Category Archives: Eating and Drinking with Allergies

Finding the Middle Ground

Compromise. It can be an intimidating word especially if you’re stubborn like I am. It may not be a natural skill but it is one we all need to learn, especially when we’re dealing with food allergies. Having a food allergy or knowing someone with one, we often find ourselves in situations where we need flex this skill and find the best and safest solution for your food allergy. Each day new situations arise where we need to find a sort of mediation that leaves everyone feeling satisfied. For me and my food allergies I find myself using the concept of compromise in the vein of finding alternative, but always safe solutions in regards to my food allergies in three specific situations. Pertaining to life with a food allergy, the definition of compromise is not narrowed to mean giving up or exposing yourself to dangerous situations.  It means adjusting the situation to find an outcome in which all parties are safe, comfortable and happy regarding their food allergies.

  1. So you’ve decided to bake or cook:

I have come to realize that if you didn’t grow up with food allergies or know someone with one, it can be an incredibly foreign experience, especially when baking and cooking. When cooking with a food allergy, I’m always trying to ensure my safety, whether it’s reading ingredients or ensuring my food hasn’t come into contact with any allergens (from shared utensils/foods to “may contain” labels). Extra attention needs to be taken to ensure food is safe and there is an element of compromise with this, but that doesn’t mean compromising safety in regards to your food allergies. It is important to remember that you should never cook with or ingest ingredients that contain or may contain your allergens. Substituting or compromising in this situation means finding creative solutions and ingredients (that do not contain yours or any other allergens) and finding fun ways to bake with them that ensure it is safe for all food allergies. There are so many substitutes available now to accommodate most food allergies, you’re sure to find a way to cook without ingredients like eggs, dairy, tree nuts, peanuts and more. It’s just a matter of being open and honest about your allergens and helping everyone understand why they need to be avoided certain ingredients. Luckily the word compromise can take many forms, and it doesn’t mean you need to compromise on taste or safety when it concerns your allergens in the kitchen.

  1. So you’ve decided to dine out:

There can be a lot of pressure when dining out with a food allergy. If you’re dining out on the fly, it can be stressful to find a safe place near you that also sates your dining companions and fulfills your allergen needs. When eating somewhere new or dining out in general, we have to help our friends and family understand that we can’t just eat anywhere. Precautionary measures need to take place before we sit down for a meal and both parties need to be willing to compromise to make this happen. This may look like a few different things, such as:

  1. Calling a restaurant and asking to speak to a manager or chef about their food allergy policies.
  2. Going somewhere and for drinks only.
  3. Bringing our own food to a restaurant, if permitted.
  4. Finding safe places to eat that may not be the cuisine you were hoping for.
  5. Choosing a dish that does not contain your friend’s allergen (if this is your personal preference).

A great way to avoid these awkward situations and find the best outcome for all is to talk before. Sit down, text, or call your friends/family and let them know why you are concerned, as well as where you feel safe eating, where you don’t, what makes you uncomfortable in a restaurant, and what you feel comfortable doing. This way you can, as a team, work out a plan that suits everyone’s needs and we all come away feeling like we achieved or got something out of it. The most important thing is that we feel safe, comfortable and don’t leave feeling hungry.

  1. So you’ve decided to travel:

Vacations are not often a spur of the moment thing when you live with a food allergy. Lots of meticulous planning goes into each trip and for those of us who have a food allergy, we have to be willing to compromise on where we stay, where we go, what we bring, and even what airline we travel on. We have to be understanding and acknowledge that we may need to stay somewhere where we can cook our own meals or bring our own food. Just because we need to take precautionary measures doesn’t mean that we have to compromise on fun or cost. We can still enjoy the full extent of our vacation, we just have to be willing to make the necessary arrangements beforehand and ensure our travel companions are willing to compromise as well. Like dining out, it’s all about options and in order for everyone to come away happy, we have to work as a team, communicate with each other and be willing to compromise on certain things that are not necessities.

We have to be willing to compromise without sacrificing safety. To meet each other half way, give a little, and take a little, otherwise everyone is going to leave most situations unhappy or unsatisfied. If we start considering ourselves sleuths by always finding answers for new and exciting ways to dine out, bake for others, and travel safely with a food allergy, it will make learning that tricky “compromise” skill just a little bit easier every time. As for those living with an allergy, we have to be willing to stand up for ourselves, admit when we’re uncomfortable and have faith that those around us will help us find the best possible solutions by flexing that compromise muscle.

