Tag Archives: nut allergies

Cottage Season and Allergies

 

open field

Summer time is usually synonymous with cottage season for a lot of people in the city. Cottage season usually implies parties, barbeques, and family events. Your allergies do not have to hamper your experience. The key to enjoying these events safely is to do the proper planning. I’ve listed some common cottage events below, as well as some key points you should take note of when you plan these events (in regards to your allergies).

Event: Family Barbeque

One quintessential summer cottage event is the family barbeque. Barbeques, in and of themselves, are actually pretty safe. The barbequed ingredients are simple, for the most part: steak, hamburgers, sausages, hot-dogs, grilled vegetables, etc. However, some precautions that should be taken. This include checking the ingredients in sausages and hamburgers. If they are bought at a store, they may include different seasonings. So you want to be sure that they are safe for you. In addition, your family members may bring their own foods. Call these people in advance and make sure that they are aware of the severity of your allergy (or allergies). If you do not feel safe eating these foods, avoid eating them. Explain your concern to your family members. Given the severity of your allergy, they should not be offended.

Event: Hiking

Hiking is a fun activity that is easy to plan for. The main allergy “risk-factor” involved with hiking can be trail-mix or other snacks. Do not rely on others to provide snacks for your hike and never eat trail mix packed by others. Take a zip-lock bag and fill it with your favorite snacks that you know are free of your allergen(s). Pack your own water as well. Trail mix is usually filled with nut products. So, again, the safest option is to bring your own snacks. Also, in all cases, make sure that your epinephrine auto-injector is with you at all times. Keep it in a fanny-pack around your waste and tell your hike-partners about your allergy and how to use your auto-injector.

Event: Sleepovers

If you are the organizer of your own sleepover, you have total control over the types of foods served at your party. In this case, you are in an optimal position when it comes to safe food options. You can choose the foods that you like and that you know are safe. Make sure your friends and/or family know that you have a severe allergy and show them that you have an epinephrine auto-injector and how to use it. If you are invited to a sleep-over, let you the organizer know in-advance that you have a severe allergy and that you carry an auto-injector. Read all the ingredients on all the food you consume. One extra precaution that you could take to be extra safe would be to pack a small bag of your favorite snacks so you know that you could turn to a safe source of food if you feel hungry.

Cottage events are very enjoyable! Hopefully you found this advice helpful! These are some fast and easy steps you can take that will
allow you to be safe and to have fun during your next cottage event.

Saverio M.

Eating Out With Allergies

SONY DSC

Eating in restaurants when you have food allergies can be a source of anxiety (especially if you’re in an unfamiliar restaurant). As long as you keep your allergies in mind, you can find ways to eat out safely. When I eat out at a restaurant that I am not familiar with, I often ask if the restaurant has an allergy menu outlining the common allergens found in their meals.

When choosing what I am going to order, I often pick two items in case there is an issue for some reason. I always inform the waiter of my allergies, regardless of whether I have eaten there before, so that the kitchen can be aware and take extra precautions. I personally find it easier if I am the last one in my group to order, since I take longer to order.  After telling the waiter my order, I inform them of my allergies by explaining that I have life-threatening food allergies to my specific allergens.

I let them know that cross contamination could cause a reaction.  I ask them to inform the cooks of my allergies and ask if they can find out if there would be any issues with the meal I ordered based on my allergies. I have an extensive list of allergies. So sometimes, if I am unsure if the waiter got them all, I’ll have them read the list back to me.  If I ever feel uncomfortable, I will ask to speak to the manager because they tend to have more knowledge about what is going on in the kitchen. As long as you take the right precautions, you can safely enjoy a meal out with your family and friends despite having food allergies!

Sara S.

Cruising with allergies

Woman in Pool

Going on vacation should be a relaxing experience. But having allergies can sometimes make it stressful. This is particularly true if you’re travelling to a country where you don’t speak the language because it becomes more difficult to get information about your food. An alternative to a traditional vacation is going on a cruise. This can make travelling with allergies a lot more comfortable.

If you decide to cruise with an American company, you can be assured that all the staff members on the ship speak English. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they know all about allergies. But it does make it easier to communicate with them. It’s really important to be precise when talking about food allergies to staff whose first language isn’t English. For example, a staff member might know you’re allergic to nuts, but not realize that almonds are nuts.  They also might not know the distinction between seafood and fish. It’s best to keep things simple and clear so that there are no misunderstandings or confusion.

