Tag Archives: Preparation

Eat, Drink and Be Scary: Allergen-Friendly Halloweens

As hinges creek from an unknown breeze, a door closes when no one was around, and the sound of footsteps follow you up the stairs. When spooky things are in the air and the sky goes dark…you know that Halloween is here! Happy haunts lurk behind every corner and pumpkins decorate porches as ghost’s float in nearby trees. As you can probably tell, I love this time of year for so many reasons, but Halloween is by far the biggest reason. What’s not to love about this wickedly ghoulish time of year? Well, for some of us there is a different chill in the air that has nothing to do with ghosts and goblins, and everything to do with treat bags and what tricks might be in them. Living with a food allergy during this time of year can be hard to navigate, so it’s important to be aware and look out for our allergens. From parties with friends, to having “trick or treaters” at your door, allergens can be anywhere and or hidden in so many unsuspecting things.

For those of us who are younger and out trick or treating, there are ways to stay safe and avoid your allergen(s). One example is waiting to eat until you get home as this will give you more time to read all food ingredient labels. If you’re handing out goodies, make sure you look for the speciality bags or badges that some children may have to indicate that they have allergies. If you plan to accommodate by handing out allergen-friendly goodies, consider putting a teal pumpkin out to show your support of food allergies, or a teal light in support of Food Allergy Canada’s new “Shine a Light” campaign. This also acts as an indicator to parents and kids that you have safe or non-food related treats. A small gesture goes a long way for kids who are out trick or treating and being conscious of allergens can make their night!

Dressing up is one of the best parts of Halloween. Each year my partner and I bet ourselves that we can out do our costumes from the previous year. Some years involve little to prepare while others take a good hour to create and paint. One important thing I’ve learned while living with food allergies at this time of year is to read everything, and I don’t just mean snacks. Make-up, fake blood, and other things that add a touch of flare to a costume may contain your allergens. Whether you’re applying zombie make-up or making sure your vampire comes equipped with blood fangs, make sure your allergens aren’t present in the product before application. I have found that anything from latex, or nut oils, to sulphites can be found in various makeups. Find something allergen-friendly and do a mark/spot test at least 24 hours before you plan to dress up in order to make your ghoulish appearance one to remember.

As you get older, Halloween becomes less about trick or treating and more about parties, scary movie marathons and other activities with our friends. But, much like going out and getting candy, our allergens can still be found at all of these events. One thing to keep in mind whether you’re binging your favourite horror movie series or at a party with friends is that it’s important to follow the same rules you normally follow in your everyday life. Read ingredient labels even if you’ve had that type of candy before. Some candy or chocolate bars could contain slightly different ingredients or have different labelling for Halloween since these smaller products may be processed in different facilities. If there are homemade goods, check with the chef/baker before eating. Ask about allergens, the risk of cross-contamination, etc., and only eat the foods that you’re 100% comfortable eating. A good alternative is to get your cauldron brewing and make your own treats to share with everyone so that you’re positive it’s allergen-friendly. You could also consider buying candy chocolates you’ve researched yourself and feel confident are  allergen-friendly.

As an adult at a Halloween party, you’re sure to run into some boos, wait no I mean booze. Pumpkin flavoured beers and other holiday treats are staples at most adult Halloween parties. Much like any other food, we need to make sure what we’re eating and drinking is allergen-friendly. If it’s a punch bowl, ask what fruits, flavours, and alcohols are involved. If it’s a shared/serve yourself bowl, make sure there is no risk of cross-contamination or see if you can get first dibs or a special cup/bowl just to be sure it’s allergen-friendly with no risk of cross-contamination. Allergen labelling on specialty beers and wines can be tricky, but I always try to call or email the company if I’m unsure of all the ingredients. A good trick for any party is to bring your own drinks, something you know is allergen-friendly and never leave your glass or drink unattended.

As we grow older it’s easy to lose the spirit of Halloween, dismissing it as a childish tradition. I think we need to get back to our childhood roots, tell each other ghost stories, eat candy together and dress up as our favorite characters and people. This year put out a teal pumpkin or light, have some allergen-friendly or non-food treats ready, grab a scary movie or have a party to get into the spooky spirit. Happy Halloween!

– Arianne K.

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Cycling Preparations with Food Allergies

Why I’m biking from Toronto to Ottawa:

Last fall, I realized I had spent yet another summer with a pretty new bike and not a lot of biking. I decided that I needed motivation to get on my bike, and the joy of commuting in the rain just wasn’t enough.

I wanted to finally plan a big bike trip. I spoke with my allergist about it who recommended that I plan a route that considers a 30-minute ambulance response time. I’m allergic to a variety of fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, black pepper, and sulphites, so that’s a pretty reasonable request. After meeting with my allergist, I then talked to a paramedic friend of mine, to see where I could bike while staying in range of hospitals and ambulances. “Why not just come on the Paramedic Ride?” he joked. But then we both realized that it was actually a pretty good idea! I’m happy to raise awareness and funds for a Paramedic Memorial, and I get a very safe bike trip in the deal! Plus, I figured that meeting more paramedic friends is not a bad idea!

How I got ready:

This trip was mostly complicated by how to transport my bicycle, and how to manage my food allergies. I started getting ready last fall, by borrowing a winter trainer. I didn’t get it set up until Christmas, but then I got into a rhythm of biking in the garage while watching Netflix. The sawdust in my garage was mildly itchy at times and going outside in the winter after training hard involved quite a brief cold spurt (if I had more space I’d definitely consider bringing the trainer indoors).