– Arianne K.

To “Pensacon” and Beyond

“Let’s go to Pensacola, Florida for a Comic-con/Film festival, a film I made is in it and could be fun?” My brother said this to me and I thought, well why not? Planning a trip with food allergies on the fly can be stressful but luckily, I had a great travel partner who helped me stay safe and positive while exploring on this trip.

Our flights were short and the airline was cooperative with my food allergies. I brought some sandwiches in my carry-on bag, but when I’m bored at an airport there is only so much I can read and watch before I want to snack. After asking about allergen safety at a few places, it became pretty clear that I wasn’t going to find a safe place to eat, let alone find anything healthy. So I turned to my trusty pre-packaged food with handy ingredient labels to sate my snacking needs. I always find it best to find and pack a brand of snack that I trust, then re-read the ingredients and wash my hands/eating area when I’m in this type of situation. It helps give me confidence that there will at least be this food to eat, if nothing else can be found.

Before we even set foot in the “Sunshine State,” I checked out a few restaurants online and called ahead to ask if they could accommodate me. I always try to see what the local establishments have to offer, but I didn’t want to rely on just one plan so we made sure there were safe “chain restaurants” around where I felt comfortable with their food allergy policies. I also brought a lot of my own food and relied on packaged items. When we arrived in beautiful fogged-over Pensacola, I was pleasantly surprised with the cooking amenities in our rooms. We were able buy items at a local grocery store for our breakfast/lunches to eat before we set out on our adventure at the comic-con.

One thing I have noticed when travelling is that it’s tough to keep my food allergies in perspective when I’m experiencing sensory overload. One of the hardest things I find is staying focused and safe when so much is going on around me. It’s tempting to touch interesting things, not to mention handrails for stairs, doors to hold open and the list goes on. Your hands are on everything and that can be risky when you have a food allergy. Since I was going to be in a place where many hands are touching many things, I tried to wash my hands as often as possible. I also chose to carry around a pack of wet wipes to clean surface areas where I ate. You never know who touched what and it’s always a good idea to keep your eating area clean.

Being surrounded by so many themed drinks, snacks and other food-related items, I had to constantly remind myself to subvert my expectations until I read ingredients and understand what was safe and what was not safe. It can be hard watching everyone around you, even your travel partners, try new cool foods, but something I’ve learned is that you sometimes have to take a step back and assess the situation to re-align your mindset. For example, even though I may not be able to have a drink or snack themed to my favourite wizard, I can take home a commemorative cup and other keepsake that I will have forever. I can even ask what the drink or food ingredients are and try making my own allergen-safe version at home.  It’s all about the little things and finding a compromise. It may be disappointing for the moment but my bet is that something new and wonderful will come along and make you forget those negative feelings.

Keeping what’s best in mind for my food allergies and still having an outlet for those around me to experience culture or events can be a tricky balance. I never want my food allergies to hold me or anyone else back, especially when it came to the unique experiences the comic-con offered. One particularly tricky situation was themed restaurants around the city celebrating various “nerdoms.” After using my best detective skills, talking to two separate servers and a chef, we determined that most items were in direct contact with my allergens. I chose not to eat there, but I didn’t want to stop my brother from having those experiences, so I decided that I felt comfortable enough having a drink while he ate then we found somewhere else for me to eat. Finding a balance between personal comfort and safety is key. Never put yourself in a situation that isn’t safe or makes you feel anxious and don’t be embarrassed to speak your mind and tell people when you don’t feel right.

Overall, the trip was a success! On our way home I was shocked when my brother commented on the level of attention and care that goes into even the most minute of things when it comes to food allergies. Since growing out of his food allergies, it seemed that he had forgotten what it takes to stay safe and aware at all times. He marveled at how eye opening it was to see all the variables to consider everywhere you go, even a Comicon. He asked me how I stay positive and safe, all things considered? I told him that much like a certain caped crusader, it takes vigilance, a utility belt packed with supplies for every food allergy need, and a positive attitude.

