Monday, March 31, 2014

Allergy-Free Easter and Passover Candy Round-Up 2014 (Online Stores)

By Kelley Lindberg

Easter is later than usual this year, so the Easter Bunny won’t be making his rounds until April 20. That means the ol’ Bunny still has time to order his allergy-safe Easter candy from online stores that make allergy-safe candy for him to tuck into those baskets! And Passover is from April 14 – 22, so there’s still time for your Passover candy, too. This week, I’ll focus on online sources for allergy-safe holiday candies, because if you need to order your candy online, you’ll want to order it asap. Next week I’ll look at the candy you might find in local stores.

Several great online manufacturers and grocers offer allergy-friendly chocolates and candies for every holiday and just about every type of allergy. Especially if your family must avoid multiple allergens, these online suppliers might be your best bet.

  • Amanda’s Own Confections: They offer a whole line of chocolate goodies for Easter and Passover, as well as jelly beans and other candies, all dairy-free, peanut-free, nut-free, egg-free, and gluten-free.
  • Vermont Nut Free: Their chocolates are peanut-free and nut-free, but they do have milk and egg warnings on them. Check out their chocolate bunnies, caramel bunnies, buttercream bunnies, chocolate lambs, Easter fudge, chocolate eggs, and chocolate crosses. (Their chocolate is not kosher.)
  • Divvies: Peanut-free, nut-free, dairy-free, and egg-free chocolate bunnies and jelly beans. (They don’t mention whether their products are kosher.)
  • YumEarth. YumEarth candies (lollipops, gummy bears, sour beans, sour worms) are corn-free, as well as being free from the big 8, and they use natural colorings and flavorings. They’re available on the Yummy Earth website, in health food stores, and from Their website says they’re now sold at Walgreens, so you may find them locally, too! (Certified Kof-K kosher parve.)
  • Indie Candy: This website is fantastic for people with multiple food allergies, corn allergies, and those avoiding artificial colorings. Their candies are free from all the Top 8 and sesame and artificial colorings, and they have several candies free from corn, too. They have a large selection of confections in a rainbow of flavors, like mango, key lime, and watermelon, and you can search by your specific allergy needs. All of their ingredients are Feingold diet safe. They also offer corn-free gummies and marshmallows!
  • Peanut Free Planet: This site sells candy from lots of different manufacturers, including Vermont Nut Free and Amanda’s Own. You’ll find chocolate, jelly beans, and all sorts of allergy-friendly groceries.
  • Natural Candy Store: This site focuses on natural ingredients, and they have an advanced search feature that lets you search for candy free from the specific ingredients you choose! You can also search by Feingold-safe candy and other special diets. They even have biodegradable plastic Easter eggs.
  • Gimbal’s Fine Candies: Gimbal’s offers jelly beans in 41 flavors, as well as fiery LavaBalls and licorice Scottie Dogs, all free from the Top 8 allergens.
  • Oriental Trading Co.: Remember, Easter eggs and Easter baskets don’t have to be filled with candy. Oriental Trading Company offers a bazillion (I counted them) little novelty toys that fit inside Easter eggs or into Easter baskets, and you can buy them by the dozen or more. And for the ultimate in time-saving, you can even buy plastic eggs pre-filled with little toys. Now THAT’s a helpful Easter Bunny.
Hoppy shopping!

Monday, March 24, 2014

From Spain, with Allergy-Free Love!

By Kelley Lindberg

He’s home! My globe-traversing son is back from his class trip to Spain. He spent 11 days in Madrid, Toledo, and Salamanca, with a few other stops in between. He ate everything from calamari to chocolate con churros, and brought home souvenirs ranging from swords (yes, plural), to a scarf from the Real Madrid soccer team, to a certificate showing he earned his very first college credit from the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca. Not bad for a 15-year-old junior high kid.

I’m also happy to report that he didn’t have any trouble with food while he was in Spain. He had a brief incident on the plane on the way home from Spain when his mouth began to tingle, so he took some antihistamine and the tingling went away. He’s never had a reaction on a plane before (and he didn’t eat anything but the snacks he brought from home), but he was prepared with his Wet-Wipes, his meds, and friends who knew about his allergies and watched over him during the incident, and everything turned out okay.

In Spain itself, he had no problems. He said the waiters were very accommodating if you tried to speak Spanish, and he had no trouble ordering safe foods. He memorized the info on his translation cards and was able to talk confidently with waiters and chefs. Interestingly, lupin flour wasn’t a problem – he said most waiters looked confused, like they’d never heard of lupin flour, and assured him they only used wheat or white flour. Perhaps lupin flour isn’t as widely used in Spain as it is in France and Italy. Either way, it was a relief.

So thank you to everyone who kept your fingers crossed for him. His first—but definitely not last—travel adventure without me was a huge success and an invaluable character-building experience (for both of us).