I quickly discovered that learning to bike long distances with allergies also involves learning to make sport snacks and foods. I read A LOT in an attempt to figure out how to make an electrolyte drink, and when I realized I was tired from lacking them, I started adding a little more salt and a lot more protein to my biking snacks. I would highly recommend The Feed Zone Portables cookbook for a variety of “from-scratch” sport food ideas.

In the end, I settled for mostly eating bananas, making cookies, and occasionally making granola bars. I gave up on the granola bars half way through the summer when my jaw started hurting because they were too chewy (oops) but I will definitely keep trying recipes. On the electrolyte front, there are a bunch of great DIY recipes, but most involve a few ingredients I am not yet allowed to consume. So I talked to my mom, a nurse in the remote town of Angola, and she explained that for a better-than-nothing solution she usually puts a spoon of sugar, two pinches of salt, and a bit of flavouring into a litre of water. I’ve translated that into 1 scant teaspoon of salt, 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar, and a good splash of homemade ginger syrup into 1.5 litres of water. It’s not perfect or ideal, but I reserve its use for days when it’s really hot or when I’m doing a long bike workout (30-km or more).

With all the food and snacks prepared, I have managed 2500-km of biking so far in 2018, with my longest ride being a 115-km trip around the small town of Carp, Ontario. I might have had a little too much fun in my last week of training, biking around the city on specific streets to “write” out the fundraising website!

 

What I brought with me:

Most importantly, I packed a couple epinephrine auto-injectors. I’d usually bring more for a big trip, but the Canada-wide Epi-Pen® shortage makes my pharmacy reluctant to pass out more than absolutely needed. That being said, I’m not concerned since we’re getting an ambulance escort for the event.

Because I didn’t want to give the ride organizers the extra hassle of arranging safe food for me, I decided I’d pack my own food. Bananas and oranges are pretty much guaranteed to be supplied at biking events, and if not, I can definitely stock up on them in any little grocery store I encounter along the way. I have a few simple snack foods like Nori (seaweed), rice crackers, chocolate chips, and homemade cookies.

That left me with the meal food left to plan, as well as figuring out how to cook it. I didn’t want to just eat sandwiches, and since this ride has the luxury of ambulance support vehicles, I planned a few frozen meals and a number of homemade dehydrated ones as well. To cook these, I brought a one-burner electric stove, a frying pan for at the hotel, and a Hot Logic Mini (basically a plug-in lunchbox which heats meals and keeps them warm; it’s going to be my secret to instant hot meals whenever I stop). The frying pan is for boiling water for breakfast and will act as a general backup for cooking. I know hotels have microwaves sometimes, but they can be a pain to clean up, and they heat things less evenly. Plus, I hear we’re often stopping for lunch in parks for this event.

Lastly, I also made sure to think through my drink situation. At home I drink tap water, because some water filters contain trace amounts of sulphites (including some bottled waters), which give me predictable hives. I know the ride provides bottled water, so I’m just going to fill up each day with the water that I feel most safe drinking.

So now I have allergen-safe food and water, my bicycle, the hotel is booked, and I’ve been biking A LOT all summer. I feel ready, I’ve landed in Toronto… here I go!

– Janice H.

Hiking and Camping with Tree Nut Allergies

One of the most popular snacks for hiking and camping for those without allergies are tree nuts. They’re light to carry and full of helpful calories, protein and nutrients. It’s never easy being the one who has to say: “Please don’t bring any nuts or peanuts. I am at risk for an anaphylactic reaction.” However, there are plenty of other alternatives that are healthy and lightweight.

As a quick side note, I’ve only been allergic to peanuts and tree nuts for 3 years now, so it has been a long adaptive period for me. From my recent experiences, I consider people who aren’t willing to accommodate my food allergies the types of people I don’t want to have in my life. We all deserve to be surrounded by people who care about your overall health and safety. So when it comes to camping and hiking with a food allergy, my first tip is very important:

1 – Surround yourself with supportive friends
Communicate the severity of your reactions before venturing into the woods to everyone you’re camping with. Explain how a reaction affects you and make sure they fully understand everything, especially the steps they can take in the case of an emergency. Once you’ve explained this, most people are very wonderful about making sure they can accommodate you. If you have food allergies, ask others if they could make sure not to bring any foods that may contain your allergen and be proactive in providing suggestions.

2- Find lightweight food alternatives
Over the years I have been able to find many allergen-safe granola or protein bars. I have personally found that oatmeal has also been a lifesaver for my hiking and camping trips. I love packing oatmeal cookies which are very lightweight and easily accessible as snacks. Dry cereal was another go-to for my hiking and camping buddies.

3 – Visit your local food stores
While living with several allergies, I’ve found that visiting the big chain grocery stores, independent grocers, and natural food stores is a really great way to find all of your possible alternatives. Often different local grocery stores have different options that aren’t found across all stores. Shopping around is a good way to find other healthy alternatives to take with you.

These are a few tips that have helped me out for my allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Whatever your specific circumstances, just remember that you are important and having an allergy isn’t a reason for you to miss out on activities that you enjoy the most!

– Julie-Anne B.

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.