Monday, October 6, 2014

Halloween, Holidays and Nut Allergies: What's In Your Food?

That's Nancy Drew on the left. :)
It's official: we've embarked on the holiday season. How do I know? Well, besides the fact that every store is screaming Halloween, with some Thanksgiving and Christmas creeping in on those side aisles, Love Actually was on TV this weekend and the Hallmark network is starting their Christmas movie season on October 31st! Yep, you read that right.

I love the holidays but there is one thing that drives me a little bit nuts and that's, well, peanuts and tree nuts showing up in unexpected places. We can have lots of fun at this hectic time but we've got to be careful. No getting around it.

This topic is something I've covered in my e-book and also touched on in several blog posts, but I don't think it's something I've covered recently here, in detail, so please bear with me.

Basically, any food is up for grabs at this time of year.  Well, this rule holds all year, but the fall and winter holiday season is the time that people break out the tree nuts, in particular. Peanuts also show up in all sorts of Halloween and other holiday candy. You've got to be vigilant with all the tasty treats out there and that includes candy, baked goods, savory dishes -- you name it.

 This is the best thing you can do: if you don't know what's in a food or can't identify an ingredient -- SKIP IT! I know it's not always fun, but it's the safest thing. And take heart, because there are so many good things out there right now. I'll include a couple of Halloween blog posts I've written at the end of this one for ideas. I hope everyone who is in the Chicago  area is already partaking of Nutphree's awesome cupcakes (now available at Mariano's grocery stores). They will custom make stuff for you at their storefront bakery or buy ready-made at Mariano's. You can always decorate them. 

Remember, too, that all treats don't have to be sweets. This is a good slogan for the food-allergic and unfortunately, one I can't take credit for -- it was on the most recent Oriental Trading Company catalog. If you haven't perused that catalog in awhile, you can simply go online to their site for terrific non-food Halloween treats, party games and a lot more.

Another thing I want to point out to not only the nut allergy newbies, but to everyone: not everything that contains peanuts or tree nuts is going to be obvious. So even if you've been doing this for a few years, be careful.

I remember last year's Halloween treats bag. My younger daughter got a bunch of those old-fashioned candies called "Bit O' Honey." I never knew that they contained finely ground ALMONDS and only discovered that when I read the minuscule print on the side of the candy wrapper. I'm so glad they listed it but I've known about that candy for pretty much my entire life and never knew it had almonds. Learn from me: never assume a candy is nut-free unless you've checked it out personally. 

Here are some other seasonal foods that make an appearance especially during the holidays, and that contain peanuts or tree nuts:

Marzipan  - this is an almond paste used to make candy but also to decorate cakes -- it holds its shape and you can make elaborate cake decor with it. There's nothing in the name to suggest nuts, but they are there.

Linzer Torte - this is a European fruit pastry (or cookie) with generally, almonds, in the crust. Avoid any torte for that matter -- "tortes" usually have tree nut flour as a large component of their ingredients.

Flourless chocolate cake -- again these cakes may contain almond flour in place of wheat flour. 

Imported candy - some imported candy can be safe for nut allergies -- Haribo brand gummy bears are one example. However, a lot of the cute, different and fun stuff you find at say, World Market, or other stores along those lines is going to have at least tree nuts in the ingredients, especially the chocolates.

Ferrero Rocher chocolates - these European chocolates have hazelnuts inside. Avoid them if you are allergic to tree nuts.

Nougat - nougat means nuts! Avoid any candy containing nougat.

Truffles - some delicious nut-free truffles exist, such as those from Dean's Sweets and Vermont Nut Free. (I recommend both companies for nut-free chocolate.) However, your garden variety truffle either contains tree nuts or came into contact with them. Avoid them.

Bags of assorted Halloween candy - check the labels. Your favorite brands sometimes package differently at Halloween to include a candy assortment that includes stuff you can't have. So what is "safe" may be alongside candy like Reese's, creating cross-contact risk. Stick to the bags of candy that are all "nut-free" such  as the assortments provided by  Tootsie Roll company. All of their candies are tree nut-free, peanut-free and gluten-free. Please also see candies like the all-natural, nut-free and top-8 allergy-free "Surf Sweets" candy. You can learn more about them by clicking the image with the Spooky Spiders to the right of this post.

This list is by no means complete -- you will have to look at everything you consume before serving it to a nut-allergic child or adult. However, I hope I've hammered home my point that many foods you or others might not think about may contain nut allergens and you can't ever assume that they don't without checking it out first.

Now for a few Halloween posts from years past. Click the links to go directly to those articles.

Nut-Free Haunted House Cakes and Nut-Free Candy Ideas - make an edible haunted house with a nut-free pumpkin cake recipe. Easy and delicious.

