Friday, August 3, 2018

Feeling Stressed about Back to School and Food Allergies? Try This!

My kids are staying up too late, sun kissed and loving life as our summer days roll on.  But, I know it’s coming, soon it will be back to school.  Part of me craves the routine and structure our school days bring, but part of me is already feeling very anxious about the new year because, well, food allergies add an insane wrinkle to the start of a school year- new teachers, new classrooms, new friends…will they get it?  I can easily start to spiral into a swirl of negative thoughts about the upcoming year which can lead to me being all stressed out and not able to focus on what is front of me- the fun of summer.  But, I have found a simple solution for managing this stress!

I have recently started listening to a number of wellness focused podcasts, part of an effort to help with my own stress management, about food allergies and life in general.  I had to share a strategy I recently picked up that is intended for mindfulness and to help refocus your attention so negative thoughts don’t take over.  I was at the gym as I listened to the podcast so I didn’t have a pen to write down the author of the blog that was being narrated (more on this great podcast soon) but the idea is so simple and genius and I think can help us all out as we navigate the stressful waters of back to school with food allergies. 

The concept is this- get a bracelet, any bracelet.  It could even be a hair tie or rubber band if that is all you can grab.  Put it in your wrist.  When you feel yourself starting to stress out about back to school, you know the worry, the what ifs- mindfully take the bracelet and switch it to your other wrist.  As you switch the bracelet, think of the things you are doing to keep your child safe- the meetings you will have with staff, the gear you will send to school, the confidence you are building in your child that will allow him to advocate for himself.  As you switch your bracelet and your thoughts, you regain control and start to think about the positive steps you are taking to keep your child safe rather than letting the what ifs get you down. 

There may be days you switch that bracelet multiple times, especially on days when bad food allergy news fills your Facebook feed or a back to school night looms, but you can control your thoughts and the simple mindful act of switching your bracelet can help put you in a better place to not only manage some of the inevitable food allergy stress that comes with a new school year, but allowing you to stay focused on the summer fun at hand and not the what ifs of the Fall. 

I am wearing my bracelet now – it felt strange at first, but I am finding it really does help me re-center and stop thoughts that would otherwise spiral out of control.  Some days I switch it a lot, others the bracelet just fades into my look and no one really knows the purpose it serves.  But, it is a constant reminder to me that we can thrive on with food allergies!

I encourage you to try it out too and share your experience!  Does it work for you?  We would love to hear! 

And, let me tell you about this awesome podcast.  I posted yesterday on my Facebook page about it- Optimal Daily Living. Each and every day, Justin, the host of the podcast, reads from the best blogs and books all focused on mindfulness, minimalism and living your most optimal life.  I have found so many amazing strategies for managing stress, focusing on what is important and reframing my view of life and managing food allergies.  I encourage everyone to check it out! 


Learn more about Tami and her company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow her on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Getting Your Kids in the Kitchen: Advice from Chef Lara Holland

Cooking is a life skill.  It is something we all should learn, but when you have a child with food allergies it becomes even more critical that they have some sense of how to operate in the kitchen.  Safe meals don’t cook themselves, so getting your kids in the kitchen, having fun and learning those basic cooking skills will be an important building block in helping them to effectively manage their own food allergy.

Chef Lara Holland, Centered Table CEO, and also known as Food Allergy Gal, spent some time with me sharing ways to get your kids in the kitchen- and having fun while doing it.

Chef Lara Holland

Early Exposure
Chef Lara recommends getting your kids in the kitchen as early as possible.  Every exposure opens their eyes to what is happening in the kitchen.  Even children in a high chair can be pulled over to the cooking prep area to see what is happening.  She suggests passing safe foods to your child so they can feel, smell and possibly taste the foods you are preparing.  As children get older, pull bar stools up to the countertops and create a “chef’s table” where young cooks can be a part of meal prep.  Also, eating meals as a family is an important part of creating a positive experience in the kitchen.  “Try to have at least one meal each day as a family”, says Chef Lara.  Sitting down to enjoy the food you made is a great reward and creates positive feelings about cooking and sharing meals. 

Making Your Kitchen Cool
Some kids are naturally excited to be in the kitchen, others may take a little encouragement to jump in.  Holland suggests lots of great ways to make your kitchen “the place to be”.  First, make your kitchen accessible.  Designate shelves and drawers that contain kid-friendly and age appropriate kitchenware.  This might mean pots and plastic containers for younger cooks, and as they get older, access to their own baking or measuring supplies.  This also means being comfortable with the crazy.  Cooking can get messy when kids are involved, but Chef Lara says, “embrace the mess and go in with realistic expectations”. This is one area I have really had to work on- when you put a Type A mama (me!!!) in the kitchen with kids it can be stressful, but I have learned to let go (a little) and they always have more fun when I let the mess happen. 

Second, make your time in the kitchen a sensory experience.  As you cook let your child sample foods and talk about where they come from.  Taste them raw and cooked, compare the difference. Holland also suggests incorporating music into cooking.  Pick upbeat music for cooking and transition to something softer as you sit down to enjoy your meal. 

