The Caribbean with Food Allergies

Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I want to take ya…

Off the Florida Keys…to a place that’s good with allergies!

Sunshine and safety were the top two thoughts in my mind on a recent trip to the Caribbean. My family and I all opted to go to an island that we’ve always dreamed of – Aruba. We heard wonderful things about it, especially that it had consistently hot weather in January, it was safe and it had great food.

I was very hands off during the booking process, and I now regret that fact. I learned the hard way that some resorts in the Caribbean are more flexible than others in terms of providing customized meals. Most have a main dining hall with buffet style food. I’ve been to resorts before where you can simply chat with the chef and have a personalized meal made for you. This wasn’t the case for me this time around as I was at a massive resort where they couldn’t do one-off meals.  I ate in the general dining area, but played it very safe and didn’t even venture near the areas that had my allergens present.

Restaurants at resorts usually have much more flexibility in terms of creating safe meals for you from scratch. I had great success talking to wait staff and chefs at these nighttime dinners. They were very aware of allergens and made some adjustments to the menu for me.

Another thing to be alert about are drinks. You want to let loose on vacation, however you still need to be diligent. Some alcohols contain common allergens, especially some of the fruity and exotic drinks that they serve at resorts.  Check with your bartender before blindly ordering the hotel’s “drink of the day”.

Bring U.S. money. You may hear that they will accept Canadian money at the hotel, but I have now had two experiences in the Caribbean where I needed to see a doctor (non allergy related) and they wouldn’t see me unless I paid U.S. cash.  Most islands have their own currency, but U.S. money talks. Have some for an emergency on top of your travel health insurance.

I don’t have much experience with pre-packaged products, but most seemed to be imports from North America, so there are many familiar things to eat.

Once you’re ready to hit the beach, remember to bring suntan lotion from home. Not only is it likely cheaper, it’s a lot less likely to have any surprise ingredients in it.

Be sure to visit Food Allergy Canada’s travel page for more general tips and advice! is another great resource for allergic travellers.

Bon voyage!

– Kyle D.


Adventuring with an Allergy

I love camping.

Not the kind where you drive your car to a busy park, with running water and giant RVs. I love the kind of camping where you stuff 5 days of food into a bag, with a tent and a compass, and take your canoe out into the wilderness.

This past fall I tried my first solo camping trip! I took a rented canoe, my dog, and headed out for five days in the backcountry. No electricity, no communication, nothing.

I was paddling along a gorgeous, calm lake, I had the whole place to myself, when it occurred to me that if anything happened I would be totally alone. Camping can be dangerous I guess. Then a second thought occurred to me, what if the last person who rented this canoe was eating peanuts? Are my hands covered in peanut residue? Is that even a thing?

In the city, I find I can easily forget about my allergy. It’s second nature to avoid certain restaurants and groceries, I wash my hands often and I know where the nearest hospital is. But out there in the woods I had a new challenge, could I do this on my own? Was I missing risks that I would never encounter at home?

Luckily for me this thought, like all others, was short lived and I was able to get back to enjoying the solitude, and majesty of nature. For me this was a great reminder about life lines and vigilance. It’s easy to take my safety for granted, but it’s never a given. For me to enjoy these adventures I have to spend a little time in advance getting ready. I talked to a pharmacist and my doctor, and made sure I was prepared for an emergency. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of a cure.

If I’m being honest, I did get a little paranoid and washed my canoe paddle at my first camp site, so I didn’t have to think about it anymore.

Having a food allergy is never going to stop me from having adventures. This trip with my dog was one of the most peaceful weeks I’ve ever experienced.

If you want to have a great time, don’t let an allergy stop you. Prepare in advance and get out there and enjoy!

– Jason B.



A Toast to a New Year: My 2017 Food Allergy Advances

As we celebrate 2018 and the new adventures the year holds. We must say goodbye to a year gone by and cherish the memories we’ve made. With champagne flutes poised for toasts and resolutions promised, let’s take a step back and think about our achievements as we promise ourselves progress in 2018. For me personally, I had two milestones worth mentioning with my food allergies in 2017 and one resolution I’ve promised myself for the new year.

New Food at New Spots: This year I took a huge step forward with my anxieties and tried new foods and restaurants to eat in a city, Ottawa. I stepped outside my comfort zones and ate at one new place per month. Exotic foods and places I’ve always wanted to try but never did; I really let myself explore new and safe foods confidently.

Travel: I took the opportunity to travel both near and far this past year. I didn’t want my food allergies to hinder my ability to explore new cultures and foods. So, I took the right steps to ensure everything would be safe, and with friends and family, I created memories and gained new perspectives.