But I must admit, I’m glad to have him home, safe and sound. I missed those hugs!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Please Stop Telling Us How Awful Our Lives Must Be with Food Allergies

By Kelley Lindberg

Here’s a universal truth: Live with anything for long enough, and you find a way to adapt to it. You find new routines, make new habits, adjust to a “new normal.” It may not be the life you’d have chosen, but you find a way to make it yours. More importantly, most of us begin to rebuild ourselves in a stronger manner. If we let them, our challenges can make us more resilient, more creative, more grateful for the things that go right, and more tolerant of other people’s challenges.

With food allergies, we adapt, and eventually we even begin to look for silver linings. When you have to eliminate pre-packaged foods because of the rampant allergens, perhaps you become a better cook. You make healthier food choices. You eat less junk, and more of the good stuff. You know exactly what’s in your food, and you feel good about it. You discover farmers’ markets. You save money by not eating out all the time. You impart healthier food choices to your kids. Your whole family is more aware of food and its consequences, and maybe you set an entire generation of your family on the road to better nutrition. And eventually, it all becomes second nature, and you barely even think about it as you fill your basket at the grocery store. You have your routines, your favorite brands, and your go-to recipes, just like everyone else in the store. Life becomes normal again.

It’s not always easy. It’s not always rosy. It’s not always fun. I’m not trying to kid anyone—it can be devastating at first. And allergies can bring a host of other health challenges with them. But if your choice is to adapt or to die, most of us choose to adapt. And with enough time, support, education, and resources, we do. We humans are strong that way.

When it’s our children with the allergies, we also spend a lot of time and energy convincing them that food allergies are manageable, they don’t have to define us, and we can live full and rich lives in spite of them. We want our kids to feel—and be—normal. We don’t want them to feel sorry for themselves. We don’t want them to be scared of life. We don’t want them to think of themselves as “less than” or “damaged” or “sickly” or even “entitled.”

We want them to believe—to know—that they are strong, vital, valuable people. And, oh, by the way, they have to avoid certain foods, but that’s secondary to being the amazing kids they already are, and the amazing adults they will someday be.

So please don’t undermine our efforts by saying things like, “Oh, how awful! What a tragedy! It must be so hard for you! I could never do that! You poor thing!”

I know you think you’re being sympathetic. But that’s not how our kids hear it. They hear it as confirmation that there’s something horribly wrong with them. I know it’s a shock sometimes to learn what we’ve had to learn. But instead of saying things that make our children question their lives, try saying things that are more accepting, like: “No eggs or milk, huh? That probably makes baking a little bit of a challenge. Do you have a good cupcake recipe I could use?”

It’s simple, really. They say if someone is in an accident, you should never run up and scream, “Oh, no! You’re going to bleed to death!” because you could send them into shock and do more harm than good. Instead, you should stay calm and say reassuring things, like, “Hey, you’re doing fine.” That keeps their blood pressure lower, keeps them from thrashing around and hurting themselves, and keeps them from giving up. Pretty powerful, those words of ours.

If someone is disfigured by an accident or disease, you should never say, “Good heavens, you look awful! What on earth happened?” First, if they come to trust you, they may share their story with you someday, but it’s not your place to demand it of them. Second, they are people first. They are not their scars. You treat them like anyone else. You look them in the eye like anyone else. You smile and say, “Good morning,” like anyone else. You do that because they are a normal human just like you. They have their routines, just like you. They have their families, jobs, hopes, and dreams, just like you.

So all I’m asking is that you show the same calm, caring attitude to everyone you meet, no matter what their challenges may be. Some challenges are right out there in front of everyone, like a scar. Some challenges are hidden, like disease, behavioral problems, or mental health. Some challenges involve finances, or relationships, or jobs, or family members away at war. We all have challenges. We all are looking for ways to become stronger in spite of them, or maybe because of them. We all need a little support. A little encouragement. A little “we’re all in this together, aren’t we?”

So try to remember this: We don’t need you to tell us how awful our lives must be. And if you’re talking to our kids, don’t tell them their lives are hard. Instead, tell them how adorable they are. We are painfully aware of all the rain that falls in our lives. What we can all use every now and then is a little sunshine.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Class Trip to Spain with Food Allergies

By Kelley Lindberg

It’s finally here. My son’s class trip to Spain begins tomorrow.

I know, right? Ninth graders didn’t get class trips to Spain when I was in school! But here we are in the 21st century, with 41 ninth grade students (about half of his grade at his school) leaving for an amazing 11-day adventure. How I envy those kids. And how I DON’T envy those teachers who are going as chaperones! (Ha. Just kidding, honey.)

As you can imagine, I’m a little nervous. Not only do I get all the worries of a typical mom of a typical teen, but I also get to worry about his food allergies. With his allergies to peanuts, tree nuts, and lupin flour, he will be at risk from more than sunburn, blisters, or pickpockets. But I’ve prepared him, the teachers, and myself as much as I can, and I have to trust them all to play their roles well. I’m actually pretty confident in them.

While planning for this trip, we discovered that two additional students on the trip also have food allergies, and both will also be carrying EpiPens. That makes 3 kids out of 41 with severe food allergies. So our teacher/chaperones will have to stay on their toes to keep everyone safe.