Halloween with Food Allergies: Thoughts from a Mom Who's Been There


If you're new to navigating life with nut allergies or just need a refresher, check out my handy guide: The New Nut-Free Mom. On Amazon, Nook or for your computer/iPad.

Remember to consider all of your allergy needs before serving any food to an allergic person -- you are the best judge of your exact situation. For accurate, up-to-date information on foods and food labels, call the company directly.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

It's Nut-Free Candy Corn Time Again! Peanut-Free, Tree Nut-Free and Yummy

On my Twitter feed today, I shared a funny graphic featuring a burly Game of Thrones actor suited up for battle and posing with the caption: Brace Yourselves, Pumpkin Flavored Everything Is Coming!

Just as an example, I think Starbucks already has its pumpkin spice latte for sale (but don't quote me on that.) I just know that I read an article stating that treat is being introduced earlier than last year. And that's just the tip of the pumpkin spice-flavored iceberg.

When pumpkin-flavored everything is arriving in our stores and eateries, that means that it's time to start scouting out the NUT-FREE Halloween goodies available to us.

I have many posts on this blog that talk about Halloween candy safe for peanut and tree nut allergies (and I'll have more, of course as we get closer to the big day) but with the pumpkin spice invasion already underway, I thought it was high time that I talked about one of the trickiest nut-free treats to locate: CANDY CORN.

There are candy corn lovers out there and candy corn haters. For those of you who belong in the former category, or who have kids that do, I am happy to share a tip on one of my favorite sources for nut-free candy corn: A & J Nut-Free Bakery in Rhode Island. They make truly tasty and yes, NUT-FREE candy corn that is such a huge hit (probably at least a little bit in part to the loyal devotion of my candy corn-loving blog readers) that they are now offering this Halloween delicacy year round.



My daughter is already asking for candy corn from A & J's, so I figured some of you might be hearing the plea from your kids.

If you're new to this whole nut allergy thing, you might be thinking to yourself "How hard can it be to find nut-free candy corn?" I hear you, but this is one of those tricky items that always seems to carry a nut allergy warning. That's why my family has become such A & J Bakery devotees--it's delicious, arrives quickly and it's produced in a nut-free facility.

I've also spotted nut-free candy corn at the Dollar Store, made by a brand called Sunrise Foods. I have not had a chance to re-check their packaging yet this season, so if any of you have, let us know in the comments.



Another seasonal treat that you may have spotted on the shelves: Spooky Spiders from Surf Sweets, one of my site sponsors. Spooky Spiders are an adorable and tasty organic gummy candy free of all the top allergens, gluten and artificial anything. Look for these at natural foods stores or order online from places like Peanut Free Planet.

Here are some more Halloween posts from The Nut-Free Mom blog that you may find helpful:

Halloween with Food Allergies: Thoughts from a Mom Who's Been There

Trick or Treating with Food Allergies?

If you're a nut allergy newbie, welcome! I hope you find this blog helpful. If you're looking for a short and easy to follow guide to navigating life with a nut allergy, please check out my e-book today: Find it on Amazon here, or you can also get it in other formats, including for your computer or iPad. Click here for more details.

You can find A & J bakery candy corn by clicking this link to their web site.

What about you? Any nut-free candy finds or tips? Share in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nut-Free Bakery Needs You: Support Nutphree's in Their Efforts to Bring Safe, Peanut-Free, Tree Nut-Free Treats to Stores



What if you could walk into a grocery store and buy a delicious, beautifully decorated cupcake for your child with severe peanut and tree nut allergies? Nutphree's, my hometown nut-free bakery and a longtime supporter of this site, wants this to be a reality for many more of us, but they need our our help! A growing number of grocery stores want Nutphree's safe, tasty treats but they don't have the equipment and manpower to satisfy this demand.

Please click on the video above to learn how you can help through Nutphree's Kickstarter campaign. The campaign expires September 17th, so the time to help is now.

Brian and Sonia Walker, the founders of Nutphree's and fellow parents of a child with life-threatening nut allergies, tell their inspiring story so much better than I can in the short video above. You'll also get to see an array of the fabulous treats created at their storefront bakery, as well as the cupcakes they now sell to many Mariano's grocery stores in the Chicago area.

My  daughter's whimsical birthday cake (with a makeup theme) from Nutphree's.

When we first received my daughter's diagnosis of life-threatening peanut and tree nut allergies, we had no idea what that would mean to social occasions like birthday parties or family celebrations. Blog readers were in the same position, and I received numerous e-mails asking to find safe, nut-free baked goods. My answer then: your own kitchen. Get baking! There was simply no alternative.

