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A blog about all things allergen-free and delicious

Entries in food allergies (40)


Parents: The 12 Days of Christmas -- My Favorite Lunchtime Things (part 1)


The Tender Foodie once again welcomes Melanie Potock of My Munch Bug.


My daily life as a feeding therapist is all about kids and food.  Kids with food allergies, intolerances, sensory issues, GI issues, picky eating issues …you name it, we got issues!  But, we’ve also got lots of love and most importantly, tools for making mealtimes joyful.  So, in the spirit of celebrating little munch bugs with tender tummies or not, here are my top 12 gifts or super-tools for encouraging adventurous eating!   Whether you celebrate Chanukah, Kwanza, Christmas or another December remembrance, my holiday wish for you and your family is peace, love and plenty of Dancing in the Kitchen.  Which brings me to my first shameless plug:

On the 1st Day of Christmas, My Tender Foodie Asked of Me:

A picnic under the Jewelberry Tree!

One of the most popular songs from Dancing in the Kitchen, Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food is the second track: Picnic Under the Jewelberry Tree.  It’s all about eating together.  “It’s a picnic all day long, just singing, singing our happy song!”  So, perhaps your picnic is under a Christmas tree or a beautiful menorah,  but what our kids want most of all is time together.  I hope you will find time to picnic or dance, or both!   In the spirit of the season, 25% of profits will be donated to Allergy Kids Foundation until the 'twelfth night" or midnight, January 5th, 2012.


On the 2nd Day of Christmas, My Tender Foodie asked from Me:


An assortment of yummy foods in tiny cubes, hearts, triangles and half-moons…not too much to ask, right?

Right, if you have the coolest little cutter around known as Funbites!  It is truly bite-sized mealtime magic and works with most foods, including sandwiches (even with gluten-free bread), cantelope, watermelon,  tortillas (tested on my favorite: rice tortillas) and  it’s BPA free!



On the 3rd Day of Christmas, My Tender Foodie asked from Me . . .

Three boxes of granola from Purely Elizabeth!  (sing it baby!)

Dairy-free, gluten-free certified, sugar-free, soy-free, mostly organic and vegan, my new best friend Elizabeth (Well, she has actually never met me, but since I love her granola this much, I am sure she will want to be besties.) makes three different, delectable, delish granolas almost too yummy to waste on top of anything, except your bare hand.  Straight from the box, the original flavor is just right for little munch bugs.  If you can eat pecans, try the cranberry pecan for a slightly chewier texture.  My favorite is pumpkin fig, loaded with  protein rich quinoa and chia seeds as a super sources of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants.  Purely Elizabeth – purely heaven!



On the 4th Day of Christmas, my Tender Foodie asked from me:

A set of four containers from Easy Lunch Box!  Parents love the easy-open, kid friendly lids and the BPA free containers that make packing lunches a snap.  I recommend these to all the kids I work with because they save valuable time in the chaotic school cafeteria.  Although parents care most about their child's nutrition during lunchtime, kids care most about making friends during those precious 25 minutes!  Cutting healthy food into bite-sized (remember the first day of Christmas?) pieces so that kids can “grab and gab” from these cute, 3-compartment, compact containers (say that 5 times fast) keeps everyone happy.  Parents know their kids are eating a healthy, easy to eat lunch and kids have time to munch and chat with their friends.  Teachers love it because they know the kids fill their bellies and also have a little down-time to blow off steam before heading back to the classroom.  When time is of the essence, you want the lunch time process to be easy-peasy.

Phew!  Four down, eight to go!  My next post includes my favorite foodie toys, an allergen free recipe for busy little hands, and an ingenious product invented and patented by a mom - gotta love that!  Until then, I hope you are humming the "Twelve Days of Christmas" because frankly, now I can't get that tune out of my head! 

What do you suppose number five will be...


About Melanie

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, of  Melanie is speech language pathologist who specializes in feeding.  Her work brings her into the homes and schools of her clients, kids, who for various reasons have difficulty with food or with eating. She works with kids and their parents to develop effective strategies that help children become “more adventurous eaters”.  At least 50% of her clients have food allergies or intolerances, and for them, “adventurous eating” takes on a special meaning.  Melanie is also the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids” and the executive producer of “Dancing in the Kitchen.”


