Monday, May 30, 2011

Etiquette Lunch – A Success!

by Kelley Lindberg

Last week I wrote about preparing for my son’s “etiquette lunch” with his sixth grade class at a local restaurant. I mentioned that I and another mom visited the restaurant, discussed safe menu items they could serve our two food-allergic boys, arranged for allergy-aware friends to sit with the boys, and had the support of both the teachers and the restaurant manager.

So, how did it go?

“Epic,” says my son. “The food was amazing – it was tasty and they catered to our needs. It was good to sit with my friends because they know about my food allergies and could help me.”

When I asked him if he felt different or isolated, he said “No.” All the kids sat in groups at various tables, so his was just another table of silly kids laughing and having a good time. He said no one made a big deal of his allergies or anything else.

I know that accidents can happen, and that the best intentions and plans can still go awry because of unforeseen contaminations. But teaching my son how to be prepared and careful will go a long ways towards reducing the number of accidents he’ll encounter.

That’s especially true as he is about to enter his teenage years (he’s 12 now). Statistically, the most dangerous time for food-allergic people is during their teen years – they are feeling more rebellious, more image-conscious (they don’t want to carry those bulky EpiPens), more peer pressure (“Come on, try it!”), and more embarrassed about everything that makes them seem different. And then there’s that whole dating and kissing thing – can you picture the enormous self-esteem it will take for a teen boy to ask a girl if she’s eaten peanuts, milk, or eggs before he kisses her? And the self-control to keep from kissing her if she has? Hoo boy. These are not years I’m looking forward to.

So all I can do is hope that I’m modeling the careful behaviors I want him to use when he spends more time on his own and away from his protective mom. This etiquette lunch was a good example of how a little prep work can keep him from missing out on a fun experience, or worse, keep him from interrupting a fun experience with a trip to the ER.

While other sixth graders were learning how to keep a napkin in their laps and which fork to use with a salad, my son was also learning how to keep from suffering a life-threatening emergency at a restaurant. Just a little extra sixth-grade lesson.

I can’t wait to see what new challenges junior high brings.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Navigating School Events with Food Allergies

by Kelley Lindberg

I’ve said many times that the older my son gets, the easier it is to manage his food allergies. He can read labels, he knows to stay away from birthday cakes, and he is perfectly willing to quiz a waiter or cook on ingredients if I’m not there to do it for him.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t still encounter new challenges each year. This year, for example, he’s in sixth grade. As part of the sixth grade curriculum, the students are learning about manners and etiquette. Tomorrow they’ll cap off this unit with an “etiquette lunch” at a local restaurant. Just picture this: 100 sixth graders are descending upon a restaurant, dressed in their Sunday best, with the goal of showing off the manners they’ve been learning.

Ugh. Sounds like the ragged edge of disaster if you ask me. But somehow the teachers have pulled this off two previous years in a row, so they are undaunted and confident that the kids will behave themselves and won’t devolve into a reenactment of that famous food fight scene from Animal House.

Of course, lunch at a restaurant sounds fun, but the food they’ll be serving is full of milk, eggs, and possibly nuts (this particular restaurant serves lots of nuts in several entrees). So for my son and his friend who both have food allergies, we’ve had to make some extra preparations.

I have to admit, at the beginning of the year when we first heard about this lunch, I and the other boy’s mom (Kim) both had the same first reaction – maybe we’ll just keep our boys home that day. But then we quickly realized that would make them miss out on an event that the other kids would all be looking forward to. Our goal has always been to make sure our boys are treated the same way, experience life the same way, and enjoy activities the same way as other kids. So we decided to see if we could make this experience work before we gave up on it totally.

Now the time for the lunch is almost here. So this morning, Kim and I went to the restaurant to talk to the manager. After some discussion, we came up with a plan – while the other kids are eating turkey and mashed potatoes with gravy, quesadillas, and dessert, the restaurant will cook two plain chicken breasts and plain rice for our two boys. Then Kim and I will bring from home some safe plain tortillas and a slice of safe apple pie for our boys. That way, they’ll be able to eat approximately the same things as the other kids at the same time, making the experience as normal as possible.

