Size (Walmart has bags of 33 for $1.98)
  • Airheads Chewier Mini Bars (Target has bags of 30 for about $2.49)

Contains Milk or Milk warning (but free from other 7 top allergens):
  • Ring Pops (Sam’s Club has 40 for $11.43)
  • Sixlets (tiny cellophane tubes of 6 round candy-coated chocolate flavored balls): (Dollar Tree has bags of 20 for $1)
  • Exploding Candy (Dollar Tree has bags of 25 pouches for $1)

Contains Egg or Egg warning (but free from other 7 top allergens):
  • Wonka Stretchy & Tangy Laffy Taffy in 3 Flavors (Sam’s Club has 24 for $13.18)
  • Now & Later (Target has bags of 36 for about $2.49)

Contains Soy and Wheat or warnings (but free from other 6 top allergens):
  • Twizzlers (Sam’s Club has a tub of 180 ind. wrapped for $7.24)
  • Twizzler Nibs (Sam’s Club has 36 vending-sized pkgs for $19.88)
  • Twizzler Snack Size Twists (Target has bags of 60 for about $2.49, Smith’s has bags of 60 for 2/$4; Walmart has bags of 60 for $1.88))
  • Twizzler & Jolly Rancher Assortment (Sam’s Club, 225 for $9.98)
  • Airheads (Sam’s Club: 90 for $8.98)
  • Airhead Extremes (Sam’s Club has 18 for $8.62
  • Utz Pretzel Treats (Sam’s Club, 70 bags of Halloween-shaped pretzels, contains wheat and barley, made on equipment that processes soy and sesame seeds, $6.98)
  • Keebler Crème-Filled Sugar Wafers (cookies, contain barley, too) (Sam’s Club has 24 pkgs for $8.48)
  • Oreo cookies (Sam’s Club has 30 pkgs for $9.56)
  • Austin Zoo Animal Crackers (Sam’s Club has 36 bags for $7.78)
  • Chex Mix (Sam’s Club has 36 bags for $9.78)
  • Slim Jim Meat Sticks (also contains beef and chicken), (Sam’s Club has box of 100 individually wrapped sticks for $14.82)

Contains Wheat and Milk or warnings (but free from other 6 top allergens):
  • Charms Blow Pops (Sam’s Club has bags of 100 for $8.86, Walmart has bags of 50 for $4.48, Target has bags of 23 for about $2.49)
  • Charms Mini Pops (Dollar Tree has bags of 26 for $1)

Contains Milk and Soy or warnings (but free from other 6 top allergens):
  • Double Bubble gum (Sam’s Club has 380 for $6.88) [Note: the Double Bubble Gum from Dollar Tree and from Target doesn’t have a milk warning, so they may use multiple factories. Check labels carefully before eating]
  • Kraft Caramels (Walmart has bags of 50 for $1.98)

Contains Wheat and Egg or warnings (but free from other 6 top allergens):
  • Wonka Nerds Ropes (Sam’s Club has 24 for $13.18)
  • Wonka Nerds (doesn’t appear to contain corn) (Sam’s Club has them for $13.18, Target has bags of 27 for about $2.49, Smith’s has bags of 27 for 2/$4)

The following candies come in big assortment bags, which you might find in your child’s trick-or-treat bags:
  • Columbina candies – Dollar Tree sells many varieties of candy from this company, and all have a factory warning for Peanuts, Egg, Tree Nuts, Soy, Milk, and Wheat
  • Wonka Nerds from the Wonka Mix-Ups bag (Sam’s Club) contain corn, wheat, and egg
  • Wonka BottleCaps from the Wonka Mix-Ups bag (Sam’s Club) contain wheat and egg
  • Wonka SweeTarts from the Wonka Mix-Ups bag (Sam’s Club) contain wheat and egg
  • Wonka Spooky Nerds from the Wonka Monster Treats bag (Walmart) contain corn, wheat, and egg
  • SweeTarts Skulls and Bones from the Wonka Monster Treats bag (Walmart) contain wheat and egg (no corn)
  • SweeTart Chews – contain corn and soy
  • Howlin’ Laffy Taffy from the Wonka Monster Treats bag (Walmart) contain corn and soy
  • Twizzler Pull N Peel from various assortments bags contain corn and wheat (no soy)
  • Apple Stix from the Jolly Rancher & Twizzler assortment (Walmart) contain corn and soy
  • Tiger Pops – packaging lists all allergens
  • Lemonheads contain only corn, but are usually found in assortment bags that include warnings for all the allergens on the overall packaging
  • Jawbreakers contain only sucrose (doesn’t list corn), but packaged in an assortment that lists all the allergens in a factory warning
  • Warheads – contains corn, but comes in an assortment listing all allergens in a factory warning
  • Bazooka Gum-Filled Pops – lists only corn, but comes in an assortment listing all allergens in a factory warning
  • Cry Baby Sour Gumballs – contains corn
  • Double Bubble twist-wrap gum and gumballs – both contain corn with a soy warning
  • Jolly Rancher Candy Stix – contain corn and soy