When you’re booking your cruise, there’s usually a section where you can write any dietary restrictions so that the staff is informed before you get on the ship. Since dinner is usually served in a dining room with a host and a waiter for your table, they will already know about your allergies and are prepared. On some ships, there’s even a special section of the kitchen reserved for making meals for allergic guests. Sometimes you can even speak to the head chef who will sit down with you and pick out safe foods for the duration of your cruise. This doesn’t mean mistakes can’t happen. So it’s important to always double-check your food.

On many cruises, you have the option of a sit-down meal or a buffet. Buffets can be tricky because, when guests serve themselves, they can use the same tongs for different foods and cross-contaminate them. You can avoid some of this by being the first one in line. But that might mean waking up very early for breakfast. If you feel like sleeping in, there are usually packaged foods like mini boxes of cereal or yogurt cups that have ingredients listed on them. These are great to take with you off the ship when you explore the city and can save you if you end up at a local restaurant that you don’t feel safe eating at.

Overall, cruising is a great experience and makes for a fun vacation. Although you may feel safe with a well-informed staff that understands your allergies, it’s important to always double-check your food. There are hundreds of guests on a ship and the wait staff tends to be overworked. So don’t feel bad about reminding the waiter a hundred times about your allergies. If anything should happen to you, there’s always a doctor on board and, if they can’t handle the situation, they can send a helicopter to take you to a hospital that’s better equipped.

Talia A. 

Five Allergy-Friendly Date Night Ideas

young couple having fun in the kitchen

When it comes to planning a date night, ideas have a tendency to cloud my brain. I’ve thought of so many unique date night activities at random times but when asked, “what do you want to do?” flat out by a girl, my brain often likes to jumble them all up at once. Coffee or beer is an easy option. Flying a kite might be fun. Going to see a movie is always a good move. Food is an easy option too. But what about my food allergies? Being allergic to peanuts and tree nuts, I have to keep food allergy-friendly date night ideas in my back pocket or I risk setting myself (and my date) up for a night of no activities. For a food and drink junkie like me, it’s hard to envision a date night that doesn’t involve food in one way or another. So here’s a countdown of my five favourite allergy-friendly date nights (or days) and how I planned them to help you out if you ever get stuck. Keep in mind that a couple of these dates haven’t actually happened yet. But my blueprint plan is still all laid-out and waiting for that special someone.