All of that changed in 2011 when Nutphree's started baking to fill this growing need. I've sent so many readers, friends and neighbors to Nutphree's over the years and I've been thrilled with the cakes I've ordered from them myself, not to mention the cupcakes making their way in my door via Mariano's grocery stores.  Due to the growing demand for this product, those of us in the Chicago area can now go into Mariano's supermarkets and pick up Nutphree's yummy cupcakes.

One of the gorgeous cast party cakes from when my daughter performed in Guys and Dolls!
 Several in the cast had nut allergies, so they were thrilled.
Let's make this happen! Post this on your Facebook pages, tell your friends and family. We only have until September 17 and the campaign has a long way to go. Thanks to all of you for your support of my blog and for your interest in helping Nutphree's! For more information, visit the Nutphree's Kickstarter link (or simply click the video above). 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Back-to-School with Nut Allergies: Nut-Free Foods & Resources


Back to school time is upon us – for some of us, it’s already begun. To help you get ready for school with nut allergies, I have a bunch of links that I will share at the end of this post.

In the meantime, here's a new list of resources and items that you will find helpful in navigating a nut-free school year.

http://www.ok2bpnutfree.com/
First I want to talk about the wonderful company, OK2BPNUTFREE, one of my site advertisers. Run by the parent of a child with nut allergies, the company offers eye-catching medicine kits to keep at school, allergy-awareness clothing and labels to help identify your food-allergic child’s belongings. Please check them out – I especially love the “shot kit” as it can be personalized for your child and will be easy to spot in case of emergency.

Now onto the nut-free food and snacks, always an issue at this time of year, what with lunches, after-school snacks, etc.  I’m always happy to find allergy-friendly foods on the shelves that clearly state “Nut-free” and that are made in a nut-free facility. Just kind of makes life easier. Luckily, those types of foods are increasing.

For example, I recently discovered the following:



Go Raw seeds. Most pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds contain frustrating statements about being processed on the same lines as peanuts or tree nuts. Not these: they clearly state NUT-FREE on the label. Plus they are “sprouted” seeds, so they are considered especially healthy to eat. Besides all that, these just taste great. The family is hooked. Please note that these seeds are not cheap; we paid $9 for a big bag at my local Fruitful Yield, a natural foods chain. However, they are an economical choice if you use them to create your own trail mix. I love prepared nut-free trail mix but it is $$$$!! (Seeds are not a nut, but please ask your doctor if your child can have seeds. Some kids with nut allergies are allergic to multiple foods.) www.goraw.com for more info. Nut and peanut-free, gluten-free, vegan.



Soy Wonder Soy Butter. I’m normally not a big fan of soy butter and have tried multiple brands looking for one I like – and then I tried this stuff. I love the crunchy version. This is perfect for cookies, nut-free granola bars (see my recipe) and of course, sandwiches. I generally prefer SunButter sunflower seed butter for just about anything, but Soy Wonder is a great choice for baking because you have no worries about the green color you sometimes get when using sunflower seed butter (due to the photosynthesis of sunflower seeds.) I found Soy Wonder at Publix in Florida; you can also get it at some Walmart stores and order it online from Amazon. It's peanut/tree nut-free, wheat-free, dairy-free and gluten-free.



Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Morsels. – Regular size. I spotted these babies at Super Target a few days ago. Hooray! First ELF made the mini chips, then the chunks – both are good and nut-free. But the regular sized chips? Imagine the possibilities. These add a nice dark chocolate flavor to your baked goods, or add them to your nut-free trail mix with the seeds above. Nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free.




Nutphree's Cupcakes. If you are in the Chicago area, you can now find these fabulous peanut-free/tree nut-free cupcakes at Mariano's grocery stores. Look in the bakery where they have a specialty section of prepacked Nutphree's goodies. Visit the Nutphree's web site for more info. Nutphree's is a longtime advertiser on my site and I've used their products on numerous occasions.

Going back to school with a life-threatening peanut/tree nut allergy isn’t only about the food and the gear you need. Please see my posts below for even more discussion about navigating nut allergies at school. And all the best to you and your family this year!!






Saturday, August 2, 2014

Disney World and Peanut/Tree Nut Allergies: It Really Is the Happiest Place on Earth

For years, I've heard about how nut allergy-friendly Disney World in Orlando, FL is and I can now say that I know it to be true firsthand. A couple of weeks ago my family finally went to Disney and while it was just a fun time overall, the approach to food allergies it what made the experience even more special for my entire family.

I know that summer is winding to a close, but for any of you contemplating visiting Disney World in the future, I thought I had to share this summer vacation story. Disney World does their best to help and accommodate guests with food allergies. Even better, they do it in a friendly and knowledgeable way. Here's our experience:

When we first arrived at Disney after a long road trip, it was very late at night and everybody was hungry. We wound up in Tomorrow Land in one of the few late-night Magic Kingdom restaurants, Cosmic Ray's, and spoke to one of the workers. Without batting an eye, she brought out a binder with all of the foods that people with peanut/tree nut allergies could eat -- it was so detailed it even had photos of some of the ingredients used and their labels so you could read them yourself. And that really set the tone for the rest of our trip. We were pleasantly surprised at how well nut allergies were handled at the different parks and restaurants.