Non-Food Treats:
Don’t forget, you don’t have to hand out candy to your trick-or-treaters. You can also hand out non-food treats like:
  • Bat or Spider Rings (Walmart has 100 for $1.94)
  • Halloween bouncy balls (Walmart has 12 for $2.44, or has lots of varieties)
  • Vampire teeth (Walmart has 16 for $1.44)
  • Halloween-colored bracelets (Walmart has 30 for $1.94, has tons, or party stores have these, too)
  • Halloween pencils or erasers(Walmart has 12 for 94 cents)
  • Glow Sticks (Dollar Tree, 12 for $1)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Allergy-Friendly Halloween Candy & Nut-Free Candy Corn Hunt 2011

by Kelley Lindberg

Yep, it’s that time again… my annual candy corn hunt! Everyone seems to either love or hate candy corn – there’s no in-between – but for those of us who love it, it’s hard to live without it every year because of nut allergies. So every year, people ask me if I’ve found any nut-free candy corn.

You’ll be happy to hear I’ve found two sources for nut-free candy corn again this year, but they both contain egg, soy, and corn syrup.

The first is the Kroger brand – sold in Smith’s here in Utah, and possibly in other Kroger stores elsewhere. They sell nut-free candy corn, mellowcreme pumpkins, and Autumn Mix. Yummy!

The other is made by Sunrise Confections. You can order the Sunrise candy corn (as well as their Autumn Mix and Blueberry Hill Indian Corn) from Peanut Free Planet.

I heard there was a safe candy corn brand at Target, but when I went there today, I couldn’t find any. If I locate any more, I’ll let you know!

I’ve also been shopping locally for candy to see what types of allergen-free candy we can find in stores. Next week, I’ll post a list of what I found and where I found it. Most of it contains corn syrup and food colorings, of course. So if those are your issues, you’ll probably want to order candy online, and you’ll want to do it this week so it arrives in time for Halloween. There are also some good online resources for Halloween chocolates and gluten-free candy, so this week I’ll focus on online candy sources.
  • Indie Candy:  This site is the place to go for all-natural candy with no dyes or any of the Big 8 allergens at all! Most of their candy also appears to be corn-free, too. They have a large selection of confections including gorgeous crystal lollipops, chocolate, and gummis, and you can search by your specific allergy needs.
  • Yummy Earth:  Yummy Earth candies (lollipops, drops, gummy bears, and gummy worms) are corn-free, as well as being free from the big 8, and they use natural colorings and flavorings. You can buy them online at {} and on
  • Peanut Free Planet:  This allergy-friendly grocery site sells a ton of different candy from lots of different manufacturers, including Vermont Nut Free, Enjoy Life Foods, and Amanda’s Own. You’ll find chocolate, jelly beans, and all sorts of allergen-friendly groceries. They also sell KitKats, Mars bars, and Nestle Aero Milk chocolate bars that are made in a Canadian factory, and therefore nut-free (unlike their American factories). And most importantly, THEY HAVE NUT-FREE CANDY CORN!
  • Amanda’s Own Confections:  They offer chocolate in some fun Halloween shapes, as well as jelly beans and other candies, all dairy-free, nut-free, egg-free, and gluten-free!
  • Divvies:  Nut-free, dairy-free, and egg-free chocolate ghosts, jelly beans, gummy stars, and chocolate chips! Oh my!
  • Vermont Nut Free:  Their chocolates are peanut-free and nut-free, but they do have milk and egg warnings on them. Their huge selection of nut-free chocolates includes caramel and chocolate pumpkins, chocolate-covered marshmallows on a stick, and foil-wrapped chocolate shapes (like bats, witches, and ghosts). They also sell skippers, which are similar to M&Ms, but nut-free, of course.
  • Chocolate Emporium:  Read the ingredients carefully on this website, but they do offer a lot of allergen-friendly goodies. Call before you order to ensure you get what you need.
  • Oriental Trading Co.:  Remember, trick-or-treats bags don’t have to be filled with candy. Oriental Trading Company offers a bazillion (I counted them) super-cheap novelty toys, many that you can buy in quantities of 50, 144, or more.
Updates: I found Sunrise candy corn at the Dollar Tree! And I think it tastes better than the Kroger brand. In addition, Jelly Belly Candy Corn contains soy, and it's manufactured on shared equipment with milk, wheat, tree nuts, and coconuts, but they say their manufacturing and cleaning processes are very stringent. For more detailed info, read Daniella's Smart Allergy blog for her correspondence with the company. And finally, A&J Bakery Candy Corn is now available at, but they contain soy, egg, and corn (but they're nut-free, peanut-free and gluten-free).

