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Food Allergy Friendly Halloween Ideas

teal-pumpkinThe number one way you can show food allergy families you care is by participating in the Teal Pumpkin Project. The idea was created in 2012 by Becky Basalone, executive director for a local food allergy support group affiliated with FARE. The idea is simple, by posting a sign or placing a small teal pumpkin at your house, you can alert those with food allergies or sensitivities that you are offering a candy-alternative. Inexpensive items can be found at dollar stores, office supply stores, Oriental Trading Company, Walmart/Target, etc. Simply place the items in a separate bowl to offer instead of or in addition to traditional Halloween candy. Such a small gesture can mean the world to an allergic kiddo (or even a picky food eater!).

Here are some non-food ideas:

  • Glow Sticks
  • Halloween-Themed Pencils and Erasers
  • Stickers
  • Mad Libs
  • Rubber Duckies
  • Wiggly Eyes
  • Spooky Plastic Spiders
  • Whistles
  • Temporary Tattoos
  • Nail Polish
  • Bubbles
  • Goofy Glasses
  • Playdough
  • Stamps
  • Pens or Crayons

As food allergy parents, there are many things we can do to help keep our kiddos safe on the big night:

  1. Play host to a Halloween party or post-trick or treating get-together. By controlling the environment, you can influence the what, where, and when of candy-eating. You can also offer lots of fun Halloween-themed games and activities to take a bit of the focus off the food. Have a toilet paper mummy-wrapping race, a Monster Mash dance party, or costume contest. Create a photo booth with Halloween-themed props. Pin the wart on the witch or the bones on a skeleton. Paint or carve pumpkins. Tell spooky stories around a fire pit.
  2. Plan to trick or treat with your children. Make sure to carry your allergy medications/inhalers including epinephrine. Bring a charged cellphone, flashlight, and wet wipes for easy hand wiping if necessary. Having a few safe treats to eat along the way is fun too!
  3. Talk with your children ahead of time to create a candy-swap or trade-in system. No candy should be eaten without the approval from mom or dad. Reading ingredients on the road is complicated; it’s dark and most snack-size treats do not have ingredients listed on them because they’re not labeled for individual resale.
  4. Consider washing hands and wiping down candy packages when you get home if you have concerns about candy residue from other children.

Allergy-friendly candy:

Our kids swap out candy that is unsafe for Bubba. Big Girl gets to keep some of her nut-free chocolate, but that is eaten separately and under supervision so we can clean up afterward. Every child (and allergy) is different. Bubba’s allergens most likely to be in Halloween candy are: peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, sesame, kiwi, and/or mango. We read labels every time, but here are candy ideas that are usually  safe for our family:

  • Starbursts
  • Skittles
  • Airheads
  • Charms Blowpops
  • Haribo Gummi Bears
  • Dum-Dums
  • Jelly Bellies
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Panda Soft Licorice, Twizzlers, Red Vines
  • Jolly Ranchers
  • Hot Tamales
  • Smarties
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Pez
  • Now and Laters
  • Swedish Fish
  • Mike and Ikes

For those managing different and/or more allergies here are some great companies offering allergy-friendly treats:

Wondering what to do with all that unsafe candy? Donate it! Our service members and veterans would love to know others are thinking of them. Click here to learn more about Operation Gratitude.

Thank you to the allergy parents who came before me

Tears of joy. Public school kindergarten is a full year away for Bubba, but Big Girl will be starting next week. I just received an email that went out to all families announcing that the classrooms will now be nut-free and the school will no longer be having bake sales. Students can still bring nut-containing products for their own consumption in the cafeteria, but no nuts may be consumed in the classroom including during class parties.

Bubba says thanks too.