We also talked to the teachers a few weeks ago and requested that our boys sit at a table with a couple of their friends who know and understand their food allergies. The teachers were 100% committed to keeping our boys safe, and promised that they’d make sure they were surrounded by their “allergy-aware” buddies to create a safe zone.

So… we have a food plan, we have the restaurant manager’s support, we have the teachers’ support, we have allergy-aware buddies lined up to help, and of course we’ll have EpiPens and Benadryl on hand, as usual. And even better – Kim is going to be there as a chaperone.

I think we’re as prepared as we can be. Now we’ll just keep our fingers crossed that all goes according to plan tomorrow.

I’ll let you know next week how it went!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Food Allergy Books for Kids

by Kelley Lindberg

A great way to help kids learn about their own food allergies, or to help their classmates in preschool or elementary school learn about food allergies, is through colorful, informative, and engaging book.

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN) blazed the trail with food allergy books for kids. On their website, you can find plenty of books they’ve produced, as well as books written by other authors and publishers (see FAAN's books for kids here). Many more food allergy titles are available on and

Here’s what my survey of food allergy books for kids turned up. I haven't read them all, so I don't guarantee they'll fit your needs, but use this list as a starting point. Got a favorite I haven’t listed? Post a comment and share the title and author!

Alexander the Elephant – This wonderful series of books from FAAN covers lots of events, like school bullies, babysitters, plane rides, birthday parties, and Halloween trick-or-treating. There are also coloring books. Alexander is allergic to peanuts, and his friends are allergic to other common allergens, so the lessons are universal. The Halloween book is a great way to prepare little ones for a safe trick-or-treating experience.

Lenny the Lion – Also from FAAN and similar to Alexander the Elephant, Lenny the Lion is allergic to milk. Perfect for little kids, this series includes Lenny Learns About Food Labels and How Lenny Found Out About His Food Allergy.

Susie’s Sister Has a Food Allergy – This FAAN book is perfect for siblings who are maybe a little confused or even jealous of the attention their allergic sibling receives.

Kim Goes to Camp – This FAAN book is for slightly older kids who may be worried about going to sleep-away camp. In Kim Learns How to Take Care of Herself, Kim learns the value of managing her own food allergies and eczema.

Allergy Tales, by Carey S. Shoemaker – FAAN and Amazon offer two books in this line: A Birthday Party, and Making Friends.

The BugaBees: Friends with Food Allergies, by Amy Recob – This book features 8 bugs with different food allergies having fun together in a variety of places.

No Lobster, Please!, by Robyn Rogers – James starts out upset, but learns that he’ll be okay with his seafood allergy if he’s careful.

One of the Gang, by Gina Clowes – Includes photos of real children “who come together to understand and cope with their feelings about living with food allergies.”

The Peanut-Free CafĂ©, by Gloria Koster – In this story, teachers and friends find a way to make school lunch safe and fun for a new peanut-allergic student.

Why Am I Different, by Naomi Antenucci – A picture book for preschoolers that explains how having a food allergy is just part of who they are.

Taking Food Allergies to School, by Ellen Weiner – A colorful picture book that explains food allergies to kids. Includes a Kids’ Quiz and Ten Tips for Teachers.

Allie the Allergic Elephant, Chad the Allergic Chipmunk, and Cody the Allergic Cow, all by Nicole Smith – A good introduction to food allergies for kids. Allie is allergic to peanuts, Chad is allergic to tree nuts, and Cody is allergic to milk.