Monday, September 26, 2011

FAI’s Food Allergy Prevalence Study

by Kelley Lindberg

In 2008, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that 1 in every 25 children had a food allergy. Now, just three years later, a new survey sponsored by the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI) estimates that 8%, or 1 out of every 13 children, has a food allergy.

Published in the July 2011 issues of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, this latest study analyzes interviews from over 38,000 households with at least 1 child under 18 years of age to discover “The Prevalence, Severity, and Distribution of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States.”

One out of every 13 children is an alarming number – that means 2 children in every classroom in the United States has a food allergy. This study verifies what many people in the food allergy community and in the medical profession have been feeling for some time – food allergies are increasing at an appalling rate.

Here are some of the other findings published in this study, published on FAI’s website:
  • 38.7 percent of the children in the survey had a severe or life-threatening allergy
  • 30.4 percent had multiple food allergies
  • Children with food allergies were most commonly allergic to peanuts (25.2 percent), milk (21.1 percent) and shellfish (17.2 percent), followed by tree nuts (13.1 percent), and egg (9.8 percent)
  • Severe reactions were most common among children with a tree nut, peanut, shellfish, soy, or fin fish allergy
  • Children aged 14-17 years were most likely to have a severe food allergy
  • Food allergies affect children in all geographic regions
  • Asian and African American children were more likely to have a convincing history of food allergy, but were less likely to receive a formal diagnosis when compared to white children

While food allergy has been an increasing concern in the medical world, sparking a growing number of research projects and studies, this new study may help to propel even more projects into the funding spotlight. In addition to potential treatments and cures, research into the possible causes of food allergy, as well as identification of the individual protein molecules that cause reactions, will carry us much further towards a real understanding of this complex and frustratingly confusing disease.
In addition, the results of this survey may encourage more food manufacturers to examine their production processes and facilities for ways to more closely control cross-contamination with the major allergens. Especially for manufacturers of kid-oriented foods and snacks, knowing they are eliminating up to 8% of their potential customers by not adhering to strict allergen cross-contamination prevention may be just the catalyst they need to change their processes.
It would be easy to look at this study and see only the bad news: food allergies are becoming more wide-spread. But it’s important to look at the positive news this also represents: because food allergies are becoming so wide-spread, more researchers, manufacturers, chefs, teachers, doctors, coaches, colleagues, and neighbors will become committed to finding cures, treatments, safe practices, recipes, and other solutions to eliminating food allergy from our world sooner, rather than later.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Teach the Teachers with C.A.R.E.

by Kelley Lindberg

School is in full-swing now, but students aren’t the only ones learning. Teachers are also learning this year, thanks to a new online course called “How to C.A.R.E. for Students with Food Allergies – What Educators Should Know.”

This course was prepared through a collaboration of the Food Allergy Initiative (FAI), the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), Anaphylaxis Canada, the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI), and Leap Learning Technologies. The course was funded by FAI, and the curriculum is based on FAAN’s well-respected Safe@School® program.

Available at, the course helps educators (and anyone else who is interested, from day care providers to camp counselors) learn how to create an allergy-smart school environment, using the C.A.R.E. approach:
  • Comprehend the basic facts about food allergies
  • Avoid the allergen
  • Recognize the symptom of a reaction, and
  • Enact emergency protocol
The best part is, the online course is FREE. It takes less than an hour to go through the course, which covers everything from what a food allergy is, to how to spot allergy risks in the classroom or cafeteria, to how to use an epinephrine auto-injector.

The course is available for free to anyone who registers at So tell your school, preschool, or other organization about it today, and you might help save a life tomorrow.

I’ve already gone through the course myself, and it is simple to use, easy to understand, and comprehensive. So if you’re looking for a way to teach your child’s teachers about food allergies, give this online course a try.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Two Food Allergy Deaths in Atlanta

by Kelley Lindberg

Last month, in two separate incidents, two different teenage boys in Atlanta died from apparent allergic reactions to food.

This is the type of news parents everywhere dread.