Third, have your child help you get needed supplies and ingredients.  This not only teaches them the names of these things, but also helps them to learn their way around the kitchen.  As kids get older, have them be a part of recipe and menu development.  Let them take the lead and see where it leads you in the kitchen!

Find inspiration and ideas from some of these great sources suggested by Chef Lara.  Check out magazines for pictures of food (younger kids) and recipes (older kids) to find new things you would like to try.  Look to other cultures and try to recreate “safe” versions of these meals at home.  Our family does this every year on the Chinese New Year.  We make a safe Asian dish and decorate for the holiday.  We may not be able to eat out at an Asian restaurant, but we have a blast cooking and eating together. 

Chef Lara also suggests finding ideas at markets and food fairs.   Take your kids to a farmer’s market or cultural market where you can find new foods to try, new recipes to explore, and it is a great way to start the conversation about finding substitutes to still make certain recipes or try certain cuisines, even if at first look they seem off limits due to your allergens.  And, one of my favorite suggestions, attend a food fair for inspiration.  Typically, I would avoid these type of events but Chef Lara suggests framing it as a way to find new foods you want to cook at home.  Visit the booths and review the menus- start making a list of the things you want to make at home.  “Set expectations about what you will be able to do at the event and be sure to bring your own snacks”, she says.  The benefit, beyond finding inspiration for your home kitchen is that you get to have a food experience outside of the house. 

Look in your area to see if there are camps or cooking classes that can accommodate your allergens.  Chef Lara leads a cooking experience at a camp in Atlanta, Truly LivingWell, aimed at teaching kids from all backgrounds about the true source of foods and how to prepare them.  They accommodate all food allergens and ensure campers have a safe and fun experience as they prep meals in an outdoor kitchen.  In my neck of the woods, Cooking at the Cottage offers a small number of allergy-friendly class options throughout the year.  Finding places that can offer a safe cooking experience is another great way to grow your child’s skills and help them enjoy cooking.  Just be sure to do your own research and make sure you feel comfortable with the way the camp or store manages food allergies. 

Armed with all of these wonderful ideas I hope you are making plans to get in the kitchen with your kids to make your next meal!  Thanks, Chef Lara, for the great advice!  And, stay connected, there is more to come on the blog this week about cooking with kids.  And, if you haven't done it yet- like our Facebook page for more great info this week on cooking with food allergies!


Learn more about Tami and her company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow her on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Keeping it Simple and Fun In the Kitchen with Food Allergies: Advice from Colette Martin, The Allergen-Free Baker

Cooking, I love it- until I hate it.  As a food allergy mom, I spend a lot of my time in my kitchen cooking. Generally, I really love to cook and spending time in my kitchen.  But, let’s be honest, sometimes the need to cook so often makes it not so fun.  Who is with me?

That is what inspired me to do a week focused on cooking with food allergies.  Being able to cook, and having an arsenal of safe recipes and finding ways to enjoy your kitchen are a must for anyone managing a food allergy. So, all week on my Facebook page and blog, I will be sharing great information on cooking skills, advice, and recipe resources so we can all Thrive On in the kitchen!

To kick it off, I had the awesome opportunity to interview Colette Martin, The Allergen-Free Baker.  She is a food allergy mom, cookbook author and all around great advocate for those with food allergies.  She offers all of us some great advice for making cooking simple, fun and safe whether you are new to food allergies or a veteran food allergy family.  And best of all, she is partnering with me to give away an autographed copy of her book, The Allergy-Free Pantry!  Details about the giveaway are at the end of the post, so take in all of her great advice and then enter to win!

Colette Martin, Cookbook author, Allergen-free baker, Food allergy advocate

New To Food Allergy Cooking
If you have recently been diagnosed with food allergies, there is a lot to learn and do to keep you or your family safe, and cooking safe foods will be at the top of that list.  Martin recommends that once you know the foods you need to avoid the first step is to do a sweep of your pantry to ensure you remove all foods that could trigger a reaction.  Once the unsafe items are removed, “start simple, get a handle on a few basic recipes and find safe alternatives to replace your basic staples,” she says.  For example, if you are dealing with a wheat or gluten issue, try to find a bread replacement that you can buy.  Once you have some basics down and a few staple alternatives you will have the building blocks for developing your cooking skills and adding additional items to your safe foods menu.

Cooking Everyday
It happens to the best of us, even if we love to cook, doing it day in and day out can wear on you.  You fall into a rut, cook the same things over and over, and generally feel bored, if not annoyed, in the kitchen.  Martin suggests, to the extent possible, be adventurous in the kitchen and continually try new things to keep the kitchen, and your menus, interesting.  She suggests implementing a “new food night” where you and your family try a new recipe or ingredient.  My girls always get a kick out of our attempts at new ingredients, and as a result we have added red quinoa and zucchini noodles to our meal options.

