Monday, January 19, 2015

Valentine’s Candy for Lovers with Food Allergies!

By Kelley Lindberg

Here it comes… another candy-oriented holiday. Since the day after Christmas, the grocery stores have been stocking all things pink and red, in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. It's still a month away, so that means there's time to plan ahead for a safe Valentine's Day.

Gimbal's heart-shaped jelly beans were a huge
hit with the teenage crowd at my house!
The go-to gift is often candy – especially chocolate and those little conversation hearts (you know, the chalky little hearts with words stamped on them). But if you or your sweetie has food allergies, candy may not be an easy choice. After all, nothing says “I love you” like anaphylactic shock, right? While you can sometimes find allergy-safe chocolate online and in stores, most is simply a no-no. And those conversation hearts? Both Brach’s and Necco’s hearts carry allergen warnings for milk, egg, wheat, peanut, tree nuts, and soy, so they’re just not an option for most allergic folks.

And it’s not just receiving candy that’s a problem. What if you think you’re being romantic and you give your non-allergic sweetie some traditional Valentine’s candy, and then she wants to kiss you, and you just happen to be allergic to an ingredient in that chocolate? “Will you be my Valentine? Great, now whatever you do, don’t kiss me,” isn’t really the kind of dialogue romantic movies are known for, is it?

And then there’s the whole school Valentine exchange thing, where all the kids take in Valentine’s cards to drop in each other’s elaborately decorated Valentine holders, and parents seem to just love all the little candy add-ons. But if you know a kid in your classroom has allergies, what can you do to keep that child safe while still making your own child’s Valentines a little extra-special?

Well, first off, if you’re the super-ambitious type, you could make your own Homemade Conversation Hearts, using this recipe that calls for unflavored gelatin, light corn syrup and confectioner’s sugar, plus food colorings and food coloring markers.

Yeah, okay, now that we’ve all had a good laugh (I mean, really, who has time for THAT?), let’s look at some other options:

  • Heart-shaped jelly beans, anyone? Gimbal’s Fine Candies has some really tasty heart-shaped jelly beans in a huge variety of flavors. I had a half-dozen teenagers in my kitchen the other day, and I set out bowls of Gimbal’s Cherry Lovers (9 different cherry flavors!), Sour Lovers (12 sour flavors, coated with sugar like gum drops or Sour Patch Kids), and Cinnamon Lovers (red-hot cinnamon goodness!). As you can imagine, all 3 bags disappeared in a heartbeat (ha! pun intended). My favorite is the Cherry Lovers, but judging by how fast the bowl emptied, the teens’ favorite was the Sour Lovers (“These are way better than Sour Patch Kids” was the final verdict), with the other two varieties coming in close behind. The best thing about Gimbal’s Fine Candies is that
    they’re allergy free and proud of it! Their candy is produced in an allergy-free factory, and all of their packaging says: “Peanut free, tree nut free, dairy free, gluten free, soy free, and egg free.” They’re also Kosher pareve. (If you think living with food allergies is complicated, try living with food allergies and keeping kosher, too.) Read Gimbal’s Allergy Statement here.
    These are so much better than those chalky conversation hearts, it’s ridiculous.
  • Peanut Free Planet : One of my favorite online grocery stores for allergy-aware treats, Peanut Free Planet offers candy from many allergy-friendly brands. They also carry candy from Canadian manufacturers, who manage to make nut-free versions of popular chocolate candy bars that you just can’t find from American factories (my son’s favorites are the nut-free Kit-Kat bars and the Wagon Wheels, both made in Canada).
  • Local grocery stores have options, too: Every year, I manage to find a few Valentine’s candy options that are free from the Big 8. Look for hard candy lollipops, and candies from those reliable standbys like Starburst, Skittles, and Jolly Rancher. I generally have the best luck finding safe candy at Dollar Tree, followed by Smith’s (Kroger brand is getting better and better at safe manufacturing), and Target. On the other hand, I have a much harder time finding safe candy at Walmart.
  • Non-food treats: For school, of course, I highly recommend avoiding food altogether. The last thing any of those kids need, allergies or not, is more candy. So hit the party aisle at your local discount store or dollar store, order from, or check out these adorable ideas from’s “The 48 Best Noncandy Valentine Ideas for Kids.” (Just remember, Play-Doh contains wheat, so it’s not safe for wheat/gluten-allergic kids.)
Whatever you choose to do for Valentine's Day, I hope it's a day full of love, hugs, and lots of giggles. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

10 Silver Linings of Living with Food Allergies

By Kelley Lindberg

Many of my friends and I are relieved to see 2014 pack up its bags and hit the road. While it wasn’t all bad, there were some pretty rough challenges last year that we’re ready to put behind us. Of course, that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the good things that happened. We just hope there are a few more of those in 2015.