– Arianne K.

 

Skating with Allergies

Here in Ottawa, one of our favourite winter sports is ice skating. With the world’s largest skating rink, it’s no wonder! Folks come from all over the world to skate on the 7.8km long rink (Rideau Canal) and enjoy the classic “BeaverTail” pastry. My mother quickly learned to bribe me out onto the canal with those sweet treats as a kid… but then I developed food allergies.

Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy skating the Canal for exercise, but I’m still grieving the loss of eating those BeaverTail treats afterwards. Last year I made my own top-allergen free adaptation (https://epiadventure.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/beavers-tails/) but this year I’ve been too busy skating!

After getting a job as a first aider, I’ve now skated over 200 km on the Rideau Canal Skateway this year reaction free! Here are my best allergy-conscious skating tips:

  1. Dress warmly! Layers are really important (with the right materials). If you’re contact allergic to wool, you can try adding it as a middle layer, or find a sweat-wicking alternative like Polartec. Fun fact: I over-layered on my first shift and the sweat condensed and froze onto my hard-shell jacket!
  2. Bring your own equipment or call ahead to ask about cleaning! I definitely spilled my allergen-safe hot chocolate all over my skates this year, and I wasn’t able to get them totally clean. I don’t share my skates, but it’s something to consider if you plan on renting. Helmets are a fantastic idea on the canal as well, so I bought my own to avoid any lice, allergens, or scented cleaning sprays.
  3. Bring allergen-safe snacks with you! The food huts aren’t always open, and they’re so small that cross-contamination is a huge risk. For example, the Beavertails’ website lists tree nuts, wheat, dairy, soy, barley, tropical oils, and sulphites as being present in their huts. Instead, I like to bring bananas, golden kiwi, pumpkin seeds, rice crackers, and safe chocolate chips.
  4. Bring something warm to drink! I often forget to bring my thermos and regret it since it’s so easy to warm up with a hot drink. Recently I’ve taken to making safe hot chocolate by pouring 3Tbsp of chocolate chips into my insulated mug, then filling it 2/3 with boiling water. I close it up & shake until the chocolate is mostly dissolved then add my safe milk. This leaves me with a perfect temperature drink that is a bit less lumpy than other methods I’ve tried.
  5. Bring wipes! There are often people eating inside the warm changing huts, and this is the easiest way to make sure your hands are clean before you eat.
  6. Keep your auto-injector on you and keep it warm but accessible. When emergency (911) is called for an incident on the Rideau Canal, the first aiders like me on Skate Patrol are dispatched as well, because there are a lot of people and the ice ambulance is only available during the day on Winterlude weekends. We then transfer to the land ambulances as soon as possible. Fun fact: I wear my auto-injector on the side of my leg so that I can kneel on the ice while helping people. Surprisingly, no one ever notices it so I point it out to my partner and supervisor before every shift.

See you on the ice!

– Janice H.

Spreading Awareness about “Hidden” Ingredients

As those living with food allergies, many of us have spent years becoming expert-level ingredient checkers. We know our ‘allergen-safe’ brands, what to avoid, and have grown to incorporate our ingredient checking into every grocery shopping trip. I try to follow the general rule of checking three times: once at the store, once when I unpack the groceries at home, and finally, when I am about to cook with the item. The large majority of the time I catch any issues at the store, but there have been several times where I have caught something last minute – often when a brand I have used before has changed their ingredient list or added a ‘may contain’ statement. A couple of my last-minute catches include plain white rice with a ‘may contain peanuts’ label and sausages that were labelled ‘may contain tree nuts’.

Our experience and awareness of hidden ingredients in food, make us the most effective people to help teach those around us what to look for when preparing food that we can safely eat. If someone is inviting me over for a meal, they want to ensure it is a safe experience. I have found that I can often play an active role in that process.