Bubba says thanks too

I didn’t have to have those fears. I didn’t have to fight that fight. An allergy parent who came before me, dozens I’m sure, successfully advocated for our children so that they can be safer while at school to learn. I have spent years benefiting from the allergy parents who came before me. Parents who blog their allergen-free creations, parents who fundraise to support ground-breaking research, moms who turned allergy apparel into a small business, parents who started support groups and created posters to share with others. Never doubt what parents can and will accomplish in aid of their children. It’s allergy parents that have changed the entire discussion around and awareness of food allergies. I just wanted to say a teary and heartfelt thanks.

What I would wish for all kids

No restrictions. No needles. No exclusion. The chance to start school with no food allergies. Big girl passed her sesame food challenge today. We are VERY VERY excited for her to shed some of her anxiety and fear. Given how worked up she was about this challenge, I was incredibly impressed with how brave she was. She took her first bite of sesame crunch candy with no hesitation.

Confidence rising

Confidence rising

However, in the minutes that followed, her anxiety crept in and she complained of a belly ache and itchy ears. She had no visible symptoms. The allergist suggested that we give her a fake dose to check the placebo effect. Sure enough, on her second ‘dose’ (this one sesame-free) she again complained of a belly ache, so we decided to press on with the real food challenge. Eventually she relaxed and she no longer complained about her belly. Instead her grins got bigger and her confidence grew that she would pass the challenge. Sure enough, after what may be the longest food challenge ever (we were there for four hours), SHE PASSED. Big girl gets to start school in a few weeks with no 504 plan, no epi-pens, free to share snacks and eat birthday treats. Basically what I would wish for every child.

Last dose!

Last dose!

It will remain a mystery what caused Big Girl’s hives this spring. Most likely it was viral hives. In the off chance that it was the poppy seeds on the bagel, rather than the sesame, that caused the reaction we will be food challenging her to poppy. This time we will do it at home. We talked it through with the allergist who was very supportive given that she tested negative for poppy and has now passed her sesame challenge.

Note: Only after sharing this post did it become clear that Big Girl’s success may offer false hope to some sesame-allergy parents. Big Girl was probably never actually allergic to sesame. Her tests were all negative and she had previously safely eaten sesame. Her one-time ‘reaction’ was probably not a reaction at all. By comparison, her younger sister Bubba had an anaphylactic reaction upon first exposure. Bubba also tests positive via blooding testing and SPT. We have no plans to food challenge her.

Fingers crossed – prayers welcome

Big girl has her sesame food challenge tomorrow. She has a LOT of BIG feelings about her food allergy (if there is one). Ever since she got hives after eating an Everything bagel, she has asked a bazillion questions about whether foods are safe for her. Like if apple juice is safe. Or if the dinner I just made for her is safe. Foods that she eats every day and has eaten since her reaction – are they safe?? We should be more patient. We should be more understanding. And we’re trying. But it has been hard to cope with her irrational fears of a food that she would be hard-pressed to come across. And which doesn’t come into our house, btw, because Bubba is also allergic to sesame. Talking through her fears and explaining the kinds of foods that might contain sesame didn’t seem to help. In fact, the more we talked about her food allergy, the more she wanted to talk about it. You’re wondering if this was an attention thing? Well I did too, but there really seemed to be this current of anxiety running beneath all our conversations. So we got the book What to Do When You Worry Too Much to help Big Girl (and this Allergy Ninja) deal with anxiety. We loved it. Big Girl loved her special time with me doing the workbook activities. I got a hard Mama lesson; it makes Big Girl sad when Mama gets mad because she’s scared. Ouch. And we have both learned a lot of new strategies for coping with anxiety.

Tomorrow will be a big day for us. I don’t really know if Big Girl is allergic to sesame. She could react. And that would very very scary for my emotional little girl. We decided to go ahead with a food challenge because:

  • She had no known food allergies prior to getting hives
  • She had safely eaten sesame many many times before getting hives
  • She tested negative for a sesame allergy via blood testing and skin-prick testing (SPT)
  • She will start public school in a few short weeks and the potential to start school with “no food allergies” is a blessing and luxury I want to be granted to this sweet girl
  • And if I could eliminate this fear from her life, I would
We'll be using 'Sesame Crunch' candy for the food challenge

