How to Make Nutrition a Top Priority with Food Allergies

The Standard American Diet (SAD) is the term used to refer to the pattern of foods that most people eat in the United States and other westernized countries. This diet is high in processed, pre-packaged foods that are often loaded with sugar, salt, fat, preservatives, emulsifiers and other additives, chemicals, pesticides, etc. It is also relatively low in fruit, vegetables, and fiber, and lacks a diversity of nutrients, while being high in unhealthy types of fat, meats, and refined carbohydrates. The SAD is associated with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and almost every other modern chronic illness.

One of the silver linings of food allergies is that it forces us to read ingredients and see what is actually in our food. This can really be eye-opening. We consume a lot of food in this country that is detrimental to our health. Most people choose convenience and taste over health and nutrition. We are now paying the price with higher rates of chronic disease and whole generations of children who are dealing with a multitude of chronic conditions. One day we are going to look back on the foods that we are eating today the same way that we look at cigarettes and we are going to wonder how anyone ever thought it was a good idea.

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Adopting a Fantastically Free Mindset

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If you follow my newsletter, you may know that October is “Positive Attitude” Month.  I think this is the perfect time to remember that you can live a safe, happy, and healthy life with food allergies! While living with food allergies does present some unique challenges, food allergies need not stop you from doing anything that you desire to do or keep you from living the life you want to live.

Research has shown that only 10% of our happiness is due to our circumstances, 50% is due to our genetic disposition, but 40% of our happiness is due to our mindset and the activities in which we wish to engage. Truly living a safe, healthy, and happy life hinges on adopting a positive attitude or what I call a “Fantastically Free Mindset!”

The Fantastically Free mindset is all about empowerment. Living Fantastically Free involves focusing on what you can do, not what you can’t do. Food allergies should not negatively impact your overall quality of life. When you adopt a Fantastically Free mindset you are able to minimize the negative impact food allergies may create.

Here are 7 principles for adopting a Fantastically Free mindset:

1) Focus on what you can eat, not on what you cannot eat.Even people with multiple food allergies can enjoy a wide variety of foods. View your child’s food allergies as your permission to explore and experiment with trying foods that you may not have tried otherwise.

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Non-Food Ideas for Rewards at School

I am a strong proponent of rewarding children for good behavior, working hard, reaching their goals, etc. I am, however, a little concerned by the frequency in which we reward children with food.Reward Stickers
From a food allergy perspective, using food as a reward often alienates children who may not be able to consume it. I cannot tell you how many times schools reward children with pizza and ice-cream parties. What kind of message is this sending to all of our children? It certainly isn’t one of inclusion. Children with food allergies might think that they are not worthy of receiving a reward; after all, the school didn’t take the time to make sure everyone could enjoy the reward.

Secondly, this teaches all of our children that food (particularly junk food and sweets) is a reward. This link between reward and food is concerning because it can and does lead to emotional eating, which is not healthy.

So how do you reward children in way that ensures everyone can participate? Why not consider non-food rewards?

Here are some non-food ideas for rewards at school:

1) “Caught Being Good” coupon book.

A few years ago, my daughter’s teacher had the brilliant idea (without prompting from me) to reward each child with “classroom bucks” through out the year whenever they did something good in class. By the end of the year they had earned a full “Caught Being Good” coupon book which contained activities they liked to do, such as bring in a toy from home, read their favorite book, etc. They had a lot of fun and it truly taught the value of working towards and goal and seeing your effort pay off.

2) Let the kids vote on what they want.

Some of my daugthers’ teachers have allowed the children to decide what they want as a reward.  They have decided to have special days like “Stuffed Animal Day” and “Crazy Sock Day.” For “Stuffed Animal Day,” they were able to bring in their favorite stuffed animal. For “Crazy Sock Day,” they get to wear wacky or mismatched socks and no shoes during story time. They have also worked towards earning “Pajama Day” and other fun celebrations. 

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Tips for Reducing Environmental Allergens at Home

environmental allergens

It is not uncommon for those with food allergies to also have environmental allergies and/or asthma, as well. In order to create a more allergy-friendly environment, you want to reduce the amount of environmental allergens and asthma triggers in your home.

Here are some tips for reducing environmental allergens and triggers:

  • Declutter and organize your space. It is hard to clean around significant amounts of clutter. Clutter easily becomes a magnet for common allergens like dust, mold, pollen, animal fur, dander, and food crumbs and residue.
  • Remove, replace, and/or clean bedding, pillows, carpets, rugs, curtains, stuffed animals and other fabric items on a regular basis, as they are known to house a lot of common allergens.
  • Keep windows closed and use the air conditioning to reduce the number of airborne allergens and pollen from outside during peak pollen seasons. Open windows to improve ventilation in your home pollen counts are not high.

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Back to School with Food Allergies Checklist

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It’s back-to-school time again! If your kiddo has food allergies, you know that getting ready for the new school year involves more than just shopping for school supplies and new clothes. There are lots of moving parts when it comes to ensuring your child has a safe, happy, and inclusive school year.