The Princess and the Peanut Allergy – A girl plans her birthday party, complete with a nutty brownie birthday cake, but when she finds out her friend can’t come because of her peanut allergy, they have a big fight. Then the birthday girl reads “the Princess and the Pea” and realizes that her friend is so sensitive that even a tiny piece of peanut can hurt her – just like the tiny pea under the princess’s mattresses. So the birthday girl finds a solution that will make everyone happy.

A Day at the Playground with Food Allergies, by Tracie Schrand – Shows why it’s important to be careful at the playground, and why sharing isn’t always a good idea.

No Nuts for Nutty, and Nutty Scurries to School, by Stacey Fisher – In this series, Nutty the squirrel can’t eat nuts.

Abby the Alley Cat: Staying Safe from Dairy, by Myronie McKee – A picture book about Abby and how she refused dairy without feeling like she’s missing out.

The Very Non-Dairy Christmas, by Stephanie Haag Foraker – Jonathan feels sad that he’s missing out on Christmas goodies because of his milk allergy, but guess who is also learning to deal with a milk allergy? Santa!

Food Allergies and Me: A Children’s Book, by Juniper Skinner – Join Jack for a day as he goes to school, an allergist visit, and a playground, and even takes his own “safe cupcake” to a birthday party.

The Day I Met The Nuts, by Mary Rand Hess – A boy discovers he’s allergic to The Nuts one day at school, and goes through a range of emotions and he learns about them.

The Allergy Buddy Club, by Cindy Rice Andrea – From the Green Apple Tales, this book shows three animal friends learning how to protect themselves, make new friends, and help others. The book includes info for adults, as well as two recipes at the end.

Can I Eat This?, by Trinace Johnson – Appears different from other food allergy books because this one uses rhymes and crosses racial barriers.

Horace and Morris Say Cheese (Which Makes Delores Sneeze), by James How, Amy Walrod, and Jason Harris – Delores the Mouse finds out she’s allergic to cheese just before the big Everything Cheese Festival, and all she can think about is cheese. These characters appear in two other books (non-allergy related), and the language is rhythmic and delightful.

Everyday Cool with Food Allergies, by Michael Pistiner, MD – Designed for both kids and their caregivers, it discusses food allergy safety and management.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Food Allergy Awareness Week, May 8-14, 2011

by Kelley Lindberg

Welcome to Food Allergy Awareness Week!

It seems like everyone is raising awareness these days, about one cause or another. After a while, it can start to feel a little boring – gee, another week, another cause. Do we really need to be “aware” of all these things?

Well, yeah. I think we do.

When I was younger (at least a hundred years ago, it seems), no one knew much about anything. Food allergies? I didn’t know anyone who had them. Autism? Never heard of it. Heart disease in women? Nah – only men got heart attacks, right? Breast cancer? I didn’t know about it until my beloved grandmother suddenly got it and died, leaving me devastated. Disabilities? Why should we make businesses, homes, and retail stores accessible to people in wheelchairs – do they spend money, crave social activities, and want to enjoy life, too? Depression? That was something you were supposed to either snap out of or take Valium for, but it was all in your head anyway, so just stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Awareness. In the last twenty years, we’ve all become a lot more aware of a lot of things, and not just because we became grownups, either. We began to talk about things that had been taboo before. Individuals got tired of reinventing the wheel when their child or loved one was diagnosed with a scary condition, and they began to band together, to seek each other out, to build campaigns to teach the rest of the world what it is like be them. And we learned something… we learned that everyone is the same the world over, we all have challenges, and often it doesn’t take a lot of effort to understand each other and make the world a little easier for us all to live in together.

Food allergy awareness has blossomed in the last eleven years since my son was diagnosed. Back then, restaurants were clueless, teachers were scared and/or skeptical, and patients and their families felt isolated.

A decade later, through the tireless efforts of organizations like the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), Kids With Food Allergies, and the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN) it’s already a new and more tolerant environment for my son. His school has implemented food allergy policies. Teammates on his sports teams have had allergies, too, so the coaches are clued in. Restaurants bring him special menus. There have been television shows, magazine and newspaper articles, and dozens of books produced to teach everyone about food allergies.

