Summer residential camps can be intimidating for many food allergic teens and their parents. They scared me until I recently participated in the Emory University Pre-College Program. But now that I have successfully completed a two week residential course, I am confident that it is possible to navigate these situations. Here’s how I did it!
Before even applying to the program, my parents contacted the program representative and talked to her at length about my peanut and tree nut allergies. We were assured that I could be accomodated and we were happy to hear that the dining hall which provided the meal plan was peanut and tree nut free (and also shellfish free!). We also learned that students would be allowed to eat off campus at Emory Village and we researched the restaurants there and found some viable options for me (Starbucks, Chipotle, Zoe’s Kitchen). We found out that there was a refrigerator in the dorm which I would be free to keep my own food in. Just in case however, I packed safe food such as granola bars, crackers and candy from home to take with me. I also brought my chef card to use when dining off campus. And of course I brought a back-up set of Auvi-Qs, a copy of my food allergy emergency action plan, and my health insurance card.
Upon arriving, I told the Residence Life staff, my RA, my roommate and my instructors about my food allergies. Everyone was extremely kind and helpful when they found out about my allergies. My RA immediately started to make signs asking people to please not eat peanuts in the hallway near my room. The Residence Life staff helped me find out if boxed lunches and catered food were safe for me during off campus field trips and if not, helped me find alternatives. My friends always made sure that I felt safe wherever we went, and did not eat at places where I could not.
The entire experience was successful because of good communication and advanced planning. My food allergy didn’t run my life and my parents didn’t worry the whole time. It’s great to know I can do it again next summer!
Thank you for always supporting me. Without you, I would not feel nearly so confident going through life with food allergies. You’ve packed so many safe lunches for me, ordered so many nut free chocolates, and had so many meetings with teachers to explain my allergies and to keep me safe at all times. When I was younger, you made sure I had a treat of my own when the rest of my classmates were having a cupcake to celebrate someone’s birthday (and mine was always better). My whole life, you have planned every meal meticulously so that I was never without something safe to eat, and you have taught me to plan ahead too. You’ve inspired me to speak up for myself and to be confident. Thank you for being my superhero, Mom!
Whether it’s a dinner party, birthday party, graduation party, summer pool party, wedding reception, etc., it is extremely important to consider your food allergies and plan ahead. Here are a few steps to follow to stay safe in social situations.
1) Find out from the host/hostess what kind of food will be served and notify them of your food allergies. Ask if it is a catered event, and if it is, ask for the name of the catering company and call them to discuss your food allergies prior to the event. If it is a potluck, then plan to bring a dish that you know you can eat, and try to keep it separate from foods people have brought that contain your allergen.
2) No matter what kind of food will be served, eat a little food before the event so that if you cannot eat anything there you will not be hungry. Also pack some snacks of your own, or even a whole meal to eat during the party.
3) This one goes without saying, but you always need to bring your epinephrine. I usually put mine in my purse (which has a button on the outside that says “Epinephrine inside!”). Once you arrive at the party, you have two options. You can carry your purse/bag with you epinephrine the whole time. This is easy if you have a small cross body purse. You could also find a safe spot that is out of reach from a dog or small child and away from water if you are at the pool, but also easy for other people to find in case of an emergency.
4) Make sure that there are people at the event who know about your food allergies. Tell them where your epinephrine is and how to use it, and instruct them to call 911 immediately if you have a reaction.
The more you try to hide your allergy, the more awkward it will be. Be honest and don’t let anyone make you feel unsafe or left out because of your allergies. Explain why you aren’t eating the same food as everyone else- they will probably find it interesting more than anything else!
‘No outside food or drink’ signs become a mere suggestion when you have food allergies. Fairly often, these signs are used to encourage people to purchase the food and drinks sold at that location (perhaps a movie theater, sporting event, you name it). But how are those of us who have food allergies supposed to be confident that we can find something safe for us to eat at these places?
This happens all the time at movie theaters. I’ll give the staff person my ticket, and then on the way to the theater, my friends will stop at the concession stand to buy their popcorn, candy, and soda. And I will stand there awkwardly, and possibly buy a water. Then there will be the inevitable “Don’t you want something more to eat?” and the response from another friend explaining that I can’t eat food because I’m allergic. It then becomes tricky for my friends, because they feel bad eating in front of me during the movie when I don’t have any food of my own. (I try to reassure them that I am used to it and that I don’t mind at all). And so, in order to avoid this situation, I started bringing my own food. This introduced a new dilemma: the “No Outside Food Or Drink” sign. I cannot waltz into the movie theater with a giant tub of popcorn and a large soda. Here, I have two options. I can show the person taking tickets my epinephrine and explain my food allergies and politely ask if they would mind if I brought in my own snack. (They will probably say yes. It is probably safe to say that they will always say yes.) Movie theaters can get pretty busy though, and the staff there may not want to deal with your dietary restrictions. In this case, you can probably get away with bringing a large purse or a shopping bag with some snacks in it, and neglect to tell anyone. (Shhh… you didn’t hear this from me.) After all, they are mostly trying to make a profit. If it is impossible for you to safely eat their food, it doesn’t matter if you bring your own snack as opposed to not eating anything.
While I used a movie theater to discuss this dilemma, it happens everywhere. When the issue arises the best bet is to be honest and tell people about your allergies. 99% of the time, it is ten times easier to tell whomever it may concern about you allergies and asking if an exception to the No Outside Food Policy can be made for you due to extenuating circumstances. So if you are madly studying for final exams and need a break, or are eagerly awaiting Pitch Perfect 2‘s arrival in theaters, don’t forget to pack a bag of candy as you head out.