Everywhere we went, food allergies were handled in a very professional way. Everything was very well thought out -- more than I've ever experienced. For example, we were able to get into the Be Our Guest (Beauty and The Beast castle) for lunch one day and you ordered using a touch screen. The meal was then delivered to your table (in Disney lingo this is "counter service."). During the touch screen ordering process, you were able to enter what food allergies you had, if any, and then the screen showed you what items you were able to order. It made the entire process much easier for us, that's for sure! In addition, a Disney chef came to our table to discuss our order and answer any questions. The best part: my daughter was able to have a delicious chocolate cupcake with amazing chocolate filling and decoration including a chocolate piece that said "Be Our Guest" in gold. Yes, a cupcake. If you deal with nut allergies, you know what a big deal that is. Apparently certain of the desserts at Be Our Guest were baked on site in separate areas. So, bring on the cupcake!

We even got to visit Gaston's Tavern later that day, right near the Beauty and The Beast Castle. Again, they referred us to a binder with thorough food allergy info. Guess who got to enjoy a ginormous cinnamon roll? It was wonderful to be able to serve my daughter some baked goods and sweets that are normally off-limits due to cross-contact.

A view of the Beauty and the Beast castle tower and spires.
We were fortunate to have been able to book another character dining experience, this time with an advanced reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table located in the iconic Cinderella castle. You book your reservation online and again, you are asked at that time to enter any food allergies in your reservation. At this character dinner (which was pricey, granted, but you get several souvenirs including a professional photo with Cinderella, photo ops with 6 princesses, take home souvenirs, and pretty much everything a princess could want), the chef came to our table and talked about the food in detail. He explained how he would go about creating a safe meal, a few substitutions he would do and how the kitchen worked. He knew his stuff and he persevered explaining everything to us even though the place got very noisy as someone got engaged at the restaurant as he was talking to us :)) He was very sweet to our daughter and delivered the substituted food to the table himself. Pretty impressive. Kudos to you, Chef Carlos.

Snow White came to chat at Cinderella's Royal Table.

Now,my  daughters are older -- 11 and 14. They're not tiny little kids anymore but at Disney it doesn't matter. Everyone gets to be a kid there and treated to a good experience. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of everyone we dealt with.

This  is where we ate at Epcot. Tres bien.

We also visited Epcot. Now, of course we avoided the Chinese food there, but we did walk into a French bistro with no reservation. Again, the chef came out, substituted some bread for an allergy-safe bread (it was gluten-free, too and my daughter said it was tasty) and suggested safe menu items. He displayed an excellent understanding of cross contact so we felt very good about the whole thing. And lo and behold, while were eating, Belle (she's French, of course) walked by us right outside the window. Talk about serendipity.

To be clear: you can't eat everything at Disney World if you have a peanut/tree nut allergy. However, the clear labels, the detailed binders and the knowledgeable restaurant and food service staff will do everything they can to explain what you CAN have and how they can provide you with a happy, allergy-free dining experience. Even the "walk up" restaurants, for the most part, had decent options for our daughter. And like I said before, they take cross-contact seriously. With hundreds of restaurants at Disney, I obviously didn't visit them all but the ones I did were awesome.

We also visited Universal Studios and Harry Potter World/Hogsmeade/Diagon Alley and they had similar binders which were very helpful. However, my daughter could not have the much talked about beverage -- Butter Beer. They had it listed for cross-contact with peanuts/tree nuts but at least they warned us, which we all appreciated. We at at the Three Broomsticks Tavern (I think that's what it was called. It was a long day. :) Also, the Leaky Cauldron in Diagon Alley seemed to have similar menu and set up. Just check with the staff when you arrive at the restaurant and they will steer you towards their allergy info.

By the way, here's how to make Butter Beer at home. Take some cream soda, add a couple of spoonfuls of butterscotch ice cream topping or syrup (I use Hershey's, please read labels!) and swirl it together. Add some ice. Top with whipped cream and some more butterscotch.  Yum.

I hope I was able to shed some light on Disney World for anyone thinking about going there. Of course, everyone has different needs so I encourage you to visit the Disney World web site as we did to get started with your plans. When you see how they handle things, it makes you realize that nearly every restaurant could approach things the same way with the right education.

Disney gets an A+ from my family. Hope to see it again -- soon!

For more info on managing daily life with nut allergies, check out my e-book, available on Kindle and other formats (see the right side bar of this blog for more info.) Thanks to everyone for your great feedback on my book!