More Posts from Melanie

Tips to Help Your Food Allergic Child Belong During the Holidays

How to Talk Turkey (and Food Allergies) at Thanksgiving

How Can Parents Feel Less Stress with a Food Allergic Child in School?



Aimee's Story: Second Thoughts About Thanksgiving.

Welcome to Aimee B. Smith, our new guest blogger and parent of a food allergic child.  This post is part of a series about dealing with food allergies in social situations -- this series will discuss handling Thanksgiving.  

Upon Arrival

From the moment I step out of our car on-to the snow-packed drive of my aunt’s house, my nose catches a whiff of the delicious aromas of roasted turkey, baked stuffing and homemade pumpkin pies.  The smell takes my mind and taste buds back, evoking all the warmth and nostalgia of Thanksgiving. But before my belly has a chance to rumble with the anticipation of gorging on the holiday spread, a sharp pain stabs my gut. Anxiety overtakes me: Will we be met with sly glances or unpleasant teasing again?  Will my daughter’s food intolerances consume the dinner table discussion? Will I be slammed repeatedly from every direction with questions like, “I forget, what gluten is exactly?” and, “Now tell me again, why can’t she eat this?” The knot wrenching my stomach tightens. Am I prepared to handle the slew of well-meaning but perpetually clueless references of, “I don’t understand…” and “Don’t worry so much, a little won’t hurt her.”?

Second Thoughts

I am having second thoughts about being here. Maybe our family’s dietary baggage is too great a burden to others.   Should we even have come to this dinner? This is as bad as, maybe worse than taking Raina to her friend’s pizza party or attending a neighborhood picnic. I’m scared for her safety, afraid she may ingest the wrong foods.  But it’s not just the allergens, disguised in mouthwatering dishes and desserts that I fear. My concern goes deeper –what if my daughter feels like an outcast, or that she feels somehow less of a person because she can’t eat what others are indulging in? 

Giving Thanks

My eyes turn to find Raina. She’s skipping up to the steps with glee. My Uncle Bob opens the door as full of high spirits as my little, bouncing girl. My aunts push him aside and run out with open arms and wide, glowing smiles to welcome and hug Raina tightly. I relax for a minute; my fears are subdued watching everyone’s joy. 

I remember the lessons that Melanie Potock, Raina’s feeding therapist, taught us: Eating should be enjoyable and relaxed.  It’s as much about the act of sitting down and enjoying each other as it is the food.  We aren’t here just for the food. 

I take a deep breath, allowing myself a break for just that instance from the overbearing stress I put on myself to manage these sorts of situations. As I let out a deep sigh, I remind myself of the pressure I place on myself to ensure Raina’s safety and that I’m doing a great job.

As I waddle up to the steps, laden with bags of my own allergen free pumpkin pie, gluten/egg/dairy free, green chili cornbread and homemade gravy I think perhaps this year can be better. I inwardly repeat my daily mantra, “It’s getting easier each day.  It’s getting easier each day…”  

Aunt Margie jolts over to grab a bag and, peaking in, says, “Oooh, look as these goodies! Your cousin, Lizzie, will be so happy. She’s on some crazy diet, off the dairy and gluten as well.” 

“Really!” I reply in shock then burst out a big smile, eager to greet my cousin, our new comrade on our allergen-free team. 

While I can’t always have faith that my family or friends will understand Raina’s needs or bend over backwards to accommodate her, I can hope that each year will improve as we all grow. I’m certain Raina will someday grow to be her own advocate and we, as a family, will find improved ways to cope with our stresses. Now that, is something to be thankful for!


About Aimee

Aimee B. Smith is a mother to four year old Raina, her miracle girl who was born a micro preemie at 24 weeks gestation. Aimee and her family embarked on an allergy-friendly journey after discovering Raina suffered from multiple food intolerances. The process has opened up a whole new adventure of cooking, shopping, dining and socializing for her and her husband. She is an avid writer, who finds inspiration for her art through her strong spirited daughter and the challenges and triumphs of motherhood. 




Scientists May Have Discovered How to Turn Off Peanut Allergies

Great News! Researchers have found a way to turn off the immune system's reaction to peanuts - in mice. Even better news is that this research could also help unravel autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, since their reactions, according to scientists, are similar to those of food allergies. Researchers now need to make that leap from mice to humans, but it is a start.