  • Day trip to Toronto Island (or the beach or a nice big park). For this one, try to go somewhere that is spacious and beautiful with lots of open space. I find that fresh air on a date helps wash away any stress I may have and really keeps me happy. When I went to Toronto Island, I packed my own picnic lunch in a backpack. Food was never discussed with my date since I love giving surprises and the picnic lunch was the main surprise. By packing my own food, I had full control of what foods I would eat and what foods my date would eat. I asked her ahead of time what kinds of food she liked so she wouldn’t be disappointed by my surprise. Then I made sure I prepared some of those foods with little tweaks to ensure that they were allergen-free. I also clearly explained to my date the severity of my allergy and how to properly administer my auto-injector before date night. The important word there is before date night. Introducing my food allergy early is something I try to do as I find it keeps things more comfortable for both of us on date night. The last thing I did while planning this particular date was visit the area to make sure that there were no surprises (like a peanut café or a beach full of nut shells). If there are ever surprises, I would have to re-adjust my plans and it’s better to do that sooner rather than later.
  • Take a pottery class together. This is literally on my bucket list of dates-to-do. Taking a class like this is great because you get the chance to talk but you also work on something together that you can take home as a memory. Plus it just looks fun. The other bonus? Pottery class doesn’t have much risk for food allergy reactions. That being said, if you choose to do this, make sure you call the pottery people ahead of time to get a rundown of the process. Ask questions like, does everyone wash their hands before handling the clay? Do you have a vending machine on site? Think about any risks you can think of and ask if they may be present. Then just plan ahead and have some fun!
  • Homemade cooking/baking. For this one, the ball was completely in my court for planning. First, I brainstormed ideas about what my date and I wanted to make (oreo chocolate cheesecake brownies, of course!). Next, I looked up recipes. At this stage, I try to find allergy-friendly recipes but they don’t have to be. When I stumble upon a recipe that sounds undeniably delicious but contains my allergen, I immediately look up alternatives on the internet (Google is a huge help). Next, I went to the grocery store and picked up all the necessary ingredients and read each ingredient list carefully to ensure that nothing even “may contained” my allergen. With these steps meticulously complete, I was able to relax on date night and the final product was delicious!
  • Attend a baseball game (or other sporting event). This one was tricky since peanuts are everywhere at the ball park (or any sporting event for that matter). To plan, I called the venue ahead of time to ask if they had any allergy-safe sections for that match-up. Sometimes a venue will host a game where an entire section is peanut/nut free in the stands. So I try to keep my eyes out for those and plan my date night around them. When they told me they didn’t, I went to plan B: caution. I packed two auto-injectors, just in case. I made sure both my date and I had a hearty allergen-free meal before the game so we wouldn’t feel the need to buy food at the game. This was a relief for both my wallet and me. That being said, we were both snackers at events like this so we snuck in a pack of candy I knew was safe. When we decided to snack, we both washed our hands at the washroom and made sure not to touch anything before eating the candy. As for drinks, we stuck with bottled water! Simple planning for a great date.
  • Lord of the Rings trilogy marathon. This one will likely never ever happen but I can dream. Planning a movie date night is simple and can be really fun. Put a bunch of movie names in a hat, then pull one out and watch it. I like to add in silly movies that I’ve never heard of because it adds to the fun of pulling one out of the hat. To make it more engaging, make it a themed movie hat night and only add movie titles into the hat that fit the theme (for example, Leslie Neilson night). I asked my date to bring the hat and volunteered to think of snack ideas. Again, this kept me in control of what we both ate, just in case my date let my allergy slip her mind. By this point in our relationship, she was already quite familiar with my allergy but it never hurts to remind them not to eat your allergen within 24-48 hours of seeing you. Then just kick back, maybe cuddle, and enjoy the movie!

Sometimes date night is extravagant and other times it’s really simple. Just remember to plan ahead, always bring your auto-injector, and enjoy the little moments. Happy date night!

Dylan B.

Anxiety and Allergies

Woman Second Guessing

One of the difficult things about allergies, is it seems as though you cannot always control 100 percent of situations. A few great examples of when I have experienced this included when you are on a plane, in a restaurant, at a party, or where external factors are at play in general. I find that, when I am in these situations where I do not have control over possible allergic scenarios, anxiety rushes right up to meet me! Having those feelings, coupled with previous bullying experiences about my allergies, doesn’t make things easier. Sometimes people joke about me being a control freak. But I find it is a real challenge not to be at least a little bit of a control freak when you have life-threatening allergies. I develop anxiety from sources beyond just my allergies. So I have had more than my share of symptoms and reactions. I have a few recommendations for anyone suffering and trying to manage anxiety in their life, from allergies or anything else:

Be prepared

Always be as prepared as you can for situations you expect to trigger anxiety. I notoriously think about where I am going and what might be happening. The more I can be prepared for situations mentally, the easier it is for me to create solutions for problems I might run into. Or I can take proactive steps.

Communicate

I am a strong proponent of communicating your allergies to others. Anytime I am in a situation that may trigger my allergies, I try to mitigate what might develop into anxiety. Flying or being in places with no immediate access to medical care is where I frequently develop anxiety. I am always sure to have my own food, tell the flight attendant about my allergies, and to carry two auto-injectors with me. Many times this has opened-up conversations with other passengers about allergies – secondarily creating an opportunity for allergy education!

Recognize and manage

One of the largest hurdles I’ve had has been understanding what my triggers for anxiety are and what the symptoms of anxiety are. As an allergy-specific example, I know that being in restaurants or houses where I don’t trust food preparation are big triggers for me. Even if I am told that everything is safe for me to consume, deep down I do not trust that it is. I feel anxiety building. As a solution to reduce anxiety, I politely decline eating or just have a beverage. Learning to recognize when I may be impacted by anxiety, and how to manage the situation, has been incredibly powerful for me.