If you have a child with food allergies, another important component to your culinary adventures will be to ensure your child learns how to cook.   Someday you won’t be around to prepare all of their meals so start equipping them now with the skills they will need to stay safe.  Martin suggests, “get your kids cooking with you and let them lead you into new areas”.  If they express interest in cooking a certain food or trying a certain recipe – go for it!  It helps to keep it fun in the kitchen, and along the way you can teach cooking skills they will need to know.

Kitchen Tools You “Need”
Cooking is a very personal endeavor and you will find what works best for you.  Someone else’s favorite kitchen tool may sit unused in your kitchen. Resist the urge to buy every kitchen gadget and figure out what you will really use, and need, to make your safe foods.  Martin says for her, two must haves are her Kitchen Aid Mixer and parchment paper.  “If you will be doing a lot of baking, having a good mixer is important,” says Martin.  She also loves parchment paper because it helps to create a barrier and prevent cross contact on baking sheets and on surfaces when she is rolling out dough.  As my family has developed our cooking style, our must have items include our ice cream maker and lots of cutting boards and colanders.


Getting Some Guidance
Colette has published two books on allergy free cooking and baking that are a great resource for anyone newly diagnosed or seasoned food allergy cooks looking to add new recipes to their menus.  You can learn more about her books here.  (Don’t forget to check out the details below about how to win a copy of The Allergy-Free Pantry).  In addition to her books, Martin recommends checking out Kids With Food Allergies Foundation Recipe Database and Freedible for other great resources, recipes, and advice on keeping your kitchen safe and your menus interesting.

Thanks, Colette, for sharing all of this great information, your book, and helping us Thrive On in the kitchen!


Follow me all week long on Facebook as I share tips, tricks and tools for cooking with food allergies!!



Win a copy of The Allergy-Free Pantry!  Head over to our Facebook Page for a chance to enter and win!  The winner will be announced June 2!  Good Luck!!!


Read more about Colette's books! Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram too!

Learning to Bake Allergen-Free: A Crash Course for Busy Parents on Baking without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts

Published by The Experiment, June 2012

An essential guide to delicious baking for multiple food allergies—with over dozens of recipes that take the whole family from breakfast through dinner

As more and more parents are discovering, the instant a child is diagnosed with severe or multiple allergies, food can’t be taken for granted anymore. Shopping turns into a frustrating hunt through ingredient lists, and every school lunch and birthday party becomes a potential nightmare. Whether parents love to bake or hate it, with most packaged foods and bakery treats suddenly off-limits, they’ll need to learn. Colette Martin overcame this challenge when her son was diagnosed with wheat, milk, soy, egg, and peanut allergies—and in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free, she gives parents the confidence to embrace new foods that are safe for their children, arming them with:

• Info on how to avoid the top eight food allergens, plus gluten
• Substitutions and techniques to make favorite recipes allergen-free
• Simple tips on how to use new ingredients for the best results
• Over 75 recipes—some from scratch, some from mixes—for Cinnamon Rolls, Spicy Cornbread, Chocolate Chunk Cookies, and more!

With this thorough, accessible manual in hand, parents will be baking allergen-free by the time the oven finishes pre-heating.


The Allergy-Free Pantry: Make Your Own Staples, Snacks, and More Without Wheat, Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy or Nuts

Published by The Experiment, September 2014

Make your own affordable, delicious, and allergy-free staples, snacks, and meals!

After the cupboards are cleared of problem foods, most people coping with new food allergies (their own or their kids’) are missing staples they have relied on for years. And even though stores are stocking more allergen-free brands, shoppers with severe or multiple allergies can read every label and still strike out—especially if they’re after a particular craving or on a budget.

The good news for the 15 million Americans with food allergies is that classic treats and pantry staples can be made easily and affordably at home. From Colette Martin, the author of Learning to Bake Allergen-Free, comes The Allergy-Free Pantry—with over 100 recipes free of gluten and the top eight allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish), including:

• Basic staples (flour blends, non-dairy milks, Sandwich Bread, Biscuits, Strawberry Jam, and Sunflower Seed Butter)
• Condiments and salad dressings (Flaxseed Mayonnaise, Ketchup, Ranch Dressing, Barbeque Sauce)
• Breakfast (Pancakes, Honey Blueberry Granola, Apple Oatmeal Scones)
• Crackers and cookies (Flax Crackers, Pita Chips, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Snickerdoodles)
• Pasta, pizza, and freezer meals (Spinach Pasta, Cheesy Sauce, Shepherd’s Pie, Meatloaf)
• Desserts (Brownie Bites, Chocolate Pudding, Raspberry Fruit Roll Ups, Caramel Sauce)

Full-color photographs of every recipe and simple instructions (no advanced kitchen skills required!) make this a must-have guide to allergy-free home cooking. Refill your cupboards, and reclaim peace of mind!


Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this post, but was provided with products to use for the purpose of the giveaway.  The opinions expressed in this post are mine and not influenced by the company.

Learn more about Tami and her company, Thrive On Consulting, which provides food allergy coaching and training.  You can also follow her on Facebook for tips to Thrive On with food allergies.