To keep myself on track and to make sure that nothing slip through the cracks, I like to make a list of things I need to do to prepare for the upcoming school year. 

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5 Tips for Getting Along with the Nastiest of Neighbors, Ragweed

I originally posted this article October 1, 2013 at FantasticallyFree.com, but I thought I would pull it out of the archives and share it again because ragweed season is right around the corner. According to the American College of of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, ragweed “wreaks havoc” causing seasonal allergy symptoms in millions of Americans from late summer through fall and peaks in mid-September.

In our household, we have multiple food allergies and environmental allergies. When I lived in Kentucky, my allergies seemed to be worse in the spring with all of the tree pollen visibly covering Fantasticallyfreeragweedevery horizontal surface outside. Living in the midwest, I have gotten acquainted with one of the nastiest neighbors you can have.

You see, our yard backs up to a nature preserve–which is awesome. However, when our house was being built, the builders cleared a little too much brush and, being the opportunistic weed that it is, ragweed moved in very quickly. You can see it in the center of the photo to the right.
Ragweed is extremely hard to get rid of because it is a rather tenacious and invasive weed, and in our particular circumstance, it lies on a protected nature preserve. This wouldn’t be so bad if our whole family wasn’t allergic to it.

Ragweed is responsible for widespread and severe allergies across the U.S from the late summer/early fall until frost. Each plant produces about a billion highly-allergenic pollen spores that can be carried by the wind for hundreds of miles. It is commonly considered to be the most heinous pollen allergens there is. Needless to say, it is very difficult to avoid.

So what do you do to minimize exposure to ragweed?

Here are my top 5 tips for “getting along” with the nastiest of neighbors, ragweed:

1) Stay away from it. I know that sounds silly and obvious, but if you have a severe ragweed allergy you might want to consider staying indoors during the day, at least. I have small children, so we do spend a lot of time outside, but we don’t play in the backyard very much when the ragweed is in full-bloom. Check the weather and stay inside as much as possible when ragweed pollen is high and the air quality is going to be poor, especially if you have asthma in addition to allergies.

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It’s Not Too Early to Teach Your Preschooler to Manage Food Allergies

This piece was originally posted on October 1, 2013 at FantasticallyFree.com

I had a “proud mom” moment yesterday when I picked up my 4-year old daughter from Pre-K yesterday. She told me that her class had cucumbers and ranch dressing for snack yesterday. I felt a brief lump in my throat because although my daughters have outgrown their dairy fantasticallyfreekidswithdoughallergies they all have an anaphylactic egg allergy.

To my relief, she also told me that she informed her teacher and her friends that she could not have ranch dressing because she is allergic to egg. Whew!

I was impressed that she remembered that ranch dressing often contains milk and egg ingredients. I was even more impressed after she told me that her classmate told her that the ranch dressing was okay for her to eat but she insisted that she could not eat it.

That shows a lot of awareness for a young 4-year old, which brings me to my point: It is never too early to teach your preschooler how to manage food allergies. They soak things in like a sponge and grasp concepts quickly. While I would never expect a child to be able to handle food allergies with the same level of maturity and skill as an adult, it is beneficial to teach them how to be their own self-advocates when you are not around.

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Know What to Do During an Allergic Reaction

food allergy reaction

May is Food Allergy Action Month and May 8th through May 14th is Food Allergy Awareness Week. Every May, FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) hosts a nationwide Food Allergy Awareness Week to shine a spotlight on the seriousness of food allergies and to improve public understanding of this potentially life-threatening medical condition.

Here are some quick facts about food allergies:

  • Food allergies can be life-threatening and are a serious and growing public health problem.
  • They affect up to 15 million Americans, including nearly 6 million children–that’s approximately 1 in 13 kids or two in
    every classroom.¹
  • Nearly 40 percent of these children have already experienced a severe or life-threatening
    reaction. In addition, more than 30 percent of these children have multiple food allergies.
  • The number of children with food allergies in the U.S. increased 50 percent between 1997
    and 2011, but there is no clear answer as to why.²
  • A reaction to food can range from a mild response (such as an itchy mouth) to anaphylaxis, a
    severe and potentially deadly reaction.
  • Every three minutes, a food allergy reaction sends someone to the emergency room in the U.S.
  • In the US, eight foods (peanut, tree nuts, egg, soy, milk, fish, shellfish, and wheat), known as the top 8, account for 90% of all food allergy reactions, though anyone can be allergic to any food. Interestingly, the top allergic foods vary by country.

Being the mother of 3 children with multiple food allergies, there is so much that I could write about to raise awareness today, this week, this month, this year. After giving it much thought, what I really want to talk about is knowing what to do during an allergic reaction. 