My goal for 2018 is to become more confident and forward about my food allergies. No more being complacent or shying away if I am uncomfortable. It’s easy to get complacent with our food allergies, letting them lead us instead of the other way around.  Even as an adult it can be hard to find a confident voice. I know this confidence and wherewithal won’t come all at once, but I’ve got a whole year… no, a whole life to work towards it!

At the end of every year we embark on new paths and celebrate our victories, however big or small. It’s easy to dwell on the things we didn’t achieve or times we felt like we took a step backwards instead of forward; but a new year means new opportunities to grow, explore and learn. So, let’s all promise each other and more importantly, let’s promise ourselves something this year.  A resolution that we’re going to make a change – however big or small just as long as it is significant to us. To take strides with our allergies, learn new things and to most importantly not let them hold us back from anything we want to achieve in the new year!

– Arianne K.

The Challenges of my Italian Christmas Traditions

I’m part of a huge Italian family and Christmas is one of the biggest holidays of the year. I find that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are centered around food, what time are we eating, what are we eating, where are we eating, when are we cooking it, who’s eating where, and who’s coming over? It’s such a fun and exciting time of the year to get together with family members and just enjoy each other’s company around a table over a hot meal. Another huge tradition in the Italian culture is to refrain from eating animal by-products on Christmas Eve. That means no meat. You’ll find a lot of Italian families’ Christmas Eve dinner centered around fish and shellfish because they cannot eat meat. Not me, though. I’m allergic to fish and shellfish. For as long as I can remember, Christmas Eve has always been an uphill battle for me. Trying to get my grandmother (I call her Nonna) to understand that I cannot eat fish/shellfish without getting very sick is very difficult (she’s an 80-year-old Italian woman who’s still learning that food allergies exist). The rest of my family, unfortunately, doesn’t really accommodate my allergies or even make the attempt to try, either. It’s just something that they won’t do. Call it stubbornness, ignorance, or selfishness, but regardless, it’s something that they just won’t do. I wish we could break from these cultural traditions but it seems really en-grained.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make me food in advance at my house and bring it to my grandmother’s house so that I could at least eat with the family. In the last couple of years, though, it’s been more difficult to do that. We just can’t find the time. My parents and sisters have also tried holding Christmas Eve at our house in order to prevent the “fish fest” as we call it from happening, but my family isn’t happy when they can’t follow their traditions.

Finger art of friends celebrates Christmas.In the last couple of years, my parents, siblings, and I have started our own smaller, more intimate Christmas Eve gathering at home. We eat at our house and then go over to my grandmother’s house after dinner for coffee. We still spend time with the family, but we do it in a way that is safe for me. My family’s Christmas Eve traditions have taught me that it’s very challenging for everyone to accommodate/understand you and your needs, especially when they’re family. It’s important to remember that you need to make sure that you stay safe. Your priority should always be your own health and safety.

Do you have difficulties with your family understanding and accommodating your allergies? Please leave a comment below.

Happy Holidays,



Cross-Contamination at the Grocery Store

Eating out can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially when you have multiple food allergies. As with most food allergic people, I find comfort in making my own food in my own house as I am confident that I have a clean food preparation space and that the food I make will be allergen-safe. If eating in and doing your own meal preparation is in your wheel house, have you ever thought about cross-contamination at the grocery store? It’s a real threat and definitely something to consider when shopping.

I bet this is something many of us notice but never really acknowledge. The truth is, this can be a big risk! Take for example, the photos I took below. In the first photo, I was about to buy some fresh asparagus for dinner when I stopped and saw the pistachio bags directly beside. A few of the bags had tears in the packaging, likely from a stock employee accidentally cutting them with their box cutter to open the box of pistachio bags. The display shelves were basically touching so how could I guarantee there was no cross-contamination? I couldn’t. In the second photo, I wanted to buy some figs but there were open containers of chestnuts, walnuts, and assorted nuts directly beside and even touching the fig packaging. In the third photo, the fresh fruit I wanted to buy were directly beside an open container of tree nuts. 

If these examples make you a little nervous about grocery shopping, my advice would be to harness that energy to help you focus on reducing your risk of cross-contamination. Here are some simple tips I use:

  • Try to stay away from produce directly beside your allergen if it is loose and unpackaged.
  • Bring your own bags from home (reduce, reuse, recycle!)
  • Always bag your produce – think about all the food that travels over the check-out conveyor belt…it’s not worth the risk of cross-contamination at that stage either.
  • Always wash your produce with soap and water whenever possible.