But as they say, it’s not what life throws at you that matters. It’s how you handle it.

Attitude really is everything. I believe that. I try to live by it. (I get points for trying, right?) And with each new year, I remind myself that when I’m faced with challenges, I need to stop whining and start acting to change it, find ways to turn it into a positive experience, or at the very least, learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again (or isn’t as difficult if it does).

In that spirit, I decided that with the new year still fresh and shiny, today would be a good day to consider the silver linings of living with food allergies. Sure, there are a myriad of challenges that come with food allergies, and every one of us can rattle off a list of those challenges as long as your arm at a moment’s notice. But focusing on the challenges makes every day darker, every relationship a little more strained, every moment a little poorer. It’s harder to see those silver linings, and that’s exactly why I think we should take a minute (or a year) to think about them. So here are some of my silver linings, in no particular order. What are yours?

With food allergies:
  1. You learn to cook from scratch, and it turns out it’s not as hard as you thought. And it usually tastes better. Who knew?
  2. By cooking from scratch, you eliminate many/most of the chemical preservatives, petroleum-based food colorings, sugar substitutes, overly processed ingredients, and other less-desirable elements from your family’s diet, which is a long-term health gain for every family member.
  3. You have a supportive online community that totally understands you.
  4. You always have an antihistamine and an epinephrine auto-injector with you, which can come in handy if a stranger needs help. (During a parade a couple of years ago in Salt Lake City, someone riding a horse in the parade began experiencing an anaphylactic reaction. Luckily for them, they were right behind a group of Utah Food Allergy Network members who were also marching in the parade, and who immediately provided an Epi-Pen. If you’re going to have an allergic reaction, it’s excellent planning to have it near a group of food allergy mamas.)
  5. Your child’s teachers get to know you really, really well. And that bond/partnership can be a very good thing when your child needs a little extra help in the classroom or on the playground.
  6. You learn to celebrate tiny victories. (“Woohoo! Kroger’s envelope of Ranch Dressing Mix is free from dairy, egg, nuts, and seafood! It’s HAPPY DANCE time!”)
  7. By talking about food allergies with other people, even just casually, whether it’s online, on the train, or on the sidelines of your kid’s soccer game, you spread awareness, which makes the world a little bit safer for all food-allergic people everywhere. (And that mom you met whose kid has horrible eczema and is miserable all the time? When you mentioned that most eczema is an allergic reaction, and common culprits are egg and milk, and many pediatricians don’t seem to know it, that mom may have gone home and made an appointment with a board-certified allergist, meaning you may have just given that child their first chance at relief in years.)
  8. You learn who your real friends are, and you learn that most people are, in fact, genuinely kind and good and helpful. They more than make up for the occasional jerk.
  9. In a country where obesity is epidemic, childhood diabetes is rising, and chemical additives appear to be altering our immune systems, you can instill in your kids a healthier perspective on food’s role in our lives. Instead of focusing on food as a reward, as the main feature of every activity, and as a cure for boredom, your kids will grow up with lifelong healthy-eating habits, because you showed them that food is a fuel, to be used carefully, safely, and responsibly, and that fun doesn’t always have to equal pizza.
  10. That dinner you made the other night that your family loved? When you post that recipe online, you make a dozen (or more) other families super happy. You’re spreading happiness, baby!

And spreading happiness, good health, and safety is an excellent way to welcome in the new year, don’t you think?

If you have more silver linings you’d like to share, post them in the Comments or email me, and I’ll add them to our list.

Have a happy, safe 2015, everyone!

Monday, December 29, 2014

It’s Not New Year’s Without Black-Eyed Peas (Allergy-Free!)

By Kelley Lindberg

My grandmother always said, “Be careful what you do on New Year’s Day, because that’s what you’ll be doing all year long.”

I don’t know if she was right or not, but I always try to do things on New Year’s Day that I wouldn’t be ashamed/annoyed/mad/tired of doing all year. So I generally avoid cleaning house, and I try to avoid arguing with my son. On the positive side, I always try to do some writing (even if it’s just a sentence or two), and have a nice day with my family.

The other thing I have to do every New Year’s Day is eat black-eyed peas. My family is all originally from Texas, so eating black-eyed peas for good luck on New Year’s Day is mandatory. No questions. No resistance. You WILL eat black-eyed peas. You WILL have good luck whether you want it or not. Fortunately, I happen to love black-eyed peas!