I typically try to stick with meals consisting of mostly fresh food with few ingredients, as this reduces the risk of cross-contamination. For example, unseasoned meat and vegetables is a reliable go-to meal for me.  Pre-seasoned or packaged versions can sometimes have ingredients that you wouldn’t expect. When someone is making me a meal, I also find it helpful to give the person cooking some examples of where hidden ingredients or issues can be. For example, flour has many ingredients, and there are different varieties such as almond flour which would obviously be an issue for people allergic to tree nuts. I also remind everyone that I won’t eat ingredients bought in bulk since the risk of cross-contamination at the store is typically high. I find that people have a tendency to buy rarely-used spices or baking ingredients at bulk stores since they don’t need large quantities. Other items that non-allergic people may use without considering checking ingredient labels are condiments and sauces. As we know, even these can have unexpected ingredients. Finally, I also mention to a host that multi-use kitchen tools, such as cutting boards have the potential risk of cross-contamination if not properly cleaned.

Using my years of experience and first-hand knowledge to help others become aware of the different areas of risk that I face is important. The more they are aware, the more they will understand my processes and how they can help make sure the food is safe.

– Alison M.

Winter Day Trips with a Food Allergy

Every Christmas, my parents give the gift of a family day trip to me, my brother, my sister, and our significant others. In the past, we have gone snowshoeing, cross country skiing, hiking, stayed for a weekend in a cozy Bed and Breakfast cottage, and this year we went snow-tubing. It’s always nice to have everyone together for a fun day of activity!

With 8 of us all focused on the excitement of our full day activity, you may be thinking how we prepare food for these excursions. That’s a good question, especially when you consider all our food restrictions:

  1. My brother and I are allergic to peanuts and tree nuts.
  2. My sister is allergic to almonds.
  3. My sister-in-law is allergic to multiple raw fruit.
  4. Oh, and my sister and her fiancé are also vegan, so we have to factor that into the equation!

Since dining out can sometimes get chaotic with our family, we tend to prepare and bring our own food for the day, then head back to my parents’ house for dinner. The process begins, as always, with preparation! My mom always plans the day’s menu well in advance and sends an email out to all of us asking for food preferences based on her planned menu. For example, she may ask what we would specifically like on a sandwich, or what kind of snacks we would prefer, by providing options that we can select. This not only makes her life easier when heading to the grocery store, but it also helps all of us feel more confident in what we will eat during our outing.

Once the menu is finalized, everything else just falls into place. My mom typically buys all the food and everyone else pitches in to help with preparation when needed. Coolers will keep our food in ready condition to eat, but with winter being so cold, we also opt for keeping the food in bags and let the cool air do the rest. Now we can focus on having a blast, knowing that allergen-safe food is waiting for us whenever we need it.

If you plan on doing some winter excursions this year, make sure you prepare food ahead of time, determine what precautions you need to take to remain safe with your food allergy, then ensure you stick with all your safe practices that you use in everyday living. Winter is a great time for all kinds of activities – try not to let your food allergy prevent you from experiencing them! Have fun and stay safe.

– Dylan B.

For more information on skiing with allergies, check out our blog post by clicking here! 

Or, if you’re looking for tips on travelling during the winter with food allergies, check out this post. 

Tradition for the Holidays

Everyone’s family is its own special kind of eccentric; and nothing brings it out more than the holidays. Family, friends, dinners, presents, decorating, cooking, the list of traditions goes on and on, unique to us and our loved ones. In my life, I’ve created some very special customs.

Some date back to when I was young that were indoctrinated in me by my parents, and others I’ve created with friends to ensure we all get the most joy and love from the holidays.

Having an allergy around this time of year can be a big burden, especially when so many events center around food. Well allow me to kindly disagree. Although it can seem overwhelming at times, let me share with you some of my favorite traditions, made better and more special by my food allergies.

Potlucks: Every year my friends and I get together to celebrate the holidays. Over the years, traditions have developed amongst ourselves ranging from ugly sweaters to Secret Santa gift exchanges. The biggest tradition we have is sitting around a table or hanging out in the kitchen while sharing delicious foods with each other. Potlucks can be a stressful event if you have a food allergy. We always have to be mindful of ingredients and cross-contamination because every platter or covered serving dish holds a certain level of uncertainty and concern. It can make a holiday party less enjoyable and stressful. A tradition we’ve created to combat a mystery plate is to list the ingredients of your dish. Whether it be in an email, a fancy place card accompanying your dish or giving out the actual recipe, we let everyone know what the dish is and what’s in it. You never want to be speculating or guessing what’s on your plate. Everyone likes surprises during the holidays but not like this. Even though we may want to keep our prized recipes secret, we choose to take surprise out of that tuna surprise casserole and promise not to tell anyone the secret ingredient.