A person develops food allergies after their body becomes sensitive to a particular protein from food - whatever food their body deems dangerous.  This group of researchers has found a way to wrap a tiny protein (in this case peanut protein) with a white blood cell.  Then inject it into a peanut allergic mouse.  This "tricks" the immune system into interpreting that the peanut is safe. 

“The key concept here is that we are supposed to be able to eat foods,” Bryce said. “Allergies to peanuts and other foods occur when the immune system goes wrong. We’ve been trying to understand how the immune system tells the difference between what it should and should not respond to.”
 ~ Paul J. Bryce, an assistant professor of medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, whose study was published in the Journal of Immunology.


As long as we are talking about tricks - I'm still missing any researcher comments on why food allergies have skyrocketed in the first place.  Wouldn't it be helpful to study this, as well?  To find the root cause of something with such a clear mass onset?  I'm very excited about this research, but also hope that the "why" will be discovered soon.  Tell me your thoughts. 



The Tender Foodie in Women's Lifestyle Magazine

"Me" in The Leonard at Logan House chef's kitchen - an historic Bed and Breakfast in Grand Rapids, MII was very honored to be interviewed and profiled in Women's LifeStyle Magazine for their October Issue.  The issue is all about "home", a timely topic as we draw in, bundle up and find sanctuary from the business of life. 

Click to read the full article, "Making Tasteful Choices" and to visit Women's LifeStyle Magazine's e-edition.


“Food is the center of social gatherings. At first, I would try to hide my food allergies,” explains Veltman, who would call ahead to order meals when meeting clients or attending parties at restaurants. “In doing so, I realized I was not alone.”
Food allergies are not just a health issue – it becomes a social issue.



How Can Parents Feel Less Stress with a Food Allergic Child in School? Interview with Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP 

This is a first in a series of posts about how do deal with food allergies in social situations. Over the series, I am reaching out to a few experts to help guide us through the many lifestyle conflicts confronting Tender Foodies as children, teenagers and adults. 


Stress For Parents

School has started, and for parents of young kids with food allergies, this can be an extremely stressful time.  Important questions crop up that seem strange to others, even family members.  Questions like:  Will other kids bring peanut butter sandwiches into the class or lunchrooms?  Will he be teased?  Will she feel left out?  Will my child remember what foods will make him sick?  Does she know to reject any food that is offered?   Will the teacher, nurse or counselor know how deadly one microscopic allergen in the air can be?  Will my child have a life threatening reaction?  Will school staff know how to handle it, if that happens?


School Awareness

Some schools are very aware of the dangers of food allergies and have strict policies to protect allergic kids.  Knowing that your school “gets it” helps a great deal.   On the other hand, there are many schools that have not educated their staff nor have they implemented policies.  In a recent study (released Sept. 8, 2011), The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network and Galaxy Foods addressed the emotional impact of food allergies.  According to their data, the majority of parents surveyed (54%) indicated that teachers had a “good” or “excellent” understanding of food allergies, and 53% of these parents indicated that administrators also had a good understanding.  We can take heart that overall awareness is improving.  But that also means that 47% of schools where food allergic kids are at higher risk.

Whether you are in a highly aware school or not, the question still remains:  how do parents deal with the emotional and social impact of food allergies in a school setting?


Interview with Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP 

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP of MyMunchbug.comTo start this conversation, I spoke with Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, of  Melanie is speech language pathologist who specializes in feeding.  Her work brings her into the homes and schools of her clients, kids, who for various reasons have difficulty with food or with eating. She works with kids and their parents to develop effective strategies that help children become “more adventurous eaters”.  At least 50% of her clients have food allergies or intolerances, and for them, “adventurous eating” takes on a special meaning.

TF: What type of clients do you work with?  Tell me more about the work that you do.

MP: The majority of my clients are referred to me by gastroenterologists because they are having difficulty eating a variety of foods.  At least 50% of the kids that I see have food intolerances or allergies and often, severe GI conditions including FPIES (Food Protein-Induced Enterocolitis Syndrom) or EoE (Eosinophilic esophagitis).  These children have learned over time that food makes them feel uncomfortable, which leads to food selectivity and often, a fear of trying new foods. Delayed oral motor skills and sensory processing difficulties can be part of the big picture. 