Grocery shopping takes ten times longer for people with food allergies. We have to read every single label to make sure the food we are buying is safe. Sometimes it’s not just food that we have to watch out for though. I’ve found my allergens popping up in places I never expected to see them, especially makeup. Here’s what I’ve learned about makeup in respect to food allergies… so now when I want to feel fancy, I don’t get a horrendous rash or have to go the the emergency room. (Yay!)
I like to read ingredients for skin products. I had a tube of lotion that I used several times before realizing it had almond butter in it. Luckily, I did not have a reaction, and quickly stopped using it. Now I am careful to read through all those crazy ingredients in tiny print on the back label before buying lotions. This also goes for lip balms, lip gloss, lipsticks, etc. You never know what they may have sneaked in there. Sometimes this requires a little deeper searching (maybe investigate the company’s website to see what kind of ingredients they use. It seems that a lot of “all natural” makeup companies use ingredients with nuts. Apparently almonds are great for cosmetics (check out this article on the subject) for people who will not have a reaction after using them. Coconut is also a common ingredient in makeup from what I’ve observed.
I also try to avoid sharing lip balms/glosses/sticks with my friends. I worry that they may have used the product after having eaten one of my allergens, thus contaminating it. For the same reason, I am extremely hesitant to share my own lip products. This can be a bit of a hassle for me when I do theater. Stage makeup is often shared by everyone in the cast. I never mind using my own makeup when I can. For anyone involved in theater, I recommend learning how to use foundations, blushes, eye shadows and liners, mascara, lipsticks, etc. and applying these on your own. This way you can use your own makeup and stay in your comfort zone. Remembering all your lines is nerve-racking enough.
***By the way, I absolutely adore LUSH even though they use nuts in some of their products. I have talked to the extremely knowledgeable staff at several store locations and have been directed to safer items that they feel are less likely to have come into contact with their nut products. My personal favorite items are their perfume, hair spray, and lip gloss. Happy makeup shopping!
When you look out your window in the winter, everything looks a little drab and lifeless. Maybe there is a coat of snow covering the ground, or maybe there are just dead leaves. And maybe there are little squirrels and birds looking for food. In the winter, I love hanging bird feeders in my backyard and watching and listening to the birds.
I take great caution when entering bird stores. A large portion of bird seeds and other food products for birds contain nuts and peanuts. I don’t want to have a reaction filling up a bird feeder, so I recommend reading the ingredients before buying birdseed. If you are worried about having an airborne reaction in a bird store, you can order products online. Products usually have a description of what is in the food, so you can avoid your allergens. For example, one birdseed may list shelled peanuts (which I avoid), while another may list sunflower seeds (which is not one of my allergens).
You can also make your own nut free bird feeder by smothering a pine cone with cream cheese and then covering it with birdseed. Attach a string and hang it outside. (This is an adaptation of a common classroom activity that used peanut butter instead of cream cheese. I always had to sit out for that one.) Feed the squirrels as well by tying a length of twine around one end of a corncob and hanging it outside, making sure that squirrels will be able to reach it either from the ground or a tree branch.
The Superbowl has come and gone, but I thought I’d share that NFL’s Adrian Peterson is allergic to shrimp, scallops and lobster. Shellfish is one of the top eight food allergens in the U.S. The first part of the following interview contains Peterson’s diagnosis story. Click here to watch the video.
I had my first PBJ yesterday. Well, it wasn’t really a PBJ- it was actually a sunbutter and jelly sandwich. I made sure to explain this to my friends so they were not alarmed to find me eating something that looks like peanut butter. Sunbutter is the closest thing to peanut butter that I can eat without having a severe reaction. Sunbutter is made with sunflower seeds, which I can eat. (Sunflower seeds are not tree nuts.) It makes a nice substitute for peanut butter. Try it on ice cream, crackers, sandwiches, celery, apples… anything, really.
I love sunbutter paired with chocolate, so I was excited to try Sun Cups. Made without gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, corn, or soy in a nut and gluten-free facility, they are the Reese’s for allergy kids. The claim on the package, “delightfully delicious”, is most certainly true!
First of all, a massive thank you to Mrs. Reulbach for introducing me to the blogging world! I’ve certainly thought about starting a blog, but I don’t think I ever would have been successful without learning all the particulars. I am definitely obsessed with blogging now.
My second new obsession is chocolate cupcakes (shocker, I know). When I was little I would run around the grocery store picking up every box of chocolate cookies, brownies, or candies and frantically read the ingredients, hoping that maybe this time they would be safe for me. Usually they weren’t. This is why I was super excited to find Walmart’s mini chocolate cupcakes that are made in a peanut-free facility and are free of tree nuts. It’s not often that the bakery items stacked in a beautiful tower at the entrance of the store with an adorable little label are the ones with that glorious little peanut with its giant red X through it. Each box contains a dozen cupcakes which fluffy cake and creamy icing. They make the perfect treat, and I’ve been eating them rather often…
Going on a plane ride when you have a food allergy is quite daunting. As the plane starts to lift off the ground, all those “What if…?!” questions start to circle your head. What if I have a reaction thousands of feet above the ground (or rather, the nearest hospital)? So here are a few tips to keep you a little safer when you fly.
1) Tell an attendant associated with your flight about your allergy. Ask them if they would be willing to make an announcement on the plane before takeoff and ask people to refrain from eating your allergen.
2) Ask if you can board the plane early and if someone could wipe down your seat in case the person sitting there before you ate your allergen. I recommend supervising this to make sure they are thorough.
3) Ask the flight attendants if they could avoid serving your allergen on the plane. (I usually request that they do not serve those packaged peanuts, but I don’t worry so much about the products that may contain nuts.)
4) Pack your own food. If your flight is short, bring a snack food that you eat often. If your flight is longer, get takeout from a restaurant at which you eat often. Chipotle is my go-to restaurant for traveling because none of their food contains my allergens.