You are not alone

I have learned over the years that there are so many other people with allergies that do not tell many people about them. Know that you are not the only one at a restaurant that has allergies. You are not the only one on a flight with allergies. And you are not the only one who has anxiety from allergies and has to navigate managing allergies in your life. If you ever feel overwhelmed or that your anxiety is building to a level that is too much for you to manage, ask for help and share your concerns with someone you trust. Find out what works for you to help you live a life with as little anxiety as possible.

Anxiety is not fun. It also is not always easy to solve. If you are one of the people that suffers from anxiety and hears people tell you things like “don’t stress, it’s not worth it” or to “take it easy, it will be fine,” you may have the same reaction as I often do. I cannot simply shake off anxiety in two seconds. It is much more complicated. In conclusion, I also guarantee that, by learning to be open to finding ways to know your triggers, symptoms, and manage your anxiety, you will live a fuller, happier, and much less-stressed life!

Joanna C.

Staying Safe on Valentine’s Day with Allergies

young couple having fun in the kitchen

Roses are in shops, chocolates are on shelves, and the year’s biggest romantic movies are in theaters. Love is in the air and so is everything else. Having a food allergy can make it hard to navigate through a holiday filled with chocolates and treats. But taking time and explaining your allergens can help ensure a great date.

Staying safe on Valentine’s Day can be tricky at any age. But following a few simple guidelines can help you avoid an allergic reaction and help you spend this special day safely with your significant other.

As always, it is important to make sure that the person you are with knows about all of your food allergies, where they can be found, where your auto-injector is, and how to use it. Making sure that your intended date knows what is safe for you to eat and be around is an important first step to staying safe on Valentine’s Day. Sometimes it can feel like the mystery and romance of the holiday is taken away. But, by talking about your food allergies in advance, you will both be prepared. A good way to ensure that a dinner date goes smoothly is to give or ask for a list of safe places to eat in advance so that you can both be better prepared.

Candy, chocolates, and roses are the quintessential staples for any good Valentine’s Day. There are plenty of safe options for delicious treats available to make your day special. If you’re buying, make sure that you read the labels very carefully, look out for “may contain labels” and, if you’re unsure, there are plenty of resources online and numbers to call and confirm ingredients. If you’re a whiz in the kitchen and you’re making a special treat from scratch, a few measures can be taken to ensure that your snack stays safe. Make sure your cooking area is cleaned and that all of your utensils are disinfected. Never use the same utensils for different foods. Ensure that you know all of the food allergies that the person you are cooking for has. Cross-contamination is just as dangerous as an allergen. So always be aware of what is around you.

Every Valentine’s Day date should be sealed with a kiss. The “will they or won’t they” butterflies in your stomach don’t need any accompaniment from stress butterflies caused by wondering if your significant other has had any contact with your allergen.  The best way to avoid any unwanted stress is to, again, make sure that you communicate your allergens clearly and ensure that your date knows the severity of them. If you’re the one without the allergies, consider a dish or meal that is free of your partner’s allergen to ensure a smooth evening.

Having a food allergy should never stop you from experiencing your ideal Valentine’s Day date. Taking simple precautions to stay safe with your food allergies will ensure a magical date and a night to remember for all of the right good reasons.

Arianne K.

 

Allergies and Outings with Colleagues

Jumping groupCarving-out a niche in the working world is all about building relationships with your colleagues. Having had brief experience in a corporate setting, I can attest to this. A major problem that I encounter is that most of these networking and social opportunities happen over lunch or dinner. This often puts me in a bind. I want to participate in these events, but how can I do so safely?

First of all, you should always plan ahead. A few weeks ago, I wrote an entry regarding buffets and safe dining–this was my first rule. If a group of colleagues arrange to have a dinner after work, use your lunch break to call the establishment in advance. Ask to speak to the general manager and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment. Ask about the nature of the cuisine they prepare and whether or not any of their products contain your specific allergen. Reiterate that you have a life-threatening allergy that is very serious and that the allergy can be triggered by cross-contamination.

Secondly, talk to the restaurant staff in person. If the phone conversation went well, and you feel safe enough to eat at the restaurant, speak to the restaurant staff upon your arrival. Ask to speak to the general manager again, to follow-up on your inquiries, and try to speak to the chef who will be in charge of preparing your food. The chef is usually the best person to talk to since they are the ones actually in the kitchen who are aware of how food is handled. They can best assess if there are likely to be risks of cross-contamination.