The first boy was a 15-year-old who was shopping with his aunt. While she shopped, he went out to her car to grab a chocolate chip cookie. He didn’t realize there were traces of peanuts in the cookie. After eating the cookie and realizing what it contained, he ran to a nearby McDonalds to rinse out his mouth, then took an over-the-counter medicine. Neither did enough to stop the reaction. By the time he was transported to a medical center, then flown to a hospital, it was too late. He didn’t carry an EpiPen even though he knew about his allergy, because he thought he was cautious enough. (“Teen Dies After Eating Cookie Containing Peanut”)

The second boy was a college student at Kennesaw State University, who apparently had a reaction to something he ate at the school’s Commons Student Culinary Center. He ate a meal there, then left. Then he returned to the Commons “in distress” and called 911. By the time he got to the hospital, he was dead. According to people who knew him, he was aware of his allergies and had used EpiPens “often.” But no one knows why he didn’t have one with him at the cafeteria that day. (“KSU Student Dies After Apparent Allergic Reaction”)

My heart bleeds for those parents, families, and friends. I can’t imagine anything worse.

Members of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) maintain a registry of fatalities from food allergy reactions so that they can try to identify patterns in these deaths, such as the type of food, where it was consumed, and the age and gender of the affected individual. The registry isn’t a systematic or complete record of all fatal food-induced allergic reactions in this country, but it helps show where more education is needed to help prevent these fatalities.

One of the patterns they’ve noted multiple times is that the largest percentage of fatalities is usually teenage boys who were allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, who consumed food away from home and didn’t have their epinephrine with them at the time.

Neither of the boys in Atlanta had an EpiPen.

As my own son enters his teenage years, I worry about him more and more. He’s forgetful. He’s image conscious. He’s always in a hurry. He doesn’t want to be bothered by having to carry things, keep up with things, or wear something bulky on his belt.

He’s a typical teenage boy.

That’s bad enough, by itself. But when a teenage boy has a severe health issue that he has to maintain, whether it’s food allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, or any other disease, it gets that much worse.

The only thing I can do is keep educating him, keep reminding him of the severe consequences of not taking his EpiPen with him everywhere he goes, show him stories like these, and engage him in finding his own solutions to the problem of how to carry those EpiPens, how to ask about ingredients, how to say no. I have to do everything I can to prepare him and educate him, and then trust him to make the right decisions even if I’m not there.

But I still hug him tighter every day.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Importance of Being Vigilant at Restaurants

by Kelley Lindberg

In May 2011, a report called “Restaurant Staff's Knowledge of Anaphylaxis and Dietary Care of People with Allergies” appeared in Clinical & Experimental Allergy, the journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The authors, S. Bailey, R. Albardiaz, A.J. Frew, and H. Smith, reported on the results of a telephone questionnaire administered to staff members at 90 table-service restaurants in Brighton, England.

What they found was pretty disconcerting. The good news is “eighty-one percent reported confidence (very or somewhat) in providing a safe meal to a food-allergic customer.”

The bad news is that at least some portion of that 81% got a lot of their food allergy information wrong on the questionnaire, which means there’s a good chance they’ll contaminate a food-allergic customer’s food anyway.

Here are some of the highlights (lowlights?) of the report from the journal’s website:
  • 90% reported food hygiene training.
  • 33% reported specific food allergy training.
  • 56% could name three or more food allergens.
  • 38% believed an individual experiencing a reaction should drink water to dilute the allergen. (Not true!)
  • 23% thought consuming a small amount of an allergen is safe. (Not true!)
  • 21% reported allergen removal from a finished meal would render it safe. (Not true!)
  • 16% thought cooking food prevents it from causing allergy. (Not true in most cases! Some milk-allergic people can tolerate milk when it’s baked in foods, for example, but it should always be assumed that cooking does not render an allergen safe!)
  • 12% were unaware allergy could cause death. (Eeek!)
  • 48% expressed interest in further training on food allergy. (Well, at least that’s good news!)
This study is a good reminder that we can’t assume restaurant staff really understands the serious nature of a food allergy until we’ve discussed it with them fully.

Some of the tried-and-true methods for ensuring your dining-out experience will run as smoothly as possible include:
  1. Checking the restaurant’s website for allergen information
  2. Checking a restaurant site, like, for other customers’ reviews.
  3. Calling ahead and speaking with the manager about your specific allergies and what the restaurant can do to accommodate you.
  4. Carrying an allergy card with you that explains what you can and can’t eat (and if you’re traveling, get an allergy translation card, too, from
  5. Informing the waiter of your allergies, even if you’ve already talked to the manager.
  6. Double-checking when the food arrives that the cook prepared it safely.
  7. Keeping your EpiPens and antihistamine with you at all times.
Many restaurants are really making an effort to accommodate food-allergic customers, so it’s worth the extra effort to find the ones that will be safe for you.

(You just might be a little extra careful if a trip to Brighton, England, is in your future!)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting Creative with School Lunches

by Kelley Lindberg

When I was a kid, school lunches were so terrible you only bought one if you absolutely had to. Just about everyone brought a sack lunch from home instead. It was actually embarrassing to have to eat school lunch.