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7 Tips for Eating Out with Kids with Food Allergies

Eating out with young children can be stressful.  Add in food allergies and it can be down right anxiety-provoking!  Sometimes it can be quite a Kidatdinnertablechallenge to find a safe place to eat, especially if you are dealing with multiple food allergies.

Eating at restaraunts and other establishments is a big part of our culture and not participating in social acitivities that involve food can feel very isolating.  So how can you and your family minimize the risk of an allergic reaction while still enjoying the opportunity to dine out once in a while?

Here are my top 7 tips for eating out with the kids:

1) Do your research before you go.

Search online to find restaurants that are allergy-friendly. There are websites dedicated to making your search a little easier.  I particularly likewww.AllergyEats.com. They have a great mobile app that comes in handy when traveling. Always take a look at the menu before heading out.  It saves you the hassle of getting to a restaurant only to learn that there is nothing on the menu for you to eat.

I always look for menus with simple dishes. I love when a restaurant has a kids’ menu because those dishes are pretty simple fare.  To limit the risk of cross-contact, avoid eating at places that use your particular allergens in a large number of their dishes. You will also want to avoid buffet-style restaurants and self-service food areas that are prone to cross-contact between foods, such as salad bars.

2) Call ahead.

Assuming the restaurant has some allergy-friendly dishes for you to choose, give them a ring to make sure they are accustomed to dealing with food allergies.  Again, you don’t want to arrive at the restaurant and find that everyone is clueless about how to safely handle food allergens and minimize cross-contact.

3) Always carry your epinephrine, other allergy medications, and your emergency plan.

This goes without saying. If you arrive at the restaurant without your allergy emergency kit, make the trip back to get it.  If you have multiple children with allergies, make sure you have enough meds for each child.  I have had two children have an anaphylactic reaction to the same food.  You have to be prepared.

4) Make sure your table is clean.

Before you are seated, you can inform your host of your food allergies and ask that the table be cleaned, if you think it is necessary.  You can also travel with your own wipes and wipe things down, as well.  If you are not comfortable with the cleanliness of your surroundings, don’t be afraid to ask to have your area cleaned or to be re-seated.

High chairs and booster seats are potential source of cross-contact.  When my children were younger we traveled with our own booster seats and disposable placemats.

You also want to avoid using the salt and pepper shakers and condiment jars on the table.  They are another potential source for cross-contact. My kids have a mustard, egg,  and sesame allergy so we rarely use condiments, but if you do.  Ask for fresh bottles or have your server bring you “to-go” packets of condiments, salt, and pepper.

5) Inform your server of your food allergies.

Always tell your server about your food allergies and ask to see their allergy menu, if they have one.  If you can speak directly with the chef, that’s great, too.  Never assume a food is safe to eat without checking on the ingredients, even if you have had the same dish before.  Make sure they understand that you or your child cannot eat food containing your allergens or that may have come into contact with your allergens.

You might consider carrying allergy cards to give to your server.  This way, they have your allergens in writing.  The more ways you can communicate, the better.  If you feel like your server isn’t understanding your completely or you don’t feel like they can handle your food allergy requests, do not be afraid to leave.  I have left restaurants that I did not think could accomodate our food allergies.

6) Order simple foods.

It easier to avoid “hidden” allergens by ordering simple foods with the least amount of ingredients possible or foods that don’t typically have your allergen as an ingredient. The safest meal choices are whole foods such a  simply-prepared protein, vegetables, and fruits.  I eat alot of chicken breasts and veggies when I eat out.  You also want to be careful about eating deep-fried items that may have come into contact with your allergens.  Again, always ask your server about the safety of each dish.

7) Double check your order before eating.

Mistakes do happen.  Even though you think you may have communicated clearly, sometimes things slip through the cracks and people make mistakes.  First, when the server brings your dish, verify that it was prepared without your allergens.  Secondly, always look at your food to make sure it does not contain any obvious allergens.  I have had food prepared incorrectly on numerous occassions.

If you implement these 7 tips you will greatly reduce the risk of having an allergic reaction and be able to enjoy dinner away from home.  Remember you can live life to the fullest with food allergies, it just takes a little extra planning.

Be sure to pass these tips onto your children, as well.  Even small children can practice telling servers what their food allergies are.  It is a great way to teach them how to be empowered self-advocates.

I would love to hear your tips on how to stay safe while enjoying eating out. Please leave a comment below.

 

Disclaimer: Information on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace medical advice.  Please seek the advice of your physician regarding any diagnosis or treatment. Any implementation of the information contained herein is at the reader’s discretion. The author and publisher disclaim any liability for any adverse effects resulting directly or indirectly from information contained on this site.

Quick Summary of Food Allergies in the US

Did you know that about 15 million Americans have food allergies? Did you know that 1 in 13 children have food allergies? That’s about 2 in every classroom across the country. During Food Allergy Awareness Month, I came across this handy little infographic put together by FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education). You can learn more about FARE and how you can help spread awareness at www.FoodAllergy.org.

Food-Allergies-in-US-Infographic (1)