Awareness – just that, just being aware – has made the world a lot safer for my son and the other 12 million Americans who have food allergies. Sure, there are still dangers, still people who don’t “get it,” and still situations that put him at risk, but every year those dangers are being minimized by other people – friends, family, or total strangers – who understand how serious food allergies are and are willing to take an extra step or two to keep him safe.

So I’m thrilled to help celebrate Food Allergy Awareness Week, and I hope you’ll join me in helping to spread the word. It doesn’t take much:
  • Talk to someone about food allergies.
  • Give a short presentation to your kid’s class about allergies.
  • Read a food allergy book for your local library’s story time.
  • Ask a restaurant how they handle food allergies.
  • Donate allergen-free food to your local food bank (Sunbutter, WowButter, gluten-free pasta, Enjoy Life granola bars, etc., all make great donations).
  • Make a cash donation to UFAN or FAAN to help further education, advocacy, and research.
UFAN has a whole week’s worth of great ideas for celebrating FAAW, including signing up for the Food Allergy Walk in October, so check it out at Or go to FAAN’s website to see their ideas:

Whatever you do, no matter how small, know that you’re making a difference in someone’s life this week. Thank you!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Happy (and Allergy-Safe) Cinco de Mayo!

by Kelley Lindberg


Everyone’s favorite pseudo-holiday, Cinco de Mayo, is this Thursday! Because we Americans love any excuse to celebrate, we’ve co-opted yet another minor holiday and turned it into a giant beer- and food-filled fiesta! (Think St. Patrick’s day, but with spicier fare.)

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I love Mexican food! (And the margaritas are nice, too.)

But while you’re celebrating, keep in mind that Mexican restaurants are one of the most likely places for a nut-allergic person to have a food allergy reaction.

Nuts, you ask? At a Mexican restaurant? Dairy, sure. Seafood, okay. But nuts?

Yep, nuts.

Mole (pronounced "mole-ay") sauces, a mainstay of many upscale Mexican restaurants, are wonderful, flavorful sauces for enchiladas. However, almost all mole sauces are made from ground-up nuts – almonds and peanuts being two of the most common, but not the only ones.

But moles aren’t the only culprits. Plain ol’ enchilada sauce – that ubiquitous red sauce that smothers enchiladas, burritos, heuvos rancheros, and just about anything else that comes on a plate, can often have a nut warning on the label.

So before you move your fiesta to a restaurant, call ahead or check their website to see if there are safe menu items for your nut-allergic family member or friend. My son knows to stick with a plain cheese quesadilla whenever we go to our favorite Mexican establishments, but that would never work for someone allergic to milk, of course.

Mexican food is delicious and often fairly easy to make at home, where you have complete control over the ingredients. So this year, consider turning Cinco de Mayo into a fun-filled family fiesta, with everyone joining in the cooking activities!

Tacos are super-easy (even for little ones to help with), and they can be made with any protein source you’re not allergic to (shredded pork, ground beef, chicken, fish, shrimp, black beans, pinto beans, etc.) a few safe spices, diced onions, tomatoes, black olives, lettuce or spinach, salsa, etc. If you’re allergic to milk, try Tofutti’s soy sour cream and Daiya’s shredded vegan cheddar cheese (also soy-free) for toppings (both found at Whole Foods and some health-food markets).

Add some safe corn or flour tortillas, or some home-made cornbread (use rice milk and your favorite egg substitute in the recipe – bakes up great!), and some fresh fruit, and you’ve got yourself a simple school-night dinner that’s muy bueno! And for an extra treat for the kids (and for the adults who aren’t interested in beer or margaritas), check the Mexican food aisle at your grocery store for some authentic Mexican sodas, in flavors like pineapple and mango. It’s a super-simple addition that can make an ordinary meal into something a little more especial!