Monday, September 30, 2013

Food Allergies Cost U.S. Families $25 Billion Every Year

By Kelley Lindberg

We know kids are expensive. They start out expensive, they transition into being more expensive, and they end up being super-ridiculously, eye-wateringly expensive by the time we get them into college. According to a report by the USDA called “Expenditures on Children by Families, 2012,” the annual cost for raising a child ranges from $12,600 to $14,700.

But guess what? Kids are even MORE expensive if they have food allergies. Like 30% more expensive. That’s $4,184 more per year for each child you have that suffers from food allergies. So bump that total cost of raising your kid up to $16,784 - $18,884 per kid, per year. (That settles it. The next time I have to argue with my son over doing his homework, I’m trading him in for a new car.)

With food allergies affecting about 8% of children (about 1 in 13), the mind-blowing total for what food allergies cost U.S. families each year is just shy of $25 billion per year. That’s the estimate from a national study published this month (“The Economic Impact of Childhood Food Allergy in the United States,” JAMA Pediatrics, Sept. 16, 2013). Ruchi Gupta, MD, MPH, a luminary in the field of food allergy for many years, headed up the study that quantified the economic impact associated with food allergies in children. Costs measured in the study included direct medical costs (like doctor visits, ER visits, and hospitalizations), as well as out-of-pocket expenses like the costs of special foods, and the loss of jobs or work hours and other lost income opportunities because of having to care for a child with food allergies.

The point of the study wasn’t just to depress us, I know. (We’re good at that all by ourselves.) The point was to make another argument in favor of increasing the funding for and priority of research, education, awareness, and advocacy for families with food allergies. Food allergies continue to grow at an alarming rate every year, and until we establish a reliable cure, their economic impact will continue to grow right along with them.

For more details about the study, see “New Study Finds Food Allergies Cost Billions of Dollars Each Year” on FARE’s website.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Egg-Free, Milk-Free, Nut-Free Jell-O Cookies

By Kelley Lindberg

Looking for something new to put into your kid’s lunchbox? I tried making Jell-O cookies to take to a multi-family camping trip this weekend, and they seemed to be a big hit with the kids! (And the adults.)

The original recipe can be found on here: Jello-O Pastel Cookies. However, I had to replace the egg with an egg substitute (I used Ener-G egg replacemer), and the butter with safe margarine. The official Kraft recipe calls for mixing a 3-ounce box of Jell-O into the batter, then sprinkling another 3-ounce box of Jell-O powder on top of the cookies before baking. But the recipe I was following (from a friend) said to add an entire 6-ounce box of Jell-O to the flour mixture, and it said nothing about sprinkling any on top. Adding the whole box to the batter instead of sprinkling half on top made the cookies a much brighter color (and it was less fussy). So do it either way!

I’m assuming that you could use your favorite gluten-free flour mix instead of the wheat flour. If you try it that way, let us know how it works.

Jell-O Cookies (Egg-Free, Milk-Free, Nut-Free)

(Original recipe from Kraft Foods. Allergy-friendly version by Kelley J. P. Lindberg)

3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups softened safe margarine
1 cup sugar
1 6-oz box of Jell-O gelatin, any flavor
1 egg or equivalent egg substitute*
1 tsp safe vanilla

*To replace one egg, I used 1 1/2 tsp Ener-G egg replacer mixed with 2 Tbs warm water. Or you can use 1 tsp baking powder mixed with 1 Tbs water and 1 Tbs white vinegar. Or you could try using 1/4 cup applesauce.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. (The original recipe says 400 degrees, but mine worked great at 350.) Mix flour and baking powder. Beat butter in large bowl with mixer until creamy. Add sugar and Jell-O. Beat until light and fluffy. Gradually blend in egg substitute and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place them 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. (I like to line my cookie sheets with parchment paper so that the cookies slide right off.) You can flatten the cookies with the bottom of a glass if you want, or leave them as balls and they will retain a slightly rounded shape.