TF:  What do you see as the main social dynamic around school lunch?

 MP:  Many kids learn to eat well at home, but need additional support learning to negotiate the hustle and bustle of the school cafeteria, where they are expected to get their lunchbox, find a seat, open the containers, eat and then put it all away in as little as 20 minutes.  My role is to learn the culture of the individual school lunchroom and offer suggestions to parents and school staff on how to set the child up for success so they can focus on what is most important to kids: their friends.  Parents tend to focus on nutrition at lunchtime; kids tend to focus on friendship. 


TF:  What are the top 5 things that mothers and dads tend to worry about when sending a food allergic child off to school?

 MP:  In my experience as a feeding therapist, the most prevalent worry is that...

A)   their child will ingest a food that they are allergic to and

B)    help will not arrive in time. 

Naturally, these issues are troublesome to parents.  Others on the list include “Is he getting proper nutrition?” and “Will other kids tease him if he can’t join in on a special treat at school?” coupled with, most importantly, “…and how will that make my child feel?”


TF:  What can parents do to alleviate those fears? 

 MP:  Communication is always the key.  Here are three steps you can take right away.

  1. Have a face-to-face conversation with teachers and administrators and write down your concerns, giving everyone a copy. 
  2. Include simple bullet points that are easy to refer to, such as list of allergens, symptoms, emergency steps, the specific location of the epi-pen, how and when to administer them and any other medications and contact phone numbers. 
  3. Form a school team:  A face-to-face meeting can alleviate fears and it establishes that your child's food allergies is an issue for everyone on the team – you child’s team!  Be sure to periodically thank a staff member, teacher or administrator for their extra efforts.  It not only makes them feel appreciated, but it gently reminds them of your fear and their role in keeping your child safe.


TF:  What if you find that teachers and the school are resistant to forming a team for your child?

MP:  There are so many nuances. 

First of all, just like with any other situation, it is more difficult for someone to understand food allergies if they haven’t experienced it themselves, first hand.  Teachers are overwhelmed, today.  If you keep this in mind, it will help keep the conversation (and food allergy education) going.  It is a delicate dance – being respectful of your child’s teachers and wanting to protect your child.  

Second: it is a temptation to overwhelm the school with a long list of detailed requirements for the school environment itself.  Meet with the teacher and the principal and try to keep your list of requirements short – condensed into most essential action steps.  If you can reduce your child’s needs to say, 3 overall school requirements, it is easier for the teacher to remember and the school to follow. 

Third:  If serious change is needed, you could approach the School Board.  School Boards usually set up budgets and policies one year in advance.  There are groups that will do a formal “in-service” education or policy setting session.  If you can find a local resource to do in-school training for free, food allergy training might be adopted more immediately. 

Another option:   you can research your school district’s disability laws, like Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973*.  School districts have an obligation to provide reasonably safe environments for all students.  Some schools include food allergies under Section 504.


TF:  How do parents balance their child’s needs and their own desire for nutrition when packing a lunch?  

MP:  For kids in the school cafeteria, lunchtime is about friendship.  As parents, we are focused on nutrition, but kids just want to fill their bellies and laugh with their friends over lunch!  They need to let off a little steam, just like you and I taking a break for lunch and to get away from the pile of paperwork on our desks.   So, pack nutritious finger foods in easy to open containers.  I always recommend Easy Lunchboxes ( to my clients, because the lid is so easy for little fingers to pop off.  Instantly, lunch is served!  When kids have to fumble with a bunch of different containers, food often never gets eaten at all.  If you can pop off one lid and instantly see what Mom and Dad have offered you for lunch, you have more time to socialize and chill-out.  Choose easy to eat foods – simple, fresh, finger foods so your kids can “grab and gab” for the next 20 minutes before the bell rings.


TF:  How can parents best help their kids "remember" all of the things that they are allergic to? 