Getting into the spirit might mean partaking in one or two spirits. If there are mixed punches or festive beverages being shared, ask for the ingredients. Different alcohols can have different ingredients and they are not always labelled. It’s important to do some research into the different breweries, wineries, etc. to ensure your allergens aren’t present. An important rule and one we should all follow regardless of an allergy, is don’t share your drink, or leave it unattended. Use red “solo” cups with your name written on it or wine glass identifiers to better distinguish your wine or eggnog glass when you put it down to unwrap a gift or hug an old friend.

Boxes are made for sharing:  One beautiful tradition my family has come to cherish is ordering, sharing and enjoying Vermont Nut Free Chocolates together. When we discovered this company, it was incredible. Growing up we didn’t have the opportunity to eat many treats that weren’t made by my mom or grandma. Since then, we’ve discovered several safe places to buy and eat from but the tradition of reading the brochure and choosing our favorites chocolate (mine is the maple creams) remains. Come Christmas morning/afternoon after all the presents are unwrapped we’d each open our box of chocolate, mixing and matching with each other while we showed off our gifts and shared the moment together.

It’s easy to let our food allergies consume us with stress and anger around this time of year. We may think it’s better to shut ourselves off from others to avoid friends and parties with food because we’re worried or scared. Whether it’s with our immediate family or the friends we choose to call so, the holidays are time best spent with the people we love. We should never let our food allergies get in the way of the people we cherish or look forward to seeing each year. Tradition can come in many forms during the holidays making them much more meaningful and special. So, raise a glass, eat a cookie and hug your friends because you’d be surprised what can eventually become a tradition.

  • Arianne K.

Food Allergy Guidelines: Holiday Edition

The holiday season is now upon us!  Along with shopping for gifts and pulling out your ski gear, this means holiday gatherings throughout the upcoming month and seeing family and friends.  So often these events revolve around food which can be stressful for those of us living with food allergies. Here are some of the guidelines I’ve put in place for myself to help ease any uncertainty I may have in these environments and allow me to enjoy the event:

  1. Find out what type of event it is in advance.  I find cocktail parties much easier to navigate as there is less focus on the food and whether or not you are eating.  I try to speak to the organizer in advance and, if the event is at a restaurant, I will often contact the restaurant directly.  I often end up not eating at all at these events, but it’s helpful to know if any of my most severe allergens are being passed around.
  2. Offer to host a dinner yourself!  While this can be a lot of work, it will ensure that you know exactly what is being served and what you can eat safely.
  3. Get involved with the planning.  For work parties, I have often been on the organizing committee and involved in the venue and menu selection.  The ability to influence the decision on where the event is held and what will be served is key and you can also be an advocate for other people with dietary restrictions to ensure others are comfortable asking questions about the menu.
  4. Bring your own meal.  If it is a gathering revolving around a meal (ie. a sit-down lunch or dinner), speak to the host/hostess about bringing your own food.  I typically try to match my food to follow the same theme as what they are planning to serve and bring it in my own container that I can easily heat up.
  5. Eat first!  If you are going to an event where food will be passed around, be sure to eat beforehand so that you don’t end up hungry by the end of the night.
  6. Be first in line.  While it may appear rude to some, I have always felt more comfortable dishing my food early in the serving process when the serving utensils are not being passed between dishes and there is a smaller chance of cross-contamination.
  7. If you are attending a lunch or dinner, offer to bring a dish that is substantial enough that you can just eat that, if necessary.  Also bring along a set of dedicated serving utensils to ensure that they are clean and not being passed between dishes.

If you feel unsure about something, don’t feel the need to eat or drink it.  Those of us who are hyper aware of cross-contamination will know that guests or servers often pass around different food trays, mix & match serving utensils and even touch drink glasses without thinking about what they’ve previously touched or eaten.

The holidays and all the events associated with them can be a real time of stress and anxiety for those of us with food allergies, but if you can plan ahead, communicate well, and are comfortable with the fact that not all gatherings will revolve around the food, then you can enjoy them safely!

– Alison M.