Bake 8-10 minutes (slightly longer in high altitudes), until edges are just barely beginning to turn light brown. Cool on wire racks. Makes about 4 dozen.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Food Allergy Close Call

By Kelley Lindberg

“My son is allergic to peanuts and all tree nuts. Can you check with the cook to make sure there are no nuts in this pasta?” I asked the waitress.

“I don’t think there are, but I’ll be sure and tell the cook,” she replied.

We’d eaten at this restaurant before. Many times. And my son had ordered this particular dish before, too, which is part of why he ordered it. But we try to make it a habit to ask every single time we go somewhere. You can never be too safe, you know.

Our food came, and my son speared a shrimp and ate it. Then he spied something different in the sauce on his plate. Something he didn’t recognize. He fished it out with his fork and held it in front of me. “What is this?” he asked.

It looked like a sliced almond. Maybe it was a sliced water chestnut, I told myself. I took it and ate it. Damn. “It’s an almond, honey.”

He immediately spit the remainder of his first bite out, and began rubbing his tongue with his napkin. I tore open four anti-histamine fast-melts and he popped them in as fast as humanly possible. My mom, who was eating with us, flagged down the waitress. “There are almonds in his food!” she told the waitress, who blanched and took away the dish.

Another waitress came out and asked if she could get something else for my son to eat. No, we said, we need to just see what happens now. She brought him some water.

The manager came out, and we explained that we’d asked about allergies, the waitress had told us she’d check, and still she brought him food with almonds in it. He apologized and offered to bring something different for him to eat.

My son didn’t want anything different to eat.

He was panicking.

I’d never seen him like that before. He’s only been accidentally exposed to nuts a couple of times in his life. The last time was maybe 4 or 5 years ago, in Mexico. He had been very calm then, and calmly took his antihistamine when I gave it to him, and calmly ate the rest of his food while I watched him like a hawk, EpiPen in hand.

This time was different. This time, he was 14 and aware. He was 14 and remembering the teen girl in California who died last month after accidentally tasting a treat with peanut butter in it. He was 14 and suddenly afraid of dying from something he had previously worried about more as a mental exercise than as an actual threat, because we’ve been so careful for so many years that it became easy to take things for granted, to assume that because we were careful, he’d be fine.

So he was experiencing this accidental exposure in a whole different way for him. Suddenly it was real, and scary, and new. Even though he’s known he was allergic his whole life. This was new.

I watched him for the tiniest sign of a reaction. For a hint of hives. For a slight hoarseness to his voice. For his coloring, his breathing, his mental alertness. Fortunately, no symptoms came.

But what I wasn’t expecting was his fear. His legs were shaking up and down like pistons. He couldn’t sit still, rubbing his hands on his legs, taking sip after sip of water. I wrapped my arm around his shoulders and talked to him, tried to calm him down, talked him through the first twenty minutes. He showed no symptoms. I told him that was a good sign, but he was still shaking. I talked him through another ten minutes. Still no symptoms. Still shaking. Another ten. Still no symptoms. I reassured him that after 40 minutes, the chances of an anaphylactic reaction were probably minimal, and that we would surely have seen some reaction by then. We sat in the booth at the restaurant the whole time, because I didn’t want to move. I wanted to sit there and talk to him, keep him calm, watch his face for the slightest hint of a reaction.

Finally, after nearly an hour without a single symptom, I told him we could go. When we got home, he sat on the couch beside me for the rest of the evening. His fear had diminished, finally, but nervousness still pulsed at his edges.

As we left, the manager apologized profusely and said he would be doing new training the following weekend for his entire staff about food allergies. He told me he was also an EMT, and that he knew how serious food allergies were, and how dismayed he was that his staff had let this happen. Then he waived our entire bill.