MP:  There is typically no sharing in the school cafeteria (theoretically!) but other opportunities to eat foods other than those brought from home arise during a school week, which can become more of a problem.  **

  1. Laminate a picture list of allergens (or a word list if your child can read) and attach it with a ring to an inside pocket of his or her backpack.  It’s an easy referral source for your child to take a peak if he/she forgets.  
  2. Ask the teacher to attach the same list somewhere on her desk and to give your child special permission to check it any time.  That way, it is a quick reference for both of them.
  3. Make up a silly song or jump rope rhyme that helps kids remember, such as “Oh boy, I can’t eat soy!  Oh Mary, I can’t eat dairy.  BUT, I can eat everything, everything, and everything else!” 
  4. At home, play table games that include “I am thinking of something that contains soy and it rhymes with “So new! (Tofu)” to practice what foods contain the allergen.  My friend Marika, who has 4 year old twins with food allergies and/or intolerances, always uses a trip to the zoo to teach about peanuts.  “The elephants can eat peanuts, but they can’t eat hamburgers, because that would make their tummies sick.  You can eat hamburgers, but you can’t eat peanuts, because those make you feel sick.”  She is really great about casually teaching very important facts in a fun way whenever she finds the opportunity to remind the twins of what they can and cannot eat to stay healthy.


TF:  How can parents best help their kids stand up for themselves when faced with other kids, temptations and ignorant teachers/school authorities? 

MP:  Teach them to keep their reply simple and move on.  The less attention given to the situation/person the better – that is true in any situation where someone is trying to convince our children to do something that is not good for them.  For example, “No thanks, I’m allergic.  I have crackers for my snack today” or “No thanks; I’m going out to recess.”  With or without allergies, helping all kids listen to that little voice in their head that tells them “this is not safe” is so important!  In my professional opinion, I think children who learn this skill early on make better choices throughout life.


TF:  Could you recommend a lunch that leaves out all 8 big allergens (seafood, fish, gluten, dairy, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, eggs) + the next big 3 (oats, rice, corn) that kids actually like?  

MP:   I love to send a healthy, frozen home-made smoothie to school, because you can customize it for specific dietary needs and it is quick and easy to eat.  Any container with a lid or flip top will do and kids can add a wide straw or just drink it right out of the container, as it typically thaws just in time for lunch.  Then, a bento box of simple finger foods is always a snap!  Allergen-friendly mini muffins are filling and easily fit into these types of containers and are so quick to eat.  They can be made with vegetable purees to ensure good nutrition.  


TF:  Can you speak a little more toward the social aspect of school lunchtime and how you can help your kids adapt?

MP:  When I visit school cafeterias with my little clients, I sit right at the tables with all the other kids and watch and listen.  Without fail, kids open their lunchboxes and begin to talk about what they have in their lunch that day:   “I have pudding!” or “I have yogurt”, holding it up for their friends to see.  Honestly, the funny thing is it’s not really about the food.  It’s about opening up a conversation with their friends, much like saying “cheers” before we enjoy a beverage together.  So, whether it’s coconut yogurt or milk-based, the kids don’t typically say that.  They just say “yogurt”.  Now, they might say “I love Dora!” and hold up a yogurt with Dora the Explorer on the package, but I’ve observed that they love a Spiderman sticker stuck on their coconut yogurt just as much as a pre-printed package photo of the super hero.  So, add a few stickers here and there for your kids to hold up and show their friends.  Make gluten free sandwiches with dino cookie cutters so they can proudly bite off the head of the T-Rex in front of all their buddies.  Throw in a photo of your family garden (or your kid picking out carrots at the local farmer’s market) so he can show it at the table and say “I bought these with Grandma at the Farmer’s Market!”    Get the conversation started…that’s the key.


Many thanks to Melanie for sharing her time and insights with the Tender Foodie Community.


* Along with Section 504, other Federal laws such as ADA and FERPA could address food allergies.

**According to the U.S. Peanut and Tree Nut Registry, 79% of recorded allergic reactions to nuts occurred in the classroom, usually as a result of contact with peanut butter during class projects, rather than the cafeteria (12%).   Other studies have shown a similar weighting toward classroom allergic reactions because of birthday parties, shared treats and art projects using molding dough (Playdough, for instance, contains wheat).




The University of Michigan Food Allergy Program

(check universities near you for school programs)

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. (AAAAI).


National Association of School Nurses.


Kids with Food Allergies Foundation:


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