Nowadays, even though kids assure me that the quality of school lunches hasn’t improved much, almost everyone buys one anyway. We’ve apparently become so addicted to fast food, instant gratification, and convenience above all, that it seems this generation is completely flummoxed by the idea of making a home lunch every day. “What? And take those extra five minutes? That’s inhuman!"

But when our kids are diagnosed with one or more food allergies, sending a lunch from home may suddenly sound like the smart thing to do – and although it sounds awful at first to add one more thing to our frantic morning schedule, we soon find that the extra five minutes is worth the comfort of knowing our kid will have safe food to eat and less risk of a reaction.

Like everything else, making a lunch for school soon becomes a regular part of our routine day. And then we discover that finding that extra five minutes to throw one together isn’t the hard part.
No, the hard part is coming up with ideas for healthy, safe lunches that our kids will actually eat. So what’s a parent to do if their kid is sick of the same ol’ sandwich every day for lunch?

I went hunting for ideas, and here are some links to websites with lunch ideas. The main thing to remember is balance – try for a serving of carbs, a serving of protein, a serving or two of fruit and/or veggies, and something with calcium (some fruit juices are fortified with calcium, if dairy is off the list). Things that dip in dressing, barbecue sauce, apple sauce, or Sunbutter are often a hit (cooked meatballs, veggies, sliced fruit, etc.). Last night’s leftovers can be great if you heat them up, and then put them in a good lunch-sized Thermos. Get wild with sandwiches – add fruit to that Sunbutter and jelly sandwich, add diced apples or mango to your safe chicken salad recipe, make a Mexi sandwich with bean dip and olives, or use safe tortillas or safe rolls from last night’s dinner instead of sliced bread.

For more ideas, check out these links:
If you and your child decide to give the school’s lunch program a try (I sure hope they don’t still serve those Army-drab-colored peas from when I was a child!), be sure to read FAAN’s article called “Consider School Meals.”

If you have a great idea for school lunches that your kids love, please share it with us!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mainstreaming Allergy-Friendly Foods at the Grocery Store

by Kelley Lindberg

Last week, the Smith’s Food and Drug store in Layton, Utah, had a grand re-opening. They’ve moved some aisles around, hung new signs, increased the variety of produce, and given the whole place a shiny new paint job. Nice, but pretty standard stuff for a grocery store remodel, really.

Except for this: Now there’s an entire aisle devoted to health food, organic food, gluten-free food, and allergen-free food.


Eleven years ago, when I found myself thrust reluctantly into the world of food allergy when my toddler turned red after eating a bite of a peanut butter sandwich, my resources were few. Grocery shopping was frustrating and tear-inducing. Ingredient labels were vague and confusing, with around 30 names for possible milk proteins alone. Avoiding an allergen was like walking through an unmarked minefield. And my husband suddenly found himself in a peanut-butter-free house, which he took awfully stoically, seeing as how peanut butter had been a major food group for him for decades.

As the years have gone by, the outside world has become more aware of allergies. We now have a law that food manufacturers must list the top eight allergens in their ingredients labels, and they have to use the word “milk” instead of just “casein,” “whey,” or other non-obvious words. Manufacturers are responding more and more to their allergic customers. For example, Chex cereals used to have barley malt in them, so those with gluten problems (or a barley allergy, like me), couldn’t eat them. Now Chex cereals are proudly advertised as “gluten-free” and they’ve become a staple for people avoiding gluten. (They’re great crushed and used as a breading for chicken!) Every year, companies are making more allergen-free foods like cookies, cake mixes, and bread mixes.

And the day I discovered Sunbutter was the day my husband did a happy dance.

But still, finding all those allergy-friendly foods was challenging. Health food stores and Whole Foods Market are the most reliable sources, but if you don’t live in a major metropolitan area that has those stores, your shopping trip might include a lot of driving or expensive online orders. So when regular grocery stores like Harmon’s, Albertson’s, or Dick’s Market began expanding their allergy sections, it was always a cause for celebration.

But a whole aisle? Wow! This is big news in Layton! Now people in this part of Davis County no longer have to drive to Salt Lake City to find products like Sunbutter, Tofutti soy sour cream and cream cheese, Silk Live yogurt, Earth Balance margarine, or Enjoy Life! Foods.

But this development at Smith’s isn’t just good because it makes my own life more convenient. (Although I’m very grateful, Smith’s!) It shows that food allergies are becoming mainstream, with an estimated 12 million Americans living with them every day. On the one hand, that’s a bummer, because we all wish food allergies would simply vanish (tomorrow, if possible!). But on the other hand, since food allergies ARE becoming mainstream, it’s great to see mainstream retailers and manufacturers accept that we’re a growing target customer base and begin to carry more of the items we need, crave, and thrive on.