We’ll be using ‘Sesame Crunch’ candy for the food challenge

It seems like she should pass the challenge based on all this right? Well, the big question marks are because it’s possible she tested negative because she’d had antihistamines only two days before her testing (a testing no-no because it can give you a false negative on a SPT). Also, sesame is notorious for false negatives in allergy testing. For example, Oleosi, one of the major sesame allergens, cannot be tested for via SPT. And the the largest sesame food challenge study to date concluded that “…a positive sesame-specific [blood] test and positive sesame SPT are not good predictors of true sesame allergy as determined by the gold standard test of an oral sesame challenge.”

Soooo crossed fingers and prayers are welcome. I will keep you posted.

Bubba’s Birthday

Last night we celebrated Bubba’s birthday at home. We had a safe meal of roasted pork and her favorite vegan mashed potatoes (Tofutti Sour Cream, Earth Balance Buttery Sticks margarine, boiled mashed potatoes, and too much salt). We also had a homemade pineapple cake. This is of some significance because Bubba only recently outgrew her pineapple allergy. Yay!

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She had asked for a pineapple birthday cake for her party a few weeks ago but I confessed to her I was quite sure any attempt on my part would result in something delicious, but not cute at all. I am NOT a baker. We agreed to have ‘fishy cupcakes’ for her pool party (generously made by her Mimi and pictured below) and that I would make a pineapple cake for her actual birthday dinner instead. Soooooo. Pineapple cake? Bubba does not like canned pineapple and anything resembling a pineapple upside down cake would probably not fly. After much Googling and pinning I was able to find a recipe I could tweak (putting it mildly) to make dairy and egg-free. Without further ado, here is how I made Bubba her egg-free, dairy-free pineapple cake.

Pineapple Cake
1 box Duncan Hines Classic White cake mix
1c pineapple juice
3t baking soda
3T white vinegar
1/4c coconut oil

Frosting
I used Food Allergy Mama’s recipe for Creamy Vanilla Frosting but substituted pineapple juice for soy milk and added 1/2c crushed fresh pineapple.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease cake pan(s). Well. Vegan cakes are not the easiest suckers to get out of pans. Mix baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl. Mix cake mix, juice, and melted oil in a large bowl. Add vinegar mixture. For a classic layer cake, pour batter equally into two 9-inch greased cake pans. Bake for 23-28 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Follow cake mix directions for alternate pan sizes. Cool cake(s) completely before frosting. I put a thin layer of frosting and crushed fresh pineapple between the layers.

For all my worrying, fretting, and self-criticism I can honestly say the cake was eh. It was very sweet and certainly tasted like pineapple. My normally sweet-deprived kids initially loved it because of the pure sugar content. But then Bubba wasn’t into it at all. Big. Mama. Allergy Sigh. Bubba doesn’t really care yet. Maybe she never will. She’s a pretty easy-going kid about this stuff so far. But sometimes really care. I want easy. And store-bought. And fluffy. How on earth do you make a cake that is not heavily laden with vegetable oil grease? There are ways, I know. I just need to put the time in to experiment and follow vegan cooking recipes. And perhaps not do it when it matters so much to me.

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Mimi’s amazing cupcakes using Duncan Hines boxed mix, Ener-G egg replacer, Pillsbury dyed frosting, and skittles.

One final note in case my list of baking mistakes can help anyone. The cake recipe was not enough for two 9-inch cake pans. Maybe it is with eggs, but you don’t get as much lift in vegan baking. I tried baking soda/white vinegar as my egg substitute this time. I had never tried that. I think I prefer ground flax/hot water or Ener-G egg replacer better. Here’s a good resource for egg replacement options. I used Earth Balance Buttery Sticks for the margarine in the frosting and it wasn’t warm enough so I ended up with lumps of cold margarine in my frosting. Yum.