I know other parts of the South also like collard greens (for money), but in my house, it was always about the black-eyed peas. Sometimes called Hoppin’ John when they’re served with rice, black-eyed peas are easy to make, and they’re delicious topped with chopped onions and jalapenos, and served over rice or cornbread. (The non-sweet kind – here’s my favorite recipe for Albers® Corn Bread. Just use soy or rice milk and your favorite egg substitute like Ener-G, and leave out the sugar). Black-eyed peas go great with ham, a beef brisket, chicken, seafood, or just about any main dish, really. And if you like the idea of greens representing money, saute some collard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, or kale in a little olive oil and safe margarine, along with some chopped garlic and salt and a bit of water to steam them.

So if you’re in the mood to have a really lucky year, be sure you put some black-eyed peas on the table. Just please don’t used the mushy, flavorless canned ones. Yuck. They’re so easy to make from scratch, so try my grandmother’s recipe instead (below)! (Of course, they’re even better if you use fresh peas, but frozen works fine this time of year.)

My son hates peas and beans of all types, but he learned early on that he wasn’t allowed to leave the table on New Year’s Day until he’d eaten at least one—count ‘em, one—black-eyed pea. That’s all I ask. Now he eats it without complaining (mostly), so I know he’s going to be okay for another year. Somewhere up there, my grandmother is looking down on him and smiling.

Have a Happy and Lucky New Year!

Black-Eyed Peas

3 slices bacon, diced (or you can use diced smoked pork or ham)
1 bag frozen black-eyed peas
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
Chopped onion and/or jalapenos (optional)

Fry bacon in pan. Pour off grease. Add black-eyed peas and enough water to cover about 1 inch above peas. Add salt. Bring to boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Serve over rice or cornbread, and top with chopped onion and/or jalapenos.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Food Allergy Survival Tips for Holiday Parties

By Kelley Lindberg

Christmas is this week (just in case you missed those subtle signs, commercials, wish lists, non-stop music, mall Santas, and frenzied looks in everyone’s eyes). If your holiday celebrations include visits with family and friends, you may be worried about the kind of food you’ll be surrounded by, and whether those celebrations will be safe for the food-allergic members of your family. Here are some tips I’ve found that might help.

1. If you’re going to a pot-luck, volunteer to bring a dessert. Those are usually the most likely to contain all the things you’re allergic to (nuts, dairy, etc.), so if you bring the dessert, you can control it.

2. Call the hostess and mention your food allergy. It’s not rude – trust me, most hostesses would rather serve something everyone can eat than spend a lot of time making something and THEN discovering that you can’t eat it. That’s more rude, if you think about it.

3. If it’s your child that’s allergic, take a lunch sack of safe food for him or her. No one wants to have a child suddenly get sick at a family event – or worse, have to be rushed to the ER. So don’t be embarrassed. Pack and take a simple meal for your child to eat, so you and your hostess don’t have to worry. I used to make up a package of sliced turkey, safe crackers, grapes, and other cold finger foods for my son, and I called them “Mom’s Lunchables,” like those prepackaged things at the store (but safer!). My son liked it just fine, and hostesses completely understood.

4. Of course, keep your epinephrine auto-injectors and Benadryl or Claritin within reach, just in case.

5. Remind other parents to make sure their kids wash their hands after eating unsafe foods “to keep Johnny safe.” Most kids are much better than adults at understanding and wanting to keep a food-allergic buddy safe, so if you remind them to wash their hands, they usually will willingly. Don’t be shy. Shy never helped anyone.

6. Make a deal with your kid. Before going to a party, I would promise my son that if he couldn’t eat some of the treats there, that we’d have a special treat when we got home instead. He’s not big on delayed gratification, but he was still able to process in his mind that Mommy would make up for it later, and he has always been okay with skipping foods at a party.

7. Make a big show of thanking people who bring safe food to the party. It will make them happy and more determined to bring safe things again to the next party, and it might make those who didn’t bring safe foods think twice the next time. You never want to shame anyone, but positive reinforcement really does work!

8. Understand that people forget, they get spacey, they make mistakes. They don't usually do things to be mean on purpose. So don't be nasty if someone brings something unsafe. But you don't have to stay in an unsafe environment, either. You can always say, "We didn't want to miss the opportunity to stop in and say hi, but we can't stay." Then leave. It's okay. You've made an appearance, you've fulfilled your obligation. It's your holiday. You have the right to spend it in ways that make you happy, not in ways that make you nervous or upset. Then go drive around and look at Christmas lights. Spend time with your children. Watch a movie together. Remember what Christmas is all about. Relax.

Got any other tips for surviving holiday gatherings? Be sure you share them with us!

Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Boxing Day, and a Wonderful Everything! (Hanukkah is just ending, but I hope you had a great one of those, too!)