Being mainstreamed into regular grocery stores means more convenience, more variety, and less expense. For those of us with restrictive diets, those are huge benefits.

If you have a grocery store near you that seems to be beefing up their allergen-free shelves, find the manager and say thank you, or drop a thank you note in the mail.

For those of us used to swimming around in those dark, scary backwaters, it’s good to find ourselves being welcomed into the mainstream for once.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cancelled – Fun in the Sun Carnival

Due to problems securing a location, the UFAN Fun in the Sun Carnival has been cancelled. So sorry for the disappointment, but UFAN will be holding the extremely popular food-free Halloween party in October, so we’ll look forward to that instead!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Time to Re-Test for Food Allergies?

by Kelley Lindberg

My son’s best friend was re-tested for food allergies two weeks ago. We were all anxiously awaiting the results. He’s been allergic to several foods since he was a baby, and every time he’s re-tested, we all keep our fingers crossed that he’ll have outgrown even one or two. Although he’s 13, we were once again hoping he’d outgrow some of them this time.

So the big day came, and he went to a trusted board-certified allergist for a skin-prick test.

What the doctor learned is that he is still extremely reactive to milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. We all have to admit, we were keeping our fingers crossed, and the fact that he is still allergic to so many foods is disappointing, even though we were emotionally prepared for that. And to add insult to injury, it looks like he might be allergic to flax now. (There is a greater risk for being allergic to flax if you’re already allergic to peanuts, I’ve heard.)

On the other hand, the doctor said it looks like our friend might be able to try raw tomatoes and sesame seeds in a food challenge to see if he can tolerate them now. So we were happy about that!

When it comes to food allergies, we are more than ready to celebrate even small victories. Being able to eat salsa made with fresh tomatoes will be a real treat for this boy (who loves commercial salsa with its high-heat processed tomatoes, which he can tolerate). And being able to tolerate sesame seeds will make finding safe hamburger buns a little easier for him, too.

So even though his big allergies (milk, eggs, nuts, fish) didn’t go away and he might have gained a new one, at least this time we’ve got a couple of his food allergies that we can be optimistic about. And if he has developed an allergy to flax, it’s better to find out in the doctor’s office and prepare for it, than have a sudden reaction somewhere and not have a clue what’s causing it.

His experience is a good reminder of how important it is to periodically re-test for food allergies, no matter how old the child (or adult) is.

Most allergists recommend children get re-tested once a year, but check with your allergist for your own particular needs. If it’s been over a year, it’s probably time to schedule a test with your allergist. Even if your child hasn’t outgrown any of his or her allergies, at least you’ll know for certain, and that brings its own type of confidence. And you never know… if he or she has outgrown one or more of her food allergies, that might make life just a little easier (and tastier) for both of you!

And that’s something worth celebrating.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back to School Food Allergy Shopping List

by Kelley Lindberg

Don’t ask me where the summer has flown to, but it’s already back-to-school shopping time! This does NOT make my son happy. The mere sight of all those brightly colored school supplies lined up on the shelves of all the local department stores sends him into a deep blue funk. But whether he likes it or not, school is just around the corner, and I’m stocking up on paper and pens.

Of course, I also have to stock up on a few extra items because of his food allergies. So if you, too, are preparing a back-to-school shopping list for the food-allergic student in your life, don’t forget these essentials:
  • Epinephrine Injectors – Have yours expired since last year? It may be time to get new ones. I get a pair to leave at the school’s office, and a pair for him to carry in his lunch box (along with instructions). (EpiPens and Twinject are the two brands used in the U.S.) Be sure you check the expiration dates on the new ones to make sure they’ll last through the school year.
  • Antihistamine (Benadryl, Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, etc.) – Like with the EpiPens, I put some in the office, and some in his lunch box. Again, check the expiration dates.
  • Lunch Box – He always takes a home lunch and sits with his food-allergic buddy.
  • Thermos for hot foods – He lives on noodles, but these are great for safe soups, chili, and casseroles, too.
  • Food Containers – Invest in a few plastic containers that will fit inside the lunch box for things like salads, dressings, sandwiches, fruit, etc. They’re more economical, more ecological, and far less “squishable” than plastic baggies.
  • Beverage Thermos or water bottle
  • Handi-Wipes – I always put a couple of individually wrapped Handi-Wipes in his lunch box so he can clean off the table if he needs to.
  • Food Allergy Action Plan – Make an appointment with your child’s allergist or pediatrician now, and have them fill out a Food Allergy Action Plan to give to your school. I attach a current photo of my son, and then I make a few color copies of it. I give one to the school office, one to each of his teachers for them to hang in their classroom, and one to the school cafeteria manager for her to hang in the kitchen, so that the lunch workers will know him and recognize him if he has a reaction. If your doctor doesn’t have their own form, use this Food Allergy Action Plan from FAAN (Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network). It’s probably the most widely used form in the U.S., and most doctors recognize and use it.
  • Medical ID Bracelet or Necklace – If your child will wear one of these, it’s a great idea. It is a visual reminder for teachers of your child’s allergies, and it’s an instant help for EMTs who might be summoned if your child has a reaction.
  • Clean-up Wipes – I always take a couple of tubs of wipes to his teacher, for cleaning desks. (I usually take tubs to the teacher throughout the year, too, since they often go through them quickly.)
Do you have any other great suggestions for allergy-aware back-to-school supplies? Be sure to share them with us!