Finally, choose simple foods to eat. If you feel safe after speaking to both the chef and the manager, scan the menu. Avoid foods that are layered in seasonings, sauces or anything overly-fancy. The simpler the food choice, the safer you are. I usually request a grilled piece of steak (with salt and pepper seasoning) and a baked potato. If you have nut allergies, avoiding salads and desserts, as the risk of cross-contamination in those foods are very high, is usually a good practice.

If you follow these steps, this should alleviate a lot of the worry associated with eating- out when you have allergies. It will also allow you to focus on making a good impression among your peers since you won’t be as concerned about the safety of your food. I hope you will find these tips helpful.

Saverio M.  

Guest Post – I Have Food Allergies and So Does My Son

Father Son Cooking

 When I was two years old, my mom tried various tricks to get me to stop sucking my thumb. Once, she put peanut butter on my thumb before bed. She knew I didn’t like the smell; and we soon learned why. I came to them in the middle of the night with red eyes, a swollen face, and a noticeable wheeze. It was an allergy to peanuts, of course.

Things I don’t remember about growing up with a peanut allergy in the 1970s and 80s:

-Visiting an allergist or even a doctor, specifically to discuss the allergy
-Any nut-free signs at my school
-My mom ever phoning the parents of a friend to ask what they were serving at a birthday party
-Hearing the word Epipen let alone knowing what an autoinjector was
-Anyone asking on my behalf whether any product contained nuts

I figured out the basics of managing my allergy on my own; but I was still just a kid. When I was 8, I went to a birthday party and bit into a cookie without a moment’s hesitation. After one swallow, I knew it contained peanut butter and my time at the party was done. Another incident involved a dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my parents and another couple. Again, it was one taste. This time it was an egg roll with a peanut that ruined my night. Not knowing any better, my parents took me out to the car to lie down and “sleep it off” while they went back inside and finished their meal!

This is not meant to be an indictment of my parents. It was a different era. I can’t recall even knowing any other kids with a food allergy of any kind. When it would come up at a friend’s house, people would ask me all sorts of questions and sit in rapt attention.

Having dealt with this allergy all my life, and taken control over it as an adult, I was well-equipped to handle it when we learned our young son had multiple food allergies (including peanuts). My wife took the news hard; but, having managed an allergy my whole life, I knew that this was something that we could handle. I knew that, when comparing awareness and the ability to manage food allergies now to when I was a kid, this was something that we could make sure didn’t get the best of our son or us.

My son and I share in the experience of having a food allergy. While our allergies (and our reactions) are different, we can learn from each other. He’s growing up in an allergy-aware environment and I feel confident that he won’t need to rely on just dumb luck when it comes to managing his food allergies. And, in helping him learn to manage his allergies, I’ve gained more knowledge about managing mine, too.

Roger King

Managing Allergies During the Holidays

Holiday Meal

I always sigh a little when the holiday season rolls around (and not just because of gift shopping). It happens during any holiday, really, due to food and allergies. Sometimes I just wish for even one day without allergies! But, alas, my allergies are around. So I manage as best I can. There are three areas that I find to be the most challenging when it comes to food allergies around any holiday season: baking and cooking, family and friend gatherings, and inconveniencing others. I have a few favorite tips and I’ll share those at the end of my blog post!

Baking and Cooking

 

Luckily for me, I have grown up cooking with my parents and both sets of grandparents. Holiday baking has always been a fun thing for me; but it gets trickier each time I have encountered a new allergen (I’m now allergic to nuts, soy and dairy and I spent five years flipping between being vegetarian and vegan). During my university years, and ever since, I have been leading a more health-conscious life. Finding recipes that can accommodate my allergens, healthy lifestyle, and those that are delicious for my family, then, is a massive win!