Wrong Kid

IMG_4623-1We may deal with a few more food allergies than most, but honestly we have felt lucky in several regards. In particular, that Bubba is the only one of our children with food allergies. Well it seems our luck may have run out. Yesterday Big Girl and her Daddy went out for a morning bagel-date and Home Depot run. Big Girl got an Everything bagel (the seedy kind) which she has eaten many times before. On the way to the store she ate the bottom half (seed-free). On the way home from the store she ate the top half. Within a few minutes she started complaining of itchy ears. Weird my husband thought, but nothing to be alarmed about because, after all, this kid doesn’t have food allergies. When she got home she told me her belly itched and as she was scratching her shirt lifted up and I caught sight of a hive. Weird, but maybe she got into something at the store that irritated her skin? I got out the hydrocortisone cream and lifted up her shirt only to discover a few more hives. As I applied cream, a few more popped up. Then a few more.

IMG_4621Her ears were bright red at the top. Very weird, but no biggie I thought. Must be viral hives. She’d had a mild fever a couple days before and tummy trouble the night before. Couldn’t be anything more than that because this kid doesn’t have food allergies. I gave her a Benadryl and called the pediatrician to confirm my hunch about viral hives. They agreed that was the likely cause and even said they had seen a few kids with viral hives that week. So, no biggie.

 

We headed out to Big Girl’s first soccer game of the season. When she got out of the car, I lifted her shirt to make sure her hives had calmed down with the Benadryl. No such luck. Her skin looked like it was on fire. Her hives had gotten so large they were spreading into each other. They now extended into her groin and across her back. We left and headed straight to the pediatrician’s office a bit dumb-founded but feeling lucky to have Bubba’s Epi-Pens in hand in case we needed them.

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The doctor said her hives were way too severe to be viral hives. She prescribed Ranididine (Zantac) in addition to the Benadryl we had already given her. Using an H2 histamine blocker in addition to an H1 blocker has better results. We were told to go to the ER at the first sign of any facial swelling or trouble breathing. And obviously we will need to get Big Girl some allergy testing. My hunch is that the sesame seeds are the culprit. They are a severe allergy of Bubba’s and they are actually a fairly common allergen (“Top 10” in Canada). Although she has safely eaten them before, allergies can develop at any time.

Some more information about sesame allergies:

Oral Food Challenge – She Passed Again!

IMG_4474One more food to cross off our list! Bubba passed her oral food challenge to garbanzo beans today. We decided to challenge garbanzo beans because Bubba’s SPT and RAST tests were both low-positive, indicating that she had a strong likelihood of passing. We were still nervous for this one though because 30% of peanut allergic folks are also allergic to garbanzo beans.

We learned our lesson from last week and brought LOTS more fun stuff to do to help ease the boredom. This food challenge was a little tougher for Bubba because she did not like the taste of the garbanzo beans. For her first dose she only had to eat one bean, but the three doses after that were all 1/8 cup. That is actually a LOT of garbanzo beans. She was half gagging trying to chew through them.

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IMG_4480You hear me say often that Bubba is a trooper, well this is what I am talking about. What three-year-old can be convinced to eat something they don’t like, let alone an entire plateful of it? She was doing a lot of fussing by the last dose and wanted me to hand-feed her. She was also promised a trip to the movies this weekend in addition to her post-appointment treats, but all well worth it.

So what do garbanzo beans get us? Especially if she doesn’t like them? Well, first there is the mental ease of removing one more allergen from her list. Yay! Also, I promise I can make some tasty hummus and roasted cinnamon sugar beans that she WILL like. Finally, there are actually a ton of allergy-friendly products that contain chick pea flour that have previously been off-limits for us. Bubba had only ever eaten garbanzo beans (hummus) once and she had a severe reaction, but the hummus contained tahini and she is severely allergic to sesame seeds so we were never able to differentiate what caused the reaction.

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Oral Food Challenge – She Passed!