Happy shopping!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Touring Chili's Restaurant

by Kelley Lindberg

Every summer, I work with several other moms to arrange educational experiences and field trips for our kids during the summer – it’s kind of a co-op summer day camp. Last week, we went on a tour of the Chili’s Restaurant in Layton, Utah.

The main reason I chose this Chili’s is because I know my son’s best friend has been able to eat there despite his allergies to milk, egg, nuts, peanuts, and seafood. His mom has worked with one of the managers there several times, and they have always agreed to make his dinner safe for him.

When I called and explained to the manager Charles that we wondered if our group of 11 kids and 5 moms could have a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the kitchen, he bent over backwards for us. He had us come at 10:00 in the morning (before the restaurant opened), gave us a tour of the whole kitchen, had one of his managers (Scott) talk to us about what kind of training it takes to become a cook at Chili’s, and so on.

They also took the time to talk to us about how they handle food allergies, from how they separate their food preparation areas and their grill surfaces, to the menus they can show their customers. Chili’s actually has a whole set of allergy information on their website – updated every month – that breaks down their menu by the 8 most common allergens. If you’re allergic to milk, they have a list of suggested items you can order. If you’re allergic to eggs, there’s a different list for you. If you have multiple allergens, it’s a little more complicated, because you have to compare the lists until you find items that work for all your allergies. But still, the lists seem complete and very helpful. You can download the Chili’s Allergy Information here.

The managers printed out a copy of all 8 allergen menus for each of the kids in our group (2 of them have food allergies, but all of them care about each other), and answered all our questions. We were all very impressed with how helpful the manager and his staff were, and how they really seemed responsive to our food allergy needs in particular.

There’s never a guarantee, of course, when it comes to food allergies – accidents can happen at any time – but it’s nice to see yet another restaurant chain really take food allergy issues to heart and understand how important it is to take their customers’ concerns seriously.

Thanks, Chili’s, for giving us such a great tour… and for serving us such a wonderful and SAFE lunch afterwards!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Trying Out New Melons

by Kelley Lindberg

Summer is a great time for discovering new fresh produce!

Last week I discovered Swiss Chard and wrote about super-easy ways to prepare it. This week, I’ve been using my family as guinea pigs testing out new and different melons.

Ask anyone to name a few melons, and you’ll probably get the usual suspects: cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon. But there are a whole slew of different melons showing up in the markets these days, so I decided there’s only one way to find out if they’re any good!

Personally, I love cantaloupe, hate watermelon, and don’t particularly care for honeydew. So I eye new melons with an approach-avoidance thing. If it tastes like cantaloupe, I’ll be happy. If it tastes like watermelon, my husband and son will be on their own eating it.

But I’ve decided to experiment this month anyway, and so far, my luck is holding – I’ve really liked what I’ve discovered.

The first experiment was a big melon called a Galla. When I cut it open, it looked green like honeydew. But it has a much more cantaloupe sort of flavor – mild and sweet. I really liked it!

My second experiment was even more interesting. I found a “Lemondrop” melon at Sam’s Club and took it home to try. And I’m really glad I did. Inside, it’s green like a honeydew, but the flavor is a cross between a cantaloupe and a lemon – like a cantaloupe lemonade, maybe? Hence the name, Lemondrop! Sweet, surprisingly sour, and refreshing!

I’m headed back to the store tomorrow to try another new melon. If you’ve found a favorite, let me know!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Swiss Chard and Other Fresh Finds

by Kelley Lindberg

Finding fresh vegetables and fruits at the store, farmers’ markets, and roadside stands is definitely one of the highlights of summer.

Last week, my son and I got to go on a tour with some friends of a local farm, East Farms, which grows more than 50 types of vegetables and supplies grocery stores and restaurants all across Utah. It was fascinating to learn first-hand how farmers buy and share water to irrigate their fields, to learn how many varieties of vegetables can grow in this climate, and to see how much work it takes to bring fresh veggies to our table every day.