My son and I have talked about this experience, and here are the things we learned:
  1. We were very glad that his first exposure as a teenager was with me. We talked about how lucky we both were that it didn’t happen when he was out with his friends, where maybe no one else would know what to do or how to keep him calm. We talked about what he should do next time if I’m not there. Being prepared is half the battle. Even though we thought he was prepared before, he wasn’t. Not really.
  2. We can never stop being vigilant, even for a second. We asked the waitress about nuts when we placed our order, but we didn’t follow up with her when she brought the food, assuming it had been prepared the same way as the last time he'd ordered it. We made an assumption that she’d talked to the cook, but that was a wrong assumption. We have to remember to ask, and ask again, every single time.
  3. Because of our experience, the entire staff of that restaurant may take food allergies more seriously from now own, making that restaurant a safer place for others with food allergies who may go there. So something good can come from something bad. Nice to remember. 
  4. He relearned how absolutely critical it is that he keep his EpiPens and antihistamine with him at all times. As a teen, it’s easy to get forgetful, or careless, or overconfident. This was a stark reminder of how important that little case of meds was to him right then, and how glad he was that we had it with us. I think he’ll do a better job of keeping it with him now.
  5. Because we’ve been so careful to avoid nuts his entire life, he doesn’t really know what nuts can look like when they’re mixed into food. Sure, he can identify a big ol’ bin of them at the grocery store, and he knows what a peanut shell looks like, but when they’re sliced or chopped or blended into a sauce, he has no idea what they look like. We need to spend some time looking at how nuts are prepared, so that he will recognize them when he sees them. It never occurred to me that he wouldn’t recognize one in his own food.
  6. Fear can undermine everything. If you’re afraid, you forget to think calmly and clearly. You may not make good decisions. You may not remember what to do. We need to work together, he and I, on taking away the fear that made him panic, leaving just enough of the fear that will make him careful. A little is good, a lot is not necessarily so. But we’re a team, and we can work through this together.
We got lucky this time. It was a close call, but fortunately, he must not have come into contact with the almonds in his dish, so he didn’t have a reaction. Or maybe the antihistamine stopped it before it could get started. Whatever it was, we are very grateful. And now we have a renewed determination to be even more careful than before.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Flying Safely with Food Allergies

By Kelley Lindberg

This week, I’m a guest blogger for Living Without magazine, a magazine about gluten-free and allergy-free living that’s been a great resource for several years. So click on over to their blog to read my new article called “10 Tips for Flying Safely with Food Allergies,” where I share survival tips for airline travel.

While you’re clicking, you might want to read an excellent opinion piece that was published on the New York Time’s website this week, called “EpiPens for All.” Curtis Sittenfeld writes about the need for the national School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act, which will allow schools to stock ephiphrine autoinjectors that can be used for anyone in an emergency, whether or not they have a prescription. Not sure why that's so important? Sittenfeld explains it well.

See you back here next Monday!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

FARE Walk for Food Allergy 2013

by Kelley Lindberg

Looking for a fun family activity that will make you feel good inside and out? Join the Utah Food Allergy Network (UFAN) as we hold our annual Walk for Food Allergy, which benefits the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) organization.
Whether you want to walk, sponsor a walker, or volunteer to help out at the walk, we need you! The Walk is a family-friendly event that takes place in communities nationwide to fund food allergy research, education, advocacy and awareness. We’re happy that Salt Lake City is once again participating in this important event, and we hope you’ll join us!

There are always some fun activities and booths from food-allergy-related companies and vendors, so you won’t want to miss out on this fun day.
Here are the details:
  • Date:   Saturday, Oct 5, 2013
  • Walk Schedule:
    •      Registration/Check-in: 1:00pm
    •      Walk Ceremony: 2:00pm
    •      Walk Begins: Immediately Following Ceremony
  • Walk Length:   2 miles
  • Location:   Sugar House Park, Sugar Beet Pavilion, 1400 E. 2100 S., Salt Lake City, UT, 84115
For more information and a registration form, see
This is a great way to get some fresh air on a beautiful autumn day with family and friends, while helping make a difference for all of those living with food allergies. Thank you for being part of it, and see you there!