An oral food challenge is considered the ‘gold standard‘ of allergy testing. Skin-prick testing (SPT) and blood tests have their utility but can result in both over and under diagnosis. Bubba has a number of foods on her allergen list that only have a mild SPT reaction and/or a low blood IgE score. Over time, we would like to challenge these foods to know whether they can safely be incorporated into her diet. I’m in no rush for oysters, but other foods can have a big impact on her diet. So today we challenged pineapple.

Oral food challenges are LONG appointments. Ours was 2 1/2 hours.

Oral food challenges are LONG appointments. Ours was 2 1/2 hours.

We prepared Bubba for her appointment by explaining what would happen and also why this test was so exciting. We told her all the new foods she would be able to eat. We discussed what her allergic reactions have been like in the past, how her mouth felt, and how she would need to tell us if something felt funny or spicy in her mouth. We also told her there would be treats after the test. Oral food challenges are LONG appointments and (God willing) boring. Bubba believed that she “didn’t like pineapple” so we told her she would need to try it anyway and would be rewarded for that. We also emphasized our past success – Bubba outgrew her soy allergy and we confirmed this with an oral food challenge. She now eats (and loves!) edamame and chocolate soy milk.

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Pre-challenge check

The appointment went great. Before the challenge began Bubba’s temp, blood pressure, and blood-oxygen levels were taken. Her full body was examined and all her eczema spots were circled so they wouldn’t be confused with a reaction. We started with a bite of canned pineapple (thought less likely to elicit and allergic reaction). Her whole body contorted and her face screwed up like she’d eaten a lemon. She did NOT like it. But she ate it anyway. Because she’s a trooper. We waited 15 minutes – no reaction. Another bite.

Mysterious red cheek

Mysterious red cheek

This time one of her cheeks turned red so we waited a full 45 minutes before up-dosing. Nothing else happened so the cheek was just a fluke. We switched to fresh pineapple. Bubba did not seem overly impressed with the taste but agreed it tasted ‘better’ and ‘sweet’. Fifteen minutes later, last bite.  After the last dose we had to wait another 45 minutes to be sure of no delayed reaction. She passed!

Post-challenge treat!

Post-challenge treat!

So why is pineapple so exciting? Well, I’m sure you can imagine with a food allergy list of nearly 30 foods, there are not a lot of places Bubba can eat or convenience foods we can buy. She has never been able to eat fruit salad because it almost always has pineapple. Also, pineapple concentrate is added to many of the otherwise safe sorbets at frozen yogurt shops. Many kids’ juice boxes have pineapple juice as do several chicken apple sausage brands. My favorite BBQ sauce is now an option for Bubba too. Lastly, it adds one more frozen waffle brand to our options. Exciting stuff in our little world. If you and your allergist think an oral food challenge is appropriate, I recommend reading a great publication put together by Kids with Food Allergies to help you and your child prepare for the appointment.

Blood testing – round two

3196625932_5802361214_qBubba is normally a TROOPER. Blood tests, skin tests, epi-pens, hospital trips, you name it. She handles it better than most adults would. So she was about due to just be DONE with being pricked. Not too long after our last round of skin prick testing, Bubba was due for updated blood testing. Our first attempt was an utter fail. Apparently, someone can become so upset during a blood draw that the blood will literally not even come out. How’s that for some kind of ninja body control? Poor Bubba. Boy did she scream. I held her for a good 5 minutes with a needle in her arm and we got about a teaspoon of blood. Not nearly enough to fill the four vials we needed. So we left, only to have to go back again another day.

Our next attempt was much more pleasant. I pumped her full of fluids the whole morning and sent her into the lab with Daddy and a bag full of candy. Success!

We added a few new foods to our allergy list and increased the class of our milk allergy. We can add to Bubba’s obscure allergen list oysters, mussels, and rye. But she tested negative to fennel, celery, and green pepper so those are wins. She also tested very low-positive to pineapple, poppy, and tomato. We have an appointment to food challenge pineapple. Believe it or not pineapple would actually be a huge victory for us. It randomly appears as an ingredient in several otherwise safe foods – sorbet, frozen waffles, juice boxes, and sausages. So keep your fingers crossed for us!