My son even got to practice putting a rubber band around a bunch of spinach. Sounds easy, but he ended up shredding many of the leaves and took far too many seconds – professional pickers can cut and band around 95 bunches of spinach an hour, we heard. We have a whole new appreciation for something that looks simple and that we take for granted in the grocery store.

We also learned that our whole growing season here in Utah is about a month behind normal – so it’s not just my own garden that had a hard time getting started this year!

Even though it’s early, there are still some delicious finds in the produce aisle and farmers’ stands these days. My latest discovery is Swiss Chard. I planted some this year only because I couldn’t find any spinach to plant, and the nursery recommended Swiss Chard as an alternative. I took a chance and planted it. So far, it’s the only thing in my garden that’s growing like gangbusters, so I’m glad I did. If nothing else, it makes my garden look good. But fortunately, it also tastes good!

I hit the internet to figure out what to do with it, and found that it’s easy to prepare. Swiss Chard is similar to cooked spinach, but with a little more flavor (but milder than kale). Consumer Reports even mentioned it this month, describing it as an “overlooked” vegetable worth trying, having “a wealth of nutrients” including iron, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, E, and K, which are all “key for growth and immune system support.” (See Consumer Reports’Five Overlooked Vegetables that Deserve a Second Chance.”) 

The easiest way I found to cook it is to just cut or tear it into big pieces (2 inches or so), then sauté it with a little garlic in olive oil and safe margarine (about one tablespoon of each), until it wilts like cooked spinach. It’s good plain like that, or if you want, you can add a dash of your favorite flavoring to the sauté: lemon juice, white wine, or balsamic vinegar. (Sprinkling the sautéed Swiss Chard with parmesan cheese is also tasty, if you’re not allergic to dairy.) My family really liked this – even my picky son.

Another day, I sautéed diced tomatoes with the Swiss Chard using the same recipe, then put it over pasta with some sautéed shrimp. Replace the shrimp with crumbled bacon, grilled sliced chicken, or whatever your family likes for a fast and fresh summer dinner.

As the farmers’ markets are getting started, I hope to find some more fun veggies or fruits to try. If you run across an interesting new or “overlooked” veggie or a great summer recipe for an old standby, please share it! We can all use a little fresh summertime inspiration.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Caribbean Memories

by Kelley Lindberg

I’m looking at a photo of my son pretending to drink a “sandy colada” on the beach in St. Martin. It’s one of a couple thousand photos we and our Baltimore friends took while we spent a week together on a 46-foot catamaran sailboat exploring the Dutch and French West Indies islands in the Caribbean. We just got back a few days ago, and I think I’ve nearly gotten all the sand out of our duffle bags – but not out of our memories, like this photo.

It was an incredible trip. Combine two couples who’ve been friends forever, their four boys ranging in age from 12 to 21, a week of perfect weather (despite the fact that it’s the start of hurricane season… whew!), a sailboat, a million tropical fish, assorted sea turtles, sting rays, barracuda, a nurse shark (“No, really, Mom, they’re practically harmless!”), and a giant pile of snorkel and scuba gear, and you’ve got a recipe for paradise.

At least in my cookbook, that is.

We chartered the sailboat from The Moorings, a company that charters boats all over the world. One of the nice things about this company is that they provide you with a list of meals for the week, you select the food you want, and they’ll stock the boat for you when you arrive. On the menu list, I make copious notes about the food allergies we have in our group (my son’s peanut and tree nut allergies, and the other mom’s kiwi allergy), and they are pretty good about making sure the provisions they bring on board are safe. I always go through every item carefully to make sure nothing sneaks by, and if it does, the company is good about swapping it for something else.

We cook most meals on board, so that makes it easy to control any allergens. And when we eat at a bar or restaurant on shore, we can usually check ingredients labels or talk directly to the chef to make sure the food is safe. If not, I carry a load of safe granola bars as a backup plan.

We’ve found that as the years go by, more and more people are aware of food allergies, even in the more remote places where we travel. It’s slowly becoming easier to talk to chefs – they understand immediately the seriousness of allergies, and they are usually willing to suggest safe alternatives. And labeling is becoming universally more allergy-friendly, so even local brands are making an effort to indicate allergens or allergy-friendly manufacturing processes.

Things have changed a lot in the last ten years, for the better, making travel a little bit easier every year. Of course, I still have to read everything, check everything, talk to everyone, and pack a ton of my own food supplies…you can’t stop being vigilante, ever. But at least there are growing options and increased awareness.

And that makes me happy, because experiencing all the world has to offer is an irresistible goal for our family – and my son would rather live on two weeks’ worth of safe granola bars alone rather than risk missing out on swimming through tropical coral reefs and play peek-a-boo with a nurse shark. Me? I could live without the shark. But those iridescent blue parrot fish?… Never!