Family and Friend Gatherings

 

My family keeps pretty similar annual traditions for holiday dinners and events; and being around the same people all the time allows them to be familiar with my allergies. Most of the time everyone is conscientious about what is being put in the food as well as being on the lookout for cross-contamination. And they are okay with me always asking what is inside certain dishes. Despite this, I often do not feel 100% safe. So I make sure ahead of time that I know there is a dish we can bring or I talk to family members that are cooking before to remind them about my allergies, cross-contamination, and find out what ingredients they are cooking with. It is easy for people to mistakenly forget an allergen. Being preventative helps keep me safe and creates a less-stressful environment for everyone when I am present at the gathering. After all, a big part of the holidays involves having fun with family and friends and eating delicious food!

Inconvenience to Others

 

No matter how many times my family and friends tell me that I am not an inconvenience, (and that the need for me to have to request certain things for dinners or choose to not have baking or beverages that are prepared during the holiday season is totally okay) I still feel that I am an inconvenience. Sometimes I will avoid eating all together if I don’t feel safe with my allergies. Or I just leave the event early (I did that recently at my friend’s dinner and it wasn’t that fun.). At times, I find it frustrating that my allergies create extra work for other people. I find it normal to use different ingredients, cook from scratch all the time, and know what I have in everything. So I don’t find it to be an issue. But I do recognize that these aren’t habits for most people.

 

As a promised bonus, my favorite tips to navigate through the holiday season with ease include:

 

  • Find a couple food blogs or recipe books that you love! Share these with family and friends. One of my favorites is ohsheglows.com

 

  • If you have “abnormal ingredients” you cook with, i.e. butter, egg or flour substitutes, try to introduce these to people you will be with through recipes before the holiday season. Nothing should come as a surprise to them if you take this approach. They may even take on using these substitutes themselves (my best friend now swears by vegan cheese instead of dairy based).
  • Remind people about your allergies and the severity of cross-contamination.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t eat it!
  • Try to always have a dish that you know you can comfortably eat.

 

Happy Holidays and stay safe!

 

Joanna C.

Buffets and Allergies: Staying Safe

vacation

If you’ve ever been to Vegas, or any other resort destination for that matter, you know that the buffet is an absolute staple. Usually these buffets tend to be “all you can eat” and very reasonably priced (which is always a bonus). Even though buffets can be very alluring, having allergies can limit your options. One of the biggest problems with all-you can-eat buffets is the fact that the chance of cross-contamination, whether it be in the preparation of the food or the utensils that handle the food, is very high. Through my own personal experiences travelling, I’ve compiled a few tips that you should keep in mind before heading-out to a buffet.

Step 1: Do your homework.

Before visiting a buffet, research the actual company online. See if they have an allergy policy in place – some restaurants are more sensitive to allergies than others in that they actually have policies to protect allergic customers. Regardless of whether or not you find anything online, the next step would be to call the actual restaurant (at the specific location you are planning to go to). When you call, make sure you speak to the general manager. General managers usually have a better understanding when it comes to the ramifications of your severe allergy; and they are usually more knowledgeable about the food products/ingredients used in the buffet preparation. Make sure you tell them about the risk of cross contamination and ask whether or not they can guarantee an allergen-free environment.

Step 2: Make a plan.

Depending on what answer the manager gives you, you have to use your judgement to determine whether or not you feel comfortable dining at the establishment. If you don’t feel comfortable, don’t bother going. You will feel anxious the entire time and may end-up regretting your decision. If you do decide to dine-out, scout-out the buffet right when you get there. Buffets are usually segmented into different “sections” (ie. Desserts, Salads, Soups, etc…). By process of elimination, make a mental note about which segments to stay away from, depending upon your allergen (ie. Nuts, peanuts, etc…). In my case, I am severely allergic to tree nuts. So I usually stay away from the salad bar and the desert stand. Nuts are regularly used in salads and desserts.

Step 3: Choosing what to eat.

Once you have committed to areas of the buffet that you deem to be safe, start selecting your food. Even though you have physically marked these areas out as “safe zones” in your mind, always choose foods that you feel comfortable eating. Look-out for utensils that are used in more than one area, foods that people grab-at without utensils, or anything else that may pose a risk for cross-contamination.

The bottom line is that you have to feel safe wherever you eat – always use your judgement before deciding which restaurant to go to. I hope you will find these tips helpful when planning for your next buffet outing. These are all tips to help mitigate the allergy risks encountered at buffets. Use your best judgement when deciding to eat at a buffet. If it’s out of your comfort zone, simply don’t risk it and find another restaurant.

Saverio M.