In the majority of cases, grocery shopping will be a safe venture for obtaining allergen-friendly foods. My objective with this blog post was simply to raise the awareness of risks involved in daily life that many of us overlook. Hopefully shedding light on this subject will help all of us become a little safer with the management of our food allergies. Good luck and let me know if you have had a similar experience at the grocery store!

– Dylan B.

Baking a List, and Checking It Twice: Allergen-Friendly Holiday Recipe Ideas

The holiday season will soon be upon us and with it comes dinners, work parties, potlucks and gifts. Each event filled with scrumptious foods and surprises, but if you have a food allergy something much more stressful can be lurking behind wrapping paper or baked into a treat. Holiday meal prepping and planning can be stressful without food allergies, but planning with multiple food allergies or intolerances? It can be a downright stressful experience. I’ve found the best way to handle the holiday stress when living with food allergies is by planning a dish and sticking with it. Prep your ingredients, prep yourself, and most importantly talk to everyone. If you’re cooking, ask other people about their allergies/intolerances. If you’re going somewhere, make sure people know your allergies and how to avoid cross-contamination. If you’re looking for some kitchen inspiration; below are a few of my holiday favorites that are sure to please crowds and leave you with the least amount of stress.

The holidays are a wonderful time, it gives us the opportunity to see old friends, laugh with our families, and share joy with each other. Food has always and will always be a big part of any celebration which can be hectic when you have a food allergy. As a community of people living with food allergies, we need to take a moment and plan ahead so that we can ensure we’ll be safe in any situation where meals or food are concerned. By having the right conversation with people about our allergies we can make baking and cooking a fun holiday activity. Eventually turning the experience into a wonderful and safe tradition for everyone involved.

-Arianne K.

Summer Squirrel: My Allergen-Friendly Winter Meal Preparations

This past summer I went into full-blown squirrel mode to combat my allergies. It feels like my normal life gets put on hiatus for a month or two, while I suddenly frantically start storing food in preparation for winter. Of course, it’s not always necessary… but it sure does make my life SO much nicer in the winter. There are some seasonal fruits and vegetables that are simply inaccessible to me (or outrageously expensive) in the winter. For example, if I buy corn in season, it can be as little as 25₵/cup. But in the winter, my only safe source is about $2/cup. Gooseberries are a great example of something that I can only find in the summer- and often only if I pick my own. Preparing food in advance also gives me access to homemade “processed” food, which then allows me to expand my diet because then I’m not always eating the same food in the same ways.

This explains why I become rather squirrelly every summer! I want to take advantage of summer sales so that my food budget doesn’t skyrocket in the winter, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about having safe food stashed away. Not to mention growing my own safe food! Just in case you want to follow in my footsteps… here’s what I did (Or, in some cases, what I should have done).

Step 1: Planning– In January I laid out a rough plan of what I wanted to prepare, and how I wanted to prepare it. I should have also had a plan of how much I wanted to prepare… but this year was a bit of an experiment in pressure canning so I just tried things out.

Step 2: Planting– This year I planted a full 8’x4’ garden with allergen-friendly veggies that I could easily grow to produce a big harvest. I also intentionally re-planted many of them when they were seedlings so that they weren’t too close together, which was quite successful. Next year I’d like to sprout them before I plant the seeds, so that I can avoid re-positioning the seedlings.

Step 3: Buying– Some of the best sales I found were rather spontaneous decisions, like the moment I found chicken on sale for $7 instead of my usual $24. I bought 12 on the spot, and proceeded to use the rest of my shopping trip as impromptu teaching opportunities to explain to everyone who asked or looked at me strangely that allergies can be really expensive at times!

Step 4: Going to farms– Most of my other large purchases were made when I went straight to the farms where the food was grown. I did a bit of price comparison by calling around, and then ordered ahead and was able to get 50 cobs of corn for $25.

Step 5: Preservation– There are three main ways that I preserved my food this past summer- freezing, canning, and dehydrating. I was very happy to be able to purchase and clean a used pressure canner as well as a dehydrator, and then bought a vacuum sealer on sale from Costco to help with storing both dry and frozen foods. If you’re doing research into how to preserve foods, there’s lots of great resources out there. The one I found myself using the most was the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning from the NCHFP.

Step 6: Sanity– I was able to get my fabulous friends to help me cook, but it was last minute. I should have planned for more help in the really busy weeks, taken some time off work and cooked my regular meals in advance. I also should have planned a trip to a restaurant, as a reward at the end!

At the end of the summer, as frost (and snow) has already started to cover the ground in my area- there’s good news: my squirreling was successful! Now to catch up with the rest of my life… 😀

– Janice H.

By Food Allergy Canada