Here’s how we’ve prepared:
  1. At our last Spain Trip Planning Meeting, I gave all the teacher/chaperones and many of the kids a lesson on how to recognize food allergies and how to use an EpiPen. For many, it was just a refresher course, because I do this almost every year at school. For others, it was a new experience and several thanked me and said they had no idea how serious food allergies were. Even some parents stuck around to learn about it, even though they’re not going on the trip!
  2. I got 3 pairs of EpiPens for him to take – 2 pair for him to keep with him, and 1 pair for his chaperone to keep with her. I put the pens in a case with antihistamine and his inhaler, along with copies of his insurance card, instructions on how to administer the medicine, and his photo and contact info.
  3. I got a letter from his doctor saying he needs the EpiPens for peanut allergy, just in case any airlines question them as he carries them through the security line. They never have yet, because medicines are allowed and are exempt from the 3-oz rule, but I like to be prepared anyway.
  4. For part of the trip, the kids will be staying with host families. The trip planners found a host family with food allergies of their own, so the Spanish family my son will be staying with is already familiar with allergies.
  5. I ordered Spanish translation cards from that say things like “I have a severe allergy to peanuts, tree nuts, and lupin flour. Has this food been prepared with any of these ingredients? If I eat these foods, I will have to be taken to the hospital immediately.” I have used SelectWisely cards on many trips in the past, and they are gems! The waiter can take the card back to the cook, they can discuss options, and there is no misunderstanding! I highly recommend
  6. The administration has also preordered food for all the kids at some restaurants, and they’ve let the restaurants know about my son’s food allergies. So hopefully they will be prepared and safe when they get there.
  7. Lately, whenever we’ve gone to restaurants here at home, I’ve made my son do the interrogation of the waiters about the food ingredients, so that he has become comfortable asking about the food. I think he’ll be comfortable asking the waiters in Spain the same questions now. Practice makes perfect!
  8. I’ve packed a ridiculous amount of safe granola bars, jerky, fruit leather, crackers, and other snacks for him to take on the plane, and more for him to carry in his backpack throughout his trip, so that if there are no safe food options for lunch someday, he’ll at least have something to snack on until he can find something safe.
  9. I know from my travels in other parts of Europe and from research that the labeling laws in Europe are very similar to labeling laws here, and the common allergens are required to be listed. My son is armed with those SelectWisely cards that show the Spanish word for many different tree nuts, so he should be able to read labels effectively.
  10. Finally, and most importantly, I purchased an international texting plan for his phone (and insurance on his phone), so that he can text me every day and tell me he’s okay!

By the way, in case you’re wondering what lupin flour is, it’s a flour made from a lupin bean (sometimes called lupini) commonly used in Europe in breads and pastas. It is not yet approved for use in America, so it’s rare to find it here at all and then only in things like imported pastas at specialty stores (at least so far). If you are allergic to peanuts, you have a 50% chance of also being allergic to lupin flour. So if you are planning to travel to Europe with a peanut allergy, it’s worth testing to see if you’ll also react to lupin flour. (You can read about our last trip to Italy and our experiences with food here: "Who Eats Pasta or Bread in Italy, Anyway?")

Anyway, I think we’re about as ready for this trip as we can be. My son is a little nervous, but mostly excited. After all, he’s been traveling since he was a baby, and he’s on his 4th passport now. He’s got enough of a cautious streak to keep me happy, but enough of a sense of adventure to ensure this trip will be awesome. The next twelve days might be a little hard on me, but they’re going to make a world of a difference to him, and that’s worth all the extra planning (and worry).

So, to my son and all his good friends who are traveling with him:

¡Buen viaje!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Egg-Free, Milk-Free, and Nut-Free Pretzels

By Kelley Lindberg

It’s always fun when I find a new treat that I can make for my son and his food-allergic best friend. Even better when their friends think it’s pretty great, too!

This week, I tried making pretzels from a mix I found at Walmart. It’s from Fleischmann’s (the yeast company), and it’s milk-free, egg-free, and nut-free. (It does contain soy and wheat, however.) It’s called Fleischmann’s Simply Homemade Baking Mix Pretzel Creations.

I’ve never made pretzels before, so I didn’t know quite what to expect. But they were fun to make, didn’t take much in the way of culinary expertise, and turned out pretty good. (Okay, so maybe they weren’t quite as perfect and beautiful as on the box, but I’ve never had anything turn out as good as the photo on the box, so my expectations were pretty realistic!)

Anyway, I made the pretzels for a gaggle of teenage boys who descend on my house like locusts, and like those locusts, they devoured them in a minute or two. Then they graciously declared my experiment a success and gazed forlornly at the empty box.

It took about an hour to make the pretzels (half of that time was just letting the dough rise a little), and you just have to add oil and water – it even comes with its own salt.

These would be fun for younger kids to help with, because they get to roll out the dough into long snakes and then twist them into pretzel shapes. So if you’ve got an hour or so and some hungry kids, give them a try.